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Going Up

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He wakes up and she's tracing the edges of his horns with her fingertips, he can hear more than feel (he can't feel a thing on them, when the nubs first broke through his skin he felt the blind patches of his scalp and thought that maybe he would die) it, so he can't explain away the way it hums down the side of his entire body.

He jolts upward, away, pushing himself back against the far arm of the stone couch. The runes glow under the blood on his knuckles (he scraped them, but he didn't feel that either). She cocks her head and asks him something.

"Don't touch them," he tells her. "Demon's flesh, bad luck."

She says something else, and he pushes himself up to his feet. "Up the stairs?" He extends his hand, and she understands.

So they climb.

He hears the shadows before he sees them, too. They jangle when they walk. He launches off the ledge and grabs the chain (again, his blood, this time smeared on iron and pain in his palms), drops the twenty feet, frees his stick from his belt but they're already on her and she's going under and he's screaming and he grabs her hand, again. The only part of her stretching above the portal and the masonwork is her fingertips, luminescent, so pearly that he's always afraid they'll slip like oil but they don't and this is enough of a hold, he's got her. She weighs more than castles, shadows, horns, but he pulls her up, again. He swings into the shadow but his stick flies through it, connects with the masonwork.

The rebound stings him up to the elbows, but he doesn't drop the stick. It hasn't broken yet. He needs a sword, he doesn't know how but he knows, the wood feels as wrong in his hands as the horns on his head and the shadow jangles to his left, and strikes him. He gets up from the stone where he fell, his hands bleeding again and now his cheek too, the stick in one hand and it's got her but he runs and grabs her around the waist and turns and lashes out at the shadow and it shimmers back, lashes again and it shimmers back, lashes and turns, waits, and the next time he swings the Stick That Can Not Break over his head it connects with ice and fire and the shadow keens. He hits it again, and again, and it crumples and fades into the floor. The jangling stops.

"Come on," he says, and she follows to the edge of the sheer wall. There's so many, in the castle, and he's so tired. There's no comfort in stone couches. He spits on his palms (the blood's congealed) and grabs the chain and he's up again. "I wish," he says, and grunts, "I wish you could—" he's level with the top of the wall so he swings his feet forward, back, and leaps onto the ledge. "Speak my language." He reaches a hand over the ledge, and she grips it and then she's up, too. "Ico," he says and gestures at himself. "Castle," he says at the wall. "Inadequate," he says, and waves his stick to the sky.

She chuckles, a little.

"Ico," he says, and points at himself again.

She curtseys. "Yorda," she murmurs, and splays her hand against her chest.

"You got that!"

She smiles.

"Yorda. Nice to meet you, Yorda." He bows. She curtseys, again, and says something else to him that he doesn't understand.

They get to the top of the stairs and hit the sky, for the first time in a long time. The sky and a rail cart, and ugly mess of iron that doesn't quite block the forest. Yorda hugs him, and he's bawling. It's blue, and the forest is green, and it's ten tree lengths below him, off to the side of the castle that arches over and under itself at the same time. But he can see it, still, around the fortress walls and ceilings (and floors, he can make out floors). "The castle's all edges but it twists like fiber," Ico gets out, and then his hearing jangles at the edges and he's got his stick up and the shadow's flying in on the wind and when he swings into it there's nothing but air.

Maybe he could try impaling them on his horns, if the stick ever gives out. Yorda has nowhere to hide, there's nothing but a a drop one side down to the roof of another level of the castle and the other to the floor, too far to jump and she can't hold a chain, can she? But she never runs, anyway, not when the shadows drag her down, not when they swoop out of the sky. Maybe she can't. The shadow grabs her and Ico grabs her back and Ico swings. Ice and fire and buzzing and the shadow's down, he swings again and again and it pools into the floor, dribbles off the fortress wall. "Yorda," Ico says, and she catches his hand. "I hope we get out, soon." She squeezes his fingers, like she understands.

The rail cart has a gap where the lever should be, and his stick fits. He calls Yorda on the cart, and he rams it forward, and they shoot off, whizzing over water and castle and trees. When they touch flagstone again (again, indoors, the sky just a glare behind them), they climb.