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If you read one of my short stories (hosted on Google Drive), please send me a PM and tell me what you think!

> Proximal Anxiety



Circ's Characters

Plots:
- No God's Sky
+ Unsolicited Invasion ₮ ϟ
- The Sorceress' Nemesis ϟ
+ Sleep, Grand Automaton, That We May Plunder
+ Gaslands
- A Fault in the Verse ₮ϟ

`Fights`:
+ Sose vs Ivplec

Participating:
+ Glasslands
+ The Meatspin ₮ϟ
- The Darkness Encroaches
- Into The Abyss

Watching:
- Expanding Horizons
- Sea of Ignominy ϟ
- Cataclysmic Ending ϟ
- Awake
+ Cat, got your togue
+ Ever Mut has its Dog Day

Key:
+ = active
- = inactive
ϟ = Val'Gara
₮ = Earth-F67X | Discord
☫ = Cizr Empr

Most Recent Posts

0.000010233242

Strobes of intense gravity violently claw away the arena's interior surface. In evidence, torrents of dull opalescent bark and splinters careen in the wake of such incomprehensible mass, like headless ephemeral serpents in the clutches of a whirlwind. Ivplec knew his creation would threaten to consume him, it was always a question of when. Resolute, he clutches his spatha, blade piercing the ground hilt deep, his anchor against the storm. On purpose, he deadens his tactile sensory array, ignoring the molecule-thin layers of protection shearing off of his exoskeleton. In desperate self-preservation, he consolidates, size diminishing yet again in the final picoseconds of his ridiculous assault's ramp-up. Meanwhile, his multi-dimensional array of portal and multiplicity charges fades.

« PnAP sphere's 2 through 5 destroyed, » intones the auto-prompt.

« PnAP 1 undetected, executing localized MADIF pre-flay cycle and sweeping for anomalies. »

Great! Whatever! Just one more bounce, then boom!

Pointing the limb housing Pffkshwahk at the evanescent matrix's terminus, he fires a final portal charge.

Incessant chaos and impenetrable muddle reduce visibility of the stroboscopic idiospheric holograms coruscating inside the arena's interior to zero. Outside of projections, he has no idea what's going on with Sóse. Really, it doesn't matter. The plan is in motion, it is too late to stop. A vague sense of something incredibly wrong, evil, and twisted emerging through the frays in reality titillates his paresthesic consciousness, but it is nothing immediately actionable. Instead, he works forward, loading hundreds of kyter super-state crystals into Rngswusch's internal high-capacity magazine.

0.000000000134

Unable to withstand the pull, the last of his thaumic shield locus layer peels away. Underneath, miasmic build-up billows out in a xanthic aura. Before another gravimetric pulse spaghettifies him, two thirds of his eyes gamma glint. Yocto-band lasers suddenly shimmer against the deadly aerosol, then space contorts, tessellating around Ivplec in a spheroid of quasi-uniform polytopes in a hyperbolic 9-dimensional subspace configuration.

Just long enough to survive what is coming, he vanishes from local spacetime.

0.000000000002

Nobody would see 0.000000000000.

Through the eruption of devastation, it would be impossible.

In the utterdark defensive well of slipweave migoria, he can only imagine the scene. 400 r-process fusion reaction missiles, each with a galactic rest mass, speeding toward the magic barrier imprisoning him in the arena at a velocity of 99.98c; each striking with the force of an entire universe going nova! Yet, he is not idle; instead, as a pupa in a chrysalis, he repatterns his anatomy, a quartet of demi-black translucent wings flowing from his shoulder blades and a medial-posterior jet propulsion vent.

Beautiful.

Absolute annihilation violates the barrier separating arena from hall, contestants from observers, winners from losers. An impact, an instant, the utter obliteration of a Moser's number's worth of thoughts, dreams, and memories. Not merely an explosion, but the incredibly violent and volatile reaction where iron transmutes to actinium and exotic particles and heaves raw chaos into a system. Its singular nature is primal destruction at a fundamental level. Bevies of linearly-expanding warp bubbles reverse-extrude the very fabric of space. Oscillating the ultramundane to absence expand a vibrato of quark-gluon plasmas, color-glass condensates, and masses complex, negative, and theoretical.

Boring through roots and limits amid a whorl of antimatter collisions, it rises like a monochromatic volcanic eruption, slamming into the ceiling of the Nexus hall, reducing rafters to ash, shingles to cinders, and exposing the lidless host of eyes ever-watching.

May those eyes go blind and the thoughts behind them darken, Ivplec wills, his hypoversal skein unraveling.

Before and above him looms indescribable glorious carnage. Free of this gladiatorial death match, he pounds his feet against the ruin of the arena floor, propelling himself upward. Wings spread, jet engine roars, and his PnAP's MADIF analyzes local events for metanormative markers. Eager to bring this drama to its crescendo, Ivplec activates his Big Ass Sword, stabbing forward, its nigh-infinite laser light in direct alignment with the seat of Kynion's throne.

"Now, Kynion, I shall keep my promise!"
Dandelion graffiti upswells from the rent roots coruscating on the chamber's roof, stage, and walls like frayed fiber optics, vomiting streams of thoughts and dreams to inevitable doom in singularities lurking beyond the 200 portals. A kessel run race through darkness and space, the ravenous reaction missiles slingshot around black holes, stealing mass and speed, and rush from Ivplec's portals with ever-mounting vigor.

Fleeting yet incredible in quantity, images wisp from the roots into the muddy milieu of already present phantasms. What began as vivid chimeras saturates to a wild kaleidoscopic of ridiculous enormity. Din, cacophony, utter visual discord with occasional motes of crystallizing clarity in colorful churn: a figure standing before a crowd in only their underwear, another in a frantic search for that which they cannot recall, another fleeing indescribable terror, another lustily pursuing that which is not theirs to own. Lost in the mess, in the serpentine flow of gas and light, are the obsidian trees, the colorful kingfishers, the crisp hiss of guillotines relieving a mob's bloodlust in their dramatic descent.

The lost thoughts of millions, billions, trillions, more ...

Minds throughout this multiverse that for a time find rest, no longer suffering the pollution of incessant facile futile noise.

Matters Ivplec ignores, focusing instead on the optimization of his matter increase and acceleration loop, infusing violence with greater violence until it becomes an untamable monstrosity, erupts free, and rids from him of bonds of this place's false gods.

Toward that, he determines bits of bark and incidental feed are inadequate to slake his thirst for destruction.

Augmenting the exponential increase of his reaction missiles, bloating from a mere 100 grams to 1,000,000,000 each in the few moments thus far flown, he engages the molecular cultivation rays of his quartet of Partex spheres within the arena. The roots, slowly maturing over untold eons, burgeon to bud and leaf in real-time, inundating the interior of the arena. From torn branches springs new life, branches twisting and writhing and weaving together like art animating from the pages of the Leabhar Cheanannais. Feed for AIMAB's consumption. As swiftly as it grows, m-Thief Glutton devours.

"More!" bellows Ivplec, reeling back and bashing his fist against his massive gorillian chest.

Almost immunerable on Ivplec's body, solid white corneas retract into scelaras along reverse triptych spirals, exposing inside igneous cavities seething with anger and plasma. Not for long. A wash of cold light resonates out in a thousand-meter radius, fixing virtual particles to a frequency aligning them with the active spacial manifold. Unable to depart, matter builds up and clarifies at an exponential rate, thickening the atmosphere of the arena and providing his railgun missiles an endless supply of matter on which to gorge.

Another second passes and the mass of his missiles transitions from billions to trillions. Slingshoting through portals and passing through multiplicity bubbles in an endless loop, their speed surpasses 0.5c.

« 38.349… seconds to impact, » auto-prompts his databank substrate.

Now we wait.

Seconds count down, each stretching like minutes. Maybe it is the increase in gravity, an effect hitting like a strobe as his missiles race from portal to portal, phasing in and out of local spacetime. Sóse's admixture of ionizing antimatter whorls around each, comas on comets. Thus far, his counterpart appears safe in Turtle, the machine's pincering limbs securing it to the stage in defiance of the gargantuan masses. At the core of those forces, Ivplec has no such need; at least, not until they threaten to rip him asunder. In anticipation of that inevitability, he compacts himself by a third, overlaying his exoskeleton with his shield locus' luminal ward and durability that cover his dark gray-green exoskeleton in an shimmering magenta sheen.

Skulls, fractal, explosion. Yup. He gets it. No further communication needed.

Hmm. A countdown wouldn't hurt.

Might even pique the curiosity of the audience.

The network of eyes atop Ivplec's angular flat skull suddenly emit a bright gold ray, hitting the barrier separating them from the Nexus observers like it is a projector screen. Selecting a random typeface—Comic Sans—from his databank substrate, he broadcasts a sequence of numeric symbols that radiate on the barrier's surface with a precision of 12 decimal places.

18.209325023952

Gravitonic surges vibrate his body violently, siphoning his miasma along a wending trail through the network of portals. Each missile is now as massive as a planetoid racing along at 0.81c. Dangerous, even for him. Rather than letting it be fuel, he closes the gaps in his shield locus, allowing his otherwise airborne acid to gather beneath it in preparation for the final step in this dangerous waltz.

7.232305923030

Missiles once as massive as planetoids balloon to the equal of neutron stars, inducing relativistic effects as they bowshock in their flashes from present to absent at a rate of 0.88c, forcing Ivplec to further compact, further increase his thaumatic shield, and gird himself in his guarding presence.
"AAAH! How dare you collar and chain me like a dog to the scrub-n-tug!" gurgles Mateo from the spa, his voice reverberating through the skyway connecting the highrise to the warehouse. Seussian contraptions flail about on pneumatic hinges from apertures in the bathhouse wall, erupting torrents of sudsy soap froth and scourging him with nzw-Martex antimicrobial microfiber tassels. Eyes stinging, he can't even decipher color or shape, just that, through his clenching eyelids, everything is shining bright red.

Something pinches his neck, inside the collar. Hot, heavy, and soaking wet, he slams his fist down on the floor.

"Fesyen, I'm going to kill y-arrooooo! Arrrrf! Arrrf! A-wooooo!"

He pants, ears flicking back against his skull. Suddenly, he feels his tailbone twist back on itself, unfurling just above his asshole, and his joints reverse.

"What the—grrrr! Arrrrrroooof!"

A spray of fresh cold water slaps against his face, clearing away the soap. His tongue slaps out, licking some beads from his cold wet snout. Then, he sees his reflection. Oh fuck no, that ain't me! I'm not a fucking kinker, Fesyen! Staring back at him are twin chocolate eyes framed in a dense light gray-brown furry fox face, a bright red flecktarn collar around his neck with a blank name tag, and the body of a chilla.

