The Darkness of Rachakal

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  1. The soft lapping of water echoed within the darkness of the cave as the Oceans of Teeth licked its lonesome shores, a slow and gentle rhythm, pushed by the currents that reached from far underneath the rock. A tender glow was present, lifted off the dark cerulean tide and reflected onto the shimmering walls, crossed with the writings of a frantic man in his death throes. Ancient was the stone scripture, but it had not aged a day, ripped far away from its original place and time. The River that Pierces the Worlds dragged it to the Ocean’s shores, where it nurtured the accursed thing.
    Far along the cave’s wall, shouldering the consuming darkness, lay the center of the writing’s attention. A name. Kietsayl’s name.
    The writings harbored it there, held it close, waiting for the one who would loose it from its moorings. All they had to do was read it. Just read it and it would be theirs, all their own until their death.
    The thought of it enraged Kietsayl.
    The waters of the cave pool parted and Kietsayl’s scales were a whisper across the wet bedrock as he emerged from the depths. Rivulets poured from the dark tresses that tumbled down his back, accentuating the creases of his muscular torso, which tensed at the sight of the accursed writings. There was a rumble of disdain and hatred, a growl that leaked through painfully sharp teeth.
    Scratches surrounded the name, his name, a cruel reminder of his only curse, but he had not been able to break it apart. Could not destroy the damned thing, not even when it was on rock before him. The only thing that could take it away was another sentient being.
    Wretched, cursed, terrible thing.
    A seething scream worked its way from his throat, vibrating the cave about him. The Oceans seemed to still, the rhythm dampened. The world about him held its breath.
    A hot breath of air huffed through his nostrils and Kietsayl willed his rage to be chained. As long as it remained here, in the Oceans of Teeth, the plane that crossed all planes, he could protect it. It would be safe.
    It was on that thought that Kietsayl wrapped the shadows about him like silk, settling against his bulk in the darkness. The pearl eyes did not close, never closed, but the vigilance of them dulled. Safe. It will be safe.
  2. Running was all she knew. All she remembered. Sansa had been running for years it seemed, her life ticking by with the passing of trees and days and weather patterns. How long had she been gone from Janar's capital? Days? Weeks? Time had become a fickle thing, a luxury. She couldn't afford it. All that mattered was food and water, and a place to rest for the night. Sansa could feel her legs aching nearly beyond repair with the strain of her constant movement. Her dress was torn at the shoulders and hem, red hair tangled in a mass of unkempt curls down her back. Dirt smothered a pale, once-beautiful face. She was nothing, now. A homeless wanderer without a name.

    Unable to walk further, Sansa knelt beside a small pond and dipped her shaking hands in the water. She took a moment to scrub her face clean from the filth she found there, eyeing her reflection in the water's surface with hopelessness. I look like a stranger, she thought sorrowfully. A beaten, bruised stranger. Tears stung her eyes. Was there anything left of the girl she used to be? Sansa wept by the side of the pond and prayed to whatever gods were listening for some small justice. Enough to live a life away from here, enough to taste freedom once again.

    But Sansa could not cry forever. Like the warrior she had become, she wiped her tears and trekked onward toward whatever lay ahead.

    Hours passed. Sansa slept in the shade of a great oak tree and woke the following morning, seeing the desert of Rachatal looming on the horizon. How had she walked so far? She rose from her sleeping position and began her forward march. It was all she knew how to do anymore.

    The heat became unbearable as the day progressed. The closer Sansa came to the desert, the harder the sun beat upon her back. She stopped against a rock face and wiped the sweat from her brow, yearning for water or food. Shade. Relief. Something, anything. She closed her eyes and dreamt of home, of snow and castles and warm evening fires. I could die here. I could close my eyes, go to sleep and never wake up again. I could die here. I could die here...

    Sansa opened her eyes. The mouth of a cave appeared across the distance from her, one she hadn't noticed before. It was dark and unassuming, lingering on the edge of the forest and the desert, a perfect meeting of the two opposite biomes. It called to her. Sansa would not take her chances. A cave meant shelter, possibly water and a place to lay her head. For now, it would do. Sansa approached the opening and entered without hesitation, prepared only to fight for her own survival.

    The cave yielded a small waterfell connecting to a little lake, a paradise for Sansa within stone walls. Sansa gratefully crouched by the edge of the water, scrubbing at the skin that showed. No matter how many times she washed, she never felt clean enough. She wandered through the areas of vegetation and plucked a few strange berries from their vines. How old is this place? she wondered, eyeing nature's vacant beauty. Strange that such a place remains untouched to this day. She glided her fingers along the cave walls thoughtlessly until her hands came across intentionally-made ridges. Sansa paused. Upon closer examination, what looked like words could be seen through rock and stone, carved thousands of years ago and left for someone else to read. Sansa knew better in hindsight--she had read enough stories to be wary of ancient markings inside places of mystery. But her weary head could not think straight, and without being careful, Sansa brushed her fingers over the text.

