ANDATA EXPRESS/
HOLOHAUS4/
SCARRED ZERUEL /
Violation 4:
Everything
is barely
missed
(ε/Δ)



CW: reality distortion, subjective disintegration, body permeability, body horror, death, religion, church, blindness, violence


(ε/ Δ)


CLEAN FLAME


It was the light and nothing else, and wired into the earth, silence had foamed over it first. First protocol deep in the knit of anome to anome, I am not being seen so I should not be heard. And Morgan’d been somewhere between angry and aphasic over it, trying to figure it out. But his Oracle could’ve told him, could’ve said anything but kept him in a verse, slow build to a a melody that never chimed off.


Somehow kept there in the death eyes, the forebears staring, but Dear had blipped past, and he had known, appraisal.


So it hadn’t had to be the Elites, but only a loneliness that sept from them, because with such an overburned psychosphere, that’s the way it would go. And then, blame withers away, victims vanish, monsters hide in the unknowing dusk.


But that loneliness, he thinks, you name, you say, cancer I name you. Slipped in from somewhere else, somewhere foreign, the stardust cycle in keeping of each vented teardrop’s holy ghost. Flicker of pressure, itch of indent in passing, landfall and glisten before you wipe it away. As one does. An erosion that scalpels the toxicity out and the pressing remains in the motes, in relief, the sticky holy aetherplasm, the goodness bleeding into the Cosmere. And only the Elites would be so geeked that they noticed. Would want to taste it.


He guesses he is here to tell them that’s not a good idea. But of course the Elites were shadows in Orcha Mutate, labelled shadows, this shadow looks like that, in my mind’s eye.


Dear is still here. But his Alt is older now. He guesses Alts don’t age through normal ways. Some ghost life event must have gotten him on Morgan’s way through the wirenest, in the end the haloic vent disfiguring within it its extranea. It’s that residue which would harden into encasement. And the pure, the sight without knowing, in interplay with the earthlight keeping it going.



Archaic but tried and true and how many of these ghost schemas would have reached Orche’s tendrilants? All vibe and buzz from a distant light. The vibe, the buzz, the knowing without seeing. Rare because they’re so ex-locus, the locus doesn’t matter. Blind, dying thing.


But it would’ve fit, been how to play it for a larval EXworld. Orche is just a child and she doesn’t have much time to work with. She would’ve just picked, from her neonic bedloam, one that worked.


She would’ve known that in this, the half-tethered fauna, as markers, have shelf life, should be plucked at the final prime and re-genned into a new marker, distinct, one you’d notice breezing through arcs, held over in scriving because something that didn’t matter then matters now.


Running all these lives in parallax and accumulation of experience and mistake can find the sender of the true signal all at once with the karmic weight of full-formed life arcs. Dear seems breezy with it. You can process how unfair it is but that would be your point of view, and Alts don’t work like that.



His Oracle, he could put her voice to that. But he knows this is the SunNet true, the archives of all earthlight compressed through symbiosis with some spider, some crawler. Who would glean it for, past the horizon of golden light, someone taking a peek.


Some spider, he thinks, and it spiders, and it splinters. And he remembers how she had been, sage every aspect for the counsel. Hair in waxen tendrils, braids, or however the psyche halo had wanted him to see it. The compiler spools as it will and what tethers you to time and space, probing spidermind, older here, younger there, it would be just decal, painted eyes over the fuzz so much like fur.


But this is all the earthlight knows and all it has to give him.


EXILE, says the clean flame, standby for ADMIN. transmuta status: second stage, indexed as naked grub. sickness to health. nervosa; the need for warmth must not prologue final bearing. off-script contras will of course be sourced and pre-argued. welcome, beseeched, you were sought for. come as friend and as SCHOLAR.


Dear’s proven himself, he says, and his Alt mewls in tonal quaver, lent ripple by the psychelia, milk foam currents in ribbons weaving through the light and splitting it. A hint of rasp fogs an echo trail, chambered tone pulsing as it follows its groove, entimbred through the bristle and fuzz.


You can’t, he says, just regen him.


you mark the details with seasons, that’s how you know, and seasons are born and stretch and fade away.


By the lilt in that he had known they were Orche’s words in blind repeat.


But this way, he says, it just gets built up. Stronger than it was. New face, an old name, dreamed memories of other lives but they can’t choose.


Dear is silent now.


Dreamed, Morgan says, all dream and nothing else, so it flits away for them. It, you know, stacks death in the spirit. You would know if you got it that way. If you had to be a blade of leaf in the dark, cold and thirsty.


passage from EXILE brings such concern. huskshedder variant, spirals in on stacked death. death inside itself, or inside the shell that is,



At least, he says.


dreaming life and so death closes in, takes up space, more weight that it needs. this variant of the wreathed finds it in their bracing as death enters.


