Something formless jogged down a series of concrete hallways, wearing the shape of a security guard.
Acquiring the shape had been somewhat complicated — the Gyran had suggested that it should avoid killing sapients if possible — so it had instead distracted the person whose shape it was seeking into a room on their own, shaped a beautiful venom in the layers beneath the skin of its teeth, and then bit them, dissolving their mind until they fully metabolised the substance. Then, it had put them in one of the small metal houses that lined some of the corridors in the ‘base’ and locked the door.
Previously, it had pretended to be a false person, one of many, but the greenish person who smelled of formaldehyde, the fuzzy person who smelled of carbolic, and the tall person who smelled of forests and blood had started searching for it among the false people. It had been about to flee, when an alarm sounded, and the various types of people filed back into a hole between places that took them all to a ‘base’. It took the time to sneak away from the group of false and lumpy people in order to find a different shape to wear, sedated the ‘security guard’ and started to try to determine how to proceed.
This ‘base’ appeared to operate like some kind of eusocial hive, and it had tried its best to appear to be a functional drone for a while, following a squad called to action by further distant alarms and shouted communication hidden from their view in long wavelengths, and spat out again by black plastic boxes that each of the guards carried. It seemed redundant, but they were permanently held in their flesh, couldn’t twist themselves new senses at a touch of a thought.
The squad had jogged through a segment of the base, nervously chatting about a place called a ‘death trap’, where there had apparently been ‘an incursion’. One of the spells that the Gyran had woven into its thoughts allowed it to know what words meant, but a full interpretation was harder. These creatures talked in layers and euphemisms, clouding the truth of their communication with imprecision, but they talked enough that a truth could still be peeled from beneath the layers, with enough time and thought.
Arriving at a ‘transport hub’, the squad shuffled toward an arch of stone which emitted waves of Realmic energy through the air. The people, the elements who made up the larger organism of the ‘squad’ murmured catechisms to powers it had not met, and gently oozed an odour it was coming to associate with ‘fear’. Why did these creatures ooze all the time? It seemed inefficient—they’d have to keep taking matter in to build up their stocks of ooze and scents for future occasions. The archway lit up with concentrated travel-light of the third harmonic of movement and the squad proceeded through. Trailing a little behind, it felt as it was dislocated through space, briefly in two places at once before the metaphor collapsed and it stood behind the rest of the squad, who hadn’t noticed the brief ontological doubling — their senses were not used to being spread across more than one body.
This new location was halfway around the planet the organisation clung to, a collection of connected tunnels of artificial stone. The squad elements really didn’t like this place, travelling slowly and peeking at the things that roiled behind weak layers of Obstinacy (caveat-light). It was fairly obvious that this was easily-confounded — it could easily become light and slide through the caveat of the Obstinacy, or simply tear it apart, since it was obstinate, not irrefutable. Nevertheless, the other squad organs acted as if it was inviolable. The group headed toward a ‘disturbance’ or a ‘breach’, but they were clearly heading toward the former piece of darkness. It hadn’t been trying to find the former piece of darkness, it had been trying to investigate the STAR organism, which was made of smaller organisms that were themselves made of even smaller people-organisms. But the Gyran had told it that this superorganism might harm the former piece of darkness, which meant that it was heading in the right direction to stop that potentiality of harm from happening. It had been asked to examine the STAR organism, and it decided that this counted as examination from its particular perspective.
It noticed the glyphs left by the red, but since they weren’t visible to the rest of the humans, it pretended not to see them. When these glyphs buzzed with destructive energy and dissolved the Obstinacy, the other organs of Squad started making loud noises of alarm. It was thinking about how to keep the squad organs from dying — they were sapients, and did it count as killing them to simply be inactive when they were in a dangerous situation? It wasn’t sure, and that confusion only escalated when one of the creatures from behind a layer of Obstinacy, a ragged human whose soul seemed rather dislocated from their body, lunged at it, throwing their wandering soul into its body.
Another thing thought, using its mind. YOU ARE MINE!
It wasn’t sure what this meant, but the misplaced soul seemed only to be able to think and listen in words, and was busy trying to unsuccessfully shove its soul out of its body. The demiurge that built it had anchored its essence in every aspect of its body, but the wandering soul didn’t seem to realise this.
