It’s getting late by the time I make it home, not that you could tell from looking out through the glass elevator at the painful glare over the flower fields. I fix the laces on my hood, drawing them tight as they can go, and peek out at the seventh floor.
I was expecting the place to be deserted, with everyone hiding in their closets the way I always used to spend Embraces, but there is a small crowd gathered in the common room, where they’ve covered the windows with heavy white shutters that only allow the smallest possible slivers of radiance in through the sides. Even those thin shafts of light twist and shift strangely along the edges of the room, like an octopus searching for a way out of its tank. Nevertheless, the patients huddled in the central space look like they’re doing their best to treat this as any other day, only most are wearing sunglasses indoors. A few of the more familiar faces look my way and wave.
“Liadain! There you are!” Banva calls from the front desk. I look at her through the corner of my eye, afraid to give her too close a look at my weird face. “Are you alright? I know you’ve, mmh, been out a lot lately, just…” She purses her lips, no doubt running through all those questions the nurses haven’t brought themselves to ask me. “Well, I’m just glad you made it back safe,” she finishes.
“I’m fine, yes. I was…” I cut myself off as yet another question occurs to me: if I was sheltering through the Embrace somewhere else, hence why I took so long to make it back… what am I doing back here before nightfall? Augh, I should have just stayed with the other Keepers until night came. It didn’t cross my mind because I’ve just had too much on it to leave any room.
Whatever. Who am I fooling anymore? She knows why I’ve been “out a lot.” Everyone who pays any attention to me probably knows.
“Me too,” is all I say.
“And, ah, I think your sweater’s on inside out,” she adds after a moment.
I look sheepishly down at my clothing, then glance over my shoulder to examine my reflection in the window right across from the nurse’s station. “Um. Thanks. I’ll fix it in a minute,” I mumble. At least I had that much foresight. “And…” I look back over the small crowd. I can’t hide this much longer, not to anyone — well, maybe to Dad if he never shows up here again — so it really shouldn’t matter who I talk to first, but… it just does. And I don’t see the person I’m looking for anywhere.
“Do you know where Noirin is?” I ask.
Banva says nothing. When I look back at her, she’s pursed her lips and clenched one hand around the other.
“…What is it?” I press. The words come out of my dry mouth as a strained croak. Stupid, pointless, I’m sure I already know what, but… how bad is it?
“Noirin’s…” Banva blinks and her grip tightens a little more as she sees my face head-on. She takes a breath, visibly steadying herself, but that’s all. “She wasn’t doing so well this morning. She’s in treatment now. I could check when they’re expected to finish, if you want, but… well, she may just need her rest.”
Of course. Now of all times, of course she is. Was she already suffering when I ran off this morning? Would I already know this if I paid attention to anything but myself? Would it matter?
“Liadain? Are you… listen, if it’s important, I could take a message, or just pass along that you’re looking to talk when she’s available…”
“No. No, that’s fine, just… it’s nothing urgent. I’ll leave her alone.”
“She’d probably be happy to know you were thinking of her,” Banva says softly. “At her age, you’re happy to hear from your kids about most anything. All the more at a time like this.”
“She has a kid, though? I’m not him.”
Banva smiles to herself. “Mm, I suppose not. Even so. I’ll pass the word along, unless you’d really rather I didn’t.”
“…Fine. If you think it’ll help. I guess I’ll try and rest myself, for now.”
“That’s a good idea. Take care,” Banva calls after me as I hurry through the main room.
I do no such thing. Back in my room, I grab my Harbinger journal, make a little tent with my bed covers and headboard, and sit there in my inside-out sweater with Pearl hugged under one arm, staring at the mostly-blank pages meant for Isobel’s new Harbinger.
Mostly, I think about Noirin.
I don’t think I could’ve done anything to help her with my magic, but I’m not certain. I ripped the disease which laid at Yurfaln’s heart out at the root, and I still have it stored in one of my cards, but that’s not at all like trying to heal a human sickness without ripping out their soul. It does at least raise a question to my vague impression that my magic just doesn’t work to heal other people.
