The colour wasn’t ideal, but it was enough to get a better look at the back of the throat. The inside of the mouth appeared to be mostly still flesh, albeit unnaturally well-preserved. But beyond the dangly bits that Kihri would probably know the name of, there was… something. The glowstick made it hard to make out the colour, but it appeared to be ghostlight based on the slight translucence; a thick, tangled knot of gnarled, root-like twists, dipping in and out of the throat as it continued vertically and horizontally and eventually disappeared inside the flesh entirely.
Zarah glanced back at the rest of the corpse, which confirmed her feelings. The roots had a weight to them – it was the only way she could think to describe it. Just a little bit more real than the rest.
“Whoa,” Remy said from beside her. “Spooky.”
She hummed in agreement. “Hold this?”
While he held the glowstick in place, she used one hand to hold the jaw open as far is it could go, and reached two fingers down the throat.
The angle made visibility awkward, but after a few passes Zarah managed to see her fingers pass all the way through one of the roots near the front.
She adjusted her position and tried again, this time focusing on her hand the way she had when fighting Paose. It was hard to describe when not running on instinct, but it felt like she was drawing something down into her hand, solidifying it on a level beyond the physical.
On the next pass, she felt her fingers brush across the gnarled, uneven surface. As she did, there was a flash of- something.
She flinched back, knocking her elbow into Remy’s mouth. Which, all in all, probably still hurt her more than it did him.
“What?” he asked as she winced and clutched at her elbow. “Did it bite you?”
Zarah shook her head. “I… saw something. When I touched it.” Looking down at her hands as they played some kind of stringed instrument. Except- they hadn’t been her hands. She’d seen them as if they were, but they were large and pale and smooth, with unfamiliar dark hair across the back. “I think… a memory?”
“Yours? Or theirs?”
“…I think theirs.”
Silently, Zarah agreed. It was spooky. Logically, she knew the memory wasn’t her own, but it was right there, just like everything that was. It-
“That’s kind of like what Kihri does, right?” Remy asked, beating her to the conclusion.
“It… is. I think. But it hasn’t happened before.”
“Maybe because she’s not here?”
“…maybe.” She wasn’t sure she liked the implications of that. “You try touch it.”
“Okay. What is it?”
“I think… a shade? Maybe?” She gestured to her own as she did, or where it was. It was annoying, seeing it in the corner of her vision all the time, so she usually tuned it out. Like unfocusing her eyes without actually moving them.
“Huh. Alright, sure.” He handed her the glowstick, then reached his fingers down the throat, with significantly less caution than she had. “Ooh, squishy.”
“I remember touching a slug once, but that one’s definitely mine.”
“And no feeling anything else?”
“No, not feel-touch, feel… like smell?” She waved a hand vaguely around the side of her head. “Magic.”
“You have a magic sense?”
“…you do not?”
“Nope! Sounds cool, though.”
Zarah sat back on her haunches, looking at him. Questions had been brewing in her mind for a while, and they seemed more pertinent than ever. “…how do you do the things you do?”
Remy shrugged. “I’unno. They do some stuff when we’re kids.”
“The clan. Oh, and I guess we’re not really supposed to talk about it? But I don’t really remember much anyway.”
“Is it, do you know, the same as…” she held up a hand, focusing, and drew together a few wisps of gold before letting them dissipate again, “…this?”
“Eh… I think so? There’s the… thingie.”
“Yeah, the thingie. You know,” and then for a second it felt like all the air had been sucked out of her lungs, like she was standing at the bottom of the ocean with the water pressing down on her, “the thingie.”
“…sure,” Zarah said weakly, still trying to get her breath back. “Thingie. You can touch shades, as well? Does that connect?”
“Don’t know, okay. Not sure why I asked.” She glanced down. “…you can take your hand out now.”
“The word you’re looking for,” came a growl from behind them, “is should. With an additional or else.”
Remy extracted his hand from the corpse’s mouth. “Just a bit of light petting, promise.”
“I said one thing. One thing not to do-”
“Hst.” Zarah cut them off with a raised hand. “Not important. We found something.”
“Not important-” They pinched the bridge of their nose. “Fine. Fine. What is it.”
As Zarah explained, Lucel came bounding up behind her master, tongue lolling out the side as she moved. For a second, it looked like she might be setting up to charge Zarah again, but then Remy intercepted her, opening his arms for a hug and promptly getting bowled off his feet.
“Cuddles!” he exclaimed from the floor, arms wrapped around Lucel’s torso.
“Auclaire, let her go.”
The dog, who had until that point been straining to get free, instantly changed demeanour at her master’s words. She relaxed into Remy’s arms, stubby tail wagging, and started licking his face.
“She doesn’t want me to!” Remy protested.
“No,” Orae snapped, “she’s just being a contrarian little twat.”
Zarah stared flatly at them. “The dog. Contrarian.”
“Oh? Watch this. Lucel. Stay where you are.”
Lucel started kicking her leg happily as Remy scratched behind her ears, and didn’t move an inch.
“You’re just trying to make me look bad, aren’t you?” Orae said.
She whuffed happily in response.
“Very cute. Orae, put your hand in the corpse mouth.”