    "Kietsayl," she muttered.
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  3. Sleep was only a leisure. For a perfect creature such as himself, sleep was a sweet wine that loosened Kietsayl's lips and watered the warmth in his chest that bloomed as a lily in the daylight. Sleep was but a beautiful repose and dreams - they were the honeysuckle accenting the meadows of slumber. Of all the things in all the worlds that Kietsayl enjoyed the most, sleep was high amidst his idle pleasures, as dreams kissed him in his serenity. This bliss brought floral petals upon his still chest in the indulgent quietude, soaking in the fragrance of alien places and strange times, colors and thoughts and feelings that he had not yet explored. Worlds and decades of beauty that he had not stroked claw or scale or flesh upon. A newness that made him shudder with delight, with excitement. And then there was water; there was always water, a rushing river of throbbing, thriving veins that remained his eternal second-voice, the backdrop to his pleasure dreams.

    But the river grew louder, its babbling whisper growing into a painful roar. Kietsayl was a humble, beloved god of the water, but this river spilled over his chest and flooded his meadows, desecrating the paradise of his tranquility. His inherent mind begged it peace, but it ravaged his tranquility until there was nothing left but its clamor in his ears. The heart of it was a drum in his mind, pounding over and over again in alarm. He fought with it, but the more he struggled, the louder it grew, constricting around his entire form until he felt so breathless, so weak, that he could do little other than hiss in revilement. It took so few seconds after for Kietsayl to realize that he was not dreaming.

    It was his name. "Kietsayl."

    The accursed thing was tearing through him, suffocating every inch of his physical and spiritual being until it throttled him from his placid slumber. Kietsayl could feel its threads weave throughout him, dipping in and out of his soul on so many wretched needles. He was helpless to its brutality, a ragdoll to its curse until he was stitched up properly, a constant, ever-present spiderweb between him and his.

    A flood of emotions tumbled down its steel lines, buffeting him at the anchors. Loss, abandonment, loneliness. But the primal feelings bit him the most. Hunger, thirst. Fear.

    The onslaught caused Kietsayl to unfurl from his spot in the darkness, his back arching against the anguish. Long, tooth-lined jaws stretched, releasing a split screech that caused a sudden rumble in the bedrock. The Ocean's underground pool in the cave stilled again, leaving only its soft glow to show that it was still present. The terrible sound of Kietsayl's rage and pain and confusion rocked the cave, causing it to shiver in his presence. The words carved into the wall seemed to lean away from his wrath, which had siphoned into his pearl eyes and filled them with an indignation, a mania, that the cave had not been witness to since the mad old man thought he'd survive the lapse in Kietsayl's imprisonment.

    Kietsayl knew it now. Despite the River's precautions, despite his precautions, his name had been found. It had been stolen. It sought too hard, desired too much, to be taken from he or she who was not Kietsayl. It wanted to be found, and its lust had posed a successful lure to a young woman. A human woman. So much of emotions and feelings.

    Moving from the cover of the dark, Kietsayl glimmered in the glow of the pool. He was reared between the shadows and the woman who had spoken his name. His curse. Tension shattered like lightning across the muscles of his body, alighting his gaze in even the tenuous shadows. "You," he spoke, a sound that required no movement of the lips; the voice, instead, seeped into the mind of the receiver, an intonation that was felt throughout the whole, fibrous being instead of taken in by the ears. There were so many things that he wanted to say once he'd had her attention. So many angry, hateful things, but he did not. Such was his curse, his life. As he lived eternally, so must he by shackled by time and law on occasion. The waves of shock and anger slowed in his mind to a dull throb. He gathered himself. "I am Kietsayl. I am the child of the River that Pierces All Worlds and the Seas of Time and Thought. I am the son that was conceived in the nightmares of the drowned and birthed in the Oceans of Teeth that lies in the plane that crosses all planes. You have called me and I have come, human child. What is it that you desire?"
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  4. Sansa gasped and clasped her hands over her ears as the ground shook beneath her. She scrambled back against the stone wall and stared open-mouthed at the creature that appeared, white-eyed and demanding, a raw voice shouting in her head with indignation. She whimpered and clenched her eyes shut. This isn't real, she pleaded within her mind. Just hallucinations. I'm sick, not enough food or water, it isn't real, it can't be real.

    But it was. When Sansa opened her eyes again, the figure of a man stared her down as if she's just committed murder, or worse. He hadn't faded away. Sansa bit her lip and struggled to stand on her own two feet. It pained her, but she wasn't about to show weakness now. Not when she was facing a god, or perhaps the brink of insanity. Neither were promising prospects.