More importantly, I’ve never even tried to be there for Noirin, or any of the others who don’t deserve to live any less just because I don’t know them. I’ve only barely considered it. I could make up some nice-sounding reason why I didn’t, maybe even one that I believed when I first dismissed the idea. Dr. Cantillon did say treating diseases with magic was especially hard.
Really, though, I think it was just… fear. Not even my desperate rush to save my own life, but fear of… not of getting someone’s hopes up and disappointing them, although I’m sure I would. I’m just terrified of knowing beyond a doubt that my power is — that I am a selfish, greedy monster whose magic will only ever be good for keeping me clinging to the edge of life, a few more stolen days at a time.
But it came from me. From a miserable wreck of a girl who’s never cared about anything more than not dying. Why would it be anything else? Why would I ever be able to help people?
I hide from the Sun in my muggy tent, thinking in useless circles, until the light abruptly dims, night advancing over a minute at most rather than hours. It’s finally ending, then.
I flop out of bed and peek through the curtains at the sky. There, the Sun has mostly curled back into itself, with thin tendrils of white flame trailing behind it as it races off over the horizon, as if it has somewhere to be. As if smothering our world in burning light, searing our eyes from their sockets, and scorching our souls to ashen husks are all just its way of procrastinating.
But the halo of its passing dims from stark white to ever darkening red as it plunges beneath the horizon, finally drawing the Embrace to a close. It’s coming to an end now, off to be some other world’s problem. Taking whatever deadly answers it promises to the Eyeless with it, at least until morning.
In a few seconds more, the Sun dips fully out of view. The sky goes momentarily black before other stars flicker into being in its wake, lighting the night sky with their own shifting radiance, softer and stranger than that of the king who lords over them during the day.
After its timing today, I wouldn’t mind if it never came back.
By the time I find the nerve to go look for Noirin again, things are back to normal outside. The shutters have risen and the lounge is quiet, now mostly emptied out for the night. There’s no answer when I knock on her door, so I head for the front desk. Maybe Banva’s heard something by now.
“Liadain? I was just about to check in on you,” the nurse greets, still at her station. Her expression suggests that maybe, for once, it’s not terrible news.
“Noirin will be in observation for a little while longer, but the doctors say her condition’s improving. She’s cleared to have visitors with the normal precautions, and I’m sure she’d be happy if you want to check in on her. She was glad to hear from you earlier.”
“Oh,” I sigh, letting go of a knot of tension in my gut I’d been doing my best to ignore. “Good. That’s great.” As for talking to her right now, while she’s suffering and we’d have no privacy, maybe instead I should… no. I’ve made enough excuses, put enough hard conversations off for too long, and whether or not she’s fine for the moment, this happening at all is a harsh reminder that normal people can’t steal more time from everyone else.
I nod. “I think I’ll do that. Where is she now?”
Banva freezes. Her mouth hangs wide open as she stares… no, not at me. Something behind me, just over my shoulder. I twist my waist and crane my neck to see what she’s seen, and that’s when I hear it.
<Oh, how far you’ve wandered,> a hot, stale breath whispers into my ear. <How hard it is to see where we began from here.>
No. No. Not here, not now, she of all things cannot be what tears away the last of my transparent human disguise—
There’s nothing behind me. All that’s there to meet me is my own transparent reflection in the window right across from the nurse’s station.
A breath escapes my throat as though crushed from my lungs and my body remains tense. In the vague impression reflecting off the glass pane, I see Banva’s mirror image beside my own, behind the desk of the nurse’s station. And beside and behind Banva, a silhouette so deep it’s as though the window’s glass is tarnishing before my very eyes rises and wraps a limb around her neck.
I hear Banva’s stifled cry as I whip myself back around to face her and the nightmare I already know is waiting for me. Standing atop the desk of the nurse station is Seryana, her woven figure of sullied blonde hair contorted into the lax outline of a too-thin woman as always, but somehow, she seems even more disheveled and ruined than ever. One of her braided arms has reached down and tightened around Banva’s neck like a noose, lifting the woman up off the ground.