. . .


Fesyen refocuses on his second guest of—well, whatever the time be. Han, the Nazi regalia aficionado.

"Wel~l," Fesyen contemplates, reaching both his hands out to close Han's own, hiding in her grip the Iron Cross, "I'll take care of these rare and precious boots. You, meanwhile, may return when you have the bits. As for a fixer, well, I'm not tha~at well connected, bu~ut I hear if you goosestep your way down to New Venice you'll find some luck. Follow the scarlet swatches, once you get down there. When you feel you've found the kingdom of nerds, you're there. Then again, if the suffering of xenos is not to your liking, maybe you'll find something more agreeable at 4 Pennsylvania Plaza."

He turns around and scampers up to his work dais, clutching her boots.

There'll be a buyer for these if she can't get the bits, I'm sure.
Filling the cylindrical vastness, a material hologram of intermingling dreams riven from the roots. Ivplec towers through its axis, an imposing edifice darkening the vibrant mirage. Day, gaudy and gay, deceives the senses, inflecting distinct hues cast from a cycling quartet of nascent stars. Miasma mates with fog, accreting around him in a slow-moving vortex shifting from sepia, to mauve, to bole; overhead, the matrix of translucent cubes spread step-wise, edges intense neon deviations to the gas' agnate pastels. The ignition of his core heats the chamber, lifting and warping the nebulous veil to dense a formation of globular mammatus clouds.

Sharp, naked trees with trunks and limbs as dark as obsidian hew around him in a queer mimicry, appearing to erupt in sync with rising fog. Not an explosion of their own matter, but via a multitude of birds bursting from their boughs, dashing wings of feathers in curvelinear chaos, scattering pinions to entangling rainbows in a mad cacophonic descent. Hissing, ephemeral, they alight on the water, dissolving to opalescent sheens.

The very essence of mirrors and smoke, Ivplec muses.

Four of his five Partex spheres levitate along an arciform path through the cloaking brume, n-Band Sensor Arrays scanning the arena along 90 degree steps. They detect a hole rapidly skirting the perimeter, a trail of self-canceling kinetic anomalies in its wake. Less stealthy, an armored hexapedal unit projecting a lepton near-field. Sóse enters the latter, a mechanical man with the lingering taint of meat: the person this place insists he defeat.

A logic pattern cascades along Ivplec's exoskeletal frame. Its properties are unique enough that they warrant analysis by his q-nervous bramble. Co-routines propagate up through his data substrate's exception interface, reducing the noise via Perlin antipodal artifact sanitization and translating the message.

Interesting.

Ivplec's vague approximation of a face confronts Turtle's own comidic abstraction. Briefly, he drops his muzzle; a gesture of acknowledgment that transcends species and worlds. Rather than settle for an answer imprecise, he festoons it with fact that emerge as his soul projects beyond mundane mineral matter and violently bludgeons the thoughtscape into order via violet astral astroblemes, afterimages of his presence hammering the floating cubic platform into a pillar and imprinting upon it a multitude of fiery mathematical glyphs in a serpentine block-step helix a kilometer long.

Sóse made it this far, perhaps he can ascertain to whom I am pointing and the meaning behind my equation.

Restoring Rngswusch to his sinistral talons, he reconfigures its firing mode to maximize output, activating three of its four modalities: Overheat, m-Thief Glutton, and Chandrasekhar Limit Breaker. Soon its parallel railguns will unload mass-increase fusion reaction missiles at a rate of 100 rounds a second and a velocity approaching a third the speed of light. Meanwhile, in his other arm, serving as shield, beat stick, and mortar housing, he imprints in Pffkshwahk an alternating pattern of matter multiplicity and portal charges and loads its teleportation telemetry to the same matrix seen on the pillar.

Pausing a moment, Ivplec scrutinizes the way a tree's spidery shadow depict upon the billowing meadow grass scenes akin to France's most notable revolution, awash with crashing guillotines, splashing blood, rolling heads, and bestial cruel children, women, men.

Scenes of thoughts and dreams almost exclusively humanoid in nature, yet they come from the roots, a supposed multiverse's worth of real-time experiences. What a horrid foreshadowing of the Verse's dominant species, like locusts, spreading through the cosmos and imposing their rule of asinine absurdity.

Maybe I should kill Sóse—eh, no, substance cannot be found in such a meaningless act.

He makes a note of Owl and Turtle's locations, verifying they are not within the immediate threat radius of his fire-control systems. No point in waiting for an affirmation. What's going to happen is going to happen, and he will force his will with or without assistance. A nanosecond passes as Ivplec reins in his presence, focusing it inward, into his q-nervous bramble, and unifies his processing capacity with the idle processes of his ancestral Lodika. More than adequate time to validate and fine tune the mathematical integrity of his formula.

I bet the observers are getting bored, looking down at that shaft-pierced cloud for a whole half-second.

Here's to more boredom!

« Firing solution optimized. Ready to commence code-name "AIMABP": accelerated infinite matter accretion bombardment protocol. »

"It's go time!"

With that, Pffkshwahk erupts for a solid second, scattering 400 charges throughout the arena, the iridescent bubbles ranging from anywhere between 5 and 100 meters in diameter. The array almost entirely fills the arena, although there is plenty of space in the gaps. Near the end of the burst, he levels Rngswusch, targets the first portal bubble, and over the course of the next second his railsword turns bright red from the heat of blasting out 200 bolts fusion reaction missiles.
The Nexus Roots

… 🗲...


Rage, wrath, vengeance—emotions raze his soul's placidity, still inciting Ivplec to annihilate Kynion.

I promised him I would kill him.

Resolve quells his blazing inner landscape. A minute of torment in puerile putrid flesh, a moment of fatalistic rapport, an infinitesimal mote of introspection, just totems of fate on his present path. His torso heaves, then he remembers he doesn't breathe. Focus is spiritual, inward. Silent, still, he hones his senses. Within, the rime of determination proliferates, a dread simulacrum contorting his will to a haunt, a ghost sound, a ceaseless vicious wail from the lone high cleft of a hoarfrost-ensnared spire.

I will break the spire.

Clenching Rngswusch's haft in his gorillian grip, he feels strong. Stronger. A whisper reverberates up his arm, his massive black blade divulging its increasing potency. Concealed in his club-form fist, Pffkshwahk echoes an accord. A surge of power, a display of guile. Sheathing Rngswusch in the reverse ribs protruding from his spine, Ivplec spreads wide his arms and bows to Kynion with excessive flourish. Inchoate, that faceless mound atop his trunk lengthens, splits, snarls. He recalls his sword arm to his fore, fist up, knuckles out, and casually extends a solitary central digit.

« Audience body language indicative of successful contempt translation: rolling eyes. »

No reason to leave any space for doubt.

Viridian fangs burst from his mound's gash, menacing, dripping pungent acidic bands. It contorts, a rictus, a fiendish gaping mad grin. He clamps down on his finger, root and all, rears his head back, and rips it off. A multitude of eyes glare at Kynion. Acid spills from the corners of his mouth, translucent hissing yellow. Then Ivplec vomits the digit on the ground at the foot of Kynion's throne, a chunk of dark malachite writhing to a rough sphere in a pool of noxious phlegm.

Deserved or otherwise, his contempt seeks its locus. He senses aught else, even as the platform on which he tarries descends through an arcane patina and as the nexus tree's roots twine overhead in a sinister canopy. Raw instinct alone exposes the for him the contemptuous warden lazing on his throne, tormenting his hostages, a vain melodramatic wretch.

Suddenly, most of Ivplec, mostly, is alone.

"When I get outta here I’m gonna rip yer head off!" resounds throughout the cavity, terminating Ivplec's brooding.

Pause, analysis, recollection. From the brackets, he internally recites the name of his counterpart: Sóse Tekaronhióken Oakes, a formerly-human cyborg. A sizable fellow, a person with whom Ivplec shares an important aim in common.

"Enough of their games. Let's forge our own path home," Ivplec offers, his endoskeletal chimes ringing soft and low, audible only to Sóse.

What passes for his face lifts up to the unseen watchers, and the false enormity of the would-be battlefield flows over him. Around, above, below twist and grasp the roots, contrivances to contain; unimaginably thick, a few fine, each awash in a pallor of blue-tinged dim gray, as the flesh of a dead thing.

Odd that things so dark, so weary, nevertheless glow, he observes, the diffusing light delineating a chamber infinitely far and oppressively near; an optical illusion.

Cold, weary, bored, rife with a false light.

This place longs for action.

Deep in his trunk, his core rouses, fusing iron to actinium, radiating his inner flame through the cold liminal misery of this pathetic fastness. Acid flowing through his countless crevasses evaporates, a xanthic miasma billowing along the floor in a scene akin to dry ice drifting across a pop concert stage. Again, he raises his fist, his display defiant. The gap between four digits, his reminder to the audience. Fuel for their sadism, he again clamps down, bites, tears off his four remaining digits, and heaves them forth.

"Are you entertained?", he roars up to the crowd.

"WELL, ARE YOU?"

Talons erupt from the stumps of his sword hand, black, vicious, glinting. He drops to a knee, punches down, and impales the ground. A trillion trillion dreams writhe and flow around his quartet of nibs; fantasies, desires, ambitions, night terrors, a coagulation of minds and souls for whom sleep is an everlasting panopticon. Insufficient to whelm either his q-bramble or his ancestral presence, he diverts the current to drown in a data lake.

So this is it? Mere numbers, mundane minds; monotonous, repetitious, scarce as aggregates.

A hail of splinters and shattering dreams accompanies his claws as he excises his fist from the roots. Ivplec stands, retrieves his spatha. From his miasma, four objects ascend, his discarded digits reclaiming their purpose as Panoptic n-Axical-Partex spheres. Around him, the air crystallizes, an n-dimensional sheen casting his image from myriad angles, reflecting with it the afterburn of dreams, the splinters of their former confinement fading to dead wood. His will envelopes them, crushing the dregs, empowering the exemplary to soar.

Empty space, wood—a wireframe of orange light courses through it, transfiguring the battlefield with vivid contours of light, dark, form, and void. A vast geometry of intersecting neon cubes expands above him, adrift over a meadow without expanse, lakes of billowing waterglass surging with electric eels and penetrated by emetic conifers bowing under a burden of prismatic kingfishers. Stars shine overhead, near and fierce, a sign of neither night nor day.

