Just as the lonely reality between waking and sleep, there is nothing.
Above, there is only darkness. It reaches its claws into infinity, holding the horizon as its eternal hostage, and bleeds far below into a lifeless expanse of shadow. There are no stars above, nothing to guide one’s way through the emptiness, nothing to light the way and show what is ahead.
It is cold, like the early chill of a winter come too soon. Though there is no wind to howl in this empty place, no clouds to carry icy rain, the harsh bite cascades in rivulets over any who dare try to force their mortal selves over the chasm between worlds. It is as if nothing exists, and yet everything at once, in a way that is beyond comprehension.
It dredges feelings from a place that cannot be found, for a time that isn’t yet known. Something just out of reach, something yearned for, that which isn’t meant for the one wishing to find it. The void calls with its siren voice, promises of warmth and everything one could ever wish for; its shadows a swirling vortex, drawing in the gaze of its intruder and hoping to break his will.
He does not bend.
Nothing more than a mere speck of red upon the vast drop into eternity, his path forced where the void does not want it. With trembling hands, he places another stone, drawing his way into the forbidden land piece by piece. When he leans past to look below, his horns scrape against the path he has made, and he nearly startles himself into falling.
He would never return if he were to fall. It’s how the powerful deal with the unruly; stripped of that which he searches for, thrown into the unknown without regard and never to be seen again. The void consumes the damned, the brave, and the foolish.
Of the three, he isn’t sure which he is. He may be all of them.
But he won’t join the souls forever lost to wander in darkness. He places another stone, and drags his body another inch over the chasm. Time does not flow properly in this place, and for all he knows, he may have been here for years; with years yet to go, crawling over the greatest defence the higher beings could have. He will continue on for eternity, if he has to.
After all, at the end of nothing - that is where he will find everything.
When he is first invited, he is too nervous to accept. What if they take one look at him, and can see past the glamour? What if they see him for what he truly is beneath his stolen guise; something that doesn’t belong? He is too scared of backlash, to have stripped of him what he fought so hard to attain. He doesn’t accept.
But for whatever reason, the invitation arrives again. And the prospect of a possible home, of somewhere to belong, is hard to resist a second time. His anxiety isn’t enough to quell the interest, the rising hope. It may all go wrong, it may crumble beneath his feet and plummet him right again back to the depths of his own damnation; but until that happened, he would see the sky.
Grian accepts before he can talk himself out of it again, and before he knows it, he’s traveling to his new community. It’s all based on a lie, he knows; they’ve invited him thinking he’s an angel, awed by his builds and for once not seeing him only as a trickster demon. When they eventually find out the truth, he fears what they will do to him, his mind conjuring pictures of horror over and over of what his fate could be at the hands of those he will lie to. His nerves are frayed by the time he arrives, and stepping onto the grass with a dozen eyes turning to look at him is one of the scariest moments of his life.
It feels like the air is too thick, and he can’t breathe as the one that invited him - Xisuma, he thinks - approaches him. He’s terrified they can all see right past the glamour, that they are already plotting ways to be rid of him or turn him in for what he’s done. The wings folded on his back feel like a dead weight, burning against his skin with the heat of his crimes. He is an imposter; he does not belong.
Xisuma welcomes him. The others, those he has yet to know their names, chime in. They sound happy to see him, genuinely wanting him as a part of their group. They can’t see past the glamour, after all, and finally he can breathe. It might be fine. Maybe it will go well, maybe he can keep up the facade, and forge lasting friendships in a home he can call his own.
Finally feeling as if he can relax, he starts to become comfortable in his new environment. Xisuma introduces him to each of his new companions, hopefully soon to be friends; they’re an odd bunch, to be sure, but they seem to have a particular charm about them, and he can already pick out some of their personalities. Right in front of his eyes, he witnesses as Cub and Scar immediately pull out a map and begin discussing things he doesn’t quite grasp, plans too complex for him to do much more than blink in confusion. Behind them, Iskall and Stress start pulling faces, mocking them only to act completely innocent when the two with the map turn around.
Turning from that scene, Grian finds there are already more shenanigans to witness. Zedaph has run off into the woods yelling that he’s going to kill the dragon, while some of the others watch him go and ask each other if he’s serious. Grian fights off a tremor, remembering the dragon he fought alone; it wasn’t a task he’d wish on anyone, though Zedaph seems quite determined. The rest of the crowd begins to disperse, venturing out to find where they will set up their new homes, and Xisuma hands him a map like the one Scar was holding before he, too, disappears in a random direction.
It seems it’s all gone well; he’s been welcomed, and already, he’s finding he really likes these strange people. That makes the prospect of being found out and losing it all that much scarier, but that’s a problem for future Grian, he decides. Taking a deep breath, he lets the tension fully melt from his shoulders.
“Hey, Grian, right?” A voice from behind him makes him tense all over again, something about it sounding familiar and sending an uncomfortable twitch through his wings. Slowly, he turns, afraid of what he’ll see. “I’m glad you’ve joined us.”
And afraid he should be; he’s met with the sight of a man in the most dapper suit he’s ever seen, who towers over him in height. His hand is extended for a friendly greeting, a smile on his face that Grian can’t tell is fake or not. That’s not what scares him, though. The thing that actually sends a rush of ice through his blood is the purple markings on the newcomer’s face - a telltale sign of an angel. Worse yet, there are no wings resting on this man’s back.
The weight of his lies rest ever heavier, and he can do nothing but timidly shake the hand offered to him. He feels another twitch at the contact; his stolen wings know exactly who their real master is.
This isn’t going to end well.