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Thoughts and Footsteps

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Bright, molten currents of energy flowed into Druig, filling him with a slow trickle of consciousness. Over time flashes of color and memory began to appear. They swirled around him in a wild, hazy dance; there was sound and fire and sorrow. A child laughing, orange oceans of flames and a sadness he couldn’t bear. But then the sensations abandoned him one at a time, leaving streaks of yellow and green in their path. He was left to a world of blackness and terrible, dead silence. Druig waited.

The dark and the quiet remained, his two wretched companions. He didn’t know how long he waited. An hour? A week? A century? Druig finally began to panic. Was this it? Was this the world he was to belong to? The stillness was suffocating him in its clutches. He had no form, no purpose, just a floating mass engulfed in a dead void. 

But just as he gave up all hope, a strange force was upon him; a soft touch on his conscience and it worked throughout Druig like ripples in a pond. It was sound. Quiet at first, like a single whisper, and he rejoiced, but then it grew until it was an inescapable cacophony. Voices, thousands of them, shouting, crying, laughing, and wailing in a great chorus that reverberated through Druig in waves. Each voice had sensation and color and emotion. 

He'd gotten such joy at first but he quickly changed his mind. It was too much, too many colors, too many emotions to comprehend for any one being. But he was a shapeless entity and he had no escape. The worst was a distinctly red sensation, a primal burst of pain and terror. It affected so many different voices but it all felt the same. Over and over. It was all going to overcome him soon. Was this awful place truly his world? It couldn’t be. No one was that cruel. 

Then as Druig began to lose hope once more, his conscience began to expand. He slowly lost his amorphous state and felt himself take form. Head, shoulders, torso, hands, legs and feet. This was good. He clung to his new found form and let it calm him. Maybe there was more to his existence after all. The sensations were still there, there was no way to ignore them, but he found solace in his body and all its workings. 

Next came his hearing,  a completely different sound from the voices he’d been born into. It was clear and true; a deep thrumming hum and the sound of breaths inhaling and exhaling in tandem with one another. Druig allowed himself to feel hope. Smell manifested too, the scent of burning metal and damp earth and it filled his lungs with life. 

It was only then that Druig was rewarded with blessed sight. There was a burst of gold and he found himself in a vast, dark chamber. He and nine other figures sat in a circle, pale cold light shining on their faces from beneath them. Relief burst throughout his new body. He was not alone. Druig glanced down and saw he was sitting on a ledge. At his feet was a great mass of crystal shards, glowing and infinite. He followed them up to the center of the circle and was greeted by a replica of a figure he knew with full surety, though he’d never seen him before. 

Arishem. 

It jarred Druig to see the Celestial’s jagged, robotic like body was crimson. It was the same color as the red, horrendous emotions that had tortured him so. He stared with distress in his newly formed eyes. Was he the one who had made them? Druig subtly glanced  at the other beings’ faces around him, the heavy contrast of light making their features sharp and drastic. There were five women and five men, including him. They all looked upon Arishem with unblinking gazes, barely breathing. Yet no one looked troubled, they were all calm and emotionless. He alone had broken eye contact. 

Druig went to look back at Arishem, but before he did he saw another was looking around the room too. It was one of the women, in the left hand corner across from him. Her dark eyes moved in swift, sharp motions, assessing and probing everything around them. Druig watched her with curiosity until her dark orbs came to rest on him. They assessed one another for a few moments. The quiet would have been palpable if his head weren’t full of voices and colors. The same question seemed to be going through their minds: Why were they the only ones looking away from Arishem? 

Abruptly, powerful red sensations punctured Druig’s mind, making him grind his jaw and their connection was lost. The woman softly narrowed her eyes and gave him a puzzled look. But then a clear, strong voice rang out, calling and commanding everyone to attention. 

“It is time.” 

The woman’s eyes quickly shifted away from him to the source of the sound; another woman at the head of the circle they formed. When he’d recovered from the red onslaught in his head Druig slowly faced the other woman too. When he did he felt himself rise to his feet, like he didn’t have control of his body and the others did the same. He realized they all wore the same nondescript, foot length robes like perfect copies of each other. 

