It seems like terror
Is lulling me to sleep
Evoking fortitude us not enough
For the gruesome plights
The restless nights
That soul goes through
The futility of the human life
Be still my beating heart
Yet not so still
That I breathe my last breath
There was not enough hurt
That these eyes had to bear
Such that it watered
When I looked into yours
You see, it is not so easy
Looking away and remaining still
But it felt much lighter
Much easier than before
When I pushed ahead to my true awakening
So although it seems like terror
Is lulling me to sleep
I still remain awake
As I beckon myself to a blissful paradise
Which resides within
John Green; Paper Towns
Working on yourself is one of the hardest things to do. Self love is even harder. You are your own worst critic. When you get to a point of complete self acceptance all else will fall into place in your life. Strive for better for yourself. No one deserves it more than you.
Euripides, from Hekabe, Grief Lessons: Four Plays; translated by Anne Carson
Text ID: It was ordained for me—catastrophe. / It was ordained for me—grief.
When Maeve floated in on a shimmering wave of sound the tentacle demon took notice. It had just tossed a Guild guard towards its maw, but Maeve snatched them out of the air. All the tentacles immediately honed in on her, ignoring the other wizards present. She settled gently to the ground and pulled the hapless guard she’d just saved back from the Hell rift. The tentacles that tried to grab her only hit a wall of force they couldn’t penetrate.
Close to the front of the Hell rift there was a stocky dwarf swinging around a sword larger than his own body like it weighed nothing. The other guards had fled after Maeve’s warning, but this last one was still hacking at tentacles as they emerged all on his own. “That means you too, Dag!” Maeve projected. She snapped her finger and blasted him away from the portal with a concentrated burst of force. The spell looked from Draevin’s position to be kinomancy, but based on her specialty he knew it had to be sonamancy.
The massive demon squirmed against the fiery rift, stretching it even further. There was a sound of sizzling meat where the creature’s body pressed against the edges of the rift and a foul smoke emerged, but there was no indication the demon was harmed by this. It only eagerly tried to squeeze its way through while grabbing at Maeve.
It wasn’t entirely clear where the thing’s tentacles ended and its body began. There was a mouth of sorts near center mass with rows and rows of sharp fangs. An entire contingent of Guild wizards had barely been holding the thing back when they had the advantage of restricting it to a limited portal. As the portal continued to stretch, the true scale of the creature was starting to become apparent. It was massive on a scale that creatures in the mortal plane just never got. Draevin knew nothing about it except that it reminded him of the demon Trundle had tried and failed to summon in his last match before Bar’azath had forcibly replaced it. The demon seemed more like a force of nature than a creature, yet Maeve was perfectly calm and seemed content to face it all on her own.
“Gᴀʀx ɪᴛʜ ᴅᴜ Bᴀʀ’ᴀᴢᴀᴛʜ!” A many-toned rumble of sound came from the demon. Speech. The words were like nothing Draevin had ever felt; they made him feel dirty just for listening while at the same time some part of his brain told him to freeze in place and hope it didn’t notice him. This was not the sort of threat one could fight or flee.
Maeve didn’t look phased. “How dare you!” she shouted at the thing. “You were not called here. You have violated your oath by stepping on these lands.”
“Bᴀʀ’ᴀᴢᴀᴛʜ ɪx ᴜɴᴛʜ ɪᴋx ɪɴ!” the demon responded to her. By now the writhing demon had countless tentacles wrapped around Maeve, but some sonamancy magic of hers kept them from reaching her or any of the nearby guards. Draevin could see that the thick black slime that lined the tentacles was being pushed away in quick pulses, revealing a shimmering purple skin beneath. Maeve’s sonamancy barrier held.
The bloody-handed orc that was standing next to Maeve muttered something to her after the demon’s response. She shook her head. “I don’t care,” she told the man in an unenhanced voice that Draevin could still hear. “We’re bound by the Conflux, but if it insists on coming in then it will just have to serve as a warning to the others.”
Maeve raised her arms up high, then pushed forwards towards the creature as if straining against a heavy weight. A pulse of force washed over the demon’s entire body. A deep hum vibrated Draevin’s chest and black slime began to float off the demon’s skin as though weightless. Maeve snapped the fingers on one hand. A sharp note rang through the air. The tone seemed to hang there longer than was natural. When the echoing note ended the demon exploded. It had to be the size of a castle, but that didn’t matter. One second it was squirming against Maeve’s Sound Barrier, the next it existed only in liquid form.
Considering Maeve’s obsession with her aesthetics it was no surprise that she maintained her sonamancy barrier long enough to block the chunks of ichor that went flying from the demon’s corpse. Unfortunately for the other nearby guards, she didn’t extend the same courtesy to them. While demon blood rained down around her, Maeve merely fussed with her dress to make sure she hadn’t gotten any stains on it. The rest of the guards waded up to their knees in viscera for a moment before most of it ran off down the hill.
