A dirt path winds through the field west of the hospital, where the spring flowers are well into withering and dying. The sickly-sweet smell of wilt is much milder than the way my senses interpret ill people, but right now, it feels like it’s everywhere.
Maybe it’s not the best omen for this adventure, but omens aren’t real. They’re flowers that happen to cover the quickest path to and from the forest, that’s all. They can’t hurt me.
…For all the good that does. I don’t need omens to know the unclaimed lands are teeming with things that can very much hurt me.
But that’s my life now, isn’t it? Weighing a world of nightmares against something that will kill me if I stop throwing myself at them.
It’s the kind of bright, breezy day most people would call nice, which means that the sun, that asshole, is glaring down at me as I walk and there are other people here. For obvious reasons, no trail leads directly through the field and into the forest, so I’m stuck making my way past them. Off to one side, a couple is taking pictures of dead plants, even picking a few and tucking them between the pages of a book. Bizarre, but whatever makes them happy, and it keeps them too busy to watch where I’m going.
At the far end of the field, I trample through the thinnest row of greenery I can find, using my cane as a hiking pole. Beneath the first trees, a layer of underbrush crowds the ground as far in as I can see. Of course this wouldn’t be like the well-kept urban woodlands dotting New Claris, but I didn’t know what would be different or how quickly it’d get in my way. It’s tall, but looks thin enough to push through with only some trouble… until the forest starts grasping for me as I pass, with plants that look like bare thorny branches clinging to my sleeves and pricking at my arms like hands rising from the earth to drag me under.
I can’t tolerate it for long. After a glance back to confirm that nobody is watching, I call my magic into being. Sourceless emerald light dances through a sudden darkness, which seems to fall and lift in the very same instant. It occurs to me that the comfortable jeans I was wearing might’ve been more suited for stomping through the brush than my Keeper outfit, but that’s fine. I’m done stomping.
Stirring up the cold bitterness in my soul, I create a thin curl of killing mist and let it sink to the ground. Where it touches, shrubs and twiggy growths start to wither as if from age. As they bend and shrivel, flashes of green light leak out from inside the plants’ remains and quickly fade. Like they’d only ever been shells housing wisps of corruption that are now eating their way free.
Soon, I’ve created a trail, a grey scar lined with decaying plant-remnants. A shudder wracks my body, but I swallow my disgust and push the mist forward with my mind, slowly stretching my path further into the forest. If I need to run away, my scar should lead the way out. Every so often, I look back to make sure it’s still there.
I have no idea what comes next. The unprotected lands beyond our cities form a gaping hole in my knowledge, exactly like the one that was only recently filled by my first encounters with Harbingers. Both are dangerous mysteries normal people put out of mind and hope they’ll never have to worry about. This one is easier to avoid — maybe airship travel between cities is a little scary, but mostly you just don’t do the exact stupid thing I’m doing right now — so there’s even less said about it.
Should I watch for the trees to gnarl into strange shapes? For the canopy to thicken until it blocks out the sun and I’m stumbling through a lightless cave of greenery? For the world to abruptly end, replaced with some horror show I can’t yet imagine? Or if Harbingers are just roaming openly through the woods, maybe nothing will change at all before they strike? Vyuji implied they might not bother with Wounds out here, where they had nothing to hide.
Something rustles in the bushes. I startle and ready a card, training my magical senses on the disturbance, where… a hedgehog peeks through the leaves at me. It grunts out a sound like a loud, angry sniffle as it meets my eyes, then scurries away. Whatever’s waiting further in, it’s left room for that little guy.
Do Harbingers care about animals? I’m not sure. I think I remember a PSA saying to “pick up your children and pets” when you need to flee quickly, but that seems to me like something you would do anyway.
Several more minutes pass, and the forest remains just a forest. And then, something shifts in the atmosphere. In the sounds of the woods, I think at first, but that isn’t right. It’s a sudden quiet, yes, but only in my magical senses. If I hadn’t noticed it was missing, I might never have recognized it at all. There’s normally a faint undertone beneath anything I sense, like hearing your own blood flow when you cover your ears. And now it’s gone.
Was it gone in the Wounds? I think it was, but I really don’t know. The moment I found myself in Yurfaln’s and Irakkia’s worlds, I was entirely focused on fighting for my life. If any of this spiritual background noise was there, I wasn’t listening for it.
