Prompt: A random student becomes possessed by an ancient artifact; they have to fight themselves to banish the possessor.
It was conceited to think she was the first to find such a thing. There were twenty-two other students all scouring the same pit, all trying to earn the same grades by stepping delicately through the ruin and searching its crevices. It was one of the most exclusive archaeology programs in the country, so none of them were slouches.
That’s why Aya found it so hard to believe that nobody else saw that sparkle in the dirt. Nobody else was able to slowly pull it free without cracking it further. There was a stream nearby, so all the dirt at that level was wet and dark. There were plenty of shards around, but they were mostly modern and the result of the building upstream, which had a small artisan pottery business within. Much of their discarded work lay about.
This piece was special though. It didn’t look old at first, but it had to be. It was too deep. It was the same layer that had produced the other artifacts that brought them there in the first place. She ran a finger across it, but with her thick work gloves it did her no good. She pulled one off with her teeth and spat it out. A bare finger was more helpful.
The feel of it made her shudder. There was an energy within the foggy green crystal of the shard. Not electricity. Not magnetism. Not heat. She couldn’t place it at first, but a moment later she ran that bare finger across her own wrist. That was the energy. Life. The shard felt just like she did. Her professor, a wispy woman with hair like like a butterfly net, had very enthusiastically assured them that digs like this always brought out the excitement.
Was this that feeling? Was she just sensing the life of whoever had crafted the vase, bowl, or urn that the shard belonged to? Was she connecting present to past and feeling the blowing wind through a branch of the human family tree?
No, a voice answered. The shard flipped in her hand, like a grasshopper tired of being held. She caught it in her bare palm and stared. She caught it too well. She turned her hand to let it drop, but it stayed right where it was. It thinned, sank, and contoured to her palm. A moment later it was part of her skin, like a green birthmark.
She panicked and tried to scracth it loose; despite it still feeling like crystal it hurt immensely. Aya opened her mouth to shout, but only drool came out.
No more talking, the voice repeated. I am Erxis the Broken. Thank you for providing your wholeness. It is mine now. I haven’t stretched my legs in three hundred years. Let’s go for a walk. Is that the old stream I hear? Still going? Good to see it’s as resilient as I.
Aya tried to think at it, to ask what the presence was doing, but it even suppressed her internal voice. The thoughts formed, but they couldn’t bubble out of the tar pit of her lizard brain. She could only watch as her body turned and walked away from the others. So many other students, so observant, yet nobody noticed her leave. They were too busy looking for their own pieces of the past.
In no time at all they were out of sight of the dig. The forest was silent around them. Aya caught a glimpse of the shard on her palm. Its corners sprouted lines: a spreading crystal infection. She would’ve sobbed if her eyes were in her possession. The past was only supposed to be observed. She already knew it was full of monsters; there was no lesson this possession could teach her. It was just a tragedy. She was simply held by a racist, or a murderer, or a sexual fiend. Something evil. Something old.
Are those your friends? The voice asked without allowing her to respond. Nobody else has figured it out have they? The key to eternal life. You have to be broken, just like Erxis. You have to accept that you will never be fixed. Look at how the water runs, little girl. She did as she was told. Water is whole because you can never break it. Even shards of ice will eventually melt. Humans? We can break. Let me show you. We’re nearly ready.
Erxis rolled up Aya’s sleeve. The cracks had spread up the forearm. The entity took her into the middle of the creak, the water rising up to her ankles. She couldn’t even feel the cold, or the cloying dampness of her wool socks. Erxis forced her to undress, and let the current carry what it could. Her possessor took up a large algae-covered stone and held it aloft.
Thank you for letting me freshen up the break. I was almost feeling whole again. A good shattering should fix that. Let’s go to pieces! Erxis brought the stone down, right into their shared chest. Aya’s body shattered like glass, the pieces immediately tumbling about in the current.
She thought it was death, as the shattering was the one thing Erxis let her feel. Her soul was split down the middle, into thirds, into fourths, into crumbs… She waited for darkness, but it didn’t come. Aya was still alive, just stored in the strange crystal of this old cruel magic. Not only that, she was alive in pieces. Her determination in one shard. Her joy in another. Her rage in a third.
Erxis was in a few shards as well, reveling in being incomplete. The spirit laughed maniacally, a laugh that spread from piece to piece swifter than the water could carry them. Aya felt her anxiety slip away. No, it didn’t slip. It was pushed out into the water by the spreading of Erxis. It was claiming pieces as its own.
There was something else her professor had said, and that memory was in a clean shard, free for her to access. You could feel the digs come to life because you knew it had been life. Just like yours. That meant one day you would be history, exactly as important as long as you left a trace.
Erxis got to her spite, seeped into it, just as Aya realized the power she had. Her shards. Her history. She screamed, and without a body that scream became her entire spirit: an oscillating flaming roar, somewhere between jet engine and mythical lion. Erxis was forced out, part of the spirit dissipating in the flowing water, as water could not be broken.
What are you doing? How dare you leave yourself behind? You have nothing to offer. You don’t even know how this works!
She didn’t know, not exactly, but she was a fast learner. Erxis didn’t know how good she was at being broken already. A dozen failed relationships. An eating disorder. Bouts of depression. She knew what it was to be in pieces, to insist that the shimmering pile of sharpness gathered in your arms was still a whole vessel.
As her pieces broke and tumbled across the rocks, she jumped between them, forcing him out. Out of her dreams. Out of her ambitions. Out of her crushes, habits, and cravings. One by one, each piece screaming on a slightly different frequency, she reclaimed her shards.
No! You are not truly broken! You wish to be whole! The last infected shard accused. You’ll drift towards happiness. You won’t be able to stop it. You’ll undo your own immortality! The spirit would’ve gone one, it would continue to insist its rage was bottomless, but Aya’s patience was not. She pushed it out into the current and listened to it drown.
No, she wouldn’t last as long as Erxis the Broken. If someone picked her up, any of her pieces, she would be a much better shard of history. She would speak of brokenness, and how to beat it.
Author’s Note: This flash fiction story was written based on a prompt provided by Artemis_Knightmoon_ during a livestream. I hereby transfer all story rights to them, with the caveat that it remain posted on this blog. If you would like your own story, stop by twitch.tv/blainearcade during one of my streams and I’ll write it for you live!