The abandoned workshop lingers beneath Cathedral Ward like the faint memory of a nightmare, hovering just beneath a precipice.
This doll is a broken, wretched, forsaken thing – unmoving and forgotten, or, perhaps, unanimated, because she can see, she has eyes. The world shimmers in its turn just below the surface, like a strange dream even in the waking world, and the layers have peeled back just enough to allow her to catch rogue glimpses of the arcane where they lie beneath: of the faint purple fog eking out of the Churchmen’s lanterns, of wandering beasts, clinging to cathedrals, of-
-of something small and bloody, left upon the dark and dusty altar.
A curled-up cord, studded with small eyes. Or a piece of it. It shudders and blinks where it lies, yearning still, still living, still living, still seeking, still-
A piece of something great, then.
Ascend to Oedon Chapel, Gehrman said, or he wrote, at least. But this thing, this relic, this piece that they took was at the bottom, far below it.
Where did Gehrman put the rest?
What did he do with it? The spider hides all manner of rituals, then. She will search there.
But something about the way it curls in her hand, searching for the warmth of skin, even so, makes her want to take it with her.
The woods are dark, and she is once again lost within their depths, but Byrgenwerth held more questions than answers and her brain is buzzing with the weight of what she’s done, she has to see-
-the city again?
The seemingly endless stretch of ladder puts her amidst the labyrinthine streets of Central Yharnam once more, and she cannot question the freedom from having to make her way back through the deep swamp, for she is lost in her head and amongst the strange creatures that dwell there, but now she might be able to find her way by means of a familiar sight.
A familiar building at the end of a dark street, after she scarpers half across a rooftop, even, to escape from the wet footsteps of something shifting strangely in a dark corner of the alleyway.
Another entrance to Iosefka’s Clinic.
(Or it was, but the woman who spoke to her last is Iosefka no longer. Her mind may be shaken but the voice was no longer so and was different at that, and besides – to see such a shift from the woman who refused to let her back in for fear of exposure to what ails half the city, to be willing to now endanger her own patients, to request her to send others along to such a clinic but not let her back in herself for another glimpse? To laugh so-)
A delivery entrance, probably, once upon a time, but perhaps it remains thus, for the doors are unlocked and half-ajar. Now is as good a time as any, with the red moon hanging low in the sky, to see what’s become of the doctor who brought her here. Or the minister. Or, more likely, the woman she spoke to through the door, for she’s heard none but her – seen none – since she awoke.
The dark halls creak beneath the soft leather of her boots. But there are no beasts, no patients, and what she finds is not the fight she expected, but a woman writhing on a table, kneeling and twitching and-
When the Great Ones descend, a womb will be blessed, they said. She saw the scrawlings in Byrgenwerth.
God, I’m nauseous… Have you ever felt this?
The woman before her rests her head between her arms, shuddering as her fingers flex of their own accord, sweating and gasping as she can do little more than simply stare, because something, clearly, has gone horribly wrong-
-It’s progressing. I can see things.
She’s never felt thus, she’s never felt it, but she’s seen such things, beneath the veil of the moon and Rom was covered in eyes, like she tore something open within her as the moon dropped low, when she plunged her axe into the writhing cocoon that was once a person, once a woman, you’ll be one of them sooner or later-
I knew it, I’m different. I’m no beast… I… Oh.. God, it feels awful… but, it proves that I’m chosen. Don’t you see?
Did they choose her? Is to be chosen to writhe on a table like a slowly-dying corpse as you bleed out far too early, coughing and gasping for air that never reaches where it ought? For she can see, she can see that something is not as it should be, and this was never Iosefka, for her garb is white and stained with blood, like the Church, like the Choir that sings of the sky and not the heavens but the cosmos, but the blood is red, not grey, and how can she not see?
How they writhe, writhe inside my head… It’s… rather… rapturous…
She cannot keep the pain out of her laughter. It makes something twist in her heart, even knowing. Even fearing what she may find, further in.
But the corpse does not stop writhing until she cuts it open, and she was not sure at first, but she waited to be certain, but she was dead, desperate and keening and her body gave out to whatever she’d done, but still it writhed.
The woman ate it, for she finds it curled inside her stomach, churning and thrashing and the source of the desperate writhing, amidst a bloody mess. Fear the old blood fear the old blood, Master Willem said their eyes were yet to open but her stomach is full of them though her eyes were still closed, it wasn’t enough, she should have feared it but she did not, she embraced it instead, the choir had this piece.
They granted Rom eyes, Willem wanted eyes-
-but where is the child?
The woman whose corpse lays on surgical steel before her did not ascend, transcend the hunt. The true Iosefka lies in a pile of blue fluid and the nightmare newborn is still unfound – its harrowing cry still lingers in Yahar’gul, it echoes in the empty spaces of her mind, haunting her.