<No need to leave you behind, you know, you know? We can go together. To the place where the faces of everyone who’s passed through here will never fade from your worthlessly feeble memory.>
Even seeing them from afar, Seryana’s swirling-scribble eyes no longer look as empty as they did during our last encounter. Or maybe it’s just easier to see the shifting of those scratchy animated circles outside the gloom of her Wound. Tears stream down Banva’s face as she gazes behind the Harbinger’s new mask, trapped there in gibbering, petrified horror as her thoughts are swallowed by its leer.
“No, you’re not… can’t… you’re, nhght, ckgh…” Banva chokes out rough, wet denials as her throat is slowly crushed. As if those smothered cries were music, Seryana begins to chant in tune.
<no more guilt no more guilt no moRE GUILT NO MORE GUI—>
The sinuous limb holding Banva up is severed in an instant. The card I sent spinning through the air slices clean through it at the midpoint before whirling back around for me to catch it. Seryana reels back and shrieks in agonized delight as her form crumbles away into thin air, leaving behind only her noose-hand clutching Banva’s throat as she collapses to the floor.
I rush into the nurses station and fall to my knees at Banva’s side, using the edge of my conjured card to quickly but carefully cut through the rope of grimy hair wrapped around her neck. The illness the card dyed itself with when it made contact with Seryana makes quick work of the lingering strands, and when I throw the weave away, it doesn’t even manage to touch the ground before it’s already decayed into nothing.
Banva is bigger than me, but I burn some of my stored health without even thinking about it to be able to turn her over. Physically, the only damage I can see is the red and purple bruising around her neck, but her eyes are wide open and bloodshot, and her whole body is rigid with mute horror.
“Banva, Banva! Can you hear me?! Are you okay? Please, please say something…!” I plead while cradling her head. There’s no response, except for the trembling breaths passing between her lips. Seryana must have been attacking her mind as well, when she was looking into her eyes.
My cheeks burn. A few tears trickle down my face and on to the nurse’s. The nurse who learned to play shogi from a lonely patient just so he’d have someone to talk to and share it with, who’d bring me meals to order when I woke up in the middle of the night and vomited my stomach out, who’s only ever worried for me and done her best to help me.
A single frayed finger, already rotting and burning away at the ends in tiny embers of cold green fire, reaches from behind me and wipes the stream of my tears gently away. Then, as I look back, Seryana lifts up her new mask to put that damp coil of rope into her scrawled mouth, as if to clean her fingers after a meal, and bites down, gnawing furiously on her own form.
<How miserable it is to wait and wait and wait and wait and wait and WAIT while you tether yourself to ANYONE BUT ME!> she wails through the sounds of tearing sinew and, inexplicably, crunching bones. <I can’t do it anymore. I can’t be dragged along and along on these strings of suffering while you won’t so much as look my way I can’t I CAN’T I cAn’T—>
I duck beneath the semicircular desk of the nurses station, but not to hide. I need to make sure Banva gets help before I get out of here and take Seryana with me. At least, she should follow me, but… if she doesn’t, I’ll stay. I’ll make sure she can’t hurt anyone.
I frantically scan the counter’s underside. In every hospital, there’s always a chance that an angry or unstable patient, a distraught family member, or an intruder might cause an incident, and that’s to say nothing of Harbingers. For emergencies like those, it’s common for nurses stations to have panic buttons hidden under the desk, and I’ve been in and out of hospitals more than long enough to know about them.
My eyes finally land on a plastic module with a toggle switch on the side and a pair of circular buttons, one red and the other purple. There’s two buttons to distinguish between incidents involving people and disasters involving Harbingers; if I had to guess what the switch did, it toggles the alarm between a silent and a loud, but I can’t be sure. I’m not even sure which of the buttons on this one applies to humans or Harbingers, so I just press down both.
