The spring rains were dramatic, passionate, the lifeblood of Mother Nature as she fully awoke from her winter slumber and prepared for summer. Yet at the moment, the fury with which the enlarged drops fell was not appreciated, for they numbed Noah’s fingers as he gripped his sword and made him shiver as his clothes became worthless from the damp. It was also difficult to see, splashing against his face and blurring his vision, but he kept his gaze focused on his enemies.
He was out in the forest, Tin having retreated as per his orders. Before him, a trio of bandits, all with weapons raised. Noah was armed with his short sword, unable to wield his main blade, due to an arrow stuck in his shoulder. When he was first struck from behind, he had hoped it was simply a hunter’s honest mistake, but the bloodthirsty looks on the men’s faces told him that he was their real target. They probably robbed and killed adventurers for a living, and he couldn’t imagine their female victims dying quickly.
Should he just turn invisible and dispatch them before they could retaliate? No, there was something he wanted to try, and a human opponent would be the perfect test subject. He raised his free hand towards his face, breaking the stalemate with one of the bandits firing his loaded arrow. Noah deflected it with his shield, the most he could do with his wounded shoulder. He swept his hand across his eyes as if trying to clear his vision, activating both of his spells. However, rather than splitting from his illusionary clone, he wore it, syncing his movements with the bandits not even noticing a difference.
One of the archer’s cohorts, this one armed with a large battle axe, charged towards him. Noah had his clone take a defensive stance, while he pulled away, stepping ahead and stabbing the man through the heart before he could make his swing. The archer shot another arrow as Noah stepped back into his illusion, but he again blocked with his shield. Noah, with his movements concealed, drew several small knives from his belt and hurled them at the archer. His mana clung to the blades, rendering them invisible as the buried themselves in the archer, taking him out of the game.
All that was left was a swordsman, and he knew that something was going on. Two of his cohorts were dead, but he didn’t understand how. He pushed his confusion aside and charged towards Noah. Noah blocked and parried his attacks with his sword, wanting to take his time and savor the fight. He was so used to fighting monsters, he wanted to make sure his skills in killing other humans hadn’t gone dull, to refamiliarize himself with their unique movements and techniques.
He was allowing the bandit to push him back, though there was little he could do to stop it. His opponent was armed with a two-handed sword, so he could deliver more force than Noah could muster with his short blade. He strung the bandit along, using repetitive, easy movements, laying a fake trail as to what his next move would be. He made a wide swing from the side, and the bandit automatically blocked, however, the blade never came, it was only Noah’s illusionary arm. His real arm swung from the opposite side, slashing the bandit across the stomach.
He staggered back, cursing in pain and trying to understand what happened. Noah closed in and the bandit tried to open some space with a powerful cleave. Noah blocked with his sword, at least, that’s what the bandit saw. In truth, he had blocked with his shield, allowing him to slash the bandit across the wrist without him even seeing the attack coming. Blood poured freely, the man’s hand now useless. He released a cry of exertion and tried a one-handed swing. The sword sliced through Noah’s neck, just as the man had aimed for, but he knew something was wrong when no severed head fell, and what’s more, he hadn’t felt anything when he made the slash. It was like he had hit nothing but air. He raised his sword to block a swing from Noah, but in reality, it was a stab, with Noah’s sword piercing his chest. Noah confirmed all three deaths and then called out to Tin.
“Do me a favor and pull this arrow out.”
“I’m afraid it’ll hurt.”
“I can handle it.”
She was nervous, but she grabbed and arrow and ripped it out without issue, making Noah grimace in pain. She pulled out a red potion from her bag and poured it on the wound. In seconds, it scabbed over, with the tissue within stitching itself back together. These health potions were a real life-saver, miracles in a bottle.
Noah once more checked the bodies, but their faces didn’t match any wanted posters, meaning there was no bounty that he could collect with their heads. Tin went to work, stripping the bodies of everything useful. They were so used to this routine that he rarely needed to give her orders.