All ten of them broke the circle around Arishem, softly padding to the walls of the chamber. Druig knew exactly where to go without fully understanding why. He was also very aware of his position to the woman who’d spoken. He was positioned between two other women, one small and pale, the other dark haired and tawny. 

 They all jointly turned their backs to the wall and faced each other in their fixed positions. Druig couldn’t help but cast one quick look at the woman he’d made eye contact with, assessing  her thin features and long braids. When she returned his gaze he swiftly looked away. 

As he did,  suddenly, like an exhale of breath, gold energy scaled across the dark walls. As it moved across the room it attached itself to each individual. He felt it attach to him too, pooling at his chest and slowly producing clothing and armour till he was fully dressed. That wasn’t the only thing he received either. As the energy did its work Druig was filled with understanding and more importantly purpose.

He knew he was an Eternal. He now understood what he was hearing was human thought and emotion. He felt his powers and realized that along with hearing voices, he could also control them too. But Druig mostly knew that they were there to defeat Deviants. 

The energy slowly vanished, leaving ten uniquely clothed individuals with purpose and being. Finally Druig was in full control of his body and mind. He rolled his shoulders and looked around at the brethren before him. He felt hints of emotions and basic thoughts but nothing like the humans below them. 

Druig watched the dark haired woman beside him walk to the large window that overlooked the vast, glittering expanse of space. A large, imposing man joined her there and began to quietly engage in conversation. “It’s beautiful isn’t it?” She murmured. 

“I’m Ikaris.” He replied. 

“I’m Sersi.”

Druig looked away, bored. He walked from the wall with no other purpose than to exercise his free will, one step at a time because he allowed it. This was so much better than the silent void from before, where he’d been shapeless and helpless. Now he was in control. He was so preoccupied with his new freedoms he almost didn’t see her. The woman he’d watched, she was standing right in front of him, her dark eyes inquisitively looking him up and down. He took a step back from her and dipped his head.

 “Apologies.” He said, his tongue feeling strange as it formed the words. 

She gave a small smile and shook her head, but said nothing in return. She had a warm face, kind face with silky chestnut skin and a sprinkling of freckles on her petite nose. Her hair was braided tightly to her skull and flowed back into three long braids over her shoulder. Small ringlets escaped from her ears and forehead in small ebony spirals. She was beautiful.

Druig cleared his throat. “Where are my manners? My name is Druig. What’s yours?” He waited for her to answer and inevitability looked at her mouth. He noticed how her thin lips carried a perpetual smile, pretty and pensive, like she was keeping a secret. But she still didn’t answer his question. She simply smiled at him. He tried once more. “What's your name, darling?” 

Again she didn’t reply, but this time she narrowed her eyes in confusion. She finally opened her mouth to speak, but no words came out. She snapped it close, her eyes searching the floor for an answer. Druig waited. The woman eventually looked up with confusion in her eyes. 

Were you speaking to me?

Druig flinched. Where had that come from? He looked around with  suspicion. No one else was speaking to him or even looking in his direction. “Did you hear that?” He asked her. The confusion only grew on her face. 

I can’t understand you. 

“What the hell?” He murmured. He watched the woman’s mouth again, for some reason he got the feeling it was her voice he was hearing. “W-was that you?”

She tilted her head to the side. 

Are you trying to speak to me? I don’t believe I can hear you. I’m sorry. 

Druig was correct. Her voice echoed, not from her mouth, but in his mind. It took him a moment but then he came to a conclusion: she couldn’t hear. He was directly hearing her thoughts. Wanting to be sure Druig swiftly raised his hand and snapped his fingers close to her ear. She didn’t respond, not a flinch or any indication she’d hear the sound. But she did look at his hand with an incredulous eyebrow. 

What are you doing? 

Druig briefly pondered, trying to think of a way to get her to understand. He then came up with an idea. He made sure she was paying attention and motioned to his own mouth. The woman nodded, slowly comprehending what he meant. 

