In The Dark, We’re All The Same 4-8.2

Relief crashes over me like a wave, washing me away. My thoughts are overwhelmed with a warm light as precious as it is blinding. I struggle to catch myself amidst the rolling tide, but I manage to take hold. It feels like coming up for air after dunking my head into an oasis I found after baking for days in a desert with no end, and then falling back into a nice, snug bath. Everything the water touches is restored.

The chill plaguing me is replaced with a cozy warmth. The pain throbbing in all my joints disappears. The weights holding me down all fall away, leaving me light as a feather. The taste of honey lingers on my tongue. Everything feels so easy, because all I have to do is keep drinking from this endless fountain of life until I’m satisfied.

Not enough. Not enough. There will never be enough.

I never want to let go. And I don’t have to. There’s no reason to. In fact, I can dive deeper, plunge my teeth into the beating heart of this world and lap its lifeblood up as carelessly and as greedily as I want. And what a vast ocean of blood it is! I can’t even comprehend it! How hasn’t Aulunla drowned me yet, if it’s managed to bleed itself this much? I could get lost in it forever, if it wasn’t drying up like a great big puddle beneath the hateful sun all on its own. It’s a special, priceless treat, and it’s all for me. I can’t imagine anything sweeter. For once since my diagnosis, for one brief moment, I feel completely free. It’s a feeling so wonderful I start to cry.

My plan wasn’t wrong. It was the right choice to go around and stain the Harbinger with my curse from the start, to infest it with my poison at its every point of contact with the world, because now I realize it allowed me to do this. And no matter how overwhelmingly dangerous Aulunla has made itself in this final hour, no matter what remaining tricks it has up its sleeve, now I know how vulnerable it truly is.

I’m not the one who’s doomed here. It was too late for Aulunla from the very beginning.

I can do this. I can win.

As my tears fall upon the trembling, shriveling mass of the root, the endless fountain shatters. Like a lizard lopping off its tail and leaving it behind as bait, my prey severs its link to the appendage I’m latched on to. I’m rejected, cut off from the source, but left just one final gulp of essence to slurp up before I fully awaken from my reverie.

My leeching mist withdraws as the root crumbles away. I land on my hands and feet like a cat leaping from a branch. My cards revolve around me as I stand, tears still streaming down my face. The rip in my dress has been knit shut, although it’s splattered with little drops of oozing paint that rain from Aulunla’s sky around the falling seeds. Echoes of the chill on my skin and the burning in my joints are already returning, gnawing at the back of my mind, but I smother it all beneath the flood of vitality I’ve just guzzled down. There’s far more than a single life’s worth within me, now.

The terracotta rabbit from before has turned in a wide arc and is coming back around for another bullrush. Around half of its entourage of miniature doubles lies left behind, scattered across the jagged rolling hills of sawdust, twitching as they erode away. They were all infected when they trampled over me and my plague-ridden cards, and they’ve already succumbed. The large rabbits are tough, but the small ones may be even weaker than the flower-heads.

But that’s not all I have to worry about. There’s a second stampede of terracotta rabbits coming from the opposite direction. The rabbit leading this charge is enormous, bigger even than the first one that came after me. It has to be the size of an elephant, and it punts up a rain of many-colored sawdust chips behind it whenever it kicks its hind-stumps off the ground, showering the parade of smaller bunnies that follow it.

And then, as if to box me in, two walls of thick tree roots pressed together at their sides spring up from the soggy sawdust just beyond my dried-up pathway, which has by now been reduced to a shattered mess of curdled chunks arranged across the mulch. The roots reach towards each other above me, trying to form an arch passing overhead, but with hardly a thought, I once again call upon my blight and watch as corrosion scales the roots from their base to their tips. At the very least, there were far too many of them for me to reach in and drain Aulunla once again, but that still won’t work.

I can do this.

Next I turn my attention to the first of the rabbits charging right towards me, the one that’s the size of a bull, and I fling a card in the quickly shrinking space between us. Right before the terracotta beast passes over it, I detonate the card like a landmine, sacrificing it to create an explosion of plague-mist — taking out all the remaining little bunnies in the process. The card that I’d already embedded into the bull-sized rabbit’s forehead sucks all of the fog into itself and injects it directly into the rabbit, causing it to stumble over itself as its earthy flesh cracks. I sidestep its tumbling form as it rolls forward and crashes into the second, even bigger rabbit, which careens over its smaller siblings and lands on its back.

I can win.

