Background photo from PixHere, licensed with Creative Commons CC0, edited by Enforcer. Source: here
"Amp, honey! Can you come downstairs?"
"Yeah, mom, just a sec."
I saved my game and rushed down the stairs. I'd just turned 10 and was really looking forward to seeing what my mom had for me. Was it going to be a birthday party with all my friends? Would there be cake and presents and balloons? My mom led me out of the front door and into the car, and we set off somewhere. I expected us to be going into the city to find a party venue, or maybe to a friend's house. Instead, we turned onto a road I knew all too well.
"Mom! Do we really need to go to temple now? On my birthday? It's so boring in there, I want to meet my friends!"
My mom didn't dignify that with a response. She opened the car door so I could get out, then picked at my hair like she always did when we were going somewhere that I needed to be presentable for. I groaned. Hopefully this would be quick.
My mom led me into the temple, where the leader was waiting for me. Whatever was going to happen, it was a pretty big deal, apparently, she was in full ceremonial robes and enthusiastically waved us over to the altar as we approached.
"Ah, Koaia, great to see you. And is this little Xiampe? Aah, look how big you've gotten!" She walked up to me and enclosed me in an unwanted hug. I started to squirm, but it was pointless. Finished with pleasantries, I got to the point.
"So why am I here? It's my birthday, I'd rather be basically anywhere else."
The two adults turned toward each other and chuckled like I couldn't hear them. The leader smiled.
"Well, he's gotten a head start on being a teenager, hasn't he?"
My mom smiled. "Well, he always has been advanced. Did you hear that he got the best math grade in his whole school on the last exam? He's going to be on a competition team next spring!"
I needed to do something before they descended into mom tittering. If I didn't, we'd be here all day.
"Mom, I'm hungry. Can we finish whatever this is and go to Zaida's?" I wasn't actually hungry, I just knew it'd be more effective than my other excuses.
My mom, seeming to finally remember I was there, came back to her senses. "Oh, right. Lady Xukoa, can you explain what we're going to do today?"
The leader turned toward me, her smile a little bit too wide to be sincere. "Okay. So, Xiampe, today's a big milestone in your life. Your soul has now officially reached its full potential."
"So does that mean I've peaked? Will my soul just keep getting worse after this?"
"Oh, no. It's like how you grow taller. At a certain age, you've reached your maximum height, but that doesn't mean that you're going to start shrinking. It just means you've gotten to where Likoa meant you to be."
I wasn't sure why Likoa would care how tall I was. Would she even be able to see it from whatever dimension she lives in? I never got satisfying answers to those kinds of questions, since whenever I asked my teachers, they just kind of looked at me.
"It's the same thing with your soul. Now that it's gotten to where it was meant to be, we can read it to figure out what you'll be like in the future. Likoa's given each and every one of us the spark of life we need to achieve our goals, and once we know what we can do, there's nothing stopping us from following our dreams."
Lady Xukoa pulled out some sort of staff from her robe and put its end on my chest. I could faintly see a crystal reflecting the overhead lights through some gnarled, spiky branches that looked like they'd grown around it. She chanted some words in Old Draggan. I'd been studying it, and vaguely got that it had something to do with summoning wisdom and another world, but couldn't really tell what she was saying. After she finished her chant, she looked into the gem at the end of the staff and ran her fingers across it before putting it up to a candle, watching the firelight dance across its faceted surface.
Everyone including Lady Xukoa jumped back as the branches caught fire, the flames quickly spreading down the staff and continuing to cast ominous reflections in the crystal. Breaking her ceremonial attitude, Xukoa ran down the hall for a fire extinguisher, which quickly turned out to have no effect. Reaching the point of panic, she grabbed the staff and rushed out of the temple to throw it in a nearby ditch, clutching at the ceremonial gem which had been superheated to the point that it left burning welts on her hands. I bemusedly watched the whole thing through the temple window. I'd read in class that the ceremonial staffs were made of Naemua wood, which couldn't catch fire because thousands of tiny holes in its bark trapped water. I was also pretty sure that there wasn't anything in the texts about what this symbolized for someone's life. I half expected Lady Xukoa to just make something up or go with some excuse like "Likoa doesn't want us to know."
Lady Xukoa returned to the temple visibly frazzled, shifting the gem in between her hands like a hot plate. She turned toward my mom with an apologetic smile, then returned to the altar where she'd started the ceremony. She shifted between gazing into the gem and frantically skimming through texts, looking more bewildered with every one. After about 15 minutes, she came back to me and my mom to deliver the news.
"There's no doubt about it, Koaia, your boy is a wonder. Xiampe's going to change the world. Already, he's making things happen that are completely unprecedented. Once he comes of age, nothing will ever be the same for anyone again. You could say he'll be the end of the world as we know it."
Things were actually pretty cool after that. Almost everyone in Shadowlawn knew me as the boy who was gonna change the world, and I got to have central positions in a lot of temple ceremonies. I ended up being pretty busy, so kinda drifted apart from my friends. Once I became the center of ritual attention and the chosen one, I didn't have much time to just hang out with my schoolwork and all, and when I did get to hang out, the whole tone changed.
It kinda felt like I wasn't really part of their world anymore. While they could worry about getting the latest smartphone or a date to the dance, I was reading stuff in Old Draggan and pouring water on glowing chalk circles. I poured myself into exploring science and technology to try to maintain some grounding in reality. With all the talk about alternate dimensions and animum cores, it felt like I'd landed in a myth or something, and messing around with computers and circuits helped me make sense of things. I didn't remember things in the temple being so weird when I was younger, but maybe I wasn't paying attention back then.
"Xiampe! I asked you a question. Now, what is the Beguiler's true name? I expect better than this from my best student."
My teacher's question shot me back to reality. I loved learning, but I'd honestly begun to get bored. All this stuff about spirits and alternate worlds and everyone being able to pursue their dreams through the power of Likoa honestly felt corny to me, and I'd been hearing it for 3 years. I was determined that if I was going to pursue my dreams, it'd be through myself. Animum can only take you so far, you've got to put in some work. Besides, I was growing sick of getting everything handed to me just because I was the Worldshaper or whatever.
"Xiampe! If you're going to explore the dark recesses of your mind, do it on your own time!"
"Oh. Right. Sorry, Mr. Viluxi. The Beguiler's true name is Xinonix. It's the being created by Vipheriv, the Traducer, to deceive the people and erase Likoa from history. It claims to be the Incarnation of Chaos, but it's just a crude imitation of Likoa's true power."
"Very good. Now, what Xiampe just brought up with the Traducer leads me to my next point. The Traducer claims that it's an embodiment of order and that without it, the world would be ruled by violence and pain, but the actions of Dragites show this isn't the case. Order doesn't come from any being, we create it ourselves via our actions and the strength Likoa gave us. All Vipheriv wants to do is bind us to itself and erase our freedom of spirit. It spins its lies into history so thousands are deceived into thinking of Likoa as a dangerous renegade against just rule, or worse, as having never existed."
I began to drift off again. I'd heard all of this so many times before, and maybe I was a traitor to Likoa for saying this, but I kinda wanted to hear the other side of the story. After all, I knew from my studies in science and technology that you can't get a proper idea of how something works unless you look at it from all sides. I didn't want to believe it, let alone consider what it implied about me, but I wondered: what if Likoa really had done something? What if Vipheriv and Xinonix really wanted to protect people from her? I silenced my mind. If I ever let anything like that slip, I'd be completely cast out of the community and maybe even lose the favor of Likoa. And if even the being who created my spirit turned against me, who would be left on my side?
"Xiampe, go to bed! You've been working on that watch or whatever it is for hours now and you've got a big day tomorrow."
"Mom, it's not a watch! It's a portable real-time transcriber!"
"Whatever it is, you don't need to be working on it at 2 in the morning!"
I couldn't really argue with that. If nothing else, I was actually encountering more issues with the software than I cared to admit; it didn't understand accents well and encountered substantial lag when there were other wireless devices around. But that wasn't relevant now. I needed to get ready for my Lifuir, in which I would officially come of age. All my friends would be there to watch me become an adult. I'd be fully initiated into the temple and part of my soul would be granted to Likoa, in hopes of opening up a portal to her world so she could return and grant us all our full spiritual potential. I coiled up in bed, visions of spiraling black and white pulsing through my brain.
When the day came, I got dressed in my favorite T-shirt and put on my ceremonial robe over it. Everyone was supposed to wear whatever clothing was most important to them for their Lifuir to symbolize their commitment to spirit and individuality. My chosen shirt was one I'd almost outgrown -- the shirt I'd gotten as the top prize at a programming competition. My mom had driven all the way to downtown Pulklita to get me there, and I was able to get it signed by my idol, the creator and CEO of Ophis Systems.
Pretty much everyone I knew was at the Lifuir, even classmates and friends I hadn't really seen since the ceremony back when I was 10. Everything around was perfectly tailored to me, with my favorite flavor combination in all the refreshments: Tayna nut and orange. The temple had even rented a speaker system to play all my favorite music, which many of the parents looked somewhat confused by. It was the best party I'd ever had. I hadn't had a birthday party since I turned 10, everything after that damn prophecy was just temple ceremonies and boring chanting. It was really nice to just be able to joke around with my friends again, even if I knew this was the last time I'd ever be able to. Once I became an adult, I was expected to either get a major role in the temple or set out on a journey to find myself. Either way, my entire role in life would never be the same again.
Once the sun had fully set, the music stopped and people stuffed Tayna poffins into their purses as temple staff rearranged the furniture in preparation for the main event. Lady Xukoa, her fur beginning to gray at the edges, distributed and lit candles for everyone, which cast an array of sanguine shadows around the walls, crimson light glinting off cobblestones and stained glass. I reflexively pulled my cloak over my shirt and straightened my posture, knowing every eye in the building was trained on me as they adjusted to the darkness. Eventually, Xukoa approached me and my mom. We slithered toward the altar in unison as the full congregation vocalized, their tones getting gradually louder as they echoed off the temple walls.
Lady Xukoa raised a staff, forged from twisted metal presumably to avoid whatever happened with my ceremony happening again. Once she raised it, the congregation immediately quieted. All the vocalizations immediately stopped as she approached my mom, who clutched the end of the staff in her hands.
"Koaia. Today, your son becomes a man and achieves his true potential in spirit. Do you commend his soul to our great Innovator, Likoa, and entrust his care to Her?"
