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Rabbit Heart - Part IV

Part IV Around them, the ground had begun to harden, and the trees had ceased to droop so violently. Yet Murine was not pleased. It wasn’t that she wasn’t grateful for the respite from slogging through inches of mud, but now the wind had begun to blow through the trees, shaking the leaves, and freezing her already wet skin. That night wasn’t much better, nor the morning after. The wind blew harder and harder, so hard that occasionally Muirne thought she could hear voices among them. The name “Forest of Whispers” was beginning to make more and more sense. Worst of all was that they increasingly seemed to be walking in circles, Muirne was sure she recognized the knots on some of those trees. “So,” she finally began about mid-afternoon on the second day, after realizing that she might not get a better opportunity. They were taking a break from the endless walking on a moss-covered log, trying to not get blown away. Muirne didn’t want to push Gilveidan, but now she really wanted to know his tale. He sighed. “I promised you a story, didn’t I?” to which Muirne nodded vigorously. “Where do I begin?” he paused, glancing off into the distance. “I had a sister, Viola was her name. We’ve lived in the wilds for years since our parents died. A monastery took us in, taught us how to use our powers. You think I’m skilled? I’m nothing compared to Viola. She could have destroyed the world, had she had an evil bone in her body. “I suppose that’s why it found her. Her power.” “Found her?” Muirne frowned. “What do you mean?” The wind almost seemed to pick up more around them, and Muirne clutched her thin blanket around her. “The monastery was built on top of some ruins, it was long forgotten what they were originally for, in the center of the continent.” “The center of the—” Muirne’s eyes widened. Gilveidan cut her off with a nod and a grave stare. “This ‘evil’ you’re so eager to defeat? It found her, whispered to her. It corrupted her mind, and she destroyed the monastery. Had it latched onto her further, she and It might have ended the world. So I...” his voice caught. “I killed her before that could happen.” Muirne opened her mouth, but nothing came out. “I’ve been wandering the wilds ever since,” he looked down at the ground. “And now you think I’m a monster.” “No,” she said quickly. “No, I don’t. From what it sounds like, your sister was already gone. And you might have saved the world. It is horrible, so much so that I can hardly bear to think about it. But... you did what you had to do.” He looked up at her, slightly surprised. “I’m just sorry that it had to be you.” “Thank... you,” he muttered, not quite sure how to respond. “Here,” Muirne reached into her pack and pulled out the drawstring bag of nuts that Eimheer had given her. “These won’t be good for much longer. We might as well share them.” She grabbed out a handful of nuts and made to hand them to him, but before he could take them, a particularly strong wind blew them from her palm, away into the dark trees. Muirne sighed, but just as she reached into the bag again, the wind stopped. Not slowed or quieted, but just stopped mid-rattle. Muirne and Gilveidan stared at each other. The wind had been blowing for the last day straight. For it to suddenly stop... it seemed so quiet. They waited for what seemed like hours, though it was probably only seconds. Then, with an ancient creak, the branches on the trees to her left began to part, forming a tunnel. At the end, a grey light shone through the leaves. The two glanced at each other, then stood and started walking. Outside the edge of the trees they could see the beginnings of some marble-white ruins, and Muirne was so focused on getting out of the woods that Gilveidan had to grab her arm to stop her from passing directly over a message. “What?” she asked, and he pointed down to the roots that she had nearly just stepped on. Against all odds, they seemed to be spelling out words. “Ahead:” the roots seemed to read, “3 doors. You seek the 3rd.” “That’s... strange,” Muirne said. “Think it means anything?” Gilveidan started walking. “After everything we’ve seen, I’d be surprised if it didn’t mean anything.” Muirne ran to catch up with him. “I don’t supposed those were all the nuts you had?” Gilveidan asked. “They looked good, and I feel cheated.” She rolled her eyes and handed him a few nuts just as the sky came into view beyond the trees. “You better not eat them all,” she grumbled. “If your cant of doom comes to fruition, I’ll never get any more.” “All the more reason to eat them while you can.” Yet try as they might, they couldn't keep up the witty banter as the ruins began to rise around them. At first, there were just a few buildings here and there, bits of rubble or stone foundation, but as they continued walking, the ruins grew into monolithic structures, piles of marble like bones reaching desperately towards the sky. “Your monastery was here, right?” Muirne whispered. But Gilveidan shook his head. “We certainly didn’t take up the whole ruins,” he said. “The main building was on the other side. I doubt we’ll see it.” They wandered on, not knowing quite where they were going. Now that they were here at the center of the continent, they had no idea where they were meant to go. Until Muirne saw an open doorway. By all means it should have just led to the crumbled foundation behind it. But instead, the interior was black, as if its destination was somewhere else entirely. Muirne almost passed it by, before freezing abruptly. “What’s the matter?” Gilveidan asked. But she wasn’t listening to him. “Muirne!” called the figure behind the doorway, getting closer every second. A boy, a human boy, almost grown and healthy and proud. “Ceallach...” she barely managed to whisper. He smiled at her, and waved, a real wave, and a real smile. “Muirne!” he said again, his voice echoing oddly in the space beyond. He reached out to her, but he was so far away that the distance seemed insurmountable. Unless she went through the door. “Muirne...” Gilveidan frowned, his breath on her cheek. “What are you seeing? Is it... your brother?” But Muirne couldn’t quite hear him. He was fuzzy and transparent, and Ceallach was growing closer and more real with every second. She took a step forward, reaching out a hand. “I’m coming, Ceallach...: “This is a trap,” Gilveidan warned, and grabbed her arm. She pulled against him. “No, let me go!” she screamed, kicking and punching at him. “I need to get to him! I won’t lose him again!” “It’s not real,” Gilveidan grunted through clenched teeth. “Listen to me: listen to my voice. I am here.” “Muirne...” Ceallach was growing fainter, fading away. “Let me go. Let me go...” she cried in frustration, grabbing at Gilveidan’s arm weakly. “Look at me,” he said quietly, then louder as she shook her head. “Look at me!” He touched her cheek gently and pulled her face away from the door. “There’s nothing there. It’s just an empty doorway.” After staring into his eyes for a moment, the world seemed to clear. Muirne briefly glanced back at the door, only to see that he was right. It was just an empty frame. She found herself shaking, and took a deep breath to calm herself. “Why Gilveidan,” she smiled slyly as she realized how close they still were. “If you wanted to touch me you could have just asked.” Blushing bright red, Gilveidan stepped back. “It seemed to me that tactile stimulation would be the most effective method of getting you to focus on reality, ehem, as it were.” She laughed. “I’m joking, you know.” Ah, yes. Of course.” He cleared his throat. “Regardless, it seems we are to follow the forest’s advice. That door was not the correct aperture. One more false door awaits us.” He turned away from her rather quickly and started walking, while Muirne laughed and followed behind. As she truly looked at them, Muirne found the ruins oddly fascinating. She imagined all the people who had lived here in this city, and wondered just what had happened to them. As her eyes traced the entwining vines and greenery, she thought about Atlantis, and how someday the great city would also be so much stone and silence. So lost in thought was she that she didn’t realize that Gilveidan had stopped until she ran into him. “Gil...?” she asked. “Are you...?” She followed his gaze to an empty doorway. This must have been the second door. “Vi...” he shook his head. “You’re... you’re not real. You’re dead. I know that.” Yet, seemingly out of his own control, he took a step forward. “I... I’m sorry.” And then stopped and Muirne wrapped her arms around him. “I’m here,” she said. “You’re right. She’s not real.” It felt like he might struggle, and Muirne wasn’t sure she was strong enough to prevent him from breaking her grip, but she gripped tighter anyway. “I’m not going to let go. You want to be forgiven? Help me end this thing that really killed her.” “I...” he struggled, unable to look away from the door. “It’s time to let her go,” Muirne whispered. “Believe me, I’m more of a hypocrite than you can possibly imagine saying that, but if we make it out of this alive, I’m going to let Ceallach go too.” Gil sighed, slowly closed his eyes, and slowly turned away. “Goodbye, Viola,” he muttered, and then, locking eyes with Muirne. “Thank you. Let’s get away from here.”

