The return trip took a little longer than the initial departure; before, I had been rushing, desperate to cross the black-water and seek vengeance against Tiamat before she could gather too much power. Now, with the Great Core’s enemies having been punished as much as possible, I let the Great Core’s remaining flyer relax.
Its wings beat again and again, and I noticed the beginnings of a droning buzz at the edge of my hearing. Its hearing. Mine?
It didn’t matter. For the moment, they were one and the same, bound together by the blessings of the Great Core.
I could feel other senses creeping in as well, leaking through the strengthened connection between myself and the [Little Guardian’s Totem]’s bearer. The shifting of muscles that caused wings to flex and flutter, the trickle of fluid between my fractured carapace, the slight pain as spore-roots pulled harder than the bearer’s body could bear.
Not all of the senses were pleasant.
Still, above them all was the wonder that came with flying. Where before I had merely ridden alongside the bearer, sharing in the perspective that came with flight, now I was truly experiencing it - feeling the beating of wings, the gentle touch of the wind.
A thought-hiss sent the bearer into a sharp, twirling dive. The wind’s gentle touch became something stronger, its fingers pressing back against hardened carapace and delicate wing alike. The black-water grew in my vision, almost seeming to swallow the meager light of the [Little Guardian’s Totem], just as I knew the waters could swallow the Totem’s bearer.
Another thought-hiss, pulled my wings up again at the last moment; there was a tiny flash of pain as one slightly tore, unable to handle the strain of such a sudden change in direction.
My vision shifted with the motion, eyes skimming just above the surface of the black-water as bedraggled wings buzzed and beat.
It was wonderful. Moment by moment, it felt as if my senses were expanding, plunging deeper into the connection to the [Little Guardian’s Totem] that pressed against the little flyer’s flesh. Though I knew that it wasn’t true, I felt as if the borrowed perspective was a true part of me, as if the beating wings and regrettably rotting flesh were mine.
It was enjoyable for all its strangeness, made all the better for the fact that [Spore Puppeteer] gave me a sort of control that I wouldn’t otherwise have. While I could dive deeply into one of my Coreless’ [Little Guardian’s Totem]s, I would just be a passenger.
This was something different. In a way, it was like I was the one flying, almost brushing my flesh against the deadly black-water below. It was exhilarating in that sense - dangerous, and yet completely safe. Even if I were to slip into the black-water, I would survive.
The power in that was almost intoxicating. Yet, like all things, it eventually came to an end. I reached the many-nest’s shore.
Reluctantly, I pulled myself free from the Totem bearer’s senses. It was harder than I had expected, my mind sticking to the [Little Guardian’s Totem] and its wearer like clinging fluid, thick and viscous. I had stayed too long, focused on it too much. My mind had mired myself within its borrowed perspective. Part of it wanted to stay.
That part didn’t let go easily, though let go it finally did. My perspective shifted. I saw a bad-thing, hovering nearby with blurred wings turned blue and gold. I felt the cool touch of ore-flesh against my scale-flesh, smooth and familiar. I heard the noises of Coreless, jabbering at one another in tones of [excitement] and [relief].
I couldn’t feel my - its - wings anymore. Couldn’t feel the drip-drop of rotting blood through ruined flesh. Couldn’t feel the spore-roots pulling my muscles this way and that.
I could feel exhaustion. My length felt heavy and weak, my mind drained. Sending my senses through the [Little Guardian’s Totem] for so long had taken more from me than I had realized. I couldn’t have realized it, so lost in borrowed sensations.
That was dangerous.
In the future I might need to do things differently; given a few more [Little Guardian’s Totem]s, I could probably swap between different bearers frequently, both giving myself a greater perspective and preventing my mind from clinging so desperately to a single one. I wasn’t sure if that would be more or less tiring, but at least I would be able to notice the exhaustion set in during the swaps.
A hand reached up to scratch against my scale-flesh.
Tired, I allowed the touch.
The walk back was a somber affair, full of plodding steps and staggered sounds. Fits and starts of incomprehensible conversation from which I could only barely glean a hint of meaning - though I did understand one thing for sure.
The first of the Great Core’s Coreless were [restless], despite their clear [relief]. [Worried].
“We need to move faster,” Will said, his voice hard like ore-flesh. “As much as we might want to save everyone still caught within the mists, that might be something to put aside until later.”
I noticed a spike of [anxiety] and [apprehension] from the-female-who-was-not-Needle and The Grateful One both, each of them stammering out a few noises in response to Will’s words. Whatever the noises had meant, neither was happy about it.
He raised his hand and the noises slowly fell silent.
“Just for a little while. The Core needs to be dealt with before we end up hopelessly surrounded by the Mother of Monsters’ minions. If we’re lucky, they’ll leave once we deal with the Core. If that’s why they’re here in the first place, anyway…” he trailed off. “I have my doubts about that.”
“You think that they might be here for something else?” The Grateful One asked, her brows furrowed and her [Little Guardian’s Totem] tinged with a [confusion] that the others lacked. “It wouldn’t be the first time that monsters gathered at the edges of the city. They can sense the Core whenever we let it out of the null-water. That’s actually one of the reasons that Virtun gave for why we should sell it to them before the Collapse happened; they said that they could deal with the monsters that it attracted more easily than we could. That they were stronger,” she said.
Her emotions shifted, moving towards something closer to [anger]. “We should have just let them have the damn thing instead of sending them away like we did.”
“Speaking of...what are we going to do about the little guy when we do get to the Core?” not-Needle asked, her fingers scratching away at my still-limp scale-flesh. I gave a languid hiss, my tired mind luxuriating in the sensation she provided. “He’s probably going to want it for himself.”
There was a pause, a stilled moment where none of my Coreless even breathed - and then it broke, shattered by a single set of noises.
“I say we give it to him,” not-Needle finished.
The Coreless erupted into a cacophony of various noises, each weaving over and under the others; the result was something so chaotic that I doubted even the Coreless themselves could find the meaning within. I certainly couldn’t, eventually deciding to just ignore their noises and let myself limply dangle across not-Needle’s shoulder while I waited for them to finish with whatever it was they were doing. Even with the wait, it would be faster than slithering back to the [Little Guardian’s Focus] myself, and the lack of effort involved was still far more relaxing than having to move about myself - though the grating tones that occasionally spilled from their lips made it a closer thing than I had expected.
Finally though, the sounds began to settle and the Coreless stopped speaking over one another. It was much more pleasant after that.
“...the Council won’t be happy if we come back empty-handed,” I heard Will say. “They already didn’t like that we lost the last one.”
The-female-who-was-not-Needle scoffed, a sound spilling out from somewhere deep within her throat and vibrating at the places where my scale-flesh and hers met. “They weren’t even sure it would still be here in the first place. Besides, do we really want to risk something like this,” she gestured at the ruined many-nest around us, “happening in Orken?”
“I want it gone,” The Grateful One murmured. “Dead.”
“That’s two of us for feeding it to the Little Guardian, then,” Not-Needle said, nodding towards her. “I’d say Elara’s done enough to earn a vote, even if she isn’t from Orken. She’s done more than the Council has, at least.”
She leaned forward a little, almost causing me to slide across her ore-flesh.
“The question is, where does everyone else stand?”