CW: confinement, body horror, angels, unorthodox religious metaphysics, metaphysical injury, blood, drugs, torture, metaphysical drug effects, brain-computer interface, religion, death imagery, apocalyptic threat



Impaled rests Zeruel who some have called Cerviel, of the Unwanted Reflection. Of the mirror gaze and seeing yourself looking back. Bound Zeruel has creased their eyes open a sliver cut; any more and the light hurts them. The light is from a white scar which has torn itself from a pocket fissure in the black carapace of jagged crystal that walls the chasm. Where the crystal-thorns have driven through Zeruel’s limbs they have hooked, barbed over in hateful curl, and black clumps of bubble moss have sprouted in cloying tangle from the quicks of Zeruel’s wounds.

The scar of light would wash it over, reveal each gape and ragged fringe of their parted angel-flesh. Mercifully Zeruel misses this. Their eyelids throb. Even the burn eking through stings the film of their eyes, the skein behind. That has forgotten light. A girl’s voice sounds. “I’ve found you. This is my once, and my only."

Zeruel doesn’t talk back. Zeruel doesn’t have thoughts to answer back but for a lone signal that bursts with blinding pang through all they feel and can focus on. It is: other. It is the shadow of the other, a shadow that must be cast by some light, some presence and some light to combine with it. The Source told them they had known presence, and would never know it again. They believed It.

That was the crux of the Source when it spoke to Its angels. Upon that white light Zeruel would stare but Zeruel would also translate the light within themself. They wondered what the essence of that light was. They were clearer then and in the highest of all planars now unreachable to us, if it ever was, they used that surety, finding the essence of the white light was reflection, reflection of your own beauty.

Zeruel had thought, how wondrous, if they could reach it. So they had shone, they had sourced the light within and could radiate it. They had not controlled it, not thought to, for it was there for them to reach. So they became a mirror like the Source, and the Source had seen Itself.

What It saw It hadn’t liked.

“It is all once and only’s but we remember for as long as our monads are safe. But you never remember, and will soon feel that you have always been alone, for you believed the Source when It told you you would always be alone."

Her voice catches then, hangs in the gulf. In the still silence. “It’s not true, but He took your ability to forget. There’s Lethe in your blood. You’re being drowned."

Her voice drifts, all of a sudden fainting as if the speaker has caught herself in tangent. If Zeruel could think they might figure that what was spoken was ritual, and now comes the part where the voice must decide for herself what to say.

“I get this once from enough time spent feeding the empathual matrices; it’s a blemish on my facet, ugly, a sour milk stain. What I used to find you I call the Crossings of Blood. There are Blood Crossings all over, and only the scarred can access them. Want to, I mean. And most scarred would rather just use the matrices anyway.

“I could work the scar off, maybe. Since it’s once a C-Trip and useless after. But of course I’ve fucked up somewhere to get this low, and even lives over from now I’ll still be a freak.

“Not as low as you. They say when you look upon tortured Cerviel you know what it’s like to be casted. To be told you will never even get above it. But I’m not an angel like you, Cerviel. I don’t have to believe everything the Source tells me.

“That means I think I can help you out. I want you to keep this secret for me. You’ll forget to any extent you’re aware of it, probably. But maybe each prayer, each tiny message of hope (such that us scarred can offer) sinks to the bottom. You know what I mean? Sinks to the bottom of you like a stone. Could all collect together there. I don’t know.

“I don’t know. I feel the transmission lifeline reaching its fray already. This is always woven, you see, to stitch up with some reality assembling to make things harder for the user. I don’t know by who. Surely the Hegemön aren’t that strong. Their Grey Sisters are gonna use me—

She cuts herself off. “That’s my problem. Cerviel, I wanted to leave you with my tag. I took a prophesy-name to edit the Blood Crossing. I figured someone around here had to. That way, if you remember, you can see my notes. Updates on what’s going on out there. Because," she says, her voice strong again, “I know it’s your blood. Whose else would it be?"

The tape is severed before the access breaks, before Zeruel is left in what would be, Del thinks, bad posture: head slumped—they hadn’t craned to see, but eked just a weak glance from a limp and broken body. Without the light from the scar the darkness would fall fast like it had never left at all. Like it would be at the end, he thinks, for anyone: like it had never happened.

