The Space in Between
Varick stared down at the woman that lay in the bed before him. She was dying, he didn’t know how he knew that, and he didn’t question it. Just as he didn’t question what he was doing here. She was sleeping with her long hair spread out across the pillow like an ink spill. She stirred and opened light green eyes. Varick’s heart jumped at the sight of the pain in her expression. She smiled bravely.
“Do you think it will work?” She asked in a whisper.
“I don’t know.” Varick replied without truly knowing what he was talking about.
“What if it kills us both?”
“I’ll take that chance before losing you without a fight.”
Stepping forward Varick moved without thought. He brought a chair up to the side of the bed. On the night stand lay a deep bowl and an assortment of what looked like Medical Magi tools. He selected a long sliver rod that was hollow with a sharp point on one end. The Elf woman brought her slender arm out from under the covers and presented her wrist to him.
Varick hesitated, he knew exactly what to do, but he was terrified to do it. She took his hand and squeezed it gently. A love he’d thought he’d never known washed over him and gave him the courage to proceed. He placed the bowl on the floor. Pressing the sharp end of the rod into the woman’s wrist he secured it into a vein. He placed her arm so that the blood would drip out of the end of the rod and into the bowl.
He no longer had any doubts about what he was doing, it had suddenly become clear. He worked quickly and as soon as the blood was flowing he picked up a strip of cloth and wrapped it around his own arm at the elbow. Using his teeth he pulled the knot tight so that the veins in his arm slowly became defined as they backed up with rich blood.
Varick was about to pierce into one of these veins when the door to the small room opened. A long haired Swamp Elf stood frozen in the door frame. He stared at the scene in undisguised horror.
“Ithican,” he finally said “what are you doing?!”
“I, uh...” Varick stuttered.
“Brothers!” The Elf shouted. “Come quick! Help!”
Varick turned back to the woman and saw his fear reflected in her eyes. They didn’t have time for this interruption! Varick feverently tried to open his own vein once more with another unusual medical implement. However, the brothers had arrived and they stopped him. They took the Magi tool away and dragged him from the bed side. Varick fought bitterly against them, but they had him out numbered.
“Ith...” The Elf woman called weakly.
Varick stopped struggling and looked to see that bowl was now over flowing with oddly dark blood. He felt his skin turn to ice. He had to get free, they had to do the transfusion now!
“Caritista!” Varick cried her name.
With new strength he broke free from the brothers’ grip and went to stop the diseased blood from spilling from her delicate wrist. They were only supposed to remove a bowl full! He ripped the silver rod from her wrist and clamped his hand down on the wound to stanch the flow.
“No!” He screamed as the men pulled him away Caritista once again. “Please! You don’t understand, I’m trying to help her, please! Let me go!”
“Ithican!” Caritista cried desperately.
Varick fought bitterly against the hands that held him. He had to get to her! He could still save her! They didn’t know what they were doing by holding him back. As they dragged him out of the room he struggled to see her once more. Caritista was staring back at him -the blank stare of the dead. He had killed her, he had killed his own mate.
The weight of what he’d done crushed down on his heart and he started screaming. A new hand touched him, a warm touch that pressed down lightly on his shoulder -trying to calm him. The mysterious touch reached up and brushed through his hair gently.
“Wake up, Ith, please.”
The Human’s voice snapped Varick out of the nightmare. He looked up with Ithican’s eyes and found Sam kneeling over him. Varick pushed him away and quickly stood. He walked a few feet and then leaned against a tree. He took a deep breath and tried to shake the memory of the nightmare off. It wasn’t easy, the dream had been so vivid.
He was in total control of Ithican’s flesh. He had been allowed to take over when Ithican had submitted to him and had fallen asleep in the trance. He knew he couldn’t stay in this body forever, but he didn’t need forever to accomplish his goal. Varick had hoped that Ithican’s sprit wouldn’t wake in time to stop him. However it would seem that he had woken and he was starting to fight.