"Yes. I know Xiampe will do great things under Likoa's guidance." She turned to me. "You'll do great, honey. I believe in you, and you're a wonderful young man."
Satisfied with this, Xukoa turned the staff toward me and motioned with it for me to rise as my mom returned to her seat. She then motioned toward a stone slab and told me to lie down on it. I did, and reflexively shivered as the cold of the rock penetrated through my cloak. Once I'd laid down and was just looking up at the darkness, waiting for something to happen, the congregation began to vocalize again, much more rapidly then they had when I was going up the aisle. Their tones oscillated up and down the scales, never maintaining a consistent melody, only a barrier of sound which pulsed through my entire being, syncing with my unfortunately rapid heartbeat.
After what felt like an eternity, Lady Xukoa returned, brandishing some metal bracers which she clasped around my chest and hooked up to a massive statue of an armored Sluslis with four arms. She slid the end of a chain on one of the bracers into a slot in the statue's forehead and I felt a blast of energy run through me. Xukoa turned toward me and nodded, trying to reassure me that this was all part of the show. I could almost pretend it was if I ignored that I'd been to Lifuirs for my friends and none of them had been like this. I'd never seen the statue I was chained to before. Xukoa turned toward the congregation to make an announcement.
"My friends in spirit! Today we celebrate Xiampe's journey through life and prepare him for another. But today's ceremony will be more than that. We will also be welcoming the dawn of a new world!"
The congregation cheered at this, many members getting out of their seats to rejoice. Xukoa smiled and continued. "Through the contributions of you all and the dedication in your hearts, we have gathered enough animum to breach the barriers of Likoa's prison. Friends, today we all will enter a new age. We now abandon distortion, as the truth is revealed!"
Lady Xukoa raised her staff and a rush of energy flowed through me. All the light in the room seemed to rush toward the statue as the congregation's vocalizations ascended in an overlapping crescendo. The red faded to shades of grey, and eventually black and white. I could see people rejoicing, then in the next flash, they fled. Creatures with too many legs skittered at the corners of my vision, claws scrabbling up the walls of my mind. Thousands of voices screamed and then began to cry before fading into silence. Half of my body froze while the rest burned. Then everything became silent, hard, grounded. And then black.
"Hey, you awake? You should have come to by now. If you haven't, I'll call the hospital or something."
I jerked upright and began sucking in air, trying to verify that I was still alive. I frantically scanned the room for anything that felt familiar. Nothing appeared. I settled on the dusty pink Sluslis staring at me through glazed eyes. Maybe she lived here and could tell me what was going on. The last thing I remembered was this really fun party...then some sort of weird ritual. I think people were singing or something? I reached up and grabbed the pink Sluslis by the shoulders, shaking her just to know that she was real and stammering out words that never entered my brain.
"Who are you where am I how did I get here am I in a coma and this is all a dream oh dear Likoa my family doesn't know where I am and what happened to my party and what was going on with that statue and why is my head spinning please make it stop spinning or if the world is spinning make it stop too and why is everything so bright and-"
The pink Sluslis placed a finger to my mouth and made a shushing noise. "Hey. Complete sentences. You ain't gonna get anything done blubbering. I mean, you should be glad to be alive. Anyway, you were passed out in the park across from here late last night. My girlfriend was on her way back from some crazy role-playing party, saw you, and I guess her hero complex activated or something because she brought you in so she could nurse you back to health. Name's Pacisu Suriko. Call me Paki and you die. Also, there's a hole in your face." She delivered all of this like it bored her to tears and she was only putting up with it to keep appearances.
"Uh...what do you mean, hole in my face? Like, my nostrils?"
"Just look." She produced an early-model Limina phone and took my picture with it, then handed it to me. The photo was grainy enough that I could see where the colors had been compressed, but it told me everything I needed to know. I made a series of high-pitched noises culminating in a scream and ran towards the nearest bathroom.
I stared at myself in the mirror, completely baffled as to who I was looking at. The person I was looking at couldn't have been me. This was all a dream. I was going to wake up and I'd be back in my bed, ready for my first day of manhood. I punched the mirror, expecting to see my hand fall through. It didn't. A web of fractures spread across the flat surface, with shards flying out and cutting bloody gashes across my hand before completely vanishing without me feeling anything, blood dripping from my fingers but me feeling no pain, only a disturbing numbness.
"What the..." I ran my fingers across a shard of glass. I could feel the sharpness of its edges, but the pain never processed. The surging sensation never occurred. It was then that I noticed that the fluid coming out of my hand wasn't blood. The ichor was completely uniform in texture and as black as ink. As it flowed, it never dripped off my hand, seemingly getting sucked back in whenever it tried to escape. I was trying to think about this logically. Surely it was all a trick of the eye. My blood just looked black because I wasn't getting enough nutrients or something, and it wasn't flowing like liquid because...it was then that I noticed that my hair also refused to obey the law of gravity. When I first looked through the mirror, I had thought it was standing on end. It wasn't. Rather, it moved independently from me, each tendril standing up in a mane around my head, seemingly pulled up by a nonexistent wind or repelled by an unseen barrier. I searched for the source of this barrier until my eyes settled on the hole in my face Pacisu was talking about.
It sat above the ridge of my nostrils like a third eye. The hole's edges were completely, unnaturally straight, with there being no visible signs of injury or penetration in my face. It hadn't been cut into me, it was simply there. I tried to reach my hand inside it to verify it hadn't pierced bone, and found nothing there. I reached my entire arm into it, but it never came out the other side of my head. It simply disappeared into an infinite, invisible space. I tried to move my fingers, but they were stopped by an unseen crushing force which was indubitably there, but imperceptible. I couldn't feel anything in my arm, and when I pulled it out from the hole, it returned numb, pale, and ice cold, as though all of the blood and life had been sucked out of it. I sat down on the toilet, dazed as the blood flowed back into my arm. It was then that I noticed the subtle white glow emanating from the hole. It didn't pulsate or show any reaction to the shadows my levitating hair cast on the rest of my face, and seemed to have no obvious source within the hole, which remained black as ever. It was simply there, the one hint of any sensation that could escape the void stuck inside and yet separate from me.
I needed to shower. I didn't know how long I'd been out, but I'd been lying on the ground and was covered in dirt, sweat, and other stains I couldn't identify. Maybe once I changed, I'd feel better and be able to make more sense of things. I opened the shower curtain, ending up needing to put some force into it to get it to go across the bar and fully extend. I entered the shower, turned on the shower, and sat down, unable to stop myself from crying. This was not what I wanted for my first day as an adult.
The water never touched me. It approached me, I could see it falling around me and feel the humidity of the room, but no drops actually touched me. Something behind me was repelling them, or maybe absorbing them. I opened the curtain so I could see behind me in the mirror and found another abyss, its jagged edges setting it off against my back. I watched the droplets approach it, then completely vanish. They didn't break or get absorbed, they were simply gone. Baffled, I grabbed a bottle of shampoo and squeezed it into the hole, seeing as the thick liquid, too, disappeared without a trace. Once a soap bar I tried to use was also completely annihilated, I reached a conclusion that I didn't even want to admit to myself.
I didn't feel or look any better. I grabbed a towel and wrapped it around me just to keep up appearances, specifically holding it so it didn't touch the hole in my back. I didn't have anything except the clothes I'd been wearing for the ceremony, which were still a mess, so I searched through the drawers in someone's bedroom until I found an Eyendaru University freshman orientation hoodie that seemed close to my size. I pulled it over my head enough to obscure the hole in my face and slithered out toward the kitchen, hoping to dodge questions.
"You little-" A plate crashed against the floor and shattered as I went past. I stayed in the hall, hoping no one noticed me.
"What did you do to the bathroom mirror, Rii? Answer me! You're going to make me lose my lease on this place, and then where will you go?" Pacisu fully straightened out her body, her eyes piercing into a smaller Sluslis covered in fiery tattoos who flinched with the reflexes of someone who'd had this happen too many times before.
"It was like that when I got there. I assume Xiampe did it, and I'm sure it was an accident!"
"Oh, you mean your little boyfriend? You expect me to believe that you just 'found him on the ground' and brought him in?"
I couldn't bring myself to look at what happened next. The shouts and sounds of breaking glass from the kitchen were enough to burn the image into my brain. I needed to get out of here. And maybe see if I could get Rii out with me. I hesitantly entered, hoping to diffuse some tension or at least grab some food. When I came in, Pacisu was gone and the smaller Sluslis was on the floor, sweeping up glass shards and crying.
"Hey." I smiled, hoping my discomfort and fear weren't visible.
"Haven't you done enough harm?" She snapped at me through tears, her eyes wide with panic like she expected Pacisu to see us talking any moment.
"Rii, you don't need to stay here. You can come with-"
"Come with you? You're broke, majorly injured, and I don't even know who you are. Where do you expect to take me? Do you even have a job?"
"Uh..." I'd never really thought about getting a job. I kinda assumed that as the chosen one, the temple would fund me and I'd go from there.
"Besides, Paki's the one who's getting me through school. I'm not getting enough in scholarship and work study to support myself through college, let alone find anywhere to live. If I left her, I wouldn't have anywhere else to go. And it's not like anyone else would ever want to support me. I mean, I'm honestly a disaster." She chuckled slightly, tears still welling up at the bottoms of her eyes.
"You're not a-"
"You don't know anything about me. Get out, before she sees us talking. I need to get to class anyway."
She directed me toward the front door and gave me a regretful wave before closing it, leaving me in a city I didn't recognize wearing a hoodie that wasn't mine and carrying nothing except my dirty clothes and a protein bar. I had no records, no money, and no ideas. I wanted this to be a dream, but I couldn't get myself to wake up.
"Can anybody tell me where I am?"
I hoped that if I wandered around a shopping center long enough, someone would mistake me for a tourist and explain what city I was in and how I could get back to Shadowlawn, or at least get something of a life started here. Instead, everyone who passed by briefly looked at me, shrugged, and went on their way. A few asked me why I didn't just use a computer or my phone. The phone that I left at home in Shadowlawn because I wasn't supposed to bring it to the Lifuir. An Internet cafe was visible to my right, taunting me with its array of laptops. I didn't have any money so the obvious solution was completely inaccessible. Eventually, someone approached.
"Hey, are you lost?" The young Gyaqua before me unflinchingly stared at me. It felt like she was tracking my every move.
"Uh, yes. I know this is going to sound crazy, but I woke up here with nothing except the clothes on my back and have no idea where I am. If you could direct me toward somewhere I can print out a map to get home or at least get washed up, that'd be a huge help."