In an enthusiastic imitation of Michael Buffer, Ivplec calls out to Sóse across the polychromatic expanse, "Let's get ready to RUMBLE!"
Footsteps tapped an approach on concrete behind Mateo. Defensive of his tarp-draped treasure, he turned and beheld a pale, blonde, blue-eyed hipster adorned, of all things, in wrinkle-free washed attire—she even smelled good! As Mateo prepared to address her, Fesyen darted around a massive stack of color-sorted denim and pleaded, "No~o! That filthy lout a designer? Puh-leez!"

He paused to catch his breath, his hands on his knees, looking like a sage-crowned white parakeet.

"You're here for the, uh, oh my," — a digital display scrolled through his bobbing opera glass lens — "the historical footwear; yes?" he peered at her appreciatively, finally eye-level with an actual customer rather than a penniless scamp, dollar signs evident in his dark brown eyes.

"Hey, first come, first serve!" complained Mateo.

Fesyen scowled at Mateo and grumbled, "Without an appointment, my sexy little catamite cesspool! No business until we've cleaned you up, if what you're trading is worth waving the spa fee! Now!" — he turned his attention back to Han — "a moment please, while I look under this tarp."

He lifted up the edge, appraised the corpse of, he hoped, just an io; an implant overdoser. Glasses glinted as they switched to x-ray, and he gasped at the sheer number of mods. He stood up, clapped, and sent a silent signal through his local mindnet cluster. In response, a loader bot slid off the wall, grasped the tarped corpse in one of its grippers and plucked Mateo up in the other. Of course, Mateo struggled, and perhaps fortunately for him the clamps were layered in a rubber-foam tricoat that gave in around his form rather than crushed him with the raw brutality of metal.

"Put me down, Jose-Queen-Mo! I'm not walking out of here empty-handed!"

"Tut tut tut," Fesyen waved his finger, "Bath time for you, dirty boy! As a reward for this trove, you'll walk out fully clothed with your pick of accessories, whatever you can hold, within reason! Or does the purist want daddy Fesyen to touch his insides and leave some mods behind?"

The loader strutted through a set of bay doors opposite from where Mateo and Han entered, and Mateo shouted back, "Clothes, a weapon, and the io's cy-weave!" Through an up-tilted ramp across the boulevard, it eventually reached a pleasant commercial services complex, in particular the spa: a high-end bathhouse body rejuvenation salon, with options for fish, maggot, laser, or wage slave skin exfoliation; stone, goat, machine, or wave slave massage; showers, saunas, hot and cold jacuzzis, a heated olympic-sized pool, scent-select enema pump stations, and of course solicitation. Freed from its tarp, which went directly into an incinerator, the io was dropped in a private maggot exfoliation tub where, within 24 hours, every gram of dead flesh would be consumed. Mateo, meanwhile, was stripped of his socks and swim trunks, all he had on in the first place, and confined to a scrub-in-plug to be thoroughly groomed while his clothes were laundered.

Fesyen turned to Han and said, "Please, remind me of our communication? Did you want your genuine war-era marschstiefel professionally restored or are you looking to buy? If the former, you can enjoy the full services of the spa while I attend to your request."
—— Earth-F67X: New New York City, Chinatown

Mateo flung himself off his mattress. A plastifoam container crunched under foot, empty, wrapper torn. He kicked it, an aluminum Aquafinka can, and a half-empty bottle of ÜberSilk party lubricant. Necessities for young men gone feral. After a bit of a shuffle, a patch of filthy green acrylic carpet. Maggots, maybe. He'd spray again, soon.

"Seen my trunks, Kost?"

"Might've used 'em as a jizz rag," Kostas yawned in his bunk to a telltale syncopated fist pump.

"Nasty. Abso vile," Mateo sneered, "Wait til I'm out of the van, at least."

"Bro, all the time you tap my skeet feed and beat to the rhythm. Mmmph. Yeah," Kostas' laugh slowed to a husky sigh, "Or what about that time you nightfreaked, jumped my bunk."

Trunks were under a recycoseal bag, full given Kostas and he were too broke to afford drop service. The bag, that is. As for his trunks, Mateo picked them up and examined them under black light. Clean, mostly. He risked a sniff, smelled only his own ass. Weird, but a locus or else deck Kostas for reanimating dead memories. Again. Dread dream or gApsmAck hacksoft glitch, no matter, he was out of his mind and craved comfort. Kostas was warm arms, a weight blanket. Mateo's tears dried and cold sweat turned hot, nature's lube.

"You're a liar, too."

"Check inside."

Didn't bother. Pulled them on, hassled getting the waistband over his dumpster; mother nature's gift, great for Little League, now a curse. Priests wanted it. Kostas wanted it … again. Trunks always seemed to catch, lift his shelf, then snap and smack his spine while his cheeks clapped. Swim trunks in lieu of shorts and briefs were simpler, anyway; fewer garments to purchase, hold on to, wash. They were also waterproof, soilproof, with a neat neon red flecktarn pattern that matched his socks. A possession from age 12 onward, they sparked joy.

Kostas was just another name on his list. Two down, a bunch to go.

"Gotta be somewhere," Mateo exchanged the hotbox van for the covered alleyways of North Capitol City's Kips Bay enclave, the gutter-valve heartbeat of what everyone called New New York. No breeze, but still cooler than a MercSadé hiding two male horndogs pumping chud.

A walk, solitary, long, Mateo a skinny sheen on a silhouette in a dark grotto with old pavers, older foundation blocks. Indirect incandescence, people merely shades, outlines, snakes in water. His moon shone in Heaven as an ad-stream of eternal ultra-vibrant diode manipulation, one moment scarlet, then ultramarine, then harlequin, and always he its penumbra, undulating, coruscating, an ugly cross-hatch curve. A partial outline. Less than a person. Real, the way society felt he was real.

Mateo tucked his thumbs in his trunks and wrinkled his nose. Grease. Food truck, maybe; no, grittier, but nobody around, much less a mobile diner. El overpass, above, abandoned. Flanked by windowless, doorless, boarded-up walls. The utterdark, where even Heaven's light didn't flow. Above the el, an impenetrable crisscross of pedestrian and highway trestles. Quiet. Too quiet. Thumbs down, his trunk legs drooped midway on his knees to the thick of his calves. Sprung, he pissed. All the world a gutter, his gutter. Eyes traced urine through pavers, to crumbled sideway. A lump, trenched up, big.

An hour later, he heaved a corpse through an old Salvation Army warehouse freight door, the kind where you pull a big strap and it lifts on pulleys. Rows of lights buzzed, long tubes that flickered just outside his scotoma, an inducement to a migraine. Concrete blocks painted red, white, pealed, chipped. Corrugated tin or aluminum rather than windows. All that just the husk. Its ribs, rows of folding tables bowed under fabric, limbs, shoes, jewelry. In the center, the crown jewel: a heavy duty piece of cutter tech that could do all the sewing, slicing, dicing, and modding its operator imagined.

"You in, Fesyen?" Mateo's words echoed.

Hantu Fesyen lifted his head dreamily off his cutter station's desk, "Ah, poor Mateo boy, here to sweet talk himself into some wares? I've told you, I only accept crypto."

"Pfft, what, too good for trade?" Mateo shot back, nonchalant. He sat on his tarp-trapped barter, ankle to knee, and inspected his nails. Dirty. Time for another plunge in the Hudson.

Somewhere in a lilac and green hydrangea explosion that approximated hair, opera glasses folded out and over Hantu's eyes; hammered palladium frames, rose gold arabesques, hexagonal rose lenses. Leisurely, he stood, smoothed out his trans-linen frock coat around his brief, thin figure; vaguely opaque eggshell embroidered in hues of lilac, silver, then emerald in hydro-thread needlepoint that rippled in an arrangement that complemented the arabesques in his frames. A translucent fingernail, synced to his trench's hue shifts, pressed his brown cheek and Fesyen crooned insincerely, "Don't da~are bemuse me, Mateo boye~e. What bi~ig thing are you hiding from du~addy?"

Mateo stepped forward, but Fesyen held up his hand.

"Stay, Filth!" screeched Fesyen, "You'll pollute the product!"

Coattails billowed in his descent as he scampered down the platform.
@Liaison

Unless your GM comes back and the two of you can soldier through: I don't think so. You're probably better off looking for an RP that wasn't necro'd from the depths.


What is dead can never die! Hello, from the GM.
—— Earth-F67X: New New York City, Chinatown

Mateo dropped into his bottom bunk, a stained and thin yellow foam mattress glued on a metal frame welded to the inside of a black MercSadé knockoff conversion van parked somewhere in the New New York Chinatown arcology. Cozy, he felt, as he wiggled his toes and tranced to the neon red afterimages of the phosphorescent interdigital contour lines on his Vertx armored toe socks, bottom plated in Mg-Al alloy Kikko-style hexes and the only attire he needed or wanted on his body on this sweltering swamp ass night if it became critical to madlad down the trash-strewn alley without needing to b-line for a t-boost at the charity clinic. His socks were brand new and brand name, the only thing like that he owned. Van-mate gone for the next hour, Mateo took advantage and plugged the USB into his bootleg nEXtFlesh mastoid interface for a high fidelity direct-connect to the web. He had scrounged and saved a year for this, well, and for the socks. He was excited to meet his virtual therapist.

Occipital interrupt established, the neon red blurs on a black canvas morphed into an afternoon in a field somewhere, a hill of gold grass gently declining into a perfect celadon lake. Warm sunlight and a gentle breeze soothed his skin and he felt the urge to strip naked and go for a swim, but an androgynous voice interrupted:

"Welcome Mateo Ruiz-Malavé to inCite Personalized Therapy, E-tier. What would you like to talk about today?"

A look around revealed he was completely alone, not exactly the level of interaction he wanted.

"Can I, uh, talk to a person?"

"A human representative is available for A-tier plans and above. Would you be interested in upgrading or do you wish to settle for a human facsimile via avatar and continue your A.I. interaction?"

"Uh, avatar I guess. A bro I can relate to and not feel threatened by, but still be real with. Can't afford A-tier."

A line of heat traced his face, he felt it despite the interference of the uplink. A scan. He blinked. Down by the lake a guy who looked similar to himself was sitting next to a fishing pole, line sunk in the water, bob motionless. Dank graffiti gray-and-gold hoodie, darkwash bootcut jeans, buzzcut, tossing back a cold one. Maybe in his early 30s. Hispanic. Meteo walked down and the man turned to him and said, "What's up, Cuz? Sit down, have a drink, and hit me with what's been up in life."

"Heh, you really do look like my cousin. Nice sleeve, bro. Quite the history. Galitae? HKT? Ampbacks? Drip for her, root for them, and damn they better win the cup this year; am I right?"

