The Sound of Pain

The Sound of Pain

A Story by The Scholar

just a bit of a story I've been fiddling with, this would be a chapter or two


“She had a hundred thousand fires inside her, spinning and burning and dancing, and that terrified me. It terrified me in a thrilling, beautiful way. In a way that made me both eager and afraid to touch her. I feared to look her in the eye, to smell the sweet scent of her perfume, to pause for too long a moment to listen to the lullaby of her voice. To taste her was something I dared not. And yet it was these things I desired more than a man desires to breathe. 


There are not words to describe my feelings toward her. I wouldn’t even call it love, for love is used in as mundane matters as the drink in your hand or the new clothes on your body. I suppose she was like those things though. I could compare her to almost anything. She was spicy and dark and made my throat burn, and she was fresh and crisp and pleasing to look at.


But she was not mine to look at, and she will never be mine to look at. She will never be anyone’s to look at. She was too grand for that, too grand even to be put on display in the finest of museums, too grand for men of the highest rankings, too grand for kings, too splendid for gods. She could not be tethered. She could not be chained. She was her own.”


I paused, and the room filled with a hollow, tearful silence. A minute passed. Then two. Then three.


At last, I rubbed my face with my hands and began again.


“At times I thought she was the wind.” I laughed. “I still do, sometimes. Haven’t given up that theory yet. She was here one day and gone the next. It wasn’t that she didn’t belong anywhere; she just belonged everywhere.


I guess the best way to describe her would be to say she was like magic. No, she wasn’t like magic. She was magic. Vibrant magic. She was mysterious and unfathomable and damningly beautiful. She constantly led to ruin and destruction and pain, and constantly to life and happiness and peace. But she was anything but constant. She was unpredictable and wild and clever and . . .”  I paused a moment. “And damningly beautiful.”


I rubbed at my temples.


“I’m glad you still think that after all these years.” A voice said from across the room. It’s owners face was masked underneath a velvet hood, but I needed no face to know who the speaker was. I would have recognized that voice anywhere. Woken up to it in my sleep if she had whispered my name a thousand miles away.


I stood up slowly, very slowly, as though if I moved any faster she would run off like a scared deer. Hushed voices filled the room, but my eyes remained fixed. She was here. So she was. I thought I would feel happier, ecstatic, but I felt settle into myself the same feeling I had always had when I was with her. A deep, echoing hollowness. When I had been young, the feeling had been accompanied by fear and awe, but now it was just the hollowness, touched with a bit of bemusement. But by no means was it a bad hollowness. It was just a feeling that I carried with me when I could not think of any other way to feel. When I didn’t want to feel shocked, or furious, or excited, or confused. Or in love.


Weird how that worked.


When I finally tore my eyes from her, I realized that most of the customers had left the inn, hustled out by the ever-faithful Bane, who was just then leaving the room himself. The door closed with a soft thud behind him, and we were alone.


To keep my hands from shaking, I strolled over to the bar and pulled down a bottle of brambleberry wine. It had been her favorite. I poured myself a glass, then set one out on the counter for her, trying to appear casual. It was just another meeting with her that would come and go. Another brief moment in the great span of the universe when our circles touched. Time would send us spinning in opposite directions again as surely as it had done ever before.


“And one for my lady?” I heard myself ask.


She walked toward me and took a seat at the counter, nodding.


“You look tired.” she noticed. She let her hood down, and her face seemed different than the last time I had seen her. She still wore the pale blue stone around her neck, caged in silver and hanging by two flat, tan strings.


“I am tired.” I said, pouring her glass half full.


She looked at it, smiled fondly, and took a sip.


“Just the way I’ve always liked it.” she said.


“I know.”


There was a silence, dark and ominous for a moment, and my thoughts poured into it like the wine poured into my glass, swirling and splashing and dizzy. I said nothing, and she said nothing, but we thought very many things.


Then she laughed, and the sound was like the tinkling of little bells, sweet and charming. And her eyes twinkled like stars. I closed my eyes and breathed in slowly.


She said nothing. I knew she wouldn’t. We knew each other too well for that sort of thing.


She took another sip of her wine and then put the glass back onto the counter.


“You gave me quite the serenade there.” she smiled lightly, “I don’t think I deserve quite half of that.”


“How long were you here?” I asked.


“Oh, long enough.” she said knowingly, “Almost all night.”


I said nothing. Not out of embarrassment or nervousness. I never felt that way with her, no matter what I did. I simply didn’t have anything to say. And I liked hearing her talk.


“I wish you would write it all down for me.” she continued, “Then I could keep it always.”


“And then it would be just another love letter.” I said nonchalantly. I refilled her wine glass, this time not having to pretend to be relaxed. I was. That was the way I was with her.


“Another?” she raised an eyebrow, “I have none of those things. That was a different time.”


I nodded.


She laughed. “I always thought they were rather childish anyway. Yours was . . . sincere.”


