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This is what you remember before him (ante Laurentium, as they like to say at Byrgenwerth): walls stained with smoke, the stink of human bodies, baby piss. A single unopenable window with a pane of glass so thick and poorly made you can't see anything out on the street. Men who terrify you, women who ignore you, children you resent for being born after you the way you were resented when you were their age. You were given a name as a perfunctory exercise: all they ever really thought of you as was another mouth to feed.

There are a couple dozen of you crammed in there, at least, and you were never really sure who's your blood and who isn't. You come to hate all of them in exactly the same way. And then you come to hate the language you no longer understand, and the shape of your nose, and the dark circles under your eyes, and yourself.

Your uncles won't put in a word for you at the ironworks and you can't wake up early enough to be a knocker-upper, so you go and stand out on the streets and try not to look like something the sods would want. You load and unload and put up walls and dig ditches and steal whatever you think you can get away with, and bring home just enough to be tolerated.

One day a carriage pulls up. A nicer one than you'd expect in these parts. You think it's from Byrgenwerth. You loathe them on sight out of general principle. There's a fine-looking man in there, next to a tired-looking Tatar of some strain or another. A filthy for-eign-er, you think, relishing the chance to use the word that's so often been used against you.

The normal one leans across the Tatar and peers at you. "I like that one. What do you think? Shall we bring him to Gehrman?"

"Don't climb over me, Laurence."

"You there! Boy!" He - Laurence - calls you over with a whistle and smiles at you, brilliantly. Shows off all his teeth. You can't get the scowl off your face, and then it occurs to you (you're none too bright but you are cunning) that he's studying you very closely. The look in your eyes.

You get the sudden impression that all this is pageantry. He is testing you for viciousness.

Well. What could he possibly want out of you? Your hatred isn't for sale.

(No, it wasn't. You gave it away. You laid the whole of yourself at his feet.)

Satisfied, somehow, by something, the man disappears back into the carriage.

(When was the last time anybody looked at you? Really looked at you? Even like that?)

You don't like it. It raises the hackles.

"What's your name, lad?" asks the Tatar.

"Brador."

(It was Bledar when you were born - or maybe Bledor, when it comes to your old language you never learned to read or write - but most everyone in the city slurs it into Brador and it isn't worth the trouble trying to convince them to get it right. Makes you feel a little less like an outsider anyway.)

"My name is Marat, and this my colleague, Laurence. We're scholars at Byrgenwerth..."

You spend an uncomfortable carriage ride crammed in between Laurence and the door, trying not to notice the fact that Laurence is wearing bergamot (not that you knew what that was, then, before you spent half your spare time reading books you didn't care about or understand, and coming up with clever phrases, and even a facile attempt to learn Latin, all of which Laurence gently ignored).

Then you learn to hunt beasts.

You don't remember anything about your first hunt. Decades later when you try to piece the whole sorry story back together you're sure you were with Gehrman and Maria and a Cainhurst excavation team in the labyrinth, and then you think Gehrman might have set you to guarding the forest. It may even have been Old Yharnam. What you do remember is everybody crowding around you and Laurence washing your hands in a basin and murmuring "There there, lad," while you lean into him mutely.

You'd give strays a kick if they were slow enough, but you've never hurt anything larger than a mangy dog. They never let you.

After that you find yourself coming up with excuses to touch him.

Chapter Text

Your hatred is a bolus you hid in your mouth, your hatred is a hard pill you turn over and over on your tongue. It was never useful, so you never showed it, but you held it fast to yourself because you knew it was you. You knew it was you because you kept it absolutely private.

Your love you gave to God to keep Him from hurting you. (The same way you gave your love to your father, to keep the lines drawn between you and your runaway mother. Then at the fatal moment you withdrew, chose the inscrutable over the transparent. Children create their identity when they learn how to hide. This marks the passing over.)

