I unsteadily pick myself up and point to the observation deck where the sky smashed open. The cracks are still there, but whatever I saw as the Harbinger broke through is either gone or not visible from here. “There. That tower. We should go,” I croak.
Shona’s face hardens. She stands, roughly pulling me to my feet by one arm, then cups her mouth and belts into the city: “HEY! HARBINGER ATTACK AT SKY’S END TOWER! CLEAR OUT!”
All along the streets, passersby turn to look where I’m pointing, then bolt in opposite directions as fast as their legs can carry them. A few with small children hastily scoop them up and carry them away. Cars turn at the first opportunity and disappear down other roads. Before long, the way ahead is eerily empty.
“Shit, okay. I’m sorry about this, but every second counts,” Shona says, and whistles a few notes that sound louder and shriller than anything a person could actually whistle. Crimson sparks dance over her body, then leap as one into her hand.
“Eh, what are— oww!” Before I can protest, she grabs my shoulder, sending an electric bite snapping through me. My feet shift smoothly across the pavement as I flinch and pull out of her grip, but when I right my posture to steady myself, I… keep moving backwards, slipping right along the sidewalk. I yip in surprise and grab hold of Shona’s outreached hand, the closest anchor I can find. “What did you do?!”
“Don’t worry, this’ll be easy!” Shona says, smiling a big stupid grin as she shakes my hand up and down with glee. “You ever gone skating before?”
“What? No!” When I still lived in our house, Dad occasionally waxed the hardwood floors. After he finished, I’d put on my wool socks and glide around the living room until I fell over or crashed into a table. At that point it stopped being fun, but long enough would pass before the next waxing for it to seem like a good idea again. So the cycle repeated and repeated until I left home. That’s the closest I’ve ever come to this, and the effect is much stronger here. I don’t think I would ever stop moving if Shona weren’t still clinging to me.
“…It’ll be easy,” she repeats. Who does she think she’s convincing? It’s not me.
“H-how do I stop? Crash into something?”
“Nah, all I did was take friction away from your feet. Anything else works fine as a brake!” Shona summons her violin bow in a burst of tiny fireworks, then wedges it into the corner where street meets sidewalk, holding us in place. “Like this! Just use your weapon to… oh. Right. Hm,” she says, grimacing.
“I’ve got her,” Mide says. “Take my hand and hold on, Eyna. I’ll try to make this gentler than she would.”
Apparently, that’s still not very gentle.
We race down the sidewalks at the pace of speeding cars, past the few people who haven’t already cleared away at Shona’s announcement. Rather, Shona and Mide do. I just hold on and do my best not to think about what happens if I lose my grip, go flying off into the city at full impossible speed, and smash into something like a human car wreck. My best clearly isn’t very much.
The whole process is terrifying, but turns are the worst part. Whenever we need to change course, Mide slams her spear to the ground, where it grinds against the surface and leaves a thin fissure in the pavement. Once we’ve slowed down at least a little, she glides forward, spinning in a quarter-circle around it, then digs the tip a little deeper into the ground and, using it like a ski pole, shifts her facing and pushes off in the new direction. Yanking me along with her, always with a sharp tug of my arm before I’m following behind her again.
“Are you doing alright back there?” Mide asks after one of those turns. She doesn’t raise her voice, but I hear her just fine. I’d have expected wind rushing in my ears, the way it does in a car with the window open.
“It’s quiet,” I mutter.
“Ah. Yeah, I think that’s her messing around with air resistance without knowing what it is,” Mide says.
“It’s MAGIC is what it is! Duh!” Shona shouts, looking back over her shoulder without slowing down at all. For her part, Shona doesn’t bother using a brake — she just adjusts the effect on the fly, slowing and speeding up however she needs to without any clear action. From the way she handles herself, she might as well be figure skating, except figure skaters usually can’t decide whether physics applies to them between one instant and the next.
