41

Everything hurt. Like the air was fire, cold and piercing, as it bounced around in lungs too strained to properly work. Every nerve registered agony, pure and absolute. All consuming as it tore across skin too sensitive to handle the extra sensation. Bringing a scream tearing out of a throat long shredded by overuse. Blood bubbled up in a mouth that struggled to wrap around that sound as it ducked between strands, between Worlds, between lives and left nothing untouched.

Hands flailed, nails raking across slippery stone that crumbled and gave way under those pressing nails and the weak fingers that moved them. There was a yawning emptiness where there shouldn’t be. Not just in heart but in mind; a tear, a break, a Loss, that was worse than the agony that sang along frayed nerves.

The World took a deep breath and held it, waiting much like the Desolation that soaked the wind and brought Silence in its wake. Everything became light as fury took root, grew, sprouted, and bloomed in those empty spaces. Wrapped around that sound and became something Else. Something that took the Dhaoinic skin that housed it and rendered it pointless. Cast it aside in a rippling motion that ate anything still living nearby; used the lives it ate as a sacrifice.

For here, in this horrible in between, there was nothing but cold, consuming darkness and a warmth that was wet like blood and soothing like tears. With less effort than was expected, lips formed around two words. A warning given only because the Loss already suffered would pale in comparison to the Loss that would be felt if that warning went ignored.

Let go.”

As that precious connection severed, taking the hope it gave with it, breathing became easier but not by much. It was hard not to regret letting it go, even if doing so was necessary for survival.

The World let out a shuddering breath then took another as light seared tired, aching eyes. Everything shook, rumbled, as the Storm inside gathered speed. As the Else grew in size and power, until the Dhaoinic skin it had cast aside failed completely. And from the rubble of that façade rose something stronger, something deadlier, something that had been caged for far too long.

It rose to feet hidden beneath ankle deep puddles of gore and blood, stood up onto shaking legs barely steadier than those of a newborn foal. But stood the Else did. Looked around and smiled, slow, deliberate, sickly sweet. A warning all on its own. But the things that saw that smile didn’t know that and therefore didn’t listen. Not that it mattered.

They were dead either way.

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