It’s no secret that bearers of the Echo often find themselves swept into memories that are not their own.
Roe never tries to do it—she figures she’d have to be a real weirdo to want to look into someone’s head on purpose—but, unfortunately for her, the Echo doesn’t care for things such as personal boundaries or consent. And, insult to injury, it always seems to happen at the most inopportune moments. The Echo doesn’t care whether she’s in the middle of a fight for her life or just walking down the street, it’ll knock her flat with a throbbing, eye-gouging headache and a first-person view into some poor soul’s most traumatic memory all the same… or, failing that, a glimpse into the details of their last grocery trip. It’s… unpredictable, to say the least.
And, more unfortunately, the Echo doesn’t rest. Perhaps the strangest part about carrying the Echo is how it affects her dreams.
If she’s alone, her sleep is normal: miraculously, considering all she’s been through, she doesn’t dream often, and when she does they’re vague and nondescript enough to slip entirely from her mind after a few moments awake, sand running through a sieve. She considers herself fortunate in that regard.
But if she’s out on some mission sharing a tent or an inn room with her fellow travelers, or even just alone with Thyme, she’s often not so lucky. It brushes and sticks to whoever’s nearby like the touch of honeyed fingers, and she can’t shake loose from it until their dreams shift, or something knocks her awake.
And, just her luck, the dreams the Echo latches onto are never just dreams. It’s always their memories.
Often she’ll wake from a night of visions of a life that was not her own, sheepishly avoiding the gaze of the poor sucker who inadvertently gave her a front row seat into their brain as she tries to forget what she’s seen; it feels like a hell of an invasion of privacy, but she hasn’t yet figured out how to turn it off. She tells most of her friends eventually, especially the ones she often has to share sleeping quarters with—she figures the more scholarly among them would love to have more first-hand accounts about how the Echo works, anyway, and it feels like the kind of thing she should fess up to. If someone was peeking into her head without permission, at random, she’d certainly want to know. And to their credit, if any of them find it as uncomfortable as she does, they do a great job hiding it.
Thyme, for her part, wasn’t disconcerted in the least when Roe sat her down on the sofa in her Pendants apartment to awkwardly explain why exactly she had spent the first few minutes of their morning determinedly avoiding eye contact. In fact, she thought it was fascinating, and spent the rest of the time it took them to finish their coffee (Roe: black and scalding; Thyme: just a bit of milk and honey) pressing her for details on what exactly it felt like, how clearly she could see, the perspective from which she stood during the vision, whether or not she was able to “feel” the person’s emotions or was just a witness from the side, etcetera, etcetera, cocooned by couch pillows and mostly swallowed whole by one of Roe’s gigantic shirts, hair still frizzy and mussed from sleep, scribbling in a notebook so quickly her hands practically blurred.
Roe should have figured.
But she can give as many warnings and fervent apologies as she likes: it doesn’t change how the Echo works. Inevitably, she always finds herself privy to the deepest secrets and darkest memories of most of the important people in her life, whether they want her to know them or not. And Thyme, despite how deeply Roe wishes it weren’t so, is no exception.
Which is why, on one hazy summer night in the bedroom of their Lavender Beds home, with Thyme asleep at her side, Roe finds herself standing on the windswept, sunbleached plains of Kholusia.
This is long before Roe arrived in Norvrandt, long before the endless light receded, and the sky throws sickening, undulating shadows onto all she sees, impossibly bright and unrelenting. She is small in this dream: young, frail, defenseless. An emerald-haired Viis woman she does not recognize stands at her shoulder, taller than her by several feet and clenching her hand in a death grip so tight it almost feels as though her finger bones will crack. Before them in the dirt lie a pair of green-haired Viis children: tiny, no older than five years old, unmistakably dead.
And looming above them all is a sin eater: a Lightwarden. The memory does not recall its precise shape, and perhaps that’s for the best; all she sees is morphing, swaying white, scales and tentacles and wings and teeth, hunched limbs and a long, long neck and too many eyes. It screams, high and sharp, the jagged edge of broken glass scraping across her eyes and teeth and piercing into her skull, and her limbs are heavy as lead with a fear that she does not feel, that does not belong to her. Her heart pounds feverishly in her throat, her mouth gone watery with nausea.