My Tender, he says. I ran away from it. The eyes of his Skein are now gone with the husk but the Skein has remained. The eyes, conduit for the blade of leaf, but now I have burrowed into the earthlight, and somewhere in there is the voice that spoke to me without knowing me, for what is there to know for an insect hewn communal?


The eye had always seemed dead as the wood beneath the papered trees of the Core. Now the toxicity thinks it’s forgotten how to travel. Settles in the skein itself, dissolves through the web, sinks away into nothing. But there is, he thinks, at some layer something exo enough to keep my psyche in. It will gather there.


And the space around his shivering grub, the embryonic statal breathing in the discord of Orche. It echoes, his breath, his breath meeting many breaths, all echoes of the wreathed, Orche spreading through echoes because it was in the flora to be that way.



death sickly and slow. lingers, the wreathed unable to let go. alt must emit the standard pheromonal. take priority to release you from death.


I’ll make my case, he says. Who do I talk to?


The wreathed, he thinks, as if it was the flora to blame in the first place.


ADMIN permits pilgrimage to the tethered church. acheron, encoded faunic primordial, entombed promise say the wreathed. crystalline, threaded glass the noose. it swims, the knowledge of the promise, through the glass.


overlay? constraints of the chapel have been accepted, in so plaited in dead protocol and can not be broken through. the saints gave up all of their symmetry, used it to draw the sunlight into croning aearth. primer for the unprimed: this much design, to contain translates black eye on the source. revenant entropa is the source’s apocheir font. nature of the source’s perspective not yet abscessed. likelihood confluences reach bloodscript, more often than not, that reads of refuse. so much waste when set away and stored.



Morgan, what’s left of him, without the weight of the husk. Knotted seams, tangling through time and use. Shed at last in the earthlight and the earthlight needs the husk, every failed growth pattern that spiraled it further and further from—


True psyche, he thinks, or what at least glues it to your bones, gets the vibrations through both ways.


I’m going, he says. I’ll ask you something, if it matters, if Orche can find it in her heart to spare the sliver of clustersight, or however she’s seeing all this.


EXILE, passage known for not asking what is allowed. fits into the pattern, warm feeling, in final transmuta. known that Orche feels this warmth, a steady surprise and so a steady laughter.


He’s about to ask what she’s done lately, but that would be, he thinks in the clean flame’s language, EXILE :: known semiosis (hadic, descent to envic echelons). It would be something like that. The clean flame would want to store every variance, because the faster the exiled come around, more painless it would be for Orche.


And on that level he gets it, because it’s painless for him, or he wants it that way. SunNet is already strung too tight with jealousy, bitter feuds and heartbreaks, osmosed through the leafware. How many in their Tenders and the gardens before? But his Skein, imprint of eyebed naked against the lustre, had known forever and it tells him so now that it has Orche’s say-so.


The earthlight is not a reliquary for jealousies. The neonic is not meant for that storage and for the source that would be afterthought. And of course that was always fine with Orche, why wouldn’t it—


Can already tell, slipping into the folds, that what he’s holding back all Exiles before him held back, and for good reason.


So only the eyeless, exhumed Skein hears his reply, and it ponders it, and it doesn’t, for the first time, send it right back to her. For the first time, and it would loop this through. Wonder what it means, because all fibers knit into skin at some point but they have been with each other for so long, in the tangle.


There is so much room, in the loops, to wonder.


NERVOSA


But he gets its neurosal burn over it, of course. Of keeping secrets. Sure route to disfigure the whole bloom. Because what it doesn’t know, and what he can’t tell it, is that it’s not a bloom to him, but a chrysalis. A pupal stage traversal. All huskshedders would know, in the naked grub, that they were indexed that way so Orche wouldn’t have to think about it herself.


And, he thinks, other Exiles, other neurodivergences, would keep different secrets.


So really the problem, if it is a problem, is worse than the exhumed Skein has even begun to figure. But he thinks if it really starts bugging out it’ll just make all this harder.


Because what it also means, what he knows and what other huskshedders know, is that what may emerge may look pretty enough to feel good about sending some feelers out. Listless, forlorn earthconsciousness that thought it would die alone and unloved out in the lonely reaches.


It may look pretty, have flowered the frills, but it is still, he thinks, the same worm that for so long was eyeless and thoughtless.


And taking with him the exhumed Skein and its blindness he passes into Etha.


Etha presses into the exhumed Skein and it drones in complaint, its nervosa now online as hexware, bearing the lusal wiring that lets Orche paint this around him. Include him in it. Not knowing what it would feel like, it would never like it. Be preborn to not like it.


And all it can tell him through the pain is that this is where the Shine has exiled in dead skin the parts of itself that it hated. Into the black carapace the flaws have ossified into and in the carapace crystal bleeding through the fragment facets and the ‘lusing overlay fed through by the hexware. What his psyche halo contained is passing through it.


But the ‘lusing overlay itself is not dark, just shone through by the darklight, and Dear is a ghost in it, flicker of refractica glancing from node to node. Etha hates being named and it’s a heartskip in the skein’s transference to get it through.


