Was there something?
A terrible, gut-wrenching, beautiful sorrow flowed through her, borne from above, yet so below. A thing from before time, before matter, before everything, that had once guided stars in their orbits of the crystal spheres, the crushing ancient sorrow of something that had existed for eons, cast down through the shattered heavens.
But those weren’t her emotions, probably. They were crashing around her in a dreadful tide of darkness, a slew of alien thoughts, feelings, experiences, a shuddering spring flood. Far up the slopes of a mountainous, ancient consciousness, a great glacier of frozen shadow stirred in its frozen sleep, casting great gouts of thought down on her, a deluge of Lord Black’s cold and monstrous mind. The dam was cracking, the floodgates were opening, and—
There was a creaking noise — one she didn’t hear as a phantasm, but with the ears of her ailing flesh.
A door opening, supplied part of her mind she’d forgotten existed.
And then, distantly, she heard a voice. “—lice?” It was a long way away, almost too far for her to hear, all the way outside her head.
“Oh hey, it’s Syrk too.” A different voice. “And he’s over there. And over there. Huh.”
Distantly, she remembered a sensation, an emotion. Annoyance.
“Sheol’s Spleen, what happened in here?” She was starting to recognise this first voice, a distant flicker of something that seemed like it belonged to another, smaller life.
“I bet it was super dramatic and took up, like, three chapters. Don’t step there, that’s a little puddle of Syrk.”
“Eugh. Also, that doesn’t answer my question.”
“It doesn’t. I— wait, look at the walls…”
“These don’t — nothing’s casting all these shadows,” said the first voice.
“Like shadow puppets, but feathery!”
“Are they wings?”
“No, they’re shadows, ya dingus. Am I gonna have to explain Plato’s allegory of the cave to you?”
That feeling was getting stronger. Definitely annoyance.
“Please shut up and help me get to her. I can’t… seem to… get close?”
“You’re really good at miming walking into a strong wind.”
“I am not miming! I can’t get any closer to her, it’s like walking through…”
“… yes. Yes, actually. There’s nothing there, but still…”
“Invisible wings! Other energy drink brands are available.”
“This is not the time for inane rambling! Alice is, she’s…”
“Hanging in midair in the foetal position? Surrounded by shadows that look like wings? Unapproachable?”
Alice… she recognised that name. It referred to… an acorn, that once dreamt of becoming a tree? A small piece of self, from which a beautiful whole had germinated? It seemed so small and far away, now.
Small and far away, but getting closer.
“Oh hey,” said the second voice, the annoying one, “the wings are moving. I think she’s being philosophical. Keep saying things! I think you’re annoying her enough to get through to her!”
“You think I’m annoying her?”
“Bold of you to assume I think.”
“You’re absolutely right.”
The argument continued, the bickering an oddly familiar and comforting sensation that she let fade to the background of her thoughts as she sorted through the dangling threads of a half-forgotten self, drowning in a deluge of an eldritch mind’s dark water.
“We’re losing her! She’s going introspective!”
“What are you talking about? She’s not moving and I still can’t… rrgh… reach her!”
She tried to focus in, down, smaller, weaker, on the eyes that first opened in the flesh. She pulled, tore at the crown, the tangled mess of brachiating paths sprouting from the seat of her soul, her mind.
In a sky she couldn’t truly see, somewhere between metaphor and madness, a terrible star gleamed down with a red-orange blackness, drinking in the world’s light. She stood among the devastation, as streams of soil, grass, trees, boulders peeled from the ground in streams towards the hungry sky. Tendrils of dark reached down, spiderweb shackles that held her mind and this terrible darkness together, that fuelled the uncontrolled growth within her minds, branching hyphaetheticals fumbling in the dark through the cognitive substrate, getting away from her, disintegrating as she tore at it, but continuing to grow even as she tried to hold her thoughts together. She looked up towards the gleaming darkness of the Hungry Lord, shielding maybe-eyes from the burning cold shadow that streamed down over this landscape of metaphor, beyond any earthly perception. It filled half the sky now, nearly all of her visual field filled with gnashing ebon teeth and the flickering ruby light of a universe ending.
She reached out, and in a moment she was taller than worlds, stepping not on ground, but in betwixt-spaces, interposing herself between the dreadful sun and the world-her-own. She held out a hand, and a sphere of crystalline memory dropped into her palm with a gleam of mnestic beauty. She grasped it, and looked into its metallic surface, feeling the thought and emotion moving within it.
Where did this come from? She thought.
I remember, she replied.
The clawed hand of a Sidereal Elf passing her a knotted clump of silvery memory.
She was unlimited, boiling, in the process of being subsumed as the dark sun drew closer. She sought to escape, but an escape from the flowering, twisting, fractal branches of winged power was not achievable by power. She dreamt herself whole, but in the seething coils of future memories were no shapes of limits, no finite selves. Just the power. Just the power. Just the power, and the final truth.
She had to stop. To be powerful, here, was to draw from that dark star that hung above her, to gaze into the hungry sun, and in siphoning power she became more like it. At some point, some point arrived, some point imminent, some point soon, finding herself again would be like taking an axe to a mighty oak in search of the acorn it grew from — the original shape she’d taken would be too different.
So she opened her hand, and looked into the silver ball of memory. It was full of small feelings, not the titanic darkling waves of sorrow and rage that boiled off the black sun. She remembered limitation. Her eyes closed, she closed all her eyes, save the two on her face. With a terrible effort, she cast memories of limits, of a finite self in a finite world, raised them as a dam across the flow of dark energies. And then, with a noise that wasn’t like a whipcrack, unlike a thunderclap, not a cacophony, she felt something separate from her essential self, a final burst of hunger and grasping shadow and then—
Alice let out a long shuddering gasp, and her eyes flew open, black as a starless night. Red and Aidra watched helplessly, unable to get any closer, as the darkness drained from them, running like tears down her cheeks as her eyes became visible, rolled so far back in her head that only the whites were visible.
“Er,” said Aidra, “you’ve got a little, ah, on your face?”
The eerie source-less light of the room flickered, and for a moment, they could see the intricate tracery of wings and feathers, silhouetted on the wall, twist and retract, curling up and vanishing. The dark tears on her cheeks hissed as they evaporated into twin trails of thick smoke, which coiled up, pooling on the ceiling and draining away.
She wavered, taking a half-step forward as she started to slowly lower to the ground, once more within the jurisdiction of gravity. Red was already stepping forwards as she collapsed, and caught her as she slumped forwards, unconscious.
“Well,” he said, as he tried and failed to manoeuvre her into a better carrying position, “I guess we should find everyone else, then?”
“Guess so. Good thing that nothing of what just transpired is gonna come back to haunt us, ever.”
“Stop spouting dire prophecies, get over here and help me, you git.”