"The earth is bound against fantasists."
- Katharine Byrne
For the first time in history, she's not going to do anything to that gloopy mess of a scene on her polished floor. Not yet. Even when the firm had already granted her the 'Princess of Cleanliness', a freaky sort of title (Joy opted to call her a 'clean freak principessa') that she preferred to deny at any occasion. When they ask her why she likes to clean so much, Irene has no other reason but to refer to her mother as inspiration. Or force of habit. Whatever.
But she went against the norm tonight and instead threw a tarp over it and used the the largest towel to wrap Byulyi in it, rolling her into a burrito wrap and dragging her by clutching under both armpits and struggling to the bathroom, dumping her into the tub and turning the water on.
How does one bathe an unconscious woman? She cannot exactly ask for consent. Let's just… What to do first? Irene tied her locks into a ponytail and rolled up her sleeves, posing like one of those 'we can do it' women. Maybe she can start with the head. Right. Irene raises the shower head and sprays it on the shapeshifter, watching the black slits of hair unravel from the sticky substance.
Shapeshifter. Right. Righty right. Isn't she just too calm about this? Her educated guess is nothing sort of 'educated', but she can't think of any other reason based on every proof that presents itself. As Irene scrubs every part of her body, she can't help but notice the texture of her skin. Rough. Scale-ish. Who can blame her for thinking that way?
Irene tears her attention away from the areolas and hopes a little that the warm fog is enough to blur out everything in the bathroom. Where's that self-control during every work deadline when she needs it? Taking another sponge after dumping the previous one that's already sullied with gloop, she takes her time marvelling at the skin, especially on the faint patterns that form around her torso. Her Encyclopedia of Imagination tells her that it might be a sign of unfinished transformation.
Scrub scrub. Let's just think of her as one of those annoying, outdated chinas during a cleaning week. It shouldn't be a problem. Even if the thing is breathing in slow rhythm and… snoring? Is she enjoying this? Incorrigible.
Despite shutting her eyes several times at certain spots, Irene still makes sure every part of her body is clean of any impurities.
Byulyi is in the realm of dreams.
It's a realm that has been going on for centuries. Thousands of lives, each different and become increasingly meaningless as they go by. Even when she chases the rain, dream after dream, God still wouldn't bestow an audience with her. Or at least be less of an and start showing once in a while. Isn't that what God did until years ago?
Across from her, in all this whiteness is a tree. Big, sturdy, looking like an absolute spot for comfort. She can imagine herself perched there and not having to worry about a single thing or anything that caused her to be banished in the first place. A flickering tongue came to her line of view and she knew that she occupied this realm in her true form. Now the job is just to reach that tree and sleep for another ing million years. Hopefully forever.
Until a bird flew and landed somewhere near her, occupying an invisible spot in this sickening white backdrop. The intricate patterns on the wings, the blue chest and the U-shaped black rings around its neck are apparent, and the bird tilts beak to the side before breaking out in a loud shriek, creating a noise that successfully causes Byulyi to hiss in a defensive stance. Her eyes blinked with intention as the bird perched on the tree that Byulyi longs to sleep on.
The noise turns out to be a cacophony of laughter that forms into syllables and audible words.
"Byulyi!" The bluejay singsong. "What did you do this time?"
"You know what I did. Everything." Byulyi rolled with obvious disinterest, determining her distance to the alluring tree. The hisses slowly transformed into comprehensible words. "I keep asking God to just take me. Me, the inhabitant of afterword in the first place. There's no need to involve that man and his family!"
To her annoyance, the bird just flies and perches on the tree. "You know God is not the one who sent you; Hades did." It sings again, and if Byulyi has hands, she can just shut her ears to repel the ghast noise. "He tasked you to the world to collect more souls to Hell! Apparently, he has more quotas to fill up!"
With the flicker of its wings the tree burnt to ashes.
"We are the Guardians of the Tree of Life." Byulyi snickered as the bluejay recalled the past memory. "A duo we are, until you decide to act stupid and get yourself stranded to Eden, as a lowly snake! Until--"
Byulyi couldn't hear a thing. Her tree. Her favorite tree is no more. She rolled, gaining speed and threw herself at the bird with stretched jaw; an attack that can be avoided in time. "And here you are, kidnapped by some pathetic woman who refreshingly didn't have common sense when it comes to venomous snakes! When an animal threatens your life--"
"Eradicate the source of danger by the throat!"
