The Wolves of Rome

Chapter 3o

April 15th, 2023
Echo stepped lightly down the stairs to the basement of Nora’s home, almost soundless as her bare feet passed over the cold floor. She rather liked basements, she thought idly. They were closed in and under the earth, like the caves in the mountain on which she had once lived, where the roots of plants would pass through the walls and ceilings. A fondness for basements was one of those things no one would ever bother to ask her about. Who cared about basements, after all? It was simply another facet of her character, of her, that would continue on unknown so long as this curse persisted.

She shook the thoughts from her head as she entered the makeshift hospital bed that Nora had salvaged for Lenore. In truth, it was little more than an actual bed with an IV drip off to the side and a drawer full of miscellaneous pills on the bedside table. Hardly the peak of medical care.

Lenore was where she had been for nearly two weeks, lying on her back in the bed, to all the world asleep. Nora, meanwhile, sat her vigil, where she had been spending more and more time, at her bedside. A stool pulled beside the bed over as she sat, hunched over, elbows on her knees and head resting on her folded hands.

Echo, still walking in silence, slipped in beside her, kneeling low to meet her at eye-level.

“Ah, hey there, Echo.” Nora said.

“Hey there, Echo.” Echo said, concern on her face. Nora had grown visibly wearier over the past few days. Her pale skin only enhanced the dark shadows under her eyes and its increasingly pallid tone. Her hair was far more a mess than usual, odd strands hanging over her face that she would make a loose effort to brush aside every few minutes.

Echo frowned at the state of her. This level of stress wasn’t healthy; she looked perpetually ill. Still, there was nothing she could say. If Nora remained silent, so did Echo.

Echo had quietly seethed against her curse countless times in the past, and today was no different, as she longed to give Nora the comforting words she needed. Unable to do even that, Echo settled for sliding a hand over her shoulder.

“I took her off the coma-inducing drugs.” Nora said, leaning slightly towards Echo. “If I’m right, they also should have started removing some of her conditioning.”

“Removing some of her conditioning?” Echo did her best to ask with tone.

Nora nodded. “Her conditioning is reinforced by constant sensory cues. Spending a period this long might do something to ‘reset’ her brain, so to speak, and hopefully dull the connections her mind made. Now it’s just a matter of…if she wakes up.”

“If she wakes up?” Echo questioned. Was it that unsure of a thing?

“She’s in worse shape than I had hoped.” Nora said. “Her metabolism works so fast she needs a lot of energy to keep going. She’s incredibly strong but she’s still human and it takes a lot of toll on her to move that fast and work that hard. Not to mention…I have my hopes, but I have no way of really knowing what state her mind is in beneath that conditioning.”

“Beneath that conditioning…” Echo repeated glumly.

“I’m sorry.” Nora gave her a weary smile. “I’m usually the bold and active one and here I am sitting like a recluse in the basement.”

“Recluse in the basement!” Echo, deciding there wasn’t enough she could do to simply comfort, decided to try cheering her up instead. She pulled Nora into a hug, proclaiming her words in the cheeriest singing voice she could summon.

“Ack!” Nora was caught off guard as her head was pushed against the warm flesh of Echo’s breast, the nymph gently nuzzling her as she held her tight. “A-awfully affectionate today…” She said, and Echo silently beamed at getting a brief nervous stutter out of Nora.

“Awfully affectionate today.” Echo grinned impishly as she embraced Nora.

“Well…I know you don’t mind.” Nora supplied as her face once more fell into a tired but sincere smile, to which Echo cheerfully chirped “I know you don’t mind.”

“I suppose I don’t.” Nora said. “Though I’ll be sure to catch you a little less off-guard next time.”

“I’ll be sure to catch you a little less off-guard next time.” Echo scoffed at the supplied words. Nora usually got it close enough to right for her not to mind, but not catching Nora with a hug when she was off her guard? Where was the fun in that?

Nora stayed there for a few moments in Echo’s arm, seemingly put at ease by the nymph’s close presence, and Echo felt a feeling of elation wash over her. In the past, people had enjoyed Echo’s presence merely as far as it extended to meeting their own ends. Zeus had employed Echo merely as a distraction for his vengeful and vindictive Queen, and had thrown Echo to the wolves when his plot was discovered.

Narcissus, meanwhile, had been the epitome of the problem inherent in her curse. He had only seen in Echo that which he already loved in herself. She had meant no more to him as a person than a mirror did. In fact in many ways he had abandoned her for a mirror, obsessing over his reflection in the water.

Now however, sitting in silence with Nora taking comfort in Echo’s embrace, she felt that Nora truly was comforted by her presence, having Echo’s arms wrapped around her. Nora was quietly appreciating Echo, rather than appreciating the view of herself through Echo’s eyes.

Idly she wondered if this was what it was like for all those who still had their voice, to be loved for the qualities people saw in you.