There was a moment of silence in the wake of… whatever Maeve had done to that demon, but in moments the sounds of demonic howling returned on the other side of the Hell rift. The orc sanguimancer raised his bloody hand and began chanting. The portal started to rapidly close.
“Not just yet,” Draevin heard Maeve tell the orc in a normal voice, “give me a minute on the other side.” He nodded his understanding and stopped the portal’s closure when it had reached roughly the same size it had been when Draevin had first come through it. Maeve grabbed some of her dress fabric in either hand to lift the ends above the dirt and daintily advanced towards the portal. Draevin saw her shoes for the first time and was surprised to find she was wearing what looked like solid gold heels. They were fashionable, but didn’t match the rest of her carefully-crafted blue outfit.
The demonic howling had reached a fever-pitch by the time she reached the portal. She stepped inside, then walked out of sight. From within the rift Draevin heard a whomp of displaced air, then all the howling stopped. Maeve returned to the portal entrance shortly after and carefully watched the ends of her dress as she stepped through again. She seemed far more concerned with tarnishing her outfit than the threat of whatever else she’d just dispatched on the other side of that portal. She gestured to the orc guard again and told him, “Okay you can go ahead and close it now. No hurry though. They won’t be trying that again.”
Draevin was dumbfounded. Truthfully he’d never seen Maeve stress herself in combat before, but he’d also barely ever seen her need to interfere in any goings-on around the arena until this year. That she had handled such a threat so soundly made her at least appear to be on a completely different level compared to himself. That wasn’t an easy thing for Draevin to admit, but somehow this year it had been happening more and more. Maeve walked over to where Dag was standing. His massive sword was slung over one shoulder and he looked particularly grumpy. The two of them started talking in serious tones.
“Why are you doing that, friend-Draevin?” a familiar voice asked from behind.
“Doing what?” Draevin asked as he turned to find Grrbraa padding up to him. The werebeast had a few patches of sticky blood on his arms and chest but he was walking without a limp which seemed to indicate the blood either wasn’t his own or he’d already healed from the wounds that had caused it.
Grrbraa waggled one of his arms. “That thing with your arm,” he said. “Mother-Taelshin never lets me put my hand down one of those.”
Draevin’s arm was still sticking down the mouth of The Pot that people usually sat on. He pulled it up to show Grrbraa. “Oh this? I have greyskin poi—” His skin was unmarred by poison. Sometime during the battle he must’ve finished absorbing all the mana he needed to burn it off without noticing. His mana pool even felt comfortingly full. “Oh. Never mind.”
“Friend-Peter also likes to do silly stuff,” Grrbraa said. Peter was still standing near The Pot but had barely moved a hairsbreadth in all this time. The werebeast shuffled a little closer and snuffled Peter closely. “Are you guys playing some kind of game?” His tail wagged hopefully.
“No, Peter’s currently suffering the effects of…” Draevin trailed off as he thought better of trying to explain the complex concept to Grrbraa. “Yeah, it’s just a game. He should be done playing it in, ummm, in a while.” Truthfully ten minutes of exposure to a spell like the one they’d gotten trapped in shouldn’t have caused the symptoms Peter was exhibiting. If cast properly it shouldn’t have caused any symptoms at all. Draevin was at a bit of a loss trying to guess at how much longer it would be affecting him.
“Ooh! Can I play too?” Grrbraa quickly positioned himself next to Peter and held one arm slightly raised from his waist the way Peter’s was.
“You’re in the mood to play games right now?” Draevin asked. “What happened with the saber demon you were fighting a minute ago?”
Grrbraa mirrored Peter’s position perfectly except for his thumping tail. It stopped wagging when Draevin mentioned the demon. “Oh that guy. I don’t remember what happened to him. I heard you crying so I ran as fast as I could to come help, then I saw a bad guy. After that…” his voice faded and he looked off into the horizon for a moment. “After that the bad guy was sleeping so I came over here to see if you were okay.”
Draevin very much doubted that the saber demon was “sleeping” but it seemed just as well that Grrbraa didn’t remember what he did to it, considering how much he seemed to dislike violence. If he had left the thing alive though, that was probably something they should take care of. “Why don’t you stay here and watch Peter while I go check on that,” Draevin said.
“You’re not going anywhere,” Maeve’s voice called from behind.
Draevin turned around to see the Guild announcer, in all her splendor, had come to talk to him. Most of the contingent of guards followed behind her. Perseus was with them. He gave Draevin a weak wave. As far as apologies for leaving him to die went, Draevin figured that was probably all he was going to get. “One of the saber demons got out and is just down that ridge,” Draevin explained to Maeve. He could guess why she’d come to talk to him and he was sure he wasn’t going to like the outcome.
