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The High

The High

Post by Pagusel on

Pagusel had no way of knowing how long ago night had fallen. When she woke from her long sleep, the sky was fully dark and the scrapyard as uninterrupted by humanlike presence as ever.

After the thoroughly exhausting events of the last twenty-four or so hours, not to mention the taxing act of being human, Pagusel hardly required any sort of sleep aid, but she had taken one. The tablet had not even dissolved entirely on her tongue when the oppressive weight of sleep came down and suffocated the waking out of her.

When she woke, she found herself utterly unmoved from her original position: toes curled protectively, knees pulled up near her chest, hands splayed flat against the surface of the soft, rotting wood of the overturned armoire that served as a pallet, and all tucked up under the insulation of her wiry cloak. The armoire was leaning at an acute angle to the ground, lifted on one side by a dense stack of cheap tapestries, black with mold. Pagusel twisted her torso to recline face-up against the tilted armoire and consider the dark, cloudy sky.

The hood of her cloak fell away from her cheek with a stickiness. She squinted at the grainy, green stain she had drooled into the fur: " . . .The green for when you want to sleep . . ."

Overhead, the waxing moon cast a diffused glow from behind some clouds. Pagusel blinked blearily and stretched each of her legs out in turn to eventually find solid ground beyond the edge of the armoire and beneath some discarded sheaves of cloth as stiff as parchment. The east end of the scrapyard was where homeowners could dispose of worthless old items--a site removed enough from the main road that their embarrassing trash wasn't clearly displayed, but hardly deep enough into the scrapyard mess that they need negotiate dangerous heaps of twisted iron or old, fuel-stained engines to take care of the task.

Pagusel stood and glanced about the dunes of domestic trash. It made one self-conscious to awake from a sleep and be unsure of even the date, and her attitude towards the familiar space in which she made her home was reflective of this nervousness. After a moment, she stooped down to check on the security of her most important possessions: inside the armoire, visible through the window of a broken cabinet panel, crouched a small line of miniature potted plants. Stuffed between the little clay pots were tiny bales of dried stems and leaves, and nestled at the end of the row was a new wooden container, a dark, shiny box with an inlaid pattern.

Pagusel looked at the plants for a long time in thought, one hand stroking her collarbone. She glanced up at the moon again, for it had come out from behind a cloud, and its strikingly prominent crater range evoked the image of a bright, round, expressionless face. Had she spent more time as a human lately, capable of observing the moon, she might have noted its motions and been able to now form an estimate of the current time. But, as things had thus progressed, she had no way of knowing what time it was.

She sat on the edge of her armoire-bed and allowed the fingers of one hand to dangle into the crevice where her plants lived. For all she knew, Daq had come at the proper time and found no sign of her and then left. Or perhaps he wasn't to come at all. Perhaps he still had time.

With these thoughts and the futility of her own concern in mind, Pagusel plucked a few dried leaves from their hidey-hole and also a long-stemmed wooden pipe that was hidden in the slim space behind the pots. She crumbled the plant in her fingers and methodically stuffed the bowl of the pipe. When she had finished her careful task, she produced a single wooden match from a stash inside the armoire and lit her pipe with its guttering flame.

Some time passed. Maybe an hour. The pipe burned slowly, and Pagusel only took a drag every several minutes. As the pack of purplish green leaves gradually crinkled and faded into ash, her expression slackened, blanked, and she retreated further into herself in thought. At first, she replayed recent events in her head, the face of the old man in his study, and the troubling memory of the smell of Daq's blood. Placid, she moved deeper, and remembered the spot on her cheek where Daq had kissed her and where now there was a small smear of green. She attempted to calculate the balance of an outstanding gambling debt that had long since been forgiven.

Eventually, as she drooped into a deeper intoxication, and saltless, maudlin tears began to pinch at the outer corners of her eyes, her thoughts fell into the unsatisfying territory of forgotten questions. Like, How does one determine whether a monstrous beast is to be treated as an animal or a demon, or How does one explain to a retarded man how babies are made?

As these questions trickled through her hazy mind, Pagusel stared up at the moon for some unsolvable clue as to what hour had arrived and presently placed aside her nearly spent pipe. She slowly peeled her matted cloak up from her knees and past her shoulders and dropped the garment over the hidey-hole beside her. She may have been cold in only her high-waisted shorts and the wrapped length of suede that constituted a shirt, but she didn't seem to notice, in her state. She only placed her hands on her knees and leaned forward to peer along the stretch of road for signs of life.