“And the Harbinger?” Mide asks.
“Still watching, I think. Feels awful.” Its invisible eyes have never left me for more than a few moments, and its distant shriek still echoes through my soul.
“Good thing we’re here, then! Any second now!” Shona laughs. Even I can hear the nervousness in her voice.
I’m still lightheaded when we reach the tower, and I can’t tell whether it’s more the Harbinger’s lingering gaze or being hauled along the slippery streets like luggage. As the entryway comes into view, Mide grabs a lamppost and braces herself on it with one foot, then spins me around to one side and holds tight until I jolt to a halt. A second later, the ground starts to feel stable again.
Ahead of us, Shona comes to an instant clean stop. “Stand aside, everyone!” she calls to the crowd in front. “The Screaming Hymn is here to silence evil’s dirge!”
I blink twice. Do people really do that? I won’t do it. They can’t make me.
“She’s, ah, still workshopping that one,” Mide whispers. She shakes her head, smiling very slightly.
People are already filing out through the main entrance when we arrive. To my surprise, filing is actually what most of them are doing, even before Shona announces our arrival. Standard emergency response advice for these situations calls for leaving buildings “in an orderly fashion,” of course, but I always wondered if anyone faced with a Harbinger actually kept it together enough to do that. Since meeting one, I expected more than ever that they wouldn’t. But then, most of these people probably weren’t on the main deck when the Wound opened. They’d just have heard the alert — or the screams — and ran for it.
As the crowd parts down the middle for us, I pause and inspect their souls. Despite the circumstances, everyone here feels the gentle, faintly soothing way healthy people seem to, and there’s no stench of corruption anywhere among them. I could borrow their strength, if I want. Just a little taste, just enough to keep myself from passing out in a fight for my life…
“Hey, are you alright? Come on!” Shona yells, waiting just inside the front door.
No. No. The Harbinger isn’t moving right now, but they’re still too close to be safe, and I still don’t know what my magic actually does to normal people. I can’t risk making this any worse. I don’t feel ready to fight anything, but… there’s a Wound in the middle of the city. I can’t just leave it alone. I’ll have to manage. Somehow.
Inside the tower is all sleek white surfaces and smooth rounded curves, save for the two big indoor garden plots on opposite walls. It’s nearly as empty as the streets, clear save for a few stragglers still filtering out through the emergency exits. Only the weight of the Harbinger’s presence warns of what’s happening here. It intensifies as we board the transparent elevator to the top, until by the time it opens again I’m sure I can actually see those tiny invisible eyes, like something behind me reflected in the glass.
We ride in tense silence, with only nervous glances passing between us. As the elevator starts to slow, I can just make out human voices coming from above. Mide raises her shield in a defensive stance and prepares to lead the way out. She charges out as soon as the doors open, and Shona is quick to follow.
Both falter when the muffled sounds become a constant din of pain and terror.
The top floor is a wide open glass box. Two revolving doors lead onto the observation deck, and there are stairs up to a second indoor level in one corner. The room is filled with the rasping of people who must have screamed until they couldn’t anymore, but they’re still trying with everything they have, pausing only to gasp for air. Other voices are mumbling to themselves — they’re speaking phrases, forming sentences, but I can’t pull any clear words out from the noise. My instincts say to shut them out, like I’ve caught a fleeting glimpse of some horrific picture for just long enough to know that I never want to see it again.
But I can’t, any more than I can turn away from the scene around us.
People are scattered all around the area, collapsed on the ground or curled into themselves. All of them are covering their faces in some way — they’ve buried their heads in cushioned chairs, folded their arms and laid between them on the ground, or just clamped their hands over their eyes. A girl’s fingernails are scraping into the skin of her forehead between hoarse cries. All are squirming and shivering in time with their pained noises, save for one man out on the deck. He’s… I hope he’s unconscious, but can’t be sure from here.