With my pathway open, I rush past the spasming pile of terracotta bunnies and continue my mad dash towards the huge black oak that looms at the center of the Wound… but not before detonating the remaining card still stuck to the bull-sized rabbit, engulfing all of the creatures in the toxic mist. I push the chorus of their pained cries out of my mind as it fades behind me. I simply spawn another two blank tarot cards to replace the two I just used and keep on moving.

I sprint ever forward through the nightmare. On my right side, I hug the garden rows of paper flowers that rose up in the wake of the rabbit packs; the longer I run, the taller the flora grows, rising to the height of a forest. Droplets of watercolor paint fall from the swamp in the sky and splatter on the paper leaves, further confusing their color schemes. Every so often, I can also still hear the boom of people-comets crashing in the distance, but it’s only happening rarely now.

On my left side, the sawdust desert this Wound began as stretches on, now riddled with groves of false life left behind by the comets. These tracts of alien flora and crystal fruits have intersected with the criss-cross of paths where the terracotta rabbits tredded, creating a patchwork quilt of sawdust wastelands and paper flower forests that feels like a child’s art project. At the center of the largest of these forests, enormous soft serve ice cream cone spires have risen out of the thickets, the trembling black pupils of their carelessly placed googly eyes all turned up to the swamp-sky.

The gardens have grown so huge that they dwarf me. The great paper flowers that crown these forests would cast long shadows across the wastes, if they could cast shadows – for in Aulunla’s world, there are no shadows, just the faintest hint of shading upon everything as though bathed in an aimless twilight glare. Enormous crystal fruits and silver bells as big as cottages and hulking, shiny purple apples bend the far too thin stalks they sprout from till they reach the ground, where flower-headed stick-monsters gather around and stare into their own reflections. They’re captivated by the blurry image in their own glass eyes, which the surfaces of the fruits seem polished enough to reflect. Some of them, however, are holding on to each other, choosing to look into each other’s eyes instead.

But no matter how big the nightmarish forest around me has grown, the massive black oak at the center of the Wound still towers over everything. It’s like a skyscraper built in the middle of the woods. I can still see it all clearly — the big white dot in the coil of one of its branches that’s now swollen into a pulsating balloon, the moon of alien flowers circling around it, and Aulunla’s great, shimmering sigil cradled between the two vast outstretched arms formed from its spiraling branches.

And it’s all falling apart.

Everything is wasting away. Paper petals wilt. Stems droop weakly. Bark and briars flake off. The crystal fruits crack. The silver bells rust. The purple apples shrivel up. Where once everything was a gaudy overflow of color, now an ashen rot has taken hold, slowly consuming everything bit by bit. Patches of the sawdust dunes have dried out, crusting over like scabs, and in these stretches, crags have begun to form where the distinct glow of my magic bleeds out like light through a foggy emerald.

Terracotta rabbits lie fallen over in the distance, twitching on their sides as they litter the wastes. The decorative flora they carried on their backs has withered into a drab mess. Many of their long, thin cactus ears have fallen loose and begun to sink into the ground. The earthen bunnies still hopping about in the distance have grown sluggish, and it seems like some are no longer sprouting new gardens as they move.

How tall Aulunla’s toybox forest ahead of me has grown only makes it all the more obvious that the rest of the Wound is breaking down behind me. I’ve been running through this nightmare for long enough to have passed by places where the people-comets are sure to have landed, but when I look back to make sure nothing is on my tail, the skyline extending out into the upside-down horizon is empty. All that’s there is the end of this fleeting world, the sawdust clouds that made it up to begin with coming apart and slipping over the edge into an indigo void.

The glyph above Aulunla’s black tree has… not exactly decayed, not the way so much of this world has, but collapsed in on itself. The crudely sketched lines of light that composed it and the bouquet it’s supposed to portray fall and twist and tangle up with each other, flickering and vibrating rapidly. Their hues overlap without overwriting each other, not blending but becoming a single chaotic blur of nonsense colors. What remains looks like someone covered a piece of paper in roughly circular squiggles, each made with a different random crayon, then animated it in the same choppy, simplistic way as the pencil-sketch layer of the Wound which preceded this newest nightmare.

Now Aulunla is the one hanging on for dear life. And I don’t think it’s just because I’d poisoned it from the start. When I reached out and touched the depths within it, I felt the sea of raw power inside the Harbinger that it’s tearing itself apart to bring forth, and I drank from it. I couldn’t even comprehend the vastness of it.