"You're in Eyendaru."
I relaxed when she mentioned the name of the familiar city. I didn't usually go into town much save for special treats when I was a kid, but at least I wasn't too far away. "Oh, okay. The one that's west of Shadowlawn?"
"Uh...yes. People around here don't go into Shadowlawn much, but yes, that's the one. If you're looking for somewhere to print out a map, the college library's open to the public. It's just up 64. If you go out of this shopping center by the pottery place, turn right and keep going, you can't miss it."
Satisfied with the advice she'd given me, the Gyaqua wandered off toward a nearby shop, her hooves clacking against the pavement as she faded from view. I sighed as some degree of tension was released. At least I knew there was a college here. Maybe I could apply. I honestly had no idea what I wanted to do with my life at this point. I always assumed I'd get a job at the temple, but I didn't think I'd be able to go back there. I didn't remember anything save brief flashes of images from my Lifuir, but something had happened. I was sure of it. There were holes in my body that shouldn't have been there and did things injuries weren't supposed to do. I almost suspected that they were related to whatever Xukoa did with that statue. It was definitely different from other Lifuirs I'd been to and she had gone on about a new world, whatever that meant.
I came out of my reverie once I noticed the college's sign behind me. Apparently I'd gotten too caught up in my life to notice where I was going. Once I'd entered the campus, internal navigation signs guided me toward the library, where I sat down in one of the only empty seats in front of a computer that was at minimum 5 years out of date. Its boxy casing whirred as I waited for it to boot up. I contemplated my course of action after I got home. I knew I couldn't stay in Shadowlawn, I was expected to go out and do something with myself, but hopefully I could at least grab some supplies and money. Once a mapping website loaded, I typed in my address and waited for the computer to process my action. The directions I received after a far too long delay didn't look that bad. As long as I was efficient, I should've been able to make it back home before dark and maybe sleep in my own bed and get a clearer head to decide what to do with myself. I tore my paper off of the printer and exited the library, holding onto the printout like my life depended on it. I wasn't convinced that it didn't.
I wasn't interrupted by many other pedestrians. Those who did go past were usually wearing earbuds or typing on cell phones; they didn't notice me save to walk around me if I was in their way. As I slithered down the sidewalk, I contemplated how big Eyendaru seemed. I knew from my local geography classes that it really wasn't that big of a city, with only 50,000 residents, but it seemed huge in comparison to Shadowlawn, where it seemed that everyone knew me. It was refreshing not to be confronted by unwanted attention wherever I went and comforting in how sobering it was. It put everything that had happened in perspective; nobody cared about or even noticed the hole in my face. My being some sort of cryptic chosen one who could make things stop existing by putting them in my back didn't mean anything here as long as people could walk past and ignore it.
The sun was setting as I approached Shadowlawn. I'd only been away for a day, but already the entire environment seemed to have changed. The silhouette of the temple against the bands of fading light was more foreboding than comforting despite being the building I'd spent most of my childhood in. It pierced into the sky like a blade slashing through the light and snuffing out whatever it slashed. Save for the faint sounds of wind running through leaves and small animals taking their shelter for the night, the streets were silent as I approached my house. I let myself in through the unlocked door and was immediately approached by my mom. Her arms were outstretched for a hug, but I flinched back. I couldn't let her get close to me. What if the rift in my back sent her to the same place it sent that soap bar?
"Xiampe, honey, I was worried sick about you after you didn't come home last night! Where have you been? Go shower and freshen up, honey, you're covered in sweat."
"Yeah, mom, sure. I'll get cleaned up." I ran off toward the bathroom before she could get a closer look at me. I couldn't even explain what had happened to myself, let alone to anyone else. I knew showering wasn't going to do much, but it'd at least give me some downtime and a chance to change clothes.
Once I'd changed, I wrapped a scarf around my head to cover the hole in my face and keep my hair in place before setting out towards the kitchen to grab everything I could from the cabinets and fridge. I didn't know how long I'd be out once I left and I wanted to be prepared for anything. I felt somewhat guilty about the whole thing when my mom entered the room.
"Oh, honey, do you think that just because you're a man now, I won't feed you? Put that stuff down and relax, Xiampe, I'll make dinner. Oh, and if you have any laundry, feel free to put it in, I'm going to run a load later tonight."
I flashed her a half-hearted smile before heading to my room to get my laundry and start packing. We didn't go on many trips so didn't have much luggage, but I had a backpack I could fit my wallet, laptop, phone, and some changes of clothes and food cans in. I wanted to stay longer, my mom seemed so happy to have me, but I knew that I couldn't. I may not have known what had happened to me, but I knew that in my current state, I was a danger to everyone around me. I needed to get away from people I loved so I could get things under control without hurting anyone.
I ate dinner alone in my room. This wasn't what I wanted my last day at home to be, but I didn't feel like explaining where I'd been or getting rambled at about my future and how I really should apply at the temple. In fact, I actually had plans for my future, at least until I could work out something else. In the dark, I pulled out my laptop and pulled up the application portal for the University of Eyendaru.
After a couple days of renting rooms at cheap hotels and negotiating with friends, I was able to co-lease an apartment with some other students who were going to Eyendaru in the spring. It was nice having some clarity on what my future looked like. My grades and test scores from high school were good enough that payment wasn't a major concern, and I'd gotten everything else lined up for my first year. To cover the rest of my expenses, I'd gotten a job with the library doing tech support. I was going to be majoring in business administration with a minor in animum studies. I'd heard that business was a profitable path and I needed something which could get me off the ground as fast as possible. I went with the minor in hopes of getting some understanding of what had happened at my Lifuir. I was aware of animum from temple studies, but only as this mystical thing Likoa gave Dragites to pursue their potential and all that, not as anything that could be scientifically studied. Maybe if I could apply more knowledge, everything would start making sense.
It didn't make sense. I took notes, I asked questions, I contributed, but nothing I heard in class had any relation to what I had experienced. In fact, according to the professor, whatever occurred at the ritual couldn't have happened. Dimensional rifts of any kind couldn't be created that easily, putting enough animum into a Dragite to form one would kill them, and animum couldn't make anything cease to exist. I contemplated just showing her the hole in my back, tossing a pencil into it, and asking her to explain it, but figured it wasn't worth the time. Besides, I didn't want to draw attention to myself. Someone would probably end up putting me on a metal slab and trying to figure out how I worked by cutting me apart. And I wouldn't feel any pain from any of it.
After class, a Smuflum boy I didn't talk to much who sat in the back approached me. "Hey. I can tell you want answers beyond what Prof's willing to tell us. Why don't you come check out my club? We're gonna be meeting at the library at 4:00 today."
He handed me a flyer for an "Occult Club", promising to "unlock the mysteries of animum and go beyond what they want us to know". The flyer never mentioned who "they" were or why they didn't want us to know whatever they were keeping from us. The whole thing was one of the most ridiculous things I'd ever seen, all told in red text on a black background. I didn't suspect the boy, or his club, had anything to say worth listening to. Despite myself, I showed up at the library at 4:00, greeted by a circle of Dragites in various chairs, most of whom were wearing some sort of black apparel, including a variety of shirts bearing the symbols of bands with intimidating names or poorly defined requests to "wake up". They glanced at me and waved me towards a chair as I entered, before returning to their conversation.
"So, you heard about what happened in Shadowlawn?" A Gyarl's multiple rows of teeth flashed as she held up a smartphone displaying a news article, passing it around the circle to make sure everyone saw it.
"Yeah, that cult ritual that went wrong. Says here that it could have opened a portal to another dimension." A Cirsmuk held up his phone, which appeared to be displaying a webpage with similar design to the flyer. "Even better? There's supposedly an evil Incarnation there named Likoa. She got kicked out of this dimension for trying to fight the void. So hardcore!"
I looked around the room, trying to hide my discomfort. I was looking for information and willing to accept any source, true, but hearing the community I'd grown up in being called a cult that worshipped an evil Incarnation filled me with dissonance and barely suppressed rage. How dare these pseudo-alternative degenerates claim they understood things better than I did from growing up there? The even worse thoughts running through me questioned whether they could be right. Pseudo-alternative degenerates, sure, but ones who probably had a clearer perspective than I did. If I'd been serving an evil entity my whole life, would I even recognize it as evil? What if, as their flyer had said, Likoa being a defender of freedom was just what "they" wanted me to think? I'd always had my doubts about Likoa, but never thought that she could be blatantly destructive. I tried to maintain an open mind through the rest of the meeting, which passed by with me mostly stuck in my thoughts, not really hearing anything the other members said.
The boy who'd introduced me to the club walked up to me as I left. "Hey, you okay? You seemed kinda out of it. I get that it's a lot to take in as a newbie, but it's not real, you know? I mean, it's fun to speculate, sure, but if there really were an evil Incarnation who could awaken with one ritual gone wrong, somebody would've noticed by now. Just think of it like role playing and don't stress about it. It's not like a hole in the sky is gonna open and horrible creatures are gonna start pouring out."
I grabbed him and dragged him into a hallway where we were alone.
"Look, you can't tell anyone about this, okay? But I need to tell you why I joined this club. I was in that ritual that went wrong, and I'm trying to figure out what the hell happened." I took off my jacket and revealed the hole in my back.
"Woah, sick makeup, dude! How'd you do that, that new superblack paint or something?"
I decided he'd understand better if I illustrated my point. I opened my backpack, pulled out a pencil, and dropped it into the abyss. As I expected, it vanished without a trace.
"So, it's in your shirt, right? Or did you slip it in your pocket when I wasn't looking?"
"I don't actually know where they go. Far as I can tell, they're just gone. It's not just solid stuff, either. I haven't been able to properly shower in months because it sucks in the water." I laughed slightly to try to reduce the tension, even though my intent was dead serious.
He stepped back, hands fidgeting like he expected me to lunge toward him. "W-woah. I mean, I just made the club so I could share my theories, I never expected that...can you, like, make stuff too? Everything I've heard about dimensional rifts says that stuff isn't just sucked in, it can come out too."
"What do you mean by 'making stuff'? I've never had anything solid come out of me except the stuff that's supposed to, but I do have another hole which glows. Like, it always glows and I can't tell where the light's coming from, it's just as black as the other one." I lowered my hoodie to reveal the hole in my face, the one which my noticing thereof had started this whole mess.