    The River that Pierces All Worlds. The Seas of Time and Thought, the Oceans of Teeth...she'd read about this before, hadn't she? Maester Luwin taught her all about the ancient religions long ago, when she was still a student living in protected childhood. The names were the only things she could recall, however. The origin stories, the myths and legends, the intentions of the gods and their moralities...all that was lost to the wind. Sansa stayed close to the wall as if it could protect her. Somehow, it kept her grounded.

    "I..." She was lost for words. Sansa swallowed the lump in her throat and kept her eyes locked with the beast's. "I didn't mean to disturb you. I--I only needed food and water, if I could merely have some and leave, I promise I won't bother you again."
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  5. There was a swift inhalation as air was sucked between Kietsayl's clenched, jagged teeth. A moment of silence swallowed his massive figure, blending the lines of his muscular torso and the long, tense coils of his body with the shadows behind him as they sucked hungrily at his silhouette. Worthless amateur. Human child. Thoughts drifted to him on a whisper amidst the thundering of his heart in his ears, as though the Ocean itself could pour into his mind. 'Be still, for the young and naive are easily manipulated.'

    Their bond was an unseen web that stretched between them, one that she undoubtedly knew not how to utilize. It crackled with her primal, instinctual feelings, alarming Kietsayl's intrinsic proclivities every time they made contact with his flesh. Hunger, thirst, fear. He gathered himself again, forced energy into his mind, until the accumulation was deemed sufficient. With mental fingers, he probed along their bond, worming past the feelings that grew and bit him violently. At the heart of it, within her, he could feel his name surround the girl, likes thousands of snakes woven solely with metal thorns. His power was pulled thin here, increasingly losing the uphill struggle against his curse. His teeth grit harder. There was no mad-eyed sorcerer lurking here, beneath her skin. No shrewd wizard to lull him into a sense of security with her weakness. Just a human girl with a name. Sansa. Something about it, he sensed, was almost just as much a curse as his own name.

    This soothed Kietsayl, for the thought rang true. 'The young and naive are easily manipulated.' The scales of his hackles smoothed. For now, this was not an atrocity, but merely an inconvenience.

    "Sansa, you have taken my name from the wall and made it your own. I cannot leave you," Kietsayl rebuked her, his arm sweeping to reveal that the cave wall that had said his name, its magic worked in the language of the reader, was now unreadable. What had been clearly carved was now simply a collection of frantic score marks in an order that made no sense - and they never would again. The old wizard's dying wish was squandered by a child.

    Kietsayl leaned closer, turning his head slightly so that one pearl of an eye centered directly on her. Sansa showed a certain strength in light of the situation, he would openly admit. After all, he was conceived in the nightmares of drowned men and women, the amalgamation of their greatest fears, but this girl had not devolved into a wailing, fleshy mass of human fluids. Though she stammered, she held eye contact. It was admirable, there was no denying.

    The longer he stared at her, the stronger the feelings grew, until they were nearly unbearable. Initially just background noise with the new discovery, the elation and trepidation that accompanied having a new leash-holder, Sansa's feelings were screaming in his ears. HUNGER, THIRST, FEAR. They were becoming his feelings, threatening to fuse with his mentality until they'd been sated. Kietsayl groaned audibly, recoiling from the girl. He gestured to the glowing pool, the Oceans of Teeth that penetrated the cave that came from another time and place. "Thirst," he hissed into her mind. "Clean water." Hot waves of primordial emotion overtook him again. He moved like liquid past her, their bond biting him in the brief, close proximity. So long as she feared him, his curse was a territorial nest of asps.

    There was no meat to be found in the cave, for even dumb beasts could smell the terror that lurked here, but Kietsayl knew that raw flesh would be worthless to the human regardless. However, he knew plants, and though he was unsure of their edibility to creatures that were not him, he also knew that Sansa would hardly survive any longer if she did not attempt to eat them.