If it could control what it’s made itself into, it would be able to endure my plague for so much longer, or even brush it off entirely. But it can’t. Like I thought before, it only delayed the inevitable. In fact, my blight is only accelerating Aulunla’s breakdown at this point, rather than its main cause.

But as if to assure me this isn’t over yet, I finally “hear” it. I grasp Aulunla’s voice.

I know this voice. It’s the same tone as its lifeblood, but I also sensed it before, faintly chanting behind the ritual of this world. It’s always been there, tapping away at the back of my thoughts, behind even the phantom echoes of the aches and chills wracking my body. Now, for the first time, I sense it clearly: the will of the dreamer which underlies this whole nightmare, resounding across the Wound and spilling through my thoughts. Not a voice of words, but a voice of feelings, and yet they’re rendered in Clarish, however clumsy, more keenly than any Harbinger I’ve yet faced.

“We’ll fill up the sky with fish that can fly;
Since confinement to water is naught but a bother,
Let’s make everything better — cut away all the fetters
And grow from our seeds a world of just what we need.”

Thick raindrops of paint shower from the swamp-sky above me in a sudden downpour, but they transform in midair, stretching and shifting into distinct shapes. The globs mold themselves into crudely shaped, rainbow-scaled swordfish, which all begin to dart through the air, forming a giant swirling mob. No, a school. A school of dozens, then hundreds of swordfish, all swimming together above me, roiling about.

And then, like a waterfall, they dive. The shower of many-colored raindrops becomes a shower of spear-tipped fish spilling down on me like a volley of arrows.

I speed up my mad dash, but the barrage is gaining on me, so I call for my blight from the depths of this festering Wound. It answers, and I turn it on the forest to my right. I lay the infected tarot cards revolving around me on their sides and will them to spin faster than ever before I dive into the rotted thicket.

My whirling ring of cards shaves through the weakened underbrush like a buzzsaw, allowing me to pass through unhindered. As I prune away the stems and stalks and half-formed bodies of flower-headed creatures that didn’t quite manage to pull themselves from the grove, it all falls together over me, creating a tent-shaped passage. The great paper flowers and crystal fruits catch on each other and form into a shelter that shields me from the hailstorm… mostly. The tips of the swordfish still pierce through my make-do ceiling, breaking it down and forcing me to keep on moving ahead.

As I shred through the forest and any of the flower-heads hidden here unlucky enough to get in my way, the sharp pattering of swordfish stabbing against the canopy dwindles. Not long after, I burst out from a distant end of these paper-flower woods and look out to find myself closer to the great black oak at the center of the Wound than ever before.

I can finally see where the foot of its trunk meets the sawdust dunes, surrounded on all sides by thickets of overgrown paper flowers slithering up its base like vines. Besides those, the paper flower garden patches are few and far between, here. Some of the fish are still swimming through the sky, but most have fallen, scattered limply across the sawdust wastes, drained of all their vibrant, clashing colors. I’ve got a clear shot to Aulunla’s tree, now. I’m almost there. I’m at the final stretch.

Then, a ripple curls across the bulging white pustule that had been growing all this time at the center of one of the tree’s spiraling branches. It quavers. My hair stands on end. The goosebumps traveling up my arm tell me that something’s coming. I brace myself. Finally, at long last, the egg bursts open.

And as the tree sang its song, the moon bathed the egg in its warm light and…
Pop!
Out of the egg came a GROSSLY ENORMOUS, UTTERLY STARVING caterpillar!

Something thick and winding crashes to the ground at the foot of the great black oak, its massive body crushing the garden of paper flora it lands on. Everything it touches is dissolved and absorbed into its mass. Rather than simply a caterpillar, it’s more like a giant slug with a segmented body and stubby little protrusions wiggling out of its bottom. It’s hard to tell from how far away it is, but even if it doesn’t stand quite as high as the elephant-sized terracotta rabbit from before, it’s got to be at least eight times longer.

It looks like it’s entirely made of paper mache that hasn’t quite dried yet, and across the length of its entire body is an alternating pattern of dangerous looking thorns that curve backwards like the fins of a shark, and deep blue eyes glancing frenziedly in different directions all around it. Crowning its head are two antennae… or perhaps eyestalks, or maybe horns, which bulge out before it and pulsate, winking between green and red sections pumping up and down the length of the knob like a tacky neon sign.

“I’m so sorry,” said the tree to the newborn, “but there’s not much time left.
I’m so sorry I couldn’t meet you in a darker place, 
where the light in other eyes didn’t burn away the things you see in the shade.
I’m so sorry we didn’t get the chance to make this dream-slurry more of what we wanted it to be.
I’m so sorry I wasn’t able to rip off all the lies so you could know everything you wanted to know.”

