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"Crem. I thought maybe with the oath-"

Folorian winced. People gaining access to a Surge after saying an oath was far from unheard of so that was a logical guess. The issue was he had not managed to say his truth.

He saw Aln stop and asked Kerr to watch what ahead. It was a second monster who was holding someone in one of its many hands, Kerr couldn't tell if she was alive.

Aln swung Pel at what Kerr assumed was the monster position. He wasn't surprised to see part of him him disappear, he was after all hidden behind the monster's flesh, he would reappear when he left it.

Pel did not reappear.

Aln stumbled backwards. "Folorian, I think you're going to need to try!"

Rust. What could he do against two monsters? He couldn't soulcast the ground under them without risking falling. Make the roof fall on them? No, it was to high to touch. Was he going to have to soulcast air to a protection for his first try?

Wait. Risk falling?

He knelled and put his hand on the ground, trying to reach in the cognitive realm

You can make it easier

A whisper escaped from his lips "My best friend's mind broke by my fault"

He came into contact with something on the other side, the soul of the tile they were on, a large square of a colour different enough for the ones next to it that it didn't see itself as just a part of the floor. Perfect.

"Would you like to change? To sand maybe?"

Light poured from his spheres to the tile as it reverted to the sand the concrete remember having used to be and Folorian and Aln fell out of the reach of the two monsters

21 hours ago, Rushu42 said:

It could be an interesting plotline to put them in the Cognitive Realm, actually, if you want to forgo the roll - it's up to you.

Also, DA people, if anything in this post contradicts what you've got planned, please let me know.

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It could have been but Lightweaver don't have any way that we know of to take people with them

Edited by mathiau
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Reshilore was alarmed by the amount of blood Vivica was using to paint with. He was about to speak up when he saw what it was she was drawing. It was a chart of sorts, a diagram half remembered. There were missing details and parts where the red medium bled through the paper. And it bore a striking resemblance to the diagrams Reshilore had made during his research. 

He watched in silent fascination as Vivica continued to paint, supplying her own gruesome materials. He hadn't shared his theories of investiture transplants with anyone, so how could she know of them? 

Vivica smiled, and it was beautiful and worrying and sad all at once. She spoke softly, but did not look at him, "Oh I don’t know, Mr. Reshilore,” her eyes fixed upon the crimson artwork, “I don’t think she’d have given you the card if she didn’t want to see you again.” Reshilore mumbled some sort of agreement, but he too was fixated on the diagram. Vivica began to paint numbers and symbols, correlating to specific points on the diagram. Reshilore drank them in, his mind racing as he made connections and drew parallels.

As her paint began to dry, Vivica's smile began to fade. She looked at her work and spoke softly, “You wouldn’t want to appear rude, now would you? Perhaps you could bring her something - to make up for the delay.” She made a few more strokes, then proffered the page to him, her eyes large in her pale face. Reshilore reached out, as if in a trance and grasped the edge of the paper. It felt warm to the touch, warmer than he would have thought. His eyes carved grooves into the paper, tracing every line and symbol. This was a great gift, and he did not know why he had been offered it or if he even deserved it. "Here," her voice was low and solemn, "you can give her this."

A strange rush came over Reshilore as he took the paper in both hands, and it felt as is a pulse ran through the room. It was more that the scribbles of a mad woman, more than the doodles of a disturbed mind. It was a key. 

His mind was racing, making connections between his research and the chart in front of him. But should he even keep it? He should have alerted Victoria the moment this girl started painting with her own blood. But something has silenced him. And something was silencing him now. Vivica had known about the card in his pocket, which was strange enough, and then she had painted him a picture that seemed to relate to his research. That was stranger still. He folded up the paper and tucked it in his pocket, wondering at all that had transpired in this simple room. It felt as is someone was plucking at the strings of fate, playing an eerie melody.

He met Vivica's eyes, sad and proud and knowing. "Thank you for this gift, Vivica. May I ask where it comes from? Where have you seen this? Why are you giving it to me?"

He hesitated, knowing he shouldn't ask the next question, but needing to know.

"Why are you in this place?"

...

Victoria  smiled to the newcomer, "Welcome Mari. If possible, could I ask for your assistance. If you could return and inform emergency personnel of our exact location, that would help them get here sooner. While I would love to get to know, I must put the health and safety of my patients first." She hoped Mari would be willing. Victoria loved her job, but she wasn't keen on running an entire ward by herself. 