Well-bred or no, you were a bastard child, and that made you powerful. You learned that you could scandalize people by appearing in the parlor at the correct time, that you could change the timbre of a household by making your presence known, that your father's actions changed depending on whether or not he thought you would abandon him. You learned that you could make people behave predictably.

You learned that certain things are mechanisms, are materials, that they can can be manipulated. Like glass or stone or screws. They can be given and they can be withdrawn and the lines of you are defined at the places where you choose to do so. Carefully, distantly, and with great arrogance, in childhood you learned to sketch a portrait of yourself.

You created portraits, and then walls, and then tools.

You wouldn't have put it that way. Not back then, before you got a clearer picture of what you are. You would have said that these things can be used to build.

You build cathedrals of yourself and then you live in them. You understand the holy ghost better than God.

Every once in a while a person who has to deal with you will come to a certain conclusion. (Willem did. Gehrman did and he still cared, God help him.) Did it frighten you when you noticed that all your warmth and succor and sympathy and compassion and friendship was always appropriate, was always welcome, was always expressed exactly when you stood to gain the most? Or did you always understand your beating heart as something you could use?

You didn't die unaware. No, you became very familiar with what you are. Every fear and every craving and each repugnant turn. The beast is closer than your jugular vein. You bit down on yourself when you clenched your teeth at night.

If you ever bothered to ask yourself who you were - who you really were, truly, truly, Laurence - you would only be able to name that hot, mad fire that slinks through your veins. All glorious and desperate and base.

Chapter Text

After some deliberation, none of which involves you and none which you can quite follow the logic of, you're moved into Laurence's quarters at Byrgenwerth (nominally, as a shaving-boy, although you have no particular responsibilities in the daytime). His household terrifies you. You learn very quickly about what you should not touch (everything). You feel ugly and profane.

Then, when you're at the edge of a nervous breakdown, you start to tease a little at the edges of that ugliness, to push. You consider being the rotten thing that's leaked its black stain into his life and you decide you like it. You touch his bed when he's not in it. (You touch yourself in it, once. You pretend you're him.) You spend a lot of time going through his things. You ask to be let into his private library (you're still trying to impress him) and after a little interrogation he grants you the privilege.

His real life seems to be conducted in his private study on Byrgenwerth grounds, more or less, and his work spaces in the faculty housing are arranged like an artful explosion, which frustrates you because it's easy to peruse a clean desk or open and close a well-mannered drawer, and considerably more difficult to remember the exact angle that pile of papers was at before you disturbed it. You have so much trouble trying to penetrate this labyrinth that you start to believe it might be intentional, which intrigues you.

Laurence seems disinterested in personal effects - he has some kind of interest in optics and there's an eyeglass and a sextant along with some other little toys, a perfunctory crucifix, and a rather foul-looking charm of a white eye in a blue palm that the Tatar must have brought back from the hinterlands. You have no idea why he's brought you into his home.

One day he comes into your bedroom and sits down on your bed while you're reading, crosses his legs, and folds his big, well-formed hands in his lap.

"Tell me about your family," he asks you.

You do.

"Really? I thought you might have been a bastard, like me." He draws in a breath, and his granite hesitation conveys the intervening decades. "I taught myself the academic languages. All sort of things. My father tried to have me apprenticed to a wheelwright. Do you know what I did?"

You shake your head no. You wet your lips.

"I wrote my mother's family. Nothing special. I simply reminded them that I exist. I made one decisive strike." His smile is thin, his expression turns inward. "Of course I humiliated myself by begging, by threatening; if only by implication. They'd never accept me after that. I couldn't have entered society after that even if I wanted to. But they paid for my education. To hide me away at Byrgenwerth."

"I'm sorry," you say, for some reason.

"Why? I got what I wanted."

Then he gets up and leaves.

You feel awful and you don't know why. Afterwards when you try to divine him you come to conclusion that he was delivering some kind of venom: if you really wanted this, if this was really you, you would have done it well and sooner.

You annoyed him with the artless way you handle the tools of his domain.