Must hate, he thinks, being broken through, and the Shine beyond will be pure, but it will have been tempered. Tempered, he thinks, it will want to forget.


So he thinks that’s what he’s seeing now, the absence flowing over the aurics of the nodes, flowing slow, corroding it in the deep tune. The nodes are skygrey, silver glass effusing into a steady shimmer that blankets them. The silence is like a held breath, and he doesn’t want to talk to the lustre again, and the lustre isn’t around.


Dear had mewled when the clean flame had showed him, blanched against the charring, his rope of light. Now that he’s processed it it’s okay, or it’s gone in the swim. Or his ghostlife, Morgan thinks, taught him silence, replaced joy with a patient faith that he can force himself through. Come out with belief, and so tease the hope from.


And he’s asking the exhumed if it knows how to talk to Etha, and where he probes that there is dead silence, so heavy for a second he thinks it was there, and stripped away from him.


And it is when he is still thinking that over that he comes across the shrine, and the girl slumped against it. GOT TEETH FIGURED OUT / THE SHRINE


As he’s getting closer he feels, in absence of his grub, less naked. And he knows why, getting close enough.


She has no eyes, but that wouldn’t do it by itself.


Close enough though, he sees past the sinking, further, and into pinkish red. A botched exhumation, he thinks, and she couldn’t grasp it. Now, in contrast against her grubskin, the fiberstrands soaked enough for shape as teardrops, in array over her, he’s seeing them glisten even as,


The Skein adjusts,


all glistens here would be whisked away at once,


and fractals are better for holding the inner facets, keeping something between the eye and what it sees.


You need a wall, the exhumed would think and so is telling him.


But against that he just thinks, it’s the way it works when you combine us both. Because you need to read and I need to know, and now both of us have to process...


Half of that, he thinks, and by now maybe less.


It doesn’t matter. Fractals are in bloom from the pink-red fiberstrands bristling from the twin wounds. Fiberstrands gone and the skein sets that they had been mem themselves. This way, though, it reads the weight, going by time she has spent in silence.


She turns that fractalia to flicker and cascade across him, through him, past him around Etha beyond and local. Sweeping to follow Dear, he knows. He waves, sees the milk white of his arm to wristbone, his fingers somewhere slender, dead worms. Limp, waving with the wrist movement. Aether reveals itself in a smear of glimmer, rippling from his fingers, trying to get away.


The fractals stay steady in their current, back and forth, here and there the way Dear is always around someplace, in some way.


No breath and so her shoulders are locked against the base, and around her are flowers scattered, pressed, broken up and like teeth in the array of their partings, petal splits nuzzling beneath her. Some barren and severed stems, would-be lacings mocked by the patches of dents and thorned risings, the neonic skeltered in crystal, to be strong enough for foundation. These patches, and he sees the way they space the stems between valleys and rises, in the way the crystal glass both takes and gives light, marking each scar through echoes of itself in contrast. The scars divide them further. Even through what would be a long way anyway, if they wanted to be not scattered in their ruin, but together in it.


Scattered and gathered around their killer but all he can think, by the scarring, is, looks painful to be sitting on.


Thinks it but doesn’t say it. Dear is busy talking for him. Dear’s humming it out, a steady tone but strung here and there with peaks in pitch, each new surprise at where he finds himself, and he’s passing it along.


“Fuck,” she says, and her grub doesn’t rise, but it does contort. Enough to slump her jaw lower, push a lower part of herself away into compress, convex out the part of you shown when someone is around, talking to you. “These things always come with people attached.”


The exhumed Skein aches trying to get this through to him and back out in a semblance of graceful response. He knows that’s him, somewhere beneath, having a problem with it. Or so it implies.


“Okay,” she says. “Eyes watching me. I don’t have those anymore.”


“They’re mine,” he says.


She waits.


“Morgan,” he says.


“Cammy,” she says. And her arms snake, then, both at once, plant, so hard into the splinters of neonic freeze that the exhumed aches again. “Well, boy, right? It’s cute. Sort of measured now, steady slide across the skips, right? Was it, he, I mean, always-”


“Less a slide and more a flicker,” Morgan says. “A waver, if you’re being technical.”


She’s gotten herself, half drag up the shrine base and half under her own grub’s power, to her feet. “It’s funny,” she says, “him flitting around and him all I can see. It looks like-”


“That’s not,” Morgan says, “how it is.” So dumb, he thinks. What do you say? I’ll have you know a spider once told me that I mattered.


“Look, I need to know,” he says. The exhumed Skein, holding the weight within it, still hurts, and it lets him know, in absence now of more context to compile. “You’ve been waiting here, right? A while. What was it like?”