    Kietsayl moved silently as he found the luminescent chamber in the cave, only a short distance from his pool. Here, the soil was soft, and glorious plants grew where magical blood was spilled. They had given him a touch of beauty in this place, with their purples and blues. Beneath the yawn of a violet lily, he plunged his hands into the dirt and loosed an earthen fruit, ombre indigo and pale in color, tipped on its leaves with a soft gold. They were sweet in nature and roughly half the size of his hand. They would be adequate, he felt. If they were not, her feelings would become his as she starved to death. Here, he dug up many, gathered them in his arms and returned to the pool where he placed them at the water's edge. "Hunger. Now eat."
  6. Clean water. Food. Just as she'd asked, this man-like monster provided her survival needs as if they were nothing, pulled from thin air and created just for her. Sansa hesitated to accept a gift so readily given. She had learned in the past that offerings seemingly too good to be true often were, but Sansa had never dealt with the River that Pierces All Worlds either. Her experience was in politics, lies and falsehoods. Corrupt men and their moral lacking. In her current state, she couldn't deny what Kietsayl had laid before her, and so Sansa carefully crossed the distance to approach him. He was indescribable, human and not, beast and otherwise. He did not harm her. He has not harm me. The realization took a moment to sink in, but when it had, Sansa felt her shoulders relax. "Thank you," she muttered. Sansa sat on her knees by the lakeside and took one of the fruits in her calloused hands. A single bite was all it took for her to feel human again. She could not stop a small moan that escaped her lips at the sensation of being able to eat, to have something of nutritional value. Her feelings of fear turned to immense relief. For a moment, she felt like crying.

    "Thank you," Sansa said again after she'd swallowed. Sansa placed the fruit down and cupped her hands in the water, drinking just the handful before wiping her mouth. It would have been embarrassing to do this days ago, but she was far past the point of foolish predispositions. She needed to survive, to eat and drink, and if that meant doing so like an animal would, so be it.

    When she was finished with a satisfying meal and enough water to feel right again, Sansa lifted her eyes to the whites of Kietsayl's. A horrifying sight, but she did not recoil. "May I ask who you are?" she inquired politely. "I'm sorry I woke you. I still don't know if I'm dead or dreaming..." But regardless, she would not lose her manners.
  7. Slowly, with each bite and each sip, the instinctual agony that trickled down their bond eased until it was no longer a strain on Kietsayl's mind. He had not tasted the sweetness of the fruit nor the clarity of the water, but his stomach settled as though freshly fed. Sansa's relief rang like a bell between them and he released an easy sigh, a soft billow of air from his slit nostrils. Along with the satiation of her hunger and thirst, her fear of him ebbed, which was intriguing in itself, but it mattered not to him. For even though his name had become a docile serpent, it was far from tame, waiting for him to make a wrong move. Wretched thing.

    There was a moment of silence after Sansa had spoken and Kietsayl tilted his head slightly at her, before turning to watch her again with his right eye. "I can assure you that you are not dead. You are simply not in a place that you should be," he spoke evenly, before glancing about the cave. "Where did you come from?"

    The thought had scratched at the back of his mind when she'd crossed his sight, but it was quickly overwhelmed with the torrent of anger and human emotions. The cave should not have been accessible to a human, unless she was more remarkable than even their bond suggested and she had found a way to reach the Ocean of Teeth, sail it, and swim underwater long enough to reach one of the entrances. That was something that he highly doubted of this naive creature. However, this was the Ocean of Teeth, the plane that crossed all planes. It was not impossible for it to have overlapped with a human plane, somewhere along the cave where she had come from. It was simply highly improbable and, for Kietsayl's sake, unlucky.

    Perhaps, in her state of near-death, it was a Gift given from a god who pitied her. That, or a Curse. Time would certainly tell what their bond would mean to her fate.

    "I think that you ask a peculiar question, human child," Kietsayl responded to her gruffly. "I have already told you who I am. I am Kietsayl. I am nothing more or less than that. If there is something that I have not told you which you seek to know, then you have not asked the correct question. I will ask now. What has led you here to this cave, Sansa?"
  8. Sansa settled into her comfortable position before telling her story. She was not at peace with the creature before her, nor was her guard lowered in any way, but she felt compelled to speak with the being who'd offered her the necessities to survive. She sat on her knees and placed her hands in her lap like a lady, and recounted a brief version of her tale.

    "I was running from a monster," she said honestly. "A man I was forced to marry. He used me for my claim to my family's home, used me in many ways. I was in his clutches for three months before I found escape. I ran from home, the place where he kept me as if trying to taint my childhood memory. I've been running for four days, no food no water. I was about to give up and resign to my fate before I saw this cave opening. I entered, explored, and you're here." Sansa blinked and looked up to him. "What does that mean?"
  9. There was a way with which Sansa carried herself, so elegantly even if days from starving, that Kietsayl saw in the way she delicately sat before him to tell her story. Truth be told, despite being a bloodthirsty hunter of human and creature kind alike, he had always fancied himself a curious individual. A scholar, even, with the stories that he gathered from across the many planes. Even if tales were spun from the lips and fingertips of his food, he loved hearing and reading them and would be remiss if he did not properly offer his ear to the young woman. That said, he followed her example. His coils wound themselves into a neat spiral and he seated himself at the top, his arms across his chest. There was a subtle lean forward, so scarce that one could hardly catch it. In this position, he listened, and considered.

