She opened her eyes, the ones of her flesh. She no longer had eyes in her mind, but she still felt, with a mind’s thousand grasping hands, the shape of the world as it changed around her, shifting and beautiful and strange. Thoughts buzzed with revelations, an opening of a thousand ways she’d never had the sheer ontological depth to examine, as if her mind, once flat, had folded up into dimensions beyond two, forming into a shape that the flat mind would never have conceived of.
Everything was, at its core, a song, an expression of a numinous truth, a different song singing itself over and over again, a choir of the Real, subluminous with terrible possibility. And she knew the Song of Endings, the curtain call, the sound beyond sounds that would unravel this tapestry of light and sound and— wait.
This isn’t right. The thought floated up from the bottom of some unsounded abyss of flesh-thought, buzzing through liquid and chemistry in some kind of distant artifact of a time from before her mind was free, when it was shackled in something small and…
The imperative was clear, but the understanding was lost to her. She reached out into the distant spaces of her thought, where her wings didn’t beat the same, and with an effort of terrible certainty, she tore at the growing branches of her infinite Will. She felt her understanding of seventeenth-dimensional manifolds wither and die, but in so doing, the thoughts and desires of the mortal shell from which she hatched became manifest. She trammelled her thoughts, hacking at the Yggdrasil of her new understanding, looking for the rosebush that it had once been. In a series of moments of terrible loss, she clearcut her thoughts, and returned to herself. It was a balancing act, like trying to sift through an oncoming flood for tiny pieces of debris, without being washed away by the torrent. She was herself, and so much more, but not as much more, not enough to crowd out who she had been. The entire process had taken vital seconds, and continued to balance on a knife’s edge of transcendent madness. At some point, she’d forgotten to let her heart keep beating, her blood instead sliding unbidden through the spidery branching channels of her skin-within-skin, and she spent a few moments centering herself, focusing on feeling every inch of her circulatory system, understanding her fleshform’s anamensic shadow before, with a jolt, that strange lumpen pumping organ twitched again, and she stopped needing to move her blood cells manually.
She was… she had a form, lying on a hard cold surface — metal — with twelve six-inch rail spikes, through her hands, ankles, forearms, shoulders, shins and thighs. She felt the traceries of the Deathless’s necromancy, suppressing the pain and preventing the blood loss, written through each of the silvered-steel spikes in letters of seeping darkness.
And so, she recalled her lessons, given by A Red Man and A Grey Woman, and reached out with the hands of her mind, gingerly, for she worked with a force beyond understanding, like she was using a sledgehammer to perform brain surgery. With gentle form of terrible crystallised Will, she grasped the locality vector of each spike and with a twitch of mind, they moved three feet upwards, ripping free of her flesh form, sending skittering sparks of potential pain through her body, syphoned out of existence by the latticework of Syrk’s enchantment. She’d thank him for that, once she’d ripped out his spine. Alerted by the noise, he looked over from one of the racks of torturous-looking knives on the far side of the operating theatre.
“Oh?” He grinned. “An Awakening. Shame that I won’t be able to vivisect you properly, but it’s always so delightful to see someone come into their own.”
The vise her head was fixed in fell to pieces as she sat up and span her wounds shut with threads of Will. As she turned to him, her eyes blazed with darkness, sucking in the light of the room.
“YOU.” Her voice echoed, resonated with dread harmonics.
“Ah, so many people have said that as they Awakened. I have that effect on people, I feel.”
She raised her hand and roared, a cacophonous sound of discordant and terrible Song, sending the hovering spikes shooting across the room, deadly silver streaks whistling through the air with bone-shattering force.
Four of them thunked into the wall, embedding themselves into the worked stone. Two of them bounced off the wall, clattering to the floor with a series of loud pings. Five of them hit some kind of magical obstruction and hung momentarily in midair before disintegrating into fine white sand, trickling to the floor in little piles.
“I keep their skulls as keepsakes,” said Syrk. He held up the final spike, the one he’d caught one-handedly, and clenched his fist, snapping it in two.
“Now,” he continued, conversationally, turning fully around from where he’d been sat, “given your injuries, I’m sure you’re in a lot of pain, so—”
She felt the gossamer threads of runic darkness stretch between his hands and her, as he reached for them, presumably to tear away his numbing Arts and distract her with the agony, but she saw him before he started to move, and pulled back, severing the link to his power and control, and tearing the rug out from under him instead.
“Hmm. You were chattier, earlier. Holding up both sides of this conversation is a bit—”
“See,” he said, ducking out of the way as she lunged at him, “this is exactly what I mean. Where’s the wit?”
Space in the laboratory rippled, the stones of the walls cracking as they warped. Alice didn’t move, but her shadow spread its myriad wings, shapes of razor-edged mineral darkness that stretched across the walls, sparking as they cut into the stone. She reached out with an arm echoed in shadow, echoed in light, echoed in song, and plucked a jagged, four-foot long feather from a pinion, a shape so dark it seemed two-dimensional. Holding it like a sword, she swung it round to point at Syrk, the dark blade sighing as it cut through the air. Baelful fire flickered along the edge of the blade, oily and iridescent.
He flicked his hand, sending a bead of smoking darkness shooting towards her, containing enough Death to instantly disjoint the soul of pretty much any mortal, extinguishing all life in their body in an instant. His aura of smugness barely faltered when, with a whistle and sigh of air, her blade neatly sliced the marble-sized nugget of energy in two, each chunk passing within inches of her face on either side. She stepped forwards, her sword humming through the air, so deeply, resonatingly dark it left an afterimage in the world.
He didn’t even dodge, in fact leaning against the impact to keep his balance as the shadow-sword sliced clear through his bony pauldron and deep into his shoulder, with a noise much like a sandbag being attacked with a cleaver. The impact nearly jarred the blade from Alice’s hand, sending pain lancing up her arm.
Syrk shrugged slightly, the shattered and sliced bones of his ribcage creaking as they gripped at the feather-sword. She tried to wrench her weapon back, but it was locked in tight by bones and flesh that were really far less yielding than should have been physically possible.
He held up his other hand, holding it right in Alice’s face as a sphere of flickering energy coalesced in his palm.
“They say that enough power can compensate for any lack of skill.” The ball of power fizzed as a spiderweb of cracks grew across its surface, glowing blindingly against the dark surface. “But you aren’t quite there yet.”
The pent-up power went THOOM. The world went white, or maybe black, and everything was searing cold and burning pain.