“Ah right,” she says, and her fractalia flares, some signal the exhumed gets and is happy to get, waiting by now for a whole, he thinks, moment. A spray burst of iridescence, a fast pulse sequence that runs the crossings and congeals over them in fuzz. From them a glare, one hitting the darklight tangential just so, in a cillian grasping, but, he thinks, clustered, black insect legs. Spiderlines, and the fuzz breaks in the cillia, the spindling so, so honest in the sketch.


And the exhumed uses that, translates, naked grub it’s gotta get through this so honest itself.


And so he can break from the fractalia and focus on what’s around it, what makes her grub silhouette even as she’s wedged herself for more support and used that to break away from it. As she’s breaking away, saying something about how, sometimes, people she’s met gotta know how it feels, always has to know what’s getting in.


“To me,” she says, more defined as he’s taken in the whole thing and the exhumed has put it somewhere. The shrine slab is cloven, split and threadwired, milk white gauze braided taut across and through the sieving. Without her fractalia he sees it twisting itself in loop and in the pass of braids keeping a fold of the aether, woven through from there into clung infinity through the bends. Passing glimmer rivers within them stranding into disparate knots and turns of crease, sparking motes of light in dancing current.


He thinks it over.


“Yea,” he says, trying to get it right. “Uh, has Etha tried that with you?”


“Look, void boy,” she says. Grub mouth parting so much like the way things unseam, stitch to stitch. The clinging is long and the way the lips break is violent, but all the exhumed translates is tooth to tooth.


must have seen teeth, it says, Orche’s got teeth figured out. maybe made a fix or two,


maybe,


the way teeth were out there is baser somehow. you know out there those things were only used for eating.



“I just woke up here. I have mems but not, you know, people? No context for them.”


He waits. Dear mewls, low to high, entreative. She’s walking to the Alt, and now that she is he can see Dear’s kept himself, not still but framed, cut a locus into the aether, fragmenting through and within its limits, shaping now in that constraint a viz more solid.


Scratch, scratch goes her feet over gouged and knotted crystal.


Dear skitters for space at the last moment, but stops up with a short fade, delving into the shimmer, pressing the aether into a brace for his resonance, the held shine waxing in silver fire, and even as he waits, tranquil, the chars soon glisten dark and dissolve within the flicker ebb out, leave traces of themselves as rippling shadow in the aether.


He pushes the envic rising in himself, cyan bloodlines in a spiral flush over the grub, caught still in plume and then pulled back in clot before he remembers she can’t even see it.


Remembers Orche hates it, always.


And even pushing it away he’s walking to the shrine itself, while somewhere she’s petting his Alt. Can tell by the faint murmur that slivers echoes of itself through the aether, finds in it strength for signal, that she’s getting something through he can feel. Dead worm fingers, he thinks, trying not to care.


It looms over him, chaliced and bound that way, jet black nape of her grub slanted out in fade from the edges of his sight, somewhere in BG, echoes of her kiss off his Alt.


He sidles to it.


As he does it’s a weight that presses on his grubskin, a marrow flow through him and his inner bloom, laced fragrant with what could be honeydew but could taste, in a moment, more sour. Because it’s grown as an echo to the wither of his outer earth shell.


Once I called that more than shell. Out there, it’s lost, alone, dying.


In afterdeath of my Tender, too.


Cammy shrieks and he forgets himself, forgets he’s splayed a palm to it. Thinking Dear would’ve had enough and gashed her one. But looking back at where he left them he gets pitch deep fractalia, black skewed all into the corner sets.


And a glinter too, Dear’s echo of hateful knowing, sidewound into them and gone not soon enough to hold him.


His grub is gaunt now, trembling, and the press of the crystal is a knifing pain, and the crook of her black lips is a helpless set. Even as she walks to him, sure-footed and steady with pressed weight.


Dear’s shimmer is a veil over her shoulders, snug tailed ‘cross her neck.


“I’m no expert on what you should do in here-” she says, and he waves her off, but his own shoulders shake and his arm wavers there in slo-mo. She doesn’t need to shrug it off, won’t even give him that, and neither will Dear.


“I’m meant to do whatever this is,” he says. But he winced at the ‘meant,’ voice breaking over it, and her optic is all she needs to shut that out too.


“Yea,” she says, “some voice in here told you.”


And the long silence after that slumps his back now into the cloven slab, and the freeze against the carapacing small of the grub sours the fragrance within to the taste of black earth.



BAD HAND


Cammy sings.


Her voice draws the way to the melody, stretching notes as far as she can before they rag. She times it perfect, each note born before the last reaches death. Every part streams into the next. Every part like the sap that thins blood.


And the exhumed Skein reveals a deeper facet to the ‘luse.


dealt a bad hand, the toxemia, and then the urge to cling,


simple grief translates through such closeness.


“Void boy,” Cammy says, “that’s who you are, right? Did I call it wrong?”


He can manage the ‘staking swivel of his chin.


“I’m sure something had you fixed up,” she says, “and you hated it. I never had to deal with that.”