Amidst the devastation, the melting gunk that composes the giant ice cream spires, which rise above all else but the great black oak, begin to burble and foam beneath their plastic eyes. They form greasy bubbles which split off from the froth and start floating through the air, where they’re soon popped by falling droplets of sky-swamp paint and unleash a torrent of sing-song babble that echo Aulunla’s own words.

“I’m so sorry that I don’t have more for you.
I have only flowers and fruits and fish and the moon.
I wish they were more beautiful, but I did the best I could.

So before they’re all cast into the sea with all the other forgotten things,
please take them and eat them all up.
Then you won’t be so hungry and you can be happy.”

All of a sudden, the wildly glaring blue eyes across the massive “caterpillar” all ignite with a bloodshot scarlet glow and cast their gazes straight ahead. The beast’s body unfurls and with unnatural quickness it slithers forward in a blinding burst of speed. Watching it surge forth in my direction floods my nerves with panic, as if I’m straight in the path of a runaway freight train. It’s the full weight of Aulunla’s presence crashing down on me like a collapsing building.

And so the caterpillar started to
DEVOUR
EVERYTHING.
And the caterpillar loved the tree very much.
And the tree was happy.

I don’t hesitate. I immediately raise eight tainted cards from my spinning ring of twenty-two. I begin running towards the great black oak, but at an angle so I have a chance of dodging the giant cater-slug thing when it comes at me.

But it doesn’t.

On the first day, it ate through one shiny purple apple, but it was still hungry.

Instead, it goes for the nearest giant apple hanging off its bent over stem. It rams right into the oversized fruit, but passes clean through without slowing down. Just by touching the apple, it liquifies and sponges it up, leaving a hole behind where it passed.

On the second day, it ate through two crystal glass pears, but it was still hungry.

After having its fill of the apple, the creature rushes right past me, so close I can see its segments squeezing together in sequence as it squirms itself forward faster than any caterpillar could possibly move, but it otherwise ignores me as I run right by it. I don’t waste this opportunity, though. With a swipe of my hand, I send the eight floating cards I’d lifted from my orbit hurtling towards the newborn monstrosity. The corner edge of each card lodges cleanly into the cater-slug’s flesh… where they’re promptly absorbed into its mass, along with all the refined sickness they contain.

Yet the “caterpillar” refuses to slow down. Jagged green veins of rot fissure through the length of the creature’s body, but it otherwise doesn’t seem affected by my attack at all. It simply speeds off into the dying forests behind me. It leaves behind a trench in the sawdust dunes, absorbing even the mulch into its body.

On the third day, it ate through three big silver bells, but it was still hungry.

I would like to say it’s fine by me if I don’t have to deal with that monstrosity, but I’m not that stupid. It was different from everything else in the Wound. The feeling of its very presence, the sheer weight of it, haunts me, like coming face to face with a tornado.

But trying to chase it down would be a waste of time, so instead I continue my wild sprint towards the towering black tree and Aulunla’s shoddy, fracturing emblem. I don’t know how long it’s been, but this is without a doubt the furthest I’ve run in my entire life. Even with my stock of health rapidly burning away, my legs are still on fire. Strangely, though, it doesn’t hurt this time.

On the fourth day, it ate through four black oak roots, but it was still hungry.

One final, enormous swarm of flower-heads is storming out of the forest surrounding the base of the great black oak. They’re joined by five herds of terracotta rabbits, three emerging from the forests behind me and two mixed in with the advancing flower-heads. The elephant-sized rabbit is leading one of the three herds trailing my back, one of its cactus ears snapped halfway off and its paper flowers having shed off from prolonged exposure to my plague.

I couldn’t possibly count how many there are, but from afar it looks like a vast field of flowers parading towards me. Not a stampede, but a parade. Even though the flower-heads are bounding on all fours like a neverending pack of hyenas, every single one of them has been touched by my curse. How I am now, sacrificing all the vitality I’ve harvested on Yurfaln’s altar, their every movement seems slow and predictable. Even this swarm of nightmares won’t stop me.

I lay my floating ring of tainted cards on their backs and have them revolve around me with such speed they blur together and can no longer be told apart. While I dodge around all of the terracotta rabbits, I’ll carve through the flower-heads just like when I ran through the forest.

But I hardly get the chance.

On the fifth day, it ate through five singing ice cream knolls, but it was still hungry.