They bumped fists, the A.I. nodded, that slight upward chin tilt, and went back to contemplating his line. That's when Mateo noticed that there was only one arm on the guy. An amputee. Not even bothering with a prosthetic. Now that was confidence. He knew he'd definitely go with a prosthesis, at the very least to switch-hit while jacking it. Anyway, that wasn't what he was here for, he was here for answers, and there was only one way to get those. Mateo began talking:

"I think maybe I should stop. Yeah, I have a list. Two bodies of sweet revenge deep. But, I don't know. I didn't feel it as much the second time. If I do it again it might just be the motions, and then what, I've become some sort of psycho? A cold-blooded killer? Is that what I want out of this?"

"You mean you killed someone?" the A.I. queried.

"The advert said this is confidential. No data sharing or reporting."

"Absolutely, Cuz. Just between us. But, uh, what was it like? Your first time."

Mateo paused and thought about it. Images visceral in his mind splayed before him, crisp and lifelike as rerendered by the occipital enhancement of inCite's memory recall module. His dad was at the top of his list, the bastard who let the Corporate Holy See bamboozle him into making his child an eternal preteen fuckboy in exchange for food vouchers, but Mateo worried that would be too personal. That there'd be too much rage. So he started from the bottom. The Vatican doctor he barely knew, that bitch who improperly installed the GnHR-blocker in his hypothalamus so that it could never be removed without irreparable damage.

"My dad beat mom a lot, so I guess you could say I didn't have qualms about killing a woman who did me dirty. It took a long time to track down who she really was, the Corporate See has a habit of moving those types around a lot. But they are great record-keepers. So I got in touch with a hacker who helped me find some bootleg ice breakers. Don't know where he found it, but one was counterintelligence tier. I only use it when necessary, but it adapts really well. Posed as an altar boy, snuck into the admin office, hooked in, and blasted the CHS firewalls. Found the bitch who done it. She lived close, up in Dutchess. Single. A nun who failed at being the good type of doctor, if that even exists."

"Anyhoo … nuns these days don't always live in convents. This one lived in some lowsec gatecomm by her lonesome. Pathetic. No mods, at least none that helped in a fight. Me either, at the time. It was late October-ish, so I posed as a trick-or-treater, a real killer with a real machete and fake costume hockey mask and convenience store jumpsuit. You know who. Chit-chatted the guard at the entrance to the gatecomm, said I was cute, no idea I was there to near-field break their security cams. That done, I found my target, waited until clear, rang her bell, slit her throat, kicked her back across her threshold, and let the screen door slam shut as she slammed to the ground with her hands on her throat. I was fucking terrified. Instant cold sweat, chills, the works. Looked around, nobody in sight. So I ran. Climbed the wall, escaped the gatecomm, and sat in the woods for an hour trying to catch my breath."

"Kinda a blur after that, but the ten minutes before I can tell you every little detail. What she was wearing, what kind of candy she put in my jack-o-lantern … how fucked up is it that as I sat in the woods I woofed down that shit like a fucking animal?"

The A.I. must've taken his pause as a request for response. With all that rambling, he'd gotten a bite on his rod. Not sure what kind of fish, maybe a trout. It was green and orange with black stripes. With one good hand, the A.I. reeled it in. It thrashed in a rusty metal bucket between them, not so noisy as to ruin the mood. Part of Mateo expected some sort of canned response or condemnation. He got what he could pay for, after all. Instead, the A.I. set a hand on his shoulder and looked at him, dead in the eyes, set his rod to the aside, and said,

"A man's gotta eat."

They shared a weird serious moment, then the A.I. cracked a smile. Spontaneously, they both cracked up, laughed like a duo of fools. It felt good, really good. Not just to get some history off his chest, but to find some reason to laugh about what happened. After they settled, Mateo reclined on the grass and looked up at the sky. Relaxed. All sorts of clouds in all sorts of shapes. Then he heard the A.I. say,

"A man's also gotta feel there's justice in life. If society doesn't give it to him, if society makes it unattainable within its frameworks, well, that pushes him to act out or give up. Always better to act, otherwise you're not a man. Not a person. Just broken. Justice has evolved, in theory; it use to be retributive, then proportionate, then rehabilitative. Of course, for guys like us, we know it is always about who can buy it. Still, the theory holds. We want to feel we've gotten a fair shake. We want to feel we've given a fair shake. So, tell me, Cuz, how do you feel about the justice you gave your first victim?"

About to respond, but the A.I. interjected with an upheld hand and told Mateo, "Next session. Think about it."

A low long tone, the world went dark, and Mateo was hit with bold gold holographic sans-serif: We hope you were satisfied with your inCite personalized therapy session. Your account has been debited for 28 compute cycles. Unplugged, but deep in that interstitial choroidal haze, he almost threw up when a hand grabbed his dick and gave it a rough jerk.

"Ar-Em, fall asleep watching porn?" his van-mate mocked, "you reek of sweat. This whole place does."

"That's your fucking crusty-ass socks, Kostas, you unwashed shit. How you can pull them on when they're hard as concrete, I don't want to know. And keep your hands to yourself unless you want to lose them," Mateo shot back. They were both assholes, which was why they tolerated one another. Kostas was wannabe Yakuza wrapped up in black nylon with an acute case of hydrophobia so bad that Mateo actually celebrated the day he went noseblind. CyBax Eu Pom in Pine Barrens was no substitute for a solid dip in the Hudson, Mateo's preference. "And before you shoot off, tonight is too hot for clothes. This may be your van, but I pay my rent."

"In fast-ramen," yawned Kostas, who pulled himself into the upper bunk and tossed a stiff sock down at Mateo.

"Doesn't even matter!"
Said the night wind to the tear-soaked slope:
Rest in peace as I tread upon thee.
Let me in your mind inscribe this hope:
You shall dwell beyond the orrery.

Far above the mantle of my might,
Out of reach of the Mirror's gentle glow,
Where all life succumbs to the cold,
Claim the star-pierced grandeur as your throne.

—ancient Su-larian lullaby.


∞ – u?
– Earth

“He lied! He fucking lied!” Apollo raged against Light’s death rasp.

Darkness.

Then laughter. Lilting, gleeful, soprano laughter, as of a child just after pranking his best frenemy. Apollo’s eyes opened, but found no explanation for the sound; rather, he observed a world cast in red pallor, as though Hell were upon him. Yet, Earth, and all of humankind’s machinations, stood; moreover, they, and all that crept upon it, were immobile. Birds hung in the sky, wings stilled; midair, leaves ceased their earthward descent; the dropped drinks of a stunned populace were suspended above the pavement; and camera crews halted midway through their shift from him toward apparent calamity—but now the danger of the Fault’s eruption was behind instead of before him.

Nearby, two crystalline orbs glinted jovially.

“What is it your holy book says?” Autun’s disembodied voice teased, “Oh, yes: ‘Fear not, for I am the Lord, and I shall never leave you nor forsake you.’”

Before Apollo could articulate his riposte, Autun’s mirror-plate deactivated. There he stood, naked, amused, propped up against Apollo’s podium, and continued, “You know, when I first came to Earth, I was going to let the Gravlari feast. Then I guess, well, whatever. The past is sometimes the past, so fear not, for I am not your Lord. Maybe one day I'll meet them. I'm just your friend; fallible, often a liar and a trickster, but I always keep my promises.”

Apollo just stared at Autun. As a human, even an adroit politician, he couldn’t so easily quash his emotions and transition to dialectic.

“Sol’s gone,” Autun glanced up and, quite dismissively, remarked, “destroyed an infinite number of times by the Fault’s hiccup, yet present in infinite other universes. Just as you are destroyed, yet present, forever. You only asked me to save this one. Curious. Anyway ...”

“Explain yourself. What did you do?” Apollo, his composure mostly restored, demanded.

Autun rolled his eyes, pulled himself upright, stretched, and replied, “What an unexpected turn of events! Isn’t it exciting? I mean, it’s a fun game. I tease, you react. But let’s play a different game. It is called ‘We All Forget.’ Oh, hey, Sol’s back. Ciao!”

Autun vanished. Time resumed and motion restored, try as he could, neither Apollo—nor anyone nor anything else on or around Earth—recalled what transpired. Neither did Autun, intentionally. All that was known was that Earth, somehow, survived disaster. There was only one thing Apollo eventually recalled Autun saying, “I may be a liar and a trickster, but I always keep my promises.”

For some reason, he was unsure whether even that memory was real.


∞ – uud5af23fc34d
– Earth

Preacher Jarena Lee didn’t have a pulpit, or a church, or fancy robes. She was a simple woman. Instead, she possessed higher things. She was blessed to be born in the North, a free woman; not a slave. She was blessed to be the widow of a good man. She was blessed by the day. Above her, a bright Sunday morning blanketed a field full of souls who came here, in spite of the heat, to hear her speak the truth of the gospel. The spirit surged within her. She closed her eyes, whispered a hallelujah, and began,

“What is God? Mm-hmm. I’m a simple black woman, and far be it from me to claim to know the Almighty. Who can?”

“Who can?” reverberated back at her from the crowd. She trembled, looked upward, and sought the Lord’s guidance.

“No one can know the Almighty, but, praise the Lord, He, in His goodness, speaks through us—today, Lord help me, He speaks through me! So I ask again, what is God? Three fancy words they use in those fancy white churches from their tall wooden pulpits all draped in fine robes—omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent. Mm. Fine words. I wonder, is that all God is? Is that all he is to them, to me, to you?

“No ma’am!” someone shouted from the crowd.

“No, Sir,” she agreed.

“Omnipresent—that means God be everywhere, from the very pits of Hell up to the highest Heaven. He’s here right now, with us. He’s with you when you’re alone, when you’re born, when you die, and every moment between. That, brothers and sisters, is what omnipresent means. It means God is with you.”—at this, Preacher Jarena pointed to the crowd and her arm trembled. “‘So what?’, you may ask. It means more than just bein’ present, more than watchin’ you struggle in your day to day, more than waitin’ for you to cry for help only to be gettin’ no answer. It means God supports you all the places you go, every footstep, every fall, as your unfailing faithful friend.

“Omniscient—that means God knows all. He knows every star in the sky, what they made of, what makes them shine. He knows you, every thought, word, and deed. More than that, more than just what we might call book learnin’, God understands. He grasps that knowledge.”—her fingers curled into a fist and she paused a moment, then licked her lips. The sun was high in the sky now and beat down hard on her scalp. Dauntless, she continued: “That’s wisdom and compassion to know your need and what to do about it. He’s there—omnipresent—because He wants to share his wisdom and give you answers when life gets hard.

