#5 – Of Self and Strain
When will you learn, that death is your friend?
She was looking at herself.
The same leather clothing. The same sandals. Same blue eyes. Same dagger. The only difference was the malicious grin etched deeply on her doppelgänger’s face.
“You don’t know your own name. You don’t know what you are. You are utterly useless. You deserve to die, don’t you agree?” the doppelgänger’s malicious grin seemed to grow deeper, like a knife slicing through to the bone.
What was happening?
How could she possibly be looking at herself? And why did she want to kill herself? No, this wasn’t a suicide thing. Another her wanted to end her life, and all because she couldn’t remember her name.
Did the other her know it?
“What use would it be… telling you your own name? If you can’t recollect, it is not my job to hold your hand—” The doppelgänger raised her dagger, and suddenly disappeared. One moment there, the next gone. The doppelgänger reappeared beside her. “—and guide you,” other her whispered.
There was a tingling sensation that moved through her, and in time she raised her hand up to catch the tip of the dagger aimed at her midsection. The dagger went through her palm, the tip stopping just a hair’s breadth from her midriff.
Doppelgänger narrowed her eyes, then launched an elbow at her. Her hair whipped out and deflected the blow. Using the chance, she threw a fist at the doppelgänger, whose hair whipped to deflect it. The doppelgänger winked, before kicking her square in the stomach. The force was uncanny, and in the sea of white surrounding the two combatants she found herself flying backwards.
Pain sharpened her mind as she got up into a crouch, waiting for the double to strike. The double vanished, and instinctively she put an obsidian shard in her hand, ready to parry. Her fingertips tingled and she thrust the shard over her head. At that precise moment, the double appeared with the dagger on a downward thrust. The obsidian shard blocked its motion, the tip almost close enough to tear her skin.
Blows were exchanged in a flurry, the double using her dagger to face against her with her shard and her own dagger.
“You don’t know what you’re capable of. And someone with your abilities should not be allowed to run free!” the doppelgänger roared as she jumped back and threw out her own shards of obsidian. She deflected two of them, and back-flipped to dodge the third. That one went over her and pierced a wall she didn’t know existed. A crack formed around the tip of the shard, and then she remembered the outside world. She rushed to the shard and punched it in, breaking through the whiteness that she was in. Slowly, the white began to fall off, breaking into smaller pieces as it hit the floor.
“Looks like our time here has ended…” the doppelgänger said.
And then, there was darkness.
She felt like she was dropping. Fast.
She struggled to get her eyes open, her lids stuck down with force. Then, when she finally got them open, she saw herself in a completely odd situation.
She was falling from the sky.
As the seconds passed, the grounds drew towards her faster and faster, languidly waiting for her imminent demise. She couldn’t even imagine how she was going to save herself from this one. Why was she even falling from the sky? How did she get all the way up there? The last thing she remembered was her doppelgänger’s dagger creating a crack in the—
The white room.
She spun around mid-air, her gaze landing on something even more bizarre…
The sun was broken. Pieces of it floated around in the skies, with some large chunks still intact. But in the end, the sun was broken. And then a thought hit her.
What if I was in the sun? I broke the white room. Did I break the sun in the process? How is that possible?
“Hey! I didn’t know you could fly! You have no wings! How are you—wait, you’re falling aren’t you?”
She gave the bird a ‘do you even have to ask’ face and waited for the bird to get the hint.
“Chei! You are falling. What does it feel like? I’ve only ever been able to glide, but outright fall? I haven’t been able to do that. I wonder if it’s something I can do… oh right yes. I’m going to save you again by not letting you drop to your death! Why don’t you get your mind into my body and—”
What happened was different this time. Instead of her mind into the bird’s body, she felt the energy that she pumped into the hound flow straight into the bird. But the bird didn’t writhe in pain. It froze, blue light slowly spreading all over it until the light enveloped it, solidifying into a cocoon.
At that point she began to panic; her only means of getting saved and for some reason or the other, she had frozen it. Maybe even killed it.
I wonder what this bird would say about frozen meat…
Her eyes focused on the grounds that were about to become her tomb, she didn’t notice the change in the wind as something swooped down and caught her just before she landed.
“Are you okay back there?” the most annoying, and yet most endearing bird voice asked her. She clutched the feathers on the back of the bird and sighed. Whatever had happened had made the bird grow several times its size. So big it was able to comfortably carry her on its back, with some room to spare.
“We have company. You should get ready.”
She sat up, looking into the horizon. And she saw it. Her double was riding a griffin; the head of an eagle with the body of a lion. The eagle’s sharp eyes pierced her, and she knew deep down there was no turning back from this. This is what she had to do. This is the core she had to find.
She had to defeat herself.
Her inner powers shifted, and she felt old patterns coming back. From the depths of her mind she conjured up a bow, the blue from her energy materializing a bow in her hand. As she strung the bow, an arrow formed in her hand ready to fire. She waited, her bird flying towards their target. The glint in her double’s eyes made something fierce inside her start to ache.
She let the arrow loose, watching it fly deftly towards the griffin. It dipped, giving the doppelgänger the chance to bat off the arrow. She left off three arrows in succession, and each one was parried by the double. The two birds collided, their beaks and talons jabbing at each other as they fought for dominance in the air. She jumped off her bird, ready to do battle with her doppelgänger and end it.