Right as flower-heads begin to run into my ring of blades, the caterpillar-slug bursts through the treeline of the paper flower forest at my rear. It enters the fray a ways away to my right, swallowing up everything in its path. Slithering forth, it crashes through one of the isolated garden patches that had grown big enough for an ice cream spire to have sprung up from its center, toppling it over. The cone crumbles, losing its plastic eyes as it falls to pieces and is slurped up by the caterpillar, which speeds away, aimed directly towards the next nearest ice cream spire on my opposite side. It travels in front of me on its journey, carelessly snaking over the army of flower-heads as it goes.

My blight hasn’t affected the creature at all. In fact, a green gas is spewing from the pupils of the many eyes covering its length. I can sense my toxin being expelled from it with each passing moment. The green glow of the jagged scars my prior attack left it with is fading away. I can’t stop this thing the same way I did all of Aulunla’s other creations. This one is different.

On the sixth day, it ate through the dead bodies of twenty-five flowering moon-rabbits, 

Finishing off that last ice cream spire, Aulunla’s slug circles around me like a hungry shark. It snaps up the three herds terracotta rabbits that had been pursuing me from the forest at my back, even overrunning the elephant-sized giant and engulfing it whole. It’s gotten bigger than before.

Even as big as it is, it’s difficult keeping track of the behemoth’s movements while I’m being swarmed by the flower-heads, but it’s by far the most dangerous thing in the Wound right now. It’s bigger and faster than I am and my sickness isn’t stopping it. I only have the faintest idea of what I’m going to do when Aulunla turns it on me.

So I begin putting the one option I have left into action. I focus every bit of spare willpower I have on my blight as it seethes behind the entirety of the Wound.

a hundred and ten lotus-heads,

The “caterpillar” swerves around, now charging through the massive swarm of flower-headed creatures with intent, devouring swathes of everything that was in my way, including the remaining terracotta rabbits. It’s taking in all of the illness that everything it consumes is polluted with, but it just continues belching it all out like smoke from a locomotive chimney.

I won’t pretend to understand what a Harbinger’s intentions are, but Aulunla obviously had some purpose in mind when it created this monster. Even as it tears down all other traces of resistance against me, allowing me to draw ever closer to the great black oak at the center of the Wound with every step I take, I know this isn’t the end.

ten schools of flying fish that fell down from the sky, and

It had already been taking in the flying fish wherever it crawled, but now, as though polishing a table, the caterpillar behemoth spirals outwards, thoroughly wiping away the fallen fish that litter the sawdust wastes.

With the flower-heads decimated, I finally have the chance I need. I stop in my tracks and close my eyes. I reach as deep as possible into the Wound without the benefit of digging my tendrils into a direct extension of Aulunla like the roots, and I concentrate as much of my essence beneath me as I can. I open my eyes just as one of the remaining flower-heads is moving to pounce on me, tilting my still-whirling ring of cards upwards to cut it out of the air.

And then, a howl—

the BLEAK WIND THE BEAST OF MALEDICTION THE LIVING PLAGUE WHICH GNAWS AND GNAWS THROUGH MY SPINE
DIE
DIE
CEASE TO EXIST

And finally, as its fervent prayer twists into a maddened curse, Aulunla unleashes its greatest monstrosity upon me. Instantly, the caterpillar behemoth faces me down, its bloodshot eyes all falling on me, and charges. But I’m as ready for it as I could ever be.

My blight spreads out beneath the swiftly vanishing span between me and Aulunla’s caterpillar.

Firsts clenched, I heave with all my might.

The ring of tarot cards revolving around me crackles with an amethyst lightning.

The Wound rumbles.

I dig my nails into my palms, drawing blood.

The expanse of soggy sawdust beneath the giant caterpillar compresses as it loses all the dampness of the watercolor pigments which color it. The newly solidified ground cracks, then opens up like a gorge. Jets of mist tinged a mixture of jade and violet spew forth from the breaches in the turf. All of it crumbles, slipping into the ever-expanding chasm, dragging Aulunla’s caterpillar along with it.

This vast desert was originally clumped together from big, cloud-like masses of sawdust wet with watercolor paint which floated through an upside-down sky. I’ve been using my infection’s hold on Aulunla to erode the surface of the desert all this time, drying it out to make myself decent footholds, since trudging through the mulch would have made moving forward much harder.