You stop trying to learn Latin, you focus on what you were brought here to do. Still, a kind of tenderness wells up in you, one that wasn't possible before. Degraded Laurence, child of Byrgenwerth.

You keep his secrets. You do.

Chapter Text

One day you bring him icewater and stand there watching his breath fog up the glass while he drinks it. He puts it down on his desk and looks at you with beads on his lips. He blinks prettily, in a sarcastic sort of way.

"You're not really a Laurence, are you? It's some French name. Or English. Like the gentry in the Russian Empire like to adopt." (You were completely artless at this point, especially where the intelligentsia was involved, and thought you'd observed some cultural nuance that made you look perceptive. Even dangerous.)

Laurence looks back down at his book in disinterest. (You're crushed.)

"It's not French," says Laurence. "Would you think of me any differently if I were English? Or Russian? Or perhaps a wild Turk?"

You say nothing. He looks back up at you again. You quickly realize that Laurence never asks hypothetical questions. He waits with unendurable patience for a response.

"I don't know," you mutter. "You're the same person no matter what you tell me or don't tell me."

"Of course."

"But the light you'd be in would be different. Things move, kaleidoscopically, in the light..." You're thinking of the things he's shown you; the shadow of a bird passing over the stained glass in the reading room, a girl deigning to drop her slip from one pale shoulder. You're having a hell of a time putting your thoughts into words. You realize, paralyzingly, that Laurence is watching you think.

He gives you an odd, affectionate look. "Well said."

Laurence picks up the icewater and breathes on the glass.

"You like Russian, do you? Look closely."

He spells out a name with the nail of his little finger, in Cyrillic. He knows you can't read it.

"Well, that's hardly fair..."

He laughs, and holds the glass up. He exhales, again. The name fades over, like erasing a slate. Tabula rasa. He hands it to you.

"Show me yours. I mean, in your proper tongue."

You don't take the glass. You'd make ugly fingerprints, but that's all. "...I never learned how to write it."

"Fine. A gift, then." Laurence writes something in Latin letters, in the commoner's language around these parts. You can't quite make it out.

"Gwiazda wieczorna," you try. The evening star.

"Vecherovsky," he says. Maybe Wieczorowski. You're not sure.

You don't bother asking if this is his name. (It's a name, he'd say.) Or if it was meant to be yours. Somehow, you'd prefer it if it wasn't his true name. You don't want to be given these things like gifts. You want to know how to earn them.

Laurence wipes the name clean and puts the condensation on his finger in his mouth.

"Have you ever had icewater this time of year? I don't imagine you had an ice house where you were living. Go on, take it."

You have the feverish sensation that he's offering the dew off the pad of his finger. Still, with a bit of urging he gets you to drink the glass, watches you with his warm dark eyes.

***

Shortly thereafter you become lovers. (One day he calls you into the room and sits heavily in a chair and tells you to warm some shaving-water for him, which is odd considering that in the months you've been there you've never actually had to shave him before. A funny little microcosm of what you are. "I bloody hate waking up this early," he tells you. "I need another five minutes. Don't slit my throat in my sleep, please." He tilts his head back and closes his eyes and you're fairly certain he's not really sleeping. Still you press the cool blade to his hot throat and try very, very hard to control your breathing; and when you're done you press your lips to the shorn nape of his clean, warm neck.

Laurence is breathless, amused, his eyes still shut. "I was starting to think you'd never be brave enough to try.")

It wasn't anything like what you expected. What did you expect? (For it to be like fucking a marble statue, you think, years later.) Instead Laurence yields to you, all pliant and good. (You'll remember the look in his eyes for the rest of his life, pleading and soft and calm.) You lay together, afterwards. You kiss him. Tenderly, he recedes.

Chapter Text

Some few days later you accompany him into Yharnam. Scholars from Byrgenwerth have bivouacked in an unused building (trunks everywhere, shouting, the ruffle of papers, the clatter of glass bottles by the gross). They say they come by every once in a while, though to do what, you're not sure.