“Can you hear me?” He said slow and deliberate. She watched his lips with scrutinizing eyes but instead of understanding, a look of frustration crossed her kind face. I still don’t know what you’re saying. Why can’t I hear you? Druig shook his hand in a gesture of reassurance. He patiently pointed to his mouth again. She nodded. “Can…you…understand…me?” 

The woman watched and instead of looking upset this time she brightened with a startlingly sweet grin. I understood you! Now if only you could hear me in return. Druig motioned to his mouth again. She inclined her head.

“I can hear you in my mind.” He said slowly like before. 

Her eyes went wide as saucers. Can you hear my thoughts? 

He nodded. 

Her expression turned brightly inquisitive. How are you able to do that? Were you hearing me this whole time? What other things can you hear? 

Druig made a motion for her to slow down. “Slow down. Too many questions.” He said gently. 

She ducked her head. Right, sorry, I’m just fascinated by what you can do. It looks like we’ve been given incredible gifts. Druig wasn't sure that was the word he would choose. The voices and colors made this conversation alone a challenge for him. He just gave a grim smile.

Were you trying to introduce yourself before? 

“Yes.” He said. She watched his lips and understood. 

My name is Makkari, and I’m happy to meet you. 

“Makkari.” Druig said, testing it on his tongue. It suited her. She smiled like an angel as he said it aloud. Now what’s your name, my kind friend? 

“Druig.” He said. 

Makkari squinted at his mouth. I’m so sorry. What was that? I can’t hear your voice but I can feel the… vibrations when you speak.

“Dru—“ He cut himself off as another idea popped into his head. Instead of trying again he slowly reached for her slender, pretty hand at her side. He flashed a querying expression, to get her permission. She nodded. Druig grasped her hand and gingerly placed her fingers on his larynx. His thinking was if she could feel vibrations then she should be able to feel his words as he spoke them.

“Druig.” He repeated. 

Makkari’s face was taken by another glorious smile, her eyes almost looking watery. It was so sweet Druig couldn’t help but smile a little too. Druig. She thought with enthusiasm. Your name is Druig. 

“Yes.” He said. “Nice to meet you too.” 

Makkari sniffed and blinked the moisture from her eyes. I was starting to wonder if I had gone crazy when no one was speaking. Now I understand. I cannot hear like you all can. 

Druig frowned and thought of his bout with the silence before all this. He repositioned her fingers on his throat. “That is not fair.” 

She shrugged. Maybe. But Arishem must have had a design in mind, I can feel it. I may have no hearing but you were given an ability that directly accesses my thoughts. It can’t be a coincidence. 

He was surprised how gracious she was being. How was his reaction so different? He could already feel the tendrils of resentment beginning to grow in him. Why was he doomed to hear this cursed influx of emotions and voices? Why had Arishem chosen him to be the bearer of such a gift? But he couldn’t ignore how well tailored his powers were for her condition.

Druig scoffed. “If you want to be nice about it.” He grumbled without thinking. Makkari laughed, the mirth showing in her eyes, but he also heard it in his mind. A bright, beautiful sound which actually made a burst of vivid yellow flash in his mind. Druig paused. It was the most pleasant sensation he’d experienced in his few minutes of existence. Makkari’s smile faded a little.

Is something wrong? Her fingers twitched against his neck. 

“No.” He replied, readjusting his hand on hers. “I am still learning what my powers can do. I heard you laugh up here.” He pointed to his head with his other hand. She surveyed him thoughtfully. Do you think—

Makkari stopped mid thought, her eyes moving to look behind Druig. He followed her line of sight and turned around, to find the woman who had commanded them standing there. She was short and curvy with high cheekbones, full lips and knowing eyes. Her long dark hair curved under a gold and blue winged helmet. He felt an instant pull when he laid eyes on her, an impulse to follow and obey. It made him uncomfortable and relaxed all at once. 

“Brother. Sister.” She said with authority. Druig heard an accent in her voice, thought it differed greatly from the cadence of his own. “My name is Ajak.” Her eyes fell to Makkari’s hand on his throat. “What is going on?” 

