The figure lying on the bench muttered something groggily in response, and turned over, away from the young woman.
“Hello?” she asked, louder this time.
The man groaned, and sat up, dislodging the pile of papers and leaves he had been sleeping under. They cascaded to the glinting glass cobbles of Echoing Park’s pathways, briefly glimmering as the automatic cleaning systems absorbed them. Around them, the umber grasses of the natural space stretched out, immaculately manicured, dotted by the occasional floating crystalline tree in the early morning sunlight. Further than that, the iridescent spires of the Glass City shone bright, and the fresh air was filled with the gentle murmur of a working city.
“Wh’dy’wnt?” the man asked, half-yawning. He was very different from the girl, his skin smooth, green and hairless where the woman’s was lightly coated with dark brown fur. The fins on the sides of his head fluttered gently as he stretched, yawning again. His frayed robe, sewn with innumerable patches, stood in contrast to the shimmering, neat and clean fabrics that hung loosely from the girl’s shoulders, and there was no equivalent in his attire for the collection of small crystals that hovered in the air around her head and shoulders with no visible means of support.
“I was, um, wondering if you were okay,” she said shyly. She hadn’t seen many of these ‘extraRealmic Peoples’ before, and this was all rather exciting.
“I,” he said, wobbling ominously, “am in the prime peak of physical healthiness.” He followed this up with a wet, hacking cough into his sleeve.
“Is it, um,” she fumbled slightly with her sleeve. “Is it okay to ask what you’re doing here, sleeping on the bench?”
He grinned. “Of course you can ask questions, but are you sure you’re asking the right ones?”
She frowned. “I mean, I start with broad questions, and then move down into more detailed things. And why are there ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ questions?”
“Oooh, good question!”
She waited a good few seconds for his answer before speaking. “Um, are you, I mean – are you going to actually answer my question? I get – heh – I get enough riddles from my teachers at Magespire.”
“Ah, yes, Magespire,” he said, ignoring her question. “Those lessons are going to last your entire life, you know? ‘Specially that one about the cabbages.”
She laughed. Her voice was melodic, clear and bright, and it filled the stranger’s mind with half-premembered things, from another time and place, as distant as worlds and yet closer than he could possibly imagine.
“You’re a good kid, you know?”
She snorted. “I’m not a kid. For all I know, I’m older than you.”
“Oh, you will be.”
“What’s that supposed to mean? And who even are you?”
“You know, I didn’t even have a name for…” he counted on his fingers, “months? A year? Man, that’s longer than I thought.”
The young woman sighed loudly. “What. Is. Your. Name?”
“Oh wow, you’re getting impatient. You’ve sure left that behind, next time I meet you. Now, my name’s Aidra. What’s yours?”
“Oh, right, haha. You’re not from around here, you can’t tell from this,” she said, tugging at a section of one of the shawls across her shoulders, covered in complex iconography. “I’m Gyran, of House Triskelion.”
– – –
Darkness and red surrounded her, and she shot forwards, dodging shattered fragments of crystal the size of mountains. In her mind’s eye, she saw the machinery of the flight she’d created for herself, an engine that would carry her through this airless void.
She pointed and spoke a syllable. With a not-sound like and unlike thunder, a coruscating blast of light slammed into the fragmenting form of the Frozen Crimson Tears, leaving a scorched crater in its craggy surface. The creature struck back with a prominence of gravitics that would have reduced a living being to so much of a bloody smear. She felt her shields and wards react, contemptuously disregarding reality and shattering the whipping thread of ultradense matter as it made contact.
“YOU WILL DIE ALONE. YOU ARE THE LAST.” The voice was not of sound. The voice was of longing, of fear, of loss and sorrow, of millenia of pain and malice. It burrowed into her skull with all the delicacy of a sledgehammer, and she ignored it.
She called upon fire, and within her palm a star sparked into being, flaring with a hateful light, grey and monstrous. She flung it forwards, and it smote a great chunk of the jagged hide of the Mineral Fae off, tearing through its own defences with ease.
“YOU SHALL NOT BE AVENGED. THERE IS NO REASON. THERE IS NO CATHARSIS. THERE IS ONLY ME. YOU BROKE LORD BLACK, YOU BROKE OBLIVION. THERE WILL ALWAYS BE MORE. YOUR SELF-APPOINTED TASK WILL NEVER END.”
The entire planetoid of the Tears shook, dislodging a fragment that filled her vision from horizon to horizon. With a blast of force, it shot towards her across the empty vacuous gulf, bearing down on her like the fist of an angry god.
She held up a hand. “No.”
The crystal shattered. It had been prepared for this, and flung a wave of crushing power through the curtain of shards. She moved her hands in a practised, smooth gesture, and tore the wall of force apart, flying forwards – her nimbus of wards and shields trailing behind her like a comet’s tail.
“A MEMORY!” screamed the voice of the Frozen Tears. “A GHOST! A REMNANT! NOTHING BUT A CODA, A FOOTNOTE IN THE LIFE OF YOUR CIVILISATION! YOU YET MOURN, BUT YOUR KIN HAVE BEEN FORGOTTEN! ENTROPY SHALL WIN! THEY ALL FADED AND SO! SHALL! YOU!”
“And yet,” she replied, under her breath, sound lost in the Void, “here I am.”
She reached out, grasping the threads that ran beneath the Real, and pulled them aside. The ‘landscape’ of the Void shifted, moving apart like water, and Oblivion’s Reef lay ‘below’ them, the far North of the Real laid bare.
Her fist clenched, she reared back and struck, the force of her blow travelling forwards through the vacuum, multiplying as it travelled, the thaumatic shockwaves released shattering stray crystal formations to powder. Space bent and warped as the Tears tried to move its form out of the way, but it was larger than a planet. It was too slow. Cracks spread across its surface as the piston of pure force hit, but that wasn’t what ended the Frozen Crimson Tears. The force of the blow sent it crashing down, into the jaws of Oblivion’s Reef.
There was no sound. There was no air, but Gyran heard the beast scream all the same.
“Y-OU.” Its voice was garbled, twisted by pain. “H. OW. YOU CANNOT.”
She watched as it squirmed, tearing itself apart in its attempts to escape the grinding twisting shapeless space of the Reef.
She watched until it stopped screaming, and then kept watching.
Hours, maybe days later, she watched.
“…” said something.
“I,” it said.
“What am I?” it asked. “Why do I hurt?”
She reached forward, and with a monumental effort of will, tore the planetoid of red crystal from the mouth of Oblivion’s Reef, setting it into the sky of a different Void.
“You are safe, now,” she replied. “And my name is Gyran Triskelion.”