Title: things worse than walls
Author: Jedi Buttercup
Summary: That even her control over her own mind should be taken from her- she would not endure it. 1000 words.
Prompt: 24 Days of Ficmas, Day 12: For TheOtherWillow. Prompt: Angel/Firefly, Illyria and River Tam, for the Emily Dickenson quote: "There's a pair of us, don't tell! They'd banish us, you know!"
Illyria sat atop the thin mattress of her cot and shivered. It was a displeasing sensation, the twitchings of neurons and muscular tissue that traveled through her form: when she bothered to focus enough to detect what her body was doing, she curled her lip at the pathetic state of her degradation. She was not quite reduced enough that such wasteful expenditures of energy were actually necessary to moderate the temperature of her shell; the chill of a winter frost was the same to her as the warm breath of summer. Still, she could not seem to stop it from happening.
Some small shred of awareness, sparked between the flashes of memory that had once been called Fred, suggested the cause might be psychosomatic: a long-building negative reaction to being boxed in. A more intense version of the revulsion she'd felt ever since awakening to a lessened existence, progressively losing more and more of her power at the hands of the insects around her.
She rejected that voice, whenever she became aware of it. That she should ever succumb to such weakness was the last, unthinkable indignity; that even her control over her own mind should be taken from her- she would not endure it. She was Illyria, the one who had ruled before the first human ever crawled upright out of the ooze; the blue-gloved men who had attacked her with an advanced prototype of Wesley's Mutari generator and reduced her to her present state could drain her power, but they could not remove her identity.
Her shell had simply become deficient: that was all. When she had regenerated sufficient of her former strength, she would spare a portion to repair it; however long she'd been kept in this place, bombarded with unpleasant noises and scents and needle pricks and the loathsome babblings of worms that dared treat her as no more than a compilation of fascinating physical variances, it could not last forever. So long as even a single being knelt at an altar in her name, a thin thread of energy would continue to trickle in. Just a little more time, a little more energy, and she would be free.
But until then- until then she would sit on her cot, ignore the swarming of her captors, sustain the shell on the imperfect nutrients provided in order to expend as little of her ingathered power as possible, and shiver. It was the most optimal course available.
"You're nobody, too," a quiet whisper of a voice came, raw from episodes of screaming.
Illyria blinked, tilting her head in the direction of the cell next door, and silently acknowledged her neighbor. The girl was treated as even less of a person than she; their captors remolded and reshaped her with each day that passed, forming of her a tool for their use. The half-formed structures of her larval spirit had grown warped under such treatment, reminiscent of the shattered memories of the shell from her time spent on the lesser world of Pylea.
Caves; why did they always keep her in caves? Illyria's fingers itched as she huddled ever smaller on her cot; she longed for chalk, for ink, for some means to break up the grey monotony of the world around her and purge herself of the noxious, cluttersome remnants of mortality that persistently clung to her.
The girl's voice interrupted her thought processes again, stilling the fingers Illyria had pressed against her temples, washing away the snarl of aberrant thought like the natural feature she was named for. "There's a pair of us, don't tell," she whispered, with a scritch of fingernails against the wall between them. "They'd banish us, you know."
"Let them try," Illyria answered bitterly, aloud for once; her voice rasped, rough and unpleasant to the ear with sustained disuse. "Let them draw the lines of order as they will, and declare that this is to be so, and that not so; they are as the scribbles of a child in wet sand. When I have regained my power, they will pay for such transgressions; they will know my name, and weep in despair at their own insignificance."
Her neighbor giggled, then lowered her voice even further. "My brother will help," she confided. "He's coming. I know he's coming."
She'd been saying so for as long as they'd shared a wall in common. Illyria did not trust in her hope. It was a thing of shadow and mist; even in the days when nightmares had walked the earth, more vicious than her torturers could ever hope of being, it had been an insubstantial creature of feathers. She turned her face toward the opposite wall and allowed her eyes to drift shut, concentrating on the minute sensation of power trickling inward, coaxing it to build among long-unused internal crystalline structures.
Silence fell. Time passed; the opening and closing of doors, the whispers of her neighbor and the imperative voices of her questioners, all faded into the ebbing and flowing of her concentration. Just a little more; just a little, and she would reach the threshold necessary to solidify her physical matrix enough to escape without significant damage to the shell's structure.
And then one day the door beside her did not open. No voice returned to share fractured confidences. Nor did River return the next day, or the next; or in the year that followed.
Her brother had come for her.
No one was going to come for Illyria.
Anger thrilled through her as she slowly prepared for the final stages of her reempowerment; anger at that abandonment layered upon self-loathing at having cared enough to feel the sting when companionship was once more denied her.
Finally, finally, she balled her hands into fists and let her skin flush blue as she took her leatherclad form for the first time in decades.
She was Illyria, god-king of the Primordium; and the time had come at long last to dance upon the bones of her enemies.