“It was not a love letter.” I corrected.


“A serenade. A love letter.” she shrugged, “It’s the same. Or perhaps not. Perhaps that’s why yours was better. I have never been serenaded before.”


“Surprising.” I looked down at my wine glass and watched the wine swirl back and forth, back and forth, untouched. I looked out the window to my right. The sun was setting carefully behind the window, splashing pink light on the floor of the inn.


I looked back at her. Some of the pink light had caught in her hair and on her face, just across her eyes, making them twinkle and dance like little flames.


“Why are you here?” I asked her.


The suddenness of it didn’t seem to bother her.


“Why is anyone here at all?” she answered, sighing, swirling the wine in her glass, “I guess I don’t know anymore.”


“That’s not an answer.” I said, pointedly.


“Fine.” she snapped good-humouredly, but she still didn’t answer my question.


I waited, while she no doubt thought of a playful way to tell me why she had come here while annoying me at the same time, but after minutes of waiting she still said nothing.


Finally, I realized she was crying. 


Now you must understand this. Never, in all my years with her, had I seen her cry. I had seen her look sad of course, or shocked, or furious and terrible as a whirlwind, but I had never seen her cry. So when I saw her crying then, I realized something must be very, very wrong.


One tear slipped down her face, then another. I reached my hand out to wipe them away, but she flinched back.


“Don’t.” she mumbled.


I could only look at her, concerned.


At last, she opened her mouth, closed it again, and then looked me straight in the eyes.


“I walked for so long.” she said, “I didn’t know where else to go.”


Her voice was a bare whisper.


“I died, Desh.”


Then her body was wracked with sobs.




My mind raced with a million possible different meanings for what she said. And every time it came to the one I knew was the truth, my mind skipped over it like the flicking of an eye over a scene it finds discomforting. Except discomforting is not the appropriate word. Traumatizing, maybe. Or terrifying. No one word could pin down the feeling I had when Rhye said those three words.


I had heard of it before, of people dying and yet not being dead. Of men facing grave perils, falling, and then walking back into town the next day unscathed. They looked the same. They sounded the same. They even felt the same. But their eyes were not the same. They were grey and ashen and when they were angry they smoldered and burned like fire at the edges of the irises.


I looked up at Rhye. She met my eyes, and her eyes were grey as ashes.  At first, they were the light, whitish grey I had heard of in the stories, but they swiftly changed to a deeper, churning grey that flicked and flurried just like ashes blowing in a furious wind. The edges of her irises burned first orange, then red.


“I killed, Desh.” she said plainly, her voice tinged with a calm fury. “Hundreds. Thousands. I let no man speak for his name. I let no man bargain for his life.” Her eyes watered some more, and the burning red of her irises and the red of her crying eyes made her look all the more terrible. “I took their lives, Desh. One by one by one by one. I stole them away like a thief in the night, quietly and quickly. Here.” She reached into a pocket of her cloak and threw a black metal ball about three inches across onto the countertop. It was a careless throw, and the ball made a cracking sound on the counter, rolled to the edge, teetered, and fell, hitting the ground with a thud. The sound echoed as if the ball had weighed a thousand tons.


I stepped carefully around the counter and bent down to pick it up for her. I touched it, and in my head I heard a hundred thousand screaming whispers, calling Rhye’s name over and over. It was a horrible sound, worse than the cries of children being slaughtered or mothers stripped from their babies. I cannot describe it to you. All I can say is that by all the breath in my body I hope you will never have to hear it. It was the quiet scream of a hundred thousand deaths. It was the sound of pain.


I shook my head and realized I was sitting on the floor at the feet of Rhye’s stool, the ball still exactly where I had touched it. It had seemed to weigh as much as a mountain, and I hadn’t been able to pick it up.


Still dazed, I stood and looked at Rhye. Her eyes had cooled now. The red was gone and the irises had faded to a lighter grey, though I could still make out a few specks of orange at the edges that flickered here and there.


Rhye wiped a tear from under her eye and looked at it. She smiled, as if recalling some happy event. “There was a little girl.” she said, “She reminded me so much of myself. Long dark hair and deep green eyes, and a mouth that was always ready to smile.” She whimpered suddenly, falling from her seat. I caught her gently in my arms. “I killed her too, Desh. I killed them all.” She took a deep breath and looked painfully at the black ball lying on the ground. “And that is the price. Those are their voices in that thing. He called it Obsidian.” She whispered the word against my chest.


I looked at it again. It was not black. Black would be an understatement, if one could understate a color. It was darker than the night sky between the stars and darker than the pupils in one’s eyes. It was darker than a hole that went for miles and darker than a Scrawler’s ink. Obsidian was truly the only name for it.


“Who called it that, Rhye?” I asked, stroking her hair softly.


