In a dead and dying kingdom, decay was no stranger. The little Knight had long since accepted this fact, having wandered and crawled and fought through every crevice they found after descending from the sand-beaten cliffs to the west. Dead and dying, but whose perished still walked, manipulated by strings of golden, burning light. Dead and dying, but housing some who refused to fall, who fought tooth and nail for their lives and livelihood.
Ghost had seen and experienced the dead and their burning anger, and the not dead and their unwillingness to kneel and die. They had fought for what was theirs no matter how many wanted to take it from them—and if they had fallen, they came back. They still had much to do. They had not yet answered the cry that brought them back. They wouldn’t accept darkness’ embrace, not yet.
(And their own darkness always lashed at them whenever they finally found or summoned it. Was it anger that they had fallen and prolonged the answer to the call? Anger that they had been hurt and were still hurting and wanted to rest? Anger at the world for hurling such terrible burdens on them, who knew not the reason, who only wanted to respond to the wail that resonated like nothing else had inside their empty chest? Anger, for the simple sake of rage itself?)
The beating of wings and unsteady steps had long since fallen silent, exchanged for the shuffling of thorny vines rubbing against each other and those strange, quiet little armored creatures in their set, endless patrols, who weren’t ever aggressive. The metal bench, ornated with delicate patterns, was a comfort to finally rest upon, giving them a time to regain their breath and wind down.
Ghost’s little claws clinked against their charms as they switched them around, simply tracing the designs with curious fingers. A trusted one changed for another more fitting for exploring this new area, a new one regarded carefully with empty eyes that caught every blemish and scratch and discoloration caused by time and use, and appreciating it all the more for the life it had held and the help it could grant.
Their gaze lifted from their collection and fell on the path, the overgrown vines that made walking impossible, but hanging just low enough that they could summon the power of the crafted crystal device to shoot onwards until they found a ledge. It was dark, and not merely from the lack of lanterns or contained lumaflies. The darkness they could nearly taste was much too familiar, much too close, even if they couldn’t put their finger on why.
They set the map on their lap and brought out the quill, taking a moment to run their fingers along the soft end before starting to scratch away at the scroll, adding details to the paths they had seen and modifying those they recalled. Ghost didn’t stay still for long, restless by a feeling in their chest, a call different than the bellow they had followed back to Hallownest.
They gathered their items into the folds of their cloak and stood up, facing the danger ahead and shooting onwards.
They finally—finally, thank goodness—managed to crawl out of the hole they had fallen into, traces of orange marring the hem of their cloak and staining their Nail, and they flailed their arm a little to shake off the lingering sensation of burning blobs that had managed to singe at their carapace. Blessed silence after the constant spewing of bright globs and the skittering of tiny, corrupted seeds. Finding a small opening they could pry wider to pass through was also a great comfort, more so when the tunnel opened to reveal familiar spikes and the fallen corpse of a Shadow Creeper they had slain earlier.
A rest would be welcome, but there was something nudging at the edges of their conscience, like a ghost they could almost distinguish tugging faintly at their cloak and making them turn back and explore further. Like a ghost, they followed silently.
Ghost, who had arrived and dived into a dead and dying kingdom, was no stranger to decay and to corpses and to the unfairness of a war waged between two Beings with too much power, but who kept using others as the pawns of their game. They had seen bugs skewered by raging puppets, had seen loyal guardians twisted into deadly sentinels, had seen the bodies of those who had run into danger and not been fast enough to escape.
They had seen, once, a body similar to their own in the overflowing life of Greenpath, with a mask cracked and a Nail driven straight through their chest and a dusty and semi-tattered cloak. They had listened to the gentle tugging there too, allowed their hands carefully pluck the cloak from the corpse and draped it around their own shoulders; they had almost not realized they were the one doing it, and bowed their head in shame and gratitude and sadness for something that was familiar but long gone. At the time, they didn’t have words for half of those feelings.
They had seen, maybe, a body and mask identical to their own in the dim tunnels of Deepnest, something they thought could have been a trick of the eyes or of the place itself, as it had proven treacherous time and time again, with nicks and leaking void to show for it. The image almost made a word, a feeling, come to their mind—a sensation of familiarity, but with something so wrong about it the fog on their memories refused to budge. Nevertheless, Ghost had tried to follow it only to lose it in the darkness of the tunnels—and the fall to a hot spring, if memory served right.
Ghost was, now, in front of a body like their own, but bigger, rested against a rock in the path like...