Some students are setting up IV stands.

People from the city are milling about, peasants in headscarves and beggars. Laurence is moving between them, sitting down and listening to each and every one, sympathetic and careful. Something odd stirs in you when you see him. He takes their hands. He's unsmiling, but his eyes are a comfort. He looks every inch the saint. (He insists, of course, that he is not a saint, as saints do.)

Later he stands in the doorway next to you, looking in. His back straight, his hands clasped behind his back, his face still. He's watching them, the students and patients. There's something among him and within him, that wild heat before a July thunderstorm, the sky grown uncommonly dark. Frog song, high wind, hot vapor skimming off the top of a pond. On days like that, back home in the mountains, you felt like anything could happen to you. Laurence has it, that potential. (It reminds you somewhat of the singular time you were in Byrgenwerth's electrical laboratory.) He looks like a pillar of flame.

Then his shoulders relax. He puts his hand to the doorframe and his temple to his hand. He lists like a child. He is still watching them.

"I can help them, Brador," he says. "But I have to do it in a way they understand."

He lays his vulnerability out before you like a schematic, just to see what you do with it. This, somehow, is different.

It's different when you make love that night. (You cling to him, you believe in him, you show him that.)

Then it passes, and everything is the same once more.

Chapter Text

You come to know your body like the mechanism of a ticking clock. You know the nature and onset of every little pain, every wave of anxiety. You spend your time with your books, researching medical symptoms, going over your notes on the progress of the beast and the refinement of the blood. You track your diet and your moods and the places you go and the things you do. First in your incomprehensible writing and then in a secret shorthand. You come up with reasons and solutions. You diagnose. You're in control.

When you don't know what else to do with your body you give it to Brador. He seems to have a good idea. (You wonder, sometimes, if he knows what he's doing for you, how easy it is for you to transpose your anxiety into passion, your mindless panic into a different kind of mindlessness. If you were to hazard a guess, you'd say no.)

You have decided to try submission. At the end of the day it sits poorly on you.

Your suffering is useless to you and this is what infuriates you about it. You need to find a way to temper this.

"The fear brings you closer to the gods, Laurence," Willem says, over tea. (He's been using that interchangeably with God now, in the singular. Curious.) "When you accept that you're powerless, then you're vulnerable, and in that vulnerability a great capacity to love enters you...as if you've been ripped open...even by claws..." He tries to find ways to put it into words. He has that odd, hopeful look on what's left of his face again. A certain trembling in his thin little lips.

You felt that once, long ago, but you're long past the era where you could feel it again. Or admit to it. You've done evil in this world, you've made yourself dirty. Don't call attention to what you know will punish you. Run silent and low on the earth, in the ground, in fire and frost.

"You know," you say, "I could never get my mind around a God that grants us food and health and miraculous healing and light in the temple, and then we build a religion around abstinence and suffering and the denial that the things around us are gifts. We're supposed to ask for His Healing but also despise it and anything that binds us, in our weakness, to the illusion of the profane world. It's a paradox. A lot of saints eventually come to the conclusion that they should ask for and receive torments."

"I'm sure you of all people could appreciate a religion based on hating your weaknesses and anything that has power over you," says Marat dryly. "Why don't you come visit us in the seminary more often?" Willem and Gehrman must read the comment as flippant, but there is something unspoken: we can help you. You've been framing it like conversation, but at the end of the day, you're building something.

He's always one step ahead of you. You can't wait until one of your hunters comes along and cuts off his head. (Still, he's not stopping you. Nobody's made the slightest effort to stop you, actually, even now that you've made your intentions known. Not that anyone could stop the people from building a church around you now. A properly constructed machine will keep going and going long after you give it that first little push.)

"You love the things that supplant you, Laurence," Gehrman says, thoughtfully. He doesn't speak much, but he seems to understand you on a level that makes you feel - well, condescended to, perhaps. (You can be shockingly frank with Gehrman. And Willem, now that you don't need anything from him anymore.) "You love the people who can do things you can't. Because they can do things you can't. You keep them close at hand."

