Why am I remembering all this now?
Hmm? Wasn’t I dead?
I distinctly remember dying.
Or is this death?
I’m floating in an empty void.
Well, no, not exactly.
There is actually no sensation of floating. There is only nothing.
Nothing to see, or hear, or smell, or touch, or taste, or feel, and no sense of my own body.
Well, I suppose it is peaceful.
And it doesn’t hurt anymore. That’s a definite improvement, in my book.
I always knew I wouldn’t live long, anyway. It just came a bit earlier than anticipated.
It’s a shame, but there’s nothing I can do about it.
This nothing is at least much better than the terror I felt as I was dying.
That feeling of my consciousness extinguishing a tiny bit at a time, of tipping little by little toward nothingness. Halfway dead and halfway alive. Just hanging on the cusp.
I don’t want to go through that again.
Dying is worse than actually being dead.
I don’t know how long I’ve waited in this ‘place’.
I have no sense of time. It could have been years. It could have been seconds.
What I know, is that it’s lonely, here. It would be better if Nerys was with me.
…No, wait. Wouldn’t that mean I want her to die, too?
Very well, then. Do take your time. You can just come and join me in a few hundred years.
How long is an elf’s lifespan?
I forgot… Pretty long, I think.
Since Father is human, he’ll likely die before Nerys. He’s about fifty, so I suppose I’d have to wait for another twenty or thirty years? That sounds like quite a long time.
It’s strange, though.
It’s not what I was expecting.
I thought that my existence would simply cease when I died, that I would feel nothing and know nothing and be nothing. A person is their body. Once all activity stops within the brain, there is no more ‘person’.
But I still have my consciousness, my memories. I can still think. I am even aware of my own death.
It is strange.
Don’t my thoughts come from my brain?
If my brain is dead, then how can I think?
Is it getting brighter?
I think it’s getting brighter…
There’s definitely light coming from somewhere.
Slowly, ever so slowly, the light grows more and more pronounced, and a blurry image starts to appear within it.
Slowly, ever so slowly, the image gets clearer and sharper, until the image encompasses the entire world.
Until the image replaces and becomes the entire world.
Rough, jagged stone walls, rising up on three of my sides until they merge with the ceiling, high above me.
…What is this?
I look around. The corpse of a large white dog hangs lifelessly, stuck between two of the walls. A few drops of blood are still rolling down its limp legs, trickling out of a gaping wound in its throat, raising small ripples into the jet-black water underneath.
…I know this scene.
Why am I back?
And isn’t my eyesight sharper than it was before my death? I can clearly distinguish each individual hair on the dog’s white fur. I can see the stone ceiling, all the way up the crevice where I’m lying down on my back, whereas I remember it being shrouded in a darkness my night vision couldn’t pierce through, before.
…What’s going on?
I can’t move my body.
Only my sight has come back.
I look down at myself. Under my tattered dress, my body has turned the same jet-black as the water in which it’s resting.
I stare for a while, dumbfounded.
Until I finally notice…
Isn’t the water around me getting clearer, more transparent?
It had turned black from the demon blood inside it, but it’s gradually becoming clean and pure again.
Is the demon blood flowing into my body?
And why do I feel so calm about this?
I do feel a bit of tension, a bit of anxiety, a bit of… anticipation… but I believe it would be much more appropriate if I felt fear, instead. Terror. Horror. Panic. Dread. I was already quite frightened when only my leg was infected, but now, the Taint has pretty much invaded my entire body.
This should mean death.
Death… is scary.
Very, very scary…
And yet, there are no such emotions within me, right now.
As if I know for a fact that I’m not going to die.
While I think and ponder, a vague, indistinct pressure starts to build up against my mind. The pressure isn’t very strong, nor very painful, but when it disappears, as suddenly as it appeared, like a dam breaking and freeing the waters it was holding, all of my remaining senses come back to me, all at once, but none of them are working correctly. I hear a few intermittent crackles in my ears – in both my wolf ears and my elf ears. I smell flowers and rotten meat and burnt hair and freshly cut grass. I taste fried fish and ash and apple and blood. I feel someone’s lips kiss mine and knives dig into my skin and sand slip through my fingers.
Unfortunately, my sense of pain also comes back.
And either it too is malfunctioning, or like my sight, it has become much, much more sensitive.
