It Might Have Been

On a lovely summer morning, a lone fish might be swimming aimlessly, slowly spiralling deeper and deeper. As it went deeper, it might float past a weathered stone arch on the seafloor; the battered remnants of some lost civilization, perhaps, the last traces of drowned Hy-Bresail. This fish might perhaps swim right past it, thus ending this tale, because nobody wants to hear about the aimless wanderings of a fish, now do they?

Or ... it might be curious about this foreign object which has no place in this ethereal, submarine world. It might ... swim up to that arch.

It might rub up against the timeworn, decaying fragments of rock dust.

It might ... pass through.

This, of course, would result in it's being sucked through an impossibly long ever-shifting crazily coloured passageway which has probably defied each and every law of nature at one time or another over the eight millennia or so it has been in existence. Our fish would, within 0.65453521 nanoseconds, wind up 34241737.5359 decametres above the extremely expensive exquisitely detailed blue and green mosaic floor of Deep Sea Dolphin's audience chamber.

Then, because contrary to all reasonable expectations one might have for Deep Sea Dolphin's audience chamber, gravity does exist here, the fish would fall to the floor and lie there gasping. Assuming that it didn't die immediately, what it saw might go something like this:

Kai-o Nerissa, a.k.a. Deep Sea Dolphin, was humming 'Wannabe' to herself as she used imaginary strings to suspend crystallized jellyfish at random points in the air. Now and then she stopped and gave a cackling laugh that slowly became a giggle before reverting back to a laugh.

In the midst of this little burst of domesticity, a disturbance appeared in the form of a surprise visit from Ha-o Gausharra, a.k.a. Dynast. He materialized in the exact center of the room, creating a little gust of wing specifically to blow his cape out behind him for dramatic effect.

Dolphin didn't turn from her decorating until Dynast cleared his throat rather pointedly. Then she did a sort of pirouette in the air, landing to face him. "Hello, Gausharra!" she called out gaily. "Won't you have a seat?" She gestured with her fishing rod, and a set of white wicker lawn furniture appeared on the dais.

"Thank you," replied Dynast frostily. He sat down on one of the two chairs. Dolphin finished hanging another jellyfish before flouncing over to join him. "Tea?" she inquired. Dynast inclined his head gracefully in assent.

Dolphin waved the fishing rod again. This time, a willow-patterned tea set came into being on top of the round table. "Two cups," ordered Dolphin. The teapot lifted itself and filled two cups exactly seven-eighths of the way. The teacups floated slowly over and set themselves in front of Dynast and their mistress. They seemed to be filled with a swirling purple liquid. Dynast raised an eyebrow and made no move to touch his cup.

Dolphin added three spoonfuls of cream and precisely eleven grains of sugar to her tea. She stirred it with the tip of a butter knife; a superfluous action, as the stuff was already stirring itself. She raised the cup to her mouth and took two or three quick gulps. "Ahh?" she said, smacking her lips noisily. She took another sip, then set her cup down and wiped her mouth with a napkin.

"So," she said, leaning her elbows on the table, "Where's your bitch of a general?"

A hint of a smile appeared on Dynast's face. (Despair, o ye people of the world, for the end draws near.) "Sharra's visiting the Shabranigdo no miko," he told her. "I'm not sure who I should pity more."

"That's a new one," Dolphin replied. "You, admitting to emotion." She laughed, but cut it off abruptly in the middle and said: "And the broken lilies a-dying lay, And the dragonfly had fled away." Then she gave the odd giggle/laugh again.

Dynast's other eyebrow had climbed up to join it's companion, and his silence spoke volumes about what he thought of Dolphin's sanity -- or rather, her lack thereof.

Dolphin noticed and stopped laughing, then cocked her head to one side. "I'm not suffering from insanity," she informed him with a British accent. "I'm enjoying it thoroughly."

Dynast sighed. "Who do you think you're fooling, Nerissa?" he asked gently.

"I haven't the least idea what you're talking about, Gausharra," was her stiff response.

"Stop playacting, Nerissa. You aren't anywhere near as insane as you would like us to believe. And you care a great deal more than you pretend to."

