Words are wondrous inventions. They give direction, and convey emotion. Definitions of words can change depending on tone and the speaker’s intention. People who talk a lot, meaning, people who use a lot of words, are termed “loquacious.” I am not certain that term applied to a particular anthropomorphic book that lived in my head and was drowning me in words, however. Maybe one of these days I’d coin a new term for it and shut it up, all at once.
My brain struggled to absorb the information dump that Book did. I’d imagined it would only take up a tiny stall in the corner of my working mind but, apparently, nobody informed Book of the space constraint it faced. Book tried to force every single bit of knowledge into tiny little me, and it felt like my head would explode in response.
That would not be a good thing, in my humble opinion.
“It’s not going to fit,” I murmured, eyes screwed tightly shut against the pain. “I’m telling you, this is too much. My brain’s gonna explode in a shower of slimy gray bits.”
“Technically speaking,” Book said calmly, “you don’t have a brain, so this should be a simple task.” Silence reigned supreme for a beat, then Book snorted. “Perhaps that is, in itself, the problem.”
“Up yours!” I grumbled.
“Up my what?”
“Master Boss lady sir,” Kenzie gently called to me, “you…might wanna look in a mirror or something.”
“Don’t be ridiculous, kid. Unless I’m solid, I don’t appear in mirrors.”
“But that’s why you should look! You’re lookin’ a bit, er, fleshy right now.”
I cracked open an eye, wincing at the brightness of the light. “What?” I tried to lift my head but that wasn’t happening in this decade, so I lifted an arm instead. It felt oddly leaden. Bringing my hand to my face, I flexed my fingers, and frowned. They appeared solid enough, almost disturbingly so. I could see the whorls of my fingerprints, the cracks and lines on my palms, and even the mostly healed paper cut I’d gotten the day before I died. I twisted my wrist; bones and muscles crackled and popped with the effort. “What did she do?” I whispered.
“It has begun.” Surprisingly, that comment came from Sami in a strangely flat voice. I couldn’t see her from where I lay, but I could hear her movements as she rose from her submissive, servile crouch and made her way over to me. “The Queen has bargained and won a boon; the ash that you carry was injected with a substance that works to build a shell around you. You will be flesh again, though not of the living, and it is only a temporary measure.”
“Yeah, that cheered me right up, thanks,” I groaned. Worse and worse. The situation was completely out of my control. Not that I’d ever had control, but that wasn’t the point. That was never the point. My mother was winning, and I was a sore loser, especially when it came to games designed by Atlantia Blue. I let my eyelid slip closed to shut out the offensive, harsh, artificial sunshine, and sighed in relief at the blissful darkness.
“Hey, Boss Person,” Kenzie’s voice cracked through the air, penetrating my cocoon like a punch to the gut.
“What now?” I whined. Clearly, I needed a better grip on my frazzled emotions.
“Think I found sum’thin’ in these books of hers.” I detected a faint rustle of paper, like the flipping of pages. “Man, this is a cheesy title. ‘Compulsion, Be Gone’? Who comes up with this stuff?”
I sat up fast, almost falling over in the process, and narrowly missing hitting Sami, who’d taken to hovering near my side. “What?!”
“What what?” Kenzie sounded startled.
“The book you found! It can’t be this easy. There’s no way.” The information flood slowed to a trickle and I cautiously opened my eyes, testing both the intensity of the glare of the lamps and the digestibility of my new knowledge. When the floor beneath me stayed beneath me and the walls did not shimmy and twist, I stood up, arms outstretched to balance myself. I got no pings of of doom on my inner disaster tracker, so I stepped, carefully, over to Kenzie, and plucked the book from hir hands.
With a critical eye, I scrutinized the surprisingly slender volume. It was bound in some long dead animal’s hide, and the pages were stiff and curled a bit at the ends, like old, sun-bleached parchment. The ink of the words, which looked handwritten, had faded with age, and faint, dark, oddly-spaced blotches dotted the margins of the pages. Had I not been holding the book, I would have rubbed my hands together with glee. I frowned at the title, annoyed that such a valuable treatise had been tainted by such an amateurish, modern-day, hang on, something was very wrong here. I looked beyond the surface, gaze flicking back and forth between what I knew the title said, and the age and condition of the writing. I summoned a gust of energy, waded into Book’s encyclopedic download to my brain, and gasped.
“How did you know what this said?” I demanded, shaking the book in hir frightened face.
“What do you mean? It says it right there on the cover! Compulsion, be gone,” Kenzie read, finger tracing the characters engraved in the leather. The kid frowned. “Wait a second. That’s…that’s not quite right.”
“This isn’t written in any language either of us should know,” I pointed at the unfamiliar letters. “Not me, and certainly not you. How do you know what this says?”
“It’s…like I can…hear it?” Kenzie’s frown deepened. “Or, like…feel it, maybe? It’s weird. Same way I knew about the curse with Sami, I guess. I could, like, see these wavy lines, and sort of feel the energy.”
My attention hopped from the teen to the book in my hands, then from the stains on the pages back to the kid. A predatory grin slid across my face, and Kenzie quickly took a step backward, away from me.
I dashed to Atlantia’s “throne”, and yanked open the drawer of the end table that sat next to it. I rummaged around in it, shouting, “YES!” when my fingers closed around a thin, sharp, metal object. I whipped it out, reversed my grip on it, and held it aloft. “C’mere, Kenzie,” I cooed. “I have a request for you.”
Kenzie’s head flapped wildly from side to side. “Nuh uh!” The teen took another step away from me, then asked, curiously, “Is that a letter opener?”
“What are you gonna do with it?” Another step.
I swished my prize through the air and cackled softly, clutching the book tightly with my other hand. Knowledge of revelation spells, finding spells, seeking spells, and binding spells ran through my mind and pumped through my veins. “This might hurt, just a bit,” I warned the kid, then pounced.
I hit Kenzie with a flying tackle and we crashed painfully to the floor. I just barely managed to hold onto my weapon and the book. Pinning the teen beneath me, I straddled hir hips, ignoring the frantic bucking as ze tried to throw me off. I lay on top of hir, flipping to a page near the back of the book almost covered in stains, and readied the gleaming blade with tense and shaking fingers.
“Steady,” I whispered, as much to calm the writhing body beneath me as myself. With a precision strike, I sliced the edge of the letter opener across the meat of Kenzie’s palm and directed the flow of freed blood to the stiff paper. The kid let out an unholy yell that had my eardrums curling up into my nostrils. “Shh,” I breathed into hir neck. “Almost done.” I watched, eager and apprehensive. If I was wrong, the kid would never forgive me, I’d never free Sami from my mother’s control, and none of it would matter, because none of us would make it out of there on our own two feet.
I wasn’t wrong, though. I knew that the moment the first drop of Kenzie’s blood touched the parchment. Magic flared to life, burning the oxygen from the air. I rolled off of the teen and apologized quickly. “Sorry. I had to.”
“You ASS!” Kenzie wailed, cradling hir injured hand. I spotted tears, and felt ashamed, but I had no time to dwell on what I’d done. A specter rose before us, and it was the most terrible thing I’d ever seen in my life.