Like someone tired, resting for a moment.
Like someone set aside, to clear the path and not disturb them further.
Like someone abandoned without fanfare after they fell.
They had seen plenty of corpses around, hardly any with so much as a gift of farewell to the departed, or even buried for that matter. Then, why did it hurt? Why did their chest felt like a Nail had been driven into it at the sight of someone like them, left in such a dead and forgotten place, where even the air tasted stale and sad.
(Maybe that was why. This one didn’t even have the comfort of life continuing around it, not like the one in Greenpath with flowers and plants teeming about, not like the one in Deepnest, who seemed to still be...)
Ghost’s steps stuttered before they finally approached, little claws extracting no sound as they tapped against the hard stone floor, giving a wide berth to the cracking Nail casted near the body. This one had a mask cracked from one side to the eye socket, with a big missing piece where a horn could have been, as well as a long cloak that hide them completely from view. Even still, they could see the stains of void along the length of it, blobs that had not been able to dissipate.
Ghost had learned something about the void that filled them in their travels: when they got hurt and it dripped from them, it vanished very easily like shadows to the light, if they left a trail or a print it would not be there in short enough notice... unless the quantity spilled was too much. Then, it stained whatever was trying to hold it, and those didn’t fade as easily.
Their chest ached with a sadness they couldn’t quite name, their head bowing and a silent apology rippling inside them. (What for? They didn’t do this, and they couldn’t have prevented it.)
The tunnel still continued and something kept nudging them in that direction. They stood. When they had nearly reached the mouth of the tunnel, they heard it.
Skittering of the smallest kind made them wince and turn with their Nail at the ready, having hear it far too often on the tunnel here—not dangerous by itself, but seeming to foretell the approach of something bad. Ghost could see the tiny lightseeds approaching in a mad dash, their glowing insides making them difficult to miss.
They saw one singular lightseed rush ahead from the others—and approach the lonely corpse resting against the rock. Ghost jolted and ran forward, horrified at seeing it skitter up the cloak, the mask, and dig itself straight into the hollowed skull, the low orange glow visible through the eyeholes. They swung their Nail at a second one that had tried to follow with so much ferocity they would have sent it sailing had their claws not been a death grip.
A wave of orange blobs kept coming, their little skittering continuous even as they slain every single one they could, sending splashes of infection flying through the air and splattering the hard stone. They struggled against the seemly endless onslaught, trying to keep them away, trying to stop them all, trying—
The lightseeds still came, still clambered to join the first through every opening in Ghost’s stance and the gaping hole in the mask. Ghost tried. They tried, they tried, they tried—
Viciously slashing what appeared to be the tail-end of the lightseeds flow, they froze as they heard a sound behind them.
Shadows whispered, void flinched away at intruding light digging into its space, trying to smother it. It pushed against boundaries and forced movements out of them.
A mournful thought still rung in the shade tethered to the mask, unable to find release from either. Unable now to take its rightful place inside, with the light heralding the seeds digging under their tired carapace.
Ghost stared at the Broken Vessel, reanimated by the glowing orange blob that nearly spilled from their mask, movements jerking like strings pulled by a clumsy, inexperienced puppeteer—or an unwilling puppet trying to fight back with locked joints. It jerked forward in a crawl, a hand closing around the hilt of the long discarded Nail with too much force, digging the tip into the ground. They took a step back.
Orange burned from inside the broken mask, it rose to its knees, claws dragging uncomfortably against the stone as it got its feet under itself, lost to sight under the too long, tattered cloak stained with black and orange. The burning eyes stared at the knight.
They were nearly blinded by light behind their eyes, blurring whatever little remnants of sight they had beyond the orange glow, pounding against the inside of their head like a drum.
They felt the skittering inside their shell, tried still to fight back against it and against the despondence from a battle they had long lost.
Let me go home.
Ghost stared, silent, and brought out their own weapon in front of themself, trying to stop the shaking of their limbs that they shouldn’t, by most means, be wrecked by. This was just another enemy, another husk filled by the Infection’s will—then, why? Why did the sight of this bug (like them, so much like them, to the point they felt their chest drip with longing and desperation) make them hesitate so?
They thought they could, vaguely, recognize the one standing before them; the shape, the colors. The whispers just out the reach of their claws, with the barrier of light trapping their shade further inside, cutting it off from the shadows all around.
(So close, they were so close to home, no no no they couldn’t lose those whispers too...)