That doesn’t make sense, but he nods through it besides. Tremor of a nod, same as the swivel.


Trying to know Etha, he thinks, like trying to know why the neuraltuned wouldn’t want to be near enough huskshedders to even appraise their Tenders.


All he can put into his grub is flare a streak of blood through his limbs, and knows the souring pales the grubskin against it. The translucence, the blood and what’s in it sings itself through the gate of his skin.


But she lets some placid through to him, enough for him to zen and be aware of his need. Leaving him still weak, and gasping for the psychelia held and bartered by the nodes.


“But now I know,” he says, “and I’m still making it to the Chapel.”


“The Chapel,” she says, and the roll of her eyes is a fractalia waterfall, drowning out all he sees in velvet violet, and leaving him just with the pulse that beats at the heart of his grub.


BEAM CREEPING


He tries to hold the zen as the nodes change over, but the taste of black earth is the taste of his Tender’s foundation.


The nodes are now crossed stakes, their counters slanting across in assymetry with their placings. So that any two will be reaching for the same crystallace, now smoothed over to allow spikes more jagged from their basings.


Where they cross they glow, cored verve that brightens partway across the slants, lesser on the downslope, further on the counter ascensions.


All he sees of them is a marker for every corpse still walking, above or below as gravity’s pull sets.


“Stay frosty,” Cammy says. She’s tuned her fractalia lower, or arranged it with the exhumed skein. Now mere diamonds that spray over where she’s looking in machine gun bursts of shine.


Dear hums his assent.


All that does is stumble him, where he’d been keeping pace before, shutting out the ache in his feet. Looking down he sees tatters of grubskin spilling out, curling and fronding, tears papering the crystal and flickering off as he steps away.


The sky is a deep teal, the node glows mere prayers, faded out before getting near it, letting a low dusk wash claim the Net except where Cammy’s diamonds burn like flung candles.


He fights for and finds his footing again, at cost of the ache digging deeper, and him gritting his teeth against it.


Beam of light to the east, and this one finds the sky. Bright blue, and when Cammy swerves to stare, shot through with pink like the quicks of his old, lost nails.


She says nothing, but alters her course, and by the shimmer dancing five points around her, Dear is coming with.


He follows, traipsing across crystal, moments like full wakecycles in the gnawing pain.


They stretch like Cammy’d stretched the notes in her song.


And his limbs stretch too, and the whole time Cammy’s kept her shape, none of this getting to her, like waking up memdepped she’d heard her true voice within and liked how it sounded.


The blue beam creeping to tower where before it had split, in a sliver of width, the sky of SunNet. SunNet, he thinks, as if here we’re all still solar, if the whole thing wasn’t on life stasis, as if keeping that stasis wasn’t the whole point of the black walls.


The death stares of the standstill corpses had rooted him himself, until Dear had led him forward by making up his own ground, his own space. He’d passed through and Morgan had known, can’t let him go in there alone.


Except he hadn’t known, only thought.


The moments had spun out into eternities and his fear had been a blissful patience against the pain. But the pain’s fading now that they stand stock before the tower of light. The fractalia cores it, pumps pink through it in a furling plume that reaches long above the two, and he knows that Etha sees them silhouetted against it, that they’re still within its sight, its marking ground.


Because Cammy had bent their passage to the pull of whatever this is.


Cammy with her eyes fixed on it, daring him to comment. Dear is gone, the pallor of her shoulders bared and glittering in the backglow of her stare.


It’s my exhumed, he tells himself, and the tower’s hue is fixed. But hard to make himself believe that, because Dear doesn’t want to be around for what’s happening. And even as he thinks that she sighs, long, drawn out, no song in it.


Sighs and her shoulders are slumping, and she totters in place, leaning towards him before snapping herself back the other way, and the tower is full blooded pink, as high as he can see before the light is so distant he can only make it out as a pale shine that offsets the gloom of sky.


Offsets, and then courses the sky, and there’s no mistaking the spill of glow that races across it. It races in patterns, trigrams at first before more and more lines of light cartwheel the fray, the sky webbing over in this new heat.


The whole sky blurring with heat until in totality the raw of undernail and light has spilled across the slanted crosses. Their own glow weak, pale and now washed out.


But against that, their need for it was fierce. Or so the exhumed tells him, as if to salve the guilt, the guilt he gets when Cammy looks at him, wretched again, fiberstrands revealed in this new light, grasping and pulling back the way she pulls back from him now.


SHIVER THROUGH


More times he should be sleeping, would rather be sleeping, before they reach the Chapel.


Massive lithic thing, the char grey stone a sinking pool for his fear of disappointment, taking it, keeping it, the way darkness keeps light, keeping it in strength.


The char grey stone against the pastel blooded sky.


The entrance was a short hall fronting the build, as if all secrets must be crawled to in cramp and closure. Dear had starred above the build in orbit, resting in final flash over its centred spire.