When she had been in this position for a short stretch of time, her thoughts dissolved into melancholy troubles again, and she absently murmured a lullaby in response.

"Yeddy I . . . likkle-lig, faina telloonsey . . .
Blan-blan duppy fway . . . I likkel leggobeese . . ."

Re: The High

Post by Daq Bekkar on

Daq's old coat was irritatingly uncomfortable. Whenever he crossed his arms, he felt like he'd rip through the back. A memory surfaced--a man changing into a giant wolf and ripping through all of his clothes. Daq wondered quietly about what he had become and, more importantly, what he had once been. A shifter... Pagusel was a shifter, wasn't she? Maybe she would have answers for him.

Tired of the struggle, Daq simply took off his old coat and folded it over his bare arm. The blood-red tunic Zapar had given him was much more comfortable and, when he was honest with himself, even somewhat flattering. He tensed the muscles in his left arm and watched his skin ripple. He had memories of arms doing that, but they were never his arms, or his body's arms, rather. Morax had, at times, possessed arms like that, though he couldn't quite understand when those times were. Were Morax's memories really his own?

Did possession equate to ownership? The word sounded odd to him. Possession. It rang with hazy importance. "No," he whispered. Possession did not equate to ownership. The memories were not his, even though he was featured in many of them. He repeated the word, "No. No... No. No." Not for emphasis, but because he was still unfamiliar with the sound of his new voice. His old voice featured prominently in what he remembered. His face he had only seen in passing reflections, or once in a painting at his grandfather's manor, but his voice had been with him all along. He said a few more things to himself, trying to approximate it. He couldn't. His new voice was too flat, too nondescript. Daq's had been weathered and seasoned.

A sudden chill directed his attention outward. Looking again at his arms, he could see the tiny vellus hairs standing up as goosebumps began to appear on his pale skin. A pale glow from the cloud-obscured moon illuminated the streets around him. The scrapyard was just ahead. Where was she to meet him? He stopped at the entrance and looked for her, but he couldn't see even a hint of another presence.

He waited there for several minutes, struggling with the different impulses he was feeling--most of them urging him to simply turn away--before eventually deciding to head deeper into the scrapyard. Powerful memories arose, and he was overtaken by Morax's keenness for the hunt. Vividly, he could remember how Morax moved. Slipping on his uncomfortable coat, he leaned forward to imitate his prowl. His muscles assumed the position almost instinctively.

How could even his cells remember so quickly?
How had borrowed memory penetrated so deep?
How could he have been erased so completely?

He sniffed the air, inhaling deeply like Morax often did, but he took far less pleasure in the smells that he encountered. It was musty, moldy, and dank in the scrapyard, and he didn't have half the capacity for dissecting the melange of odors that confronted him.

Some instinct led him to sniff again. There was one particular odor that seemed out of place, a smell of burnt herb. Focusing in on the scent, he directed himself toward heaps of domestic trash. A sound wafted toward him, quiet but distinct in the crisp and oddly soundless night. It was a tune he didn't recognize, or one that he didn't remember, if a distinction could be made between the two.

"Pagusel?" he called out, facing what he thought was the direction of the sound.

Re: The High

Post by Pagusel on

Pagusel's lullaby trailed off. Either there was no more to sing, or else she had lost track of the relevant words in her wandering state of though. The wavering tune got stopped up in the murk of her throat.

At the sound of her own name uttered, Pagusel's head bobbed down and up. Her upper lip quivered, but the frailty of the gesture was smoothed over with a lick from the tip of her tongue. She wheezed slightly, air that was supposed to be a sound but was lost in her clotted vocal tract. Pagusel cleared her throat and tried again.

"I'm here," she called out, not loudly. The airy feeling in the front part of her skull was keeping her from recalling exactly what Daq's voice should sound like, or what the voice that had just called her name had sounded like, or even whether her name had indeed just been called. The freshness in her throat let her know that she hadn't imagined just now calling a response. She called again, so as to have yet another moment she could be sure of.

"I'm right here." Pagusel rose to her feet as she identified herself. Her head turned slowly in the direction from which the other voice must have come, if it had come at all. Her eardrums seemed to ring with the memory of a sound, but that may have been her own voice.