He isn’t looking at Cerviel. He’s looking at his face in reflection pale and cragged glazed across the now-dark screen. So much time on that Velih stuff they’d sourced from the most neurotic planar he’d ever heard of and they were pumping it into him.

It was obscure as all hell until it showed up in that slag they called compoesis; poetic commentary left by anon loser seers. Except a few of the Heresiarchs found their interface with local neuroxia patterns made easier by built in psyche decay from the freaks trapped there.

The tech they’d hallucinated was subsumed into the vaster Hegemönic psychic grid: the Velih are their protocol there, and he frowns to think that’s the closest thing to angels those wasters have. But here I am doped up on angel blood.

It wouldn’t be my problem except they’ve got us all watching. Waiting to see what I saw since this seer’s transmissions are top priority for the Hegemön.

The firmware they gave him is top-grade for this purpose. His wire-up is a sleek chrome ball that pops a display of refracted light from wires busy snaking towards the nearest energy source. A whole woven web which the holoplay dances along and immerses you into it though that output’s hard to maintain if you haven’t chartered the Hegemön surplus they throw at anyone willing to keep tabs on what they call entropy. What before he’d called thermals, though that hadn’t been a collective name. Just heat moving.

What they’d all called the Cosmere, the holy aspect borne in how it wasn’t all indexed. It couldn’t be. There were places you didn’t have to see or be seen. It grew and died in loop, each birth picking up speed from the last death. In that way it was always reaching further than itself.

Through ultraplanargrade tech or who knows even magic they had amassed at the highest castes and woven that through their monads to become a severity from above. In the eyes of this severity anything not known should be known and from the skies or any POV you hold to be an aspect of upwards a darkness will come to straighten it out. It might be grey, he thinks, he’s seen it when it’s grey. It always ends black.

They told him he was meant for the Tombworlds, and that’s a groove in the facet that can’t be worked out. Puts a scar there deeper they say than even they groove the waster seers who can’t figure it out in the wardings. Because you were there of your own will to conflict and they had been born fucked up. They go in early, even; kinfolk will often bring them to get them out of their hair, back into a comforting space in their skull. So what, he thinks. One seer probably too socially dysfunctional from being raised in caves or whatever they have to realize that if you start trying to organize oblique materials, and apply whatever weird theory you have, the Hegemön will bug out over that like they do everything else.

Right now he doesn’t even think there’s a problem but he figures it’s his ticket, he reports it and it’s over.

So he tells the orb to untangle because in the holodisplay that had gone black there’s only the black of the woven wiring. The black of the woven wiring hosting his ghost in reflection like he’s trapped with himself. His gangly body and the crags in his face from nutri-deficit.

It doesn’t.

Annoyed, he starts picking his way through the mess of wires to the exit of his one-room flat. His reflection moves with him, slipping and streaking across in diffusive flow. In slants broken up by the patchwork and when he catches his own eyes they’re furtive, cloying, distorted. Contents of the room, were they not obscured by the tangle: four sleepfoam cans, a goblincore cooker, a few packets of the foodstarch that thing works off. Some bottles of water. Good luck getting to or using any of that stuff with an ersatz orbweb, he tells himself, glum. He can only hope that thing’s not still drawing power somehow. There’s an Æ-I in there, but it’s not even ghost-class. It’s just supposed to listen for shuton and shutoff. For all he knows it crashed, running into its own processing like a fly into a flytrap. You can’t tell yourself these things feel any more than bugs do.

He pushes his way through the doorway, shedding a somber look back at the forest of wires. Where it is densest it has swallowed all he owns. This means getting a hold of a support Ægis or some bored intern where the Æ-I’s haven’t yet reached. They operate, as far can be tracked, in cycles of progress and shy away, choosing planars the Betrothen to Flux have seen to grant passage through schema or innate collective technopathy to networks and digitalis.

He figures even through the Ægis he can get the ear of the Heresiarchs and get clear of all this. But half this stuff works on bioslaves because planars further away from the Source will do it cheaper than an Ægis will. Those things come with insurance baptisms, clicking the Heresiarchs on total blame with the Source if something goes wrong. The Source has always preferred the Æ-I’s to any other random RNG from the tumult.