The ache made them want to drive their weapon into their own shell, to let out the pain like bad blood from a wound. Their arms didn’t listen. Their legs didn’t either as they forced themselves to take the weight. Their head dipped to the side further than it should, discomfort of the sensation adding to the boiling pain.
I just wanted to go home.
They wanted to cry out to the shadows, knowing their voice was nonexistent otherwise. They wanted to cry out at the injustice of this all—a place sealed and so, so difficult to re-enter, a tired soldier who had found their limit and needed to retreat only to be hunted down and disposed of.
Their void wept, pushed further and further down, a whimper of desperation.
H e l p...
Their dolefulness turned to anger, mimicking the boiling of the Light’s rage. They didn’t want this.
The Light clung tighter.
Ghost stiffened like a statue, the shadows around them and the void inside them resonating with a feeling they could nearly name. Words without sound whispered to them by the darkness like a language long shackled. Realization, understanding.
They hesitated, reaching out a small, black hand to it, their Nail lowering and a bizarre, painful mixture of hope and fear and desperation clawing their insides like their shade wanted out.
A louder, enraged shriek pounded the inside of their skull.
KILL. KILL THE EMPTY ONE. KILL IT.
Ghost saw it rear back, the glow of orange sizzling, and then—
A wordless roar, a sound that felt wrong in so many ways they lost their focus. It sounded like an ancient anger carried by the howling wind, like the punishing sand beating against the cliffs whose only sin was existing on its path. It sounded like air pushed through a clogged pipe, and like a war horn sounded by a poor, damned soldier.
The contrast between the Broken Vessel’s movements and attacks was enormous. Slow and jerking like dragging weights with each step and yet attacking with far more speed and fluidity than they expected, moves practiced like their own, but more. The jumps were higher, the swing was wider, the blow was stronger. They couldn’t avoid that first hit that swept across their carapace in an arc that bled void, they couldn’t sidestep most of the frenzied slashed.
They felt their mask crack and fell unconscious to sharp pain and the sensation of eyes on them.
They woke with a start at the metal bench, the shadows retreating from them as soon as they had solidified—a song and dance they had fallen into a long time ago: shadows would grab the shards of their mask and move back to the last safe spot they had found, able to move the physical but not the shade, the lingering ghost of regret that haunted the place that spelled demise to them.
Their chest hurt like a stab wound, even though their claws found no blemish on the black surface. Ghost curled on the bench, burying their face against in their hands and cloak as they listened. Rubbing of vines and quietest, armored shuffling.
(The unintelligible whispers of silence and shadows underneath all that.)
They stood, listless, and fidgeted with the charms they had equipped, switching some around now that they knew of a challenge ahead than simple exploration. They hardly realized they were at the edge of the cliff overlooking the overgrown vines until they were ready to sail through the air with the power of the crystal. Ghost continued moving onward, sidestepping most of the armored, crawling bugs—though unable to keep their ethereal shield from circling and colliding with them in small bursts of damage that made the bugs curl up as they sailed through the air.
The tunnel’s mouth opened before them, the prior glow of the lightseeds having nearly dissipated and stray lumaflies around providing enough light to aid their already great sight. They saw their shade floating there at its entrance, facing the inside.
It turned and let out a bubbling hiss they felt more than heard before drifting forward with wide, glowing white eyes and small white trails falling from them. The stinging tendrils never connected with them, and they were quick to subdue the shade back into themselves. (They could breathe a little easier now, even though they had no need for air, even though the bleeding pain in their chest remained.)
They stepped past the umbral and tensed up, seeing the Broken Vessel jolt to regard them with those burning eyes. Ghost saw the thick drops of orange flowing from the eye sockets, tinted with the black of Void, and the way there were streaks of charcoal tones on the front of its cloak that had not been there before.
They stepped forward, Nail at the ready, and let themself fall into a rhythm as it shuddered and leaped, brandishing its own weapon. They parried some of the slashes, feeling the vibration of the Nails colliding up their arms and managing to use those stuns to slash and send the Broken Vessel sailing a distance back, its stance unbalanced and easily broken.
It moved slow, seemed to shudder before each attack, and Ghost started looking for those signs whenever their eyes were on the enemy in order to try and avoid as much as possible, dashing out of range and running around them, wincing as the Nail cut at them in jarring lines whenever it connected. Most of the time, they tried to keep their distance—give themself time to react and retaliate, or summon their Focus for an attack or recover.