Just then she felt another sharp pain in her abdomen, stronger than the last. At that exact moment, Sanax stumbled backwards, colliding with the wall. He seemed grabbed a pencil and started scribbling furiously on the floor. Victoria tried to soothe him, but the pain was too intense. She gasped for breath, one hand on the wall to steady her. She closed her eyes and focused on her breathing, lengthening her breaths and controlling her pain. She opened her eyes and spoke to Sanax, hoping he could hear her, "Sanax, do you need me to soothe you? Sanax, can you hear me?" He didn't respond, only continued his manic scribbling. She didn't like soothing people without their consent, but there were of course times when the situation required it. "Sanax, I'm going to soothe you, please try to calm down." She reached out, soothing the fear that was coursing though his mind, trying to give him a chance to get ahold of himself. Her breath was slightly ragged as she looked to Ben, no Byron, to see how he was reacting to all this. He was staring at Sanax, transfixed on the mass of lines being created before then. Victoria grew concerned, with many unstable patients there was the tendency to fixate on certain stimuli, which could lead to adverse reactions and behavior. Fortunately, Byron turned away from the drawing and  turned to Victoria. "Do they... does Sanax do that often? Do I do that?"

Victoria did her best to look reassuring. "I am not allowed to share patient information with others, but I can safely say I've never seen you do this." The pain had faded, and her breathing was regulated. What was that? She never felt pain like that before. Maybe it was just stress, though that sounded weak even to her. She had to hope that help would get here soon, she wasn't sure how much longer she could hold everything together. It felt like cracks were starting to form.

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Posted (edited)

As Reshilore reached out for the paper, something stirred in his eyes, something familiar. And for a moment, Reshilore looked very little like Reshilore at all. Vivica knew that look, that ravenous revelation, that spark of static energy that accompanied a true discovery. The look of a Scientist. 

He folded the paper quickly, slipping it into his pocket as though afraid it might be taken from him if he stared at it too long. Vivica’s eyes flicked upward, to where Victoria was attempting to calm Sanax.

What a pretty drawing, Vivica mused. There certainly was an air of creativity about the place today. Perhaps there were some creationspren around? Her attention returned to Reshilore as he began to speak, his voice hushed and tense with anticipation. 

“Thank you for this gift, Vivica. May I ask where it comes from? Where have you seen this? Why are you giving it to me?"

Then he hesitated for a moment before asking, even more softly. "Why are you in this place?"

Vivica smiled again, and as she stepped closer Bennington began to swim sinuous loops around them both. She beckoned Reshilore closer, lowering her voice until it was nearly a whisper.

”It’s a recipe,” she giggled, setting one nail between her teeth and biting down gently. The nail bent with a pleasing give, then sprung back when she opened her mouth. “The most wonderful recipe in the entire multiverse. And I even included the secret ingredient.” Vivica winked conspiratorially. “The red river that gives and takes. Red red red, the loveliest color, don’t you think? I had all the red I could ever want, in the other life. That’s where I learned the recipe, Mr. Reshilore. It’s dripped and splattered and smeared on every Alley wall. Red frosting on white coats under a black black sky.”

Vivica clasped her hands and did a little twirl, spinning in place. Bennington spun with her, weaving between the tendrils of her hair. “You remind me of someone I once knew, Mr. Reshilore. He had the most wonderful smile. That’s why I’m giving you the recipe.” She patted his pocket, now containing both the bindpoint chart and the gilded business card. Two very special things.

”And as to why I’m here,” she grinned. “Why, I’m mad, of course. And this is where you keep mad people, in this world. It’s too perfect here. No room for me. Mind’s like a cracked door, and all the dark is shining through. Dark dark dark. It spoils the pretty lights. We’re in a doll’s house, Mr. Reshilore, and all the colors are thrown through stained glass. But who’s keeping the floodlights on?”

Vivica shrugged, then laughed again. “Don’t worry,” she whispered. “I’ll keep your secrets. That’s what we’re all looking for, isn’t it? A secret that will let us change the world? Maybe your friend would accept a secret in return for keeping her waiting. If it’s good enough, she might even tell you one in return. Maybe even the one you’re most desperate to know.”

She giggled, staring into Reshilore’s eyes with her pale blue gaze. “I like you, Mr. Reshilore. You’re like me. You let the dark in, too.”

@Fatebreaker

Edited by ZincAboutIt
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On 4/7/2022 at 6:45 PM, mathiau said:

Folorian winced. People gaining access to a Surge after saying an oath was far from unheard of so that was a logical guess. The issue was he had not managed to say his truth.

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Whoops, I forgot whether or not this had already happened. In my defense, it was a while ago :P

Aln fell with the sand - feeling, for a brief, surreal moment, like she was in some giant hourglass. Then she landed with the painful crack of broken bones. She healed instantly from the Stormlight, of course, but it still hurt. As she scrabbled to her feet, she felt a strange rush of exultation. Folorian had done it! She knew how long he'd been struggling with Soulcasting. No, insisted a part of her mind. You've only known him for a few months. A wave of disorientation hit her again, but she gritted her teeth. Focus. She could focus. Where were they? 