Just as I realize this, the light changes. It’s still bright out, but the colors are all wrong. Without any dimming or lengthening of shadows, everything takes on the tint of early dawn light. When I look up, about a third of the sky has torn. The sun ripples wildly as if in heat haze until the distortion spreads over it. Day is a layer of wallpaper ripped away to expose a bright yellow-orange sky, complete with a loose flap of blue dangling off the hole like scraped skin. The tear in the sky looks closer than it could possibly be, more like a low cloud cover than the distant stars of true night.
A low, rumbling sound rips through the trees. The distant call of some great beast, but one whose voice is a wildfire, formed from roaring flames and hot gale winds and trees tumbling to the ground as they burn.
In answer, a peal of hysterical laughter rises over the roar. The voice is silvery, low but distinctly feminine, and trailed by echoes that buzz like the beating of tiny wings. It almost sounds like a person… or at least its cadence has the trappings of what a person might sound like.
I freeze, then glance, very slowly, over my shoulder. The scar that marked my straight path into the forest is gone, leaving only a grey circle right where I’m standing, and in both corners of my eyes, the trees behind me are quickly… not becoming something else, but twisting. Their bright new leaves slowly disintegrate, not crumbling into powder but burning away in invisible fires that leave no sign they were ever there, only bare winter branches. Gaping holes sprout over their trunks, so many that it looks like there shouldn’t be any tree left at all beneath them, and each flickers with red-orange inner light like candlelit windows.
What begins as a gradual change, trees warping into this new form one by one, swiftly picks up its pace until the forest has become an expanse of hollowed lantern-trees as far as I can see. The underbrush vanishes, replaced with a layer of ash that blankets the ground like snow. The sky is now fully dyed in a blurry mix of oranges, the colors of sunrise over a desert, but the sun is nowhere in sight, replaced by many dancing points of blazing white fire.
All the while, the distant noises continue. I can’t tell what the humanlike voice is saying, but it answers every explosion and crack of breaking wood with rhythmic bursts of Harbinger-speech. Shouting back at it, like trying to frighten an avalanche away.
I can’t see anything but sourceless light in the hollows, nor sense any active magic from them. There’s only the faintest ambient traces of a Harbinger, which only tells me that they probably won’t kill me. What are they? Is this a Wound? Have I moved or did part of the world itself just bend itself around me and snap its jaws shut? How? My mind swims with questions I have no way to answer. All I know is that somewhere far away, in a direction my senses can only interpret as “further, deeper,” a presence looms. Hateful. Menacing. Claiming its territory.
Which I suppose is why I’m here. This may not be a good plan, but it’s the only one I have.
My breath catches at a flash of motion in the branches above me. Something small and bright darts between the branches, followed by many, many more somethings. I shudder and gather a plume of death-mist around my feet, but still they skitter down from the trees and burrow up from the ground, surrounding me. Creatures in all shapes and colors, like insects made from flowers and leaves, with the balance of plant and animal a little different between each of them. I’ve never been good with bugs, and their soul-sparks all reek of a Harbinger’s touch, but I have to admit, there’s something eerily beautiful about them. Like orchid mantises, lovely if you don’t think about all the butterflies they’ve gutted.
But these ones aren’t gutting anything. They aren’t even advancing. They gather into a half-circle, countless little eyes staring up at me, and there they stay. I hold my ground, searching with my soul for anything that might be using them as a distraction, but don’t lash out just yet.
Still keeping a healthy distance, they arrange themselves into a complex sigil, like a piece of expertly embellished calligraphy with each line written by insects of a single color. It’s the same script as those that appear in Wounds, but it still means nothing to me. When Yurfaln or Irakkia were screaming into my head, I could pull some meaning from their souls, the magic carrying their nonsense words. I can’t read this in the same way. There are tiny wisps of power spread through them, like diffuse, sourceless light that sets some of the insects shimmering much brighter than others as it shifts and catches them, but the symbol is too far removed from the Harbinger itself to really contain its intent.
“I don’t understand,” I say, not sure what to expect. These don’t feel like minions of whatever twisted the forest, so who am I talking to? Why is it talking and why should I listen to what can only be a Harbinger?
The swarm is still for several more seconds before it skitters into a new formation. This time, they separate by colors into three circles: one blue and green, one orange and yellow, one red and black. I didn’t think flowers could be the lusterless ink-black shade of that last group’s darkest members.
Then the yellow group and the red group charge into each other full-force like soldiers going to war, and they aren’t acting. All along the lines where the hordes meet, bugs tear each other apart with barbed vine tails and scything petal-claws. The blue insects also join the battle, but they do so slowly and carefully. They stay back, keeping their borders with the others small, and defend their territory rather than rushing to their deaths. A few from this last group step out and look up at me expectantly.