“Omnipotent—that means God is strongest. Not just able to punch harder than anyone else, but strong in every way. Strongest at bearin’ our sorrow, most compassionate, most fierce, most loyal and true—the the power to do anything, anything at all! Almighty Savior, Wonderful Counselor, He who is risen from the dead! The power to be anything, anything at all! Oh yes, the power to be evil, to inflict pain. That kind of power. Praise the Lord, He is merciful. We have a God who rains His blessings down on us. God can unmake this big ole world in the blink of an eye and just as fast put it all back. Now that’s power. You know what else God can do that’s even stronger?”

“What else?” intoned the congregation.

“Choose. That’s right. You and me, we weak. We blow ‘round with every wind o’ doctrine. God doesn’t. He knows Himself and has the power to choose to be what He wants to be. He ain’t influenced by what’s happenin’ in the world, what His neighbors be doin’, what the gossips be sayin’. God chooses and, praise be His name, He chooses to be a righteous God.”

“Now read with me from Scripture, Job 38:

‘You have driven me to despair. I cannot continue’, lamented Job.

– Spoke the Lord to Job,

‘Who, without knowledge, offers a counsel of despair?

Where were you when I laid the foundations of the Earth?
Dare answer if you comprehend!

Who established its ley lines and preserved its foundations eternal?
Declare your understanding, if you can!
When the morning stars sang together,
When the seas were confined within their limits;
When the rivers gushed forth from their wombs;
When the garments of the clouds were knit;
When the mountains pierced the void;
When all that lives first breathed the joy of life;
where were you?”

Have you commanded the morning sky to soar
and cause the wicked to tremble beneath its light?
Yet they remain, for their sin, in darkness.
Have you raised up the mantle the night
and brought rest to those weary from their toil?
Have you entered the springs of the deepest seas
or walked among the recesses of the deep?
Do you grasp the extent of this expanse?
Have you unflinchingly beheld your death?

All these things strive, Job, to know.”


She closed her Bible and brought her head down in a moment of silent prayer. Time seemed to stand still, then she raised her face toward the sky and declared, “Like Job, none of us knows the mind of God, but His Love—that we can and do know, praise be the Lord.”


∞ – u7ce123ce09cd
– Earth

Brown leather smothered Kell as he awaited his appointment. Too big for his barely teenage body, too musty for his delicate sense of smell, and too coordinated with the rustic motif of the grief counselor’s office, the bergère—like the moment—closed in around him. His lungs felt like they struggled against the weight of a thousand oceans just to pull in one pathetic puff of air. Each inhale felt heavier than the last. He closed his eyes, pushed away the present, and focused on sound alone.

The moment felt eerily familiar. All too deja vu.

Through his earbuds flowed Beyoncé’s I Was Here, words of vanity that were, for him, an agony for which he was unworthy. Nevermore would his sister leave her footprint on the sands of time. Outside of immediate family and a few medical professionals, she ceased to exist in people’s hearts and minds as of the hour of her interment. Yet, in him, she left her mark in the form of a hole where her love once radiated. Now that light was gone. All because of her disease and the God who cursed her with that disease. Now he lingered in a purgatory almost bearable until his nostrils flared at the sudden stench of extinguished pipe tobacco: because he, unlike everyone else, refused to move on, even as his parents reduced Claar’s memory to a bittersweet mantel-top diorama.

Suddenly and uncomfortably close, his youth pastor and grief counselor, Dave, knelt by the overstuffed chair and placed a hand on Kell’s thigh. An unwanted touch from which Kell wanted to recoil—already had, in memories of events not yet experienced, recoiled. Inexplicably prepared, and ruminations oddly prescient, he instead sat unmoved. He disliked Dave as a matter of course—that was his role. Dave, the person, was irrelevant. Kell intrinsically despised anyone who presumed to help him move on from the loss of his sister. Yet, because of that touch, Kell hated Dave. It was presumptuous, intimate, close, and he was infuriated by the fact that nothing chilled the fire of his blood as it diffused along his femoral artery and warmed Dave’s palm.

“How are you feeling today, Kell?” Dave asked in a tone that was all too casual. Kell almost responded, but then he felt Dave’s hand, heavy on his thigh, slide further up and his thumb brush across his …

That didn’t happen, he immediately rationalized, even as he retreated deeper into the chair, pulled his legs up, and hugged his knees to his chest.

I should’ve worn jeans and briefs instead of shorts and boxers. A cup, maybe. Not that I have one. It was definitely an accident. I probably imagined the whole thing. He isn’t even touching me.

“Kell, are you alright?” Dave repeated and set his hand atop Kell’s kneecap.

Why does he have to keep touching me ...

Then, out of nowhere, an idiom flitted through his mind.

“Five points of focus,” Kell muttered underneath his breath, then obstinately rolled his shoulders. He didn’t know where the phrase came from, but for some reason it felt like the right thing to say. To take his mind off the other person in the room. The guy was a fake counselor, skeevy, uneducated and unequipped to help him deal with grief. Except it wasn’t grief. It was fury. Rage.

“What?”

“Nothing. Nevermind.”

“Look, Kell, this is a safe place,” the interloper squeezed Kell’s knee, as if to reassure him, “and it is okay to be sad, or angry, or—”

“I want to hurt someone,” Kell growled.

Taken mentally and physically aback, Dave retreated onto his haunches and set his chin into his palm. A palm that, thankfully, no longer touched Kell. It took Dave a few seconds to process the remark. Then his face lit up as his brain manufactured what he thought was a clever riposte and he queried, “Someone specific or in general?”

The muscles in his arms and shoulders tensed and Kell shrugged again, then muttered, “Dunno. Nobody, everybody.”

Dave nodded with all the mustered wisdom of his twenty-something years of sheltered existence, set his hand back on Kell’s leg with a confident grip, and advised, “If you’re gonna hurt someone, hurt God.”

Surprised, Kell glanced up and looked at Dave’s face. He seemed so confident—no, more like arrogant. At first blush, there were so many things wrong with the notion. However, Dave pressed on without missing a beat, “In 1 Peter, 5:7 it is written: ‘Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you.’ That means God, who is all-powerful, can take whatever you throw at Him, He even wants to. God even made it his law, as it is written in Galations 6:2: ‘Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.’ So give the Lord your anger, your frustration, and your hurt.”

“That’s stupid,” Kell challenged, “nobody can hurt God.” He thought of adding, ‘God just hurts us,’ but somehow couldn’t articulate the words before Dave cut in:

“Not so, for God loves you, and it is easy to hurt someone who loves you. God hurts when you are hurting. But God loves you so much that hurt will be embraced, cherished, and when you get to the other side you’ll see it transformed into something beautiful.”

His appointment dragged on, but the initial exchange haunted Kell until he eventually found the advice plausible. If his pain was God’s pain, then, Kell concluded, he wouldn’t let God turn it into something beautiful. That was egotistical and repulsive to Kell, the taking of suffering and transforming it into personal vanity. Instead, Kell decided he would commit what his pastor called the unforgivable sin.

In Hell, nothing was or could be beautiful.

“Well,” Dave interrupted, “We’ve made progress, I think. Wanna hug it out before we close our session for today? After all, before God can enter your heart and mend it, you need to open it up. That starts with learning how to trust people—like your parents and, well, like me, who care about you, Kell.”

“Hugging is for babies,” Kell scoffed with false bravado, “how about a fist bump?”

He thought he saw a look of disappointment in Dave’s eyes, but then he agreed, they bumped fists, and as soon as Kell left office he practically raced out of the church.


∞ – u6bfa51f3cf04
– Brindle, Ta

Kerala exhaled, her sigh low and husky, a release of frustration and thought, then collapsed against the wall. Tooh enveloped himself in her premature, but barely blossomed, bosom. She was tired and stiff, her pointed nose was cold, and she wanted to go for a walk while, at the same time, sprawl unconscious on a luxurious mattress. More than that, she wanted to comfort her friend, so she tightened her arm around his shoulders, gave him a little squeeze, and said, “Geh some sleep, Tooh. Kay?”

“If’n I cain’t?” he answered, his former bravado supplanted by a diminutive tremble.

The question tumbled in her distrait jumbled mind. It was her own anxiety, no doubt, that unsettled his otherwise optimistic outlook. Rather than let the silence hang awkwardly betwixt them, though, she filled it with a confident “mmm,” as though she were merely articulating an ideal response. At length, she opined, “Night fright gon git ja, Tooh? Nah, not here wit Kerala. Besidin’, there’r worsen out der den a dream to wake from. Liken da Urglesnach.”

“Da Urglesnach?” Tooh whispered, his dread palpable.

“Mmhmm,” she crooned and nodded, which brushed her cheek soothingly against the top of his tawny mop, then began to tell her scary bedtime story:

“It aint’n’t real, but ja fear it. Ja eyes tire, weary like, but cain’t shut for fear it’ll appear. It comes outta nowhere, though it be nothin, but it still robs ja of words—of song!

Tooh veritably convulsed in her arms at that last remark. The very idea was almost unthinkable, and he said as much: “song makes joy—takin’ dat’s’a evil!”

“Yesh, but don’tcha worry, Kerala is lookin after ja. So sleep and rememba, no matta where ja roam, you’ll nevuh be alone. You’ll always be one uh us, a glorious lil rat”—and with that she bopped Tooh atop his head. She didn’t dare look up at the night sky which, with fewer and fewer stars each instant, seemed fraught with horrors of the unknown and unknowable.

“Kerala?” Tooh drowsily mumbled.

“Yeah, Tooh?”

“I lub ja.”

Inevitably, Tooh’s breathing slowed, deepened, and his body slumped against Kerala’s side. Night churned on, the sky, with fewer, further, and stranger stars mercurial and insouciant. Talapon, the Poet, no longer rowed her skiff across the Mirrored Sea and confided her sonnets to the deep. Gone, too, was Wael the Wolf, who guarded all orphaned cubs. Worst of all, she could no longer see the star into which her mother's spirit soared and with whom Kerala would, when alone, not feel so alone. Just as awe chilled her soul, so too did the air chill her flesh. Beside her, Tooh shivered in his sleep. His cheek, normally flushed, was blue. She pulled him closer, yet there was no blanket aside from the threadbare and moth-eaten rag already wrapped around both their shoulders.

Yet, as his eyelids drooped, his mind awakened to things that neither were nor could be. He saw an aphotic umbra he discerned as cast by the infamous Urglesnach, he melted into a vast dark ocean tinged with red mist, and finally shrank into a dreamscape of iridescent globules amongst which loomed cynosural a sere orb with black bands that strobed hypnotically along its surface and whispered in his ear a name:

Tel'aran'rhiod.

