Hiya folks. Here's a short fic for you. I was curious about what happened to urTih during skekTek's punishment, so... here you are.
Thanks to Jaywings and Kiwi-Strawberry-Banana for beta-reading.
His tools lay out before him in a meticulous array. Whenever one had completed its purpose, he would set it in the exact spot it had been before, and thus not one tool could be lost.
Yet urTih found himself staring over them as though unfamiliar with his own layout. He was familiar with it, of course—he'd only been using the same tools for the past three hundred trine or so—and yet something felt off. He had gathered together a handful of feathers from the nest of a rare bird (it would not miss them, surely), fully intent on studying them to determine their properties, and yet his mind had gone blank upon entering his cave. He should be able to do this easily, and yet... he could not concentrate.
The realization stirred up uneasiness within him, but he shut it down with a soft hum. If something would happen today, he would go through it as usual. There was also a chance that nothing at all would happen—he'd had false alarms before.
Sure enough, the feeling passed, and he calmly began to arrange the feathers across his work table, trying to determine which would be the best subject to study. Some he'd had to clean of dirt and droppings, but... leaning in and tipping his head to the left to view them more closely, he found the process left them somewhat frayed. So perhaps these were not the best subjects. But if he could take the others, he could... he could take the others, and... and...
Oh, he was losing his train of thought again.
UrTih sighed, and sent the feathers scattering across the table as he did so. One smaller feather drifted off to the floor and blew toward the mouth of his cave. His eyes followed its path, then blinked, for something was blocking the entrance.
The Ritual Guardian, urZah, stood before him. He opened his mouth, and spoke, his voice solemn:
"I have seen my shadow fall over you."
It hadn't been a false alarm, then.
Feeling his stomach clench, urTih slipped away from his table. The Ritual Guardian nodded to him slowly and stepped away from the cave, heading out into the Valley and up the wooden path that wound through it. After pausing for a moment to pin the feathers he'd collected beneath a few instruments, urTih followed his fellow Mystic, following the familiar path up to urIm's cave, his mind on nothing but his own footsteps.
It would be best to leave the more important thoughts for when his mind needed distracting.
The Healer was the only urRu that kept two beds in his cavern, and he was currently resting upon one of them. But hearing urTih and urZah approach, he lifted his head and the rest of his body followed immediately. "Ritual Guardian," he greeted with a slow nod. "Who is it today?"
UrZah only stepped aside, allowing urTih to come closer. Wordlessly, urIm waved him over to the second bed, which urTih numbly sat upon, curling in on himself. He kept one hand resting on his tail; last time, he recalled, it had been tugged at terribly for some time, as though the weight of an entire urRu were pulling against it. The memory of it still made his tail ache... but he had borne the pain, as he had all the times prior. The burns on his feet left scars, and he'd wound up with many bruises and cuts to his face and body. But all of these he'd endured.
His gaze went from urZah to urIm, before lowering back to his tail. The Healer received wounds intermittently, which he could treat on his own, but rarely the kind inflicted by a shadow. The Ritual Guardian, meanwhile, seemed to never receive them at all. UrAc, urAmaj, urNol—all of the other Mystics had gone through their own painful trials, all enacted upon their counterparts for reasons they still did not understand.
Yet urTih felt like it happened to his... more frequently.
The Scientist is a cruel being, he would tell himself. Surely if something happens to him... it is deserved. Surely if something happens... to me...
And yet his gaze turned to urZah again, staring at the deep spirals that wound throughout his face, his hands, his body, and not a trace of scars upon them.
"I cannot see what lies ahead," the Ritual Guardian said, drawing him out of his thoughts. "Shadows are often indistinct. But we will prepare for whatever the future holds."
"We will," came urIm's soft voice. Already he was gathering clean cloths together, and pouring water from a pitcher into a bowl.
"I can only hope... it is not my tail... again," urTih muttered, pulling his tail closer to himself with two of his arms.
"The pain will pass," urIm said gently.
UrTih shut his eyes, the familiar chant running through his mind. "The pain will pass, it will pass..." he hummed to himself, meditating on those words until they became a rhythm that wound through his mind and soul. After a moment, urZah joined him, and urIm followed shortly after, taking a spot next to him and wrapping his tail around his body. It was a chant that every urRu spoke from time to time, whenever they bore the pain endured by their other halves. Whenever distracting thoughts failed them, the chant was always something that pulled their mind from—
Something was pinching at his eyelids—
The next thing he knew his head was laying on its side and gently pressed into the bed beneath him, and he could not see. The right side of his face was sticky and wet, and someone—urIm probably—was skillfully mopping it while holding his hands away from his face.
And urTih was screaming.
