13.3 – Why did you leave me?
The tale singer’s room-enshrouding mane quivers gently.
„A decapitated rodent. Intended as an instrument of torture and salvation. A most curious detail.“
The faintest pale glimmer of what Brittle imagines to be a leg, but which could in fact be anything, appears and disappears like brief sunlight in an occluded sky.
„I love details. They keep me going. When I think I have seen and heard everything there is, a new and uncut crystal is dug out from the bedrock and makes me marvel. And furthermore, my dear, stubborn, unpolished gem, this here, being the receiver of a tale with so many fresh perspectives in such an intimate setting, that hasn’t happened to me…oh…since the Third Hardship was so deftly run aground by someone of your…“ She smiles. Of course she does. „….stature.“
She keeps combing her hair with her fingers. Brittle is here and not-here, in an in-between trance. The tale-singer’s smile broadens, not in a menacing way (But not in a non-menacing way either). „What I am trying to say, in a slightly less verbose fashion, is: ’Do go on, dearest. What delightful thing happened next?’“
The hair glued to her tongue with her own blood gives a pull, unleashing a word.
And in the wake of the word is the feeling, a rush of bitter hatred possessing her body, pulling her back down into the depths of her submerged self.
The forest was greener than green. All the buds erupting into spring-song. This annoyed Brittle immensely. The stark contrast between her inner state and her surroundings was…galling, to say the least. She ran through all this boisterous life-affirming stagshit, cursing her world, herself and her kin with every available breath, which of course, in the end, made her stop in her tracks, unable to breathe.
She cursed that too. Her frailty. Her inability to do even the simplest of chores without feeling strangled by invisible weeds. She cursed perfect doe-eyed Brook and uncouth Brash and dithering half-wit Bramble, all three of whom had just ganged up on her to bully her, not like Brawn, not with force of body, but with sharp, incisive words. She cursed her inability to withstand them, she cursed the fact that even though she had promised herself not to care, she apparently still did. Frail. Weak. Brittle.
She plumped down on a big tree stump, cursing the tears running down her cheek, trying to intimidate them with Will’s intent into reversing their course and disappear back behind her eyes. But they did not listen, they just fell mindlessly off the sides of her face, giving superfluous moisture to the vibrant, happy, wet and teeming ground. Falling back in despair, she was surprised to find that the stump was big enough to encompass all of her. Wiping her eyes, she suddenly realised that her hard bed of anguish was the War-Begone-Tree. Her only haven in the tangled mass of cruelty that was the real. A comforting dead space in the obnoxious flood of green sick thrown up over the landscape. Stretching out her hands, she caressed the naked wood, trying to gather herself and failing. All her grief, her anger and her hate overcame her and she lost control of herself, sobbing, heaving and shouting in equal measure.
„Why? Why? Why? WHY!!!!!?“ she yelled into the center of the stump’s ancient rings, crouching with curved back, muscles tense. No reply came forth. No solace. No comfort. No….
„Briiiittle…“ whispered the wind, „Whyyy did you leeeave me?“
She froze. Did she really…? „Whhhyyy…?“ said the breeze flowing past her ear. Slight, but unmistakable. Gathering herself, she started walking in the direction of the wind.
It led her to Bray’s Wound. To the bottom of that narrow, collapsed ravine where the waters of Wood Maiden’s Stream ran through. The Whyyyys, though fewer and far-between, seemed to insist that she enter the dark crack in the cliffside. She did, eager to feel at least some hint of a purpose. It was hard going at first. The banks of the river were covered in sharp shale, the occasional boulder and old, rotten logs. That is, when there were any banks at all. Sometimes she had to wade, even swim to progress. Blood ran down her legs from cuts and bruises, she had to stop infuriatingly often to catch her breath, but nothing could turn her back. She willed herself on. Whenever she felt the tiniest doubt, another Whyyy would fleet past her like an alluring wildmoonwing, and give her strength to continue. Whose voice was this? Some spirit from a distant past? The fabled wood maiden that this stream was apparently named after? Any fear or uncertainty she might have had concerning the provenance of this mysterious beckoning died down in the face of her conviction, however.
The sky had begun to darken when she found herself at an impasse. It had become hard to see, she was shivering and wet, and the banks were but a memory. A gigantic eagle’s nest of jagged rocks in the middle of the ever-widening stream. All of her was pain. Her will pushed against the constraints of her form.
Whyyyyyyy said the wind and seemed to flit straight into the jumble of sharp stone where it tornadoed around for a bit before dissipating. Hope crept up on her. Could this be her goal? Grabbing hold of one of the larger rocks, she pulled herself out of the waist deep waters and tried to look for a way inside the formation. Surprisingly, she found an opening at once, light conditions being better up here than below. Or…Looking up, she saw that the moon had appeared rather surreptitiously, shining directly overhead for at least another moment or two. „Why indeed?“ she said to herself, and went below.
She half-crawled, half-slid through a strange natural tunnel, her passage somehow still lit by lunar light as if reflected again and again by the slick stone. It didn’t take long before she came to the end of her journey, a small rounded alcove, not carved, just an empty space between the rocks. And there, the strangest thing. Another, smaller rock sat here, as if deliberately placed. It was black as night, about half her height, and somewhat eye-shaped. On top of it was a grisly crown made up of skulls, too small skulls. Unsure as to what to do, Brittle picked up the grotesque ornament and put it onto her head. At that moment, she noticed something else on top of the stone, previously obscured by the skull band. A coarse, black, kind of wing-shaped object, reminding Brittle of something she had seen before somewhere. Where had she seen this? And in what context? And whyyyy was it here?
She held it up close to her face to inspect it in more detail in the red moonlight. It was….“Wait,“ she said, „Why is the light this colour?“ In response the skewed triangle she held in her hand went: