121 Days Until Care And the Uncertain End
Zeydar woke in a fright. Heart beating wildly, the visions swam before him in the form of a fresh memory of terror. The screams had returned. The pain, the flames, the smell of blood. The death. The memories, all the memories. The Catastrophe, the Night of Oblivion, Tyler, on the road, the deaths, the collapse of Valaria, all of it was replaying. And he was there again, screaming, trying to escape but this time he wasn’t chained. This time his magic was with him, sparking like a powder keg, ready to strike out.
Focus on me.
Hands in darkness, Zeydar fumbled around trying to find the recording. His magic spun around him, and he recognized the sound of breaking as the memories formed before him. It was happening again. It was coming again. Everything was so hot. Everything was too much. He needed Dreams to take it all away. The sounds of the night were loud. Sharp breathing scraped him, both his and Kony’s. The darkness was swimming, swirling, and then there was the stinging of the air. He couldn’t breathe.
In his hands the music player landed along with the headphones, his magic found it. Time had bent around him, erasing his thoughts. When had he wanted this? When had he started looking for it?
Shaking hands. Headphones to ears. Start. The rhythmic beating of a single heart that had gotten him through worse. Breathing in time, focusing on the sound of it. Evester’s voice, and his eyes. This was the heartbeat that he knew with his entire body. Knees to his chest, head down, he tried to remember what was real. What was not.
Focus on me.
He hadn’t gotten real sleep since coming to the CloudCity. He’d slept as much as he needed to, but he’d been on his toes at Star Campus, and slept as much as he could without falling too deeply. It had been more naps if anything. He had read more theory. Meditated more to practice. Just enough sleep to function. In short bursts only. It was never long enough to dream. Dreaming could kill him. He had known that, because his dreams were corrupted. How could he let himself dream? He couldn’t, but somehow he had messed up. Somehow he had fallen into such a deep sleep that his body felt relaxed, and his mind had wandered.
A hand pressed itself against his back. Swinging out, he tried to hurt his attacker, who stopped his magic with a Staff. Kony peered at him in the darkness. His magic was being fed through Zeydar, calming, helping him remember control. The door opened to a black hallway, and the figure of Shawn’s shadow. He couldn’t hear anything save the heartbeat of the recording, but he felt as Shawn walked in. His steps were heavy, full, and unhurried as he walked in tossing what seemed to be blankets and pillows to the ground, throwing one to Zeydar.
Zeydar went to open his mouth to yell at Shawn as he caught the pillow, but then he recognized it. Each of the Igilistal children had embroidered decorative pillows for their room, and this was, or had to be Evester’s. Bringing the pillow towards him, Zeydar could smell the cologne that Evester used to love to wear. He wasn’t sure how he remembered it, but then he was back in the club starring at Evester who pulled him into hell, leading him away to dance and to be closer than Zeydar had ever been with any other person. Evester had not smelt the way when they had been on the run, but the visceral memory of that night made Zeydar feel him. The cologne had Zeydar remembering the way that Evester kissed him that night in the club and then the way that Evester kissed him every time after. Zeydar could feel Evester there with him, holding him. He could feel Evester’s hand moving Zeydar’s hair and the way Evester’s breath felt on his neck.
Focus on me. The words were more than a memory. He could actually hear the exact way Evester said them. He could see the way Evester had said them. He knew them as deeply as he knew himself. Waves of calm washed over him as the heartbeat kept pounding.
Phil and May entered the room and then the door shut. Zeydar could hear May whisper over the heartbeat soundtrack, but he could not make out the words. Shawn threw a blanket to her, which she caught and glared at him before meeting Zeydar’s eyes. She moved towards him kneeling down on the bed before him to check him.
“Why are you here?” Zeydar’s voice was like sandpaper against his throat. He turned down the thunderous soundtrack on his headphones.
“Sleepover.” Phil answered sitting on the bed, leaning on May who rolled her eyes. Shawn then sat down behind Zeydar who had managed to sit himself up. Shawn pressed his back against Zeydar who was hunched over the Evester pillow. Shawn was heavy, but the pressure was soothing. It was a pressure he knew, a reality. It was touch. It was people who breathed and were true. The memories were disappearing. Zeydar leaned back against Shawn forcing him back a bit, which Shawn laughed at. Kony handed Zeydar a water bottle, hand having moved to his head checking on him.
“See,” Phil kept talking. “I developed these horrendous habits from Everdanger. I can’t sleep alone.”
“Sure.” Zeydar laughed. He knew the others had their own rooms, but Kony and Zeydar, because Kony was supposed to take care of Zeydar. He began to drink the water. He knew where Phil was going, and he’d let Phil make the excuse anyway. Zeydar missed it. He hadn’t realized how much he missed it until he had remembered those nights next to Evester when the snores and heat had grounded him.
“I’ve been room hoping for days now. I swear Endwin is going to kill me.” Phil went on taking Zeydar’s hand as if about to beg.
“I might, if you sleep in my room one more time.” Shawn added.
“I’m surprised that you lasted so long.” Phil nodded to Shawn who moved from Zeydar’s back, leaving him with none of the balanced weight from before. Zeydar struggled to keep from falling. “But I can’t take it anymore. I hope you don’t mind.” Phil starred into Zeydar’s eyes as if he truly were begging to stay, and that this was about him and not Zeydar. Zeydar nodded all the same and Phil let him go with a smile. “Excellent.”
A blanket wrapped itself around Zeydar. Shawn had thrown it over him. He knew that Kony must have messaged them and Phil brought them there for him and at that moment he couldn’t care less about if the lie were true or not.
“You did well making it this far.” Phil stopped leaning on May, got off the bed, and laid on the floor. Kony had laid down blankets and pillows all over the floor near Zeydar’s bed. “But don’t worries. We won’t leave you alone.”
Headphones to his neck, Zeydar could still hear the lightest memory of the soundtrack that continued to play, but the room around him was otherwise silent. There were the creaks of the house as it moaned in the night. Those would not vanish. They were tangible and real. Zeydar was safe in this place.
“Sleep.” Shawn laid down on the ground with the blankets. Zeydar thought of the nights on the road, with no mattresses of soft feathers. He thought of the tens of breathing people, and the way their melody had calmed him. Kony got on the floor between Phil and Shawn. The three of them were close enough to reach if he had to. May crawled next to Zeydar laying down next to them as she did when they were kids.
Sleep, Shawn had said. And in the breath of the room, with the sound of Evester’s heartbeat there against his neck, Zeydar did sleep. He slept a peaceful, dreamless sleep.