Druig straightened to his full height and released Makkari’s hand. “Hello Ajak, I am Druig. And her name is Makkari.” He said. Ajak looked between the two of them with an unreadable expression. “Why did you not let her introduce herself?”

“We discovered she has no sense of hearing. I have the power to hear thoughts. We were trying to communicate.”

Ajak’s eyes flashed. “Fascinating.” She murmured under breath. She turned to Makkari and stared at her for a long moment. “Did she hear me before?” 

Druig shook his head. “I don’t believe so.” 

“Will you help her please, Druig? I wish her to understand me clearly.”

Druig nodded. He turned to face Makkari and slowly announciated Ajak’s words for her. She understood it all except for Ajak’s name. Names seem to give me trouble. What was that? 

Druig reached for her hand, placed it back on his throat and repeated her name. Ajak watched their exchange with her dark, knowing eyes. 

Ajak? 

“Yes.”

He released her and she turned to face the other woman. Hello Ajak, my name is Makkari.

“I told her your name, she knows.” 

Makkari gave him a grateful look. Thank you

Ajak patiently waited until they were done. “You speak slowly so she can read your lips?” She asked him. He said yes. “And what is this with her hand?” 

“She can feel vibrations.” He explained. “It helps to feel the sound if she can’t understand.”

Ajak studied him for a moment. “You have helped our sister so quickly, I thank you for your kindness towards her.” 

Druig shrugged. “I suppose. It wasn’t that hard to figure out.” 

“Well let me try to speak with her.” She said with a smile. “Please help her if I talk too fast.” 

“Very well.” 

Ajak looked Makkari in the eye and slowly began to speak. “I am sorry about your hearing. Arishem has knowledge of all things and must have planned it this way.” 

Makkari tried to follow but Druig could tell she hadn’t caught it, Ajak hadn’t spoken slow enough. She flashed her eyes at him for help. What did she say? He repeated it for her. Makkari turned to the other woman once she understood and nodded. I thought the very same thing. I thank Arishem for giving a fellow Eternal the ability to help me speak. 

Druig paused and gave Makkari an astonished look before rellying her words to Ajak. “She agrees and is grateful to him for giving me my powers.”

Ajak smilled affectionately at Makkari. “I can see your faith is strong in Arishem, Makkari. I pray that your faith remains strong as we begin our mission.”

 Druig ignored the urge to raise an incredulous eyebrow. What was this about faith? He certainly hadn’t felt loyalty to the Celestial, more like a sense of unease. Makkari licked her lips and gave him an embarrassed look. I got the first part but not the second. 

“Try talking slower.” Druig said to Ajak. 

Ajak did as he suggested and he could tell Makkari understood. Thank you. I trust him completely. 

Druig couldn’t help but narrow his eyes. Not only was he confused, but another round of red emotions punctured his mind like javelins. Was something wrong with him? Why did he not feel the same way? Troubled, he quietly translated for Ajak once more. 

“Come. We must meet the others.” Ajak said, motioning to the rest of the group. 

They both inclined their heads and followed behind her. But before they got far Makkari’s hand on his shoulder made him stop. He looked back at her with a questioning look. Her eyes were imploring and her lips were tight with unease. Will you help me with the introductions? There are so many and it was hard enough with Ajak.

Druig blinked. “I should think that was obvious.” 

Makkari squinted. 

“Yes.” He nodded, berating himself for not talking slower. “I will.” 

She looked relieved. Thank you so much, Druig. 

“Of course.” 

They walked to the others and the introductions began. Druig translated for Makkari and communicated her thoughts in kind. Sersi. Kingo. Thena. Ikaris. Sprite. Gilgamesh. Phastos. He had to place her hand on his throat for every name and didn’t bother trying to tell the others to speak slowly. Druig only paid attention to the conversation to translate for Makkari, but his own thoughts and the never ending emotional noise made it hard to focus. His lack of faith in Arishem. The mysteries of his abilities. Why every time Makkari took her hand away from him he felt forsaken. None of it made sense. And it only got worse once they entered Earth’s orbit. The emotions and voices somehow grew stronger, making it even harder to focus and function.

