More and more, as days went by, hunger kept Tyrric from slipping off into that private realm of peace that he maintained somewhere between consciousness and sleep. Instead of day-dreaming of a land far away, where no monster of the Void could ever reach, he found himself dragged back into reality by hunger pains. Even after the cramps died away – for they always did eventually – the slightest smell of something edible demanded his attention, dragging him back to aching confines of his body.
Sometimes he could still escape by pulling the smells back into his daydreams, thinking of feasts and spices, baking and cooking, the taste and shape of food in his mouth. Other times he was painfully aware of where he was – or where he appeared to be — trapped and caged in an ongoing hell where he didn’t dare eat the food.
The Void – if it was the Void – kept up the illusion that he was home at the Dawnmist manor. Creatures variably resembling Alelsa, Mirium, or Alelsa’s demon were always lurking nearby. Food was placed in front of him – or he was placed upfront of it – and he’d take a few desperate bites before he remembered the possibility that it could all be a lie, and the feast only a method of getting some poison into him instead. He considered forcing himself to vomit a few times, but he was too weak to actually do it.
On the fourth day, the creature wearing Alelsa’s face painstakingly sat beside him and took a bite out of each forkful before offering it to him. It seemed to be a gesture of extending trust, an attempt to show him the food was safe, and Tyrric’s resolve wavered. Was he really still in Ny’alotha? Or was it possible he had been rescued after all? The Alelsa pushed one forkful almost all the way to the back of his mouth, and he swallowed in reflex to keep from choking. The rich taste brought stinging tears to his eyes, and he closed them tight so the creatures of the Void couldn’t see how they were affecting him. Other forkfuls were waved tantalizingly up front of his nose, and, hating himself, Tyrric partook. It was griddle-cakes, sweet and fluffy, with berries as the syrup: he could bite down on the individual seeds and crunch them between his teeth. It was the best thing he had ever eaten but also, the worst.
At least the sustenance enabled him to focus more reliably on his daydreams after that. He almost didn’t notice when he was lifted up and carried away after finishing the griddle-cakes, at least until something solid was set under his feet, and he had to catch himself as he was released from the grip of the creature carrying him.
He froze, opening his eyes halfway and trying to understand what had happened. It was the Alelsa-creature again. It was trying to guide him somewhere and clearly expected him to follow, tugging at his arm. At first he resisted, but then, he reflected, if he was truly in the Void, it wouldn’t matter where he went or who he followed, for they were sure to force him in the end if he refused.
So he let her lead the way. The Alelsa-creature took him into a room that appeared very much like their bedroom at Dawnmist. She sat on the bed and patted it invitingly. Tyrric stayed by the door, distrusting, until something large came up from behind him and shoved him forward.
The unwilling meal gave him strength to claw free of the attacker and press his back against one wall. He wished he had his sword, then just as quickly was glad he didn’t, because if any of this was true, he couldn’t risk impaling his wife…
For her part – the illusion’s part? – she just sat on that bed and watched him in seeming sadness as the Bleekshril-creature returned to its space by the door.
“What are you doing? What do you want?” Tyrric managed.
“Trying to get you to bed. I was beginning to think I’d brought one of the vegetables from the kitchen rather than my husband.”
Tyrric shivered. The sarcasm was like Alelsa, at least.
“You can sleep like that if you prefer,” she added when he didn’t speak.
He pressed further into the wall, anticipating attack, but the creature’s next words surprised him.
“Tyrric, can we talk? Please?”
Alert. He had to stay alert, not fooled by the Void’s machinations. “Why?” he asked suspiciously.
“Because this is pretty much the first time you’ve spoken all day, and I want to catch you while you’re…capable of speech.”
Tyrric said nothing. It sounded innocuous enough, but was it, really?
“I just want to know what’s wrong, so I can help,” continued the Alelsa.
“How do I know you’re you?” he asked hoarsely.
“How can I prove I am?” she countered.
Tyrric’s resolve wavered again. “This is all in my head… No way of knowing if you are real…everything I know, you would know.”
“Anything the real me can say or do could also be said or done by an imaginary me in your mind,” agreed the Alelsa creature.“The only way I could prove it’s me is to do something that your mind couldn’t imagine me doing. …trust me, we cover this in the second class in Illusionary Deception. It’s been debated back and forth by far more intelligent people than either of us. It’s something of a paradoxical question that has had arcanosophers flummoxed for centuries–”
“I don’t even know what an arcanosopher is…”
“See? Right there. I spoke a word you couldn’t possibly have known.” She smiled at him, though it faded with her next sentence: “Although that only proves that I’m not imaginary.”