“I think we should call it a day. I don’t think this rain is going to stop anytime.”
“I agree,” Tin said.
They set off back towards the town, fantasizing of removing their soaked clothes and warming themselves beside a fire. They had plenty to carry, and the rain made everything heavier, with the added cold sapping their strength. By the time they reached the inn, even Noah was on his last legs, and felt weak. The sun hadn’t fully set yet, but the clouds were so thick that it was almost pitch black out.
It was a relief to finally get inside and out of the rain, but Noah knew something was off. He felt woozy, his thoughts getting hazy.
“Don’t tell me you two were out in that rain all day!” the innkeeper said when she saw them.
“We’re going to stay in our room tonight. Can you have someone bring our meals up to us, along with extra firewood?”
“Sure thing, dearie.”
They proceeded up the stairs, but Noah had to stop halfway up. He was out of breath, and it felt like the room was spinning.
“Master, is something wrong?”
“I think I’m coming down with something. Help me up the stairs.”
She lent him her shoulder and they made their way up to their room. Before they even closed the door, Noah dumped his pack and weapons and began pulling off his clothes. Tin locked the door and started a fire in the hearth. Once free of his wet clothes, Noah collapsed on the bed. The mattress was lumpy straw, the sheets were rough like sandpaper, and the blanket smelled like wet dog no matter how many times it was cleaned, but Noah was grateful for them.
As the fire started to burn and fill the room with light and warmth, there was a knock on the door. Two chambermaids stood outside, the innkeeper’s daughters, though they were younger than Tin. One of them held two trays of food, and the other held an exceptionally large bundle of firewood. Noah hid himself beneath the blanket and Tin answered. As Noah had taught her, she kept the door open just enough to take the food and firewood, and didn’t allow them inside.
Tin brought him his meal and felt his forehead. “Master, you’re burning up.”
“I’ll be fine. Take off your clothes and warm yourself by the fire before you end up like me.”
He watched her undress and the two of them sat on the bed, wrapped in blankets as they ate their dinner. It was hot stew, the perfect comfort food. Unfortunately, Noah was starting to find it difficult to swallow. By the time he finished, his breathing was becoming labored and his heart was beating irregularly. Noah was hoping it was just a cold, but this was starting to feel much more intense and was coming on too quickly. Perhaps a disease native to this world?
Tin could see his condition worsening. “Master, you should get some sleep.”
She took his tray and gently pushed him onto his back. Truth be told, as soon as his head hit the pillow, he lost the strength to move. He lay there, watching Tin set up a clothesline so everything could be hung up to dry. Once she was done, she added some more wood to the fire and slid under the blankets. Her naked body met his and she curled up against him.
Noah closed his eyes, but while sleep was quick to come, it was unpleasant. Nightmares assailed him, a burning heat ravaging him both physically and mentally. He remembered tossing and turning throughout the night, when the pain in his body outweighed his fatigue. All of his muscles ached and spasmed almost nonstop, his stomach felt like it was full of oil, and he couldn’t escape his fever.
He finally awoke the next morning to the sight of rain pelting the window. His mouth was as dry as ashes and he felt like he was going to die of thirst, just like he had a few times in the past. The rain, it had gotten him into this mess, but now he so desperately wanted it. He wanted to go out and vent the heat that clung to him like a monkey on his back.
“Tin,” he murmured. His voice was faint, as it felt like his tongue and throat would crack like clay. “Tin,” he said again, putting all of his strength into it.
He saw her in his peripheral vision, but he didn’t have the strength to turn to her.
“Water.” It was all he could say.
She brought him a cup of water, and in his impatience, he tried to pull it from her hands, if only to get it to his mouth a nanosecond sooner. His clumsy reach was ignored and she helped him turn on his back so that he could drink. It was some of the best water he had ever tasted, and he felt some life return to him, if only a little.