You hear: you only love the people who you need to use.

You're thinking of Brador. You think of what he does for you, the loyalty you simply do not possess.

"I suppose everybody does it," he adds, with a kindness you find frankly irritating. "Falls in love with people because they have something they lack. The ones you love are meant to enrich your life."

You're thinking of Brador, how he got that night when the hunter's rumors caught up to him. All that talk of girding one's loins, the beast travels up the right leg. Brador on his knees with a knife in his stomach, the poison in him pooling up and hardening over his hands. ("You put the blood in me, you put this in me, you did.") And then he got up and pulled the knife out and loved you anyway.

He does things for you without understanding. God, how terrifying that must be.

Within yourself you register a certain degree of discomfort regarding what Gehrman is saying and take that as proof of your goodwill and decency, and then forget about it entirely.

"I'm going to let you borrow our runesmith," says Willem. "Surely Caryll can come up with a way for you to handle the beast."

Caryll thinks it over, and comes to the same conclusion you do: the only way out of the beast plague is through.

"Come and find me," Caryll tells you, "when the beast is closest."

Chapter Text

Laurence yields to you, he gives and gives and gives. A man like split and rotten fruit. The overabundance of it makes you feel dirty and then you come to crave that sick afterglow. When he's with you you know what you are. You're the servant boy he takes advantage of, his violent-minded, callous-handed, stupid little whore.

It should bother you, but it doesn't. He demands this of you and to you it looks like need.

You're his whore. You're his. He keeps you.

"Annalise, the foul-blooded?" he repeats to a patient. "The Father would never condemn anyone to eternity on earth. Remember, friends, this life is not the true life." His eyes are distant, unfocused. His mouth is firm. "...I predict that someday soon a sign from the heavens will come, of how wretched and beastly our trials are on this dirt. Think of your heavenly reward!"

You know exactly what he's talking about.

You keep his secrets. Or you did, once.

You begin to get worried.

You do what you shouldn't do, which is make yourself pathetic (something by which Laurence cannot abide). You grow a beard, you look your age, you want to see if Laurence still desires you.

He still sleeps with you, at least.

Laurence has stairways constructed, instates elevators and gates and a curfew at night. Certain parts of the city are only reachable by going through semi-private buildings. To the people it must look awfully modern, to you its purpose is obvious. A four-legged creature doesn't clear stairs easily. Elevators without operators make it difficult to move from one part of the city to another, and an outbreak can be cordoned off spectacularly with a lock in the right place.

"It won't last forever," Ludwig tells him.

"Oh, shut up," Laurence says.

"I can help you," you say, when you're alone.

Laurence gives you a calculating look, and then he gives you an address. ("Please," he whispers, pressing it into your hands. You'd have moved the world for him, then.)

You know the street and you pick out the building quickly enough. Some miserable flophouse built in a hurry to accommodate the influx of people who want blood ministration. It looks temporary, it never is. People don't leave Yharnam, really. Laurence is clever. Now people take the blood under contract, pledge to work for a while in Yharnam, build his cities for him. Stick around just long enough to fall fallow and vanish on nights when the moon is close. (You feel as if the contract has some other meaning, but whatever it is, you've never quite been able to suss it out, and the ministers are secretive about the terms. Every contract is different, they say.)

This one might be trying to skip out, you imagine. (It doesn't half matter. Not to you.)

Indifferent woman downstairs, passing for a landlady. "You're looking for who...?" she asks, eyes all blood-glazed, not even bothering to look at your face. "What did you say your name was again?"

"Vecherovsky," you tell her. You know she won't remember it.

Afterwards you take a carriage all the way to Byrgenwerth. (You feel as if you shouldn't without Laurence's permission, which you didn't get, and that makes it feel like a place to sneak off to when you're escaping a scene, and somehow it all adds up in your head.)

