The breathing of waves. Sea air.
Has he always felt this way? That the expanse of a mortal body was one that was unbound by the want and need for something more? This vastness brought on by a near limitless interior, the breadth of a soul and yet the absence? Opening his eyes has done nothing to quell the heartache, but the knowledge that some things remain the same, that paradise is a place you craft and hold within your heart gladdens him. But only in the same way that you mourn the loss of a pet whose final days are almost upon them, that their suffering is almost at an end.
Spirits preserve him, he’s leaning too far into this one.
The beast within writhes and howls and shakes against his bones, and beats a bruise into his chest from behind his ribs, clawing through the bars of his cage as this vessel makes landfall, as he squeezes the last dregs of seawater from his frame and soul and begins the moment of endless reflection. A soul, mirror-image, mirror-made. This body is an island. This soul is a sea. This fight comes close to its end.
An end. Maybe his. Maybe not, maybe… something else waits for him on the other side. If this is how he must leave this world, so be it – he will do it whole. He will do so with his head held high, knowing… knowing that he tried, knowing that this was better than dying trapped in a machine. Knowing that people would still be there to take care of the others. To take care of Tadghn.
He takes his first hesitant steps along the white sand.
Step by step, yard by yard he’s moving swiftly along the bubbling coast, his eyes on a fading path etched into the sand with feet long since removed from this realm of thought, the madness that lurks somewhere deep within. The bounds of an entire soul, marooned upon a tiny island of being. It’s enough to make him homesick. It’s almost enough to make him give up this search.
It’s almost enough to be familiar. The march is one he’s made before, one that leads him deeper into this man-shaped island, into the heart of a creature who should not be allowed to live. He’s done this before, he thinks. Or was he destined to do this?
A shadow stalks him, with silent footsteps, pugmarks left in the sand behind him. He knows She is there.
When he arrives, it is to a cave. When he steps into the cave, there has only ever been the cave. That… grotto you used to hide in, that Captain you used to mock. This is it, probably. This is also a bit on the nose, he thinks, as the path curves deeper into the skull and marches down the granite approximation of a spine. A spine, a world.
And at the bottom
He knows him too well.
And at the bottom, is the dregs.
And that, that hollow of a man, that sallow skin and brow gorged with saltwater, his eyes plucked from his head by the very sealife that nurtured him upright and onto his own two feet. He watches. Despite the rot, he watches, and carries his head like a cannonball on the swivel of his neck. He withers and wails, falling apart as the booze barrel table topples over with the ghastly speed of him and his guns, twitching and spectral.
His skeletal arm raises a gun that does not exist beneath the barnacles and viscera that creates the undulation of his figure and form.
This is mine. Leave. Leave me alone.
Had he aged so ungracefully? Would he have, if left to his own devices like this? Would the bitter, shambling man he was destined to become – that he would be more concerned with the barnacle barrel raising towards his head.
No, Captain. No.
The wraith bubbles and boils in defiance, a corpse bereft of half a head, organs, muscle. He is skin. He is bone. He is an eyesocket and gleaming, burning flame behind a waterfall of pus and rot. The shambling mound of bones and slop lunges.