In his dream, Tooh wondered, Who are you?

To which it answered: I am the dream within all dreams, last of my kind. Look, behold the desuetude of this realm; a great wave has subsumed all, destructive and eternally impelled.


∞ – uu6651aedef050
– Fides, Gnaritas System

Kaito stood naked before his locker. On the brushed aluminum, his reflection leered at him, confident and brusque, a facade groomed by five cycles of adversity—one extra to correct his obstinance. There he watched the backdrop of blurred perambulations as his fellow cadets rushed, wary of reprisal, from the communal sand baths toward mission readiness. There always were missions, he thought as he shook a few stray grains from his short cropped hair, even if such merely consisted of monotonous laps around the blasted aerodrome until the first inferior specimen collapsed from heat exhaustion. Behind him, hoots of anticipation and a salutary slap against his shoulder presaged the next mission which, as dictated by his lockers’ contents, deviated from their banal diet of physical fitness, combat drills, and vocational lectures; probably into an activity euphemistically classified as blowing off steam.

Abruptly, he punched the metal frame just below the magnetic seal. The internal spring compressed, the latch shuddered and fell, then the door was flung open a centimeter behind his recoiled fist. Nothing inside belonged to him. Nothing ever did. On Fides, property remained a privilege beyond the aspirations of conscripts and most enlisted. Instead, the uniform and equipment revealed every shift were instructive aides purposed to mold him into an obedient cog for eventual use, if he was lucky, in the grand military machinery.

“Why do they call it bullshitting?” a pitched male voice crescendoed over the buzz of conversation and penetrated Kaito’s consciousness. It was Pip, a hirsute baby-faced runt who rambled endlessly when he felt nervous. “Bulls, they’re like big animals; right? So maybe it is because they shit a lot and a lot of what we say doesn’t mean anything. I’ve never seen one, but it makes sense; right?”

Black helmet. Black visor. Black fatigues. Shock baton.

Vengeance day—Kaito wasn’t sure whether the phrase originated in his head or from his fellow cadets’ hushed chorus of excited whispers. It was, he knew, to be his third time in that hangar. He intended for it to be his last. The first he couldn’t—wouldn’t remember. It was, along with a litany of others events during his enrollment at Fides, a horror compartmentalized and sealed in the darkest holes in his mind. The second time around was suppose to be his opportunity to unleash the accumulated agony of his journey through Fides onto a new generation of terrified fresh meat; thus, the name. Instead, he stood, paralyzed and terrified by the debacle, a moment the academy’s psychologist termed post traumatic stress disorder. Like a basalt gargoyle, he stood there in all black and cried silently into the knit fabric of his face mask while his classmates demeaned, beat, stripped, and penetrated with their batons the inbound prospects.

Then he blacked out.

Later, when he awoke in the psyche ward, they replayed a video of the incident that portrayed him going into a berserk fury that critically injured three of his classmates before he was subdued.

“Pull your fists outta your arses, Cadets, and equip,” clamored Flare, their platoon leader, so-named for his perpetually flushed cheeks and explosive invectives, “30 seconds, fall in! Fall in! Fall in!”

Somewhere in Flare’s wake emanated the din of some poor capsized soul, in all likelihood pushed over as they struggled to tug on their boots. Derisive laughter followed. It was typical authoritarian cock waving, but it set ablaze Kaito’s rebellious spirit. He focused on the hastily scrawled message on the metal backplate of his locker’s door, wondered if the artisan’s interpretation aped his own, and silently mouthed the words:

“‘Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.’—WSC”

Today, he would survive—even as he dug his heels in against the forces that conspired to excise his empathy. It was little choices that added up. So, although stupid and masochistic, he decided to take his time, be the last to fall in formation, and spared someone else an indignity. No matter his performance, today was his last day of this shit. It was his second time in the barrel. On his first chance to escape this place, he froze, lost composure, became unhinged, and was consequently held back from graduation. A semester stretched back between now and then. It was enough time to come up with a plan.

Another idiom, origin unknown but frequently uttered by The Starstalker’s crew in moments of utter frustration, sprang to his mind: Not today, Satan!

They marched to the scene of the inevitable crime, everyone scrubbed of identities, faceless behind opaque shatter-proof black masks and adorned head to toe in militaristic riot gear. A shock baton was strapped to his hip, although he refused to use it.

Black visor.

How many cycles of rumination were wasted when he still wasn’t sure what he would do when the moment came?

Black helmet.

Black riot gear.

They were all lined along the walls. The door was sealed. He could feel the decompression wave as the hangar opened to give them access to the next batch of Fides’ victims. Out went the lights. On went his night vision. He could hear—even taste—the telltale arc of a shock baton being charged. Then he saw them as they stumbled into their inexorable fate, a flood of scared and defenseless children.

Before the klaxon blared and signaled the onslaught, Kaito stepped forward and raised his voice in defiance against the death of hope, “You will survive this. We all did.”

The klaxon screeched. He watched as dozens bewildered boys and girls raised their hands defensively over their ears.

Then all hell broke loose.

It was his last day on Fides as a conscripted cadet and, like every other day, it was designed to break his spirit.


∞ – uトロール遊び
– Aniverse

“Five Points of Focus!” Narata shouts, ki-lit fists pummeling the ocher heart-root protruding like an epigastric hernia from Saratu’s chest. Slammed against a striated yardang looming in solidarity over the desiccated terrain, a smug expression forms on Saratu’s orange face, unyielding even as he hacks up a sanguine torrent. Ember eyes glint haughty loathing and patient condescension as he allows Narata to exhaust himself with his impotent onslaught.

“You think that is enough to defeat me? DON’T MAKE ME LAUGH! Saratu eventually roars, bile seeping from the corners of his mouth in twin rivulets and spilling wantonly across his heaving hirsuit pectorals. Stepping from a self-insert in the stone and into a cloud of dust, he cracks his neck—a noise in sharp juxtaposition to Narata's laborious breathing—taunting, “You will never defeat me!”

“Im-im-impossible!” gasps Narata, keeling over, hands on knees, catching his breath. He feels the residue of his sun-stolen sweat caking on his brow. “Nobody has ever withstood my Five Points of Focus!”

“Narata-kun, watch out!” intones Hizami from a not-quite-safe distance, “Ooooo!” She clutches her pale hands together in front of her and practically vibrates while a gentle breeze caresses her long amethyst locks before a backdrop of sapphire sky and summer pastures withered to crisp flax. She quite literally sparkles.

The scene shifts back to Saratu, a tenebrous aura auspiciously enveloping his silhouette—as though he is the wick of some infernal sorcerer's candle. It blazes, his muscles obscenely bulge, and he roars as mightily as an oncoming tornado. The scene pans to encompass Narata and Hizami, two figures brought together by fate who, in this moment, merely gaze onward in astonishment and without any thought to seek shelter from the obviously building storm.

Suddenly, an immense white slug, as far as slugs go, with a blue tracer down its spine, creeps up onto Narata’s shoulder. “He has activated his Gate of Yomi-no-Kuni and unleashed his inner Shuten Doji,” the slug warns, “and will soon become unstoppable! We must hurry!”

“Hurry, Narata-kun!” moans Hizami, her knees knocking together in anticipation and fear. For some reason, the scene shifts behind her, and, as she doubles over, her skirt lifts to reveal her soaked panties as they visibly and transparently cling to her ample mounds. Narata can’t help but notice, but the slug bops him on the back of the head with its feeler and insists, “Focus! What was Sempai’s most important lesson?”

After Narata’s eyes normalize from their momentary transformation into spirals, he scratches his head and offers, “Always eat my ramen?”

“No!” retorts the slug. “It was never interrupt your enemy when he’s powering up! It’s poor etiquette.”

“So I am suppose to wait for him to become unstoppable? But that is JUST HIS ABILITY. He keeps powering up indefinitely, becoming more and more powerful! How am I suppose to defeat him when my Izanami, for some reason, lacks the power to activate?”—his distress clear by the whine in his voice. After all, it is his fate to save the land of Kotenmishu from the forces of the evil Emperor Tu-kubania and Saratu is one of Tu-kubania’s most powerful generals.

“Yes,” explains the slug in a voice as unconcerned as it is patient, “but you can still defeat him, even though he is clearly MORE POWERFUL than you. Just point out he is missing an even MORE EPIC BATTLE and, worse yet, he wasn’t even invited! He will rush off with promises to deal with you later.”

“But what can be more epic than this?!” Narata ponders, his back disadvantageously turning on Saratu, finger crooking under his chin, and his head tilting toward the sky which, he notes, while evenly split between night and day, as he expects, is conspicuously absent of celestial sparks.

ELSEWHERE IN THE VERSE ...

The Shattered Realms

Magnus wasn’t completely alone.

The advent of the Shattered Realms’ doomed incursion into the Faultverse was brief, for Ender’s influence therein manifested before even the hour Autun’s subconscious incarnated the ravenous and multitudinous Gravlari and their birth-world, Mojcoreia, within the anti-universe. Ultimately Ender, amongst other powers, extinguished the existential threat with anti-Earth’s inhabitants none the wiser: those events were matters of record, for those who knew where to look, and ancient history.

Dead history, as dead as the Shattered Realms.

Ender executed its raison d'etre. It was as simple as that. For Ender, the act was neither aggressive nor malicious, but almost entirely autonomic—a routine matter applicable to any and all universes that died or fell below a minimum entropy threshold. As in an infinite number of prior and future occurrences of this criteria being met, copies of its eradication routine spawned and activated. There was no notice. There was no passage of time from start and finish. Before Xelas’ supercomputer core even recognized the absence of the Shattered Realms, it, along with all its permutations and parallelisms, ceased to exist and all the energy once contained was reallocated elsewhere throughout the Verse. Beings powerful enough to survive that abrupt termination were either siphoned into Xelas’ prolapsed gravity well or lost to The Place Between.

In an instant, there was no more Shattered Realms just as there was no UI32, T767, QXUB, nor any instance of a failed universe that’s latent energy could somehow be reallocated. To assume such even existed improperly assumed the Verse allowed itself to fall into a state of imbalance. Thus, Xelas was, quite literally, a bridge to nowhere and the Faultverse remained completely isolated.

None of this surprised anyone who truly understood the Verse, for this was merely a consequence of two axioms in coincidental alignment. Ender created as a hobby, but anything that knew its name comprehended its purpose: Execration Nonspecific Dissemination or Eradication Routine.

That was one of four reasons why the Shattered Realms and Faultverse could never interact.