A little red light on the module begins to blink wildly in response, and that’s good enough for me.
I’m sure Seryana can feel my terror at the idea of her staying put and choosing my home as her battleground. I’m sure she’d do that if she could. I’m just betting what’s left of my life on the idea that she can’t, that she’s as tethered to me as she says. Everything I know about how she works tells me that she works through me. They’ll be safe when I’m gone. I won’t be back until she’s dead, and after that… I’ll deal with what comes after that when I get there.
And sure enough, when the elevator door slides open and my reflection in the dark glass comes into view, Seryana still stands behind me, the same looming, distorted mass as before.
<It hurts to share your blood, you know. It really, really hurts,> she whines. <It sounds like something beautiful, doesn’t it? Opening ourselves up, letting one another’s essence mingle in our veins… a part of you living in me, always!>
I fish my phone out of my pocket, doing my best to ignore her, and search for “truths lantern.” Aisling’s reef is the first result. I blur through its pages until I find her details, buried halfway down the staff page, and call her.
<But no. It can’t be, since there is NO LIFE IN YOU. NO LOVE. There’s only PAIN and SPITE and MISERY and NEVER ANYTHING ELSE.> I jump as a fraying fist slams on the glass beside my head, nearly fumbling my phone.
“Yes it’s me I know what you said about using magic but I have to,” I babble. “Seryana. She followed me home and stormed into a hospice full of normal people, she’s hurt someone I know, and I’m going to kill her.”
<Was there ever anything else? I don’t know why I ever cared. I don’t know why I STILL care. What am I still doing here, dearest?>
“Eugh,” Aisling winces. “Now I know how that sounds through a phone… alright. Please slow down and tell me what you need from me.”
“Um. Sorry. Given the thing you were warning us about, exactly what is not safe about me using magic right now? If I need to, which I do, what do I need to know to do it… the safest way possible?”
“Call for backup and let someone else handle this one,” Aisling says without hesitation. “…Which I assume you don’t consider an option.”
<But here I am. Here I always will be. No matter how much you hate me, I can’t give up on you.> Seryana’s rotting fingers reach out and slink along my hand. I bat her away, tightening my grip on my phone.
“That depends. Will using magic kill me? Or drag me into some fate worse than death?”
“No, but bear with me a moment. I know you’re in a hurry, but the risks involved in spontaneous Emergence are… metaphysically complex. Of course they are,” Aisling admits as a tinge of frustration creeps into her tone. “You won’t die, but if something goes wrong, you might… lose control over aspects of yourself, is the simplest way to put it. Of your power, your faculties, your actions. Of what you’re becoming. Think of it as Emergence that isn’t part of the normal growth process, isn’t especially likely to empower you, and may not align with what you’d actually want for yourself. I know you weren’t too distraught about what happened earlier, so for some necessary context as to how bad this can get, I believe Niavh Fianata did what she did during one of these episodes.”
“…Oh.” I wasn’t convinced until that last part. “Okay, that does sound serious. I’m going to avoid that at all costs, but there’s still a Harbinger in my home who I’m really sure I can kill. What triggers spontaneous Emergence? What makes it worse? Tell me how to do what I need to do, not what I should do instead.”
“Yeah, that’s about what I figured you’d say,” Aisling mutters. “How urgent is the situation there? You clearly aren’t fighting her while we have this conversation. Are you?”
“No. Just trying to lead her away from home. It looks like she’s still attached to me.”
“Good. In that case, as I understand it, you’re most at risk for spontaneous Emergence when you’re reaching with your magic. Trying to do something you’ve never done before, or on a scale that’s new to you. Magic isn’t a muscle, you can’t wear it out or strain it just doing what you normally do — the danger comes when your soul is shifting to accommodate something new. How confident are you that you can handle this one with your usual toolkit?”
“As confident as I can be of anything about Harbingers?” Seryana gained something, some sort of power beyond what she usually had since she put on the other Harbinger’s mask, but I’ve already seen it in action. I know how it works, and it’s not a problem for me.