Just a fever had plagued Ithican a cold threatened to freeze Varick’s heart. It grew worse daily, and at night when he was forced to sleep Ithican tormented him with memories of his own past. This was not the first night he’d dreamt of Ithican’s dying wife. However, Varick wasn’t about to give in so easily. He had work to do.
“You’re nightmares are getting worse.” Sam said with concern.
“My dreams are none of your concern!” Varick snarled, suddenly remembering that he had company.
“I just want to help you, Ithican.”
“Don’t call me that.”
Sam sighed. “All right then, ‘Aristat’, you don’t have to tell me about them. It’s just if you don’t get some sleep soon, some peaceful sleep, it’s going to be the death of you.”
“Don’t worry about me.” Varick said coldly.
Sam didn’t reply. He watched as Ithican, or Aristat as he insisted on being called now, walked over to the small fire. He sat down and stared into the flames. Sam looked away. Ithican had changed so much in the past two weeks. He was becoming a stranger.
Ithican was also getting ill. He wouldn’t admit it, but Sam could see him suffer. He was always cold. Even now he wore a thick cloak and was practically touching the fire, despite the fact that winter was fast giving into spring. He had started eating meat again but it didn’t help, he was losing weight fast.
It was little things too. Ithican had cut his hair. He’d pulled it back in a ponytail and hack it off with the Tarrin blade so that now it fell in irregular locks that barely covered the tips of his ears. It shouldn’t matter how he wore his hair, but the messy cut somehow made him look dangerous.
Before they had been aimlessly walking across Nuearth, now Ithican had a bizarre obsession with traveling Northeast. Sam didn’t know what to make of any it other than the fact that he held the Slave Market personally responsible. It must have been the last straw that finally broke the spirit he had just started to heal. He had said it before he’d even woken his captive friend.
“’He’ll never be the same again’.”
“Damn that miserable Swamp Rat.” Varick muttered under his breath as an uncontrollable shiver seized the flesh he’d stolen. He’ll be the death of us both. He hugged his arms closer to his body and kept walking.
Sam saw his friend’s discomfort and unlatching his cloak he draped it over the Elf’s already overdressed shoulders. He didn’t really need it anyway, as far as he could tell winter had released everyone except Ithican from its icy grip. Varick flinched at the Human’s touch, but kept quiet.
“We should rest.” Sam offered.
“No, I have to keep moving.”
“We’ve been traveling non stop for nearly three weeks, and you get sicker with every step. You need to be taken to a Medical Magi.”
“They can’t help me.”
“You don’t know that.”
“All right, I’ll rephrase: they *won’t* help me.” Varick snarled.
“Of course they will, we have the proper Papers, and our gold is as good as anyone else’s.”
“It’s not that. You can’t just bring an Elf to a Human Magi.”
“Elven and Human medicine are entirely different crafts. They wouldn’t know what they were dealing with and they’d probably end up killing me.”
“We can’t be that different.”
“We are.” Varick said darkly.
“We should at least try, whatever this is it’s going to kill you anyway. You look half dead already.”
“I said forget it!” Varick snapped. “I will not willingly put myself into Human hands!”
“So that’s what this is about.” Sam retorted hotly. “You’d rather die out here than seek a Human’s help, is that it?”
“Do you blame me?” Varick asked in a false injured tone. He had seen his mistake. As much as he hated to admit it he would need Sam’s help later on. He couldn’t risk having him leave.
Before Sam could reply Varick reached up and tugged at the many layers of clothing that hugged his throat, exposing what lay beneath. Sam hissed at the sight of the ultrasteel chain that was still wrapped around Ithican’s neck like a poisonous serpent. They had been unable to remove it. Not that Varick minded. He wore it like a necklace of the finest gold -proof that he was right about Human intentions.
“Well?” Varick hissed with a smug smile. “Do you still think I’m being unreasonable?”
“No.” Sam sighed. “I’m sorry, you’re right. You have every reason to fear us.”
“’Fear you’?” Varick repeated with a chuckle. “I don’t think ’fear’ is the word I’d use...but that’s neither here nor there.”