    When Sansa had first told him a 'monster', he had thought seriously, until she had edited it as a man. This, of course, Kietsayl did not doubt, as humans were often more cruel and brutal than even himself. Where he hunted efficiently and cleanly, they tortured. Such pitiful, futile creatures. Tormenting others to feel powerful, to hide from the fact that they were powerless in the face of death.

    As she wove her story, the emotions infected the bond, twirling down the threads until they worked themselves in deep beneath Kietsayl's skin. There was a hiss exhaled from his teeth. Save for that noise, he remained silent until she finished her explanation, of how she'd found herself in the cave that lay between two planes. A cave that she was not meant to find.

    "This cave is from another world, human child, if you can understand. My mother, the River that Pierces All Worlds, carved the cave out from its home and hid it here, in this place. You are in the Oceans of Teeth. And you are in where you came from." He paused, looking to the glowing pool. "You are in a rare place that, once we leave, may no longer exist to you and your world. There is little else besides that that I can tell you." Kietsayl lapsed into a thoughtful silence, one that demanded it.

    When Kietsayl finally spoke, he had tilted his head toward the way through the cave from which she must have come. "Greedy, worthless wretch he is. Though I have seen little else from his ilk." He paused and then turned to Sansa again, regarding and gauging her. "You cannot run forever, Sansa. You could resign yourself to a fate of death, spending your last breaths wishing that you had fought." He leaned forward at this, smelling the dirt and pain upon her flesh. "Do not waste me or the chance that you have been given, human child, Sansa."
  10. Sansa instinctively leaned back at Kietsayl's advance. She was not afraid, merely adverse to close contact with those she did not trust. Sansa blinked at his mention of a wasted chance. He spoke in riddles, so many hidden meanings she didn't understand, and perhaps she never would. But Sansa was too scholarly and intelligent to let those comments slide. She cleared her throat and wrung her hands, a nervous habit whenever she was feeling particularly vulnerable.

    "Did the River bring me here?" she wondered aloud. "My mother's people worshipped the River. It was said to carry through in her eyes, and she gifted their color to me." Sansa considered that a moment. She didn't know for certain if the Tullys worshipped the River that Pierces All Worlds; all they spoke of was something called the Great River that carries us all to the afterlife and flows through the world like water. But the chances that the two rivers were separate from one another were very slim. Names changed over time. Perhaps it was indeed the River that Pierces which drew the adoration of the river folk. If so, Sansa was connected to it. Perhaps Kietsayl could sense that bond. Perhaps that is why I'm here in the first place.

    "I do not want to run. I want my homeland back, to find my family if any of them remain and reclaim the dignity of my house. But I am powerless. I can't force you to come with me, nor would I ever want to. I disturbed you. If you wish to return to slumber, you may do so. You've given me food and water. I should be able to last a few more days until I come to a village that may shelter me." Sansa met his eyes again, white slits that they were. "You saved me from death, and that was all I wanted. I do not ask you to come with me. If you do, though, I hope it is from your own desire and nothing more."
  11. The human child's mother worshiping the River? For some time, Kietsayl considered that, his eyes briefly touching up to the ceiling of the cave and wondering over the implications. Surely, it was not impossible, by any means. The River passed through all worlds, and there were sages and mystics and any number of human, or otherwise, folk that could see or hear or touch the River. Some used this ability to gain knowledge, especially on the sons and daughters of the River. Though normally, the River would not gift the understanding of her existence to lowly welps who would exploit, there were always those who took it by force or became corrupted by some darker greed - human greed - that welled within them. Through this, they learned of Kietsayl, and sought him like the moon seeks the tail of the sun.

    Regardless, Kietsayl knew that the River would not have brought Sansa here itself, for she had not ridden the ribbon of water, the crushing melding of time and space and the inbetween, that pierced all worlds. There would be little left of her if it had. However, the River could lead. If Her gift flowed through Sansa's mother, it could flow through Sansa, leading her like a horse to drink, to feast upon a miracle in her dying moments. If this was true, Kietsayl wanted to question why his Mother would curse him with such existence, such burden, but knew better than to question the ancient wisdom of a thing far beyond his physical being.

    "The River that Pierces All Worlds is a mysterious being. She may have beckoned you from afar, to find the place that pierced the planes. This, I can consider."

    As Sansa spilled the dribble of a naive human that knew not of what existed between them, Kietsayl plunged his long arms into the depths of the Ocean's gleaming pool. Here, he seeped his will into its waters, formed thought and worked his ways until something broached his fingertips and he hooked his hands around it. Bringing it to surface, an oiled, leather pack curled in his hands.