The secret is broken, the two pieces curl together, still incomplete, still seeking, and she could press them to her lips now, to let the eyes wrap around her own brain, but she cannot know what that entails, and it is-
-incomplete. Iosefka is proof. Gehrman had a piece, upon the altar. The choir stole one, for their experiments.
But where is the rest?
The two wind together in her pack as Iosefka’s dead hand gives a final twitch. Outside, Formless Oedon watches, undoubtedly, over his strange chapel, and she thanks God that she had the insight to send the survivors there, to the small building full of incense, and not to this strange and awful butchery, where a gentle dweller might keep them safe.
Arianna is missing, and her blood runs cold, because Adella still giggles to herself, laughing about tainted blood and how she cannot help it and-
-there is a trail of blood leading to the sewer.
It is like a dagger of ice in her heart, the idea of having to dispatch another grown drunk on the moonlight, but she cannot think on Alfred at present, not his blood on her hands or his wheel on her face or her flesh beneath her fingers. Should she have prepared for the worst, even here too? ...for it seems none can resist the intoxication of the cosmos and there are beasts all over the shop, will she truly be one of them sooner or later like he– but Eileen died too when her hands slipped and there are none left to hunt her, should she fail-
The iron rungs of the sewer ladder are strangely slick. The small chamber reeks of sweat and-
Arianna had been feeling out of sorts, there’d been something wrong, but-
She lies in the muddy, bloodied water, sobbing so hard it almost sounds like laughter. Her dress is ruined, stained a deep brown-black, her sweat-slick hair clings to her face around flushed cheeks and red eyes and an expression of shock and abject horror, utterly bedraggled and thoroughly haggard, It can’t be… this is a nightmare…
And when the Great Ones descend, a womb will be blessed with child.
The misshapen thing writhes on the ground as it softly cries with uncanny melody, bloody and alien and celestial and-
-still attached, the cord is uncut.
Seek – she looks up at Arianna for permission, who cannot bear to look back, for she’s between her and it, and she cannot bear to look at – the nightmare newborn – so she reaches for the tether – find – ing it viscerally, unbearably lumpy, takes a shuddering, deep breath, and-
-cuts into it, and Arianna passes out in the water when it screams, loud enough to echo through the chamber and up to Formless Oedon above, shrivels up, and dies, and then there is – silence
-its harrowing cry.
The cord comes apart in her hand. It clings to her fingers, like it’s the only living thing in the room, other than her. And she’s not too certain about herself.
Her blood is forbidden her blood is forbidden he wanted a surrogate and he was no different, to think, corrupted blood began this eldritch liaison and it happens again and again and again and it’s
It writhes and it stops and it’s gone and that thing is not a child but it never could have been one, for they all lose them, it all started with a loss, she’s certain of it, she doesn’t know how, if only Kos would grant her eyes too she could know, but they called it here, the nameless moon presence – the Paleblood, for the scholars said so, and she’s sure now, gripping the broken, bloodied cord in her hand, that still blinks blindly as it wriggles-
-they did it with these.
Three third cords three third cords three third cords does Kos hear our prayers in this endless nightmare will she grant us eyes to cleanse us of this beastly idiocy find kill seek the nightmare newborn halt the source silence the cry lest the night carry on forever and ever and ever and everyone loses and everyone loses and everyone loses
mercy for the poor wizened child, mercy-
She deserves none.
Paleblood is not a thing but a Thing, something large and incomprehensible and moon-like and great, not the old blood or rare blood or the blood or the blood or the blood.
The same way Yharnam is not a place, but a person.
A woman, whose cry is more harrowing than that of the newborn ripped from her womb and dragged from the long-buried crypts.
A child once told her they could smell her strange foreignness in her blood. Annalise smelled moonlight. Can you smell fear in the blood, too, she wonders? Can you smell guilt?
The woman before her is shackled like another she knows, was shackled like another she knew, until she breaks free on her own unlike Annalise, tearing them apart out of desperate desire to survive, to seek and to find and where is the nightmare where is the newborn, where did she keep that short blade, the desperate-
Does she remember her family, her brother, the rest? They feel so far away now. How could she forget, until the baby cried when she swung an axe, and she wants to cry too, and-
-she will fix this. There is a way. She cannot fix it for Yharnam, but the child is dead, the surrogate mother cannot survive, it never does, she never does, for the blood is stolen, it always comes down to the blood and the control of it, humans are beasts-
It wants a child.
Death is half the mercy. Vengeance - justice - the other. She will find a way.
But for now she is left with a small silver band and a-
-oh. A dreg of blood. A broken, stillborn child.
She opens a now bloodstained, battered music box, a remnant of another broken, unsalvageable family, and hums the tune as she cranks the handle.
There are no more tears.