And they did, very quickly. It wasn’t until they had wandered out of sight of the door and onto a weed-choked plaza that Gil began to breathe again. He gripped Muirne’s hand so tightly that it was almost going numb. Once, this plaza had probably been a peaceful garden, a piece of the sky amidst a bustling city. Now the flora was overgrown, creeping over each other and up and round, ever upwards, until it had become a knot of vegetation, around which the dilapidated walls barely contained it. There was only one place where the plant-life had avoiding growing at all costs: an actual door, still intact, the plants creating an unnatural arch around it. Though the building behind it was mostly destroyed, the crack under and round the door made it seem as if it was dark inside. "It appears we've reached out destination," Gil said as they both stopped. “Ai.” The word came calm, but inside Muirne was a ball of fear. There was something on the other side of that door, something powerful. It felt as if Muirne’s skin was trying to get up and crawl away. Gil glanced over to her. “Are you ready?” “No,” she replied. “But I don’t think I’ll ever be.” They nearly leaned on each other for support. “Well, it won’t do us any good waiting here. Let’s go.” They went. And as they approached, the door opened quite on its own accord. It was waiting for them. They didn’t even stop, lest their nerve fail them. They just kept walking, into the darkness beyond. And they found themselves somewhere else. The door did not lead to the crumbling building beyond, but to some other place entirely. Gil produced a ball of light, but there was nothing to shine it on except Muirne’s face. Around them was pure, pitch blackness. The only thing that they could be sure of was that they were going downwards. It was utterly silent around them, and out of fear, Muirne drew her sword Brandubh. It almost seemed to be... glowing. She could hear the roar of blood thumping through her ears, and Gil’s breath beside her, and that was all. They both stopped as they saw something ahead of them. A small point of... something, distinct from the inky blackness. “What is that?” Muirne asked, but Gil didn’t have time to answer, for the point quickly expanded into a ball, growing bigger and bigger until it nearly consumed the darkness around them. And then Muirne’s head exploded. It was everything all at once. Every birth, every life coursing through her body. Every first love, every birthday, every laugh, every smile. Every heartbreak Every fear Every pain Every lonely moment We are so ALONE Until we (die) Everything (ends)(dies)(stops breathing) She was in a bed, coughing and wheezing just wishing the pain would go away please take me away I don’t want to be here anymore I’m going to explode. She was staring into the empty face of her creation, a perfect replica of the boy who was taken too soon, but it wasn’t him it wasn’t him it could never be and out the window the cold stone rushing past can’t take life without my sweet smiling boy. And she was trembling as her older brother stared down at her, the blood of so many turning his cheeks rosy as the Truth whispered in her ear they all must die there’s nothing here it all ends in silence don’t kill me brother please I’m scared make it go away. It all It all ends It all ends in It all ends in silence Silence S I L E N C E .................. ................. M Muir Muirne “Muirne!”