I saw the edges of the Wound slipping away into the inverted sky not long ago, though. That meant that, underneath the sawdust dunes, there’s nothing. My power has already seeped through this world in its entirety. If I eroded not just the surface of the desert, but everything beneath it to the point where it rots away and breaks down, I guessed that I could make Aulunla’s caterpillar fall through. I hoped it, at least.

And watching the thing squirm and flounder as it sinks into the collapsing world around it, my hopes paid off. It all falls through, and as the caterpillar plummets through the hole I’ve ripped in the desert, I notice that a deep blackness has opened up in the center of the inverted sky – a substanceless void just the same as I’d seen in Irakkia’s Wound when it had started to lose its coherency.

As the pressure of that horrid thing’s presence lifts off my shoulders, I let go of the reins of my plague and fall to my knees. My cards slow their rapid pace around me. My breathing is rougher than before. I’m wheezing a bit again, and a slight chill across my body and a stiffness in my joints has crept back up on me, but I’m fine. I’ve survived. My inner illness regaining some of its weight is a small price to pay. With no time left to spare, I pick myself up and continue my run across the final stretch between me and the great black oak at the center of Aulunla’s Wound.

Across the horizon, the swamp-ocean above has come undone in places. Like water draining out of a hole in an aquarium, torrential waterfalls are spilling out into the inverted sky below, dumping the contents of the sea into the depths. The silhouettes that leaked from the sky to become the human-comets are pouring out along with the flow. Come to think of it, I haven’t heard the boom of one of them landing in the distance in a long time.

The expanse of my blight extends farther than ever before. Everything I come across as I make my way towards the black tree, from flower-heads to terracotta rabbits, is wasting away and disintegrating into particles of ashen dust. The song-bubbles blown by the ice cream spires release no more than rasping murmurs when they pop. The sigil the great black oak still proudly holds to the heavens has completely lost all coherency and become nothing but a tie-dye swirl of color splotches.

This is it. Just a bit more, and I’ll be close enough to force my blight on the tree. I’ll end this once and for all.

And just as I think that, a stiff wind bellows past me, kicking particles of colored sawdust into the air. I falter backwards. A familiar sense of dread races up my nerves. The ground beneath me quakes, forcing me to steady myself. The heavy presence and sense of dread that had fallen away and faded with distance suddenly resurges beneath me at full force. My heart sinks. The stretch of sawdust in front of me caves into a pit, cutting off my path to the tree, and begins to churn like a massive whirlpool made of quicksand.

That night the caterpillar had a stomach ache!
So the tree cradled the caterpillar in its roots and made sure it was all better.
But now it wasn’t just a GROSSLY ENORMOUS, UTTERLY STARVING caterpillar anymore.
It had grown into its fullness and begun to look upon the stars and yearn to be MORE!
And even if all that awaited it was a trite and tragic ending, it knew this was the only path.
So it built a small house around itself
and it tried to wake up.

A smooth dome surface emerges from the center of the whirlpool. It rises up, revealing a giant ovular globe. Thick, black roots coil around it, lifting it out of the dust. It’s decorated like a painted egg the color of oil on water… just like the egg Aulunla made when it first went berserk.

If this thing is one and the same as the caterpillar I dropped into the void below, Aulunla must have caught it with its roots while I wasn’t looking and carried it over here to block my path at this last moment.

If any wish the tree made for the caterpillar now would come true, 

The gust howls around me. Fractures spread across the surface of the globe. The cocoon begins to hatch.

I don’t wait for Aulunla to finish whatever it’s doing. Once again, I call upon my blight and will it to rot everything I see away. Yet, my corruption does not reach, blown back as if by the harsh winds.

the tree wanted it to have wings, so it could fly away to a place without sorrow.

The shell explodes in a rain of shards. From the cocoon emerges what looks at first like a thick black hardcover book the size of a house, but the rigid outer-binding soon opens wide. This tome has no pages, but what lies there instead is no butterfly.

Before me is the towering form of an immense origami insect: a faceless beetle of folded paper with wings made from a hollow collage of glyphs and words, all just spliced together with no actual structure that could make them possibly function as wings. The sigils marking it repeat <WING> over and over and over and over and over. The hardcover binding upon its back is its carapace. It stretches its four frontmost pointed limbs upwards triumphantly as it opens up its scissor-like, pincering mandibles and lets out a roar that shakes the very air around us.

<We Are All Of Us Pigments?>
<Aulunla, the A̶UL̡UN͏LA̧A҉ULUNL͠A͜AU̡LUǸL͝AA͞U̡ĻUN͞L͏A̸AUL͢U͘NLAAU̵L̀U̕NL͢AAUL̶>

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