She brought over the pitcher to refill the cup, but he simply snatched it and drank the whole thing.
“How do you feel?”
“Everything hurts, I feel like I’m on fire. I think I’m gonna… gonna…” He covered his mouth and frantically pointed to the chamber pot in the corner of the room. He had detested the presence of such an unsanitary thing since he first arrived at this inn, but finally, he was grateful to have it. Tin brought the pot over and he vomited everything he drank, plus last night’s dinner. He fell back on the bed, with his stomach feeling even worse. He had gotten a nasty flu a few years ago, but even that wasn’t as bad as this. This was like malaria combined with detox. “Ugh… fuck. In every lifetime, getting sick sucks ass.”
“I’ll go get the innkeeper. She may know what’s wrong.”
“No. Me being sick leaves us vulnerable, and the more people know about it, the greater the danger. If I can’t fight, we’re easy prey. If I’m still in this condition by tomorrow, then you can get help.”
“What can I do?”
There were plants that could help with cold and flu symptoms, but his mind was too hazy to remember them. “Pine needle tea, like I made by the river, and see if someone in the kitchen will make me some hot oatmeal.”
Tin was hesitant, not wanting to leave his side, but she obeyed. With her gone, Noah tried to fall back to sleep, but could only get a pale imitation that was nowhere near as restful. For Noah, it felt like his brain was being fed on by ants. He spent the rest of the day in bed, passing in and out of consciousness. Tin remained with him whenever possible. She used damp rags to keep his fever in check, and hung a kettle over the fire, making tea for him whenever he asked, though his thirst was unquenchable.
Noon came around, and Noah sat up to eat his lunch, though it was a bowl of soup. Normally, people ate whatever the house special was at the time, but by paying extra, guests of the inn could order particular foods, at least, within reason. The broth went down easy, but the meat and vegetables felt like cacti rolling down his throat. As he ate, Tin helped wipe the sweat from his body. His spot on the bed would need some time to dry out. When he had finished eating, he simply sat with his head in his hands, taking deep breaths and trying to ignore the throbbing pain.
Tin leaned against his back. “Please, what can I do to help?”
“You’re doing plenty for me already.”
“There must be more that I can do.”
“Well it hurts me to say this, but I’ll need your help using that chamber pot.”
“Aye, this is springburn all right.” Noah opened his eyes, finding the innkeeper examining him, with Tin standing in back. The woman was holding a handkerchief over her nose and mouth, and not touching him directly, instead with one of the rags Tin used.
“That’s really bad, isn’t it?” Tin asked.
“It’s not good. I know four others in town who have it and they are suffering as well. It always manages to kill a few people each year. My oldest once had it and he nearly died.”
Noah saw it, Tin’s shoulders trembling. “What can I do to help him?”
“Exactly what you’ve been doing. I know of some teas that will help him feel a bit better. He’ll either make it or he won’t, though I think his chances are good.”
“How much time would I have if it were to be fatal? How long does this last?” Noah asked.
“Three days. After that, you’re in the clear.” She got to her feet and returned to the door. “I’m confining you both to this room until this blows over. The last thing I need is for everyone in the inn to get sick.” She left the room and locked the door behind her.
“It would be better for her to just throw us out,” said Noah, “rather than simply isolate us and risk everyone. She must like us a bit, or at least want to protect her reputation. I told you to wait a day before calling her.”
“But I did. Don’t you remember? You told me that yesterday.”
“Ah, withdrawn, my apologies. The pouch under the floorboards, can you get it for me, please?”
Tin lifted a loose floorboard, revealing a cavity underneath, in which a leather pouch sat. She presented it to Noah and he opened it up to reveal his phone and wallet. While they were mostly useless in this new world, he held onto them in the hopes that he could at least use them for parts and kept the phone off to save its energy. If he ever needed to start an emergency fire, that lithium battery could come in handy. Luckily, he had his earbuds with him, so he could at least enjoy one piece of his old life. Tin stared at the device, possessed by curiosity. She had only seen it once or twice, the metallic case, the light it produced. Was it some kind of magic tool? She wanted to ask what it was, but when Noah put in the ear buds, she assumed it was something that would help him get better.