The pain lanced all throughout his head, greater even than the burns had been on his feet, the wounds on his body, the pain in his tail. It seemed to stab straight into his mind, relentlessly, endlessly, but most of the pain was concentrated in his right eye. He suddenly greatly, greatly missed when his tail was pulled. He missed when his head was struck at, when he wound up with cuts and burns on his hands. Why could it have not been his tail?
Why could he not see?
"It will all be over soon," came urZah's voice nearby, and before urTih could stop himself, three of his arms lashed out in the voice's direction, the fourth pinned by his own body.
Something caught each hand, one by one, but it was not the gnarled hands of the Ritual Guardian. Three other skilled hands held his three free ones, and gripped them tightly in a comforting squeeze. "Keep still as you're able," urNol the Herbalist said, a firmness and urgency to his tone not normally heard in Mystic voices.
UrTih tried to do as he suggested, squeezing the Herbalist's hands in his own, but he could not stop his tail from lashing. Another tail wrapped around his own, but whose he could not tell.
Meanwhile, the pain in his eye went from stabbing to gnawing. Subsequently his own voice went from screaming to straining, and he snapped his muzzle shut, teeth grinding together. "I... c-cannot... see..." he whimpered into the blankets beneath him. Frantic thoughts suddenly filled his head: Was he going blind? Were they blinding him? Would he be able to navigate the Valley after this? Would he be able to walk at all? What of his experiments? Had he been wrong to do them from the start?
This is because of the work of the Scientist, he told himself. The work of one who inflicts harm upon others... who tries to change the nature of Thra, who... steals from other creatures to perform worthless experiments—
His mouth was forcibly pried open, and something bitter shoved inside. His initial reaction was to push out the offending substance with his tongue, but another gnawing pain sent his jaw snapping shut, teeth grinding against the thick plant matter.
"These herbs numb pain," urNol said. His hands still gripped urTih's own. "Please chew them."
UrTih did this already, the overwhelmingly bitter taste drawing his mind away from the pain. He wasn't sure whether the herbs were working, or whether the torture was nearing its end, for the active pain was slowing down. "No more..." he moaned around the plants in his mouth. "No more, no more."
Yet he felt the Herbalist's hands squeezing his again. "Brace yourself."
Now what were they going to do? He didn't want to, he didn't... "No, no... no—"
There was a sharp, painful pulling at his eye socket, and his voice broke off into a scream. And just like that, the pain lessened in intensity, leaving an agonizing, gnawing emptiness in his right eye.
"It is over," urNol announced, and urTih moaned into the blankets beneath him. The words should have relieved him, but everything felt wrong.
"Be still." UrIm continued to wipe at his face for a moment longer, then applied something sticky over his right eye... or where, he suspected, it had once been. He then removed the much-chewed herbs from urTih's mouth, and held something cold to it. "You must drink."
"I-I cannot... see..." he stammered. Had he gone blind? Had his other half truly...?
But urIm gently lifted his head, and a blurry, flat vision of the Healer's cave appeared to his left eye. The Healer tipped his head back, and urged him to drink water. He did so eagerly, until urIm took the bowl away and gently set his head back down.
For a moment urTih thought he may be able to relax, only for something damp to gently cover the left side of his face, blocking his vision. Immediately he shrieked, tossing his head back.
"Enough, Healer," urNol snapped, and the cloth was removed.
His vision restored, albeit partially, urTih rested his head upon the bed once again. However, he did not feel calm—only exhausted.
"The shadow has passed,'' urZah stated, and urTih flicked his tail. "I am sorry for his doing. May the Crystal call us soon."
That was the Ritual Guardian's signal to leave, and he stepped out of the cave. UrIm remained, of course, saying softly that urTih could stay as long as needed. Yet... urNol stayed as well, no longer holding urTih's hands (he had rested them gently upon the bed), but settling himself next to him.
"Have... you... more herbs... t-to apply...?" urTih managed to stammer, shutting his eyes.
Then why had the Herbalist remained?
Curiosity overtaking him, urTih raised his head, turning it toward urNol... and blinked, noting the eye patch over the Herbalist's right eye.
"It will hurt... for some time," urNol said. "Distances will be unknown to you, and travel will be hard. But these you will learn."
This would have brought him some relief, but another worry plagued him, though he nearly feared to ask about it. "M-my... experiments?"
A small smile crossed the Herbalist's face. "Herbs have become no more harder for me to use. The same should be for pebbles, feathers, and string."
Relief filled him, and his body rose and fell in a great sigh.
"Our halves can be maimed..." urIm said, and the others raised their heads. "But we may yet live to see them joined with us again... and become whole."
The Healer's words should have brought comfort, but one of urTih's hands raised themselves to touch the bandage over his eye socket.
Perhaps he would be able to walk, and travel, and experiment once again... but to become whole...
No, he thought, lowering his hand.
I shall never be truly whole again.