((57 - Wall of Breath))
Just the color, at first.
Then a sense of motion.
Throbbing. A pulse.
It doesn't make sense.
There's so much, so much of it, all of it, too much of it.
What is it? Does it matter?
It doesn't make sense.
Make it make sense.
Make it work.
Make it make sense.
Make it make sense.
The color is sunlight.
Filtered down through... water?
With a start, Jaz realized she was lying on her back, looking up at... water? She blinked. Felt herself out, trying to find what hurt, what was broken, what worked, what didn't. She was fully intact, to her surprise. Naked, but physically unharmed. In perfect physical condition, even--her scars were gone.
She twitched her fingers, and her shoulders, and then she was rolling to her feet, battle-ready, her fingers twitching now not because she wanted them to but because they should be gripping swords. She stared around, stared up, regulating her breath, trying to get herself oriented.
She was in... something. A tunnel. A tunnel of air, deep underneath far too much water. The ground beneath was... soft, and made of something tannish-brown. It almost felt like a mountain of grainy dust underfoot. In the water lurked shadowy forms, moving about silently. They flowed through it, shifting in and out of focus.
The liquid around her began to boil slightly, turning suddenly grayish-green. The red light still filtered down from above, but was now considerably muted.
Jaz relaxed her stance a bit, brushing the dust off of her back, her eyes glued upwards as she realized there was nothing holding the water away from her face, not glass, not plastic, just... air. She raised a fascinated hand, wanting to touch it, but pulled away as it began to change before her eyes.
She looked both ways down the tunnel, trying to find a way out. All she saw was it stretching off, curving away, fading into indistinctness in both directions. She shrugged to and tried to mutter something, but found her voice strangled from disuse. She coughed and chose a direction, walking briskly, almost jogging. The ground underfoot had a bit of give to it, and felt weird between her toes. She took a moment to curse her lack of boots, and her voice worked fine this time. It brought comfort, even, gave reality to the surreality around her.
As she ran, the liquid around her continued to shift, changing colors and textures several times. Always that dappled light, though, and always... always those shadows. They lurked just at the edge of vision, swimming through whatever it was.
After a time, she saw something more. Out a ways from the tunnel, there was an immense fissure in the ground. It belched great clouds of black smoke, glowing an even deeper red than the light from above. Something stood beside it, considerably more solid than the other shadows. It was a vaguely humanoid form, legs rooted in the waving tendrils of some sort of glowing vegatation. It was wearing a cowl and shawl, but rather clearly had more than two arm-limbs, which it waved meditatively. ((Michael Joseph Grant V))
Jaz frowned, and slowed down. "Hey!" She shouted, and found the louder she was, the more things seemed to make sense. Maybe you're just egotistical, one part of her brain whispered at her, but she ignored it.
The figure's hood jerked against the current as whoever was inside turned its head to look.
"Hey! You! Can you tell me what's going on?" She walked to the edge of the tunnel and raised a fist as if to knock on the glass of a window. She realized halfway through that it probably wouldn't work the same way, but knocked anyhow, banging her fist on the wall of water. Where she did, the wall of the tunnel bubbled outwards, appearing to boil the water away in front of it.
The figured gestured obscurely, as though speaking, then beckoned. It still wasn't clear how many arms it had. Certainly upwards of three. The boiling away of the water began to extend towards it, clearing a path.
Jaz stumbled a bit, as she was about to thrust her face through the wall to see if she could hear the figure better. She recovered and cursed at herself, shaking off her fog-headedness, and followed the new path.
The shadows in the liquid, seeming to notice this, swam towards the edges of the tunnel. The remained every bit as indistinct, though, even as they came closer.
The tunnel of air extended to include the figure, passing just alongside the fissure. The vegetation around the bottom of the cloaked form faded away as the tunnel of air bubbled past it, as if it had never been there. The figure settled gently to the ground with a faint, echoing clicking and clattering. Now it had but two arms, and seemed to be regarding Jaz, looking at her feet.
