“A toll I owe myself,” he spoke the words back as slowly and clearly as he could, hoping his mouth’s work at forming them would help shape the nonsense in his mind. It didn’t.
“Really,” Edna continued, “you aren’t wholly to blame. If this is your first time crossing, your Adventuring League should have told you what to do.” Another hit slammed across the ship, but no one payed it any attention, even the alarms seemed to have given up.
“Er, yes, well,” he looked to still be having trouble, “you know how these things go.”
That was the first thing he’d said to which she totally agreed. She did know how these things go.
There was a bit of an awkward silence then, punctuated by a few quick blows across the port side of the ship, but Pythagoras soon saved them - from the awkwardness, not the unrelenting monster - by walking in with her bag. It was the Pythagoras with the apron that Edna had met in the hall. She had the turtoid set the duffle on a table, thanked it, and unzipped the bag.
“Let’s see, where is it?” she was pulling things out, piling them to the side. A rope, a bedroll, some lanterns, a few changes of clothes.
Highmond blushed, “I— er,” he cleared his throat, “thought you said this bag was for me.”
“What? You don’t wear underwear?”
His face caught on fire, or it might as well have. He tried and failed to start several sentences. Edna, pleased with herself, decided to save him. “The bag was for me too, in case I ended up on whatever adventure it went on. Now where is…” she trailed off. She was pushing things around inside the bag, digging in each new spot. When she thought she’d checked every inch of the thing (at least seven times), she gave up and dumped it out. “Ah. Here we are.”
She pulled a rolled up news paper from the pile and began toward the door she’d come in through - the one that led to the railing round the outside of the ship. “Come with me, man and turtoid. It’s past time you met your Threshold Guardians.”
“Er, but what about piloting the ship? Shouldn’t Pie, or one of us, I mean—“
“—As I’ve said, Captain, we aren’t in space. The only reason to pilot the ship would be to evade the attacks,” she reached the door, turning the wheel to open it. The effort sent another sharp pain through her midsection. It pleaded with her to lie down, rest, eat some peanut butter. She grunted on through the rest of her thought, “Seeing as that’s impossible - and besides, I’m about to save us from that particular danger anyway - there’s no need.”
Yet again delightful curiosity won inside Highmond, defeating, for now, his ailing befuddlement. He raced over to Edna. Pythagoras shrugged (not easy in a body like a tortoise) and joined them.
Edna’s bare feet let it be known they would refuse any order to step onto that grate again, so she motioned for the other’s to do so instead, leaning through the door as much as she could bear. If she had to describe the character of their ensuing gasps (and someone does, apparently), she’d call them ‘quizzically awestruck’.
The Threshold is a lightless, darkless void without void. (I know, but do stay with me.) The whole place (that isn’t a place) is filled with a kind of pressurized nothing. In essence, it is ‘room-temperature’, permeating and perpetuating through the other senses.
Then there was the wraith - at once separate and a part of the everything that was nothing. It flew along beside the ship - or seemed to. “Why!,” Highmond exclaimed, in shock, “It’s me!” At the same time, Pythagoras made a similar declaration - though with less surprise, being used to seeing itself outside itself.
“You’r both wrong, of course. She’s me,” Edna chimed in. Then she spoke to the Guardian. “Hello again, love. I brought you another crossword,” she said, holding out the paper. At once - and from all perspectives - the Guardian reached out. Highmond flinched, Pythagoras retreated into its shell, but the Guardian only accepted the paper, smiling at Edna.
Highmond’s mouth was moving, even making sounds, but none of them were words. Edna offered some, to help. “This, is the Threshold Guardian. They are always here when you are, because they are a reflection of you, and anyone else crossing through.”
Still a bit shaken, Highmond said, “Oh yes. Oh, I see. Quite right,” and to the Guardian, “Well met, er, me.” After a pause he whispered to Edna and Pythagoras, “He is… a little off though. A sight younger than me, you know. Or you don’t. I don’t know. Do I know?”
“Hmm,” began the turtoid, knowing to ignore the question, “mine is exactly like me, but bronze.”
“Yes,” said Edna, “and mine is a great, animated, marble statue, sitting in a nice, comfy chair. I gave her that chair,” she added proudly, after a pause. “They’re not a reflection of you, but of every possible you.” Highmond nodded along - and then too long - until he was just nodding and turning back and forth from the Guardian to the others. His mouth started moving but didn’t form any words for awhile.
Finally Highmond said, “What, well, only — meaning no offense, of course, it’s just, er — what is it?”