"That's really weird...dimensional rifts aren't supposed to constantly glow, only when something's coming out. And I don't see anything coming out of it. Doesn't seem to be anything emerging except animum, which doesn't glow like that unless it's actively being produced or pulsed through something. There's only one thing that people know of that can just produce animum out of nothing like that, but it can't be -" He cut himself off to pull out his phone, showing me yet another page with a black background.
"Yeah, I know the page isn't that great, it hasn't been updated in about 10 years, but that's the only thing I've ever heard of which can make stuff cease to exist. And if you're linked to it without getting your soul fried, that's, like, totally cool!"
The idea that I was no longer a Dragite, no longer a person because of whatever had happened at that ritual terrified me. Even his remark about the page's design didn't inspire so much as a chuckle from me as I contemplated the possibilities, each one worse than the last. It was at least a minute before I could think of something to say.
"So, how does one tell if their soul's been 'fried'?"
"Oh, you'd know if you lost your soul. You'd completely lack any kind of motivation or feeling. You'd basically just be a lump of meat who wouldn't even care enough to eat or sleep or breathe. Nah, what it means by getting your soul 'fried' is that, if you dump enough animum from someone else into somebody's soul, they get totally changed! Like, you'd still look like you, but how you thought and acted would be just like the other person. You'd totally lose yourself. Plus, it's, like, slow so you don't even notice that you're not acting like you anymore. So if you consumed too much animum from the void, you'd probably become like the void, whatever that means. You'd probably cease to exist or become totally incomprehensible to mere mortals or something. But you still exist, for now anyway, and you've still got motivation and all that! Plus I think I can comprehend you! Neat!"
"So, I could no longer be a Dragite and no longer be remotely recognizable as myself and I wouldn't even notice?"
"Yeah, animum alters your perceptions so when you get changed, it messes with your memories so you think you were always like that."
I didn't feel like the void, whatever that meant. I didn't think I didn't exist. I felt like myself, albeit a thoroughly disturbed and confused version of myself. But maybe I'd been the void this whole time and didn't notice. Or thought I was, and what I thought was all that mattered. But I clearly was the void, something about me had clearly been altered and the rifts that tore through me had no other explanation. But whatever I was, I still had my mind. I could still think and adapt to whatever my new reality was. That was all that mattered - right?
"I need to go." I fled from the library and the Smuflum, my mind racing with unanswered questions. He yelled after me as I left.
"Okay, nice meeting you! I'm Kiro, by the way!"
The next year passed pretty uneventfully. I eventually dropped the animum studies minor because I got too annoyed with it. As much as I hated to admit it, the Occult Club's ramblings seemed more helpful than class content in aiding my understanding. I'd gotten really close with Kiro especially. I eventually opened up about my experience to the rest of the club under the understanding that no one disclosed it elsewhere, which everyone seemed to be abiding by, but Kiro still held a special position for me as the first one I told and the one who introduced me to the club. It was nice to have a steady group of friends again. I never really got the proper school chums experience thanks to the whole prophecy thing, so it was really nice and made me feel almost normal to have people to just talk about weird stuff and eat lunch with.
A sauce packet arced my way from the other side of the table at a local diner the Occult Club had taken to using for off-campus meetings. I tried to grab it in midair, but missed, and ended up having to grab it from the floor and dust it off before squeezing it onto my sausage. I glanced toward Zahori, an athletic-looking Xenko whose row of back spines were dyed an assortment of unnaturally saturated colors.
"Dude!" I briefly contemplated the linguistic versatility of that one exclamation.
"What? I at least gave you warning this time." She briefly smirked in my direction before turning her attention back towards her sandwich, which was stacked with several layers of assorted meats fried into nigh unrecognizability.
Our bantering and eating was interrupted when a television above us, which had previously been showing a local sports game, briefly blinked out before coming to life with an emergency news broadcast.
My memory of what happened after the broadcast came on isn't as cohesive as I'd like it to be. Save the images that burned themself into me indefinitely, the actual line of events is thoroughly blurred and twisted. I remember the normal weather reporters' confused voices as they tried to explain what they were seeing as a freak tornado or an out-of-range hurricane while knowing neither was true. I remember the sheer devastation on the screen and how the display flickered in and out with dark lines cutting through it. Evidently the energies being released were producing strange results in the broadcasting equipment. The audio frequently skipped and distorted as well. Whether from faults in my memory or in the recording, I can only recall one snippet of the broadcast, which played back every waking moment to come somewhere below my awareness where I couldn't fight back.
"A natural disaster of unknown origin has devastated the region surrounding Shadowlawn. Everything within 500 meters of the impact appears to have been completely obliterated, and all nearby buildings have been irreparably damaged if not destroyed completely. Per investigations from local emergency services, no survivors or remains have been found. The primary result of the impact appears to be some sort of rift. All instrumental readings have located no forms of radiation or animum we can identify, and as far as we can tell, everything beyond the rift is simply gone. Our only hint of something surviving the impact is this statue a volunteer research team was able to recover."
The next frame on the screen was the statue from my Lifuir of the armored Sluslis with 4 arms. Despite everything else of Shadowlawn, of my former life, of everything I'd dedicated myself to being completely obliterated, it remained, seemingly completely undamaged save a network of black and red splotches that covered it like scars. A strange light pulsed upward from the gashes, illuminating the statue's eyes with an undeniable malevolence. There was no doubt in my mind that what I was seeing, what had formed that rift, what had destroyed everything I knew wasn't a natural disaster. It was Likoa herself.
The Occult Club sort of drifted apart after that. As invested as they may have been in their role-playing and trying to "reveal the truth", none of their questionably designed webpages and feelings of harmless subversion had prepared them for the devastation the real thing could cause. It was probably for the best that the club drifted apart, since I'd distanced myself from them too. They tried their best to tread lightly and not to mention dimensional rifts or Likoa to avoid making light of the tragedy, but it was still clear that the foundation of the club was gone, in part because of me. I appreciated their efforts, but it only made me feel more isolated and more like everything that had happened was because of me. If I'd just stayed home from the Lifuir or objected when she chained me to that statue...I was on my way to the admissions office to drop out. There was less than a month left before finals week and I could have pulled my credits together into an associate's, but I barely had the strength to get out of bed, let alone study or manage a future that felt hopeless. This wasn't what I wanted. I went to Eyendaru to get away from that damn ritual and it came right back for me, destroying both everything I'd built here and everything I had at home.
I was stopped in the office lobby by a well-groomed Katyar, their fur crest completely slicked back in coordination with their business suit. They approached me unflinchingly and shook my hand, an odd light glinting off their glasses. They didn't quite reflect like normal glasses, leaving me wondering if they were one of the experimental augmented reality setups I'd heard of.
"Are you Xiampe Kunlikoa?"
"Uh...yes. I guess so." Hearing my last name proclaim my allegiance to...that entity started a spiral of thoughts I couldn't easily escape from. The rest of the conversation ran on autopilot. I think something was mentioned about an urgent investigation and my being needed for a job interview. It didn't much matter. The last thing I was concerned with was my employment. I stewed in undefined malaise for the entire ride into downtown Pulklita, only being shocked out of it when I saw who had summoned me.
The Sluslis before me was completely ordered and coordinated in every aspect of their ensemble. A stark white color scheme, intersected by vibrant blues and greens, permeated their entire body, from their polo shirt and suit jacket to their hair, rendered completely still by gel and styling that probably cost more than my tuition. They withdrew from typing on a thin and sleek notebook computer to regard me through eyes that seemed decidedly unnatural, with faint circuit-like patterns running through their blue base color.
Upon registering who I was staring at, and who was staring at me, I frantically looked around the room, digging my fingers into my tail to verify the experience was real. "You're-"
The Sluslis before me smiled, cutting off my sentence with the poise of someone who'd had this exact conversation before. "I am. Xyra Pierre, founder and CEO here at Limina. Pleased to meet you, we have much to discuss." She outstretched a hand toward me, its dark green scales broken up by a simple wedding band of what appeared to be pure platinum engraved with the initials "XP".
I began stammering out questions that never formed, cut off by Xyra's dismissive hand gesture. "Before we begin, my condolences. If there's anything that can be done to help, don't hesitate to ask. I actually called you here today to discuss the tragedy in Shadowlawn and your personal relation to it." She gestured toward where the hole in my face was carefully hidden behind my bangs and hoodie.
"How do you know about that?" That came out before I could process what I was saying, shouted words flowing into each other in more of a growl than a question.
"I understand if you're having issues processing what occurred. This is a completely unprecedented and terrifying event for everyone, let alone those whose loved ones were impacted." Her tone didn't waver at all as she discussed this. She may as well have been discussing business affairs at a direct.
"Impacted? They're all dead, and even if they're not, they're on the wrong end of a dimensional rift into a infinite fucking torture chamber. Impacted is for people who can rebuild, not entire communities being straight-up gone!"
"Of course. Obviously, given the scope of this event, things have been lost which can never be recovered. I'm afraid there is no way to save your loved ones. Even if they survived the initial impact, whatever's on the other side of that rift is harsh enough conditions-wise that even our instruments can't survive it. That's why I want to work with you to aid our understanding of what happened so we can keep it from ever happening again."
"Can't you profit off suffering with someone else?"
Xyra came uncomfortably close to me and pulled back my sweatshirt's hood, revealing the rift in my face and the light emanating from it. "No, pretty boy. I can't. I know you were the focus of that ritual, and based on animum readings from the last 3 years, something happened there which ended up leading to this rift. Really, this whole thing is your fault."
"In that case, you might as well just cut me apart. If I'm the cause of it, figuring out how I work should give you everything you want. Why bother to negotiate with an abomination?" I attempted to smile slightly in hopes of brushing it off as a joke.
"That wouldn't work. Being contained in your body is the only thing keeping that void there from destroying us completely. And I'm not going to involve a sentient being in research without their consent. What kind of person do you think I am?"
"A ruthless capitalist who cares only for money and only pretends to feel emotions to manipulate the populace?" My tongue and brain weren't interacting at all at this point. I'd stopped caring about whatever opportunities she could offer me; the security guards surrounding the office perimeter were the only reason I didn't just bolt.
"Cute. Anyway, look, pretty boy. You don't have to like me. But I will point this out: you're a college dropout from a super-common major with no references who aren't on the wrong end of that rift. Where else can you go? If you want to survive, let alone finish your degree, you're gonna need financial support from someone, and it's not like you can go back and live with your mom."