Sam decided against questioning the odd turn of phrase. “Speaking of ‘here’ and ‘there’, where exactly is this ‘there’ that you are trying to get to? Where are we going that’s so important that we are pushing ourselves past exhaustion?”
“You haven’t figured it out yet?” Varick asked, smiling once more.
“We’re going to Nueyark.”
“Here, drink this.”
Varick looked up at the steaming drink Sam was offering him for breakfast. The three words together was more than Sam had said to him in two days. The Human had been acting strange ever since he’d been told of their destination. Varick had cursed himself the second he had said it. He had to admit to himself that he’d revealed his destination just to see the look on the Human’s face -which had been priceless.
“What is it?”
“Tea.” Sam looked around uncomfortably. “You look cold, I thought it might help.”
Varick was going to refuse, but it did sound inviting. He was learning to live with Ithican’s nightmares. However, if he didn’t find a way to heat his icy flesh sometime soon he’d be driven mad. Wrapping his hands around the hot mug he took a pull at the steaming liquid. When the bitter after taste hit him he tried to spit out the laced tea, but it was too late.
The drug worked quickly. Varick could already feel himself getting dizzy. He flung the rest of the ‘tea’ away. Furious he tried to spring at Sam, but he losing control. Sam easily dodged Varick’s clumsy attack. He caught Varick as he started to fall and helped him to his knees.
“Traitor!” Varick spat, refusing to let go of consciousness.
“I’m sorry, Ithican, but I can’t just watch you die. I’m going to take you to someone who can help.”
“You better take me to my death!” Varick growled. “I won’t let this insult go unanswered!”
“Rest now. You’re not yourself, you’ll be better when you wake. Trust me.”
“I’ll never trust you again!”
Varick shook his head violently and tried once more to stand. Sam would have been able to stop him even if he wasn’t succumbing to the tranquilizing agent. Despite the fact that he knew he couldn’t win Varick continued to struggle against the coming darkness. He quickly lost.
Sam laid Ithican’s vacant body down and ran a shaky hand through his blonde hair. He hadn’t thought that Ithican was going to fight so hard, and his last words had stung Sam like acid. He gathered the Elf up in his arms. Before they had stopped for the night they’d passed a cross road that led to some little town. It was only a mile back and another three to the village.
“Forgive me, but someone there will be able to help you.” Sam explained. He couldn’t know that his friend’s injuries were beyond the skill of anyone on the Living Plane.
As in the forest outside of Ramandas, Ithican was going to have to fight Varick on his own.
Varick was not surprised to find himself back in the diseased forest. It wasn’t really diseased, nor was it a forest. It was a place of his own creating. He’d been caught between life and death so long that he had learnt to craft the space to his own purposes. Varick looked down at his hands and was pleased to see that he looked like himself once again.
Looking around he saw that Ithican hadn’t learnt any of the same tricks. Varick was sure if he knew how to change his environment he would have by now. It also meant that he probably hadn’t discovered how to retake his flesh. Varick had been afraid that he would lose the fight once he succumb to the drug, but it would appear that the game was still open.
Ithican had to be around here somewhere, he could feel his heat. Varick followed the warmth till he came to the glade where he had left Ithican sleeping. Ithican was sitting with his back against a wilted tree with his eyes closed. Varick was a bit shocked to see that all of the vegetation near the Elf was wilted and cooked. The rest of the forest was simply sickly, this patch had been scorched.
Varick didn’t even notice the ice crystals that formed on the leaves that touched his own skin. Standing on the other side of the small glade Varick suddenly wondered what would happen if he tried to kill Ithican in this place. Would it free him from the cold and allow him full dominion over what was left of Ithican’s life, or would it send them both to the Other Side? Or worse yet: trap them both here for the rest of eternity -together. Before he had time to contemplate it further Ithican opened his eyes.
“Welcome back, ‘Kin-Rin’ Varick.” Ithican greeted sarcastically.
“I see you figured that much out.” Varick sneered.
“I’ve figured out more than that.”