“Fine. Then just… do your best to do that. And give me a minute. I might have something more specific for you.” She abruptly ends the call, leaving me alone with Seryana as the elevator opens on the ground floor. I run for the closest back exit. Coarse fingers squirm along my shoulder and squeeze. A spectral anchor trailing behind me, but not one heavy enough to actually hold me back.
I glance around the garden-lined walkways behind the hospital, transforming as soon as I confirm there’s no one else around. Something’s changed this time, though. As wisps of light and shadow wrap around me, two entwine themselves into a long, thin shape floating at my side. Instinctively, I reach out for it, and it solidifies into a walking cane, carved from some ink-black wood, but constructed with a perfectly practical derby handle and flat rubber tip. Not a weapon, no more than the rest of my regalia. It’s just a new tool my magic’s offered me, perhaps responding to my acceptance that I do need it, at least for now, and I’m not hiding my health or my power from anyone perceptive.
I’ll take it. I lead Seryana as far from the hospital as I can, pushing along through the sickening tugs and pressures of her presence, until my phone chimes.
“Liadain? Holding up alright?” Aisling asks.
“I guess? She’s still following me,” I say.
<Stop it STOP IT why does everyone want to steal YOU of all people? You’re only beautiful when you bREaK and you’ve already done all your BreAKInG with me. They can’t even look at you and remember what it was like when you were a real person so why won’t all those seeping bags of trash just LEAVE US BE ALREADY?> Seryana screeches, ripping out thick clumps of her hair as long as I am tall.
“…Which was the goal, right? Good.” Aisling’s a little quieter when she speaks again, probably holding her phone at a distance. Seryana keeps on wailing and thrashing. Since I’m holding a cane, I don’t have a hand free to plug my uncovered ear, so instead I press it to my shoulder while my phone covers the other. It does almost nothing to keep out the kind of noise a Harbinger makes.
“I’ll keep this quick as I can: there’s a local Keeper who checks recent crimes and deaths for signs of Harbinger involvement — wildly out of character actions, lingering impressions at the scene of the event or on any survivors, et cetera — and flags them as suspicious or all-too-human. You described Seryana as somehow elusive, manifesting without really being there. If you’re still having trouble getting to her core, finding where she came from and going there might help bait her out or pin her down. Locations like that are important to Cluster As sometimes.”
“Makes sense. So what? Did you find her there?”
As Aisling speaks, Seryana picks herself up and continues trailing off me. She doesn’t seem to have the strength or speed to tear my phone away, only to wrap her decaying hands around my limbs and tug, forcing me to shake her away over and over. <Look at me. Look at me. Please look at me,> she babbles all the while.
“Possibly. I have three cases that look like potential matches for your stalker,” Aisling says through the noise. “A double suicide in the Weald, souls either taken or transmigrated before anyone could test for corruption. A man who committed suicide in his home, after which his wife vanished without a trace. A domestic murder-suicide where the killer left a note about… ‘saving her from the things under the floor.’ Routine check found traces of Harbinger influence around the death sites for those last two. Nothing conclusive, could’ve even been unrelated entities passing through, but they’re the best matches I’ve got. I’m sending you the forest landmark and the two addresses.”
“…Okay. Thank you.” I can use this. It’s not like I had a destination beyond ‘far away from home’ in mind. Honestly, if any one of these is where I need to go, and she found it in the last few minutes based on what little she’s seen and my vague description of what Seryana was like, that’s ridiculously impressive.
“Be careful. Check in when you’re done, or if you need anything else,” Aisling says, and ends the call.
“Alright,” I murmur to myself. I flick Seryana’s fingers away as she tries to pull my hood down. “Let’s take the worst walk ever.”