That was the same thing Paki had said to her girlfriend. I wasn't getting offered an opportunity, I was getting offered total subjugation and Xyra figured if she bribed me, I wouldn't notice. Even worse was that she was right. I had some savings back home, but anything I had there was irrelevant at this point. Maybe if I'd gotten the associate's...maybe if I'd gotten an off-campus job...maybe if I hadn't gone to that Lifuir. If this was what my coming of age meant, maybe I wasn't ready to be a man. Maybe I was just a kid without anyone to protect them. Or some angsty teenager whining about problems they brought on themself.
Once I got in with Limina, Xyra started doing research on me in order to figure out how to manage the void holes to avoid any, as she put it, "unfortunate mishaps". I hated the whole thing, it was clear she didn't see me as anything different from a technological project. I expect she'd do this kind of thing with Dragite subjects, willing or otherwise, more often if it weren't for the inevitable hit to her PR.. Eventually she ended up equipping me with some sort of power limiter her experimental division had been working on. I didn't really understand how it worked, my Occult Club-trained knowledge of animum functioning wasn't prepared for that. From the little I could tell, it somehow absorbed any animum the hole would have otherwise sucked in and stored it so it could cycle out normally. As Xyra put it, it basically functioned as an artificial soul to do the cycling the soul-shaped void I apparently had instead couldn't. It was a bit of a nuisance to wear, but it was nice to finally be able to sleep on my back again. Plus, once the power limiter was set up, my animum could be extracted in a more controlled fashion in hopes of getting it to do something more useful than ominously glowing.
"Okay, try focusing it into this receptacle. If we can get accurate readings, we should be able to determine how much animum you can process at a time. Obviously, you can't use the full infinite power of the Void, but what Dragites can do is pretty amazing. If given the resources and the animum for it, we can go far beyond what anyone could imagine."
"Skip the inspirational spiel, please. So what are you expecting me to do here, an energy beam like one of those cartoon martial arts guys?"
"Yes. Focused beam-like blasts are one of the most well-known demonstrations of animum control, with records going back to the earliest scientific studies of animum."
I rolled my eyes. As many strange animum-related things as I'd witnessed recently, I still wasn't willing to accept that. I was a troubled young adult caught in a rift-opening ritual, not a superhero. This added to my exasperation when I focused on the receptacle as Xyra had instructed and the apparently expected beam came out, a searing burst of pure white light which left the target device unreadable, seeing as save a charred spot on the floor and a faint scent of metal, no record remained that it had ever existed.
"Did you get what you wanted before whatever that was happened or am I gonna need to wait a month for your experimental team to make a better reader?"
Xyra's smile at my frustration was uncomfortably wide, showcasing her gleamingly white fangs. "I got exactly what I wanted. It doesn't matter that the device was destroyed. What matters is what I got before then."
She produced a palmtop from a pocket in her suit jacket and after a few keystrokes, a table of values appeared on the screen. The column on the right had enough entries from a brief time period that it took several seconds for the values Xyra apparently wanted to pull up to appear. When I saw them, my eyes widened at the column made up entirely of entries of "9999999999". I had no idea what unit that number was in, but based on her expression, it was unprecedently large in this context.
"If we were on the last version of this software, you would have caused an overflow error before it cut you off. What this pretty much means is that we don't actually know how powerful you are, which makes sense. If we take our limited distance readings and historical notations to be true, the Void, which is presumably the source of your predicament, is infinite and beyond our capacity to measure. What we can get from these measurements, though, is that even though the sector of void that appears to be caught in you maintains the functioning and average 'size', so to speak, of a Dragite soul, it isn't confined in any way which means that given enough focus, you can access near unlimited power if you want to."
"Sounds too overpowered. What's the catch? I assume it'll tear me apart or something."
"Yes. This lack of limitation means that your soul can not properly regulate itself, which means unless specifically released, animum will continue accumulating inside it until it ruptures its bonds and begins flowing outward. The power limiter can cover you absorbing nearby animum, but it won't cover natural generation, which as we can tell by the constant glow from your forehead rift, is unstoppable. And while you may spiritually be able to access nigh unlimited amounts of animum, you are not nearly as up to the task physically. If you obtain enough animum that it ruptures your original soul membranes, your body will become overloaded from the difference in dimensional encoding and you'll be destroyed from the inside out. Even worse, having an uncontained void actively inside our dimension would be disastrous for local animum fields and probably result in total destruction."
"Great. So what does that mean? How am I supposed to stop myself?"
"Simple. While the Void may infinitely create and destroy animum which presents obvious issues for measurement and management, the issue is not so much the void itself as much as the physical limitations of your body, which are much easier to measure. If I upgrade your power limiter, I should be able to hook it up to an indicator which can determine when your soul may potentially be in danger. When it gets close to that point, you'll need to release animum to avoid unfortunate side effects, as previously discussed."
"What do I release it into? I'd hate to have whatever happened to your instruments happen elsewhere, especially if anyone's around."
"It wouldn't necessarily have to be a focused beam or otherwise destructive, that was just for the purpose of ease of measurement. We'll have to look into this more, but it is possible that you could be able to release your animum in a more gradual fashion. This could allow it to be transferred into another's soul in a form they could adapt to, which may increase their natural animum manipulation potential."
"So you're saying I could give people superpowers."
"Essentially, yes. At least mythically speaking, the void is the source of all animum in a dimension, creative and destructive alike. While it's further filtered through the Incarnations and other such things, really, it's what souls originate from. It makes perfect sense that you'd potentially have the capability to augment them."
"Well, that's certainly something. But given how potentially destructive my output can be when uncontrolled, how the heck are we supposed to test your hypothesis? Please don't tell me you're going to put unpaid interns in front of me."
"That's where you come in. See, I've had this idea for a while of an elite animum research team affiliated with, but managed separately from Limina. Such an agency could help us to better understand the functioning of creatures from beyond the dimensional rifts by capturing and studying creatures resulting from incursions. This would be in the interest of both scientific research and public safety, as it would also keep these potentially dangerous entities contained so they can't cause further harm to Veritas or its inhabitants. By understanding the function of those from beyond it, we can understand the function of the rift itself, and potentially devise a way to close it."
"Yeah. That's neat and all, but what does this have to do with me and my superpower-granting void face?"
"Well, I'm going to need some volunteers. If we can find people who would be willing to aid you in testing your capabilities, any anomalous abilities they acquire from the experience would be put towards greater purpose on this research team. And you'd be its leader. Sounds like quite the opportunity to avenge your loved ones, eh, pretty boy?" Xyra was close enough as to be nearly breathing down my neck as she offered this to me, enticing me with the possibility of some amount of understanding and control. I couldn't shake the feeling I was signing onto my own destruction, but I agreed anyway. If I or those around me would get destroyed if I didn't, did I really have a choice?
My phone vibrated against the stark white bedside table. It contained a drawer in the front, but it was only for decoration; the drawer didn't actually open. It followed roughly the same design philosophy as everything else at Limina: semitransparent, monochrome, and damn near useless. I'd been living at their HQ ever since Xyra signed me on. The official reason was so that no one would bother me. The real reason was so they could keep me under surveillance 24/7. I'd ransacked the room multiple times looking for the hidden cameras I knew were there, but it always came back to its original layout whenever I came back and I never found anything. I suspected the cameras were hidden in the sprinkler system. I felt around the top of the table until I located my phone and fumbled with it in my hands until the screen came on. I swiped right and typed in my password to answer the call. It was a local number, but not one that was in my contacts. Probably a marketer. It's not like anyone ever called me. Everyone who could was on the wrong end of a dimensional rift, after all.
"Who is this? What do you want?"
"Howdy! Glad to see you cut straight to the point. Can you connect me to Xiampe Kunlikoa?"
"This is him. But seriously, what do you want?"
"I'm just letting you know that I'm on my way to your workplace. Me and my crew should be there within about 30 minutes."
"What is the meaning of this? I wasn't informed about any visits. Is this some kind of prank?"
"Prank? Don't you remember that listing you put up? You know, looking for members for your campaign?"
"Campaign? I have no idea what you're talking about."
"You know, the one about the research team studying extradimensional monsters? Personally, tying it into the Shadowlawn disaster is a little edgy for my taste, but you seem smart so I'm willing to try. But if it gets too irreverent, I'm bailing. Ooh, is this one of those alternate reality games I've heard of? Am I allowed to know? By the way, I'm pretty sure that Errand Portal doesn't let you list roleplays. Anyway, my phone's about to die. Looking forward to meeting you!"
They said they'd be there in about 30 minutes. That gave me just enough time to get dressed and attend to an...errand. I could eat breakfast during the meeting. I pulled out my official Limina-brand hoodie from my official Limina-brand dresser then attached my official Limina-brand power limiter and hairband. I looked like a walking commercial. It was a violation of everything I stood for and also good taste. I took the elevator downstairs before barging into the largest, most finely decorated office in the building without even bothering to knock.
"Xyra! You've got some shit to answer for!"
"And it's a pleasure to see your smiling face too, pretty boy. What can I do for you?"
She was perfectly coiffed and polished and ironed, like always. Every time I saw her like that, part of me wanted to gather up the contents of the kitchen sink over the past week, put them over her door, and let it rip. It didn't really matter whether it hit her or just her equally infuriatingly perfect office.
"What did you put on that website?"
"Oh, Errand Portal? Yeah, I decided to go for it instead of a job finding site for getting volunteers. Less regulation, you know the gist. Put it under your name since not only are you going to be coordinating this team, I'd get swamped with sycophants if it were under mine."
"And you told them what it was for?"
"Not in full detail. I had to leave out the whole 'you'd be giving them superpowers' thing so I didn't tick off the admins for it being a ‘roleplay’. I did give them a basic summary of the situation, though. Don't worry, your backstory is safe."
"You complete, absolute, manipulative--"
The doorbell rang, if you can call it that. All it produced was a peppy electronic cadence, the same one that played at the beginning and end of every single Limina commercial. And in the startup sound for every single Limina product. Xyra glanced toward her computer screen before pressing a key on her palmtop. The security system let out a grating buzz, the only sound in this entire building that wasn't crafted by a marketing team, and the door opened.