Tyrric’s stomach flipped. “What do you want with me?” he demanded again.
“To have you back the way you were.” Alelsa’s voice faded from academic back into sad. “The husband that I loved.”
Did she not understand? Tyrric thought wildly. He wasn’t the way he had been. He had never been himself around her: not truly. The Void had been there all along, decades before they had met, gnawing at the edges of his mind… as it was now.
He tried to take himself back to his tree, then. Too much to handle. Too many burdens to carry. Maybe this was real, in that it wasn’t a figment of a fever dream, but it could still all just be an illusion and lie. Alelsa acted… like herself, but it was just as possible the Void was so deeply in his mind it had harvested his memories to create her…
“I’m going to sleep,” she said. Had she been speaking while he had been thinking? She sounded stung. “You can just stand there for all I care.”
How could he tell if it was an illusion? And if it was her… he had so much he needed to tell her. Truths unsaid, apologies to make… He saw the plots he had woven, the lies he had told, the family he had hurt. Like so many tentacles they piled onto him, curled around his feet and throat, slowly suffocating him…They were surrounding him… He was going to–
The lights went out. He screamed. Back in the Void. He had never left it, after all. Escape! He had to escape…
He shoved himself to the right, felt resistance, so he shoved harder. There was a wall here, a window… no, an eye? The many eyes of N’Zoth… He threw himself at it. At least he’d make the Old God feel pain before it killed him…!
The eye shattered inward when he hit it. Then he was falling, falling into the eye. He grasped at an edge reflexively, but razor shards cut his hands, like teeth, and so he kicked himself away from the closing maw of the encroaching beast. It released him easily, and he was falling again, a long swoop. A fall this long surely would have a sickening crunch at the end of it–
Snap. There it was.
Fire radiated up his leg. He tried to stand, but it wouldn’t hold him; he felt the two ends of bones grinding together, and he screamed some more, just as much in fear as in pain. He tried pulling himself across the floor, but more of the razor teeth cut into his arms and chest. He clawed and punched at them, but the beast was covered in scales as large and hard as cobblestones. A mane as coarse as grass came away in his hands as he flailed against its hide, and he dug his nails into those growths viciously, the flesh turning wet with its blood as he yanked it out by the handful…
“Here now, stop that,” came a voice above him. Mirium? No, a trick! He lashed out at the doppleganger, but as he connected only with air and the voice backed away. He turned over and ripped again at the creature’s bloody flesh with a vengeance. He was tearing out chunks, but the thing didn’t scream, and it didn’t leave him alone.
Other voices joined Mirium’s. Something heavy fell on top of him, grappled him with impossibly strong tentacles. He screamed and squirmed and clawed, but it was no use. He could barely breathe as the thing pressed him into the blood. He bit down, a last attempt at defiance, and tasted mud. Then something hard connected with his head, and for a moment he could only see stars and hear a faint ringing in his ears…
They were going to drag him back to the torture. He was never going to see his family again. He was–
What was that?
Once securing him, the creature grappling him didn’t press the attack. Instead, healing warmth was spreading up his limbs. His leg no longer hurt so badly, but there was also a sense of…presence.
A presence he knew!
“It’s alright,” something said in Mirium’s voice. No… it was Mirium. He knew that feel, that…aura. He didn’t know how he knew it. The warmth coming up through his hands felt distinctly like Alelsa and Mirium and his brother, Keelath, in the same way he’d know their voice or the shape of their face. He could taste the Light, and the fel, and even that rotten scent of Keelath’s death magic. Elves lived and breathed magical energies, and it was the one thing even the Void couldn’t fake. If those energies were here, then the people they were gleaned from also had to be here!
Tyrric dared opening his eyes. It wasn’t blood smearing him, but…mud. Harmless mud. He was lying in the Dawnmist courtyard and had torn up what seemed like half an acre of turf in his frenzy. The teeth he had thought he had felt closing around him had instead only been shards of glass from the window he’d flung himself through up above.
The anxious faces of family hovered around him. Alelsa was coming out of a spell-casting trance: it must have been her who had channeled the magical energies into his body. As she came more awake, she grabbed his hand and held it tight, peering into his face with a terror and a hope that was painful to behold.
Oh, what a fool he’d been.
The relief of being at home warred with the horror of what he had done: just now and for the past several years. His gaze went from Alelsa to Keelath to finally, painfully, Mirium. Anxiety he saw in those faces, and concern, but no hatred.
How? How could that be so? He was fallen – he had been in the Void –
So many terrible things…
Could there ever possibly be forgiveness? And he was so hungry…
Frustration, pain, and weariness overwhelmed him, and Tyrric began to cry.