Jaz approached, cautions, not sure she could trust her head. "Excuse me?"
"Yes." The voice was edgy, placing emphasis in all the wrong places, even within a single syllable.
"Hello." Jaz's hands hung loosely at her side, and she kept her own voice as neutral as possible. "Where am I?"
"No, black-smith, not where. Who are you?" It steepled its hands, and bony finger-claws poked out of its sleeves. Far too many fingers! Or perhaps not enough, depending on the mindset. Say, a dozen digits on each limb.
Jaz frowned. "Black-smith? What..." She shook her head, and stood to attention. "Jazrill Quinn, Captain of--" She stopped. "Former Captain of the Oliver, now Co-Captain of the..."
She stopped again, thinking. "We never got around to naming it..." She looked back up at the thing, and noticed the fingers. She took a half-step back, her feet sliding into a fighting stance automatically. "Sir," she ended, and then then thought again. "Ma'am? Sir."
The thing seemed unconcerned or perhaps even uncomprehending of the gender issue. "You are so sure?"
Jaz stood straight. "I am sure that I am Jazrill Quinn, sir," she said, deciding. "And I'll be damned if I'm not a Captain."
It shook its head. "Good. This is good. How straaaaaange."
"Oh, it's good, is it? What the hell is good about it?"
"It is good you are sure. Strange-good." It took a step to one side, not towards her, its cowl rustling, face still fully concealed. "What is your powyr, Blacks Mith? Why can your kind come and go as they please? I see them but they have no such powyr. Only metal."
"Okay, listen, I have no idea what a 'blacksmith' is, firstly, and secondly, I certainly didn't come as I PLEASED, if I remember correctly I was fucking EATEN." She paused for breath, and continued more quietly, though with no less frustration. "And I don't even have any metal because my WEAPONS are missing, and no crystal because my SWORDS are gone too."
The fingers began to pick at each other nervously, then stopped. "You are not blecksmith?"
"I am Jazrill Quinn, we've been over this." She crossed her arms over her bare chest. "You haven't told me YOUR name, that's not exactly polite."
The creature ignored the implied question. "But if you are not of... of Blaskmith, what is the name of what you are?"
"Well, I'm a Captain, if I ever find Kasby and the ship. I'm a warrior, I guess you could say." She looked down at herself, still naked, though that didn't seem to be bothering her as much as she thought it should. "I'm, um, a woman? Human? That might help."
It shrank back, overwhelmed. The fingers rose into the draped hood and flickered, presumably worrying at an unseen brow. "You have many names. Not so many as I. But many still."
"Can you please tell me what's going on? And I'd like my swords." She blinked a moment, then muttered, "I guess some clothes would be nice, too." It was obvious the figure wasn't listening, so she paid attention to its words rather than her own.
"You have no clothes?" It questioned.
Jaz's usual piloting clothes were in fact on her. Her loose shirt, brown pants, thick belt, leather jacket and all.
She reexamined herself. "Well, that was fucking weird. Fits with the rest, anyway." She raised her voice slightly. "And the swords?"
The creature looked from side to side. "What?"
Jaz scowled. "Goddammit, of course not, nothing's that easy." She crossed her arms again. "So why do you need to know what I am?"
"I was told you are blacksmifth. I do not have you. Or do I? Unknown. But, it is important, I must be told what is called what you are." The creature waved a few limbs. It wasn't quite clear how many it had just then. "Jasrel? Capting? Wareer? Wuh-min? Hyumin?"
"So do you need me to choose?" Jaz raised an eyebrow. "Do I have too many names?"
"... No. But there are kinds of names. Names tell. Some names tell type, some tell quality, some tell manyness..." It paused, apparently thinking. "What is the name of the thing that you are, that others are also?"
"Well... the most general name, you mean? That would be human, I guess."
"Hueman. Yes. This is good. You are eaten? But you have your clothes. And skin and meat and bones and scales and hair and leaves." As it listed things, its forelimbs unfolded out of its sleeves into more, fingers disappearing back up into the folds of the sleeves again.