“Okay, you’re saying there’s two of you here, and the other one is… doing something? Attacking you?” I address the watchful flower-bugs. Stupid. Harbingers won’t understand Clarish or Thalassic any more than I understand their language. Probably less.
They gesture to the frenzied mobs. I watch them slaughter each other from the corner of my eye, keeping the grisly scene out of sight as much as possible. One green flower-thing that buzzes like a cicada as it moves steps forward and draws a diagonal line in the ash, slanted so it crosses between me and the third group and ends as close to the battle as the bug dares to go. It could equally be marking its territory like a child in a sandbox or suggesting a way to go.
Before I left, Vyuji said Harbingers out here were usually warring with each other. I’ve apparently stumbled into one of those wars, so is it offering a truce? Leading the way to an enemy, saying we should leave each other alone and… not exactly team up, but hit it in our own ways at the same time?
“Vyuji…?” I try. I don’t know how to respond to this, but she might. She could at least warn me if I’m better off ignoring anything a Harbinger says and trusting my own blind guesswork.
No response. Of course.
In that case, all I can do is work from what I know and what I can sort-of-reasonably assume.
This Harbinger is smart and stable enough to identify me as an unpredictable new force in its environment, have the idea to aim me at its rival, and communicate in a way I think I understand. That makes it more dangerous than the other, not less — I have no reason to believe it’s another Yurfaln, reaching out because it thinks I’ll be its partner. Anything it shares with me is at best a move that serves its goals in some way and at worst a lie set to bait a deathtrap. Still, as long as I remember that it’ll stab me in the back if it gets the chance and I’ll do the same to it, it seems better than nothing. Better than storming in and fighting both at once.
How do I actually agree, though? I can’t project thoughts without words the way Irakkia did. After a moment’s thought, I point to the line in the ash, trace my finger along it toward the warring groups, then raise a hand and release a tiny wisp of fog in the same general direction.
The battle comes to an instant stop. Completely abandoning the fights to the death they were locked in moments ago, they buzz excitedly amongst themselves, then shift into a new formation, no longer separated by color: a full ring of them gathers around a single great mass, and the ones in the center begin to dance, frenzied and aggressive in their movements but mostly without violence. Between steps, some of the dancers display their petals and wings like birds showing off their plumage. Others bow low to them and skitter away from the dance, joining the circle, and within a minute, only two remain.
The circled insects wave their limbs in little cheers as the apparent winners draw close to one another, press their heads together, then set off in opposite directions and begin to rip the still-cheering spectators apart. Bile rises in my throat, but I can’t bring myself to look away. Not while the Harbinger-aura around the insects is growing much stronger and the world is twisting in a new way.
All around the shredded corpses, blue-green grass sprouts up through the ashes, swallowing the grey carpet impossibly quickly. A row of plants grows in seconds, forming a fence between me and the insects’ graveyard, and each sprouts a slightly different slender-fanged maw or cluster of sticky dew-tipped tendrils or cavernous bulb-mouth. Beyond that carnivorous wall, greenery stretches further and further out into the deep woods until it’s transformed about half of the forest I can see into another region entirely.
This new Harbinger-forest looks like a stylized painting of a forest at night, the kind where deep darkness is represented by tinting the light in shades of blue and purple, and it’s absolutely crawling with life. Insects swarm through the trees. Plants sprout from nothing in seconds, then lean down and lay rows of tiny pearlescent eggs from their blossoms. The grass itself is expanding — its blades constantly bend down, dig into the earth, and sprout again a few inches away, so the ground’s texture is more like a woven basket than a wild meadow — and show no signs of ever stopping.
Slowly, grass threads itself over the sharp line where the ashen hollow-tree woods instantly transition into the insects’ forest, creeping into its territory. Early dawn and unearthly night clash as the grass grows, carrying the violet darklight of its realm of origin with it. The sky is divided the same way, a jagged border split between burning sunrise and twilight spotted with countless tiny green stars that dance through the sky like fireflies, constantly crashing into each other, growing larger and brighter and more vibrant, then bursting into clusters of new stars.
Only when this new world has taken full shape does its creator emerge. Announcing the Harbinger’s coming, a heavy floral smell floods the air like incense, complete with thick, choking smoke. Hands reach through the grass and push upward, like a corpse rising from its grave, and at first, that’s exactly what the emerging figure looks like.