He set his playlist to random and lied back down, hoping that the music would distract him. He drifted once more into the rift between being asleep and awake, cursed with his fever even in his dreams. During his waking moments, he was either drinking water or throwing up. The only reason why nature wasn’t calling was because he was sweating so profusely. The music didn’t distract him as he had hoped, so much as permeate his unconscious mind. One song in particular came up, “House of the Rising Sun”, and as that opening guitar strung out, a memory was pulled from the depths of his mind, another time he had heard that song.
It was before dawn, he had been driving out in the Nevada desert, out of the sight of Vegas. Noah was in his thirties at the time, lamenting all the dust the Cadillac was kicking up, so much of it sticking to the exterior. He’d have to clean it up later, as his employers wouldn’t be happy if he returned the company car in a disgraceful condition. The eastern clouds were pinkening as he pulled to a stop at the edge of a ravine.
He got out of the car and circled back to the trunk, from which he removed a man with bound wrists and a bag over his head. He stumbled on his feet, and Noah pulled him to the edge of the ravine and removed the bag over his face. The man’s face was streaked with dried blood, some of which also stained his dress shirt. He was perhaps in his fifties, a senior in the company.
“You fucking retard,” he spat. Noah ignored him and turned up the radio so he could hear the rest of the song. The exterior of the car was an antique 70’s model, worth its weight in gold, but the interior had been upgraded into the modern age. When he returned to the man, it was with a gun in his hand. “Killing me will just fuck up your life and whoever threw me under the bus. You really think Alejandro can take power? Once this gets out, the streets will become bloodbaths and your head will end up stuck on a pike.”
“In all likelihood,” said Noah, “but it’ll be fun to watch.”
“You’re willing to start a war just because it’ll be fun?”
“Whatever happens is the fault of whoever hired me. That doesn’t mean I don’t like it, though. It’s the little things that matter. You need to enjoy the special little gifts like this.” He flicked his gun towards the car, where the song was still playing. “I once heard someone say that this is the best song for driving with someone in the trunk of your car. It is certainly a delicious coincidence.”
“The irony of your ilk: people like you do great in our business because you have no morals, no hesitation, but it gets you killed so quickly. It’s the people who actually believe in something that make it, that have a line they never cross, no matter how bloody their hands get.”
“That’s what’s nice about my way of life, I feel no need to stick around. But even I believe in a bit of something.”
The man laughed and spat on the ground. “What could you believe in?”
“Mercy. I’m letting you enjoy the sunrise, after all.”
The sun broke free of the horizon, and as its light was soaked up by the land, a gunshot rang out across the desert.
Once Noah had fallen asleep, Tin sat beside him and freshened the damp rags that were opposing his fever. It was all she knew how to do when someone was ill, and it came from memories of when she the victim, though kindness was rare to come to her in those vulnerable times. It pained her to be so useless, to not know how to help. Most of everything she had done was just obeying his instructions.
As she wiped away his sweat, her eyes fell to his exposed manhood, and lust fluttered through her, a feeling that Noah had introduced her to. Their routine had been disturbed by this sickness, as yesterday was the day she was supposed to help him train his mana. She cherished those days, when she could finally help him in the way she knew best, when she got to experience euphoria.
Women would always flock to her master, flirting with him, trying to invite themselves into one of his “workouts”. It terrified her, that she might be discarded for someone else, having lost her value. When she and Noah met those female adventurers, she saw everything she could not do in Mira, and everything she could do in Beth, rendering her obsolete.