The double wasn’t prepared for the attack, and grunted in pain as she slammed straight into the double’s chest. They both began to fall, their birds still screeching overhead as each lady fell to the earth with nothing but their battle in mind. With the strong wisps of wind that made their hairs scatter, the clangs of weapons and shards facing off kept ringing through.
Blow after blow was exchanged in the air, each person trying to gain the advantage by being over the other as they fell down. The double kicked with both feet at her chest, pushing her away. She grunted, trying to right herself to resume the fight. The griffin came soaring down, picking up the doppelgänger and rearing for another go at it. The bird came down after and caught her.
“That one… very tough… chei, tough eh. How are you doing?” the bird asked.
She felt alive. Nothing else had any meaning. Her singular purpose all this while had been to reach this end and face off against her doppelgänger. If she won, then maybe… just maybe she would finally get back what she had lost in her mind.
If she lost…
The bird held her resolve of steel and stirred itself back towards the griffin and the double. As they were racing towards their opponents, the bird screeched.
“Hold on to me!” it screamed as it dipped and spun in the air, dodging arrows along the way. It flapped its wings and suddenly she felt a boom as the bird went faster than she even thought possible. “When we’re close enough, go get her!” There was a ferocity in the bird’s voice, one she never thought could be possible for the happy-go-lucky bird. But she wasn’t going to deny the fire it was trying to fuel. If anything, she needed the fire.
She squeezed the neck of the bird, sending her acknowledgement to it.
Don’t lose against the griffin. I have no other birds that talk to me.
If the bird read her mind, or knew what she was trying to say, it didn’t acknowledge. Its focus was solely on getting them to their opponents, dodging the arrows along the way.
She crouched and leapt, the bird’s momentum giving her a large boost. She felt the rush of energy, and used it to make the bow and string 3 arrows on it. Her double was waiting, bow and arrows at the ready. They released at the same time, each assailant getting wounded by arrows. She flew over the double, grabbing the griffin’s tail to swing back up. The griffin growled, and then shrieked in pain. Her unintended distraction must have helped the bird attack.
She landed on the griffin’s back and launched a knee that connected with the doppelgänger’s chin. Falling from the skies a third time, she drove in 2 kicks and a dagger slash into the doppelgänger, all three attacks hitting their marks. The double spun, her arms suddenly crystallizing with shards as she gave a roundhouse kick. She blocked the kick, but didn’t have enough time to block the shard from hitting her square in the chest.
The air left her lungs, and for a moment she was paralyzed as the doppelgänger hit punch after punch.
“I told you… if you don’t remember anything, then you should die!”
Anger boiled inside of her, reminding her of why she was in this fight. The labyrinth. Them that sent the bird to her. Her memories. Was she fighting on the whims of puppet masters, or for herself?
Does it matter? I can’t lose here…
The doppelgänger’s fist shot out, and on instinct she shot hers out as well. Both fists connected, a sonic wave reverberating through the skies. The doppelgänger’s shards broke, revealing the arm underneath. Shock coloured her eyes as she tried to materialize some more shards and the shock increased when the double saw her coat her own arms with shards.
She threw out her arm, the shards forming a chain that wrapped around the doppelgänger’s hand. She pulled the double closer and drove her dagger through the double’s shoulder, brandishing a shard and plunging that one into the belly of the doppelgänger. She wrapped the chain around the double’s neck and began to squeeze, all the while they fell to their deaths.
“Do… you… know… your… name?” the double choked out.
This only made her angrier. Again with the name? Why wouldn’t anyone just tell her? She squeezed the chain even tighter, waiting for the crack that would end the double’s life.
“Heh… I knew… always knew…” the double wheezed. “But… you… will…”
One more tug, and she’d be able to get it over with. But before she managed to squeeze even harder, she felt a sharp pain pierce through her. When she looked down, she saw that the double’s hand had gone through her flesh and landed right on her heart.
The double looked at her and smiled. “You… will… know…”
Her heart felt like it was being crushed, and the ache overrode every other sense she had. She tugged with all her might, snapping the double’s neck before allowing the pain to envelope her mind and take her away.
Just like that, she remembered everything. Who she was, what she could do, what her purpose was. She remembered it all.
The memories cascaded into her, filling each void they left behind when she lost them. She welcomed them whole, and revelled at the strongest memory. The one that gave her power and substance.
She remembered her name.
Her eyes shot open, and the ground was mere feet away. But she wasn’t afraid. In fact, she was very calm. She knew just what she had to do.
Balancing the forces inside of her, she called to the winds to come and carry her. They answered her call, and wrapped around her whole. The winds righted her, making her feet land softly on the ground. Flowers began to bloom behind her as she walked, her steps giving life to the scorched earth she stood on.
The bird, she remembered her dear companion, landed beside her, the griffin laying in a heap a distance away. The bird had won, just like she believed it would. When she looked at it, she saw its eyes spark with recognition as it bowed its head in reverence.
When it looked up, it said; “You are Alusi…”
She nodded. “Yes,” she spoke, her voice the soothing roars of ocean breeze and the raging calms of foliage. “I am Ani, and I protect these lands…”
Did you hear the one about the couch potato? Me neither. I was too lazy to listen.