The woman next to her speaks suddenly, frantic, pleading: “you have to run, sweetheart, please run, you’ll be alright, just go—” but Roe has been in this dream before, and she knows all too well what’s about to happen before her body turns, looks up to meet the woman’s eyes. She doesn’t want to see this again but she can’t control her movements when the Echo’s got her, and she’s forced to watch as the woman who she knows in this dream to be her mother is speared through the heart by the Lightwarden’s talon. She chokes, her lovely, panicked voice dying in her throat.
Roe sees this part in horrific detail. Her face stretches and warps under the influence of the light, her eyes gone impossibly wide, mouth gaping as glowing white bile spills like water from her mouth and drips down her front, pooling in the dirt. She bucks and twists skyward, a ragged, voiceless scream of pain and primal fear tearing from her mouth. Her spine makes a horrid crack, her limbs thrown back like the bare boughs of a tree buffeted by fierce winds, her hand yanked from Roe’s grip. Roe’s eyes fly to the crumpled forms of the children at her feet just in time to see them begin to writhe and twitch like overturned beetles, as a sticky, slithering, white web congeals from the bile on the ground and swells to cocoon them, tightly shrouding them in white.
She is frozen, staring, paralyzed, until blessedly, she is not. She clambers hastily, clumsily backward through the grasses that reach as high as her waist, palms stinging and beginning to bleed as she trips, falls, catches herself on her hands, tears her skin open against the rough rocks below. Still she moves, scrambling as fast as her bony, too-long limbs she hasn’t grown into yet can carry her, though she cannot pull her eyes away from the monsters that used to be her family. They slowly rise from the earth, turn to face her with jaws stretched wide, too long necks stretching, stretching, teeth dripping with poison—
Thyme jolts upright with a huge, shuddering gasp that pierces through the silence of their bedroom, and Roe is shaken awake.
The room is somewhat humid with summer air and dark, only faintly illuminated by the pre-dawn light slicing through the crack in the curtains. Roe groggily swipes a hand across her face and it comes away damp: she always finds herself clammy and hot after sharing a nightmare.
Thyme heaves a somewhat shaky sigh into the silence and sniffles, scrubbing at her eyes with her shirtsleeve. Roe eases herself up to sit leaning against their headboard.
“Bad dream,” Thyme mumbles, her voice still thick with sleep and uncharacteristically small, not looking up from her knees, tented beneath the sheets.
“Yeah.” Roe reaches for Thyme’s hand and gives it a squeeze, a silent little I’m here, I know.
“You saw it too,” Thyme says, quiet, shamefaced.
“Echo got me,” Roe answers. For a few, crushingly long moments, Thyme doesn’t respond. Then, the worst part, always the worst part by far:
“I’m so sorry,” she whispers into the dark, sounding so guilty, like it was her mistake, somehow, like it’s something she could have prevented.
Wordlessly Roe tugs at her hand, pulls her in close. Thyme presses her face against Roe’s shoulder, wraps her arms around her waist, barely stifles a tiny, hiccupping sob. Roe presses a kiss into her hair, rubs small, soothing circles into her back.
She knows that feeling all too well, knows that guilt and shame and pain from accidentally hurting someone she loves—and she’s fine, this dream is familiar to her, it’s nothing she hasn’t seen before. But Thyme is still breathing shakily, eyes squeezed shut as she tries not to start crying again, and Roe wishes with every fiber of her being that this was the kind of problem she could simply fight off. It isn’t, of course. It’s never that simple.
So Roe simply holds her close, willing the hurt to lift away, waiting for it to retreat back into the shadows. “It’s okay, I promise,” she whispers, and she prays that Thyme can hear her mean it with all her heart.
Eventually Thyme relaxes into her, slips back under with a small, sleepy sigh. Roe follows, not long after. The rest of their night is dreamless.