Ithican got up slowly and came to stand ten feet from Varick. For the moment the clashing of their contrasting temperatures kept them from approaching any closer. He snapped his fingers and sick jungle returned to life, except for the area at his own and Varick’s feet. That affliction was beyond either of their control.
“You can’t keep me here forever, Varick, the life is mine.”
“Life takes flesh and blood.” Varick retorted. “The flesh may be yours, but the blood belongs to me!”
“Yes! We should have both died. We should be friends in the Afterlife, for there are no grudges on the Other Side. But you stole my blood and kept Death from us both! This is only fair, and no more than what you deserve!”
“You’re wrong. We should have both lived, I had no desire to kill you. But your hate led you to deceit and then to your own destruction. You’re stuck here not because I drank your blood, but because you committed suicide. You know the penalty for such blasphemy.”
“Suicide?!” Varick screeched. “If I’m stuck here In Between because of suicide then you are stuck here because your a murderer!”
“I’m here because you tricked and trapped me. I’ve murdered no one!”
“You betrayed nearly a hundred Elves to their deaths when you went to the Goblins!”
“You and your power hungry friends led them to death!” Ithican spat venomously. “And your blind ambition will bring destruction to the rest of our race!”
“Never!” Varick felt a stab of ice as his temper flared. “I’m trying to save our kind, you just don’t see it.”
“I’ve seen into your heart, Varick, I know what you’re trying to accomplish by taking my flesh. You’ll start a War and tear Nuearth apart! I won’t le...”
As he got angrier the fever that griped Ithican rose to an unbearable level. He stopped and stood panting for breath. Varick too felt the affects of their verbal assault. His frame shivered against the ice that was taking over his veins.
“This is foolish.” Varick forced himself to calm and some of the chill left him. “We’ll destroy each other.”
“If that’s what it takes, so be it. I won’t let you start this War.”
“I don’t have to start it, it is coming no matter what happens to us. I’m just trying to give the Elves an edge, you should be on my side.”
“I will never be on your side.”
“Why not? I suffer, as you do. But it doesn’t have to be that way, we could help one another. Together we could be strong.”
Ithican managed to laugh. “I’d make you strong in the way a horse makes its rider fast -nothing more than a slave. Even if I can’t stop the War at least I can stop you. I’ll drive us both to our deaths before I help you.”
“You’re forgetting something.”
“There’s a third life at stake here.”
“I was hoping that it wasn’t going to come to this.” Varick smiled.
“What are you talking about?”
“I’m talking about your dirty Human friend.” Varick’s smile widened when he saw the flash of fear that crossed Ithican’s features. “I know you haven’t figured out how to get back into your own flesh yet, when your body recovers from the drugs he’ll be at my mercy.”
“Leave Sam out of this!”
“Gladly. All you have to do is release me from this bone shattering cold. Think of it as doing yourself a favor as well, for it will ease your own fever.”
“And set you free to set Nuearth on fire? Forget it.”
“Don’t you see? Things have gone too far. Nuearth has too much bad blood, and the only way to ease the tension is to spill some of it.” Varick stepped closer and instantly felt his skin warming from being near his opposite. He knew that Ithican would also be feeling some relief.
“Help me,” Varick continued seductively “and I’ll let your friend live to at least fight and die with honor. Try and keep me under this spell and I’ll make sure that he suffers like no other before the end.”
“Best of all, he’ll believe that it’s your hand that torments him.”
Sam looked around the inn room and sighed. Ithican was laying peacefully on one of the beds. He hadn’t stirred in hours. For perhaps the hundredth time that night Sam pressed his hand against Ithican’s ivory throat to assure himself that the pulse beneath was still strong. It was, but that fact brought Sam little comfort. He’d only drugged him with some Feyas leaves that he’d found the day before, their affect shouldn’t last this long.
Perhaps the Medical Magi had been right.
It hadn’t taken Sam long to reach the town. It was mid sized, although not particularly magically advanced. Sam walked up to the first person he came to to ask for directions to the town’s Medical Magi. The man had taken one look at the seemingly dead Elf in Sam’s arms and smiled.