After years of careful medication, this slowness of thought and weakness of short term memory gave Pagusel no cause for alarm or discomfort. She caught sight of a flicker of movement in her periphery, and she sat back down to wait for the moving, speaking figure to catch up to her.

Her attention was drawn to the passing of the moon between some clouds. Its nearly round, yellow circle was an expressionless face. She smiled up at it, her lips a thin, nearly straight line. Her eyes watered and wet her long lashes to blur the sight of things.

Re: The High

Post by Daq Bekkar on

Following the sound, Daq picked his way among a final few trash heaps to find Pagusel's nest in front of an old armoire.

When he finally came upon her, he had no idea what to make of her. He could feel the faintest echo of what he had once supposedly felt, having held her, according to Morax's perspective, as a sort of vague and unripe love interest. Looking down at her now, dirty, sleep-disheveled, smiling wanly and wet-eyed up at the moon, he found it hard to believe that he'd almost gone against his greatest friend and ally to secure her company and look out for her interests.

Imagining himself in Morax's position filled him with a deep, diffuse hurt, though he couldn't conjure up anything that would suggest Morax had felt that way. Perhaps his friend was simply more forgiving and understanding than he was.

Moving to stand in front of Pagusel's view, Daq's first impulse was to join her in sitting. His memory, however, disagreed with this move. His mind was bereft of information about etiquette and body language, but he instantly recalled volumes about the nasty chemicals and diseases lurking all over scrapyard junk, not to mention that he could already identify several types of mold growing nearby.

Instead, he continued standing and merely stuffed his large hands into the coat's small pockets. Quite rigidly, he said, "We had arranged to meet here at about this time."

He'd thought about it on the long walk from the mansion, but he still didn't quite know how to broach the topic of his change in form with her. None of Morax's memories suggested that she knew, specifically, about the process, though it had been hinted at several times. Indeed, Morax's impression of her led Daq to believe that her... peculiar... demeanor would impede her ability to accept his transformation.

Fortunately for him, Pagusel hadn't show any indication of recognizing a difference in him based on voice, and his position standing silhouetted by the waxing moon's strong light presented him with the opportunity to avoid the subject for a little while longer, at least.

Re: The High

Post by Pagusel on

Pagusel peered up at Daq from her improvised living space, past the darkness of his strange head to watch the moon begin to disappear again behind a cloud. She lifted a hand to scratch away the tears that blurred her sight. She lifted her hand higher to shield her eyes with the shadow of her fingers, and absently deposited a thin tear from her fingernail to her eyebrow.

The moon faded, and Pagusel's blank gaze congealed into something not quite recognition, but closer to lucidity. Her hand slowly dropped from her brow, the side of her index grazing the length of her nose to finally light on her upper lip and rest as a sly mustache. She continued to stare at Daq for several long moments--she felt, when she came out of her daze, that it must have been a long time. A tear dripped from her left eye and down her cheek, and then from her right.

"Did he die?" she questioned finally. Her voice was hoarse and her "d"s sounded tired. Furthermore, it was a strange thing to ask, with no clear context, not to mention no antecedent for the pronoun. However, in Pagusel's processing, it seemed the only thing to ask.

Her nearly trembling hands dropped down to rest on the edge of her seat. The weight of hunched shoulders rested on the heels of her palms. Her left hand crept gradually sideward to eventually reach her pipe, which she cradled in the crook of her knuckles. A few more heavy tears plopped down from each eye.

Re: The High

Post by Daq Bekkar on

There was, of course, one last aspect to Morax's memory of Pagusel. Despite all of her strangeness and her apparent detachment, she was devastatingly perceptive at times. There was a weak undercurrent of emotion that Daq felt when he 'remembered' her, the faintest whiff of a suspicious kind of fear. Morax, he inferred, did not like having his intentions and motivations laid bare, and Pagusel seemed all to apt at and wont to doing so. Therefore, when the question finally came after a long, uncomfortable silence, Daq was not surprised.

Nonetheless, it still caught him off guard with its awkward phrasing, which forced him to consider all of its difficult implications. 'He' probably meant Daq, but, if she had meant the "Daq" standing before her, she would have simply asked "Did you die?" Could the pronoun shift have been based on appearance alone, or was there something deeper to an identity--something other than appearance--that "Daq" was lacking?

He possessed, in a way, most of Daq's experience, but so did Morax. In fact, he didn't possess anything that Morax was ignorant of, which, he supposed, made him more of a 'Morax' than a 'Daq.' After all, it seemed that next to nothing remained of the Daq that had died. What was left? A few scraps of memory? A soul? What was a soul, anyway? If he wasn't Daq, or, more specifically, wasn't the re-embodiment that Daq had wanted, what was his purpose?

Mind reeling with questions, "Daq" absentmindedly crouched slowly before rocking back to sit on his haunches. He stared at Pagusel briefly, following a tear's descent as it traced a silvery path down her cheek, and then answered.

"Yes," he said. "He died, but..."

He trailed off and considered what to say next. Frankly, he hadn't quite answered the question for himself, so he just decided to speak on impulse, and add, "But.. I'm a part of him that was brought back--or kept here, I don't know how it worked. Maybe even a large part."

What was it that had brought him back? Or kept him? He had a strange feeling that it hadn't been Daq's will.

A body persists its state of rest or of uniform motion unless acted upon by an external unbalanced force.

Daq's soul.. or essence.. had been steered away from departure. He had been acted on by an outside force. Magic? He didn't believe in magic. And yet, almost unbidden, his few memories that related to talk of magic surfaced. As he cycled through them, one stood out to him:

"I suspect you are deliberately being unpleasant to me so that I will want you to disappear again, and you may give yourself permission to lose control.

"I will not repeat my stance on what it means to take an easy path when it comes to magic."

The easy path... What sort of path was taken in those moments between life and death and life again, where his memories could not reach? Had he lost control?

"Pagusel," he asked. "What is it that you meant when you spoke of 'taking an easy path' with magic?"

"Did you know.. Am.. Am I...?" He mumbled through this last part, for his own sake not deigning to finish.

Re: The High

Post by Pagusel on

The brightness of the moonlight diminished behind the diffusing effect of a cloud's edge, and presently the dense nucleus of the cloud overtook the disc and reduced its glow to a nominal wash. Pagusel's face dimmed to Daq's view, and without the strong backlighting, his face actually grew clearer. He was explaining his own death as he became sharper.

Pagusel's eyes dropped from his face to the ground where his feet were planted. A strange flight of imagination brought to mind a flock of plant shoots springing up from the earth to curl over his feet and climb his ankles. At first, there would be vibrant green cotyledons that would pop up like prairie dogs, and then as they matured, the miscellaneous plants would develop true leaves--some of them papery and exquisitely tinged with kind chemicals to burn . . . She wasn't hallucinating, though. Pagusel lifted her gaze up to Daq's knees and her phantasm faded. Her mind wandered tangentially for half a thought, to wonder what sort of plants had taken root in the soil around the corpse she had left behind; at that point, she was brought back to the present by the realization of what had sent her on the flight of fancy in the first place.

She shifted her pipe into her lap and stared up at Daq seconds after he had asked her a question. "I died once, as well." It was unusual for Pagusel to speak up so impulsively, and she dismissed her apparent earnestness by shifting her gaze hastily sidelong to consider his question.

When she had composed her response, and her face, Pagusel turned up to the stranger's face that was Daq's and murmured something low and not entirely clear " . . . must . . . constantly vigilant against laziness of the soul . . . spirit . . ."

She turned the bowl of her pipe around once in her hands and raised it up slightly, towards her breastbone. It seemed she was preparing to offer it in a few moments, like she was working up the nerve.

"And what of . . . Morax?" she asked, more clearly.

Re: The High

Post by Daq Bekkar on

Daq allowed himself to ponder Pagusel's puzzling comments for awhile, but soon let them go. He simply didn't know what to make of her having "died" once, though he strongly believed it was meant metaphorically, and her answer to his question was unsatisfactory, to say the least.

"Laziness of the soul?" he whispered, hoping that saying the words would make them more real, more immediate, and thus illuminate their meaning. Nothing came to him, other than intermittent and unbidden associations.

Acedia is a word from ancient Greece describing a state of listlessness or torpor, with spiritual overtones that make it distinct from depression ...

No, that wasn't it.

Symptoms of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome include widespread muscle and joint pain, cognitive difficulties, chronic, often severe mental and physical exhaustion and other characteristic symptoms

Not that, either.

In Q. 35 of the Secunda Secundae of the Summa Theologica, Thomas Aquinas discusses acedia, "the sorrow of the world" that "worketh death" .

Daq shook his head and just watched Pagusel's slow, careful movements as she fiddled with the pipe. Was that not torpor? Not laziness? Or was laziness of the spirit something else altogether? He had difficulty with that word. Daq was supposed to have been nothing more than a spirit at one time, though whatever was left of that seemed.. diminished.. at best.

... a mortal sin "on account of the flesh utterly prevailing over the spirit." (ST, II-II, 35, 3)

Daq was happy to hear Pagusel ask about Morax, so that he could return to firmer ground. Morax, it seemed, was the only thing he could truly rely on anymore. "Morax," he said, unsure of where to begin. "Morax.. is fine. He's occupying Daq's--er--my old body. This one, my new one, was what he was building for himself, but he saved me by... um..."

He paused, selecting his next words carefully. "... by, I guess, transferring me to it."

The phrase didn't settle well with him. What had been transferred really? The "spirit?" He cleared his throat nervously, hoping that the conversation wouldn't be redirected to that elusive subject.

"The old body's was dead, or near dead, but he saved it via reconstitution. The way he understands it, um..." Daq had to stop to consider. How did Morax understand the change anyway? There was an awful disconnect between mind and memory there. Before trying to give voice to the process, Daq had been certain he knew how it had worked.

A fluid is defined as a substance that continually deforms (flows) under an applied shear stress. Fluids display the ability to conform to the shape of their container.

"The body conformed to him," he said, forcing the words out before he could second-guess them. "It changed its shape to meet him, and the wounds healed during the moment of change. I guess it was kind of like how you shifters do it."

Re: The High

Post by Pagusel on

Torpor and listlessness were two conditions that could probably be aptly ascribed to Pagusel at the moment, and yet she didn't seem inclined to recognize any laziness of the spirit on her own part for it. However, she didn't seem particularly righteous in her conviction, either, perhaps even humble. There was a vaguely troubled asymmetry to her expression as she stared at the space just above her pipe; she looked as if she might be experiencing discomfort due to gas or else some other internal turmoil, especially as Daq repeated her phrase back to himself.

Pagusel sat up a bit straighter as he began to talk about Morax. A pink crease ran along her midriff where the wrinkle of her shirtcloth had pressed into her skin. She watched his hands as he talked, as if trying to make sense of the story through nonexistent mime.

Her eyelids seemed to pause mid-blink a moment after he finished, and her lip stiffened into a stern bow. Her glazed gaze lifted to meet his, and she replied, "You must have me mistaken for some other person, because that doesn't sound like something I'd do at all." She seemed aware of her word choice, aware that there was no mistake of identity in play--at least not regarding herself. Yet, somewhere lurking behind the foggy tone and wandering bend of her voice--there was the righteousness.

Pagusel stood, holding the bowl of her pipe as regally as the bauble of a scepter. She rolled her shoulders back and glanced down as she noticed the wrap of her shirt was unsatisfactory and had slackened. She tugged up at the top part of it with her left hand and pressed the fabric firmly against her breastbone as if to adhere it in place. Standing, she could get a better look at the new Daq's face, and could confirm he indeed did not look familiar at all.

"A person who looks like Daq--now that is Morax? . . . Or does that body look different? And you . . . this is what you've become now? . . . Daq?" She said that last word not particularly happily. She didn't sound sad, either, just detached. Pagusel hadn't yet displayed a tendency to sound very attached to any situation, anyhow.

She did appear to have one attachment, and that was the pipe she was now turning round and round in her palm. She stopped it with the stem facing Daq's chest. An adult game of spin the bottle. Her hand inched towards him slowly, and she seemed to be offering the thing. Perhaps a hint of herb still smoldered in the bowl, but it appeared to need a new light.

Re: The High

Post by Daq Bekkar on

Frustrated by the notion of not being able to understand his own memories, Daq did not react favorably to Pagusel's comment. The stiff curl of her lips, the heavy-lidded look--these were purposeful expressions, though he, like Morax, couldn't properly decipher them. There was no mistake in his comment. She was a shifter, and shifters could heal in such a way, but there was another layer to it, something that she knew but wasn't saying.

Daq was no shifter, nor Morax. Was that what she was saying? Did she know what was at play?

A sensation welled up, rising from his gut to settle at the base of his throat, and Daq, like that burning, tightening sensation, rose as well. At first, he'd had every intention of ignoring this newest battery of questions and simply setting out for the mansion at the outskirts of the city, to return to Morax and Zapar, who, despite their deficiencies, might better comprehend him--his frightful displacement, his unendurable thirst for identity, for self.

Zapar, who, instead of teasing him by playing word games, might simply coo softly and reach out to hold him, placing his cool, steady hands on his hot, agitated skin.

Morax, who, instead of scrutinizing him with such suspicion, might only observe him with his serious, yellow eyes and ponder a remedy to his condition.

Before he had taken more than a few steps, though, he stopped. He wasn't there just on his own accord. Morax had sent him. Certainly Morax, who had never seemed to show any respect for such tenuous bargains as oral contracts, would not have sent him if there was nothing for him to find. So why was he here?

He ran his hands through his hair, at once feeling the thick, durable blond and remembering Daq's fragile grays, and stared at the stars. For the first time, he knew all of their names, the virtue of each constellation, but, from what he could tell, they had never seemed to him so foreign. Inhaling sharply, he turned around and sat again before Pagusel. He felt the muscles in his face playing almost involuntarily, some tightening, some slackening, to form an expression. It was an exaggerated look, like that of a child, who had only once or twice in his short life been required to look stern.

"Morax is now wholly Morax," he said. "And this... This is what Daq has become."

He took the proffered pipe from her. He would play her game and see where it led. Looking at the bowl, he could tell the leaf had nearly gone out. He would need a source of flame. With the same ease and speed as Morax, he spotted a suitable object in a close-by mound of discarded materials. Intuitively, perhaps even by smell, he recognized it as a piece Auermetall. After placing the pipe on the ground before him, he reached out with a long arm and snatched the 'stone.' From his coat, he took a knife--that same rusty shiv from many times before. After a few fumbling attempts, he struck the stone at just the right angle, with just the right impulse, and sparks flew. A thin spire of smoke rose from the bowl again.

Placing the stone and blade on the ground before him, he picked up the pipe, put it to his well-crafted lips, and inhaled.

Re: The High

Post by Pagusel on

Pagusel's gaze flitted briefly to each step in Daq's process of lighting the pipe anew. Though complicated, it was all the better for him to produce his own spark, and leave her limited--and hidden--supply of matches out of it.

When he actually moved to smoke the pipe, her academic interest deepened into something like a philosophical rapture. Her heavy-lidded eyes widened for just a moment before lapsing back to an even lower stare. Her nostrils flared softly and quivered with the gentle exertion. She licked her lower lip and her jaw slackened elegantly. She leaned forward on the balls of her feet to watch him inhale, and she held the fingers of both hands to her chest to steady her shirt. It would have hardly seemed unexpected if she'd drooled a trickle of perfumed saliva from the center of her anticipating lips.

She dropped into a sit beside him, falling like liquid with elbows. Her posture was slightly above his, as she perched on the edge of the armoire. She gazed down at him, and then reached with both hands to take the bowl from his as he was almost finished inhaling his drag. When she drew her hand back towards herself, the stem slipped from his lips. She held out a hand in benevolent warning and motioned at his windpipe, downward, with her fingers. "Hold it," Pagusel murmured, in reference to the lungful of smoke.

A rust-scented breeze wafted through and the contents of the bowl pulsed once with light. Pagusel saw how low the supply was getting, and she turned the stem towards her lips. Just as she closed her lips around it, she glanced up at Daq and waved her fingers again. "Let it go," she said over the stem. He might cough, perhaps a lot. His eyes might water, and he might feel immediately thirsty. It would be a minute or so before he felt any of the desirable effects of the drug, but they would be gentle and generally pleasing, for the plant carried a psychoactive molecule not unlike THC.

She closed her eyes and took a deep hit, waited with her eyes shut and her ribcage uplifted and expanded, and exhaled. Misty rolls of smoke covered her face for a moment, and when her face became clear again, she was staring at Daq with unprecedented intensity and, apparently, sincerity. "Here," she said, and with her words came another puff of smoke from her lungs; her words were chalky with the effect. She turned the pipe towards him again. "It's not spent yet."

Re: The High

Post by Daq Bekkar on

The smoke burned, and he'd have exhaled sharply if not for Pagusel's urging to hold it in. He suppressed the impulse to cough and let it linger in the apex of his lungs and settle at the base. Strangely, he felt like he could taste the active molecule. Like the stone from before, he felt an instinctual recognition. Was this what Morax wanted him to find? Daq exhaled finally and sat very still, waiting for the effects of the drug. He doubted it. Morax wouldn't have sent him after something so trivial.

It took awhile for him to feel anything, and when he finally did, it was a subtle change. His tense facial muscles softened a bit, and the wild grasping of his mind began to slow. The intense edge of his hunger for answers was dulled. The flood of irrelevant memory had slowed. In a way, by slightly diminishing his acuity, the drug allowed his mental focus to sharpen. He became keenly aware of his surroundings, and of the strange woman staring at him. He stared back at her with a relaxed expression, devoid of any of his previous intensity.

Pagusel's face was oddly beautiful in the smoke, but Daq could see her age. He assumed that in his old, similarly aged body, that sort of thing hadn't mattered. Morax's memory clearly indicated that he had felt some attraction for her. But now, in his new, particularly young shell, he seemed too distanced from her to feel that sort of desire. He appreciated her face in the same way that he'd appreciated one of the paintings hanging in the foyer of Malatrast's mansion. It had that same elegance and mystery, but it had no hold over him--just a passing interest.

He took the bowl again when offered, inhaled, held, and waited. The feeling--or lack of feeling--intensified. The swells of information and memory ceased completely, and Daq felt entirely disconnected, as if there was nothing outside of himself, nothing that extended beyond the walls of his shell. It was all internal, with nothing to be discovered, nothing to be recovered.

Passing the pipe back languidly, he stretched out his legs and propped himself up on his arms in a more comfortable reclining position. To no one in particular, he asked what he considered a rather difficult and pointed question:

"Why am I here?"

Re: The High

Post by Pagusel on

As Daq retreated into self-reflection, Pagusel was trying to extricate herself from the self-imposed hermitage of her consciousness. She had to grasp out with her senses, take in language and other cues, and in turn give out something that could be processed by the other; as a bug, she had grown unaccustomed to the complicated practice. The drug served to compartmentalize her awareness and the tokens of information she processed, but it also made much more difficult the task of wrangling of her own attention.

She stared at Daq acutely, and might as well have been trying to make out his face through a cloud of smoke as he had done hers: the smoke was time, and it shifted, constantly, and each observation of him was made with a small press of effort to keep up. Her gaze twitched gently to and fro, to catch up with time; she wondered if he too remembered the liquid, flickering flames in the old necromancer's library.

She glanced down when she took the pipe back into her palm. Tiny events occurring around them crackled in her awareness like sparks of electricity, each requiring all available senses to take in. Her gaze was distracted for some time as she beheld the precious pipe, and the crackling was muffled for a time.

After an expanse of time that could have been five seconds or fifteen minutes, she looked up at him, prepared to expound upon the nature of the pipe, the drug, and laziness of the soul, all things that had coalesced in her mind in that timeless interval.

She saw his face was not precisely how she had left it--the line of his jaw was just a tiny bit softer, perhaps--and this difference surprised her unreasonably (it did take so much effort to appraise the quantitative significance of individual observations), so that she simply stared, lips parted, for a few seconds. That was how she was as he stretched out and spoke.

Probably for the first time since any incarnation of Daq had encountered Pagusel, she smiled without restraint. Her teeth displayed themselves, this time not just incidental to some utterances of speech, or having utility to clench against chill or prop up her pipe's stem; they were simply on display, little pieces of faded porcelain.

She made a soft, hoarse laugh and gazed at Daq with bleary eyes. "If you are dabbling in metaphysics, I imagine you can come up with a more engaging question than that."

Re: The High

Post by Daq Bekkar on

Daq's present incarnation didn't know what to make of Pagusel's smile. He knew the act of smiling was rare for her, but he couldn't attach any importance to it. The subtext and emotional connotation that had allowed him to form an understanding of her had been either lost or obliterated.

"If you are dabbling in metaphysics, I imagine you can come up with a more engaging question than that."

If he hadn't seen her saying it to him, he'd have sworn it was inside his head. His entire memory was filled with a voice like that.

"No," he said firmly, looking away from her with obvious disinterest. "All is one? Arche and apeiron? The nature of an object that leads to its characteristic behaviors? No. Not metaphysics. I do not dabble in that."

He looked at the sky, so messy with foreign constellations. Zenith and nadir, azimuth and altitude--he knew so much about the theory of them, but nothing visceral. Nothing... real. He'd have left if he'd felt the desire to stop lounging. If he was to remain, however, he could not simply ignore his host. It didn't work like that. Even his meager stores of memory knew of those basic conventions.