“He did.” she said, still leaning hard against my chest. She closed her eyes tightly. “He gave it to me and then sent me back. He gave it to me with a cold chain to wear around my neck, but I threw the chain into the middle of the ocean. But I waited until I reached shore until I threw the ball away, for fear of what would happen if I lost it.” She breathed in a long, deep breath. “And good thing. When Obsidian left me all I heard were the screams, so loud and so close. So I dove into the water and thrashed in the waves until I found it again. And I keep it close now, or else I hear them again. And when I touch it, I hear them. So I just keep it close, and try not to touch it.”


“I’m sorry, Rhye.” I wished I could say more, but it was all I could manage. The image of Rhye fighting through waves to find that horrible thing to save her sanity lit a fire somewhere in the depths of my being. It made me angry, and my voice caught in my throat.


“Me too.” she said, resigned. She stepped away from me and I let go of her reluctantly. Then she smiled a slight, sweet smile. “I’m not sorry I killed them. I think that’s why he made me come back. I don’t know.” She shook her head. “But I’m sorry they had to die. I’m so, so sorry. You know that, Desh?” She looked at me.


I nodded.


“Thank you.” she said, seeming relieved, “Someone has to know.”


She sat herself back onto the stool and took a long sip of her wine.


“You asked who called it Obsidian.” she said, her eyes flickering to the ball still on the floor, then back to her glass, “It was The One Who Waits. The One Who Watches. The One Who Listens. The One Who Teaches. It was The One Who Invented Music. The One Who Sings. It was The One Who Placed the Black Velvet Sky Over the Rushing Tempest of Light. The One Who Poked Holes in the Velvet. The One Who Formed Words from Sleeping Stones. The One Who Wonders. The One Who Cries. It was the Good Man.”


She stopped there, rubbing her eyes wearily. She tipped her wine glass to her lips, then realized there was no wine left in it. I rushed to pour her some more, but she waved me away.


“The Good Man?” I asked. It was a name I hadn’t heard before.


“It’s what the little people call Aì. I have spent time with them. Aeä they call the Good Woman.”


I nodded solemnly. Rhye had met Aì, and he had given her something so horrible and terrible and sent her back. How could he be a good man?


My face must have spoken volumes, because Rhye sighed.


He didn’t give it to me.” she said, “And I never met him. It was he who had chosen the name for it, because he names all things. He is The One Who Names. The one who gave it to me has no name, because the Good Man never named him and so he remains Nameless. The Nameless One. He gave me Obsidian and he sent me back without telling me why.”


I shuddered. Nameless was a story from childhood I did not recall fondly. It was not one parents told, not even to scare their children into sleep. It was not was that thugs whispered in the night to fuddle your wits and get a good laugh before beating you bloody senseless. It was a story no one told and everyone knew. It was a story I will not tell but you will soon discover. Everyone always discovers.


I fought the urge to hug her. She had gone through the door of death and back, just like in the stories. And if the stories were reliable, her life would never be the same again. I fought the urge, then sank into a stool next to her. Heaven, but I didn’t know what to do. I was blind as a newborn babe and scared as a kitten, but Rhye had come to me and that meant she needed me. She needed me to not be blind and to not be scared. And so I wasn’t. For her I wasn’t. I told myself this, and it was so.


A hundred thousand questions flooded my mind, but I could think of only one polite enough to ask.


"Are you alright?"


She looked at me, silently for a moment, and then laughed, loud and crisp and clear. The sound reminded me of days long gone, of laying in meadows of golden summer sun and bathing in stony creeks. Of when she and I had been children, free and foolish. I remembered days of endless chatter and laughter and stories. Great stories and little stories. In hearing her laugh, I remembered friends and songs and starry nights when I tried hopelessly to count the stars. I remembered a big world and boundless possibilities. I remembered goodness and kindness and tenderness, and the remembering made me glad.


 . . . in progress . . .

© 2013 The Scholar

Author's Note

The Scholar
reviews/comments/critiques appreciated

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'Absolute perfection' are the only words suitable. Rhye is quite a mesmerizing character. The narration of her is so poetic and out of this world and magical. She seems like a sprite, so untouchable and perfect through narration but when we meet her we find her to cry and regret- but not quite regret too- and be not-perfect. Not the way narrated. It's so painfully beautiful. She's like a butterfly with her wings not quite cut off so every flap of her wings is agony. She's so beautiful. And your narrator is an absolute rose. A character with emotion and perception and wants and needs. Beautiful.

Thank you very much for writing, please do continue.

Posted 9 Years Ago

Great and well written start!~

Posted 10 Years Ago

Poignant as always. Flawless.

Posted 10 Years Ago

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3 Reviews
Shelved in 2 Libraries
Added on February 18, 2013
Last Updated on February 18, 2013
Tags: sound, pain


The Scholar
The Scholar

Esco., CA

“We don't read and write poetry because it's cute. We read and write poetry because we are MEMBERS OF THE HUMAN RACE. And the human race is filled with PASSION. And medicine, law, business, engi.. more..