Dolphin sat up straight in her chair and glared at him. Then, she suddenly deflated and slumped forward to lean on the table. "You're right," she muttered. "Damn you, you're right."

Dynast said nothing, only waited. After a moment, Dolphin continued.

"You're right," she repeated. "I'm not as crazy as I act." She laughed harshly. "But I'm nowhere close to sane, either." She paused, and for a long time the only sound came from the movement of the tea. When she spoke again, it was barely above a whisper.

"There's times," she began, "when I feel as if I'm an outsider in my own mind. I can't remember things, things that I should know all the way to the very depths of my being. Things like what we are and why we fight, and how chaos feels? And the awful thing is, I know I should know, and not knowing is the most horribly disorienting feeling in the world.

"And then, sometimes, I remember things, I can recall every single detail perfectly ... But then, I start to reminisce with Rissa, or Isis, or Dree, and -- and I find out that it never happened. It's ... scary. Terrifying." She toyed with a loose strand of hair, studying it as if she believed it held all of life?s secrets.

"And -- " Her voice shook very slightly. "Sometimes, sometimes, I lose track of time, ans I couldn't tell you if the Kouma War had happened a million years in the future or only yesterday.

"Or else, or else I can't think at all, only feel ... something, and it pulls me around and around in an eternity of it, forever crying at me to let it out, let it out, and I want to, so badly, but for some reason I can't, and it turns to despair, that I'll never get out of this nightmare come alive." Her voice was remarkably steady, if lifeless. One or two tears trickled down her cheeks, but she ignored them. After a moment, she sot up and took a sip of tea.

Almost conversationally, she said: "The worst part, I think, is when I'm lucid -- which is most of the time, by the way -- but knowing that it won't last, that's the horrible part. I think I'd prefer to be mad all the time, given the choice. The way I act, it's just a mask, a shield, a little game I play. I keep thinking that as long as I keep the pretense up, I'll be able to delay the next spell ... It doesn't work.

"I don't know exactly how it happened." Her voice took on a wondering quality. "Maybe it came so slowly that I didn't notice it until it was too late." A pause. "Maybe I was born mad. I can't remember?

"I don't think there's a cure. I don't think L-sama herself could fix it, I'm too far gone. I can feel myself being manipulated to pull myself in deeper, and I can't do anything to stop it, because I don't know how.

"I tried dying once ... as you can see, it didn't work very well -- look." She pulled back her left sleeve to reveal a long, pale, jagged scar from wrist to elbow. Dynast sucked in his breath and leaned over the table, knocking over his tea in the process. They both ignored the clatter of the cup as it fell onto the floor.

"When -- ?" breathed Dynast. "How -- ?"

"A couple centuries back," replied Dolphin calmly. "I went to the Wind Dragon King and asked him to help me make a blade -- an imitation of the Gorun Nova, if you will. He was only too happy to help ... anyway, we had the blade within a year, and I took it home to try out.

"Four times, I tried. There -- " She nodded at her left wrist. "Here." She traced a line along the inside of her right wrist. "Here." She touched her throat. "And here." Her heart.

"On the fourth try, the blade shattered.

"I've tried other things, over the years ... the usual, you know? Overdose on positivity, voluntary self-destruction, et cetera, et cetera. Once, I asked one of the elven Chaos Magickers to use a Laguna Blade on me? He tried, but he couldn't cast the spell. He said that if he did, it would disrupt the Balance." The Kai-o laughed mirthlessly. "I suppose She has Her reasons?"

Dynast took her left arm again and traced the scar with his index finger. "Oh, Dolph," he whispered. "I wish there was something I could do?"

Dolphin looked suddenly weary. "Me too, Gausharra. Me too."

They were both standing beside the table now. Dynast took both of Dolphin's hands in his own and pulled her in closer.

"I'm sorry, so sorry," he murmured, and bent down to kiss her. Mid-kiss, he was gone, leaving Deep Sea Dolphin standing alone on the dais in her audience chamber, with her head slightly lifted and her half-closed eyes staring at nothing.

If the fish, by some miracle, was still alive, it might have seen the Kai-o sight and mouth two words soundlessly.

One day?