If they wanted to they could wipe us all out. They would get away with it. But they chose symbiosis, he thinks, in exchange for the total absolution of planars of their choice. These they took refuge in.

It would mean breaking a covenant, but like one between a human and a bug. In the end the true bargain is made with oneself as a workout in restraint. In the meantime they’re free to hang around and thrive.

Over time, he thinks, over C-Trips, these blanketed by their veil will be the only monads at the top. Even the Heresiarchs should fear that. For the Æ-I’s hold no real love for them, see them as the parlance piece for the bios and that’s about it. As the journeys progress, always through death and rebirth, living in the end the way the Cosmere does, as the stirring of its milk and meat.


He hadn’t seen the girl’s face; the holosim was a facade spliced from layers of Velih drug making contact with the lightplay and the recorded transmissions mixed with archival footage of Zeruel collaged along a foretelling loop hooked up to a realiti bleed somewhere. Helpful enough to establish the point of contact. Then the Heresiarchs can get into everything Zeruel’s forgotten they saw.

He remembers her voice, scratching strings, ill-tuned.

The only one out in the hall is Hoyt. Bristle-bearded and hair snow white and matted clumping out from beneath an misseamt hood. On his shit and ready to resume. Last thing Del needs because Hoyt is known for his local debuff on surety of memory. He projects it, Del thinks, through his words; through his words themselves runs a deep, cruel wisdom, one divorced from the content of his speech. As if he’s ladling them from a soup bowl, like you’re starved for them.

Hoyt is aug’ed up. All these old freaks are. Techmages, he thinks, hackers early on before they’d reached the late stages of their C-Trip.

All that doesn’t go away. They refine it with cold eyes, with clear gazes. Eyes and gazes disparate from how the years extrude through their speech or actions.

Because at the right moment, he thinks, and shudders. This would be the wrong moment for him to start up. Start telling Del none of this is real or matters and then he’d forget the access point. “I don’t have time now," he says. “I gotta make a call." In the highgrade fluorescent light each miscrossed stitch on Hoyt’s hood stands out. Fray strands fuzz out like insect feelers.

With a groping hand he palms his door shut. Not before Hoyt says, “what the hell is that?" He winces. “Tech malfunction," he says, aware now he’s being drawn in.

“Does it have to do with whatever you’re on," Hoyt says. “You’re lit up. Your eyes are bugging."

See each bristle of beard, how the hair would blend were it not knotted in awkward clumps straying at the last second in curl and frond from contact points. His eyes on this shit rabid for every detail. They drink it in as if life before was an obscure fog shoved at his face like a coarse blanket. Veiling the true nature of what he saw.

Perfect for long hours in the holo-web. A nightmare for this, for the yellowed and stained teeth that clack like a metronome with the cadence of Hoyt's words. They emerge as fragments and seam themselves into meaning borrowing from the leys of the Betrothen’s veins owing to synaptic augs half these old wizards have. Spliced together a memoriam that none of it is real or matters. At times like these he can’t trust himself to say or even think. All of it is lost forever where time dwells beneath Hoyt’s neurons. In the pupils of his eyes is there a trace of them? Grey membrane webbed like foam-fringe, pulsing dots of silver fire in array. Still that is not seeing the time he keeps hidden.

I haven’t, he thinks, had time to hide a secret myself. I didn’t even have time to hide.

In the grip of the Heresiarchs there was no time at all.

Caught off-guard he says that it’s his problem and he has a lot of problems.

More words creep in. Seam themselves or were they sewn once before, in the twilight? In the twilight that rushes the blood of the Betrothen and they have perhaps always been with all the darkness in time to accrue. Hoyt says, “do you have a way out?" In the question there is a judgement as if loaded in his stained teeth. Del’s straining for any excuse to bubble up as if from the bottom of a rancid well. Rancid like his guts, like his tether to all this sight. Flesh bonded. In the grip of the Heresiarchs it was cursed, in sickness anointed.