A ghoul, withered and clammy, humanlike but unnaturally tall and slender in its proportions, with a long fall of perfectly kept blue-black hair draped over its — her? — face. Plates of chitin shimmer into being around her body and create a form-fitting exoskeleton styled like ceremonial armor, beetle-black but reflective in a way that sends shifting plumes of iridescent oil-slick colors dancing along it as the light changes. Blades of blue grass stretch and knit themselves into clothlike coverings around her limbs, the organic weave climbing up her shoulders before spilling down the rest of her body. A pair of moth wings unfurl from her lower back, shining in a prismatic array of blue and green gem-tones, then stretch down and wrap around her legs, forming the hindwings into a long skirt and the forewings into coattails held just above the ground. Soon her corpse-skin is entirely covered by this garb, and again, I can’t deny that it’s beautiful in its own unsettling way.
A mask of the same black material covers her face when she rises to meet my gaze, leaving only holes for two bright green compound eyes, like the eyes of a dragonfly set into human sockets. Finally, two long, thin black sabers appear in each of her hands, both slightly curved, spiny as the leg of a mantis on one side, and decorated at the hilt with a trail of dusk-colored tassels. She bows with a twirling flourish, and her motion is impossibly fluid in a way that reminds me of Vyuji, but what she’s doing couldn’t be more different: where my Messenger is mechanically efficient and precise, this Harbinger moves like everything she does is a step in an elaborate dance she’s planned out in full long ago, all carefully calculated to express some great secret meaning I can’t fathom. Only a tiny shard of her message reaches me, carried in a trilling voice between steps of her performance:
<There Can Still Be Something Beautiful>
The distant crackling voice roars as if in protest, which Vianzia ignores. She beckons me over to her side of the forest. After another look at the fanged flytraps between us, which have parted only slightly in the middle, I raise my free hand and mime pushing a person away. Vianzia tilts her head and giggles softly, but doesn’t press the issue. She gestures again in the direction that apparently leads to the other Harbinger, then sets off. I follow, keeping a close watch on her side of the forest with both my eyes and my soul.
But behind us, one more thing pricks at my mind, something that’s not her and not the other monster. It isn’t very strong or harsh, but it’s like nothing I’ve ever smelled. Wet skin? Yeast dough? Musty air? None of those are right — they’re all just ideas it vaguely calls to mind. The real scent isn’t a combination of anything I know, it’s something else entirely. I look back, searching for its source.
Still partially submerged in the ground is a green worm the size of an eel, but splitting at one end into a tangled cluster of wire-thin branches, like a simple diagram of neurons in a kids’ medical book. Its strands rummage through a pile of insect bits and torn petals, gathering parts up into a toothless mouth.
“What is that?” I ask, and point it out.
The moment Vianzia spots the thing, she spits out a string of words that sounds like a poem composed entirely of curses, heavy with utter disgust, then plunges one blade straight into the ground. From the dense foliage of Vianzia’s side of the forest, four black vines with thin barbed ends slither out like serpents, quickly encircling the worm. Then they rear up, lash out, spear into it in unison, and start to spin in opposing directions, twisting and shredding until all that’s left of it is a scattering of still-twitching remains, like it was put through a blender. Which still isn’t enough for her. A new small group of plant-bugs rushes down from among Vianzia’s trees to carry the thing’s scraps away, leaving no trace of it.
All of this takes maybe three seconds.
Vianzia hums to herself, sounding satisfied. She says something to me in a murmuring melody of incomprehensible trills, then returns to strolling through the forest like nothing ever interrupted us. I stare in mute shock for a moment longer before I follow her. Three of them. There are at least three of them. This forest is a warzone and I’m marching into the middle of it.
The path we take follows the unnatural border between Vianzia’s forest and the other one’s ashen realm. She chatters musically to herself all the way, and never looks back to see what I’m doing. Probably because the parade of insects trailing behind us are keeping watch for her.
It’s hard to say how far we travel like that. Does distance mean anything when the local monsters are constantly rearranging reality? I haven’t had any idea where I am or which way the city is since my trail vanished, and all I have to mark our progress is the feeling of growing closer to the burning voice. Everything has been narrowed down to either “toward” or “away” from the two Harbingers. If I need to escape, the best I can do is focus on them and run in the opposite direction. Like lighthouse navigation, if lighthouses ate people.