I scan the room, counting six of them in total, and swallow heavily. That makes at least eleven our enemy has touched, maybe more hiding somewhere I can’t see. Or already inside the Wound.
I don’t know what that means for it or us, only that I no longer have any idea what to expect.
“Keepers? Are you Keepers? I… Oh, thank the Goddess, please, please, I…” A hushed voice calls out as the elevator closes, quivering and breaking mid-sentence.
“Eh?!” I yelp. Mide whirls to face the sound’s source, placing herself between it and Shona… but it’s just a person, a head peeking out from behind a column. A woman, her eyes bleary and swollen with tears. She’s not acting like the others, and I don’t smell any corruption on her… what is she still doing here?
“That’s right. It’s gonna be okay now,” Shona says, very slowly. She sounds like a different person without that constant exhilarated energy in her voice. “The way out’s all clear. You can take the elevator. Go!”
“No!” she cries out. “I can’t, my son, he’s…” She points out through the glass walls. A little boy is sitting at the far end of the deck, hugging his knees to himself. “I can’t, can’t just leave him here!”
“Okay… okay, ” Mide says. “We’ll get him back for you. Just wait there and stay quiet, okay?”
“Yes! Thank you, thank—”
“Shhh,” Mide hisses. At that, the woman clamps her mouth shut and ducks back behind the pillar.
Mide starts toward the deck without another word, not even a look our way, and Shona quickly joins her. We’re doing this, then. As for me, my thoughts are just swimming with questions. Thing after thing that could go wrong here pops into my mind, and I’m coming up blank on solutions. Can any of us even lift a kid and run off with him? He looks a lot younger than us, but he’s not tiny, maybe seven or eight. What do we do if he doesn’t want help, if he lashes out at us? If the Harbinger doesn’t want to let him go?
“So. Here’s what we do,” Shona says. She stares straight out at the deck as she talks. Keeping her eyes off the victims. Meanwhile, Mide’s gaze constantly darts around the room, searching for any sudden movements or new threats. “If I charge Mide up a bit, she can carry him away no problem! Right in, right out, then we get back to the main event.”
That’s one question answered, but not one of the hard ones. “What about it?”
Shona still doesn’t turn around, but she does break her stride. “We’ll just have to be quick about this. It’s not doing anything more right now, yeah?”
Above the deck, the sky outside is torn open to form a portal. I can’t tell what the Wound itself looks like. It’s not that the sight of it is too awful to bear — my line of sight just twists around it, passing directly from one edge of the tear to the other whenever I glance its way. No matter where I look, I only see strange-colored auroras dancing around the Wound in the corner of my eye.
“It’s a Harbinger. We have no idea what it’s doing or not,” I say.
Shona takes a playing stance, and her violin forms itself in her grip. For a few happy seconds, the snapping of her sparks rises over the awful noise in the air. “I know that,” she sighs, “but all we can do is be careful ‘til it makes a move. Unless you’re feeling anything else?”
When I try to inspect the Wound, my awareness slides over it in the same way my eyes do. Nothing else in the miasma feels active or alive. If I had to guess, the gate’s creator is somewhere inside, but my best guess isn’t good enough. Maybe it can bend perception around itself, too, and in that case it could be anywhere doing anything. I really shouldn’t get lost in worrying about every possible trick it might have, but I don’t think I can stop myself.
“Nothing yet, no,” I say.
“Then we should get to it before that changes,” Shona says. “We’ll handle getting in and getting the kid out. You just watch and keep your spooky-senses trained on the Wound, kay?”
Mide glances back over her shoulder. The two exchange a quick nod before she raises her shield, braces her spear, and leads the way out. I call my cards into being and wordlessly follow Shona through the revolving door.
Outside, the Wound casts a wide shadow. The jagged hole in the sky is surrounded on all sides by shifting, fluttering lines. The auroras dancing around it block the sun’s rays as if they were solid objects, like long flags or cloth streamers.