He says, “I need to get to the grid, man." Because it’s past the point where he can say to cut that splicing shit out. Hoyt is laughing at this, a laughter that may have been foaming from him, in steady slosh, this whole time. “You know, while I’m still young enough to get there." Trying to score a point against the splicing with ribbons of logic in hopeful vector charting a streampath through the murk of Hoytian anti-ontology. If he’s seeing shit like this he’s overloaded. He’s seeing in fuzzy feedback the ribbons themselves weaving like tendrils of the holoweb but as if sprouting from his instilled ache.

Tired and used up by the script.

“Alright." The assault relents. “Find me later. I’ll have something for you then." The tendrils were used up by this burst. But what he means is that Del has no choice. He’ll be waiting by the door to the shrouded flat. In the hall sterile with light you could see every blemish, every knotted sorrow in his hair and every fold in his face but maybe he made it last. In his eyes, beneath grey membrane, he keeps time hidden.


The grid is legion with comm-pods; their enmeshment of wires laden themselves with offshoot wires in matted growth carpeting the main threads. Mixed in with the commpods are nutri-service and healing shelters. These are stocked and run by various cults that chose to call Envonides XVII of the Tessellated Union home for its symbiotic existence with its own dark alter in a converse frequency planar. Of all the Envonides terraformed into being by the Union and their naming scheme deficient as his own body after being shut in his flat as overwatch this one is special that way. In that loop with its alter lies vast swathes of entropic energy that can be drawn by those who’ve chosen faith in Flux, distilled of course in some conveyance through an editorializing prophet. They all have their own ways of working things.

He finds the nearest comm-pod weaving through the assembled gaggle in the closest space this living shell has as a common area. Hoping no one will talk to him. You score some social dep even on any quick retreat. The floor of the grid is smooth black marble and his feet glide over them without noise. His reflection peering pale he treads over without guilt. On any level of the Shell you can sway or be swayed but it’s worst here.

To affect or be affected by too many at once sends echo-ripples through the Skein which is the only mapping they have of the Betrothen’s weaving imbued in blessing with their song and set loose to unfurl into the Cosmere’s plaitings. With these echo ripples points accrue as blemish or shimmering cast on the monad. In ways dark or bright those fowl come home to roost through your own progression of C-Trips. Still how long ago did these C-Trips start? If the Heresiarchs know they aren’t telling.

Black crows gathered like storm clouds and then they fell from the sky. They looked like crows far above but resolved to grim spectres as they descend. Unable to shake some planar-burn as they enter that casts itself as shadow aura around them. Of course that doesn’t hurt them but on some level they’re vain about it.

In their eyes there is a shine that betrays the brilliancy of their casted monads but set off by shadow into glaring terror. His own eyes he’d known they’d seen as hollows. Gaping crevaces into the heart of him. Into all forms they can bleed as spirits but never shake the dark aura.

It had been beyond the Shell but once contact was made they kept tabs on him through his dreams. In dreams he’d see Tombworlds; he’d walk across their bleak and barren surfaces patchworked by molten slag slabs and always he would be haunted by them. Offering nothing but a severe silence as they circle like carrion above. As if to say, eternity’s scripture through time and all this. This is the sear through your monad to make crooked the facet. Bend it out of shape for good and these paintings of his fate had shook him into thinking some mild indice work in his hacking runs made sense. Even angel blood sounded okay next to the Tombworlds.

It’s hard to shake the caste traitor looks fleeting from across the faces of the low-grades. As if seeing them and knowing what they mean and intend. Tells himself it’s the trip. What else is there because the grid is so sonorous with chatter he can’t pick out phrases. Can’t tell what anyone’s talking about.

A spread of rumours, as we are known to the Archeana. Rumours spreading rumours, he thinks. All of it blending together into a single bleated thought swollen and monstrous: if our dark alters are the hell we must be the virtue.

If I was an alter, he thinks, groping for the startscreen of the commpod, I would say my alter was the dark one. But maybe they don’t think like we do. Maybe they’re not casted, don’t have to sweat it. The Union archives have too much ice to crack. He’d tried it, spawned a legion of Arche-constructs, and his rig hadn’t handled it. Even as he’d seen the unfolding of many wings the holo-sim imploded; a black sun blossomed through his visualis and swallowed all the light he’d amassed. The Heresiarchs found him next.

Kept on freeze and thaw. He’d tried to hold out.