They felt another ripple in the shadows, a snarl as the Broken Vessel crouched—and started shaking their head harshly enough it had to be painful, sending splatters of gooey Infection sailing through the air that Ghost had to jump back from—and realized they weren’t aimed at them, if at all. They saw lightseeds clinging to the mask, refusing to let go and be sent flying. The Broken Vessel had to stop, dipping its head forward against the hilt of the Nail it had stabbed into the stone, shuddering as the clinging bugs returned to their burrowing.
Ghost felt a whimper through the shadows, soon drowned by stillness like something buried. They stared, limbs refusing to listen to them—until a small, semi-transparent floating blob of orange drifted into their face and collided with their mask as they reacted a moment too late. They flinched and swiped at the balloon with renewed distaste, noticing the slowly forming others around the area—and the unnatural jerking as the Broken Vessel raised again to its feet, shuffling in their direction and dragging the Nail out of the stone with the high-pitched hiss of metal.
They dodged as many of the slashes as they could, making distance whenever it flailed the weapon and calculating dashes and jumps to avoid the incoming attacks and body slams. The swirling shield proved its worth as it dissipated the occasional Infected Balloon that drifted towards them unnoticed, though it meant they had no protection at times when the opponent’s Nail sent them tumbling to the floor and left them to scramble away from another hit.
As many hits as they landed, they couldn’t truly see the Broken Vessel slowing down (how could it? It was a puppet, the puppeteer cared not if the marionette was about to fall apart), and the ones they had received made their limbs ache as they struggled to match the aggressive energy. Void spilled from their wounds, disappearing into the air in specks of black.
Their balance lost to a dash that made their knees collide against the floor. They saw the Broken Vessel pause, still as a statue, before leaping upwards and striking down, point first towards them. Ghost felt their mask crack again, a sharp pain that rung inside their head as their sight left them—they heard the equally sharp ting! of their shield colliding and sending its ethereal knives into whatever had hit it.
They awoke with a start on the bench, hardly taking a moment to recollect themself as they ran towards the edge of the cliff and sailed through the air in a burst of pink-purple light. They saw the corpse of a Shadow Creeper they had slain earlier, the familiar pointed rocks bursting from the tunnel’s walls, the further fading glow of the stains of infection.
They saw their shade, actually inside the room instead of at its door.
It hovered by a corpse similar to them, but bigger, with a long, tattered cloak stained with black and orange, a Nail just out of its grip while the other arm laid forward as if reaching out, and a mask missing a piece where a horn should be, cracked from that side to the eye socket. Empty, without the damning glow of intruding light or the deep nothing of ancient void. The shade jolted and hissed mutely, trails of white burning down the mask from its eyes, before the tendrils that had been nearly touching the broken mask were whipped in their direction.
They subdued it quickly, faster than before. Their empty eyes stared at the body and they kneeled, the bleeding pain in their chest almost swelling enough to dribble out of their mask (they could feel it gather at the edges of their eyes and raised a hand to push back the pain).
Little claws clung to the cloak and the other hand rested against the mask, silent words—apologies, comforts, questions—rippling through them and the shadows without a reply.
(Did you try to fight back to help me. Did you stall until the right moment.
Can you forgive me, for not being fast enough to save you, for not being strong enough to be there.)
Moving it had felt wrong and heavy, even when it didn’t weight much and all they could do was leave them resting just outside the room they had fought in, unwilling to leave it inside the area itself and unable to move them further. Resting Grounds would have been a peaceful place for it, the area blanketed with a gentle melancholy and calm, but much too far away and they couldn’t think they’d be able to get them there, not at the moment.
Quirrel had said that the dead shouldn’t be burdened with weapons, but Ghost couldn’t bring themself to leave the Nail too far from it either—instead resting it against the rock as well.
This didn’t do much to assuage the pain in their chest, but it was the best they could do—they didn’t know where ‘home’ was, that word they had caught glimpses of amongst the frenzied ripples in the shadows, they couldn’t bring it—them, the Broken one—back.
Ghost moved onward, deeper into the tunnel the tugging had led them through, and claimed the ethereal wings that sprout from their back to give them further height with each jump. (Perhaps that had been partial reason why the Broken one—what a sad title, that wouldn’t do—had been able to leap and move so high).
As they walked back, they dipped their head in a silent farewell and exited the tunnel.