"I don't think I have scales. Or leaves." She looked down at herself, just to be sure. Yup, still human. "So... I guess I wasn't eaten? Listen, I really don't have time for this. What if the others didn't get away in time? I should find them. And even if they did... what will they think? Fuck, poor Kasby..." She frowned, and shifted her weight slightly. "So if you could just... let me know how to get out of this place, maybe hook me up with a ship..."
It nodded sagely. "No way out. Only in."
"Yeah, well, you also thought I was a blacksmith, whatever the hell that is, and that I had scales. Sorry, sir, but fuck you. Anyone else I could talk to around here?"
Jaz's face became more sarcastically frustrated, and she pulled back. "There is? Oh, great. He any more helpful than you?"
It nodded again.
Jaz raised an eyebrow, skeptical. "Really? Will I think so?"
It nodded a third time. "What are you speaking of?"
She sighed explosively. "Nevermind. Talking is not the way I get things done anyway. I don't know why I've been doing it so pointlessly for so long. Least I have clothes... so you can only get IN, huh?"
"Yes, and no. Most do not get in, like blacksm... huemins have."
"Well, how'd I get in? Most doors go both ways... they may not be designed to, but with enough persuasion, sure." Her mouth was set, now, her arms on her hips. She'd remembered that she was needed, somewhere.
"So I wonder, how is this powyr?" The creature was mostly muttering to itself, now. "How to go? Zebera left. Maybe not so."
Jaz stared at the thing. "Zebra? Zebra was HERE?"
The limbs all paused, mid-motion. "How do you know the Zebra? The one who is named Zebra but who is Blecksmythe? Why I cannot see your brains? So many questions!" It brought its arms around in a circle, this time displaying tendrils, not hands of any sort.
"She's a friend of mine, but... how was she HERE? Were they all here? Spider and Owl and Skunk, and a man named Kasby, were they here? Did I just miss them?" Jaz's eyes were boring into the thing, now. Her hand flashed out, exasperated with its questions, its constant movement, and caught one of the tendrils. "Was Kasby here? Tell me!"
The liquid around them crystallized instantly, forming not ice but something much more solid. The ground around Jaz's feet turned flat gray, a blank matte panel. The gray shot off to her left, boring through the not-ice, cutting a hole, a pathway, a fading.
The thing let out a weird, animalistic squeal-howl. "WHAT DID YOU DID!?" Around it, the shadows could be seen frozen stock-still, locked in their positions, but still indistinct.
Jaz released it, bewildered. "I didn't--this wasn't me! How I could have done this? If anything, I should be asking-- Oh, I see, clever." She darted forward again, this time catching the thing approximately where the throat should be and slamming it against the now-solid wall of the tunnel.
The wall cracked a little bit, shards of the not-ice flying into the air. Jaz's crystal sword was rather abruptly in her other hand, with its matching twin at her belt. She spared a moment to grin, though it was a wondering grin, and then sobered. "Listen, you. I don't know what you're trying to do or how the HELL you did it but I am not happy."
About two dozen spurs and barbs and arms and talons and pincers rose to cover the creature's exposed face. Still, three bright red eyes shone through all that, somehow more substantial than the rest of the body.
She drew back a bit from the face, but didn't let go. "Tell me where they went, and that's it. We're through. Otherwise... I seem to have acquired a nicely pointed piece of crystal, here, one that I am rather fond of. Fare more fond of it than you... and it needs a new sheath."
After a pause, it began to yell, its voiced backed by half a dozen others, some clicks, some far from human-sounding. "Where to go? ME? YOU! You are ruining EVERYTHING!" It was frothing with anger, and fear, and then suddenly its voice went pathetic, reverting back to a single pitch. "Now I am cut off, off from the pool! Stuck! No shadows, but I am dying! DYING!"