“You won’t get much bounty for him dead.” The man had laughed.
If his arms hadn’t been full Sam would have killed him. He was in no mood for such jokes. The man had seen this in Sam’s burning glare.
“Where can I find a Medical Magi?” Sam had demanded.
“I don’t care.”
“Neither will he, don’t waste your time.”
The man had shrugged and given Sam simple directions. When Sam had entered into the small dark hospital the receptionist had started in surprise. She quickly composed herself and regarded the pair coolly.
“I need to see the Magi.”
“This is a Human clinic, we can’t do anything for an Elf.”
“’Can’t’ or ‘won’t’?!” Sam caught himself saying.
“I’m sorry, Sir...”
“What’s going on out here?” The resident Medical had heard Sam yelling.
“My friend is sick. We need your help.”
“Friend?” The doctor raised a skeptical eye brow, but he did walk over. He pressed his fingers against Ithican’s throat. Peeling back one of the Elf’s eye lids he shook his head sadly. “I’m sorry, even if I did know anything about Elven medicine I don’t think there’d be any I could do.”
The Magi lifted one of Ithican’s limp arms by the wrist and touched Sam’s cheek with the icy hand. Sam flinched at the contact, he’d been shielded from the Elf’s chill by the layers of cloth that he wore and he hadn’t known how cold Ithican’s body had become. He knew Ithican had been acting chilled, but this was unnatural.
“His pulse is strong,” the Magi admitted “but he’s too far gone, he’s probably already dead. His heart just hasn’t figured it out yet.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Just because the lights are on, doesn’t mean anyone’s home.”
“Well?” Varick mocked. “Will you help me? I have to admit that I almost hoping you say ‘no’. I’ve wanted so much to kill you both ever since you wandered into Ramandas.”
“If I agree, how do I know that you won’t just live out your sick fantasies anyway? What assurance can you give me?”
“My word?” Varick smiled.
Ithican made a brief noise of disgust.
“No, eh? I didn’t think so. I’ll tell you what, I’ll teach you how to be an observer. You can look into the Living Plane, but you can’t interact with it. It’s how I knew exactly when to insert the illusion with the Kin-Rin Doe. That wa...”
“I already know how to do that.”
Varick couldn’t hide his momentary surprise. Ithican was learning faster that he’d thought. “You do, do you?”
“How else to do you think I know that you haven’t killed Sam already? And you can cut my hair as short as you want, it won’t keep you from looking like the Swamp Rat that I am.”
“Can’t blame me for trying.”
“Sam’s going to figure this out. You’re doing a miserable job pretending to be me.”
“I don’t have the stomach to be so pathetic!” Varick snarled. He rubbed his hands together trying to heat them. “I’m running out of patience, and you’re running out of time. Make your decision. Just keep in mind that he saved your life, more than once by now I’m sure. You owe him this much.”
Ithican looked away from Varick cruel smile. He was having trouble thinking clearly. His fever had already risen past the point that would prove lethal to a living body. He started to almost believe what Varick had been saying. How could one man make or break a War that had been festering for so long?
“Yes.” Ithican whispered.
“You agree?” Varick asked a bit shocked. “You’ll help me?”
“I do and I will.” Ithican replied not looking up. “But I don’t know how. I’m not causing your chill anymore than I’m causing my own fever.”
“Oh, I know that. You’re not causing it, I am.”
“What? Then why do you need me?”
“You’re the cure.” Varick shook his head. “I don’t have time to explain.”
Now that he had permission Varick walked up to Ithican, their breath turned to fog between them as their competing temperatures collided. It was Varick’s one true limitation, he had to have willing prey. As Ithican had pointed out: ‘the life is mine’. He just didn’t realize how right he was. When Varick reached out to touch Ithican he pulled away out of instinct.
“Don’t worry, Ithican.” Varick said sweetly. “I’m not going to hurt you, quite the opposite in fact.”