Ghost ran down the tunnels, hands busy shielding the gorgeous, paper-thin, delicate flower that glowed a gentle white like the lumaflies. They were cautious to avoid all danger, not even approaching the Shadow Creepers if they could avoid them, and stopping always a distance away more than they usually would from the spikes and thorns—this area was quiet and far more easy to navigate than the ones they had passed through previously, they could breathe a little easier with the knowledge that the flower wouldn’t be damaged here unless they got cocky.
They had learned, not too long ago, that one could leave gifts to the dead in shows of love and gratitude if one so wished. Flowers and toys had been common, the Seer mentioned. But this flower had been introduced to them as something special, so frail and full of meaning—this had to be the one they gifted. (Maybe they weren’t meant to feel that love and gratitude, weren’t they supposed to be empty? It didn’t matter to them. They didn’t really care what others said they had to be, they were learning what they could be in each step of the road.)
And near the bottom of the world they went, to the lonely resting place of someone of theirs, a sibling.
The air was still stale and quiet, though they didn’t find it as oppressive as others might—the shadows here were darker, stronger, humming with an energy that felt strangely right. There, in the same place they had left them. Brokey—they decided that would be a good enough nickname for them, less sad than the full title from before—laid undisturbed.
Ghost slowed and kneeled by them, pulling out the flower and gently placing it against their cloak, taking a couple moments to chirp silently as well. They thought of all the things they had seen on their journey so far and felt a certain sadness at being unable to tell them about it—words were hard to convey still with their limited gestures; writing would take too long and they were unpracticed. The whispering in the shadows felt easier, but they still struggled to use it as no one could hear it.
So instead they simply thought on it all as they bowed their head for a couple minutes. When they focused their eyes again, they paused and stared. Fading and not quite there, dreamcatchers lingered around them, strings of pale white and gold. They jumped up, rummaging in their cloak for a moment and pulling out the hilt of the Dream Nail. Without thinking further, they focused and swung it in a wide arc.
The crumbling platforms in this Dream Realm floated up to meet them as they jumped from one to the next, trying to find where they were leading them. Dreamcatchers faded in and out of view and a dull, beige tone seemed to tint everything, the contrast of untouched purple and white all the more noticeable. The platforms lead to an opening like the tunnel they had walked through, and they ran forward, listening to their claws echo strangely against the walls.
They barreled into a room with a high ceiling, white webbing appearing behind them and closing the exit. They didn’t bother checking, much too focused on the figure that jumped to attention on the other side of the room, still staggering under the weight of orange blobs that threatened to spill from the cracked mask.
A swirl of black seemed to regard them from under the infection’s boiling light, the body locking up. A whisper of run reverberated silently around Ghost, clear as the water of Blue Lake, and then the black faded and an echo of the light’s roar tore itself through the air, a final warning before the strings were pulled taut and Brokey lunged to swipe at them.
Ghost expected this—this wasn’t the first time they had reencountered and fought one of the most memorable foes in their journey. They were always tougher too—perhaps because here, in the Realm of Dreams, the Old Light could influence them further. Or maybe they just believed themselves tougher and, in a place so affected by beliefs, it came true. It didn’t really matter; Ghost only knew they had to fight back and cut the strings tethering them to this lonely pocket of dreams.
It felt, almost, like Brokey had more control of their own body. Their moves were faster and attacks came quicker, but there were the tales of something trying to slow down ever slightly. A pawn long resigned to their painful existence and yet unwilling to subject Ghost to it—and Ghost now understood much better why. Siblings weren’t meant to fight, not like this.
Expected as the fight was, the speed and patterns weren’t easy to follow—and they had not come prepared to this dream. Ghost awoke on the hard floor with a jolt, pushing themself up to their knees and trying to shake off the last thoughts and images of a Nail aimed at their head, stinging cuts, and the thick blobs of orange sliding down from their opponent’s eyes.
The flower remained where it was. Ghost fiddled with their charms.
Dropping from platform to platform was easier when they already knew where they would materialize, made it easier to skip a couple and hurry to the room. Brokey saw them enter from their spot pressed against the other side of the room, as if afraid of leaving—or resisting with all their might the urge to leave. It didn’t matter.
The small Weavers skittered around Ghost in a defensive formation, little claws outstretched to fight. Somehow, if Brokey could have, they would have pressed further against the stone.
The roar resonated inside the dream.
Ghost beat themself up for it as soon as they regained consciousness, gently patting the resting Weavers on their little heads as a thank you before removing the charm. Of course it’d drive Brokey into a frenzy worse than the first encounter. The lightseeds had been more than enough to make that small, shuffling sound something to drive them up the wall and over the edge.