Because every single one of my nerves is currently lighting up in agony on a scale that is simply nonsensical.
It hurts. It hurts. It hurts. It hurts. It hurts. It hurts. It hurts. It hurts. It hurts. It hurts. It hurts. It hurts. It hurts. It hurts. It hurts. It hurts. It hurts. It hurts. It hurts. It hurts. It hurts. It hurts. It hurts. It hurts. It hurts. It hurts. It hurts. It hurts. It hurts. It hurts. It hurts. It hurts. It hurts. It hurts. It hurts. It hurts. It hurts. It hurts. It hurts. It hurts. It hurts. It hurts. It hurts. It hurts. It hurts. It hurts. It hurts. It hurts. It hurts. It hurts.
Why aren’t I losing consciousness?!
It shouldn’t be possible for me to remain conscious while feeling this much pain.
But my mind is forced to stay perfectly clear, perfectly sober.
My black skin is boiling like water over a stove. Bubbles form all over its surface, before popping with small spurts of blood. My muscles spasm uncontrollably, with ever-growing force, slowly destroying themselves in the process. The strain this puts on my bones increases along with it until they can’t bear it anymore and fracture. Then, they quickly reform and regrow, the gaps in them filled with a black material that looks suspiciously like metal. And then, the process repeats again and again, and each time, the black metal replaces a larger part of my bones. My teeth, my nails, my hair, my fur, and even my eyebrows and my eyelashes all fall off, only to grow back and then fall once again.
I close my eyes to escape from the sight, but that only lets me focus on what’s happening inside of my body.
My dantian has changed. It still retains its spherical shape and its position inside of my skull, but where it previously was fully solid and on the verge of breaking, it has healed and become half-solid, half-liquid, like black mercury, its surface covered by tiny, squirming, viscous ripples.
…Is that even a dantian anymore?
The meridians spreading from it, like roots growing from a seed, have also turned black and are ferrying the Taint to the rest of my body, letting it infect every one of my cells.
My internal organs churn inside me. Some of them heal from the damage they suffered, some of them change, some of them shrivel up completely and disappear.
My red blood slowly turns black.
The Taint thoroughly transforms my body.
And I feel it all happening, second by excruciating second.
I feel my skin boil and my bones break and my organs change.
I would almost wish to die and make it all stop, but I don’t.
I very much don’t.
Death is too scary to wish for that.
I don’t want to die again, no matter how much I have to suffer.
I don’t want to experience death again.
Even this nonsensical pain is better than death.
I want to live.
I want to live… No matter what…
I keep repeating that to myself, the words filling all my thoughts.
The words don’t dull the pain.
But they help me endure it.
I cannot die again.
I cannot die.
I absolutely cannot die.
The water around me is filled with teeth, nails, hair and fur, strips of dead skin, and fragments of bones and organs, all floating together like the most disgusting soup in the universe, bobbing slightly in tandem with the waves.
What cannot be found in this water, on the other hand, is even a single drop of black demon blood.
I absorbed all of it.
When my transformation finally winds down, most of this blood has been consumed, exactly like my medicine does when my organs have absorbed it and its efficacy has been expended. As for the leftovers whose potency remains, they are sucked into my dantian, melting directly through its surface.
And the pain disappears.
My whole body relaxes.
All my senses have already turned back to normal.
Or rather, like my sight and like my sense of pain, they’ve all become vastly more sensitive. I can hear the shift of my muscles and the soft creak of my bones when I move, the calm beat of my heart inside of my chest, the flow of my poisonous blood within my veins. I can feel each minute current – of water and of air – flowing through the crevice, gently stroking over my skin. I can smell the stench of the dog demon’s corpse, still stuck between the walls next to me, and the smell of its kin, still waiting outside, and the smell of the reeds, wafting in the wind, slight but clear and a little bit heady.
Each moment, an overwhelming amount of information about my environment flows unbidden into my mind. So much that I couldn’t possibly acknowledge and process it all. So much that a vast majority of it is simply discarded without ever coming to the forefront of my consciousness.
I am seeing the same world as before but from a different angle.
It is a very strange sensation.
I feel a bit disturbed at the changes my body was subjected to, but I don’t want to examine them in more detail, right now.
Because, more than ‘disturbed’, what I feel the most at the moment is deeply, deeply… exhausted.
Too much happened, today.
I fall asleep.