A big boulder materialized out of the air and its shadow fell onto them. Byulyi's trained sense is enough for her to propel and avoid the crush of death. Curtains of dust created a thin wall between them as Byulyi gave the bird a look of murder.
Yet the bird keeps tweeting, lulling its head back and forth.
"Is that how it's going to be? You're going to fall for this woman? How spectacularly dull! After millennia, you think one would have learnt!"
"Shut the up!"
The space dematerialized into nothingness, as if complying with her wishes, but Byulyi knew better.
She's going to be transported out of the dream.
Her eyes fluttered open, but the cracks of her joints woke her up immediately. She shot up and studied her surroundings. A room with neutral color, one that looks nothing like any of her previous 'owners'. One look downward and she finds herself clothed in a clean shirt, under a fresh bed cover that smells like mint. She brushed her palm against the fabric back and forth, admiring the sheets, almost in awe and wondering what kind of laundry technique that can produce something this smooth, but more importantly…
She didn't miss that tarp on the floor, covering the sticky substance peeking from underneath. Great, it saves her from giving any explanation, then. Byulyi forces her joints to wake up by stretching it here and there, loud cracks followed by a groan, and she makes her way to the window, grabbing the screw to push it open before a soft voice echoes behind the door.
"I know you're awake. Breakfast is ready."
Byulyi is looking downward with a frown.
Across the kitchen aisle in front of her is Irene (is it?), glasses hanging on her nose while she keeps typing behind the laptop, not showing any signs of slowing down. But that's not what baffled her. The breakfast is.
It's a pink, raw set of broiled chicken. Byulyi suppresses the gulp. "What is this?"
"Your breakfast." She answered without looking up.
Byulyi does notice the aroma of chicken soup that's recently heated. "I… Can you just pass the soup over there?" How does one say that they don't usually eat raw chicken without sounding freaky, again? The typing ceased as Irene looked at her with jutted lips.
Byulyi put her palms on the granite surface, looking at Irene's back as she scooped a bowl. The wafting aroma is surely inviting, which is peculiar. Human delicacies have never really enticed her palate before. But the taste might tell a different story.
She pushed the raw chicken aside and prepared herself for a bowl of soup that looked bland. Ugh. Taking a swig of water might help with the bad aftertaste that will come as soon as she eats it. "I thought snakes prefer their meal whole."
Byulyi choked and spit on the floor, coughing her lungs out. Irene pushes her laptop aside and takes her glasses off, clasping her fingers with a stern look. "How does a snake lock a door? Not to mention you just went out there and spooked my boyfriend."
"I don't know what you're talking about." is the only thing Byulyi can croak between the coughing fits. Irene raises an eyebrow, focusing on her nails in an unnecessary gesture. "The cracking and everything, it sounds painful when you're transforming, but I didn't know better!"
"Not really, I was barely conscious of the whole process--" Byulyi bit her tongue but it was too late. A winning grin rose on Irene's side. "I don't know what you're talking about." Byulyi parroted like there was no tomorrow. Even when she knew it was just too late. Irene clicked her tongue. "I saw scales around you and I'm sure you can see what is under that tarp so there's no use denying, you know."
Defeated. Byulyi accepts her defeat with a growl. "What do you want?"
Irene does notice the change of the atmosphere when she says that. Like Byulyi has decided to resign to her fate, maybe? "Why did you slither your way to my boyfriend?"
Because he's ing annoying and Byulyi needs to sleep to regain energy. It's the answer that she decided to keep in mind. There's no need for this woman to know. "Can you tell me what kind of shapeshifter you are? Oh, let me cut the chicken for you. I'm sure you prefer it in pieces."
Another minute with Byul munching her way through the rotisserie chicken, cleaning through the bones with precision. She snatched the glass of water that Irene gave her and continued digging in. "You are hungry. Too bad I only have one chicken."
A muffled this is enough slip through her munching. That bulge of her cheek that Irene strangely wants to poke on. "Dis Wan iz enuff." She put the plate aside that's already finished with chicken bones piled. "First of all--"
"Wipe your mouth first."
Byulyi rubs with the napkin that the woman throws in her direction before continuing. "As much as I have to say thank you for giving me a place to sleep, there's no need to kidnap a stranger and let her sleep in your bed."
"Not mine. It's for the guest's or my friend who comes over."
"All the same. Thank you for the food. But please don't do that again."
Irene shrugged. "But you're not breathing."