She lowered her head and began performing felatio, slurping up the salt from his sweat. She did it often when he slept, compelled by her lust but also hoping that it was helping him feel good, each climax forming a shield against the pain of his fever. It was something she could do for him. If Noah was aware of it, he wasn’t saying anything.
As her head bobbed up and down over his lap, Noah was sinking farther and farther into his mind, while being pursued by the music from his phone. Once more, a lone guitar was playing, and what little awareness his mind still had tried to remember what it was from. Ah, the lyrics, yeah, this was Pink Floyd, “Wish You Were Here”. It was his wife’s favorite, one of his past wives, that is. He played it at their wedding and her funeral. He could remember the sunny sky overhead when they cut the cake, and the somber clouds that matched the color of her casket as it was lowered into the ground. He remembered the food served at both occasions. But what was her name? They danced to this song, but he couldn’t remember her face. She loved the oldies, always playing them while she worked in the garden. Didn’t they have a son together? No, that was someone else.
Noah’s mind continued to slip through time, each song conjuring up a memory. He remembered studying at MIT while listening to Two Steps From Hell. He remembered the stereo blaring Metallica when his convoy was blown up in Syria. He remembered Mozart playing in the hospital as he died from pancreatic cancer. He wasn’t aware of the mutterings escaping his lips, recalling conversations from across time and space.
When next he woke up, it was night out, and the earbuds felt like hot coals in his ears. He looked at his phone, now with a quarter battery left. How many more times could he listen to music before his phone just became a useless block? He put his head back on his pillow, instead listening to Tin’s breathing as she slept soundly beside him.
A knocking on the door shocked Noah from his slumber, and he would have sat up, if not for the throbbing pain in all of his muscles. He groaned and fell back on the pillow.
“Who is it?” he asked.
“It’s Holly, I’ve got your food!” Ah, one of the chambermaids.
“Please, just leave it there.”
Noah slowly sat up and released another groan. Wait a second, he felt better. He felt like he just gotten the shit beaten out of him for three hours straight, but he could finally move around. His fever had lessened and the soreness was due to the strain it had put on his body.
“Tin, let’s eat breakfast.” She didn’t respond. “Tin?”
He turned to her, seeing a flushed face, moist with sweat. The gentle breathing he had listened to last night was now an anguished pant. “Shit. Tin can you hear me?”
He tapped her cheek a few times and her eyes opened. “Master?”
“There you are. I need you to tell me everything you feel, everything that hurts.”
“Ah, I’m sorry. I haven’t started the tea yet.” She tried to sit up, but he stopped her. She was so weak that he almost didn’t need to.
“Don’t worry about it, I’m fine, but you caught the springburn sickness. I’m going to get you through this.”
“It’s so hot in here. Don’t worry, I’ll wash away your sweat. I just need to…” She trailed off and tried to roll out of bed, and Noah had to grab her before she could fall to the floor.
“Tin, can you hear me? How many fingers am I holding up?”
He showed her his hand, but she just looked at it with glazed over eyes. “Are we going to go hunt monsters today?”
‘Shit, it’s hitting her even harder than it hit me. She’s already delirious.’ “No, we’re staying here. Everything is fine, I’m all better now. Just leave everything to me.”
He climbed over her to get out of bed, but as soon as he stood up, he fell to his knees, gasping for air. He was on the mend, but he was still in a shitty situation. He crawled over to his backpack and pulled out a health and mana potion. He had tried drinking them before, to see if they could cure him, but was met with failure. He downed them both, and the pain racking his body subsided. His strength and stamina were still close to zero, but at least the soreness was gone.
The first thing he needed to do was get her fever down before she suffered serious damage. Next to the bed was the wash basin, filled with rags. Just as Tin had done when he was sick, he draped them across her body.
“Master, your fever,” she mumbled. She began trying to put the rags on him instead, and he had to repeatedly stop her and pin down her arms.
“Just hold still, that’s an order.”
