Quiet breathing greeted me when I woke up. It wasn’t mine. I leaned against the wall in my room, careful not to break it. The sheets were damp, and I felt parched. I reached for the pitcher of water the innkeeper had left by my bed, and poured it into an earthen glass. My reflection stared back at me from the smooth surface of the water without a ripple to distort the image.
Gray eyes stared back, a familiar sight, albeit one I didn’t see all that often. My hair was a mess, and the oiliness of my nose told me I hadn’t showered in two days. I winced; the cut on my back was still hurting. It hadn’t even been that deep, but it hurt so much.
This reminded me of home. On holidays and during the weekend, I’d wake up without an alarm, and stay in bed, the accumulated warmth of the night keeping me company. I would usually turn on some ambient music, and drift in the afterglow of a full night’s rest, not thinking, not worrying, not stressing about anything.
I listened to Elenor’s breath, letting the events of yesterday glide over me without staring at them too long. I let my questions go unanswered; how I got here, how did magic work, where was Demetrius, and did I want to go back? The question about magic lingered a bit longer than the others, not because I was thinking about it properly, but because it led to so many more.
The many stories that I had read over the years, made me expect a direction once I fell down the rabbit hole. I expected some assistance, a guide, a little tutorial of sorts. An overly protective goat-mother might have been too much to ask for, but surely a world that put books on such an important pedestal would have a beginner’s guide?
Elenor’s breathing wasn’t like the ambient music I’d ripped from the internet. It was rougher, like someone had put gravel into a noiseless video game sound effect. It didn’t have the orchestral arrangement, the violin, the flute, the harp that went with the humming voice of a woman who’d dipped her throat in honey. Her breathing was rough, disjointed, occasionally interrupted by another sound – sometimes a whimper, sometimes a grunt.
But it was warm, and real; something that music played from a lifeless device plugged into the wall all night, couldn’t be. Those sounds didn’t come from the synthesized chords of long-dead musicians, frankensteined together to press the right buttons in my head. They were coming from a living human being, who lay on the other side of the wall, lost in a dream world I would never have access to.
Perhaps her thoughts were even stranger than mine.
The breathing stopped. Sheets were moved, the floor was tapped, and the door was opened.
I waited for it to close, but it didn’t. Was she standing in the doorway, trying to recall a dream she thought she’d had or had she left the door ajar, unclosed, stuck in the middle, and unable to come to a state of rest.
I left my bed, and walked out of my room wearing the simple blue shirt and shorts Elenor had bought for me the night before. Barefoot, I stepped into the hallway, reached into the emptiness, and pulled the door closed. Back in my room, I slipped into the shoes Moxy had given me, and pushed my hair off my forehead.
Then I gave in to my desires, and jumped back onto the bed, pulling the sheets over myself while trying to go back to the aimless drifting I’d begun my day with. It didn’t work, but I kept trying anyway.