In front of its form, the ragged human slumped to the ground. The rest of the squad were backing away from it, having seen the movement of the soul between them. They were talking about ‘possession’ in hushed voices, which was strange, because it still had possession of its body.
WHAT IS THIS? The mind seemed in awe. INVULNERABLE? UNENDING? THE PERFECT HOST! WHY, WITH POSSESSION OF THIS, I CAN RETAKE THE BRASS THRONE, BE FREE OF THIS DREARY PRISON. I WILL BE UNSTOPPABLE!
It took a little while to put its thoughts together in words. Hello?
AH, A PLEASURE TO MEET THE PREVIOUS OCCUPANT. I’LL BE TAKING THIS NOW.
They tried to move its arm, to shift its form. It stopped them.
Leave, it thought, before remembering ‘politeness’, please leave.
AND ABANDON A FORM THIS PERFECT? HAH! A BEAST LIKE YOU REQUIRES PERSUASION!
The soul did something, and it felt its perception of time speed up, stretching as everything around it seemed to slow, accompanied by a minor but omnipresent sensation. It tried to form some thoughts in words, but the mismatch in speeds between it and the soul confused the process, and it hadn’t finished working out how to communicate before it slowed back down to match the speed of the world.
THAT WAS A MERE HALF-HOUR, they thought at it, BUT I COULD TRAP YOU IN AGONY FOR YEARS. CENTURIES. EVEN THE MOST POWERFUL OF MINDS CRACK UNDER THE PRESSURE. READY TO RENEGOTIATE?
The other mind paused. UH. CLEARLY, YOU ARE MORE WILFUL THAN I THOUGHT.
Its perception sped up again, lasting longer than last time and accompanied by a slightly stronger sensation. Apparently, this was an ‘agony’.
YOU’D BE SURPRISED, the other thought, HOW LITTLE PAIN IT REQUIRES TO RENDER SOMEONE A SOBBING MESS. MORE THAN A FEW HOURS OF CONTINUOUS WAKING NIGHTMARE TENDS TO SIMPLY… BREAK PEOPLE.
Okay, it thought back at the invading mind, because active listening was important. It was still unsure what was going on. It had lived for thousands of years in an airtight box, was a few hours of solitude and sensation supposed to hurt it?
THEN LET US LAY WASTE TO— WHY ISN’T THIS WORKING? They tried to move its flesh again, inexpertly. Its form briefly rippled with teeth and eyes, and some of the other squad people made alarmed and high-pitched noises.
What are you trying to do? This time, it asked a question.
WH— HOW ARE YOU STILL COHERENT? HOW? THE MIGHTIEST OF MAGICIANS, THOSE WHO BOASTED OF THEIR IRON WILLS, WERE REDUCED TO WRECKS, SCRAPS OF MIND BENEATH MY BALEFUL GAZE! HOW ARE YOU STILL RESISTING?
It was confused, and thought so in words. This is confused. It is not resisting via conscious action.
Is something supposed to happen?
The other mind made a noiseless sputtering for a short subjective while. WHY CAN I NOT FORCE YOUR SOUL TO LEAVE?
A shoving sensation, located somewhere near the qualia. Its own spirit was far more firmly anchored than that of other living beings — they mostly had their spirits stapled to their forms in a bundle of thinking matter in their heads, which seemed like a liability.
This doesn’t know, it replied. Then it thought a little more on what the Gyran had said. Are you a sapient?
The other mind affected an impression of booming laughter. NO, THOSE PATHETIC WORMS ARE FAR BENEATH— WHAT ARE YOU DOING? STOP! NOW! YOU’LL— I— PLEA—
The voice of the other mind faded away into a chorus of mindless screams, each fragment of their spirit too small to think, as it pulled them apart. Thin, pale smoke steamed from its skin as the other soul vacated its body and dissipated into the pneumosphere.
It didn’t need to turn to see behind itself, but it pretended to need to, because that was what the other humans in the squad-organ expected. They stared at it, expressions indicative of horror and confusion. They had seen its skin ripple, form tendrils and eyes, as its mind battled the invading one for control of its shapes.
To convince them that it was what it pretended to be, it was going to have to use persuasion. It suspected that this was going to be a tricky one.