This incited a sarcastic grunt from Byulyi. She looked at her with unbelieving stares. "Did you even hear yourself? You don't even know me. What kind of loony take some stranger into their apartment?! We don't even know each other!"
"Well, now I know you're a shapeshifter." Irene says as a matter of fact. Byulyi groaned. "That's not-- Ugh!" Irene has to say seeing a shapeshifter walking back and forth and stomping at the corner of her living room is not something you see everyday. "Can I ask something?"
"What's that tattoo around…" Irene points to her own collarbone. "... there?"
Byulyi pulled her shirt, revealing an inscription trailed along the same spot. Rather than tattooed, it looked like it was stamped.
"That's my name." The woman fixed her shirt, covering it up. "It's Hebrew." But Irene has the inscription memorized in her mind: during bath time and now. Typing the name of someone you don't know, especially when that someone is standing in the same room as you in the translation app is really awkward but since Byulyi doesn't seem like the sharing type, it is as it is.
Nāḥāš (נחש), Hebrew for "snake", is also associated with divination, including the verb form meaning "to practice divination or fortune-telling". Nāḥāš occurs in the Torah to identify the serpent in the Garden of Eden.
Irene shot her head from the laptop, looking at Byulyi who is now poking at her fangs like a child fiddling with her milk tooth with dissatisfied attitude. Yes, fangs. Underneath that mouth. There's something she wants to try. After playing the phonetic pronunciation of that name from the app (she cranked down the volume), she lifted her head and looked straight at Byulyi.
The utteration of her real name doing something to Byulyi in every type of way. Her fangs protruded several inches longer and her spine felt drenched in freezing water. She snarled at Irene but instead of rushing to her, she threw herself on the chair as her mind went blur, a similar intro into a catatonic state that she's going through at the park. Irene noticed that, and Byulyi as well. They both did not know how to explain this. Irene has no idea what she's doing, yet Byulyi hasn't felt this way for centuries.
"Byulyi." Irene blinked several times, trying to process the sight of shaking Byulyi with a tinge of concern. "Who are you?"
"I'm Nāḥāš, the snake who guarded the Tree of Life and after that, Garden of Eden." Byulyi's eyes were about to pop out of its socket as she clasped with both hands. This woman has the power to control her through her real name?! This will not be possible if she isn't depleted of energy at the moment. Yet she can't stop answering the next question. "Why are you here? Who sent you?"
"I was condemned guilty for tempting Adam and Eve into sin and depraving human kind. I have been inhabiting eras by assuming different identities and professions."
Irene rises from her seat and approaches Byulyi with caution. It was out of worry because the other woman looks like she's going to faint anytime soon.
"Who sent you?"
"Hades needs more humans to fall into sin so he can fill up the quota in the Underworld." She scratched the arms of the chair, causing the stuffing to pop out and fell on the floor. Damn it. That unnecessary transformation before depleted half of her energy. This must be why it was so easy for her to be controlled. She looked at her contorted wrist and mustered her strength into it. "More humans have to be screwed to fill the hell gap or He will lose his job."
"How exactly…" Irene takes a stand and gets closer. "... did you do that?"
Move, move, move!
The mantra worked.
"They beg me to end their mortality." Within seconds Byulyi has already appeared in hindsight, and Irene let out a shriek at speed. "Life's too boring." Fear crawled in her senses as Byulyi spoke in so many different tones at once, assuming the voice of her victims, each resonated differently than the last. "She didn't love me as much as I loved her. I need them to hurt as much as they hurt me." Step after step taken to the back until Irene bumped her back against the wall, cornered. "Transactions of feelings will never suffice to an equivalent price, yet they will always hope for the inevitable." She sneered, trapping Irene between her arms. "They owned me for centuries and ripped me apart later for being unable to stop their time, all the more better for me! Nothing like the sin of killing that weighed you down and ed you a thousand times over!"
The image of Byulyi in bandages and lacerations, scourging through the wreck caused by yet another tantrum of the so-called owner invades her with indescribable feelings and something in Irene clenched. She reaches out and trails her thumb onto the side of Byulyi's cheek.
"It looked hurt."
The tension doused as quickly as it began. Before assuming on how Irene might be getting a vision, the glowing grey dimmed inside her eyes as she put down her arms, limp. "What the hell." She muttered before bursting out. "What the hell!" Irene flinched like she usually did when something near her was too loud. "Whatever. You're going to forget, anyway."
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