The man-shaped thing’s face was framed in shadow, but his wide smile still glinted in the dark.
“Hello there. I’m Mister Grey, and this is my associate-”
His partner bared her teeth, and hateful light seeped through the cracks between them. “-Doctor White. A pleasure to make-”
A figure crouched before the pair, hidden and swaddled in rags filthy with dried and drying blood. They shifted slowly, until a hood fell open, revealing nothing but a pair of eyes, glimmering like dying embers, deep in the recesses of what a charitable observer would have called ‘a face’. They were slumped against the side of a great and intricately-carved throne of red rock, the White and Grey looking down at them with a detached interest and a smug grin, respectively. The shape beneath the cloak of rags shifted slightly, and moved its dislocated jaw with a pained attempt at speech, but the only noise produced was a low, rasping moan.
“Well, that’s hardly talkative, Doctor White.”
“Patience, Mister Grey, patience,” she replied. “They require some time.”
They continued to watch the figure impassively as they croaked, wheezed and then finally forced actual words through their battered lips.
“Hhh…” they whispered. “Whhh… Whhhat?”
They coughed, loudly and wetly, and something landed on the paving with a splat.
“They’re confused, Mister Grey. So confused, in fact-”
“-that they’ve forgotten themselves? Well, it’s-”
“-what is to be expected, since they’ve gained a new host.” Doctor White’s skin cracked at the corners of her mouth as she smirked, letting some of the light through from inside her.
“Yes,” said Doctor White, flatly.
“It’s rather different to your previous one.” Mister Grey looked down at the broken, bleeding creature before him. “I can’t say I like the change.”
“And, since your face has changed,” Doctor White said. “What are you called now, Red?”
“Is there anyone there?”
There was nothing but cold. Nothing but darkness. Nothing but red. It bored down to her bones, seeping in through the holes in her head. It was her and what Hatred in Crimson had given her, a thin winding lifeline in a sea of darkness and bitter cold.
Beneath her mind, the pure, terrifying and humbling scale of the darkness stretched out forever, a hunger that could swallow entire suns, that hungered still. With the blinding, screaming light gone, the darkness was total but for a circle of swirling starlight, spiralling around a dark, infinitesimal point. It looked something like an eye, staring vacantly out of empty space.
With a thundering suddenness, the heavens split, fracturing like glass in a spiderweb of scarlet cracks. Around her, the little oasis of redness sung its crimson song, and from the skies, red light screamed back and reached out with cold crystalline claws towards her.
Beneath the skin, the cold glass shifted and moved, painfully wending its way through vein and artery like choking invasive vines. Red felt it like a burning in the blood, spreading from the heart, from the hand, from the mind. Inside the crystal, things stirred, thoughts from before, an amoral and alien intellect that pushed out slowly, inexorably, with neither malice nor pity.
“Please,” Red whispered, “it hurts.”
The thing replied with a series of mental images projected with such intensity that Red briefly felt lightheaded.
Unity, before. More parts, more form. We were not always like this. We were greater.
A shattering force, unopposable.
The fall. Shaping. The first host, crystalline tumours growing about their mind, their form.
Refinement. We became what was needed. A manipulator. An effector. A hand.
The Grey Midnight’s Shadow. The Searing White of Wrathful Stars. Lord Black. Shadow, Light, Hunger, and us.
A second shattering force, that tore the Hunger from us.
Anger. Revenge. A new host.
Breaking. Searing light, silver and terrible. We saw the architect of our destruction. A remnant, a broken and undone remnant, grieving and hollow. This was what had sundered gods and tamed demons?
Another host. With every life drained, suborned, conquered by our might, a fragment was acquired. We changed.
Do we want to do this any more?
Was this a question? Red couldn’t think straight. The pain was starting to make its way down his left arm, visible as movement through the skin, slow and sinuous.
“I d-dont – agh – I don’t think you want to?”
And, with that, the pain stopped.
Below, the beast roared, a painful rending wail. The noise filled her, seized her with a terrible despair. Everything she had ever done, she had done wrong. She was a nothing, a brief moment of light and heat in an eternity of cold and darkness. She forgot what light was, forgot she had eyes. There was nothing for her but darkness and an end inevitable, cold and empty. She forgot her name, let it tumble from her lips and down, down into the dark. Force started to pluck at her, pulling her downward and towards the great unblinking eye at the bottom of everything, at the bottom of the well. She could feel her light cone moving, her futures start to converge, an inevitability that could not be deferred.
And then, the crimson gleaming threads that had been wrapping themselves about her went taut, and she was yanked upwards, hard, toward what felt like the first light she’d ever seen.
She surfaced, slamming back into her own body, a shape that it felt like ages since she’d been. It was weird, bright, she had a pounding headache and she was lying on some kind of grass, so she rolled onto her side and buried her face in the crook of her elbow, frantically searching for sweet dark relief from the pain in her head. She groaned, somewhat theatrically.
“Ah.” A familiar voice, cool but with a promise of warmth. “To stare so deeply into such darkness can be hard on the eyes. Let me deal with that.”
Alice tried to say “yes please,” but it came out somewhat more like a pained grumble.
The voice, however, understood, and the sensation of a cold hand on her forehead was a relief before the short burst of healing magic realigned the elemental affinities of her brain tissue, reducing the pounding headache to a dull throb.