1264 words (5 minute read)

Oroum

Aksihota gazed at the grey waters of infinity, his skin numb from its cold and hostile air. How ironic that he would die here, in a place venerated by most but hated by him. All his life it had been there, always listening, and perhaps even waiting for this moment of Aksih’s submission to his creator. He finally stopped rowing, and his arms shakily fell to his sides.

This was it.

Aksih had tried to run from the memories, but they had always come back, each time with a stronger grudge for his denial of their existence. They had followed him to the lighthouse despite the locks on his door. They were here with him even now; silent, expectant. Aksih took a deep breath, his raw lungs filling with briny, Oroum-blessed air. To some, this was a place of comfort, even with gloomy skies like today’s. The Oroum, the energy of the sea, was fate. It drove reality. And that made Aksih hate it even more. It had wanted this.

It wanted him to die.

And so he would. Aksih reached for his sword, Utu. He removed it from its shell-decorated sheath, revealing the blade of pink lava-glass beneath. Utu’s shine welcomed him like an old friend, despite its worn appearance. It had been in disuse for twenty years, but it would soon draw blood one final time.

Hesitant, Aksih continued admiring Utu, its slender and long blade curved specially for use in the killing of mounted officers. Such was the duty of the Hohojin.

Aksih moved to the end of his boat, kneeling before the water. Taking a deep breath, he brought Utu to his throat. His mind was blank, his peace made. He was ready to die. Aksih closed his eyes, the sour smell of the ocean cursing his nostrils. He touched the blade to his neck, felt its comforting warmth cut through the frigid air, and drew it across his flesh.

Immediately, the warmth grew stronger as it spilled over the blades and his hands. His eyes now open, Aksih did not struggle to hold onto his breath, nor did he try to stop the red from pouring out of him. He leaned forward, spilling it into the ocean. It immediately made a bright spot that spread into the depths like ink on paper. The red kept coming, and the ocean was taken by it, little by little.

Aksih let out a long breath and dropped Utu into the dark waters, watching its form disappear slowly into the abyss. A noise that had been growing in volume in the back of his mind had come to his attention. It was a sharp noise, yet deep and mournful in tone, like a godly creature calling for its children. It seemed to Aksih to be the ocean itself, crying out in agony as its blood was tainted with that of a cursed and pitiful man giving his life away. It seemed to pull on him, drawing the warmth and breath from his body, taking back his very essence. The pull and the noise continued to increase in magnitude until they were all-consuming, deafening, crushing and stretching at his being.

Aksih’s eyes rolled into the back of his head, and he fell forward into the abyss, still conscious, still alive.

Aksih found himself waking up in an unfamiliar yet comforting room, swaying with the rhythm of the ocean’s breath. All was quiet, aside from the creaking of moving wood and the wet wind forcing its way through the room’s solitary window. Aksih was in an old bed, damp with brine. The ceiling was moldy and the wallpaper was peeling. Furniture was largely absent from the room aside from a desk under the window and a dresser across from it. One door was open, swinging with the motion of the sea. Through it, Aksih saw a bathroom with a cracked and stained mirror, sitting on the wall above a dusty and cluttered counter.

Only after surveying his surroundings did Aksih think to bring his arms to his throat. He felt for a gash, but felt nothing. Had it been a dream? Seas, it seemed he asked himself that question every morning these days. Shivering, he rose from the bed, his head aching with pressure. He stood, blood rushing throughout his body, bringing warmth and breath with it. Aksih examined himself to find that his clothes were stained with blood and soaked in ocean water. He walked to the bathroom, struggling to stay upright from a combination of lightheadedness and the room’s swaying.

He pushed his way past the swinging door, breaking the silence with a loud creak. He turned to the mirror and examined himself. His long hair and beard were wet, and clung to his face and neck. His eyes were sagging and caked with crust. His lips were dry and stained with grime. He peered closer, tilting his chin upward to get a better look at his throat. Where he had slit his throat, a pink line cut its way across his neck, as if the wound had healed long ago.

Aksih’s trance was broken by a sudden thump that shook the walls around him. It sounded as if it had come from a room to his right. Aksih turned his gaze to the wall beside him, where a moldy stain had turned the green wallpaper into a vile crust. The thump came again, and Aksih’s heart jumped. He took a step closer to the wall, pressing his ear to it.

Another thump, this time much louder, came from another direction. Aksih turned to find that the mirror had darkened. A dark sludge was seeping from a crack in the wall above it, covering his reflection, turning his features into a silhouette. Aksih jumped at another thump, and made his way to the desk by the window, practically stumbling through the doorway. He stopped himself by grabbing the desk, and opened its drawers violently, searching for Utu in hopes of finding comfort in the familiar. To his despair, all he found was a dust-covered bottle of saltwine. He grabbed it anyway.

There was another thump, this one clearly coming from the closed door behind Aksih. He turned quickly as the door continued to bang and jerk for several minutes until stopping entirely. Aksih was left in silence with his heart racing. He stood there until his hairs began to stand up from the cold draft behind him. Finally, he decided to leave the room, deciding anything out there was surely better than death by hypothermia.

Aksih eased the door open slowly, peering out into the ornate hallway before him. When the door was fully open, he stepped out and looked around. Doors lined the hall, and the damp carpet was peeling away, as did the gray, lifeless wood that composed the walls. Each door to the right of the one behind Aksih was marked by a crack akin to one made by an axehead. The end of the hall opened into a larger room with vaulted ceilings and symmetrical staircases. The opposite direction ended in a large set of double-doors, each ornately decorated with stained glass windows depicting the sea and a pale figure towering above it: Oroum, the blood of brine.

Next Chapter: Ashore