The trio of Sluslan who entered did not look like an elite research team. The one on the left was the one with the fiery tattoos who I recognized from way back when I first ended up in Eyendaru. She'd clearly changed since I last saw her with Pacisu. Her hair was substantially shorter than it had previously been and the college event shirt I'd originally seen her in had been replaced with a blank tank top bearing an Old Draggan word across the chest in a spiky red font. It meant "dried meat". That probably wasn't what she intended. The center one's most notable feature was their ponytail, so covered in gel that it glistened like a single piece of sealed plastic in the building's fluorescent light as they moved. It had been heavily styled to have multiple spiky junctions, probably intended to resemble a cartoonish lightning bolt, matching markings around their eyes and arms. Other than that, their outfit seemed reasonable. They were wearing an unzipped black hoodie with yellow accents covering a bright cyan shirt whose neck went up to just below their jawline. The one on the right had a decidedly more restrained aesthetic than the others. Their body was mostly a pale blue covered in geometric darker blue patterns. I wasn't sure if that was a modification or their natural appearance. Their hair was up in a simple bun and their outfit was nearly entirely white with some pale blue and pink accents. It reminded me of Xyra's. The three of them looked around in awe at the opulent lobby, the lightning one staring up at the chandelier in the center of the ceiling while the rest watched the monitors that lined the walls. I heard the blue one gasp slightly.
"Wow. I knew that technology circles had a heavy overlap with creatives, especially in reference to alternate reality games, but I did not realize that members of the upper echelons of Limina would be involved in roleplaying. Whoever we are going to be doing this campaign with is likely the richest person we will ever meet. It would do you well to treat them with some respect. Don't scare them off."
The fiery one, I think Pacisu called her "Rii", rolled her eyes at that. "Come on, Hurika. Just because they're some sort of tech mogul doesn't mean they're not a nerd like the rest of us. If they aren't down with my character, I'll change it. No big deal."
The one with the lightning bolt ponytail rounded on Rii, the corners of their mouth just slightly turned up. "Come on, Researchy, you haven't changed your character since high school. Do you even know how to play anyone else?"
I turned towards Xyra, who was still watching them through the camera display on her palmtop. "Uh, Xyra? They're here. Can I go meet them now?"
"Look, pretty boy. I don't know if your 110 class covered this, but the first rule of business meetings is that you need to always remember that they're meeting with you, not the other way around. Let them ask for you. Never show up on time. Make them wait for you. That way it'll be that much more impactful when you finally show up."
"But what if they get annoyed with you being late and leave?"
"They won't. After all, they're college students. They know damn well this may be the only opportunity they'll get all year. You can use that desperation to play them for anything you want. Also, I have security around the perimeter."
"The depths of your disregard for decency never cease to amaze me, Xyra. Anyway, if you aren't going to go meet them, I will."
She snapped her fingers and two burly Gymu appeared on either side of the door, leathery wing membranes flexing with their muscular arms as their pointed ears twitched in response to sounds I couldn't even hear. They both wore skin-tight black outfits that only emphasized every contour of their muscles and breathed in sync with their bodies. The only hints of color in their black outfits and white bodies were the bright green Limina emblems embroidered onto the chests of their outfits.
"I don't think you will. Remember, pretty boy. You may be living in my complex, but that doesn't mean you're special. You are not my roommate. You are not my friend. You are my employee. While your situation is in the charity of Limina, you will do as I request. Do I make myself clear?"
"That's not what I wanted to hear."
"Yes, ma'am." The second word was intoned as though I was calling her what I actually wanted to.
"Now, then. Our guests are approaching the front desk, likely to ask for you. It won't be long. Azu, Zumu, go let them in."
The duo of guards turned and left out of the door, walking directly with their bodies completely tight. I wasn't sure why she could call them by name but not me. If she called me "pretty boy" one more time...
"Hey, pretty boy, could you make yourself scarce for a bit? I need to introduce them to the project myself before you get involved. Why don't you freshen up? There's a restroom down the hall."
"Isn't the request under my name? Which isn't 'pretty boy'?"
"What did I just say?"
The thought got me to a bit of reminiscence. Back when I was still in Shadowlawn, some of my friends got really into comic books and fantasy role playing, mostly inspired by TV shows imported from Insula via the augmentation connections that'd just become mainstream. That was what the trio's outfits reminded me of. They looked like they'd be a superhero team with the whole elemental motif. I wasn't really into that kind of stuff at that point. All the stuff about other worlds, chosen ones, and hidden power within kinda hit too close to home. Besides, I was into my own projects when I wasn't doing temple stuff. I'd worked on various inventions and gadgets, but my proudest achievement was my computer, which I built entirely myself. It took me weeks to save up the money for the parts and get friends to bring them over, especially since Mom wouldn't let me use the car. Once I got it ready, I was able to hook up with the hacker club at my school to get this awesome homebrew operating system and get it connected to the Internet so I could start learning how to write my own programs. Since Limina controlled nearly the entire tech market, there weren't that many other options if you wanted to work your own way outside of that.
Once someone knocked on the restroom door to ask if I was okay, I realized that Xyra had probably said whatever she needed to, and whether she had or not, getting stuck on the past like that was pointless and I needed to come out and face reality. I knew that Likuxi and Krayla stayed with the temple for their Lifuirs so they were probably dead. I wondered what had happened to the others. They came of age after me. Did they go on journeys, or go to college? Did they get out? Were they still working on pursuing their dreams? Their numbers were still in my phone. Right next to my mom's. Sometimes I still called her just to vent about my day, even though I knew no one was there to listen. Maybe one day someone would answer, or go through the messages and be glad I was alive. I wasn't even sure if the phone was still intact or I was just getting an animum-distorted memory of a past signal. Occasionally I could hear a shred of her answering machine message against all the distortion and static. I cherished whatever fragments of her voice I could get. I'd heard in class that all the distortion was the result of animum outflow interfering with transmission. I wanted to say that in whatever dimension the rift went to, she was still alive, but that was stupid. If the myths about Likoa I wasn't allowed to hear in school had any truth in them whatsoever, it was a world of infinite pain, solely inhabited by creatures with too many legs and sharp teeth, sometimes actually on their legs. A Dragite wouldn't last a day.
I hadn't actually left the restroom. Got stuck in my head again. It turned out I didn't need to, because the trio barged right in through the door to come get me.
"There you are! What the hell were you doing in there?" Rii smirked at me like she'd caught me doing something scandalous. I didn't understand.
"Gyah! Better question is what you're doing in here. This is a single-stall restroom!"
"You left the door unlocked. Better not do that. It's gonna get you killed one day. You should consider yourself lucky. Least I didn't catch you in the act."
"Can we do this meeting somewhere else and turn the topic away from my bowel movements, please?"
"Aight. Talked to your boss. Is what she said about taking you in out of the goodness of her heart true? If that's the case, you've got some pretty sweet digs here. You know, I bet she likes you. You should totally pursue that line of questioning, if you know what I mean."
"I don't. And the 'digs' are not sweet in any way. They are quite bitter, in fact."
"Heh. You're weird. I like you."
Did she even remember when she first met me and was honestly willing to insist that she was a disaster? Maybe this was her roleplaying persona as a way to escape from the pain. Or maybe this was her true self without Pacisu in the way. As a group, we traveled towards the lobby in awkward silence. As I opened my mouth in preparation to make a fool of myself, the lightning one interrupted my train of thought.
"So, I had a few questions about this campaign. So, since the Shadowlawn disaster has been pulled into it, are we going to be incorporating newscasts and research on it into the game? Because I found this analysis of artifacts from the rift that looks interesting." She rapidly produced her phone, pulling up a webpage that had roughly the same graphic design as the Occult Club members' gotos. "Also, I've heard that the rift has been attributed to this evil Incarnation named Likoa. Are we going to get to fight her? Aren't we going to need power boosts for that? If that's the case, I assume it isn't going to affect future continuity. After all, getting that amount of power into our characters would be kinda OP. Or I guess maybe we could ally with Vipheriv and Xinonix...but there's 4 of us, what do the other two get? I've got this elemental powers concept I was hoping we'd be able to use..."
"Stop. Talking. Please." Every word coming out of my mouth was accented with sharp breaths as my heart began beating out of any semblance of time signatures, only focused on getting blood through my body as fast as possible. My muscles tensed as my eyes narrowed on her. They were smiling at me, seemingly in awe of my "acting", and breathed in before getting started on another tirade. They hadn't heard a word I said or perceived any of my cues.
"Dude, I love your whole pretty boy aesthetic; it's just like the villain in this Insulan show I'm watching. It's just getting Draggan fan subtitles now, I can send you the link. See, he's the guardian of these super powerful ancient artifacts, which his family's done for generations, but he's the chosen one and can unlock their true powers, and he's got white hair just like you. He's also got this super cool backstory, his entire family died in a monster battle so now he wants to end it for everyone and establish his own state to try to keep everyone safe, but actually just wants to do that so he'll be worshipped as a god--"
They blinked a couple of times before they, and the rest of the trio, blankly stared at me. My entire body was physically vibrating with rage at this point. It took all the regulation I had in my body not to release my headband and let it rip. The light on my power limiter was flashing white on the next-to-last segment.
"This isn't a game! This isn't roleplaying! This isn't an animu or whatever the fuck they're called! Why can't you get out of your own heads and your power fantasies and your poorly designed webpages and face reality for once in your goddamn lives? This is real. People have died. People are dying, and they'll keep dying if we don't do something about it! Whatever is going to come out of those rifts could damn near destroy the world, and I think you've got way better things to worry about than your characters. This is real life. This is a real disaster. If you can't take it seriously, get the fuck out and stop mocking people's suffering." Over the course of that rant, my voice moved from a primal scream to an ice cold dissection of everything I'd observed from this trio. If this is the team I'm supposed to save the world with, might as well let my inner void do its thing.
The trio were no longer blankly staring at me. In fact, they were staring in alarm at the light on my power limiter, which was on the last segment and flashing bright red. The hole in my face was glowing brightly enough to block most of my vision, and apparently my headband had snapped, leaving my hair in full tendril mode. Eventually, all of the light from my head, the power limiter, and the room itself went dark before I screamed as an array of searing bursts of white light emanated from the hole in my face, completely annihilating the outfit I was wearing. Fragments of metal from my power limiter and shreds of fabric all got sucked into black tendrils that emerged from my back. Alarm bells began sounding throughout the building, without any of the soft harmonization of the doorbell.
"Animum containment systems are approaching their limits. All personnel should evacuate as soon as possible in a calm and orderly fashion."