Ajak explained many things as they flew. Their mission, who Arishem was, and how they would be associating with the humans.The Eternals  couldn’t involve themselves in their conflicts, that is unless a Deviant was involved. Their leader spoke with such surety and intention, but somehow didn’t come across as arrogant. She was pleasant and patient. Druig listened when he could but the thoughts were getting more and more powerful. 

Then hours later when the Domo glided down to Earth, over a ragged beach, Druig felt like falling to his feet. Every sound, every feeling pounded in his skull with acute pain. It got so bad he finally had to leave the others and go sit on the floor in the corner. He lifted up his knees and pressed his hands over his pounding skull. 

“What’s wrong with him?” The girl named Sprite asked quietly. 

“Hey you alright, man?” Phastos called. 

Druig couldn’t even try to speak and managed a dismissive hand wave in their direction. Everything was more distinct here. The thoughts, which had been akin to overhearing a conversation, were now like being directly shouted at from all sides. Each emotion had gone from indiscriminate hints of color to searing flashes of pigmentation. He wanted to scream. His powers were not a gift, they were a curse. 

Druig felt a soft hand on his shoulder. He slowly looked up to find Makkari kneeling down beside him, her braids gently bouncing against her shoulder. She wore a soft frown. Druig, what’s wrong? 

Her voice alone made him grimace and screw his eyes shut. “T-they won’t go away…I can’t make them stop.” He said between his teeth, forgetting she couldn’t read his lips. But those words alone were torture to say. You’re in pain. What’s hurting you, my friend? Makkari asked. Druig let out a pained grunt. Her voice hurt with every syllable she thought.

“What’s happening with him?” Kingo asked. 

“It’s the humans.” Ajak said with certainty. “Your brother can hear thoughts. Because of our proximity to them, their thoughts must be amplified.” 

Druig managed to glance up and saw everyone staring at him. He wished they would look at something else. Didn’t they have other things to do? He ignored them and  turned to Makkari instead. She was desperately watching Ajak’s mouth, clearly trying to figure out what was wrong. She faced him and tightened her grip on his shoulder. I’m sorry, I don’t know what’s going on. Help me understand, Druig. Please, I want to help you. 

Druig swallowed down the pain her thoughts induced. He couldn’t take much more of this. Desperate, he lowered his knees to the floor, leaned forward and pulled Makkari towards him. She let out a gasp, her eyes going wide.

“Hey, what's he doing?” Sprite demanded. 

“Druig, stop!”  Kingo exclaimed, taking an alarmed step forward. 

“Stop, brother.” Ikaris ordered. 

Ajak raised her hand for calm. “Wait. Give him a moment.” 

Druig stopped where he was, the pain running away from him. He almost couldn’t breathe. It’s okay, you just startled me. Makkari thought. You can do whatever you need. 

Druig let out a shaky breath and pressed his forehead to Makkari’s, his eyes closing. He thought about how much he wanted her to understand what he was feeling. Makkari suddenly jerked back. D-Druig what was that? She looked perplexed. I felt something just now. He winced, unable to hide the pain from showing across his face. Makkari stared at him, her eyes glowing with worry. Druig pulled her close again, and she let him. He pressed his forehead to hers and though he wasn’t sure what he was doing, he imagined his thoughts transferring to her. 

Druig felt Makkari’s mind. It was a bright, windy place like a desert, with sapphire skies and the sensation of needing to run. He would have liked to admire it but he was in so much pain Druig could only take it in for a second. He gently broke in, envisioning peeling a thick membrane with both his hands. Makkari’s first reaction was to push him out, but after she adjusted to his presence she allowed him in. 

Once there Druig let the pain and the chaos pour into her mind like a waterfall. Makkari grimaced and shut her eyes tight. He heard the others protest again, but Ajak calmly stopped them from interfering. After a few moments Druig began to feel some relief. The chaos didn’t leave him in any regard, but being able to share the pain with someone made tears well under his eyes. When he felt like he could function again Druig withdrew from her, in mind and in body until he looked directly in her eyes. “Thank you.” He breathed, remembering to speak slowly. 