You attend a mass at the seminary. You're not religious, you don't think, but you feel much safer slipping into a crowd. The ceremony devolves quickly into a discussion Willem and Marat are having about the purpose of creation and God's love. (What brought all this on you don't know.)

"Of course we're creatures that develop best under strife, that only understand happiness in contrast with suffering and only enjoy anything if we struggled to get it," says Willem. "We rot like November apples in safety and luxury, and we were created that way. Have a little imagination - God could just have easily made us to be different."

"So if it's possible for things to be different, then there must be intent in the truth. Is it possible then that God, in His omnipotence, created a race in His image to experience things like disappointment and consequentially things like a hard-won achievement? If that, then, if we're the lens through which the heavenly experiences itself, is it possible then that our existence weakens God, degrades God?"

The subject of heavenly contamination raises heads in the audience. (Something about the cosmos. What have you overheard?)

Willem sighs, gives him an appraising look, and then says something so completely unrelated that you're left with the distinct feeling they're speaking in code.

You should inform Laurence of this.

Heading back to Yharnam proper you keep turning the sermon over in your mind (the topic of degradation has particular interest to you), and although that wasn't its true purpose you promise yourself one thing: Laurence keeps his hands clean. That's what you'll do with the poison inside of you, pour it and spill it in merciful abundance, like overflown wine. You'll sate the blood, and he can stay in high cathedral. You've always been the dirty one.

***

You'll keep me, won't you? he asks you, folding his fingers over yours. You realize it's taken much of him to say this. You are not sure if it has anything to do with what you want to hear.

Chapter Text

Time passes. You have some kind of retinue, now. You're important enough to be a public secret. (Laurence is losing his grip. You try not to think about it.) Children whisper rhymes about you in the alleys. And the church assassins are never far behind...

You loathe the ministers, struggle to think up ways you could remind both them and you that you are first and best without being too transparent about it. Reminds you of Maria (whatever became of her, anyway?) who never spent time in the company of the other hunters; clearly hated every one of them save Gehrman and you knew that meant she hated herself. People are easy to see through when you find the cracks.

Still, you get a little pleasure out of sending them scurrying when you show up. You have underlings now, almost.

One night you're hurried to his dining hall at the Grand Cathedral, slick with blood. They don't give you a chance to clean off.

Caryll is standing, Laurence is seated, Caryll is leaning over into Laurence's ear. There's something like a branding iron in Caryll's hands.

"The faithful haven't turned," says Caryll. "You could try it that way. It would be easy. It would carry you for a long time. And it's what everyone's assumed and what they've assumed for a long time. Laurence, they know. If you turn then you have to address - "

"No," says Laurence, "No." You know he hears you coming because he waves Caryll off.

Laurence is waiting for you at the table, and without words you come to stand, as Caryll did, at his side.

"Feed me something," he asks. His eyes look strange in the candlelight.

"My hands - "

(All slick with the blood.)

"Shh."

Laurence keeps his hands clean, you think to yourself. It's come to be your mantra, now. You'll admit you got a vicious kind of pleasure out of knowing what you do for him, out of keeping him pure and remote. You love him like a kept woman. (He knows this. He is violating this. This is your fault, you drove him to it, you did. He's not a thing that you can hollow out and wear and make into your own, it's like with the Latin and all your worthless attempts - )

He's become reclusive, these days; one day in abundance, the next austere. He takes and gives and takes by giving. You don't know what he's planning.

You're afraid of him when you can't predict what he does. All this time you've tried not to be.

There's a plate of soft, swollen dates. You pick one up in your shaking, sticky fingers. Laurence opens his mouth. (Warm dark eyes. Pliant and good.)

He gives and gives and gives. He makes you do what he wants.

He eats every scrap of fruit and flesh and marrow from your palm. He bites a strip of burnt meat from your mouth with a kiss; you feed him like a mother wolf. Afterwards he washes your hands in a bowl of warm water, his chest to your back, guiding your fingers, and with his lips to your ear he asks you what it feels like to take lives for him. His palms move over your stomach.