Ithican wasn’t comforted. He didn’t fight, but he kept a wary eye on Varick’s every move.
“Come now, trust me.” Varick tried to keep the frustration out of his voice. He had found himself unable to proceed when Ithican resisted. “You seemed to enjoy yourself the last time.”
It was the wrong choice of words. Ithican gasped in a mix of realization and horror. He took a step back. The wash of heat was nothing compared to the crawling feeling that scuttled across his skin at the mere thought of being touch by Varick like that again.
“No,” Ithican backed further away “don’t touch me.”
Varick grit his teeth in frustration. “Ithi...”
“No!” Ithican snarled like a cornered animal. His breath came quick and shallow from a mix of fever and panic. “I didn’t know any better then, I do now, and I’m not going through it again.”
“Fine!” Varick spat. He suddenly held a blood stained Tarrin dagger. Varick turned and started to stalk off.
Ithican couldn’t see the sly smiled that touched Varick’s lips. The Tarrin blade that he had conjured disappeared.
“Wait.” Ithican repeated.
“Why should I?” Varick turned and looked at Ithican expectantly.
Ithican kept his eyes averted to keep from losing what was left of his courage. Taking a deep breath he got down on his knees, knowing that if he didn’t he’d simply fall to them later. He tilted his head back, exposing his throat, and stared vacantly at the forest canopy above. For the first time Ithican noticed that he couldn’t see the sky through the trees. He absent mindedly wondered how light reached into the glade.
Varick just drank in the scene for a moment, enjoying the feeling of power. He wished that he had more time to savor the taste. However if someone didn’t get back to Ithican’s body soon they’d both lose. Ithican’s submissive posture allowed Varick to easily walk up to him.
Ithican closed his eyes as he felt the arctic approach. His pulse raced like a hummingbird’s as Varick held his hand inches away. Ithican wasn’t sure if Varick was waiting because he enjoyed seeing him like this or if he had fears of his own. Finding that the anticipation was worse than anything else Ithican seized Varick’s wrist and press the frosty hand against his burning heart.
Varick cried out and tried to pull away, momentarily forgetting that this was what he wanted. He hadn’t had Ithican’s foresight and so he fell to his knees as the warmth of Ithican’s skin took a hold of his senses. Ithican clutched Varick’s wrist so tightly he almost broke it. Varick didn’t notice. Varick threw his head back and howled like a werewolf to the full moons as his bones felt pleasure of heat for the first time in weeks.
For his part Ithican was desperately trying to deny the sensation of Varick’s hand against his chest. Since he’d found himself trapped here he’d had a thirst that he couldn’t quench, until now. The cold soothed his parched throat in a way that no amount of water could. Although his pain was being taken from him he could also feel something else being stolen.
The last time Varick had been trying to make a friend, now he was just using Ithican as a means to an end. Varick’s intentions somehow changed the encounter completly. Torn between physical elation and emotional pain tears started to streaked down Ithican’s face.
The difference between them had grown so strong that it took a while for the energy to settle itself out. Eventually they were both freed from their respective afflictions. Ithican had been concentrating so hard on not making a sound that he didn’t even notice when it was over. Varick weakly tried to retrieve his hand from Ithican’s grip. Ithican snapped his eyes open and released his captive.
Varick laughed and ran his hand through Ithican’s long hair. For a horrifying second Ithican thought that Varick was going to kiss him. Risking touching him again Ithican pushed him away so violently that Varick fell over. Ithican hastily got to his feet and backed up against a tree. Varick sat up and smiled brightly.
“Admit it, Ithican, you feel better.”
“Just leave! And don’t forget our deal.”
“I wouldn’t dream of it.” Varick stood. “I’ll see you later.”
“Didn’t I tell you? This is only a temporary fix, your fever will steal the heat away from my soul again. But don’t worry, I’ll be back for more.”
“I never agreed to that!”
“Sure you did, you asked for some assurance that I wouldn’t hurt the Human. I won’t kill him as long as I still need you. I’ll say ‘hi’ for you.”
Varick snapped his fingers and disappeared.