Instead they picked up another charm, one they had avoided in fear it’d accidentally aggro enemies and make their trip here all the more problematic. A whoosh in the air and tendrils unfurled with a wisp of red flames, mischievous red tint in the black of the Grimmchild’s eyes.
Brokey was tired. Even in this Realm they could feel the invisible strings of the light on their limbs and the uncomfortable sloshing of the infection in their head slowly dripping down their body, in a way that felt insidious unlike the tears their tainted void managed to shed in their exhaustion. Time passed strangely here, their thoughts faded in and out of their grasp and they could sometimes hear the voice of the Old Light rumbling like thunder in the very air, far away.
They had died and couldn’t any longer be of constant use to Her, so She had left them to rot with their thoughts and the slow pulsing inside their skull in a little room somewhere forgotten. Even in death, they ached with the leftover burning and couldn’t fall back to eternal sleep. To their home, the embrace of pure darkness.
First, tethered with desperation to the last place they saw in the Realm of the Living, and now with a solid barrier of light keeping them from their rest. How cruel and unfair. They should be used to it by now.
Their hands trembled as they paced the far end of the room, wondering if the Sibling that kept coming in was simply the Radiance deciding to torture them for the sin of being created. But then, why would She also react so aggressively to the apparition? Why would she tighten the strings and make them fight one of their own? There was no reward to breaking their will further.
Brokey tensed up as they heard steps coming back yet again through the tunnel on the opposing side of the room, head lifting laboriously to regard the little Knight again—the searing ache wasn’t enough to fully overshadow their relief when they saw no skittering critters following their Sibling, but it was enough to drown their tired confusion at the flying, black and red toned being that came along this time.
The Light still felt the approach of their Sibling’s void in Her Realm and reared to lash out, them an unwilling passenger of their own body. They could only yank the Light’s string so much to give openings for the smaller Vessel to escape their attacks, though they were well aware of how strong their Sibling’s attacks were when they landed, and the way they somehow dashed through them on more than one occasion with the whisper of shadows.
The little flying menace moved quickly and was spitting fireballs that stung in a way the Light didn’t, and that somehow didn’t make their cloak catch fire. They weren’t sure what to make of that. The Light was far more focused on their Sibling anyway.
They were impressed, somewhere deep and buried under the Light’s growing anger, at how much progress this little Sibling had made. They were proud of them. They were saddened that they couldn’t show that. Hit after hit exchanged and met and landed, both were at their limit, but Ghost was too stubborn to let that stop them and Brokey had no choice but to follow the orders regardless of how weary they felt (they had felt this way for so long).
They were about to connect a slash when a fireball grazed their mask, making them wince and change their course ever slightly. It was enough for Ghost to avoid the Nail. It was enough for Ghost’s own weapon to slash at the blob spilling from their mask. The sound was strange—a bubble popping and the hissing of heat—and they collapsed immediately as the strings holding them went slack.
Golden light appeared around both of them, collecting the strings and curling into dreamcatchers that floated calmly in the air. Their limbs ached with exhaustion and their chest sung with the release of the Light keeping them trapped, no longer burning, no longer forced. No longer with a barrier keeping them encased. Brokey could barely focus enough to feel the small claws of their sibling grasping at their outstretched arm, kneeling next to them—the little flying menace mewling in confusion nearby—and they summoned the energy needed to lift their head and clink their remaining horns against the side of their Sibling’s mask gently, a tired and somewhat choked coo rippling in the air between them. Their vision went white and black all at once. They finally could rest.
Ghost shook their head and sat back on the floor, a hand raising to feel where the horns had tapped against their cheek and the soft vibration that travelled through them. Grimmchild meowed as they lifted from the floor to land on their mask between their horns, nuzzling the top of their head in question before glancing in the direction of the other Vessel.
Ghost merely pet their head and gave a nigh-silent chirp before standing up and looking at the charm on the Dream Nail’s handle. Small beads glow with an energy that wasn’t there before. They looked up as Grimmchild gave a confused meow, tendrils tightening around Ghost’s horns and the fire in their belly warming up their mask for a moment.
Brokey floated before them, listless and exuding exhaustion, and Ghost gently reached forward to touch the trailing cloak, feeling the shadows bridge the connection and getting a small reaction from the specter. Brokey tilted their head and bowed slightly in gratitude, hugging around their sibling’s shoulders in a cold whisper of air and finally fading into the gentle embrace of shadows.