"Pagusel..." he said, slowly turning the name over in his mouth as he spoke it. He did not face her. "I know much--perhaps everything, even--about the nature and virtue of my carbons, the behaviors of my oxygen, but these are not principles to live by. If anything, they are the principles of death, for all things return to elements, to base forms, to entropy. This is their virtue."

Turning, finally, to look at her, he paused for a moment's scrutiny. Her face, which Morax had always described as "impassive" was constantly being altered by little emotions. His, now, was truly impassive: a void, empty of emotions because he simply didn't know which ones to put on it.

"What I want," he said after the pause. "Is something more practical. Can't you understand that I've been stripped of all practicality? It is a difficult thing to live without."

Re: The High

Post by Pagusel on

Pagusel too turned her gaze skyward, and as Daq puzzled over the sandy expanse of stars, she smiled palely up at the moon. If she were ever in a mood to be offended by his dismissive tone, now was not such a time. She seemed altogether unagitated; beyond her usual subdued state, she had also calmed the current of obsession that ran perpetually through her nerves.

With a sigh, she dropped her chin and let her gaze fall back to the earthly level, where she eyed the new Daq for a few moments before he spoke. In the silvery light, the lines of his face were prominently highlighted, and she could see how non-specifically young and nicely put-together her companion had become. However, the cool light gave the most mundane lines an almost gleaming appearance, and anybody would have looked lovely in it. A feeling like an ember rumbled behind Pagusel's breastbone, and she recalled a vague, but not disturbing, sadness that the Daq she had invited had not been able to come.

He looked over at her after he said her name, and she was compelled to furrow her brow sympathetically in his direction. The emotion felt distant and unfamiliar, but she expressed it for him with a soft tensing of her chin and a long, level gaze. "I was planning to help Daq relax," she said slowly, "in case you weren't aware . . ."

She looked at the small bowl of her pipe and frowned thoughtfully. "I don't believe that's something you need." She lifted her gaze abruptly and made full eye contact. "He agreed at one point to help me to acquire drugs, and then . . . Morax . . . and now you, you've changed . . ." Her use of pronouns was confusing, whether calculated or slapdash.

She shook her head gently and glanced over the side of her shoulder where her cloak lay folded over the hole in which her possessions were hiding. "Practicality . . . is an odd thing to say you need, when it sounds to me what you're lacking is culture." Her face lost all emotion for a moment as she paused to think about what she'd said, and then she looked up again and nodded.

One hand pawed blindly at the thick mat of fur that was her cloak. She pushed her hand past the cloak's heaviness and dipped it into the hole in the armoire. A moment later she withdrew a handful of tightly bound dried leaves. She opened her palm to peer at them, and in actuality, the leaves were separated into small bundles of different variations.

From one very narrow bundle, she eased out a purplish black curl that looked much like an old, rumpled feather of a dark songbird. She placed this gingerly on her left knee and squinted at the leaves in her hand again. Next, she picked out of the set a larger bunch of sage-green leaves, which she turned over and shook above her palm. A thin twig dropped out of the bunch, and on its end it bore a tight, desiccated bud of some sort, the size of a large pea. Pagusel pinched the end of the twig to pluck the bud, and she thought for a moment before closing her other hand around the remaining leaves.

"This one--" The purple shred blew off her knee with the force of the wind from her reaching hand, and she stretch her fingers forward to snatch it before it floated away--"will give you great appreciation for emotion, and you'll see--that is, you'll feel you do--the nature of people and things, not as individual instances, but as wholes." She twisted the leaf between her thumb and forefinger as she pondered how else to describe its effects. "It redefines boundaries," she said finally, in a satisfied tone.

"The other--" She opened her hand to show the dried bud that rolled in the basin of her palm--"will probably make you feel panicked. It's . . . exhilarating." She probably should have elaborated on the nature of that beast further, and explained how it was known to cause oscillating perception of surrounding dimension and degree at worst, and calm questioning of the nature of truth, at best.

"They're not culture," Pagusel said abjectly of the two botanical drugs in her hand, "but he didn't need culture. And, he couldn't have handled these. So you should choose one. Consume it orally."

With her fist that held the other leaves, she propped her weight onto her knee and extended her other hand to offer the choice of drugs. Her head was tipped again in sympathy; her shirt had sagged again, against her notice, and crease between her breasts that was just revealed gave her an almost maternal look.

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