    "You have misunderstood me, human child," Kietsayl spoke, his gaze turned towards the thing in his hand momentarily, before he looked upon her. "There is something deep between us. Something binding. Something so powerful that it cannot be seen with eyes or felt with fingers. Once you took my name upon your mind, you made me yours. Your will has become mine. Do you not understand that? I can only want what you want. I wish to follow you, until death do us part." His eyes shone as they looked into hers. "And we will part."

    Pulling the contents from the bag, he placed the empty shell back into the waters where it was hungrily sucked away. Without warning, his flesh perspired profusely, pouring from every pore, spilling from beneath every scale. The torrent washed away his monstrous figure, flushing away his beautiful coils and kelp-like stresses. The waters left the figure of an unusually tall man, brushing 6'6" with the muscles of a divine statue. His skin was pale as the golden moon, with soft blue undertones that made him glimmer. Short, black hair crowned his head, his face chiseled full of angles and structure. Faceted among these features were two sharp eyes, the color of a bubbling brook that spilled endlessly and plump lips that invited wicked machinations.

    There, in his raw, human form, Kietsayl was nude, but he was quick and precise, gathering up the pile of clothes that he had pulled from the sack, still slightly damp from their voyage. Dark, leather breeches were donned, fitting his thighs without wrinkle, and were topped with a loose white shirt, over which was a vest. The knee-high boots were put on last, and he seated himself on the bedrock before her as he laced them up. "Until then," he continued, his human voice strong and vital as it slipped from his throat, "You are stuck with me, human child. I must go where you go; my will is your will. If you deny these facts, then I am caused great pain and hardship. This is how it must be." Knotting the tops of the boots, he folded them beneath himself and leaned forward. "Is it a village that we seek, then?"
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  12. Would wonders never cease? Sansa stared open-mouthed at the creature transformed into a man, taller than anyone she'd ever seen with piercing eyes like the river he loved so much. He was so casual about this bond he spoke of, so nonchalant in the lifetime of servitude he was to endure. Service? To me? Surely he must have been joking, but her logical mind failed to grasp any reason why he would. It failed to grasp anything he'd told her in the past several minutes. While Sansa understood what he was saying, it didn't process like normal information and she struggled to make sense of it all. But her confusion would have to do, for now. Kietsayl had asked for a heading, and she was expected to provide.

    "A village?" Sansa chewed on her lip as she stood. He was cleaner than she was, now. She would have to use that to her advantage. "Ramsay will be looking for me. We can't go to any villages near here, it's too risky. Someone might see me. He'd torture a whole family if it meant getting information on my whereabouts." Sansa hugged her arms, uncomfortable merely at the mention of him. "But if you could--I don't know, travel? Take me somewhere else in the kingdom. You could say you found me in the woods. I don't have any money, but there are people in the west kind enough to give food, clothing and shelter to a homeless woman." Homeless. That did not sit well with her. Sansa glanced down to her figure, slim and dirty with a ragged noblewoman's dress, shreds of what it used to be. Anyone would buy her story if she sold it right. Kietsayl, however, would be something else entirely to explain.

    "If we are to leave, though, I suggest you stop calling me 'human child.' As endearing as it may seem, it will appear odd to anyone we pass. Your height will set you apart enough. It would be ill-advised to leave more for them to remember us by." She offered him a small smile, hoping he wouldn't be offended. "I...I don't know where we'll go after that. But if you insist on coming with me, I'm sure we can figure something out together."

    She did not speak the words, but having a companion brought Sansa joy beyond words.
  13. Ramsay. When the name was slipped from Sansa's lips, it danced electrically along the bond that wound between them. It crashed against him with a plethora of emotions, none of them tame or benign, and he cringed at its taste as though he'd licked the poison seeping from a viper's fang. That was the name of her Curse then, her wretch; that which would break her against the rocks until she was shattered, lest she batten down against it. It wired through Kietsayl's body, a red hot seething that bit into his bones and beat with his heart.

    Without notice of it, Kietsayl's fingers brushed against his lips as he lingered in thought. Travel was, of course, not a problem, though he desperately wished that he'd waited to lose his beautiful form. It didn't take long to dress himself, but now that the clothes were on, the thought of peeling them off and storing them away again was burdensome. While he wasn't sure exactly what plane of existence Sansa had crossed in from, he had no doubt that the River would not lead him astray. "As you wish, human child," he spoke on the tail end of his string of thoughts. With the final words, Kietsayl gazed at her shrewdly, and his lips parted into a soft, devious smile.

    Kietsayl climbed to his feet in a practiced, fluid motion, as easy on his legs as the coils of his tail. "I can take you to the west, Sansa," he said, his voice lower as he spoke. His hands splayed before him beseechingly, openly. Between them, he could feel his Curse crackle against him, a harsh laugh, a scared cry. "But you must trust me to hold you. I cannot harm you or do against your will, so long as my name is yours," he coaxed, taking careful steps towards her. There was no denying the anguish, the disgust, the fieriness of his curse as it seared against him. He paused a short distance away and awaited her answer.