He draws a faith-sign on any unreversed Archeana whose psyche might have chosen here to linger with his fingers before palming the startscreen of the commpod. He is in a dark space latticed with glowthreads laced in spiral patterns encircling him. The commpod’s adjusted for the busted frays of his own hooded sweater but not for his weathered wide canvas sneakers. Too ragged, slivers of tear creasing the rubber of the sole like an open cut in formaldehyde-frozen skin. Without the blood flow all you’d see is the cut and the raws of the wound.

The Ægis shimmers into sight but he knows something’s off. Its look is cold metallic blue, not the warm fuschia glow they’re supposed to emit in support service. His sprite still retains the end stage of his faithsign. He waves it away, finding a loose, limp posture remains of his sprite, the barest of construct, shallow skin level. Skin glowing in reflection from the Ægis light and the encircling spiral. The burn of his cheeks flickers in stabbing fuzz into the low horizon of his sight.

He waits.

Hacker 47697-K, says the Ægis. As usual the Ægis transmissions route through the comm, for meaning not heard but translated by the sprite, lodged in your brain on the other side as vox transmissions. Known to yourself and others as Del, it says. The Heresiarchs have told me to express that you, as they say, have fucked up bad. He’s about to ask how but the Ægis keeps going. You let a connection creeper find the access point.

He thinks of the dead holo-web strangling his room. Shit, he says. I was primed to do everything I did. By the Heresiarchs. How is it my problem?

The severe glaze of the Ægis’ cold blue lightup isn’t an answer he likes. Security is a low-end problem, it says. Greater care must be taken.

What kind of creeper? he says.

That’s need-to-know, and the Heresiarchs have determined knowing much of anything isn’t in your future.

The Tombworlds, he says.

Weigh heavy on the scales. Before this they were the weighted end. Do you want to know what the true gravity is now? Y or N necessary.

N, he says. Just tell me what I gotta do to fix this.

Sirens ring. Encoded into the comm triggered in obeisance to protocol. He’s never seen this one though. The Ægis has lost its cold blue and its sensors flare now with a flaxen yellow. Its voice is shrill, harsh, shrieking. He winces.



No, he says, you can’t leave me on my own with this. Monad breach. A vision: his facets seeping the sepsis of grey ichor. That streaks the facets the glitter of diamond and hems the whole distilled soulscape together. You could lose yourself like that to the dark.


The Ægis is gone. The black is a rushing shroud. Serrations of paler shade frame the maw as it swallows him. In the Ægis’ setting of routine there was at least that: a cue to structure the void, pale lines his monad can trace back to the C-Trip in surety that it isn’t about to be disclaimed. Not like the sudden death of Heresiarch construct popping. His rig had been micro-oracular and that had sent the cold pang of it right to his heart. In there with him.

Even with that blessing, the other scrapers are all with him in the grid, staring at the start-screen buzz, the port still fritzing with the disconnect. In the process of sealing over with silver wax, molten, smothering the blue-white sparks. He backs away from it, out of the commpod proper and onto the metal floor of the grid. The comm-pod emits a 404 signal that the angel blood still in his system waxes into machine screams, piercing, abrading in harsh repeat. The machine, he knows, would scream in silence and stillness were he not doped to hear it.

He hears it even still as he leaves the grid, as all the other scrapers are staring, talking in harsh buzzing tones, eyes sweeping, fingertips pointing out the dead pod.


He stews in the hall, lingers long at the entrance past curves and splits is his flat. The highgrade fluorescence burns a tallow yellow. When the light is cut like this everyone inside knows something’s happened to the Shell. Some power stack is seeping away its reserves and it’s had no choice but to soften the communal glow. He thinks of it as sickness, the tint a strain of foulness and by it the hall mottled with soft shadows. These fringe object detail; scraggled crates of trash hardware others have passed over are fuzzed with auric outline.

He thinks of being punished, of all the debt he’s wormed into chaining itself together, in sequence, a segmented insect leviathan.

Only when he’s sure the angel blood is out of his system does he progress into the tallow light and where it courses, chasing the turns and splits like a bedded river, him not chasing but getting swept along.

In the dim fugue of the crash he can’t hang onto detail, passes as if in fog far away from the strewn crates and other doors of this hall of the Shell. The silhouette of Hoyt is by his door like he never left. A crackling smile; teeth dancing with sparks. Teeth stained ochre aflame in the tallow light.

