These are getting embarrassing, but I like posting them. So:
(Reminder. These are unedited. Straight from my brain.)
It seemed to Liessa that anyone who could sleep the night before a battle was insane. The thought of the next day’s all-or-nothing fight stuck in her mind like a splinter and she found herself wide awake; pacing and fidgeting as the camp fell silent tent by tent, growing darker with every candle snuffed. Her own candles burned down hour by hour and she replaced them without first cleaning out the holder until the last candle balanced precariously atop a mountain of dribbly candle wax. It dripped waxy stalactites as she munched an apple unhappily. Stress drove her to eat, but now everything tasted rotten.
Damn Zax-Sia’s influence! She cursed as she bit extra hard into the crunchy flesh with utter contempt. The scars twinged in response.
Being dead was a lot to deal with. It wasn’t just the sudden stillness where her heart had once beat, while that had indeed been dizzying, nor was it the way people now stared at her or ignored her completely. Mikabwe explained at one point after she had another panic attack that people can’t comprehend death, so seeing it in front of them caused their mind to fog over in an attempt to maintain their sanity. It meant that they would rationalise it, or forget her completely. It meant that the world was rapidly becoming lonely.
No. Her real issue was knowing that she had lost something, something important, but couldn’t quite remember what it was. It felt like a word on the tip of her tongue, or a memory right at the back of her mind. Something was different, and it was important, and it no longer belonged to her. Attempts to explain it to her companions had only drawn politely blank stares and confused consolations.
It was what eventually convinced her that she had actually died there in Zax-Sia’s tomb. The cold, the stillness, the alienation from other people could easily be explained away and rationalised, but this feeling of loss overwhelmed her and would not be ignored. It became her everything, and tainted how she saw the world. Even the way she spoke was beginning to change. Nothing mattered anymore. The world existed differently, and she existed outside of it.
Well, that and the hunger. Liessa had spent every waking moment with a steadily growing hunger that only grew with the food she ravenously ate. Her body functioned as it needed to digest and expel the substances as normal, but it rapidly became apparent that no nutrients were being absorbed as her appetite grew. Put simply, the food wasn’t actually feeding her.
It was comforting though, a familiar motion to ease the squirming fear in her belly that came with the knowledge of imminent war. As the nobles ate chocolate, so she ate everything. Apples, jerky, gruel, if it seemed like food, she would eat it. Even the raw rabbit stolen from the previous nights’ stores had seemed at least palatable.
It didn’t matter, anyway. The meals could have been prepared by the king’s own catering staff and they’d still taste bitter and dusty.
Liessa looked up, distracted from her thoughts by her monstrous candle. It had suddenly started guttering, fluttering and stretching towards the soft wall of her tent. It flickered wildly for a minute and then went out completely, as if someone had sucked the flame right off the wick. All over the camp came crackles and strange reversed sucking noises, occasionally accompanied by sounds of annoyance or surprise. Liessa barely had time to clamber through the tent flaps before a loud metallic pop and a stream of creative curses signalled the arrival of an irate puddle jumper somewhere nearby. Even through the hiss of snap-boiled water, Liessa recognised that velvety voice.
“Sierra?” It was almost too much to hope. She twisted her fingers around her belt and pulled it tight as she peered through the dark, her stomach writhing and fluttering uncomfortably.
The whole world held it’s breath, the forest nearby falling still. All but one cricket ceased their singing, and eventually even that one slowed and self consciously stopped. The silence lasted an eternity. Liessa’s heart began to fall.
And then she was suddenly up in the air, squeezed tightly with Sierra’s joyful laughter in her ear and that cinnamon leather smell in her nose. The leather is stiff, Liessa noticed fuzzily as she wrapped her arms around the jumper’s shoulders. She has new armour.
“Oh, Liessa, I missed you so much. So much. I’m so glad you’re still alive, my darling, my love.” Sierra whispered breathily in her hair, finally letting her feet back on the ground but refusing to release her from the tight embrace. “When I couldn’t find you I thought you were dead.”
The comment flushed ice through Liessa’s veins. Cold replaced any feeling of happiness or delight that accompanied Sierra’s return. What should she say to that? What could she say?
Sierra felt her go rigid in her arms and pulled back to peer at her. It took some bending and dodging to catch the priestess’ eye, and when she did, concern rapidly replaced relief. Liessa’s green eyes lacked the mischievous sparkle they’d once had. “What’s wrong?”
“I think you should come inside.” Liessa sighed, breaking the gaze after a moment to motion towards the tent. “A lot has happened while you were gone.”