Noah got dressed and limped over to the door. Outside were two food trays and a pitcher of fresh water. He brought them in, and having already experienced the pain of this disease, he brought the pitcher over to Tin, rather than just a cupful. He lifted her head and poured the water between her pale lips. She released sighs of relief between each gulp, and every time he thought she was done, she’d lean her head forward, as if trying to grab it like a dog not wanting to surrender its toy.
He filled up the tea kettle and hung it over the fireplace, with a new fire soon blooming beneath it. When he was sick, he hated the fire, the heat it gave off. It was the only time he was grateful for the draftiness of the room, all the little holes for fresh air to slip in, but it was needed. As he waited for the kettle to boil, he retrieved Tin’s breakfast and once more lifted her head. It was warm porridge, probably made with him in mind, but now perfect for Tin.
“Time for breakfast, Tin. Can you open your mouth for me?” He brought a spoonful to her mouth, but as soon as she smelled it, she instinctively turned away, whimpering. “I know your throat and stomach hurt right now, but you need to eat. You need all the nutrients you can get.”
She gave in and he fed her bit by bit, washing it down with some tea. He then scarfed down his own breakfast and looked outside. He was thinking clearly now and knew what would help Tin’s chances with this sickness.
“Tin, listen to me. I’m going to go out and get something that will help you feel better. I’ll be back soon, and until I get back, I want you to stay in bed. Can you repeat that back to me?”
“No… Master should leave errands to me.” Once more, she tried to sit up and he pushed her back down.
“Tin, you’re sick and you need to rest. I’ll take care of everything.”
“I can do it! Please let me do it!” She was crying, trying to escape his grasp. He held her against him, waiting for her pitiful flailing to stop. She soon went limp and he laid her back down.
“Listen, I order you to remain in this bed, do you understand? I ORDER you to remain in this bed!” She gazed at him with swimming eyes and nodded. “Good, now go back to sleep. I’ll be back before you wake up.”
He got up and took a deep breath, then cast his invisibility. The innkeeper would give him a hard time if she saw him outside of his room, might even kick him out. While his magic was ideal, his body was so weak that his mana might not last long. He left the room and locked it behind him. The hallway outside was empty, but he could hear plenty of people in the bar. Getting down the stairs was difficult, as his head was sent spinning with each step. No one noticed his presence, and he made it through the breakfast crowd and outside. It felt nothing short of euphoric to breathe fresh air and soak in the sun.
A bit of his strength had returned, so he released his spell and made his way across town to the apothecary. Inside, the old woman watched as he looked through a menu of her wares, ***********ing plants that helped with everything from fevers to upset stomach.
“I’m guessing that girl of yours is under the weather, and you’re not looking very healthy yourself.”
“It’s been a rough few days.”
Tin was on the floor when he returned to their room at the inn. The door actually struck her head when he opened it.
“Goddammit, I told you to stay in bed.” He put down the bag of herbs and rolled her onto her back. “Tin, wake up.”
“I’m sorry, Master, I’ll tend to the horses in just a moment.”
She was completely out of it. He scooped her up and carried her to the bed. He needed to make some medicine for her, but he couldn’t do it while she was crawling around like this. He took the blanket and tore off a long strip, then used it to tie her wrist to the bedframe. Restraining her was not an ideal solution, but at least the fabric wouldn’t leave a mark.
A strange look appeared on Tin’s face as she looked from her wrist to Noah, almost mournful, and she spread her legs for him. “I understand, Master. I won’t cry this time.” Apparently, he wasn’t the first person to tie her to a bed.
“Christ, even your hallucinations are depressing,” Noah muttered.
He laid the blanket over her and left her on the bed, then went to work. In the time since he first started making his own potions, he had bought a cheap compounding kit, including a mortar and pestle. He wasn’t a skilled herbalist like the apothecary, but most of the plants in this world were just like those he knew from his past lives, and had built up plenty of survival knowledge. People easily faded from his memory, but knowledge and technical skills were held onto. The pursuit of education was one of the few habits he chose to continue in every lifetime, as it was the closest he could get to finding meaning in the multiverse.