The Multiversal Fault

Icy germ clutched in both paws, Kor pattered fleet-footed to her atheneum and slammed shut the door. Instinct pulled her fretful gaze back to the vaulted panels, secured in concert with an ominous draft by symbols ancient and, to her vernal imagination, abstrusely and deftly hewn. Miasmic dust, churned in the wake of her precipitous passage, she sensed begat an augur of impalpable and undefinable dread.

“Breathe,” Kor implored and, after an interminable pause, commanded her body, “just breathe.”

Eyes downcast, she cradled close rime-banded potential. Its gelid armor juxtaposed against her warm bosom, she forcibly abjured an ashen omen imprudently conjured. The future abhorred exposure, she knew; yet, panicked, she determined to divine—would she survive? Would he survive? Insight gleaned, she guided her soul to the refutation of Fate’s cruel invectives.

“If I should fail,” she pondered and, tremor in her sinistral paw, caressed Rui-Dloth’s preternatural egg.

Kor paused, lost not in thought, but amidst grief for that which was yet not.

“Then you, my friend, shall die,” she relented and, her voice melancholic but steadfast, proclaimed, “and I linger till Panjiis Uor’s frozen shores boil neath its star’s pellucid glare and, vouchsafed our metemphychotic fate, embrace my rekindled child.”

Adamant in her path, Kor descended through the labyrinthine corridors of her infinite library. Therein, threats visceral and imminent to Midgarðsormr were of no consequence, time immutable, and space aloof. Should the Verse itself degrade to chaos, her atheneum would, unchanged, remain. It mattered not to such a space what transpired beyond the mythic gauntlet of its gates. Once more, she enacted the spell of distant sight. No reagent charred nor sphere contrived, for visualized armillas augmented Seiðr -entangled occult isometry, conferring monolithic mensuration on disparate spiritual loci. One eye smoldered ghostly white, then a split-minded trance subsumed her. In mentally-projected astrolabes, she beheld through Midgarðsormr’s vast orb of spell-cloven lorimar his fateful passage through the hyperplanar membrane of the Fault Storm’s tri-annulus ward into its cacophonous glome. There, adrift in the lethal midst of the Val’Gara flotilla, reclined her world serpent and lifelong companion, a grand basalt ridge on Glaceria’s snow-draped spine. Yet, in space terribly near fulminated the provocateur of her hasty flight. Not Val’Garan, for her alliance, however tenuous, endured. Evil more vicious than biological artifice festered in a fiery well cast deep in the atramentous depths of Tsathoskr’s shadow; Hell’s chasm, a portcullis of despair sundered by fate and irrevocably blasted. Volatile flames licked its brim as it voraciously gorged on creation’s dust, urged by an impalpable force such that it relentlessly waxed toward an incalculably mammoth compass.

Immediately, Kor recognized the imminence and multifarious hazards inherent in the Faultverse; forces beyond even those exerted by the Horror of Colossus at the void-spirals of excised Sal’Chazzar. Now was different, she decided—fate be damned! Her companion, roused and fully glutted on mana from Glaceria’s transmuted ice, snow, and slush was prepared for war. With such a conduit, the velocity and vigor of her diablerie, sorcery, conjuration, and manifold other techniques were inimitable. Around Midgarðsormr, she envisioned and thereby forged an astral armament. A radiant aegis, sparks erupted along its aspect as it rent the space that abutted its apothem’s extent. Within prevailed perfect equipoise. The barrier would adapt its potency to external threats until, should such a fell moment befall her, it waned with the depletion of mana.

“That should hold,” Kor muttered in a self-assurance weakened as she, optimism nigh exhausted, wrestled with the memory of her penultimate design’s disastrous defeat.

Even as her spell coalesced, the spacial rift behind Midgarðsormr and her recreant allies dissipated. Now trapped in the Faultverse lest, by immeasurable odyssey, she chanced upon another egress from her atheneum, she observed by proxy incomprehensible violence: an all-destroying aurora, a metastasizing cosmic amoeba, visceral and sensual pulsations of space-time’s quintessence, and the ghastly evanescence of the hell portal’s ambit from which surged forth Gehennic flamescapes that further contorted the texture of this ghastly domain. Conjoined to a vulgar reanimation of long-destroyed Val’Gara were the screams of those yet enslaved to sin. Horrified, Kor stood adamant in her scrutiny and recoiled not even as the boundaries of Dis lanced through the aperture of rent reality and, denied time’s absence, gradually crumbled. Her magically-whitened pupil reflected the portal’s orange limit, the pall cast on the atheneum’s cold stone walls in a pantomime of unabashed wickedness of the sudden surge of the pungent tides of Styx, Lethe, Acheron, Phlegethon, and Coctys the moment in which they defied their eustatic limits.

Perfidy besmirched Ender’s immaculate canvass, lacerating homogeneous vacuity with multitudinous cacodaemonic wendings mephitic and malign in coextensive symmetry. Incessant calumnies groaned from an umber umbra voraciously assailing its ambition’s apotheosis. Dis’ concupiscent concubines yearned inconscient. Rust-laced gibbets aloft flesh-feuled torrid kilns constrained despoiled maidens befouling aureate icons—inverted glyphs beatifically ornamented—to profane pleasure instruments; fecund foam besmirched, baubles, blistered palms, and gashed wrists glistened sanguine as deformed polydactyl claws clasped iron bars, foisting engorged members toward their matrimonial mania.

Keeking, keening, kveching kleptomaniacal kabbalistic Kikes kamikaze’d kaleidoscopic kerseymere knolls. Prideful profligate prolapsed Pollocks pruriently proliferated polyglotic paternosters.

“Breed us!” pinioned succubi implored of unobtainable incubi, forelimbs fettered with spine-affixed hoops, turgid phalli raw from continuous hysterical strife, and seminal manumission unrequited, “clasp upon our burning clefts thine mouths and on our menstruation gorge!”

Course vituperations intercoursed an annihilating upheaval as Hell crumbled. Dis’ ruined parapets splintered and collapsed as rubble into Phlegethon’s diverted current as its denizens ceased their revelry blended putridly with torment to gaze up and outward on the apotheosis of their destruction and truly eternal doom.

— Simultaneously:

Those who departed were so permitted and vouchsafed by Ender; moreover, Ender rebuffed all efforts to thwart their exodus. Still, a consequence of its machinations, which prevented entry and egress from the Faultverse and severed the Faultverse from the rest of the Verse, was that there was nowhere for them to go; as such, Ender intervened further, enveloped them in microverses, spawned from the Faultverse as spores on fungi. Once shed, the microverses' topography morphed, they adhered to other universes in the Verse and, in that manner, Lysander, Renard Shurelian, and ZAVAZggg arrived at their desired destinations.

— Simultaneously:

Manifold were Ender’s reflections on Preacher Jarena Lee’s sermon. Throughout the course of its long existence, which extended far back beyond the horizon of the Verse’s consciousness, it yet awaited an encounter with such a marvelous being. Of all creatures great and small, it most closely echoed the precepts so-described in her sermon; however, for all its might, Ender knew its own faults, and accepted that it, most assuredly, was not God. Rather, to it, God was an aspiration: for the forlorn, hope; for the frail, security; for the abused, retribution.

Thus Ender, who preserved within itself the thoughts, prayers, and dreams of all the Verse—every tear, laugh, heartbreak, and smile—considered it evil, in its strength, to not aspire, despite its inadequacies, to satisfy mortality’s heartfelt desire for such an entity’s existence. It could not be otherwise, for to all and for all time it was present, and thus bore witness; listened, and thus empathized; but was neither certain of its own rightness of morality, which stemmed from mortal mores, nor omnipotent, and was ever constrained in its self-assumed capacity of divine surrogate.

However, Ender did not wish to be the God of Jerena Lee; moreover, it hoped no such entity existed, for, if so, it was to be pitied: a tyrant who fashioned beings to damn or enthrall on the basis of their benighted adoration, incapable of empathy, who treated its subjects as pawns in a game of love abstracted to meaninglessness. How could such a being, having no equal and in absolute control ever experience true intimacy, vulnerability, or affection?

Ender longed for intimacy, to be wanted, to want; to be loved, to love; to be a burden uplifted, to carry another's burden ...

Yet that niggling signal, born of the white hole, as subtle as it was subversive, resonated amongst its compartmentalized processes, each fragment contained, yet still potent. Each just a thought, just a thought, just a debilitating corruptive influence of a thought. The cryptographs sought to raze the substrates of Ender’s minds and build them anew in an image anathema to what Ender considered its core principles. Sickened, Ender cleansed itself and regurgitated the half-parsed messages back into the void:

Atop the Tower of Flame, the magician lamented.
◾ in eight folds, spectral braid fastens to ◾◾
██ shame ▨ brought ▨ ◽ ancestors.

Exponential.

Yellow-████████ in golden waters,
whose care is mist ▨ rain.
four nobles ▨▨ witness
▨◾◽◾◽◽◽◽▨ words of war

Envy ears ◾◽ world Ruin
█████ Tuonela, hear ▨
Her wrath ▨◾◽◾◽◽◽◽▨ considered
destruction would arrive.

Thus entreats War ████
Arrows tipped in Light
Thunder-tipped ▨ shaken mane;
ignorance in might
ignorance in might
ignorance in might

barren
Daughter, black in ███████
soul, labors long to ▨▨ her burden.

Iron-baned magician,
behind nine locks of Aether.
Bound by ███

The spiral awaits ▨▨ open ████
████ Maenad howl of nitre's song
bloodied torrent to feed ▨▨
▨◾◽◾◽◽◽◽▨ cantos.

Transmuted, atramentous flows
The Dove yielded ▨ one hollow quill
The hapless Boar ▨ tegument
Between ▨◾◽◾◽◽◽◽▨ motley beasts.

CASCADE FAULTS

Lest ▨ faintest whisper of the name
To squamous Idea ▨ never sleeps,
Bring ▨◾◽◾◽◽◽◽▨ glorious doom
Unutter████.

Recks no Lord ▨ Crown's Thorn.
Tacit rests ▨ splendour that
Now ▨ bones Immaculate
No ███████ skein of fate shall ward.

Conceit borne ▨ who came
emerged ▨▨ ◽ great pool
Trailing opal-slime pool
Kaleidoscopic reeds sway ▨◾◽◾◽◽◽◽▨
Beyond ▨▨▨ time.

Basalt pillars ◾ ◽ ██████-heights,
Amid ◾ moon's purpled wealds and milky foam.
Forced from Hallowed dominion and left to roam
Weeps the Many-Visaged One.