The sky deck itself is positioned for panoramic views of the city to the right and the sea to the left — even from here, there’s no visible trace of land on the eastern horizon. The platform is a wide triangle, fenced in on all sides by glass barriers more than twice my height, and set into the center of its floor is a giant circular window. It would look like the deck was built with a big hole in the floor, if it weren’t for the unearthly colors reflected in the glass.
Actually… can I see the portal itself this way? I think I can. My eyes don’t bend around it, and at the window’s center there’s a blur of colorful little dots like static snow on a broken TV.
The kid we’re looking for is huddled in the far corner, almost directly on the other side of the Wound from us. Counting him and the unconscious man, there are three victims out here. I’m immediately glad for the walls, since the last one is a frizzy-haired girl in a plaid school uniform trying in vain to climb over the glass.
I wonder why we’re stopping to rescue one and only one of them, not even the one who looks to be in the worst state, but the others have made their plan and the Harbinger won’t wait forever. It might not wait at all.
It isn’t any quieter outside, though the noise is very different. There are still a few people crying out hoarsely or muttering to themselves, but they’re mostly muffled by the sounds of the Wound itself. Electrical noise blares out through the portal, a crackling undercurrent interrupted at random intervals by high-pitched howls, sequences of beeps just regular enough to sound like something is tapping out a secret message, and… words? Yes, at least a few spoken words. Buried deep in the rest of the noise, but not Clarish words, not any words a human tongue could form. The distorted voice of a demon behind radio speakers. I feel them more than I hear them, and they feel… confused.
Mide stares out at the scene for a long moment. “Here we go,” she finally says, looking back at us. “Ready?” She holds her fighting stance all the while, tension in every muscle. She’d be the picture of heroic resolve if she weren’t chewing, very slowly, on her lower lip.
“Ready,” Shona answers, grinning madly.
“Go ahead,” I say. “Um, nothing from the spooky-senses yet.”
With that, Shona raises her bow and adds her own electric noise to the mix. It’s the sort of music I hate, a distorted, frantic melody, angry in a way that transcends the sound itself. Her song pushes the emotions behind it directly into my mind, like Harbingers’ speech but much easier to read. One note sings above all others.
Rage. Barely-suppressed, boiling rage, now free to let loose upon something monstrous.
Bolts of power arc out from Shona’s violin and into Mide. Magic gathers around her, casting its light over her, but the way the glow plays on her golden armor is strange. Rather than forming a solid aura and radiating out from her like a lantern, it looks like it comes from a spotlight that only shines on her. Then, with Shona’s song still ringing out, Mide takes a deep breath, bends her knees, and dashes off with sudden impossible speed. The light’s invisible source follows her movements as she runs along the platform’s outer edges where the Wound doesn’t quite reach. It’s not just that she’s fast — she’s moving more than her actual motion should allow, simultaneously running and sliding along the floor.
After a sharp turn at the left corner, Mide takes a last quick look up at the Wound, then dismisses her weapons and bolts toward the boy in the far corner. His face is still buried in his knees, and he doesn’t react at all until she comes to a clean stop, wraps her arms around him, and scoops him up with ease. He thrashes wildly as she squeezes him close, bursting into a fit of desperate shrieking so loud it would be almost unbearable… if it weren’t just one more voice added to the competing clamors of harsh music and pained groans and electrical distortions. His few clear words are worse than the sound itself: “No, wait, it’s all too… stop it! STOP! I DON’T WANNA SEE ANYMORE!”
Mide traces the same path backwards, not at all slowed down by her new burden. He flails and pushes against her all the while, but her grip barely budges. In the end, she’s there and back in a little over ten seconds. Nothing I can detect changes around the portal. These girls clearly have this more figured out than me… not that that’s saying much. I have no idea what I can do here that would matter. The Harbinger probably won’t lash out outside its Wound, but if it did, what would I do about it? Cover the deck in death-mist that might just kill all the victims?