He’d blunk out, and Cammy had said, to be found again within.


Inside ivy spiders the stone, running through cracks and sieves. The floor is smooth and cold, drawing the heat from his grubskin. Shiver through the grub, fingertips straining somewhere below him in the dark with his arms limp before he hugs himself.


Cammy walks beside him, silent again, though he hears her trembling, the shake of her shoulders.


Thinking both could walk faster now, if they wanted to.


But it’s the same slow creep through the gloom, no light here and remembered presence of the walls is all that guides them. Once or twice he reaches out to touch it, and his fingertips skate across it, without nails without sound.


His Tender is cold and dead by now.


But so am I, out there.


The hall opens up at the same time Dear blinks into the space beyond it. Timed it to their footstep on the threshold line. Morgan’d glanced down, he’ll remember later, his left foot and her right, to get away from the sudden light, though it was bright and warm.


Dear’s keeping his place. Full detail, the verve of his incandescence in its legia of glowing furtip standing from his sleek frame. The room around him swimming more than the psychelia ever had.


The psychelia in its absence from the room with them has him staring full on into the glow.


Even with Morgan’s stare fixed the whole room flows in, like Dear is a black hole for his visual. The stone here charred a deeper dark and the moss tracing its facadework stands out with molten-hued petals blurring chalk white in Dear’s light.


Will she see it, standing beside him, because both are dreaming, and it’s the same dream both ways?


Behind Dear are two doorways. Carven into the facing wall, mirrored in their size but different in their decal. Now turning his grub eyes, with effort, to take in one, the other. Knowing that what decals them is blood, though whether floric or faunic he can’t tell. The left hand path is imprinted in halo with streaks like the reaches of flame. The right hand path is smeared over in blots like clouds, licks of blood into the stone.


He adjusts, shifting his weight as he gazes over both.


“Two doors,” Cammy says. “Two ways to go.”


That one holds his tongue, but the question presses from it after a few breaths.


“I want to,” he says, “whichever I pick, I want-”


“Your pet,” Cammy says, “leaving me alone.”


“Yea,” he says.


“Here’s how this is gonna work,” she says. “You pick the door, if you want.” She lets the silence carry her meaning to him before she breaks it. “But if you do, your pet comes with me.”


And the exhumed Skein says,


within the naked flesh of the grub there is no choice.


He thinks it over. Thinks now of his Oracle, who’d spidered forth from Orche, through what passage he can’t fathom. To keep him pressed into himself because, to him and her, he hadn’t been ready.


Cammy says, “I’m always waiting with you.”


“The left hand path,” he says.


SPIDERED BY HIM


Cold again, cold and alone, the moment he’s stepped through.


lightblood, the exhumed Skein says, belongs to—


I don’t want to know, he says to it.


you know, you’ve made your choice and,


it is not known to huskshedders to be happy with their choices.


He shuts it off. Here the full glow of the mosspetals, amber and lavender that shine into and through the claustrophobia. No light beckons from the distance. Nothing to presage progress except the sound of his feet, hushed impacts like paper rustling against palm.


There was a light, he’d seen it, known it before, and known it was there within the black slab walls.


Ages ago now.


It had been too easy to give into it.



To give into the knowledge it was there, but he’d had faith and nothing else. And been assured it was the fauna, their hierarch kept, preserved somewhere deep within.


But the shrine, the cloven lith, had been too bleak, just to make the light less true.


He reaches out now for the flora. More in mass and now within his reach. Not the tips of his fingers, but the joints, rubbing into the flora and coming away dusted with motes. Motes pink into blue, shining out sapphire from rose pearl halcyon, sparse and scattered across the whorled grey.


Everlasting violet in the nanoscopic swirl.


Moving his hand away, his arm to swing by his side and the other arm to reach across and grip his elbow. Weight of his true silence presses down, gripping him to the cold floor where no groove makes his feet remember they’ve even touched down.


Waiting for the hall to open up again.


Before it does the moss bloodens, reaching red from the violets through the sunburnt oranges. Soon a pulse to them, the vines throbbing, vein lines sparking heartbeaten glow in tracers of warm scarlet. The bitter through him parching him now, ready to kill for a sip of water though that’s what he’s never seen here.


To open myself up, he thinks, to peel my skin away and drink the bloodlight right into the bitter. But the grub, absent of fingernails, has nothing he can hurt himself with. And beyond the vines the walls are smooth, beyond the black sieveless as the floor.


Sieveless but for where the soft vines have claimed their homes.


He stops. Thinking, I could rip the vine away, and what’s left would be sieve, jagged run into the stone, and then I could open myself, see what’s really there.


Standing there, staring at the vine that’s spidered by him. Shoulderblade height, and he’s reaching for it, and he’s got the barest of grip on it, eked the merest of space between it on its perch, when the bloodlight dims back to pastel orange.


And its pulse a deep throb before it stills, and he stares further, releases it, and it snaps back into the groove. And the silence after plaits the thirst, the bitter, and the taste is the taste of refuse.