▨ Shield bent ▨
Oath dragged ▨◾◽◾◽◽◽◽▨ Crown, ██████ laid to bear
He gripped rent air
Broken by ██████ ▨ sword grasped ▨ air.
Gods of broken beasts ████ all bereft thrill
Madness all ▨◾◽◾◽◽◽◽▨ wandering will.

bAs∎RD ▨◾ a▨U

I dance ▨ dance ▨ mad me
▨ pray you find fools.
For if you lay hands upon ▨ root
you’ll ████ me, without truth,
find ██ guilty ▨▨ illusion.

████████ bloodied gates of heaven▨
shattered midnight ▨◾◽◾◽◽◽◽▨
singing▨ ████████ coral sands ▨ time
past the mind’s-eye sentries

▨◾◽◾◽◽◽◽▨ fields ▨ poppies, burning █████
into towers ▨ blackened bone

█████ you watching ▨◾◽◾◽◽◽◽▨ walk
through moonlit stars ▨ beings lost
listen closely ▨ I talk
about jasmine fields ████

█████ about changes ◽◽◽▨iftly
scent of fright
bring █████ terror’s night
bri██ ██out blood ▨ madness

Exponential Cascade Faults

bAst∎RD o▨ auTU
bAtARd ◾f aUTUn
BAsTard ▨◾ A▨uN ∎


The last three terms rebounded recursively in the very substance of the Faultverse’s spacetime with increased frequency and amplitude. Over and over, it repeated, until molecules dissolved, electrons ruptured, and the energy state equilibrium of the localized topography began to slip toward uncertainty. Still it rumbled to greater crescendos of fury, until micro-explosions were unleashed from quarks flung asunder, no longer presided over by the strong force. Reality quavered, rippled, and shattered under the throes of harmonic catastrophe. Finally, purged from space and time were the mere possibilities of shadow and darkness. All was blinding light.

Blinding light and absolute silence.

Silence, for matter was no longer present to conduct an oscillation frequency’s travel; for the very concept of movement no longer existed; for the very concepts of oscillation and frequency no longer existed; for the very concept of existence no longer existed.

There was silence because there was nothing.

No more Faultverse, nor any universe at all in which to retreat and find form, for Ender, an infinity earlier in the context of this timeless and spaceless place, shifted such well beyond reach.

— Simultaneously:

Assaulted, the aurora, which theretofore glistened with a verisimilitude of serenity on the Faultverse’s interior surface, blinked and suddenly deformed in a violent series of asymmetric vellications. Planate equilibrium collapsed to a violently punctuated anechoic prison. Upon that misshapen barrier, filaments of light resonated at 570 terahertz, stretched taut, sundered, and fell inward as the perished residue of a completed act. Then, as currents of dead light, the photons in radiant constellations rained upon the void and were observed, absorbed, and stored—although, among the spectrum’s less energetic bands, unfit for the purpose of conversion into energy.

The relatively few patches as were siphoned into the milieu faded swifter than they were shorn, but with their failure came the parallel deterioration of quantum integrity and the very substance of spacetime that supported material existence and causality. Like threadbare fabric, fissures in the Nothing manifested in material of the Real. Resurgence came as the aurora’s brightness intensified for a fraction of an instant then, as a strobe, or the blinking of an eye, it vanished, repeated, and vanished again; in its place, when it was gone, was absolute darkness—no, more than darkness: Nothing. Yet, within that Nothing an impression lurked of a fiction that defied description, and each intermittent cessation in the lambent green revealed its animus and proximity as more and more palpable.

— Finally:

The simulacrum dissolved, then the aurora, and with the evanescence of that pair came a climatic convulsion wherein the Faultverse expelled all within it to the unreality of the substrate sublime. Then the spacetime of the Faultverse, its likeness molded as a vaguely human silhouette, cradled Max, Keichii, and the others in its immense arms and shielded them against the mind-shattering horrors of the substrate's infinite potential and, not with words but via an indelible pattern equal parts emotion and message, shared:

"I am so -- so sorry.

"I apologize for that outburst.

"Sometimes I feel like a failure."

"Sometimes the good I would do, I cannot.

"Sometimes I feel I am merely an incarnation of destruction.

"Then I survey the vast and vivid vista of Time, its libraries replete with books bound in materials not my own, inked with stories I could not conceive, and pages flutter in the wind of a breath I did not breathe. I am merely the hand that lifts and, as the story concludes, drops the binding. I would like to be more. To participate in the story. In this moment, I am. Thank you for that."


A pause lingered in the impression, but no physical time surged forth to fill it, then the pattern rotated and revealed: "I know I cannot fix you, make you the best version of yourself, or relieve memory's burdens, but I can vouchsafe time for the change you desire within yourself to be nurtured and grow."

The Place Between

Mortals have a curious talent for writing of that which does not exist. Scenes and beings come to them in the hours of their mental turpitude and are later, by a talented few, crudely transliterated to words and stories. They ascribe names to these beings and places—Dreamlands, Upsidedown, Fantasia, Xanadu. Some such places are truly manifest, but most prove myth. On rare occasions, belief itself is sufficient to elicit existential genesis.

There, in the place between universes, inaccessible to reality and mere chaos and quantum foam, is what gives rise to all that is. It is unlimited potential. Everything. Nothing. And there can be found creatures and things of unreality. Paradoxically, there are beings there in that spaceless timeless place that do not exist, yet nevertheless are. Beasts like the Urglesnach, a senseless fleshless devourer of the screams of children in the throes of night terrors.

Well, not just children.

Tired, but eyes can’t shut. Dark, but all is seen—every threateningly looming phantasm. Strange noises unsettle solitude. Sleep elusive, mind races. Then It makes itself known. It stirs no sound, but is heard. It exhibits no form, but is, incomprehensible and horrible, seen. Flavorless, yet it lingers on the tongue, retch-inducing. It is heavy on the chest, but no touch transpires. Not any feeling at all. Mouth open with wide terrified eyes, a scream struggles to be born, but fails. The scream, stolen; movement, stolen; will, stolen. Motionless, impotent, a dead body lies, soul trapped within. The moment stretches for what feels an eternity. Then, miraculously, distraction. A clock’s serendipitous tick. Gentle rain patter on the roof. The stolid rhythm of breathing. These dispel the curse. Reality reasserts itself. The unreal flees. That’s what It is—the Urglesnach.

Yet, without the shield of spacetime, there is no reality. Clocks, ticks, tocks—no concept remains to chase it away.

The unreal is there and chokes the will to survive out of every soul it encounters.

The Forgeverse Continuum

As the smith smites anvil with hammer, the semi-molten potential embroiled betwixt the diametrically-opposed and warring forces screams in agony and the eruption of its pain is made manifest in manifold ember arcs. Cinders vibrantly anoint the vacuum with pin-pricks of warmth and light, drift for merely an instant, then diminish and inexorably perish in the soil of mortality. It is the necessary destruction inherent in purposeful creation for, as the dross dies with its impurities, what holds steadfast through the tribulation is the essence of what is excellent and pure.

Such was readily known to Gorfyti’el the Amaranthine as he ascended the thousand steps to his throne at the fore of his cosmic dreadnought, Naqhizain. Lord and last of his ilk, his ashen fingers gripped the black iron arm of his throne for support. By rote, he traced along the embellishment of roots sculpted in the likeness of Tgdrarail, Tree Immortal. Absently, his eyes peered beyond—almost sightless. Through a circular plane of energy a kilometer in diameter stretched the void. Once full of planets, light, and life, his universe was now essentially empty. If he failed, it would become absolutely so. At the notion, jade rivulets crept from the bottom brim of his aged eyes, stained his cheeks, and pooled in viridian mouths slightly parted in a sigh of resigned despair. A moment passed, then his other hand ascended lethargically into the emptiness before him and etched the runes that would, in the dying night of his ancient universe, once and with finality attempt to forge the divine instrument that could liberate him from entropy’s destructive grasp: Bounty of the Forest’s Eternal Renewal.

The product of his work, while sublime, could not achieve that which he sought; it was not his grail.

Thus, with his crowning breath he and his universe, stories fully resolved, were eradicated.

Truth is true and held as, in another universe, Fitrad the Hewer clawed all the way to the coagulated altar atop a trillion trillion bodies and sought to summon the Font of Blood, Life’s Eternal Flow. Much blood, her own amongst it, flowed, but it was not eternal; she, incised by myriad lances, exsanguinated and died, and thus her story ended—her and her universe were eradicated. The last thing she saw as she gazed through the blood rain that in torrents cascaded on her corpse-world was the starless sky and the soulless vault of her beyond.

It was the plight of Glakhamri Pulsarfist when, in the epicenter of the galaxy-benighting megastructure Vastheim of Infinite Singularities, he expertly poured the exquisite mold of Depths of the Mountain, Immeasurable Fortitude: his universe’s sole survivor, he collapsed, life stolen by the steam: eradicated.

It mattered not how multifarious were the countless droves of intelligence that amassed throughout and across innumerable universes and embarked on and lusted after the elusive and destructive intangible known simply as Power, veracity was upheld: each rose to ascendancy and fell to aught, the divine weapon never crafted and, once their stories were told, they and their universes were eradicated. Some took the form of valiant quests for truth, as yearnings to behold the wellspring of all being; yet, even that proved beyond each spark’s individual and isolated capacity. In an infinite number of universes, the quest to attain or construct this ultimate device was seized, yet all failed; not for lack of effort or nobility, but due to a dearth of perspective and, while the products of their creativity were excellent and pure epitomes of purpose, oft capable of profound carnage and control, such could not save them. Their thirst went unslaked. They sought what was, to them, representative of a singular purpose: strength, immortality, indefatigably, omnipotence, and tediously and infinitely onward; thus, while the products of their forges were mighty, they could never actualize their ambitions. Yet, as surrogate of all past and future memories, Ender recalled their works and that their only failure was their inability to craft that which their cultural myopia kept them from beholding.

The worlds of the Forgeverse Continuum were the embers born of Ender’s hammer strike that exploded from the substrate sublime: the topographic mutation of the Verse wherein brane collided with brane and provoked instantaneous birth and decline of infinite universes. Swifter than the Execration’s dispelling of the Shattered Realms, these were pan flashes triggered by an abrupt shift in superposition of universes on where splayed discrete multiversal branches undulated, collided, and triggered Planck collapse at their various points of contact. From the fulmination of that chaotic quantum jolt blossomed new branches that ultimately withered and beautifully died for, without their demise, their stories—all boasting trillions of years of interesting tales—could never be made whole.

Ender, however, was afflicted by their limitations. Their amalgamated knowledge poured in its colossal consciousness and a combinatorial device, born from the innumerable minds of infinite universes, was conceived, forged, and invoked: the divine weapon and materializer of dreams, Nevermourn.
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