Through the flashing bands of white, I could see Xyra gathering the trio and herding them out the front door and torrents of guards and scientists exiting with them, the latter still carrying their half-finished projects. I tried to move and couldn't. I felt a massive weight on my shoulders and all around me. I was frozen in my standing position. I was trapped. I couldn't feel any blood in my body. I heard a crack as the ceiling began to buckle and the sound of slabs of glass hitting each other. It would have been like a windchime had it not been utterly discordant. The last thing I remember hearing was shattering glass and crumbling drywall before everything faded into a haze of pain, or rather, the conspicuous absence thereof. Maybe if I can’t physically feel pain, my brain will make its own.
I woke up on a blank concrete slab of foundation, surrounded by a black stain that I thought was a burn before feeling it and looking down at my body. That was blood, or whatever was in my body in its place. The rest of the Limina complex spread out behind me, completely dark and seemingly deserted, but the only record that the lobby ever existed was a couple of shards of broken glass and twisted metal, the former stained on their tips with the same black stuff that surrounded me. I blinked my eyes and adjusted my vision to the dark. It was apparently night at this point. I couldn't see any stars, or even the glare of downtown Pulklita that should have been around me. The moon was seemingly covered by clouds. Everything above was completely black. Was I dead? Was this the afterlife? The void? Likoa's dimension? Everyone at the temple said that there was no such thing as life after death, that your soul just got recycled into Likoa and your body rotted. But what would happen if I didn't have a soul, only a void shaped like one? Even worse, what if this was Dragga, and me and the empty complex were all that remained?
Xyra looked down at me, the concerned faces of the trio and a couple of doctors behind her. "Okay, folks, he's alive. Hey, pretty boy. Don't worry. The lobby's obviously done for and we don't have void insurance, but the animum processing systems prevented damage to the rest of the building and everyone else got out okay. The redirected outflow ended up taking out power to the city, but that should come back any time. Some grocery stores will need to restock, but it's no big deal, all the hospitals and stuff have backup generators. So if you're thinking about being some sort of abomination alone in the ruins of the world you destroyed, forget it."
"What happened to me? Why am I lying in a pool of my own blood? And why did you just bring doctors here instead of taking me to the hospital?"
"I needed to. When the chandelier fell, you were surrounded by something I can only describe as a void bubble. I don't think anyone could touch you, let alone get you into an ambulance. But the bubble didn't cover everything, so a lot of glass shards ended up slicing up your arms and tail. You were lucky you didn't get caught in anything squishier. Had one of those hit your eye or any vital organs, you'd be done for. It's a grisly scene, but you should be okay. Once you passed out, the void subsided and the doctors were able to get you patched up. They didn't really need to do much, most of your cuts healed pretty quick. You could actually see the scales regrowing. For the record, I'm pretty sure this black fluid is mostly animum. While there may still be some blood in there, it seems that it regenerates damage quickly, closer to the patterns of souls than any physical systems. Not even sure if given that, you could die via normal means anymore, but I'd rather not find out. You're truly a creature of limitless potential, eh, pretty boy? I'll get the tech department working on a new power limiter."
I was too stunned to say anything. I was glad no one had gotten hurt, but she'd basically confirmed that I was no longer a Dragite in any recognizable sense so much as a vessel for the void. But maybe that didn't matter. I still had my mind, didn't I? And if animum and bodies can be so easily changed, isn't that the only part that I can really claim is "me"? The trio approached me, each of their faces carrying varying degrees of sheer awe, relief, and mortal terror.
"Why did you stay? This is something completely outside of what you think you signed up for."
The lightning one laughed a little bit. "Dude, that was fucking awesome. Yeah, I was obviously scared and it's super freaky to know that stuff like this is real, but do you really think we're gonna miss out on something this cool? When that chandelier broke, and all those flashes of light as the city skyline darkened around us and the walls crumbled? Better cinematics than anything I've ever seen. Bring on the dimensional rifts! Sayendrix is coming at them!"
The blue one was rapidly scrolling on their phone, their eyes widening with every passing second. "Fascinating...it broke the scale. These overflow errors suggest that the power released in that event was..."
Rii turned towards them. "Hurika, I get that you're doing research and that it's super cool that you got an external animum reader for your phone, but you should say something to the nice man surrounded by rubble."
"Oh. Yes. I am Hurika. I am interested in animum phenomena and was added to this role playing group in an attempt to get me to 'lighten up'. What you have just demonstrated is beyond the grasp of modern science, and it is my job to wield the gauntlet that gets it into the aforementioned grasp. I would be honored to work with you and Limina on a research team. Also, I am...glad that you are alive and that we did not all die or get consumed by a widening void along with the rest of our dimension."
Rii was the last one to approach me. "Hey, you. You've cleaned up nicely since I found you on the side of the road. Still just as inclined to breaking glass in your angstfits, I see."
"You do remember."
"Of course I do. How could I ever forget your whole hero complex? Trying to 'save' me from Paki based on one conversation you saw out of context. It's stupid, but your ideals are good, and I respect that. I'll join your team. Not only do I not want to miss out on raining fire and destruction upon some funky extradimensional critters, but I find you interesting. You're always going to try to do what's right, even if you don't really know what you're doing. Also, you can call me Researchy."
Xyra turned toward all of us, picking up shards of broken glass as she slithered into position. "Well, then, now that we're all acquainted, and that you're acquainted with the extent of Xiampe's situation and his role in this team, are you prepared for a duty completely outside of anything anyone on Dragga has ever previously known? Are you ready to stare down absolute oblivion and fight on anyway? If that is the case, I welcome you to your new roles as consultants for Limina. I will see about getting you a facility. You all live in Eyendaru, yes?"
The trio all nodded before turning towards me. They gathered in a roughly circular formation and each member put their hands in the center. Researchy gestured at me to join in and I placed myself between her and Hurika. "Come on. It's a team bonding ritual I learned from some Insulan movie. On my signal, we all yell 'So what', got it?"
I nodded, unsure what exactly was about to happen, but that whatever it was, it was going to be cool.
Researchy yelled, her crisp voice echoing across the now relit skyline and the now empty slab that used to be the Limina complex's lobby. "What do we say to the threat of death, of destruction, of absolute fucking oblivion?" She raised her hand along with the rest in unison, which appeared to be the signal she was talking about.
We all yelled as one, and I felt something I hadn't since I was at the diner with my friends from the Occult Club.
Neat = I can't afford to slip up in anything. Not with a hole in reality literally cut into my back. Researchy calls me a control freak, but it's just a word people like her use for people who get things done.
Shy = It's best for everyone involved, including me, if I keep my distance except professionally. Can't really have friends if you might annihilate them. I used to love having friends back when I was younger, but Xyra's right. I'm a liability to everyone else and an asset to Limina, and the best way I can do that is alone.
Active = I have neither the time nor the desire to relax. Any moment I am not either getting something done to better understand and deal with the world I've ended up in is a wasted one.
Serious = Sometimes a bit of sarcasm can be fun, but when I need to stay on-task, I don't take kindly to distractions.
Neutral = I do what I do to help people. Even those who don't necessarily deserve it. I appreciate everyone as a concept and want to protect whatever I can, but I don't take kindly to anyone who doesn't understand what they're talking about or doesn't listen to those who do.
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Art By Enforcer
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"Hello, Thorn. Let's make this quick and painless, okay? I just want to ask you some questions about how you work and your relationship with Paki."
"Well, I can tell you that before I left, I saw your dead mom sucking Likoa's--"
Xiampe briefly lifted his headscarf and a blast of energy shot the small chaos entity into the wall. As creatures of pure animum, physical damage didn't really stick to them, but chaos entities still felt it enough to get the point. Xiampe put his headscarf down and let out a sigh. The chaos entity, after returning to its position across the table from him, remained motionless. Since these critters only communicated telepathically, they didn't move while they talked. Despite having studied them for months, Xiampe still couldn't help but find it unnerving.
"Number 1, that's a reference to an Insulan horror movie. Number 2, it doesn't make any sense in Dragite cultural context. Number 3, neither Incarnations nor chaos entities have that body part."
"So, what's the sitch, pretty boy?"
"Don't call me that."
"All right. 'Void Boy' it is, then."
"Is refusing to refer to anyone by name Paki or you?"
"I don't really mess with her head that much. It's, like, 95% Paki, 5% me. I can't make her do anything she doesn't already want to. But I can mess with what she wants. You know how she likes to say I 'feed on hatred'?"
"Well, she's got the gist, but it's not wholly accurate. Emotions aren't real. They're not a thing someone can eat. They're just chemicals and signals in your brains."
"So are thoughts. How can you communicate telepathically if you can't use animum to manipulate brain signals?"
"I don't really know how it works. It's just a thing I do. Do you think about the exact mechanics of how you breathe? The thought thing is probably the same system as whatever the hell gets Insulan ideas to y'all over your computers. Anyway, as you'd better know, mental states can change someone's animum field and vice versa."
"Yes. I've theorized that you'd be able feed on normal animum fields in Distortion, but here, a Dragite needs to experience hatred or malice to get their animum close enough to your dimension's encoding that you can process it. So you can use your native animum to push someone more in that direction."
"Pretty much. Like, your soul juices when you're not mad smell familiar, but it's just not right. There's too much there. Like how y'all have a bad time with unfiltered water. I think it's that Likoa and y'all's Incarnations are made out of the same stuff, but Likoa is so fucked up that it fucked up our whole world's vibe so now we don't resonate with y'all unless you're pissed."
"You know, save the swearing, you're actually remarkably eloquent when you're away from Paki. That's what our myths say too -- if there can only be one Incarnation of Chaos, then Xinonix and Likoa need to be made out of the same stuff, so Lixoa made Xi out of the debris Likoa left behind. If Likoa's emotional states are anything like those of Dragites and all of Distortion is her animum field..."
"Seeing as you're not going to put up with my shit and if I tried possessing you, your void would fry me, I don't get any benefit out of being mean to you. If I tell you everything I know, we'll never have to do this again."
"That's the spirit. So, how come you need to manipulate Dragite emotions to sustain yourself and DW can just use environmental animum?"
"There's enough usable animum here that I could keep my body up, but in case you haven't noticed, I'm fucking tiny and I don't have limbs or anything. Which really pisses me off because all the other chaos entities have way too many of them! Come on, look at ZKDP! 4 or 6 I could get, but 8 is just excessive. Point is, I can survive off environmental animum, but I need a stronger field in order to thrive."
"You know, the little kid with all the legs and the ear mouths. Guess y'all call her DW."
"Can you tell me more about how you use animum?"