“Don’t bother,” Maeve told him. She snapped a finger at one of the guards over her shoulder. “You. Go check on that.” A dwarven guard with a scruffy beard and a layer of black ichor smeared on his armor trudged off in that direction. Maeve pointed to Peter. “Is that the one?” she asked over her shoulder.
“Yes,” Perseus replied. “I saw them come through together. Draevin told me he was the one who opened the rift.”
Maeve gave a casual gesture for more of the guards to step forward and grab Peter. Draevin objected. “I didn’t actually see him do it,” he said. “We got stuck in a time trap of some kind and I jumped out early. When time resumed the portal was just… there.”
When the guards got close to Peter, Grrbraa stopped his silly copy-cat game and stood in front of him protectively. He gave a deep-throated warning growl which caused the guards to stop. “The human is suffering from a severe case of chronomancy feedback,” Perseus agreed.
Maeve waved back the guards that had stepped forward to seize Peter. She raised a curious eyebrow. “Is he now?” She blinked her eyes and suddenly there was a soft white glow on her forehead right where one would normally expect to see an indication that True Sight was active. “That’s… very curious,” she said. The glowing dot disappeared as quickly as it had come. It seemed like some kind of True Sight, but Draevin hadn’t seen her make any hand signs. Curious indeed.
It felt unfair to Draevin that he was being investigated when he was the victim in all this. “It was Caelnaste!” he told everyone. He looked around at the half-circle of guards that had formed around him to be sure they all heard what he had to say. “I came out of my match and a bunch of assassins were waiting for me in the access tunnel. They confirmed that they were hired by Caelnaste to kill me. Peter saved me and we used that portal to get here after they touched me with greyskin poison.”
“He was saying much the same thing earlier,” Perseus confirmed.
“That’s a serious accusation,” Maeve said. She tapped her chin a couple times thinking. The assorted guards looked like they wanted to say more but they took the hint from her that she wanted silence for a minute. Grrbraa’s growls were the only sound for a moment until another voice sounded from a ways away.
“Fuckin’ shite! It’s a right fuckin’ mess down there!” It was the dwarf guard that had gone to check on the saber demon. He came back to report his findings, unaware of the sudden shift in mood that Draevin’s accusation had caused. “Looks like somethin’ tried ta’ eat a gods damned demon! Half tha’ head’s just fuckin’ gone and… What’s all this now?”
Maeve turned coolly to the guard. “Go tell Dag it was in the access tunnel,” she said.
“What am I? A messen—” the guard stopped midsentence when Maeve turned the rest of her body to face him. Her lips were tight and her glare was clear even with her glowing eyes. “Yes ma’am, right away.”
Maeve turned back to Draevin. “And you’re sure? She tried to have you killed outside of a match?” She stressed the last words very carefully.
A green-haired eldrin guard off to the side muttered, “An active contestant? She’s not gone mad, has she?”
“Silence,” Maeve commanded without turning around. The guard’s mouth clamped shut immediately. As far as Draevin was aware Maeve’s position within the Guild as the announcer was just a superficial title, but the way these guards were kowtowing to her was starting to make him second guess that. Maybe it was the way she’d dissolved a giant demon to liquid with barely a gesture. That sort of thing had to be deserving of respect. “Who here is skilled in cerebromancy?” she asked her guards.
Of the roughly dozen guards, two raised their hands. She pointed to the green-haired one that had talked out of turn. “The chatty one,” she said.
“Woah, hold up,” Draevin said. “What’s this about cerebromancy?”
Maeve gave him an annoyed look. “We’re going to confirm your accusation right here and now. Either we arrest you for defamation of a public figure or we arrest Caelnaste for attempted murder of an active contestant. There’s no middle ground.” She jabbed her finger at the eldrin again. “Look in his mind and confirm if he’s telling the truth,” she commanded.
“Hold on just a minute,” Draevin said. He held his hands up defensively. Cerebromancy had risen high on his list of Unfavorite Things this year. The guard stepped forward. “Why don’t you just send for an Oath Stone? We don’t have to bring mind magic into this!” The guard set a hand on Draevin’s temple. “Wait! My wards! If you touch my mind—”
Too late he remembered that he’d forgotten to refresh his mental defenses when his mana had returned to him. As consciousness slipped from his grasp Draevin felt a moment of disappointment that Grrbraa hadn’t defended him from the guards as viciously as he had Peter.
“Knowledge is always useful, even if… if it is not immediately apparent how it will be useful.”
— Garth Nix, Frogkisser!