It takes all my willpower, bolstered by my memory of shoots of rope growing from Shona’s bleeding eyes, not to kill Seryana ten times over the next hour. My only breaks from her constant putrid whirlwind of affection and animosity come when we pass other night walkers. They’re a little rarer than usual today, but Seryana giggles and cheers every time I yell at someone to get out of the way. Then, inevitably, she’ll try to hug me, or squeeze my hand, swing our arms happily, and attempt to lead us off in some other random direction, and the cycle begins again when she interprets my refusal to follow along as proof that I hate her and want to abandon her.
Of Aisling’s destinations, the murder house is closest, so that’s where we head first. It’s locked and deserted, save for the FOR SALE sign in the front lawn. I can feel faint traces of the presence that was here — it smells like opening a book and finding maggots nesting between the pages. It’s nothing like Seryana, and she pays it no mind, so I head for the next house. If I have to take her to the Weald, I don’t know what I can do except walk all night or call Shona for a ride. I don’t know which idea is worse.
But I don’t.
Seryana goes strangely quiet as we approach our second destination… or what remains of it.
At the address Aisling sent me to, there’s just an overgrown lawn in front of the wreckage of a freshly-demolished house. The construction equipment still parked beside it hasn’t yet had time to clear away the ruins, it seems. If there was anything to come back to here, it’s gone now.
But the remains do still feel distantly like Seryana. The Harbinger herself shifts around what once would have been the front facade, looking what’s left of her birthplace over.
<Well. Have you been listening after all, dear?> she asks after a long pause. Her mask’s blank smile spreads into a grin. <This doesn’t matter, not really. All that matters is that you listen to me. Look at me. I keep telling you, if you would look my way for just a moment, you’d understand that I am here to help you. I’m the only one who ever has been.>
“Okay. Here I am. What is it?” I turn on the Harbinger, glaring into the wild dancing lines of her eyes behind the slots of that stone mask, the only part of her not yet ragged with the corrosion of my ever-progressing scourge. If she wants to talk, fine. I’ll take anything I can use to break her once and for all.
<Finally. This is good. This is right. We’ve always felt safer in the dark, haven’t we?> Seryana sighs. <But you see… there are other worlds than this. Better ones. There are worlds the Sun can never reach, never wrap its coils around and strangle and burn everything beautiful out of. Worlds with no chains of sense and structure to hold us apart, to keep us from being fully, forever us. That’s why this miserable little place doesn’t matter anymore! We carry everything we need from it inside ourselves!>
Her mask tilts upwards as she looks up to the stars, and the locks of braided hair that make up her hands press together as though in mocking imitation of prayer.
<I have seen such things, my love, oh, such wonderful things! Things I want so badly to touch and share and become.>
Yet Seryana’s posture of fervent hope slackens as the living effigy of woven hair she uses to represent herself slumps over despondently, then begins to convulse in distress that quickly warps into fury.
<But wherever we go, whatever we do, we have to do together. And YOU WON’T LET ME. YOU ARE AN ANCHOR BOLTED TO MY HEART AND ALL YOU EVER DO IS EVERYTHING YOU CAN TO DRAG IT OUT OF MY CHEST.>
Seryana jolts forward, squeezing my shoulders in both hands and wrapping a third arm, sprouted suddenly from her thick fall of hair, around my waist. She stretches out with me as I take a shuddering step back, reflexively jabbing my cane into what should be her chest — where it finds no purchase, only digging into a tangle of hair like a pole planted in a swamp.
She plays along, though, wailing in agony and throwing herself back as violently as if I’d been a car crashing into her.
<I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry,> she whimpers. Patches of the dark scribbles that form her face drip down her mask like black, sludgy tears. <I’m just… this is just what I’ve become. What we’ve made each other. Things so hungry for love that we can’t help but bite down on the ones closest to us and gnaw until nothing is left. All I want is for us to be whole. You understand, don’t you? Please. You have to. No one else will. I can’t change without you. I can’t make it anywhere, can’t be anything without you.>
…That really doesn’t tell me much. Does she want to go somewhere else? Become something else? Go somewhere with me, unite with me somehow, or get rid of me so she can be free of my weight around her ankle? This is the first time she’s mentioned anything about these other worlds… is that something she heard from Isobel’s Harbinger? It’s not like a Harbinger to take on someone else’s obsession as their own, just like that.