Mide pushes back through the revolving door. As it starts to move, I catch the boy’s gaze over her shoulder.
Or I would have, if he still had eyes. Instead I’m staring into two unblinking circles of colorful static exactly like the reflection beneath the Wound’s maw.
Time seems to freeze, slamming to a halt rather than slowing to a crawl.
Something inhuman glares back at me through those windows.
The world shatters.
In an instant, everything in sight cracks. There’s no sense of impact, no sign that any of it is actually broken — instead, I’m seeing things through lenses covered in fractures, lines that move around with my vision wherever I look. Light pours through the crevices, filling the air until it’s all that I can see. Shutting my eyes doesn’t dim it at all. I bury my face in my arm, eyes still burning.
“What? Fuck, wait a—” Shona’s voice starts to call out, then is silenced.
The harsh glare leaking through my sleeve slowly shifts in hue, then dims. Only when the backs of my eyelids turn black again do I peek out at my surroundings… it’s dark here, too dark to see anything clearly, but I already know that I’ve left the world.
I don’t fall into the Wound this time. It doesn’t feel like I’ve moved at all, and the Harbinger makes no attempt to push me out.
It’s pitch-dark here. The only light anywhere comes from the one card glowing sickly green with my magic, and that’s not nearly enough to see by. Electrical hisses and whines blanket the world so completely that the sounds seep into my body, and their buzzing sets me shivering down to my bones.
“Hey… Shona? Mide? Hey! Where are you?”
No one answers, not even an echo. I can’t sense them either. Once again, I’m alone.
What’s the very first thing I remember?
I think it’s the time I first heard thunder and thought the world was ending, but… what? Where did that thought even come from? Not from me. It took a moment to recognize, but—
<it is NOT you are NOT what is Tн乇 𝔽𝓲ŕˢţ 丅н𝓲𝓃Ꮆ you ⛯ 👁 🌫 👁 ☄🌫 👁 ⛯>
LOOK TO THE SKY>
Words-that-are-not-words buzz in my skull. Light floods the world. I’m outside, suddenly staring up into a wide open expanse that is absolutely not the sky.
What is it? It looks more like television static than anything else, monochrome dots and thin many-colored waves all bouncing off each other, but that’s not quite right. This is too… patterned. I don’t know what the pattern is, just that there are too many beginnings of images or shapes for it to be random nonsense. Sometimes the dots and lines start to come together into something more. Sometimes parts of the field go black, forming dark outlines like shadow-puppets. They’re only ever faint hints of a complete picture — every time I start to think I’ve found something clear, it’s immediately scattered into nothing by jagged waves of interference.
<DO YOU WISH TO
SEE THINGS THE WAY THEY SHOULD BE?>
<SHATTER THE WINDOWS AND SHRED THE VEILS AND SHED THE SKIN WHICH IS ONLY AN ANCHOR>
Muscles all around my body shiver and twitch for an instant. Those words jab at something ugly and nameless in my heart, but… wait. How long have I been here? What is here? Why am I still trying to see through these patterns before I know where I am or where the Harbinger is or if there’s even really anything to see? I wrench my gaze from the Wound’s sky, ignoring the part of me that can’t bear to leave a frustrating puzzle unsolved.
I’m on a crumbling balcony which drops off just ahead. Two steps forward would’ve sent me plunging into the water far, far below. Beyond that, a murky grey ocean stretches out until it meets the distant horizon. The line where it touches the static field spikes wildly with visual distortions, like the sky is attacking the sea.
There’s a sudden sense of vertigo as I turn around. The Wound has moved me again. Now I’m on a long dock which twists as dark waves lap up its sides. At the end is… a bizarre parody of a massive castle. That’s the clearest way I can comprehend it.