Eventually, Vianzia hisses something and raises an arm in a stop signal. I take cover behind a gnarled tree and reach out with my magic, gathering all the information I can. The wildfire presence is just ahead, but it’s not alone. It’s all tangled up with something else. The third aura is hard enough to sense clearly that I can’t tell if it’s the same as that scavenging worm. It’s somehow scattered, with no heart or central point to inspect. All I can gather from it is a vague sense of inner weight that reminds me, inexplicably, of realizing that I could’ve drained Mide to death. Past this point, I need to see to know what I’m dealing with. Slowly, squeezing the twisted tree with both hands, I peek out from my hiding spot.
Beyond the treeline is a field reduced completely to cinders and dust, and there, beneath a burning desert-dawn sky, is a house-sized nightmare of blackened wood and twisted roots. Its shape recalls a giant reptile, like a dinosaur or a dragon out of a storybook, armored in craggy bark plates. Light leaks through the crags at shifting points all over its body. It has nothing like a head or face, only a flattish stretch of wood at its front end. There, a single rotten-looking hollow glows with firelight brighter and harsher than those in its twisted trees.
Branches rise from its back like quills, and thick roots stretch out from it in all directions. Those roots are growing and burning at the same time, flaming at the tips while they slither outward, and its constant cries send hot wind blasting through the air and ash storms swirling up from the ground.
<Stillness Is Sanctuary>
Ourien doesn’t appear to take any notice of me. Its focus is entirely elsewhere, and it only takes a moment to see why: all through the clearing, things are stirring beneath the ash. Formless red-and-black ooze bubbles up from the ground like oil, wailing and gurgling. Every patch is trying to shape itself into something as it emerges, but they never make it far, because Ourien’s roots stab into them and set them on fire almost as quickly as they appear.
And there are things crawling through the holes in its body. Thin red wisps with tiny faces upon which three black splotches form the uneven shapes of two eyes and a mouth. They aren’t extensions of Ourien. They definitely aren’t Vianzia. The third one is… infesting it. My stomach lurches.
Three groups. Vianzia told me exactly what was happening. I hadn’t known what to make of those two swarms of insects locked in a mad battle to the death, only that it was something to do with Harbinger territories and battlegrounds. Is that her plan? Use my arrival to break a deadlock and pick them both off? No, it’d be dangerous to let myself believe her goals are aligned or even compatible with mine.
Thinking over our next steps, I glance back at her slice of the forest. The point where Vianzia’s teeming jungle meets the clearing is lined with insect-plants unlike the others, sharing none of their eerie beauty. Clusters of huge bone-colored thorns that jut out in all directions from no visible central stem, they resemble sea urchins with wide, thick spines more than anything else. Each is maybe a foot shorter than me. As the burning roots draw closer, some lift themselves up and reposition to meet them, moving on six tiny legs that emerge from just beneath the center of their spines.
Vianzia spins to meet my gaze with perfect timing, like she knew without seeing exactly when I looked at her. I break eye contact and return to the clearing, where Ourien slaughters an endless tide of ooze-creatures. Teamwork ended horribly for me when I could talk to my allies and none of them wanted to eat me. This is worse in so many ways I don’t know where to start. We can’t plan, can’t communicate in any real way, so what’s the first step? Whoever takes it exposes herself for an immediate backstab. Her trap can’t be something as simple as “go get them, I’ll cover you,” since there’s no way I’d jump right in and she certainly won’t either, so what can I do?
The Harbinger breaks my concentration with a few trilled words, then answers my unspoken question. Her spiky bush-things rise and scuttle a few feet into the clearing, advancing in near-perfect unison, then replant themselves. Blue grass that suddenly looks very sharp, gleaming at its edges like tiny knives, weaves itself forward in their wake.
Vianzia throws her arms wide and starts to spin, taking what could’ve been the simple motion of making herself dizzy for fun and performing it with grace enough to turn the act into a spontaneous bladed ballet. As she twirls, perfumed smoke overpowers my senses, crowding out the other auras. She’s flaring, I realize, just like I do. Vianzia doesn’t go to battle with a monster’s hunting call, with hunger or bloodlust. The emotions her power carries, the heart of her…
When I was much younger, before I was too constantly sick to go to school, I once stumbled onto two boys killing a grasshopper. Rather, one slowly killed it while the other goaded him on in that horrible way boys do, bragging about his collection of pet bugs whose legs he ripped off to keep them from escaping. I ran straight off that playground at the sight, ran until I couldn’t anymore. I didn’t want to be around a dying thing, but more than that, those boys terrified me. If they’d do something like that just because they could, what was stopping them from tearing my limbs off and carrying me around in a box? It took a week to convince me that other children weren’t going to murder me for fun.