The more I think about it, the more I think even she isn’t sure what she wants.
An idea comes to me. A wild, pointless idea, but one I don’t think it hurts me to try.
“…There’s a way we can do that. Right now,” I say.
This would be a lot easier if she could understand anything I said. I put a hand to my chest, reach out to her as if to help her up, then bring it to the other, cupping them over my heart.
“Give me your heart. We don’t have to go through this whole thing. You don’t have to do this anymore.” And she wouldn’t be the first. Yurfaln’s offering was more symbolic than anything, a choice made when it had no other, but Seryana’s already asked for this. Haphazardly, alongside other contradictory things, and no doubt with her own idea of what it would mean and how it should go, but… still.
Seryana squeaks wordlessly, like she’s trying and failing to choke something out through her tears. She twitches her head to one side and stands, staggering this way and that…
And laughs. She hugs herself, twisting her limbs into knots, and cackles endlessly into the night. I already know covering my ears won’t do a thing to blot out the noise.
<IDIOT. YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND AT ALL. YOU NEVER DID. IDIOT. IIIIIIIIIIIIDIOT.>
Finally, she falls silent. She takes a few slow, lurching steps forward, glowering down at me with wide eyes half-covered by thick strands of hair. Those scribbled tears keep falling in streams.
<You cannot do that,> she says, her voice low and cold and flat as it’s ever been. <You cannot expect me to forget everything you’ve done to me just like that. Not when I see you the way I do now. I look into you and there is nothing there. I can open up your heart and see that YOU LOVE NOTHING.> Her hands all scratch desperately at the others, peeling her limbs apart from the fingers up the way I might pick at a cracked cuticle.
<Is there anything left in there? Any of you to reunite with? Show it to me! Come to me! Give yourself to me! Pour yourself into the cracks you made! Plant seeds beneath my skin so that something beautiful can grow in the ravaged fields you left behind! BREAK WHATEVER REMAINS OF ME ALL OVER AGAIN!>
And Seryana tears herself apart, ripping her own body into an inside-out knot of splayed hair and raw flesh, all emanating from a gaping hole in the world that pants out humid waves of putrid breath. Fall into me of your own free will, she says without saying. Fall and fall and never come out.
And what happens then, in her mind? Where do we go? Do either of us ever leave that pit?
I remember what Seryana named herself. What she first said to me. I don’t think I could ever forget anything spoken in that language.
You cannot be happy. I cannot be happy. No end goal, no way out.
Seryana is fundamentally not like the other Harbingers I’ve killed. They had dreams. Goals bigger than the world they were doing everything they could to bring into being. I still don’t understand Irakkia, but I felt enough of its desperate yearning to be anywhere but where it was to include it among them. And the ones I fully absorbed…
Yurfaln’s dream was insane, yes, but it was clear what it wanted and why. There’s even ways I can imagine it growing into something that kind of made sense, if it hadn’t seen suffering as a goal in itself. Maybe a person with its outlook could’ve developed some sort of palliative care magic, which I never would’ve liked, but ending death or even disease for everyone are dreams so wild I’d have no idea where to start with them. As long as there are humans getting sick and dying, someone needs to ease their pain as best they can.
And Aulunla… there was nothing wrong with what Aulunla and Isobel wanted for themselves except the price they were willing to make others pay for it. Given what I’ve done to people and let them do, I hardly have the high ground there. The only difference between us isn’t much of one at all — my feeling bad about it changes nothing for the people I’ve hurt. Or the woman I left to die without ever knowing she existed.
What does Seryana want? What would a world where she won look like? A perfect match where she and one other victim torture each other in just the right ways for eternity? This nightmare she lives in, this play she’s acted out over and over… it’s all she has. All she is. It’s sad, it’s pathetic, but in one strange, sick way, it’s for the best.
Because this time, everyone will be happier when Seryana is gone. Even Seryana.