    When he'd been given his permission, he lead her slowly to the Ocean's pool with easy gestures. Every movement was performed with purpose and care, until he stood at the water's edge. Before proceeding, he paused and regarded her. "I am a creature of the River, of the Seas. I can take you to the west, but I must take you through there," he said, pointing to the gentle glow of the pool. "You must want me to take you there, or I cannot so much as touch you. When I do, you must hold your breath until there is only darkness. Not shadow, but truly darkness, and you feel as though it is all you will know. Can you do that?" His question poised between them and he extended a hand for her to take, long fingers slightly cupped.
  14. West. Sansa tried to remember what towns and villages were west of her current location. She stared off into nothing and tried to visualize a map in her head. Leyvetten is north of here, Krester and Morrowlyn to the east...Dust Town. "Dust Town," said Sansa when she looked at him again. "It's a small place, very remote. My father would take my brothers hunting in the woods there, it's far enough from Ramsay to be safe. We shouldn't be recognized." Sansa took his offered hand without hesitation. Somehow, she was comforted by the events that had transpired despite their impossibility. If this was a dream, if this was a nightmare, there was no reason not to ride it out until the end. Especially if it meant he could be real.

    There was friction when she touched him, a spark coursing through her skin, and for a moment she could feel the bond he spoke of. A red rope through space and time, connecting them together. Sansa lifted her eyes to his. She could not guarantee her safety, and it seemed he could not either, but there was no other option when it came to preserving her life. Sansa held tight to his hand and nodded.

    "You have my permission," she said softly. "Take us to Dust Town. Please."

    And she held her breath as instructed.
  15. The touch of her hand ignited Kietsayl's veins, boiling the blood that flowed along his fingers, causing his teeth to grit, until her momentary trust in him cooled them. Compared to his own, her hand was elegant, despite the veil of dirt and dust that had brushed the cracks of her skin and graced the crevices of her nails. Soft, just as his, as she was no farmer, no warrior. So strange to be bonded to such a creature, one that would rather simply survive the world than rule it. Rather flee to the caves than go down into a mess of bloodshed. It was a better circumstance, he supposed.

    Once Sansa assured him that she was ready, Kietsayl used the hand he gripped to pull her close, securing strong arms around her body. It would be an easier maneuver in his true form, if only for the sheer size, but he did it gracefully nonetheless, and in almost the same movement, he plunged them into the glowing pool. The waters rushed in around them both, swallowed them whole. While the surface waters had glowed effervescently, that which lay beneath was dark and abyssal. Pillars of shadow surrounded them, parted only by the ribbon of cerulean that poured in from the cave that they had left. Beyond them, things lurked. Tricks of the mind or creatures writhed and twisted just beyond visage, the physical or ethereal watery nightmares of every world, every plane. Every terrible thing lurked there in the Oceans of Teeth. Kietsayl's voice poured into Sansa's mind, soothing the human in the case that the terrors were sufficiently working their wiles. "Keep your breath."

    It was strange to swim using his legs and Kietsayl feared that Sansa would lose the collected air from her lungs before he reached the River, but the Ocean moved him along, urging him with its own sentient current down into the depths. Before he could worry any longer, they were almost there. Deeper and deeper. The things that tortured the mind stopped moving, themselves devoured by the nothingness that lurked in this place. The Ocean kissed its goodbyes, its cool waters giving way to a stark warmth, a primal comfort, a lack of light and sensory that was so like a womb.

    Here, there was no light, and never would be. It was all one would know should they dwell too long. They had reached the River.

    Kietsayl did not have to swim any longer as the River enveloped them like a distraught mother. The waters took them both, nurtured them both, along its rushing breast. As it moved them, even so short a distance, the three melded. Breath and thought and feel became one, an unblemished ecstasy, an innocent bliss and serenity that any could get lost in, that any could want to. Individuality was lost, swept away in the torrent, drowned in the euphoria. No Kietsayl, no Sansa, just the River and all that made Her.

    They parted shortly after, the River shearing the beloved ones from her course and diverging them back into their physical, emotional, and spiritual forms. Once again, they were Kietsayl and Sansa, and beyond them was the River. "Hold your breath again," he whispered to her mind, his own still roiling from the tranquility of moving through the River.