(Sibling, why sad?)
... thinking, remembering.
There were... many things, many places, up out there.
(Like what? Tell, tell?)
I didn’t see much. Would have liked to...
But I remember a long tunnel and strings, and caves with mushrooms, and vines with colors and leaves...
The Void shifted, rumbling with an ancient air. Long sleeping, caged energy now released. An old Being rose, called and controlled by One of Its Own. No intruding pale glow trying to chain it.
It reached and snuffed out, dimmed, the Old Light that had hurt and corroded what was Its.
Retribution and then Peace. The voices in the Abyss could finally allow themselves fall to their Nothing without the pull of a duty enforced.
Not all of them wished for eternal rest.
Ghost was careful with the bundle on their arms, not heavy but so delicate, so precious; they wouldn't dare think of dropping it. They ignored the Shadow Creepers as they continued their endless patrolling in set lines, avoiding them in close quarters.
Hollow had offered to help them, to accompany them, but Ghost felt the need to do this themself; they had left their Weavers and the Grimmchild with their tallest sibling as company and apology and promise that they would be back soon. But they had to do this, and they had to focus. They wouldn't dream of dropping the damaged shell, but a wrong step and slip could still happen. They would rather shield it with their own tiny body than let the cracked mask be grazed by so much as a stray shower of dust or the solid rock they walked on.
Their steps were soft, claws pattering in their hurry and ethereal wings sprouting behind them to soften each fall as to not jolt the shell, afraid the crack would spread or they'd lose any more fragments (there were quite a few lost...). The Abyss opened before them and they clutched the bundle tightly, jumping down to the small platforms that littered the way down—until they were close enough to a small outcrop with strange vines and a stranger blue dial.
A couple siblings had dared float up to them, staring with bright white eyes at the mask of one of their kin, and Ghost gently placed it next to the dial, along with two of their Lifeblood charms. A sibling floated forward, and Ghost looked up at one with horns that matched what was left of the mask.
The shade floated closer, called by a gentle tugging from Ghost's void—and promptly recoiled as they set eyes on the shards of their mask. Long tendrils, previously trailing after them, twist on themselves. Sensing the surge of surprise and confusion, other siblings came forward and cooed their silent comfort, moving closer to examine their fully solid sibling and what they had brought into the Abyss.
(Do they not want it?)
(What is the use of it here?)
(Below full of them! Why up here too?)
Ghost gently waved them away from the cracked shell, half worried one of them would accidentally enter a mask that wasn't their own and—what would happen then? They weren't sure. But would rather not let it happen.
The shade, bigger than most of the others in the Abyss, twisted their tendrils again and moved closer still, switching their glance from Ghost to their mask and back. When Brokey spoke, it was a cautious rumble in the Void.
Blue vines... seeds?
Ghost wasn't sure if Brokey meant the lifeseeds and vines growing into the mask or the crack itself. The first one, they never experienced before—but certainly hoped it wasn't like what the lightseeds had done; the second one... they know how much a cracked mask hurts, their Void lacking the protective shell and thus aching at the intruding light.
Brokey paused, staring down with white eyes at the shell, the dial, the charms set there. Slowly, they turned back to look up at the endless black above them, the light from the entrance dull and broken as most sources of brightness had been put further away by the very same creature, sibling, who stood before them with patient wonder. Ghost didn't feel the need to press them for answers or hurry them or try to sway them in any direction—but they could still hear the other siblings slowly twirling around, even as some others quickly grew bored and decided to go back down to rest.
(Sibling spoke of places)
(Different than Home)
(Sibling sounded like...)
(...like want to see them again!)
(See with less fear)
They were right, weren't they? Brokey's tendrils twisted again, staring at the shadowed rock and not seeing it. They had seen places, they had passed by them too quickly, there wasn't as much time, they needed to do something—but when they yearned to return home, they hadn't been allowed. Had been hunted. Had been killed and still unable to fall back into the Nothing they wished for.
They didn't want to be trapped in that limbo. Not again. Never again.
Ghost chirped gently, reaching forward and untying the tendrils carefully. The ripple of distress had been there and the shades murmured their comforting rumbles. Sibling will always be welcome back. Sibling will return. Sibling won't have to leave.
Choice.Yours. Ghost hummed, giving a soft squeeze to the shade's tendrils before letting go. Want.You.Have.Choice.
