Michael opened his eyes and he was not in his own world, nor even in his own body. At one moment, he had been following Eudora to the common study, and at the next, he had returned to the world of the tentaclebeasts from which he had been absent for so long.
He hovered above the ground, his long tentacles curling and unfolding beneath him as he slowly floated forward. I have tentacles? Who am I? When he thought of “I” the mental image of Michael Brenton was replaced by that of a tentaclebeast, but even that word evaporated into meaninglessness in this new identity, this new “I”.
The landscape that stretched out before him was mountainous and craggy, with dark unforgiving peaks, and valleys that appeared as if the ground had been torn open and filled with stars. The old “I” stared in wonder while the new “I” settled into familiarity.
Another tentaclebeast approached him, though he felt its coming long before they saw one another. Sight was rather irrelevant to communication when one could feel the thoughts of one’s companions.
They’re coming, the messenger thought simply.
How many? Michael thought back.
A dozen, maybe more.
Dukes, at least, maybe a Prince.
Michael felt the messenger’s fear, but instead of allowing his own to echo back and amplify it, he kept his feelings in check, and sent back a thought of steadfastness.
We will stand here.
As you will it to be.
* * *
Richard was first to the common study when Eudora began shouting, and saw Michael having one of his fits on the floor. He whipped off his belt and folded it in his hands, then knelt beside Michael and held the belt between his teeth.
“He’s going to be alright, Miss. This is what happens, from time to time.”
“Is he hurt?”
“No, he’s just taken one of his fits. He never remembers them, after.” He steadied Michael’s head as best as he was able.
Sally rushed into the room, followed by Albert.
“You rang, ma’am? Sir?” Sally asked, casting a worried eye on Michael.
Albert assessed the situation and patted Sally’s shoulder. “It’s alright, dear. Would you send for Doctor Hardale to look in on him?”
“Straightaway, sir.” Sally departed.
Albert approached Michael, whose fit was subsiding, the scars he bore returning to their normal color as Richard removed the belt from his mouth.
“Anything different this time, Richard?”
“No, sir. Not a terribly long one, I’d wager.” He had let Michael’s head rest on his leg, to keep it from banging on the floor, and Michael started to turn it a little as he came around.
“Can you see to him while Miss Wright and I give him some privacy?”
“Not a problem.” Michael groaned a bit and Richard patted his shoulder. “Hang in there, fellow. You’re alright.”
“Miss Wright, would you please accompany me?” Albert graciously offered an arm to help her from the floor.
She accepted, her hand steady despite the shock of the situation. “Thank you, Mr. Hedley.” She cast a nervous glance over one shoulder as they left the room. Michael was groaning a bit as he came to.
Albert guided them to his study and pulled out a chair for Eudora, which she accepted with thanks. “I’m sure you’re wondering what that was all about. I apologize; I should have provided you with some kind of warning. Out of respect for Mr. Brenton, his ailments are not something we discuss.”
“I understand. He’ll be alright then?”
“It’s funny, sometimes, how the simplest questions are often the most difficult.” Albert sighed and ran a hand through his greying dark brown hair. “I wouldn’t ordinarily discuss the private lives of our other members. However, considering the decision you have before you, I feel it’s important to be frank with you. We have no more idea whether Michael will be “alright” than we do for ourselves. His injuries were sustained in battle, as I am sure you have already surmised. He and the tentaclebeast he had Interfaced with were struck by a type of energy from another beast, something that resembled a bolt of lightning. The tentaclebeast was killed instantly, and Michael sustained serious burns.”
“How was he able to return, if his tentaclebeast was killed?”
“One other member of Michael’s mission survived: Christopher. He hid Michael’s body in a safe place and returned here to fetch another tentaclebeast to bring him back. Interfacing after that injury was…excruciating…for Michael…” Albert trailed off, and Eudora did not press for more details. An uneasy silence hung in the room as each contemplated Michael’s plight.
“Recovery took a long time, and even Michael understood he could never return to the field, even before we knew about his fits. He accepted that with a certain grace, although I’m certain it must have been a crushing blow. But his expertise was far too valuable for us to lose. He agreed to stay on with us. To see it through.” Respect and gratitude were as evident on Albert’s face as they were in his voice. “Soon after his recovery, the fits began. From what we can tell, they do no direct harm, though we try to protect him from injuring himself when they occur.”
“They’re so…dramatic…for something that does no direct harm. What causes them?”
“We don’t know. We can only assume that they’re tied to his injuries, but beyond that there appears to be no specific trigger.” And no cure, he thought with frustration.
“Thank you for your forthrightness, Mr. Hedley.” Eudora was reminded, briefly, of her brother’s death, when she was only seven years old. She had the image in her mind of holding her weeping mother’s hand, and puzzled for a moment over why that felt so similar to this moment.
“I only hope that it served a purpose. You understand, of course, that this conversation goes no further.”
“Of course. I will be better prepared, should something like this occur in the future.”
“Of course you will. I daresay even otherworldly sparks leaping from a man’s skin could not surprise you more than once.”
He’s probably right about that, Eudora thought, arching a brow.