    Arm around her, Kietsayl propelled them upwards, and they broke the dark, leaving the River to its own. A murky, cobalt lake greeted them, dusted with forests of kelp and blotted with larger fish. Broaching the surface first, a distance from the shore, he peered from the waters and confirmed that they were alone. Tall, dark trees bent crookedly over the lake, flanked with scraggly, choking clumps of rough foliage, but there were no visible manmade structures - no visible men either. Letting Sansa breathe first, Kietsayl moved them both quickly to the shore, where he released her. He climbed onto the bank and promptly sat down on a drier spot, proceeding to untie his boots and dump the water from them. Glancing up, he saw Sansa anew, beneath the honey golden light of the sun and after the River had washed away her filth; despite the way that her wet clothes clung to her, it was her skin tone and her mane that he wondered at. Her hair was a beautiful burnt orange with the angle at which the sun struck her. "A dusk lily," he spoke softly, his mind calculating the sprawl of the lily's violet petals against the color of her hair. "Do they have dusk lilies in this world?"
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  16. It was the strangest feeling. Morphed into everything and nothing, gripped on the edge of pleasure and pain and thoughtlessness that only the gods were meant for. She felt like screaming, like breathing, but Kietsayl had forbid her from doing so, and Sansa held her breath obediently. She clutched his frame as though he were the only thing separating her from slipping away into nothing. Perhaps he was. The plane they traversed was clearly not meant for mortals. If Sansa were to drown, how fitting that it would be here, in the River her mother's people worshiped. With a being sworn to bring her from her misery. She was constantly on the edge of death, fighting that irresistible urge to breathe in even knowing it would drag her into things unknown. Anything would be better than her present existence.

    Or so she thought.

    Light shone from behind her eyelids. When the water fell away around them, Sansa felt Kietsayl place her on solid ground and allowed herself to open her eyes. A murky forest surrounded them, half-swamp, half-paradise. The cool temperature was a welcome change from the desert that threatened to burn her skin. Sansa breathed deep, finding it strange that she didn't feel out of breath at all, and rested back on her hands to let the sun warm her skin. The filth from travel had been washed away. She felt cleaner than she ever had, her wounds healed, her heart elated. Is this what it means to touch a god?

    As Sansa began to smile, she heard his question. She turned to look at him with a grin still on her lips. "Dusk lilies?" she asked happily. The sound was almost foreign. Sansa slowly pushed herself to her feet, watching water drip from her torn dress and skin. "They were my sister's favorite flower. Poisonous but beautiful. Purple and blue, deep in hue with large petals, so irresistible to touch." Sansa smiled at the memory of Arya helping her grow some in their gardens back home. In the North where she belonged. "Why do you ask? It seems a strange request given where we are, but if they have some use to you, I could help you find some after we find Dust Town. I know how to harvest them without pricking your finger."

    Though that likely doesn't matter to a being like him.
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  17. The smile that burst upon Sansa's lips was as refreshing as diving into a cold river on the most heated of days, if not for her beauty, but of the pure joy of it. The River must have played upon her well, left her nurtured and clean in more ways than just washing the debris from her flesh. Yes, that was certainly how he'd always felt, moving with the rushing water of elation that was Her existence. Perhaps then, truly, Sansa's mother prayed to the River and the River sensed that within Sansa, keen to treat the human as one of Her own. For the River didn't always treat humans that traveled upon Her back very well, especially those that would use Her sons or daughters. For them, Her path was tumultuous and fearful, chaotic and devastating, to be so close to something so beyond their conception.

    This connection, this knowledge that the River, who melds and sees within the souls of those who choose to become one with Her, was gentle to the young woman, eased Kietsayl's confinement.

    The pure mirth of Sansa dripped along their connection, further soothing the aggravated water creature, until he properly accepted it. Head hanging for a moment, he supposed that it was to his benefit that she had found his name on the cave wall, and at her death, it would return to him, and he would be free. Their bond felt, in that moment, less like a burning leash that sought to choke his soul.

    So dusk lilies were in this world. Kietsayl returned his attention to Sansa and his lips curved into a charming smile. "I would enjoy that," he admitted. He refastened his boots upon his feet and stood, attempting to wring some water from the shirt that clung to his body. "However, your clothes are wet, and I'm sure that they are revealing pieces of you that you would not want a village to see," he noted, his hand outstretched as he approached her to help her up. "I would suggest taking the time to ring them out, so that they may dry easily on our walk."

    As he awaited her, Kietsayl surveyed the lake with watchful eyes, looking for a road that brushed against the lake, but as far as he could tell, he could not see one. "Sansa, there is something else," he remembered, turning. "It is hard to explain, but you cannot say my name. If you do, it will sound like nonsense to the normal listener. That would certainly make you stand out. My name can only be heard by me and the person who holds it - you. There are those who can hear that you are speaking a name like mine, even if they cannot tell what it is, and those people are able to take it from you." His eyes fixed hers seriously. "You do not want that. You would not survive it."
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