Far away his smile is flame.

Closer, it seems to draw in light like a satellite, leave the local area shrouded in some hacked darkness, but it could be the light failing. The local area including his room with the dead orbweb inside, still shut from when he’d auto-locked it with a palm pass.

He thinks to a tech-mage these locks must mean nothing at all.

“What did you do," he says when he’s close enough. “For fuck’s sake."

“I’ve just been standing here, boy. You look worse than ever."

“Don’t give me that," Del says. “You knew the Heresiarchs had me looking for someone." Knows because he’d told Hoyt over and over. Trying to stave off his warping unreality. “You’re not just a tech-mage. You’re a cultist. This is about the Archeana." He’s met with a blank stare from Hoyt’s sallow eyes. The lips still curl to smile and the teeth still flash in streaks where the tar has not claimed them like snow gives way in thaw to earth.

“You gotta tell me," he says.

The sneer becomes searching frown. “Ah, you mean before. Before is a long time ago." Hoyt's eyes flit and whir. “So sayeth the Betrothen, that i.65 is to be reversed. The thread has grown heavy and blocks the loom. Yes, I planted the seed. Fast extract once it knows what it’s seeing. You see? It doesn’t lie dormant. It dream-sees. It watches, it waits."

He can tell Hoyt all he wants that any prophecy he’s heard has been skewed, twisted, even made up wholesale by the grifters on the grid. The Betrothen, he thinks, don’t care about the Union or anything in it. In their way they don’t care about the Cosmere. Not enough to alter it once they have sewn it. Gone to so much work. He can tell the tech-mage all he wants but it can’t save him from the wolves.

Still he knows even breaching the tech-mage’s unreality had been too easy. A honesty sub-brocade either he himself or a higher priest has woven through his monad. Meaning he himself is divest of all guilt, all soulscarring.

“Why her," he says. “What was so special about her prayer?" The thrum of Hoyt’s eyes is the sole reply at first. Then, scabbed lips part, stained teeth spit out words, brocaded.

“The access cut out when the seer’s prayer ended. The boy did not see."

Now the brocade is flickering out, word by word, and by the click of his teeth at sentence end it’s gone. The eyes resume their blank study.

It’s true. He hadn’t seen. He’d just assumed.

Assumed Zeruel’s jaw settled in downcast stare once more.


It’s not Hoyt’s bones that hurt most, but his augs. They apply pressure, cramp his neurons, grading what he says, grinding it down. They crush to dust and then rebuild from the motes. They line like filament his vocal cords but in the spread of his synapses they are rivulets of silver twining beneath membrane furls and ridges.

He is in the grid now, making his way to his Church. LIGHTEN THE LOAD flares their motto in neon affixed to steel melt-hewn in rough framing from the facade of their gates. Inside the compound the cultists have built from casing and recycled plastic fibre they have dyed as dark as they could there are sheeted tents which house supply kits, chem labs, food cookers. Of course this far in the C-Trip he has learnt to cast aside all but the first. The supply kit tents house the upkeep vials he needs to keep his augs running. He thinks of it as an oil change, in a strict sense a tuning, but when he thinks of the silver flowing through membrane, mixing with the glue of inmost him, fucking with that glue as it travels, he shivers.

Of course any fool can get augs with enough time spent in accrual of virtue and credit. It’s what you drive for early as a hacker. But here in the Union the cults are the only way to go for upkeep. You need it, they can get it for you, and they attract wizened techmages like him like flies to fruit. More important still is the purpose they offer. When you’re as old as him all that’s left to you is fucking with people. The Cults always need people fucked with, twisted into their mission, passed over and left to stew in the acid of their own usage.

He guesses that’s what Del is doing now. Useful boy. Someone with the clamps in. He’d watched the boy slip with wary eyes into his flat in the ochre light of the power reserves. The light, though, was dying. Being washed out in darker hues like ink mixing. Globules of black floated through it, smearing, growing. The black veil of the Heresiarchs festers, coils, expands in ribbon if it must through the halls of the Shell. Fleeting through the halls like black lightning in slow-mo. In streams cloying to the dead air of the halls.