"Show me," he tells you, "show me."

***

 

You bring him to the hunter's workshop, in Gehrman's armory (and something has gone terribly wrong, he's looking at all this like an omen). There was a sense of shame about it to you, somehow, a thing that should be kept in secrecy. The gracelessness of the saw and the iron cleaver. You show him all the twisted metal and rust, let him run his perfect fingertips over the malformed teeth. His Grace's eyes on them. He's seeing something. Visions of your blood running in the streets.

(and yet it's in him even now, it sanctifies all he can do)

"What are these?" he asks, stopping at one of them.

"They're beast's claws."

"What do they feel like, when you have them on?"

You'll always remember his silhouette, slim and sharp and dangerous. Vicar Laurence, strapped into a weapon. He strikes towards you (and his reflexes are unnaturally good, even among those who have had the blood, he takes to it), and you block it easily with your staff. He looks at his hand, head tilting like a viper's, bright and silent. You'll always remember his silhouette, slim and sharp and dangerous. Vicar Laurence, strapped into a weapon. He strikes towards you, in a playful little jab that isn't playful. (and his reflexes are unnaturally good, even among those who have had the blood, he takes to it), and you block it easily with your staff. He looks at his clawed hand, head tilting like a viper's. Face all bright and silent.

You wonder if he fences.

And in that you realize you know nothing about him. Nothing. You are terrified, and you are terrified for him, and yes, you did believe him, you did believe that he was healing, that what he did was by necessity, that he was good, and he was brave, and he tried. You're thinking of that day in the dusty-sunlit backroom, the place that would become the Healing Church, and the face he showed them. You're thinking of the day he stood on the bluffs that would become his living cathedral, all wild and drunk on himself, that vein of hot potential - how he smiled, how he laughed, how in that moment he was the joy of all who beheld him.

Laurence's nostrils flare slightly.

"Get Caryll."

"You want the Beast's Embrace. It's not ready. He said it's not ready for you - "

"Get Caryll."

He laughs, and grabs you, and gives you the first kiss you've had that makes you feel like his equal. "I'm all drunk on you, you know," he tells you.

Is that who you are?

"The moon is close tonight," Laurence says, "I want to hunt. I want to hunt with you. I want to be out in those streets."

The runesmith approaches. Laurence pulls down the shoulder of his shirt.

 

***

It fails, of course. Strange it is, the soft look that on his face, just before. Almost like loving.

Chapter Text

The rivers of abundance flow in your blood, plagues are turned by your hand. Your body is a ripened feast.

At the end of the day, you fail them.

"I'm sorry," Brador sobs. There's blood all over his hands and feet, you can't see his face. "This is all my fault. I'm old now. I'm ugly. I'm not worth anything to you - "

Oh, Brador. Did you really think that was what this was all about?

It's all come to nothing, nothing, and as you rise impossibly high, your beastly back scraping the ceiling, you sense it; the light and fire of the city fading in the distance. The monstrosity collapsing. And yet your wicked machine turns and turns. They will not come to the end of defiled Pthumeru. They will rise. They will defy the gods. You see a vision in your final moments: they will venerate your skull in the Grand Cathedral, the city will subsume its beastly nature into itself. The beast has been unveiled, the beast has been uplifted, and now that you've dignified and deified the turning the scholars will continue their great work. No more secrets. At least, one less. The vital one. And here you are, in their fear and their pain, at the end of the world.

(And yet you love the truth, you do. Otherwise, you would never have done this. Child of Byrgenwerth, the orphaned scholar.)

You won't end here, as you were meant to, you'll burn in that dark place and erase all you meant to stand for trying to hold that control you craved in your clumsy hands. If you were still human you would have called it a humiliation. This is your punishment, this is your sin. You will find no peace in death.

Somewhere, quietly, a man you loved once keeps the secret of you. Still he thinks he's touched you, somehow, there in the black.