Collapsing walls surround a mountain of stairs and long ramps and additional fortified walls curving around each other. Patches of open wall expose rooms inside the great creaking monument like cave hollows. Several inexplicable extensions, gnarled towers and strangely-shaped blocky structures jut out from the mass. The entire thing is made from grey rubble, rocks and dust and broken pillars packed together. It looks like it was built by taking a city’s worth of ugly pre-war concrete buildings, breaking them into chunks, and squishing them back into a new shape, which it’s somehow holding against all odds.
Three towers near the top end in lighthouse lantern rooms, but with bright blurs of static replacing actual lamps. They cover the whole world in pale blue light, lending everything the tint of a dark room lit only by a screen.
“Mide? Shona? Anyone?” I try again. Nothing. No signs of the Harbinger either, but… what could be taking them so long?
I take a few hesitant steps ahead. I still don’t know what this place is or how to handle it, but whatever’s keeping the others, I know the Harbinger is paying attention to me. Standing here and letting it throw me around however it likes seems bad. I’ll figure something out if I see more of it.
Where the dock meets the massive patch of garbage which passes for an island in this place, a staircase opens onto a messy courtyard, filled with tall piles of junk and the hollowed-out wrecks of small, box-shaped buildings. A steep path winds through the ruins toward the castle. Here and there, bright cloth curtains hang over walls or entryways.
The noise in the air gets louder as I approach the castle. It’s not the only noise, though. Around a corner, something in the wreckage pricks at my ears. A voice. I can’t hear it clearly over the interference, but behind a curtain draped over the entrance to one of the more intact buildings, there’s definitely a human voice speaking human language. Not one I recognize… maybe there really are victims inside the Wound? I quickly scan my surroundings one more time. When neither my eyes nor my sense for magic find any signs of the Harbinger, I tighten my grip on my card, creep up to the doorway, and push through the veil.
It’s hard to see inside, but faint light filters in through the cracked roof. I pull back the curtain to brighten the room, exposing nothing at all. Just a dusty speaker spouting hushed words, like a recording of the victims outside.
Useless. Not even an ambush, just more of the madness that fills this Wound. Groaning, I go back…
No. I’m inside again — not plunged back into complete blackness, but the space is only dimly lit with pale electronic screen-light, like a TV in a dark room. The sudden shift leaves me feeling dizzy and disconnected from myself… in fact, I’m only dimly aware of my own body. I know it’s there, but it feels less like me and more like a puppet I can move and vaguely sense the position of.
Five snowy TV screens arranged in a single long line fill my vision no matter where I try to look. After a moment, they resolve into pictures clear enough to see. They’re fuzzy security-camera images of me from all angles, standing in a round room lined with dark, twisting passages. I try to move, and while I still don’t feel anything, the me on the screens takes an unbalanced step forward. Some of the images move slower or faster than others, and they all blur and tear in slightly different places with my motion.
<this is WRONG this is BROKEN this OUGHT NOT BE HERE>
The noise in the air narrows and focuses itself to a single point — in my ears, inside my skull. It’s not like when Vyuji talks to me without sound — her speech comes with a clear sense of her presence, and this feels like the Harbinger is trying to tangle its words up with my own mental voice. But even at this distance from myself and my own head, with this bizarre out-of-body filter thrown over my perception, there’s no way I could mistake these for intrusive thoughts. The phrases themselves feel more complex than Yurfaln’s childish speech, and while some part of me can still translate the intent behind them, what they seem to be saying doesn’t make any sense.
<TO OPEN THE WORLD YOU MUST OPEN THE SELF AND
The ambient sounds rise to a painful level, becoming less like white noise and more like the whining of a dentist’s drill. Jagged fragments of an ugly dream overwhelm my senses. It’s a nightmare of drowning in an endless murky sea. My body thrashes uselessly, kicking against nothing as if it can somehow run to the surface, but of course I only sink and sink as the sea floods into me. Fear for my life gives way to dazed emptiness, and as it does, I somehow start to breathe through the cold weight in my lungs. Soon I can’t imagine ever having inhaled anything but dirty water, and I look away in horror whenever I spot distant sunbeams from above or bright lights in the gloom.