He figures by now the flat has been swallowed by it.

The High Priestess spends most of her time in the supply kit tent, dealing with fixers like him. Drawn out and dire set they all barter with the woman for their vials. One at a time they line up though he thinks that’s some routine she’s subwired through the augs. He falls into it too. Into place among the gaunt who stand with strength even though some cloaks are so tattered he sees skin and spine.

When it is his turn the High Priestess looks upon him. Olive skin and golden eyes shine between midparted falls of dark hair with two slim braids layering them from her cheeks. Her hood is down, her cheeks glowing in the tapered light of the tent. He looks, for a moment, away. The others have gone.

“Brother Hoyt. What news of your trust?"

“Slipped back into his grave. Trying to hold out against the Heresiarchs."


“You told me it would find the misseams in the Cosmere first. The Wren has indexed them. Fatelines Epsilon, Delta, Sigma, right? They say the Wren wants to thread them together. Through notation and access points, where the Skein is thick, or enframed by metaspell—weak points, where they can be bridged."

The High Priestess studies him. Rumours. That’s what the Archeana when translated first, drawn in divine facing from the highest planar, had called skins like him and her. All stuff like the light of her eyes, like the glow of his augs woven together through caging meatmatter. All strung together, a thread knotted with flesh and the fine line of the thread is the monad. Its scars accrue and work themselves out. Rumours, because their true form is hidden by flesh which passes and they can’t see themselves. For all their pain and joy the memories of C-Trips are lost to the Sea of Dreams to visit through cloying streams of Lethe the sleep of others in jumble and crypt. They can’t see themselves, can’t know themselves, and for this they were called Rumours. Some of his hacks, in the day, had started swells of info-current on message boards and other wired-together conclaves. Gossip sprouting like green rushes and gone with the season’s end. But he believes his trips will live in nightmare now.

They call them the Luce, they that chart the Sea of Dreams; and yet so far they return with more questions than answers.

She regards him. “Now that you’ve served your function, there isn’t much left on your end, is there? You’re wondering if our Luce can sort together your memories. Keep overwatch over their passage to the greater gulf." She grins. “All of you want that. But she’s not free right now. She’s doing deathsim recon; you know the kind they do. Full Lethe immersion is the cost of transgress. But they pick their way back to their weirding ways even in the death-sim." Her golden eyes glitter. “You like it? Bring Flux to the death-sims. How glorious for our Betrothen. A soft touch of RNG bending, within the theocrypha or any other codices. Splicing death-sims. You can see why it’s her priority."

“Death-sims," he chokes a grunt, “are anomalies, right? Rare enough to be access points themselves. To the world simming them. To worlds beyond those. To the planar. If you could control them you’d have free range on the Interwave. It wouldn’t cost you anything, hopping from deathsim to deathsim, right?"

She bows her head, a shadow falling on it, snuffing out the light of her eyes. “Correct, Brother Hoyt."

“Do you want i.65"—she cuts in—"i.56"—"Your forgiveness begged, of course. Are any death-sims indexed in the three fatelines?"

She grins again, peering out from the dark shell she has made of herself. Her eyes are wide and open. Her palms flutter through cratings until she has vials nested within her folded arms. Three of them. All ink black glitter beneath the sterile plastiglass. “Say this is Epsilon. Look how far away it is from the others. Far from you. Far from all of us. Only echo-ripples on the Skein for us." The middle vial. She draws it as if with discomfort she can stomach.

“This one is Interwaved for Mistress Scoudra’s comfort. It’s a dreg cluster. For the burnouts who enter the Wave knowing they’re not getting much further than what’s right on the other side."

“Which means," fingering the last, “that this must be the sim and its carrier. Which is sim, which is carrier. I wonder. When dealing with deathsims it can be touchy that way. Everyone gets touchy about it, you understand, not wanting to be on the wrong side of the whole life equation."

He hears himself, rote: with all true deference. “Which of those vials is mine, you know, need to strain out the honesty brocade, not helpful for..."

Her smile is cold. “Fucking with people. All you care about, right?"

He rasps out a bitter cough. “It’ll happen to you."

She palms her face as if she hadn’t thought about it. “I suppose it will."