“Hey…” Nora said quietly, and Echo slowly released her somewhat, one arm on Nora’s back and the other on her thigh.

“Hey.” Echo repeated simply.

“I…” For once Nora did seem at something of a loss for words, though she quickly rallied. “I really do appreciate everything you do for me.”

“I really do appreciate everything you do for me.” Echo mimicked with a smile.

“Heh, and I wasn’t fishing for a compliment there.” Nora said, though no matter how much she smiled the weariness refused to leave her eyes.

“And I really do want to do all I can for you.” She continued.

“I really do want to do all I can for you.” Echo repeated, nodding vehemently.

“You practically do too much already” Nora said. “Honestly beyond your work in the house…you helped save Lenore, you’ve worked with me communing with gods, and you’ve been there when I needed you and…I wanted you to know how much that meant to me. I haven’t really had people I could rely on like you before…well, not for a very long time.”

“Not for a very long time…” Echo said quietly. She moved the hand on Nora’s lap to her hand, gently closing it around her pale fingers.

She wanted to say so much more. Everything Echo did for Nora (and frankly she wanted to do more) was still so little compared to what Nora had been doing for Echo. In a thousand years no one had decided to try and help Echo lift her curse. A few months ago she had just been a bodiless voice in a cave. Now she felt so much more…real again. Part of that was the Days of Revelation, no doubt, but Echo knew Nora had no small part to play in it.

Echo wanted to tell her how much she enjoyed spending that time with Nora, how much she loved the few words they shared in full meaning, and how the silence had meant almost as much as the words. The words didn’t come, as they never did, but now she could dream, she could truly hope, that soon she would be able to speak those words to her.

Nora looked at her as if she was about to speak, but then went silent for a few moments longer.

“There’s more I want to say…” She said, and left it hanging long enough for Echo to repeat it back to her.

“There’s more I want to say.”

“But it’s…we both know how we do it now isn’t enough for either of us.”

“Isn’t enough for either of us.” Echo nodded. It truly wasn’t.

“Which is why I’ll wait.” Nora said. “I’ll wait until we get that curse off of you. Together we’ll face Hera and make her lift the curse on you. You shouldn’t have to live the way you do, no one should…” She added quietly.

“No one should.” Echo repeated, her eyes glancing to Nora.

“I suppose it’s pretty similar…” Nora said, following her eyes. “Maybe that has something to do with it.”

She took a deep breath as Echo quietly repeated her words.

“My sisters, Lenore and Ellen” Nora began. “Both of them were fully under the sway of the monsters that…made us. Brainwashed and conditioned past what you saw in Lenore…I’d known them all my life, knew them since we were just children and it was…it was as if something in them had been cut off or locked away. They weren’t the people I knew anymore, not in their voices and not in their hearts. I feared I had lost them forever and…” She took another deep breath, the words alone clearly taxing on her mind. Echo’s grasp tightened on her hand.

“I couldn’t save Ellen…I tried but…I failed. I told myself then that I couldn’t lose Lenore as well, I won’t lose Lenore.” She reached out, taking Lenore’s hand in her free one as Echo repeated her under her breath.

Nora turned back to Echo. “And I…I know there’s another you trapped in there somewhere. One I’ve never really met, and I really want to meet her. I want to hear what you have to say…in my own words.” She added with a smile.

“In my own words.” Again Echo felt a tear running down her cheek as she embraced Nora again.

“Ah…” Nora didn’t try to back away or let out shocked surprise this time, instead simply embracing her in turn.

“I promise we’ll lift that curse.” She said. “And when we do we’ll go out to dinner, somewhere with a nice table where we can sit and talk for hours…then we’ll come home to talk until morning comes again.”

“Talk until morning comes again.” Echo sniffed inelegantly as she squeezed Nora. It was what she wanted as well, what she had always want to, someone to talk to through the night who hung on her every word, who could follow along in Echo’s laugh and share in her sorrows. There was nothing in the world she wanted more.

Echo felt she understood Nora a little better now. When Nora had first offered to help lift her curse, Echo had been astonished and more than a little wary at such a great promise seemingly so lightly made. Perhaps she should have known better, Nora never did anything lightly. Seeing Echo, seeing a person whose tongue and heart were trapped by a cruel force of circumstance beyond her control, maybe she’d thought of her sisters. One still in the throes of a monster’s brainwashing, and another she failed to save.

Echo couldn’t help but smile a little at the irony. She had always feared and hated that people saw some facet of themselves when they looked at her. She had never expected that someone would look at her and see someone else entirely, let alone a clone of themselves. Still, she took some heart in it. Nora had taken pit on Echo, but that was not the reason she was still here. She knew, somehow, that Nora truly did care for her. What Echo wanted was to tell her she felt the same way, but in her own words.

 

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The Cities Eternal©2016, Evan Murdoch, Ben Sousa

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  1. Pingback: The Wolves of Rome | The Cities Eternal

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