As he toiled, Tin continued to mutter in her sleep, occasionally crying. Nothing Noah heard could be called pleasant. He eventually stopped to check on her, see if he could shake her from her nightmares.
“Tin, wake up, I have tea.”
“No! No!” She started flailing, knocking the cup from Noah’s hand. He grabbed her and pinned her down. “No, please stop! It hurts! Mama, it hurts! Make him stop!”
“Tin, snap out of it!”
The last thing he needed was someone overhearing this and misunderstanding. He covered her mouth, waiting for the nightmare to end. Perhaps he should have picked up something to sedate her. Would he have to completely bind and gag her to keep her still and quiet? That would likely push her further into the delusion, and with this disease ransacking through her body, the stress might kill her. How could he calm her down?
He left her to retrieve a cup of water and splashed it on her face. That seemed to shake her awake. “Huh? Master?”
“Tin, say my name.”
“Good, you’re back. How do you feel?”
“It… hurts.” Fresh tears began to pour down her cheeks.
“I’m making medicine to help you feel better, but there is something else I want to try.” He retrieved his phone and put the earbuds in her ears. He had a playlist of easy listening songs, mostly instrumental and soundtracks. He ***********ed one, “Vide Cor Meum”, one of his favorites. It was gentle, set at a low volume, but the sound of the strings and voices, right in her ears, made Tin freak out.
“What is this? What is this?!” she exclaimed in shock. Her first instinct was to pull out the earbuds, as if swatting a mosquito when hearing its buzzing, but Noah stopped her.
“It’s music, it’s just music. Have you ever heard it before?”
She thought back, trying to remember while her mind was still hazy. Her fellow slaves, they used to have work songs when they toiled in the field, sort of a means of expressing empathy and solidarity, that they all shared the same pain. She knew a boy who used to play the flute, though not very well, and once, she heard the wife of one of her former masters playing a harp from within her mansion. They could be called music, but they all paled in comparison to what she was listening to now.
It was the most beautiful thing she had ever heard. In her soul, a thirst was quenched that she had never noticed before, and she felt as though a summer breeze was rolling through her body, sending shivers of bliss up her spine that made her forget her fever. It left Tin stunned, her eyes wide as dinner plates with her mouth hanging open. She looked at Noah, seeing a rare smile on his face.
He rubbed the top of her head and gently laid her back down. “Just rest now, ok?”
She nodded, staring up at the ceiling as the song continued. Noah resumed his work, eventually completing his medicine. It wasn’t a cure, but it would help reduce her symptoms. For the next three days, Noah looked after Tin, doing all the things for her that she had done for him. Thanks to the medicine, he was able to prevent her from hallucinating, though she still had nightmares from her lifetime of abuse. When that happened, Noah would put the earbuds in her ears and play a song for her, and she would immediately settle, as if hypnotized.
For Noah, hearing music had flooded his mind with memories, making him relive scenes of his past lives when he heard those songs, but for Tin, it was the opposite. Having lived a life without music, the notes and voices filled every facet of her mind, forcing everything else out, every bad thought and memory. When she was awake, she’d listen while watching Noah make her medicine or practice his magic, and when Noah looked at her, there would always be a smile on her face.
It had been a week since Noah fell ill, and he and Tin were going for a walk around the village. His strength had returned, but she was still weak, and hopefully some fresh air and exercise would help her feel better. They had been cooped up in that room for so long, and the beautiful weather was just what they needed. Normally, Tin would walk behind Noah, as a proper slave, but today, she was bold, hanging onto his arm. She claimed it to be to help her walk, that she was weak and needed to lean on him, but the smile on her face told of her dishonesty. Noah allowed it, as she had taken such good care of him when he was sick and it was his fault she fell ill after him. He certainly owed her.