And he hears scuffing from a long way off, and moans, and teeth clicking against teeth.


EMPTY GRAVE


He remains with the other exiles.


All bloodless here, one managed to say to him before passing past in shuffle. Can’t hurt the light to hurt ourselves.


He’s seated, here and there sees a sparse few seated and dwelling within the massive chamber. He’s turned the exhumed Skein online again, to feel less alone, sits shrouded by shadow. He asks it why he and a few others are seated while the rest are wandering. Pacing back and forth over terraced stone.


It tells him the stone is alabaster, the memory of that Orche picked up somewhere.


He waits.


huskshedders the gift of tiring, to have a need to balance out the restless maw.


He pictures his dead shell withered in the earthbound sun. Withering. By now aged twice over. Where is it, he thinks. Outside the black walls? Or will I have been returned to my Tender, neat and ordered like that, everything in its right place?


My Tender too dead to even use my body.


He asks the Skein if he’s here forever and it doesn’t reply. He’s got his arms wrapped around his knees, limbs a basket to hold the rest of him. Watching the pacers shuffle in circles, around and around, as if orbiting their own silence. As if this way to give it breath. Life, or at least some meaning.


But what meaning remains, bloodlight effusing every inch before him and setting off each whorl, each line in each grubskin? Decay lines, he thinks, that’s what each contrast means. Each crease of skin is to be a body out there.


“I’d relax,” he says to the pacers, but no one listens.


Except one, after a standstill, a moment’s wringing of their hands and a nuzzling of empty space into a shrug.


Moving towards him, the exhumed Skein flashing a noter it wants to talk to him but only if he’ll listen.


“What’s your neural?” he says to the exiled thing. It stands before him, sexless and faceless but for the black of its eyes and the slitted crease of its own exhumed.



“Sigilseer,” it says, in a whisper that’s itself free from any id mark.


He gives it room to expand.


“There was a light,” it says, and the exhumed Skein urging denotes past his bitter and into his buried psyche. Signs seen but not how to know, to interpret. Oracles tend to care less and less with them. It would get old, breathless descripts of signs that Oracles would know so back and forth that they’d be falling asleep for the tellings and still be with them in dreams.


Bites down the, usually is.


“You followed,” he says. “Did you have an Alt?”


The exile stares at him. How, he thinks, they make it here without Alts, and me, just able, only just.


“But you had a Tender,” he says. “We all did.”


The exile dots a heart shape before its chest, between them, lofted crescents higher up and gashing to meet sloping ‘cross the gaunted neck of its grub.



“I’m sorry.”


The exile shrugs. Shrugging it off, Morgan thinking, the way I could never—, and then sewn lips crook to meter out, quarter inch by, a harsh smile, a smile soft as the grub can manage.


“Still alive.”


And as he’s thinking this over, the exhumed Skein releasing fake fragrance into his core just to stand the guilt washing over him, pumped over him in tides, rise and fall, the exile turning to go, all this so much a distract from eternity’s barren passage, his heartroot glints and light knifes through the core it’s embraced in its hesitancy.


“I kept secrets,” he says. “I know you know. I know you kept them too.”


The exile waving a spiral with his leftmost palm, back to him, stabbing to his right like he should turn that way, put his back on it too.


“Mine was how to commune,” he says. Should be just getting it out in the face of the apathy. But his voice is harder than he thought he could ever force past his sewn lips. “How to harvest from communion. How to keep the secret of keeping secrets, even in their sharing.”


The exile turning back to him. Other exiles have stopped their pacing, a virus of stillness rippling through the chamber. Creeping to the edges where the pacers stalk with more purpose, to complete the loops they’re always only just starting.


The seated ones have their dead eyes fixed straight on him.


“Because I never found the fringes,” he says. “And no one found me.”


He dares the seated to say it, and then says it first.


“Jealousy,” he says. “And I’m jealous of Orche.”


The exile has crept back to where he is. He’s forgot he’s seated and as he remembers he’s pushing himself up. No strength in the grub arm and no strength in his legs but he makes it up either way. Now he looks it full in the face, though it’s a half-head taller, kept more muscle on its grub like the grub figured it made no difference.



The exhumed Skein murmurs in a steady cadence. The fragrance held back like it never chose to release it in the first place, like it figured it could use the stuff where it began in its gland, get the gland swollen and tender like that’s good for both of them.


He thinks it might be trying to get Orche’s attention.


You, he says to it, are not her highest priority, way the fuck down here in—


“Empty grave,” the exile before him says.


o empty, the exhumed Skein says, songs sung in graves. hopeless too, like you wanted, like i could tell.


He closes his eyes. He’s alone with it, a spiral of blue light, like the bright tower had been blue before Cammy bled into it. Spiral of blue light trying to reach itself and getting nowhere, always in the middle but always starting from the trail.