Brokey sagged slightly in place, lowering their head to rest against Ghost's own forehead, soft rumble that vibrated between the Vessel's horns much like when they offered that comfort to Hollow. Thank you... could try.
Ghost jumped in place eagerly, little hands clapping together once, twice, before they nodded and stepped back away from the shell and the dial.
The knowledge they would have to brave skittering seeds—much too similar to the ones that enslaved them—was something they would have to fight all the way, but Brokey still nodded, deciding focus on something else and half-laugh at their given name by their sibling.
Ghost waved their hand and chirped at the darkness before allowing themself drop from the platform to catch another and start their climb up and out of the Abyss. Brokey regarded them for a moment before turning again to look at their mask, lowering to it and settling inside the dull-white barrier, trying to make themself as comfortable as they could.
They didn’t know how long they were there, simply waiting, half-heartedly nudging the blue-tinted charms next to the mask with their shadowy tendrils—there was still far too much damage to form a solid carapace, their energy corroded by the Light that had controlled them. (They wondered just how strong their chosen sibling—Hollow—was, to be able to remain even with all the punishment they had received. They felt awe and sorrow at once. Admiration, after.)
They heard it before they saw the glow and nearly leaped out of the mask in panic. Their white eyes settled on a little blue lifeseed that had not been there a moment earlier, having squeezed through a small gap on the stone next to the dial. It moved a little closer, little leaf flicking in curiosity, and immediately ran back to the hole as soon as they flinched in their mask, tendrils retreating.
Slowly, they eased a cautious tendril out and waited. Waited and waited until the skittering came again and the shadows gave way to the soft blue light. It moved closer in tiny bursts, retreating a couple steps each time they flinched away at the movement and the sound, their growing frustration at themself enough incentive to force their body to stillness until the lifeseed, with its’ warmth, touched their offered tendril.
They still winced, but it didn’t flee again, so they retracted their tendril back inside the mask and stared on as other lifeseeds plucked themselves from the same hole, some nudging open an entrance hidden by rocks and shadows while others slowly gathered around the mask, though seeming to avoid the missing shard as much as possible.
All their energy and focus remained on keeping themself from lashing out, focusing on everything and anything else. A test of resolve as the mask was moved and the glow of blue became more and more oppressive.
Maybe oppressive wasn’t the word. It surrounded them but didn’t push itself into their space. It existed around them like air did.
Sleep was a strange matter inside the Abyss, where a moment and an eternity could be the same, and it was difficult to tell whenever they were conscious or not at all. They had had unpleasant dreams with glowing gold and pale white, just as they had revisited old glimpses of various colors and vague explorations. The blue here wasn’t like anything they had truly felt or seen before.
Blue in strange shapes or tones all around, with vines clinging to rocks and forming hammocks with large cocoons of glowing seeds. A sheer soothing air, like the silent lullaby of their Home but different. Six eyes of brighter blue regarded them from far away.
They closed their fingers tighter around the gifted charms and let themselves rest.
When they awoke again, they were resting against the blue-tinted dial. They shifted and found resistance, looking down to find solid carapace and the long, tattered cloak they had loved and missed. Their hands slowly traced their form, awed, and hesitantly reached up to their horns.
The two long ones remained, as did the empty space where their third should have been—instead, their claws brushed against something cool and squishy they immediately retreated from. Their hand felt the edge of the eye socket, finding a small vine sprouting from it and clinging to the lower edge of their mask, and other vines curling gently but firmly around their chest and upper arms, mostly hidden by the cloak. Blue glowed from the still present cracks and through their upper joints, but there was no pain or discomfort.
Still, they carefully touched at the missing part of their mask, dipping fingers in and shortly after feeling a leaf touch back, like the lifeseed had before they had fallen asleep. They brought their hand back and stared at the lifeseed sitting placidly on it. Slowly, they stood, somewhere between grateful and uncomfortable at how different it felt from what they remembered in their last moment—their head didn’t dip lower than it should, for starters. The seed skittered up their arm—they flinched, but didn’t swat it away as it stopped as soon as it felt their movement—and then allowed itself be picked up and guided back to the mask.
It hopped in with a strange, sloshy sensation, and they felt a little more energy coursing through their body. With that boost, Brokey took a moment to steal themself and leaped to the closest platform, off to reach the entrance up above. Their siblings were waiting for them, after all, and they had much to see so they could come back with greater stories for those siblings who didn’t truly wish to abandon the Void Sea.