For a moment, Jaz trembled on the edge of her anger. Both her hands tightened, and she drew in a sharp breath through her nose--and let it go. She opened her hand, and dropped the thing. "God... fucking... DAMMIT."
The creature fell further than it should have before rising on its semi-ethereal limbs. It let out a strangled cry of... well, it was hard to tell. Frustration? Sorrow?
She kicked the wall, hoping to shatter something, if only because it would make her feel better. The not-ice did crack a bit, and some flakes flew off.
The creature perked up. "Wait. Do again!"
Jaz rolled her eyes, turning towards the thing. "Do. What. Again."
"Nevermind," it said coldly, collecting itself, examining the wall.
"Almost kill you? Gladly! If you're going to keep crying like that, maybe I'll finish the--oh." She kicked the wall again, harder, this time. A larger crack ran up it, and a fist-sized chunk of not-ice fell off. It touched the matte gray surface around Jaz's feet, and was promptly absorbed into it.
"Kill me and you will surely die. But who cares? If I do who will care for you? Not one. I am all." It was mostly muttering to itself again. It bent down to examine the gray surface. 'Bending down,' of course, was more complicated than one might expect. The walkway underfoot was almost metal. Almost.
"Care for me?" She kicked the wall, again, again. "Oh, there are people who care for me. And I'll get out of here, with you or without you, and I'll get back to them, and you would have died alone and--" She stopped, looking at the thing. "Sorry, I don't mean that. You're obviously... well, you're not obviously anything, but this isn't your fault. None of it." She resumed kicking.
It rose as she spoke, gazing down the gray pathway to nowhere, then to the fissure, still frozen off in the ice in the direction Jaz was kicking, then back at her. "Oh. I see. I see."
"I would still like to know how you know about Zebra, though. In fact, I'd LOVE to know." She frowned, and took a few steps back. "And why we're kicking our way through this when there's a pathway right there."
"Get out of my world."
"Show me how, and I'll be glad to."
"Yes." It raised three closely-bound arms, which swirled in the air. "Like this."
"I have to turn around?" From her right came a great wrenching cracking, and she spun to see what it was, both swords out now.
The not-ice wall shattered at roughly knee-leve as the fissure in the ground cracked open wider, splitting the still-visible sand, shooting towards her. It hit the edge of her little walkway of gray metal, and a plume of red fire shot out of it, straight towards Jaz.
She tried to leap backwards, stumbled, fell--and then stood, entirely confused, as the fire washed past her harmlessly. "I..."
"That's not what you meant, then, this isn't... me, leaving? This is not how you leave?"
"WHAT!" Suddenly the creature was a dancing tangle of limbs, invoking every offensive spell it could think of. Lightning, tornadoes, runes, a whirlwind barrage of attacks flew out of every orifice of the world, all aimed straight at Jaz.
Every one shifted past her, flowing around her, leaving her completely unscathed in their wake. She was moving, now, dodging and un-dodging and standing still and jumping and half-trying to avoid everything but half just entirely and utterly puzzled. "What the fuck is happening?"
"GET OUT GET OUT GET OUT GET OUT GET OUT!"
Cracks appeared in the tunnel's not-ice, and a thousand tiny bugs poured of them, almost, but not quite, entirely unlike the ones Jaz had fought in the Corkscrew. Then the ceiling above her melted into not-rain, which fell, striking the insects and... searing them away, boiling them. The creature stopped whirling and threw an alien hissy fit, actually hissing and spitting and frothing a little before starting to calm down.
She glanced around, and darted down the pathway. It was better than being screamed at and covered in bugs. Again. The pathway seemed to stretch away into infinity before her, fading into a distant gray haze.
Jaz cast a glance back over her shoulder at the thing, but it was probably better off without her. She kept her swords ready and stalked forward. She was still angry, so angry at all this wasted time and nonsense. Who knew where Kasby and the others could be...
She kept walking, dead-set in the knowledge that she would her way out, one way or another. "I'll find you, Kasby. I promise."