Spiral of blue light in the nadir darkness of his psyche.


And isn’t sure if what he says to it the others hear, if they get past the lips, and when he opens his eyes he will have to check to make sure.


We aren’t in the earthlight now, he says. That’s the point of the Chapel. We’re somewhere else.


CHILL WORMS


Cammy by Acheron’s body, bound and strung.


Strung from the ceiling in plaited vine and in some places it’s entered him, slipped beneath the skin beneath nests of petals. Petals beneath and above themselves, stacked in flatness like blades without hilts, reaching in ragged fronds, body to curve of leaf like the flat of a torn page seeking its tear.


She can’t see that.


All she sees is Dear and all she hears is Acheron’s heartbeat, knows the curls of the petals by the way Dear brushes them in nuzzle.


His heartbeat loud, right before her, and she’s feeling along him too, hard where she thinks the sinew’s taut, the muscle is gathered.


“This guy’s huge,” she says to the Alt. “Void boy wanted to wake him up?”


He’d want to. Caught this thing sleeping, she thinks. Where it has slept for who knows how long. Maybe he does.


Should’ve been him, then, but she bears no respect for this place, what it deserves, what it’s done to her.


Kid’s Alt missed the fuck out of him. He hasn’t blunk out in a while, and that she misses, because she could see the trails, hot blue-white and searing across black space, and in the trails the shaking, the scrabbling of paws, she thought, across it all.


But now the blue-white is a nova again, compressed to a ball of glow-tipped fur that moves slow and steady across a mass she can’t see.


The heartbeat slow and steady too, a dirge thudding its way to her, each beat held back like she’s getting it late.


“Kid wanted to be left alone,” she says. Dear doesn’t listen. “Be alone and make his choice.” He got it wrong, but she’s gotten it wrong too, in her times, in her ways.


Dear keeps steady nuzzling the bound, sleeping shape.


But she thinks she could, is here besides.


“I want to see again,” she says, breathes it out as a hiss, and Dear’s ear curls, but he doesn’t leave his place.


Then she’s punching the held shape.


Sharp, weak, grub jabs, and the heartbeat doesn’t change. Wretched, useless. Dear breaks his silence with a mewl, rough and coarse, spiking for the reaches and the tone beneath it unraveled.


But its roughness fades out to chopped whisper and then is gone. The stabs of silence at the end of it parting the sound like palm and wrist part the flow of water.


I had a life before this, before that freak told me to leave.


So when punching it doesn’t work she’s shoving, struggling against it, letting it know, she thinks. All my shit through this new body and into this other thing. Because I kept it back, in front of that weird stranger, and now I can’t, I—


The heartbeat quickens.


The new tempo about a half beat off the former pace. She stills. All heat here just the warmth of that thing and now it’s slipping away. Her skin bristles, trying to raise itself for warmth, but her new skin doesn’t work that way. It’s settled, can’t unsettle. And so it gives, and the chill worms inside her, and finds the scent she holds on her tongue, paling out the scent of plucked orchids even further from the pluck.


So that the scent she always thought she’d lose with her breath wanes in the chill, freezes into a taste like copper, the scent reversed into a bitter shadow of itself. Copper just eking itstelf into her psyche, so there’s that, at least.


So in the end she’s no ways about it.


And knowing she should hold to that, she stops.


The thing is moving, though. Struggling against its binding, she can hear the rustling, the tremor of the vines bending, snapping back against the sinew. Rattle against the skin stilling quick, muted by their own strength and flex.


The sound fleeting in to bind her too, twining around her thoughts, torching them in their passage, and for a second the copper is the taste of dried blood. Filling her space like she’s swimming in it


She slaps the thing then, three times, wishing the grub had nails for the groove.


And she’s back somewhere, staring at a light, flare cutting away as she ducks her head, ducks to see it, a machine light, an unclean thing—



Back again with the echo of her third slap. A low growl picking up its own echo in the room, stacking on top of itself, compressed by the cramp into a trash presser sound, one old and unfed for a chronal or two.


The waste, she thinks, of all the light I can’t see. Because even in her blindness it strobes across her, vibes the fiberstands clawing for something they can no longer process. The shiver right into her psyche, in patterned osmosis through her space. The kid’s Alt is purring now but she couldn’t have picked it up, unless she looked for the sound that came in on a worm creep frequency because all the other frequencies were taken.


All the problems, she thinks, with people, but you never see it as a problem, do you?


No, she answers for him and herself. I don’t.


She’s about to speak for Acheron, the room shaking, the growl mixing with the trembling of the digitalis foundry that has her clutching for balance for the millionth time today. All lives repeat, and in repeat the same mistakes, she thinks, same flaws in the facets, and who I was before is me now. Off-step, off-kilter.


And who can see my facets, whose ear twitches for that whisper, whose eyes are cold enough to see it through space?


She’s about to speak and then through all of it the once-bound forebear speaks for himself.