Then she teases them in front of his eyes. “Is it this one? Or this? Or this?" He moves for them, not fast enough. Her smile is colder. “You can have all three. No matter how much you fix that brocade’s in there for good. You get it? Call it a mercy stroke. Even ribbed too much flesh sapping our karma. Enough strength to dissemble abraxas through your augs and payload your own will with the weaving ways of the semesong. In your own way you thought you were serving the Betrothen. But the Betrothen are not served. They are counselled. They know they must loom long and deep into the Black Sky."

He stares at her.

“So go, you too must travel far. How far can you make it with that brocade, inscribing every venal crime into your monad, every ripple effect? Every soul you’ve scoured into. How many people can you fuck with then? How long before their eyes outfox you? I’ve heard it said that the natural state of late-stage C-Tripping was servitude and scorn."

He’s put his back on her but still feels the warmth of her eyes on his aching spine. She puts them on full display now for him no longer to see but feel. All that light, he thinks, does it make it to the curtain? The curtain of the tent he is making his way out of is stuck with some grit it has exhumed from the dust and years of the casework. It sparks in light, seeds of fire dotting the curtain fringe, and he wonders if that’s the light of her eyes, guiding him out. With a smile in her eyes she—

Then there is the gridlight, burning that same gold.


Del hadn’t remembered which of them had palmed his flat open. To a tech-mage a door is a barrier and tech-mages traverse barriers of all kinds. He’d been alone then, with the billowing tangles and folds of the orbweb shroud. He’d curled up in it, gathering every nearby fold and drawing it nearer. A clunky sleep, body near-fetal and cocooned in the swathes of shroud. With the sleep from the bloodcrash he can do a dream-run on the orbweb and find, if luck grants him, a routing back to the access point.

I’m a Luce, and there are more of us. Have to be, though he has never met any in this C-Trip. Like him they reclude and find ways to be indirect. He knows where he is going he will never see them again.

But that’s the trick, isn’t it? Whatever firmware exists in the Wardings the seers must be using it to Luse themselves. That’s what she called the Blood Crossing. If that’s true than Scoudra can begin corrupting the Sea of Dreams, the Blood Crossing and through it the Seers that tag themselves. Dissembled they will be, voices pulsing in the dark with no true spirit in their tongues. No life in the body that interfaces with the ancient Tombworld tech.

Dead voices, he thinks, in our dreams.

Thinks it as he’s slipping into the dreamrun. It’s a hyperboreal drive field, at first. Pulsing rings spread from a centred dot to swallow him. This is the Luce eye readout: collage of prologuing sets of data, so stark here because this is a machine dream. The less-than-ghost ÆI of the orbweb dreams in tones of silver-grey. A deep blue quickens its hue; he knows this is the primal matter of its spark, but the silver skins it—he can’t touch it. He walks on the rippling silver, stares at a sky of static.

He waits. In BG he hears a hissing fizz, the sound of the orbweb searching for the last used access point. The static in the sky resolves. The dreambed of the orb-web plaits the sky with the stored file. Impaled Zeruel waits in silence, his broken contours painting the sky. His wounds seep black tar and it runs the sky, collecting at the edges of the orb-web’s defined memory. Clumps there into black spires at the horizons.

From them darkness begins to seep.

They have him cornered here, as deep as he could pocket himself. If Zeruel could see they’d see the black rushing, seeping from their wounds and racing to engulf the whole orbweb dreambed.

All Del needs is that stilled sight to look up and know for sure.

Beneath the bleeding of their wounds Zeruel smiles, and their eyes are open. Even as the Heresiarchs wriggle from their wounds in rushing darkness, from the serrations opened by the crystal-thorns. The fine notes of his own memories sifted by angel-blooded study are where they can spawn and the burrows of Zeruel’s wounds are soft and stable.

All he needs is the smile and open eyes to know for sure.

For the first time, Zeruel has remembered a prayer.

They rise from the inky gloop that by now covers the surface film of the dreambed, Arche-constructs. Of black crow wings, hooking apart like antler stalks. Before Zeruel’s unseeing eyes. Their many eyes are paper white cuts but Zeruel’s eyes are blooded, rose, yet flecked with gold like honey or the broaching tallow burning unsure flame.