It’s a symbol, she can see its purposed etched into the fine silver filigree, even stained as it is with the wear and tear of centuries, of battle, of the blood shed from the finger it laid upon when it was originally cut. Not a gift, but a contract, like the mark etched upon her mind that binds her to the dream, binding the intended to the blood, to the cosmos, to the-
-to the child.
Marking them, perhaps. It was Yharnam’s, after all. Wedlock is for surrogates, here, in this world of horror, for the binding of blood is done before God, but there is no God in Yharnam, and the heavens are full of Great Ones, who take their lump of flesh when they can get it.
She has precious few people who still live that she likes. Few more that she cares for.
Even few more that share her disdain for what she’s found, skulking in the shadows of the Healing Church, who fear not the old blood but what men do with it, because of it, for it.
She has eyes and the way forward has never been clearer, for it is as easy as surrendering to the dream, but she will not abandon the long forsaken, to whom she swore an oath-
–a blood oath, she is already bound in blood and bound before God and bound to a queen whose blood is forbidden and her own blood is forbidden and she killed for the woman, for Alfred was laughing and crushed her beneath a wheel in his moon-drunk rage while she stared in shock and the flesh is reborn anew but their blood is the same and she killed and she killed and she was right to do so, she was right, was she right, to-
-fear the old Church and beware the frailty of men, their wills are weak and minds fragile and they lament no death they leave in their wake when they shed the yoke of fear–
-without a declaration of intent.
Cainhurst castle is much unchanged by the progression of the evening into drawn-out night. The inhabitants remain long-dead, the scavengers still crawl the grounds, and Annalise sits before her on her throne as always, between her inordinate collection of statuary and the delicate light of hundreds of candles.
The carpets remain stained in several places. Try as she did, she could not get all the blood out.
But she bows atop the sordid reminder nonetheless, far more formal than her upbringing ever led her to believe she’d aspire to, arm extended as she's been taught, and Annalise reaches for her, hand soft and gentle and beautiful, luminescent, almost, in all the candlelight, like moonlight made flesh, bare-faced and smiling, the hateful helm left behind as the sole defeated party after Alfred smashed her into oblivion and she took the flesh to Ebrietas-
Closest of kin, bearer of Our blood… I welcome thee. What is thy wish?
Still kneeling, still bowing, she pulls out the ring.
I would offer this to you, if you would accept it.
Annalise’s face shifts, and she is not surprised that Annalise is not confused, not surprised that she can see the glimmer of a faint recognition dawn, for the Queen knows what this is, what it means. It is not a proposal, it is not a proposition, but a confession. A parting gift, for Annalise played no small part in her survival, and out of the mingled blood that runs through her veins, hers alone stands out, was chosen, was taken willingly. But it is, at the same time, a proposal all the same.
Every Great One yearns for a surrogate, for every Great One loses its child. And she will not feed this cyclical grief, this endless hunt, so she must submit herself to a higher purpose, and give them one.
Annalise must understand this, for her blood burns within her too. She will carry a piece of her to the cosmos.
But what does surprise her is how her Queen’s face turns cold – bitterly so, like the snow that clings firmly to the rooftop tiles in its icy perpetuity. Cold and full of fear.
She has never heard her queen beg.
Speak not those words.
Why should I not? It is-
We have little need of a consort. The syllables are delivered with a firm solemnity, and the piercing stare she receives – eyes nearly black, even in the candlelight, with just a hint of pain – suggests that she knows what is being offered, she speaks not of amorous enterprises, of romance and partnership in bed but in blood and in birth.
Such a path would belike lead to further ruin.
If I succeed, Queen Annalise, I shall let no harm come to Cainhurst. The Church will have no reason to come for you, and should they make an attempt-
The woman before her waves her off, shaking her head. You misunderstand, Good Hunter. Thou’rt dear to Us. She places care on the word dear, a soft sort of sympathy that sends reverberations through her chest, even as something burns within her – a painful, deep ache, a melancholy longing – We would see no harm befall thee.
She nods, pressing her lips together to keep the tears at bay, unable to maintain a neutral face, a front of propriety, any longer. Her eyes are simply too heavy for her head, and the pain of Yharnam seems to have caught up with her at long last. You understand, then, my intention in offering such an object to you.
Annalise nods grimly. We do. You know not what you do.
I am well aware of the implications. I have seen beyond the veil. I have seen Yharnam, both a conjuration and in the flesh. This was her ring. If you wish, it could be as it was intended, but I intend instead, to-
We question not thy ignorance, Good Hunter, nor thy admirable intent. We have done visceral things for the sake of the honor of being chosen… and in doing so, have lost Our home, Our family, Our everything. All but thee. We would not lose thee too to such ruin.
But I would not lose you either. I have precious few I care for left.
We are hard to kill.