"Okay, so you know all of those little dudes growing out of Paki's back who are like me but dumber?"
"Is my hypothesis right that those are how your species reproduces?"
"Bingo! Normally, in Distortion, we latch onto some more powerful critter as part of our life cycle. We only stay in rose mode until we find a host. Then we get them in a moment of weakness, merge with their body completely which gives them the plant powers, and eventually start pushing them to think and vibe more like we do until we totally take control of their body. The extra mouths help by giving more little voices in their head and animum pulses. Also, the more the host's animum is turned toward us, the bigger and nastier the other mouths get until they break off, slither away, and more little KRXTs enter the world."
"That's...horrifying. But edifying. So, why are you referring to other chaos entities with 4-letter strings? Are those your names?"
"Designations by, I guess, species is the word y'all would use. The letters are the closest thing y'all can sense. Normally that info would come from feeling how many times your animum cycles per second. You get 4 pulses if you're a normal entity like the ones who can come through here, 5 if you're really hardcore, and 6 if you're a direct servant of Likoa itself. Dragites have...maybe a pulse every 2 minutes. Your employees get one every 30 seconds; great job on messing with them like that, by the way, and I don't know what's going on with you. I can't feel any pulses. It's just a single continuous stream. Freaky. Even Likoa's got some rhythm to her."
"Huh. I'll have to relay that to Xyra. If we can figure out how to detect that, we can finally get a better measurement for animum power level. Thanks for the info. So, Paki's vine mouths haven't gotten any bigger or nastier and you are noticeably not merged with her body. What's up with that?"
"I'm made of animum. You're made of slowly rotting meat. It's not really compatible. I tried to merge with Paki and she just got covered in wood grain. I don't really know what happened there. She's supposed to look like she usually does, but with me attached to her. Then she'd slowly start looking more like me. Maybe she still looks like herself, but colored to match me because I'm so much stronger than a Dragite that I completely overwhelmed her soul but can't mess with her flesh?"
"Bizarre. So you think she's some sort of fusion of flesh and animum at this point?"
"Yeah. Something like that. As to the mouths...even when she's utterly consumed by malice, she just doesn't give off enough animum to make them grow any more than they have. They're probably going to stay like that forever, and if she ever stopped being an asshole or I unlinked from her, they'd wither away and die."
"So I'm noticing that even you, a being who literally feeds on hatred, consider Paki abnormally mean. Do you...like her at all? How do you think about your relationship?"
"Oh, sometimes she scares me. I've stopped messing with her head at all save talking to her through the link. I tried back when we'd first teamed up and she destroyed a taco place and nearly killed her girlfriend. I'm not down for that! I don't consider your lives to really matter, but getting imprisoned would seriously interfere with my animum flow."
"I'm still wondering if she would be better off if we had left you two to the Dragite authorities. But if it's a problem involving a chaos entity that threatens the safety of Veritas or its citizens, then..."
"I don't really know how she feels about me. Sometimes she's petting me and treating me like her best friend and pet and sometimes she throws me against the wall or tries to crush me whenever she gets mad that there were consequences for her actions. I feel like the only reason she didn't destroy things without me is that she didn't have anyone else to pin it on."
"Well. That would make sense given her history of abusive behavior in previous relationships. I'd think that even Paki would realize that messing around like that with a chaos entity of unknown power is a bad idea, but I'm probably giving her too much credit."
"At least I can fight back. The vine mouths are technically all separate beings, Paki's even been giving them names, but they're still mostly under my control so when she tries to hurt me, I can make them start biting her back. Of course, when she gets really mad at me, she takes that drug that cuts off her animum flow, which really sucks. I'm so used to her sheer hatred that all of the nuance of this dimension's normal fields actually hurts now."
"Holy shit...aren't you mentally linked? Wouldn't hurting you hurt her?"
"I don't know at this point. I'm not totally sure that she feels it, or maybe she does and just decides to take it out on me. And if she cuts off my animum flow with that stuff, the link breaks anyway. But, like, I can't leave. I know that if I wasn't attached to a Dragite, y'all would kill me and who else is going to feed me?"
"Wow. You really do sound like Researchy. I'm sorry, little dude. You may be a little shit and also an abomination from another world, but no one deserves that. Also, it looks like I need to search Paki's room again."
"It's in the air vent. Anything else you want to know?"
"No, I think...that'll be it. Thank you."
"Heh. She never says that."
From this thread on FR
1. What is your characters' job, if any?
He's the leader of WHAT, an organization that contains and researches extradimensional entities as a subdivision of Limina, Dragga's largest tech and animum research company and totally not evil.2. Do they have any superpowers?
Yes, but they don't want them. Due to an incident with a coming-of-age ritual gone wrong, they're linked to the Void, which results in holes in their face and body that continually produce animum and can annihilate anything. He can use the animum production to give others superpowers, which is pretty cool, but the latter part means that it'll tear him apart if not properly managed, plus it serves as a reminder of how a dimensional rift destroyed his hometown and binds him to Xyra's service because nobody else has the slightest idea of how he works.3. What is their favourite kind of tea?
I can't quite decide how Dragga's plant life works, although I consider it pretty Earth-like. He'd probably like hot citrusy tea because he's known to like orange, or some citrus-ish Draggan fruit that gets adequately translated as such because I refuse to make up too many words.4. Do they prefer card games or board games?
Card games; he's good at math and prefers it to having to judge others' motivations or pure chance.5. How was your OC born? (Naturally, artificial, magical..)
Naturally. Their father left as soon as he was conceived to go find himself, though, so he was raised solely by his mom and religious congregation.6. What is their favourite childhood memory?
The time his mom drove him down to the big downtown urban center for a programming competition hosted by his open-source software idol, at which he got a T-shirt that's his favorite to this day. He hasn't worn it since the incident, though, because it got torn apart by the void hole ripped in his back. He still has shreds of it, though, which he keeps in a box in his room no one else is ever allowed to see or open.7. What is their favourite item of clothing?
Other than his favorite T-shirt that got destroyed, he's not really emotionally attached to any of his clothes. The one he wears most frequently is his headscarf because the void hole in his face makes his hair levitate and he refuses to be any more anime than he has to be. Also, that makes it very hard to see.8. If your character could have any (other) superpower, what would they choose?
They'd much rather be a vanilla Dragite because their superpowers are substantially linked to the worst event of their life, but in a hypothetical sense, being able to rewind or stop time would be cool.9. Is your OC allergic to anything?
Dust. It's one of many reasons why he's pretty cleanly.10. What is their least favourite flavor?
He's been soured on meat sandwiches ever since he got the news of his hometown being destroyed while eating one. For sensory purposes, though, he's never been fond of coffee. It's too bitter.11. If you have 2 or multiple characters, how did they meet?
In reference to the other kids in my main OC verse...
Researchy & Pacoro -- He first met them when Researchy brought him in after he passed out in a field in Eyendaru after his coming of age party, somehow. Then he got reintroduced to Researchy when she answered the ad to join WHAT.
Xyra -- She abducted him offered him a lucrative job opportunity with Limina after the dimensional rift incident.
Sayendrix & Hurika -- They came with Researchy to answer the ad for joining WHAT. That Xyra put out without telling Xiampe.12. What was their first kind of pet?
The religious congregation he grew up didn't allow keeping pets because their belief is that Dragite souls were created by Likoa, the real Incarnation of Chaos, but Animites (I need a better name for these critters but can't think of one) are the result of Xinonix and Xinonix alone, making them functionally spiritual parasites.13. Would they prefer Minecraft or Terraria?
Earth pop culture actually exists in their verse because they were able to intercept the signals from a plane of pure ideas. The religious congregation Xiampe grew up in hates it because the only real alternate world in their belief is Likoa's world. Some of his childhood friends got into comic books and got severely reprimanded for it, so he wouldn't be comfortable playing either of them due to pent-up guilt. If he did, though, he'd probably prefer Terraria since from the little I've heard, it has more RPG mechanics and more of a plot and he likes having objectives.14. What is their special interest/hyperfixation?
Computers, specifically open-source software and homebrewed systems. He was very into programming as a kid and built his own computer.15. What is their biggest fear?
The dimensional rift that swallowed his hometown swallowing the rest of his world and/or the entity he used to worship as a deity coming out of it and murdering everyone.16. What is on their bucket list?
While courtesy of the trauma and Xyra blackmailing him, the only meaningful goal he can think of is getting rid of that damned dimensional rift and getting her out of his life. Before the incident, his long-term goal was to code his own operating system.17. What is their style, and why? (For clarification: I meant clothing. Goth, punk etc. as example)
Whatever he has to think about least. He's had the jacket he's wearing now for as long as he can remember.18. Which Pokemon starter would they choose? (Original 3, or any)
I've previously mentioned that he wouldn't be interested in it in-universe, but in terms of vibes, probably Oshawott or Sobble.19. What is their favourite hexcode color? (Opposed to just red/blue etc.)
Dark red, around #500b0b.20. Do they prefer peach or lemon ice tea? (Trying to prove a point >:3)
Lemon, I've already established that he likes citrus.21. Which is their favourite FR breed?
Bogsneak. Science.22. Do they have any scars? If yes, how did they get them?
Unless the metaphysical holes in his back and face count, the only thing he has is a very small burn scar on his left second finger from soldering.23. Do they have any tattoos? If yes, do they mean anything?
No.24. What kind of Tumblr blog would they have? (Theme?)
One of those obscenely annoying open source software blogs where he'll talk about how all mainstream platforms are totally teh suckzors and some substitute you need to manually set up and have never heard of will revolutionize the software world.25. If they could get any additional body parts, what would they get? (Tail, wings, or even just more arms etc.)
Extra arms, provided they also got the brain adjustments to adequately control them.26. What kind of music does your character listen to?
Loud and abrasive electronic music and he'll probably screech at you if you refer to it as "techno" or "dubstep". (I don't actually know that much about electronic music so I can't tell you what it would be called)27. Which game-role would fit your character the most? (Tank, support, damage dealer, mage etc.)
Mage, or the equivalent in a technology-based game.28. Does your character prefer to write digital or traditional? (Ex.: Prefer paper or computer?)
Digital. He is a computer guy.29. Which trait does your character dislike the most? (About themself?)
His failure to protect those he cares about (of course, it's not like he could have stopped a dimensional rift, but C-PTSD is a jerk). Also, his lack of physical strength.30. Which trait does your character like the most about themself?
His skill with technology and research.