Vianzia projects the easy malice of a child torturing an insect just to see what will happen, not knowing or caring what she’s doing to another living thing. Being so close to her makes me feel like that grasshopper. Or maybe, in this context, like the boy being pushed to kill it.
But her display does draw Ourien’s attention. It howls, pushing back against the vicious pressure of her soul with its own scorching rage. Roots twist to grow in her direction, and it stomps toward her forest in long, slow strides that shake the earth with each step. The air itself starts to burn — tongues of flame burst into being from nothing, alternately falling and fading or drifting on the wind like leaves. I wipe my face on one sleeve, knowing the clinging sweat will be back seconds later.
Vianzia ends her dance to buzzing cheers from an audience of insects. She comes to a stop facing me, chirps something, and skips away to meet Ourien’s advance. Her creations are quick to follow in a chittering storm of wings and blossoms. As one, the spiky bush-things explode, bursting into a thicket of brambles — like razor wire, but made of vines and thorny bone spurs, and clearly still alive, actively twining together and digging into the ground.
What is she planning? It can’t be that she’s just not concerned about anything I might do to betray her, can it?
Well… whatever her angle is, she’ll be ready for a fight. I really am better off attacking the ones that haven’t been watching me. Ourien is already tied down with two other enemies, so… here we go. Slowly, I gather my magic in my heart. With a little time to prepare, I can flood the whole clearing with death. Hopefully, all three of them will—
A voice shrieks right into my ear. A mass of black-and-red falls from no clear source and fills my vision, like a waterfall behind my eyes. Patterns of red in the darkness form outlines faintly like the crude faces crawling through Ourien’s body. Impossible to tell where it is in space, if it even is anywhere. My heart hammers painfully and I taste terror in the back of my throat, bitter and salty. It’s too much, too fast, I don’t trust myself to shape magic the right way, so I do the one thing I can and unleash a raw burst of death-mist.
The thing draws away from my fog in a sudden lurching movement. To my eyes, it looks like it jumps out from inside my head, but it wasn’t quite quick enough. Tiny seeds of my power lodge inside it, waiting to grow into disease and death.
Seen from a distance, it’s a living ooze like the ones leaking up through the clearing. Much larger, but still flowing and shapeless, at first. Its red parts slide along its surface, gather into clumps, and mold themselves into round wax masks, all depicting anguished faces made of three distorted holes just like the ones crawling through Ourien. It lets out a thousand shrill, tiny cries, screams of soul-deep agony that combine into a dissonant melody. In a chorus sung by the screams of rabbits as they die of fright, it speaks:
<Please Stop You’re Hurting Me>
Then, without tensing or rearing back or showing any sign of preparing to move, it throws itself at me. I step to the side and dash to take cover behind a tree, but it falls short — it wouldn’t have reached me anyway. It just dives into the fog like it’s trying to smother a fire with its body, and there it stays. Almost like that’s what it was aiming to do.
What it said before, was that its name? If it was, the idea behind it doesn’t fit. It’s not like any of the others, those twisted declarations about the way things are. Is there any way it’s actually talking? How would it, why did I… why am I crying?
Esonei squirms and squeals in obvious pain. Its masks start to melt.
This feels more like killing an ugly little animal just because it disgusted me than battling a horror. It’s pathetic. So pitiful it’s painful. Wordless impressions crawl through my thoughts of the poor thing. Shredding. Burning. Sins heavy enough to crush a soul. So many lives and all of them end with Its splintered jaws snapping shut around cindered remains. It knows not what It does It must know It must be made to feel to UNDERSTAND
I grab my head, clenching locks of my hair between my fingers, and scream. Just to focus on something concrete while I block out all the thoughts that aren’t mine.
…Where did that stop being me? Nightmares jamming themselves into my thoughts is becoming a familiar feeling, a thing I can recognize from experience. I hate it, hate all of this, hate what I’m doing to myself, mutilated in Its image to show It the horror in what It has done— stop it. Stop it. Get OUT.
I pull back my right sleeve, grab a card, and draw its sharp edge sideways over my arm. Bloodletting for my soul, the simplest, easiest way my power seems to work. Through the biting pain I do my best to gather this corruption and force it out of myself, but it’s not so concrete a thing as my sickness or Yurfaln’s remains. It isn’t a disease, it’s only an infection in some abstract way, and worst of all it isn’t a single thing — it’s already as scattered as its source, tangled and wound through me in ways I can’t make sense of. Even as I try to purge it, spectral red faces flit in and out of the corners of my eyes. Their circular mouths are locked open in silent screams.
Vianzia laughs as if at some cruel private joke.