“Ooh. That was an explosion, that was.”
“I know that,” Red hissed. “Where is it coming from?”
“Some kind of… epicentre.”
“Once this is over, I am going to kill you.”
She reeled back, trying to blink the bright from her eyes. Her face and most of her side felt oddly cold, and when she took a few steps back, she stumbled, off-balance somehow. She tried to hold her head, realised something was wrong, looked down and saw the splintered remains of her humerus sticking out of the ruin of her now-truncated right arm.
Ow, she thought. She was already a few steps back from her conscious flesh-mind, so the wave of pain as the surviving nerve endings belatedly started to scream broke over her like a wave across the base of a lighthouse, but as more of an intellectual fact than a visceral feeling. She started to lose her grip, dissociating further from her meat-borne vessel, its ringing ears, the missing side of its face and the damaged eye that hung down by her flayed cheek, but then something distracted her from her distraction as the smoke started to clear.
A grinding noise of bone on bone, followed by a wheezing cough. “Oh, you’re still standing?”
Syrk himself didn’t look in great shape. He had barely been affected by the blast — his robes were smoking, slightly — but the feather-sword Alice had rammed into his shoulder, down nearly to the centre of his chest, was clearly causing him trouble. With a wetter chuckle than normal, he reached out, starting to push the blade out, hand-over-hand, scraping on bone and tearing at dry skin and dessicated flesh. By the time the blade clattered to the floor, she could see the bones through the shredded skin of his fingers and palms, cut to ribbons by the alarmingly sharp sword of light-sucking darkness. And then as she watched, unable to do much else but sway and bleed, the necrotic blue-black flesh and scored bone of his twisted form started to twitch and writhe, joining back together, driven by their master’s indomitable, abominable will.
“Ahhhhh,” he hissed, grinning and flexing his shoulder with a crack. “Well, I seem to have you at a disadvantage, so if you—”
She stopped hearing him, his voice fading to indistinct murmuring over the ringing in her ears, and her vision blurred.
The flesh is a cage, a faceless part of her seemed to whisper. It isn’t to keep him out, it’s to keep you in. Claim the totality of your power, it hissed in the darkest corners of her thoughts, blot out the stars.
She mumbled something, shifting on her feet. The infinite tree of worlds, of minds, of feathers and eyes and power, wobbled in her thoughts, starting to come away at the roots.
No, said something. Something else. Another part of her. The body is a metaphor. As it contains your essence, you are contained by it. As above, so below. In fact, the damage you have suffered is immaterial.
Wait what, she thought, did you not see, you know, me? I’ve got no bloody arm!
Well, some vaguely-defined concept of self thought back at her, it’s a very bloody arm, but that’s also immaterial. The self is the body is the self. Should you decide it, it will no longer impede you.
That’s not how that works! She was getting kind of annoyed at whatever dumb philosophical tripe this inner voice was spouting.
It is, though. You have to acknowledge how the form affects your mind, and how your mind affects your form. Otherwise you end up like that one over there.
BREAK FREE OF THE FLESH PRISON! FEAST ON THE ENTRAILS OF THE GODS!
Ugh, Alice thought, fine.
You might think you are your mind, but that’s not necessarily true. You are some body, after all.
Oh god d—
Her remaining eye opened.
Syrk was standing before her, hovering slightly, hefting back the feather-sword and preparing to swing.
Her other eye opened.
And then there was starlight, streaming from every surface in a myriad of colours. The sword turned to dust in Syrk’s hand, and he was thrown back, slamming against the far wall with a crunch.
“Heh.” Syrk slumped to the floor. “Ouch.”
Alice looked down at her hand, the right, the one that had been blown off by Syrk. It was whole now, with a faint numinous radiance that faded slowly as she watched, like an iridescence swimming beneath her skin.
“Not just any recently-Awakened, are you?” He stood up, yanking his broken neck back into position with a series of pops. “And still not up for talking?”
She pointed at him. Her mouth opened, and inside, something shone.
“LIGHT,” she said, and there was.
Starlight filled the room again, blazing and burningly cold. Syrk screamed, skin sizzling, burning and peeling beneath the relentless illumination. He frantically gestured, muttering strange twisting deathly words with blistering lips, and in a blaze of black fire, he pushed the light back, emanating darkness in a bubble that, while buffeted by the blazing starlight, held.
Alice relaxed, and the light faded, leaving Syrk’s weird torture laboratory looking very dark and slightly scorched by comparison.
“Not exactly what I meant,” said Syrk. His face was almost entirely burned off, just scorched bone and a jagged skeletal grin. “It’s intriguing, how you’re managing to channel this power. Some of it’s even rather painful!”
“Well, that’s just rude.”
She didn’t respond, tilting her head to the side. With a rattle, every sharp instrument in the room moved, rolling around on tables or swinging from their positions on racks to point at him. The rattling grew louder and louder, steel scalpels, knives and saws clattering on their tables before rising unsteadily into the air.
Syrk didn’t move as the first blade streaked towards him, struck some invisible barrier mere inches from his eye, and exploded in a shower of sparks. He started to move towards her, but paused as a steadily-increasing stream of sharp objects started to stream towards him, bursting into little showers of sparks on whatever ward he was using. As the supply of random knives was depleted, Alice directed the furniture to fling itself at him, and then started to peel a stream of broken chunks of stone eroded from the wall behind her, until she was basically directing a firehose of gravel into his shields, completely shrouding him in a crackling haze of sparks too bright to look at.
He started to move forwards, forging his way through the hissing, sizzling haze of energy, shielding his eyes from the burning, streaming light. Even though the stream of stones was evaporated on his external wards, the sheer momentum was too much to dissipate, and he had to lean forwards, like he was flying into a high wind, so much so that when the pebbleblasting let up, he shot a few feet forwards before he could stop, neatly impaling himself on the blade Alice was holding up.
Syrk was still missing most of his face, she noticed as she looked him over. His eyes had gone weird, too, the golden glow replaced by a burnt-out grey, thin trickles of his dark blue blood were trickling down his face like tears, and she doubted he could actually see her. But, despite that, he still grinned. Or that could have been the lack of lips.
He started to talk, to say something else, something even more annoying than before, so she reached along the length of the blade, stuck uselessly through the centre of his chest, and withdrew the magic from it, so absolutely that it became a sucking void, draining the potentia from anything it touched. She felt it like a jolt through her hand, body and soul where she touched it, but Syrk shuddered. After all, without magic, she was still a human. Without magic, he was a corpse.
She released her grip on the feather, and he crumpled to the ground like just another bag of bones.