Not real. None of it is real, especially not these broken emotions. It’s all just a monster pushing its delusions onto me.
I bite my lip hard enough to draw blood and cling to the sharp, painful pressure as an anchor. I’m still here. I’m still real. I am. Holding those thoughts close, I start to shake the torrent of madness off.
Not that returning to the sight of myself through camera screens feels much better.
<YOU CAN ONLY
SEE WITHOUT EYES>
On the monitors, an angry flickering distortion scratches itself into being. Curling, flashing white lines like old film grain spread outwards in a spiral, tracing round and round like a child’s scribble until they blot out the scene entirely, then quickly reverse like a whirlpool of raggy threads swirling down a drain. It all folds back into the same point… and when the scene is clear again, a living nightmare looms over me.
The Harbinger is a tangled spiral of cloth veils in a garish twister of colors, all spinning and spinning around each other like they’re blowing about in a tornado. Space distorts in the wake of the veils as they whirl, sometimes trailing colored afterimages and sometimes making the air waver like a heat haze, creating a sickening visual blur that leaves it unclear if there’s a central mass to its body at all. Long, thin limbs stretch out from the funnel in every direction, each bending around it at many, many different joints, all ending in clawed hands. Above those, on a neck that’s just another one of its spindly limbs, is an orb of hazy white glass shaped roughly like a head. Its only facial features are three bulging eyes, each filled with different abstract kaleidoscope patterns, and a long, jagged beak. Two thin strips of fabric spiral off into the rough outlines of horns from its head. For the first time, I pull some scrap of understanding from its nonsense noise:
<₮卄ᵉ ᗯ𝕠ŘℓＤ Is Not The World>
I still can’t sense my body trembling or my heart pounding, even as I will myself to back away from the thing with halting, unsteady steps. Only my magic reacts. Raw terror surges through my soul’s wellspring and spills over me, washing away anything else I might call to the surface.
But maybe that’s enough. There’s one thing I know I can do. I’ve done it once before now. If I can just…
I can. All it takes is the slightest mental push to send my magic to work.
Just like last time, my cards rise from their orbit and arrange themselves into a bizarre spread — I can’t see the exact shape from this perspective, and I’m not sure it would make sense if I could. Icy emerald mist seeps into the Wound, not emerging from me or the cards, but seeping through cracks in the walls.
My magic casts just enough eerie light to illuminate the room… which isn’t a room, but a tunnel whose surfaces are all made from tightly-packed wreckage, like an anthill dug into a massive pile of junk. Scrap metal, shattered furniture, radios jutting from the pile sputtering gibberish, broken TV screens mirroring the static sky outside, appliances I don’t recognize and can’t imagine a function for, all of it somehow piled into a stable structure. As my fog spreads, things change — green shadows crawl over the screens, smothering their pale glow, and the radio voices choke and die, leaving only faint whispers of labored breathing.
The Harbinger — Irakkia — swivels in a full circle, surveying the tunnel, then twirls itself into a thin shape and leaps up, leaving behind a trail of visual static as it burrows and wriggles straight into the ceiling. As soon as it’s gone, the grainy screens vanish and drop me back into my own skin. Motion sickness and blood-racing panic slam into me all at once, forcing me to fall to my knees and breathe deeply until my head stops whirling. To me, the death-mist gathering in the chamber only feels like a numbing chill in the air – familiar and almost pleasant when my body is already running hot.
This was only my first strike, though. A way of feeling the Wound out. It’d be a mistake to think I’m winning just because Irakkia didn’t throw itself straight into my corruption like Yurfaln — that just means it’s not actively trying to kill itself. It’s a bigger monster that’s been around for longer. It’ll warp its world back and find another way to come after me.
I just hope those girls get here soon.