What bothered him, though, were the looks they were getting. It had been a week since she had last “helped him” with his magic training, but the two of them were still a bit of a celebrity couple, so when they saw the way Tin held onto Noah, they all grinned like they had just heard a dirty joke. There was a saying going around, a joke, that even those who had never met Tin had heard her voice.
“Master, when I was sick, I’m sorry for misbehaving.”
“Huh? Where’s this coming from?”
“I just… hope you didn’t hear me say anything that would make you think any of me. I’m sure I talked in my sleep.”
Noah didn’t even hesitate. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. You were quiet as a church mouse the whole time.” She halted and let go of his arm, and he turned back to face her. “Why? Did I talk in my sleep?”
Tin opened her mouth and stopped. The things she had heard her master say when he was delirious, both great and terrible things, many of which she couldn’t understand, such as when he started speaking other languages or reciting lines from textbooks.
“No, other than cursing.”
“That sounds about right.”
They climbed up a hill overlooking the village, using a fallen log as a bench while they soaked in the scenery.
“This is some nice countryside,” Noah said.
“I suppose so. This is the only thing I know. I have nothing to compare it to.”
“I’ve seen what happens when nature is taken for granted, when everything is used up without any thought of the future. It is an ugly, nauseating thing. I try to make myself appreciate nature whenever I can.”
“Where was that?”
Noah picked the name of a town from one of the maps. “Nellow.” Truth be told, it was multiple lands, in every timeline.
“Is that we’re you’re from?”
Tin looked at him, the man who she called her master. She knew when he lied. She saw him do it to everyone he talked to, especially her. There weren’t any tells for her to read, he never stumbled or hesitated, and she had seen it work time and time again, but there was something about his eyes, a hollowness she thought she saw. She had tried asking about his past, but his gaze was always empty, even when he spoke with a smile. He never asked her about her own past, but it was nothing she wasn’t used to. She had grown up being treated as an object, both a tool and a toy. Intimate conversation was not something a slave should expect from their master, but she had never had a master that made her feel this way, that was so kind to her.
“M-master…” she stammered.
He turned to her, trying to remember the last time he heard her talk so nervously. “Yes?”
“Please, forgive my impudence, but I know you’re lying to me. I beg you, tell me where you came from, the things you’ve done, anything. I only wish to know more about you.”
He stared at her, unsure of what his next move should be, but as he saw the wetness of her eyes, his fear waned. “I talked in my sleep, didn’t I?”
“Please forgive me for lying to you, but some of the things I heard… I didn’t think you’d want someone like me to know.”
“It doesn’t go well when I tell the truth. Being honest has brought me nothing but trouble.”
“If you refuse to tell the truth, I can live with that. I can live with lies, as long as they come from you. All I want is something I can paint in my mind, a scene that I can see you in.”
Noah looked up at the sky. “I grew up near the coast, and my father had a boat. He wasn’t a fisherman or merchant, rather, it was a hobby. In the summer, when the weather was good, my family would go out on the water and go fishing, simply for the enjoyment of it. We’d catch mackerel and try to use them as bait to catch big stripers, but it never worked out. One time, we brought our dog with us, and I remember finding a grape-sized tick on his eyebrow and putting it on my hook, seeing if I would catch anything. You wouldn’t believe how bright it is out on the water.”
Tin moved closer to Noah, clutching his arm and leaning her head on his shoulder. At night, when they lay in bed together after having sex, she would often snuggle up to him just like this. “Please, tell me more.”
So Noah regaled her, telling her what it was like to grow up being poor, what it like to grow up being rich. He recalled fond memories of his siblings and holidays as an only child. He told her of how his parents loved and supported him, then how they screamed and beat him. He described amazing machines and the technology of the modern world, and the fight for survival in the aftermath of the apocalypse.
Tin listened without saying a thing, never questioning his contradictions, only enjoying the stories that Noah wove and what they told her about the man he was.