She looked as if she could cry. Oh, my dear friend. Is that what hearing thoughts feels like for you? 

“Yes.” He whispered.

She reached up and clasped his hand. I’m sorry, I said your powers were a gift without understanding what it meant for you. No wonder you didn’t agree with me. 

Druig smiled grimly and then looked away with unhappiness. This was so unfair. No one else was brought to their knees from their powers. Makkari leaned down to catch his eye, a caring smile on her lips. 

Druig. She waited to go on until he looked into her eyes. It’s alright. You just have to learn to control your powers and grow with them, until they become a part of you. Don’t despair, we’ll be here for you as you figure it out. 

Druig searched and managed to find solace in the chestnut planes of her face. She was far too kind hearted. When she saw some hope on his face, her expression turned impish. Besides, who knows what kind of mischief we can get into with our powers. 

“Our?” He frowned.

She waggled an eyebrow. You think you’re the only one with a gift? Please. 

Druig raised his eyebrows. A small, tired chuckle was drawn from his chest before he could think. 

Well look at that, you can laugh after all. Makkari looked pleased, her eyes twinkling and her smile warm. That was all it took. He could manage the discomfort in his head just a little bit better. Maybe there was hope for him yet. Druig rose to his feet, letting Makkari help him even though he really didn’t need it anymore. 

He cleared his throat and turned to the others, who still stared at them. “Sorry to have alarmed everyone. But Ajak is correct, I can hear the thoughts and feelings of the humans. It was much stronger once we entered Earth’s atmosphere but I have it under control.” The others accepted his words with mixed feelings. Ikaris and Kingo looked at him with wariness. Sprite appeared to be skeptical. But everyone else simply nodded. He especially watched Ajak’s reaction, a knowing look and a nod, which he found no fault with. They all turned back to their conversation about Deviants. He went back to being able to translate for his new friend. 

It all was going smoothly again until Sersi, who still stared out the window, tensed. “What is that down there?” She asked, walking closer to the glass.

Suddenly Druig cried out and clutched his head with both hands. The awful red sensation all but exploded in his head, blinding him with crimson. Makkari was at his side instantly. She in turn must have gained some knowledge of his powers when they touched minds, because she kept her thoughts to herself. Instead Makkari radiated empathy into him, like heat beaming down from the sky. 

“What’s wrong with our brother now?” The man named Gilgamesh rumbled. Druig just shook his head in agony. 

“It’s the Deviants.” Ajak said matter of factly. “They’re down there.” 

Sersi covered her hand with her mouth. “I-it just killed that man on the beach.” 

Druig looked up, taking his hands away from his head. “Oh god.” He mumbled. That’s what the red bursts were. It was death. Which meant every time he felt that sensation a human had been dying. That meant Arishem was the color of death too. Druig was going to be sick. 

“Ikaris. Kingo,” Ajak said, looking at each of them in turn, “Makkari. Gilgamesh. Thena…go.” 

The other four quickly fled to the exit. But Makkari stayed for a moment more. Druig. She thought, as she placed both her hands on his shoulders. We’re going to stop it from killing anyone else, okay? Stay strong. 

“But you—“

She shushed him gently. I told you I have a gift. 

“What—“

Makkari winked. Don’t blink or you’ll miss it. The intricacies of her armour suddenly began to glow gold. Druig narrowed his eyes, and before he could try to speak Makkari suddenly vanished. In a streak of gold she flew away from him, and out the exit without a sound. The force of her take off made a blast of wind ruffle his hair and clothes. He stood, speechless. 

Ajak chuckled. “Why are you surprised? We all hold wonderful gifts and Makkari is no exception.” 

“Yes but I wasn’t expecting that.” He grumbled, making Ajak laugh again. 

What the hell kind of world was I born into? Druig thought to himself. His “gift” was a form of living torture. His master was the color of death. Several Eternals already didn’t trust him. He was in for a very long stretch of eternity indeed. But, it wasn’t all terrible either. He had Makkari, and he would not mind spending the rest of his days looking into her eyes, and seeing the universe within them.