And good for it. But I was contracted to end the hunt, before I swore myself to you. I think I can do so – perhaps for good. I intend to become the surrogate child. And you are, to me, belike a surrogate creator. You have given me new purpose, in this waking nightmare, have sustained me with your blood, like to a parent. My ascension is in no small part to you, Annalise. To have fixed this together, have righted this cosmic wrong – is it not correct for you to take this ring from me?
She smiles, shaking her head. Still thy honeyed tongue. The thought alone sufficeth. Thy worth is too great. Speak no more on the matter.
She does not say, consider this: I love you. I care deeply for you. I died for you, against that wall on the left, when Alfred pinned me with one hand and crushed my sternum against my spine with a great, hulking wheel in his other. I killed for you, on the carpet before your throne, where I held a man by the scruff of his hair and cut his head from his shoulders as he screamed and laughed and revelled in your flesh, the very same flesh that he’d smeared across the furnishings in still-soft clumps.
I killed for you, in the bowels of the Cathedral, cut down an imprisoned creature that deserved to be freed at an altar of despair, a child of the cosmos that was doing nothing but mourning its own kin. I knelt by the base of the altar, between your naked knees, and swore myself to you anew, with stars in my eyes and blood in my throat, and I was the first and the only in the many long years since they’d shackled and chained you.
I knelt there, and you drank from me, slowly and sweetly, and partook of communion, and we found solace in the rapture together, for our blood became at last in us both mingled, and you said I tasted of moonlight.
But she doesn’t have to.
Annalise already knows.
So she nods, and pulls the small dreg she took from the depths of the earth, from Yharnam’s corpse, and moves to leave her with the stillborn dreg of Mergo and a parting farewell.
But something stops her – a firm hand around her wrist, delicate and lithe and strong, holding her in place, and as she turns to apologize for the lack of a kinder valediction, she is caught off guard with the soft press of lips to her own, unusually delicate. Annalise kisses with a firm insistence, moving to cradle her head between dainty palms, unworked though by no means weak, and she reciprocates in kind, confused by such a sudden showing of affection.
She bites first, sharp teeth against gentle skin of her Queen’s lips, drawing forth the familiar taste, the familiar burn, and she can feel the woman smile against her, before lips leave bloody kisses down her jaw, against her throat, and her heartbeat stutters as sharp teeth scrape her jugular with a teasing affection-
-but the pain never comes. The knight’s coat is pushed aside, baring her collarbone, but for a frequently-stained silk shirt that she should just probably dye red at this point, and she looks down as suddenly the shirt is pushed to the side too, and oh-
There’s the bite.
This should hurt, more. She should be wary, but there’s a hand on her hip and teeth in her breast, biting into the meat of it as she gasps and presses her own bloodstained lips to soft hair, holding her, holding her, it aches and it’s going to leave a stain and there’s a stain on the floor and a stain on the wall but they’re both stains on the earth, the pair of them, or so they say.
How can it be a sin when dark eyes stare back at her in candlelight like the only other sane person in the world, who understands the vast contradictions of the universe?
Blood is sin and to be feared but it’s good when they say so, so good that they’ll smear you on the wall, on the floor, and there’s a smear across her Queen’s hair now, where her lips have left it-
that’s how I started out, trying to cleanse these tarnished streets may the good blood guide your way and what good is immortality
when the Church kills infants and blames you for it, blames your people, blames my people, blames everyone but themselves, to partake of communion is holy and righteous when you’re the one drinking the blood but the purity is threatened when the drinker is vile and to be properly honored in martyrdom means to kill and to die and to leave your love behind
to see insides on the outside and enjoy it and enjoy it and it’s all thanks to you, Alfred, it’s all thanks to you and your martyrdom and your monsters and the blood going to your head because now it’s gone to mine.
This is it, then.
Impropriety at its finest. Defiled, the pair of them, rumpled and bloody and bruised and with marks that will undoubtedly scar. It is all she can do not to cry before her, to mask the tears that threaten to form beneath a stray sudden movement of a hand.
But Annalise will not take the ring. To consent to the possibility of a forever loss is too much. And though the veil has been lifted, even she cannot see what is on the other side.
She understands. She can’t bring herself to say goodbye, either.
We await thy return… for the honor of Cainhurst.
Countless centuries pass. Cainhurst falls into obscurity, long forsaken and forgotten, though it is never abandoned, and not without the occasional unlucky visitor. The unquiet dead make for poor company, but they are better company than a battalion of holy crusaders, and Annalise will not make the same mistakes twice.
The nights no longer linger in the unwelcome habit of an uninvited guest, though the Queen wonders how long it will take before the stars once again turn in their orbit, and the ancient wake becomes meaningless.
But it never does, for one day, the once-infant Great One reappears, returning amidst the smell of moonlight and a still-smoking haze of blood. The prodigal daughter comes home to embrace her once more for a night, as if in some swift-flowing dream, and a ring is left in her wake.
This time, perhaps, it will not end in tragedy.
And this time, Annalise puts it on.