Tears were running down her face. Tears were running down her face and someone was calling her. “Muirne, the sword!” Gilveidan was shouting. “Use the sword!” “There’s no point,” she whispered. The Truth was bare before her, the nihilism of the universe closing in. “Nothing matters.” “It does!” A light bloomed in the darkness. There was Gil’s face, his weak ball of light pushing the Truth away. “Yes, everything ends, everything dies. But the point is that right now, you’re living. You and everyone else on this earth! Take my hand!” Through the darkness, through the pain and crushing loneliness, there was his hand. And she took it. “Don’t look at it, look at me,” he said. “I have good news and bad news.” “Good news first,” she nearly had to gasp out. “This whole place,” he began, “Is a small pocket. Small as a pinpoint. You strike it, and we can seal it away in your sword.” “And the bad news?” she asked. He paused. “It isn’t just the Truth that will be sealed away. Everything in this pocket will go with it.” Muirne’s heart fell. “We’re not getting out of this place, are we?” After a moment, Gilveidan shook his head. “Unless someone breaks the seal, we’ll be here with it forever.” “Alright,” Muirne nodded. “As long as you’re with me, I think I’ll be alright.” The ball of light in Gil’s hand grew stronger. “I’ll only be able to hold it off for a moment. Go!” Muirne turned, Gil’s light burning the Truth as it shrank away, its unearthly call vibrating her bones. Fear, loneliness You are alone No, Muirne wouldn’t hear it. She screamed, running towards the Truth, and struck. The world shattered while the Truth shrieked. But Muirne would not let go, she would not yield. For Atlantis, for her family. She would give her life for there’s. Her tiny rabbit’s heart beat wildly.

And they all fell away, into darkness.

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