She looked around. The hallway they had landed in wasn't far from the lobby; she remembered that from the hospital floor plans. So she took off running in that direction, calling only "This way," to Folorian between breaths. The sight of the room brought her up short. The entrance was blocked by piles of rubble, like part of the ceiling had caved in, and throngs of people were gathering, their worried speech twisting above their heads in slanting typography. Several people were clutching at injuries, apparently wounded in the explosion. She nearly pushed past - she was in a hurry, after all, and the hospital should have their own healers on staff. But she hesitated, the words of a recent oath still echoing in her mind, and channeled the last of her worryingly diminished store of stormlight towards their healing. She ducked off before they had time to say anything in thanks, and elbowed her way through the crowd. For once, at least, she was glad of her unusually short stature. 

She stopped before the exterior wall of the hospital and summoned Pel as a blade (ignoring the startled reactions of those around her). She couldn't just cut out a doorway in the wall and push it through; the weight of the brick wall would still be far too heavy for her to move, especially with the thin cuts of a Shardblade. But small pieces she could do. She jammed Pel through the wall and began slicing a grid of evenly sized small sections, which she then hammered through with the lengthened handle of the sword. Even with a supernaturally powerful tool, the work was slow, and she prayed that the shadow monsters would be sufficiently slowed to allow them time to leave.

 

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Mari wanted to nod to Victoria, when Vivica started talking. She only paid a bit of attention at the start, but quickly paid more and more attention as she rambled on and on. Her face was pale by the end of it, with more questions than answers. How the rust had someone with an encounter with the Alley ended up in a mental hospital? Had they escaped? Or had someone released them, figuring they'd be insane enough people would ignore them?

She shook her head, turning back to Victoria. "Alright," she said. "I'll see who I can find." And, she added in her head, I'll look into whoever released a test subject into a mental hospital, and the odd sensations that other person is giving me.

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Aln pushed her way through the last of the rubble, Folorian beside her, and stumbled out into the street. The others who had been trapped in the lobby surged out behind her, but she ignored them and took off running again. While she hoped that the shadow creatures that had pursued her would stay focused on the hospital, she didn't dare count on it. Eventually, after a blur of unfamiliar turnings taken at random, she stopped, her lungs burning without stormlight to keep her going. As she leaned against a nearby wall, fighting to catch her breath, the full absurdity of the situation suddenly hit her. In a rush of pent-up stress and fear, Aln started laughing wildly.

"I'm sorry," she said between gasps, "I'm sorry, it's really not funny. It's just - how was that for our first stealth mission?"

@mathiau

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15 hours ago, Rushu42 said:

Aln pushed her way through the last of the rubble, Folorian beside her, and stumbled out into the street. The others who had been trapped in the lobby surged out behind her, but she ignored them and took off running again. While she hoped that the shadow creatures that had pursued her would stay focused on the hospital, she didn't dare count on it. Eventually, after a blur of unfamiliar turnings taken at random, she stopped, her lungs burning without stormlight to keep her going. As she leaned against a nearby wall, fighting to catch her breath, the full absurdity of the situation suddenly hit her. In a rush of pent-up stress and fear, Aln started laughing wildly.

"I'm sorry," she said between gasps, "I'm sorry, it's really not funny. It's just - how was that for our first stealth mission?"

@mathiau

Hearing a deaf person's tense laughter was a surprising experience. In normal conversations the pitch of Aln's voice occasionally jump due to her not being able to hear it, here it was all over the place

"A sage once said it's when things are the less funny we need to laugh the most" He said looking in her bright green eyes "At least I think a sage said that. If not the certainly should have."

He took a memory of her face and compared it to other he took over the years, it was impressive how both brown and green eyes felt completely natural on her face

Hmmm....

Hush you.

"But yes, I'm not sure 'stealthy' would be a good word for what just happened. By the way, is Pel alright? I remember not all of him got out of the monster you attacked"

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1 hour ago, mathiau said:

Hearing a deaf person's tense laughter was a surprising experience. In normal conversations the pitch of Aln's voice occasionally jump due to her not being able to hear it, here it was all over the place

"A sage once said it's when things are the less funny we need to laugh the most" He said looking in her bright green eyes "At least I think a sage said that. If not the certainly should have."

He took a memory of her face and compared it to other he took over the years, it was impressive how both brown and green eyes felt completely natural on her face

Hmmm....

Hush you.

"But yes, I'm not sure 'stealthy' would be a good word for what just happened. By the way, is Pel alright? I remember not all of him got out of the monster you attacked"

Aln pulled her hands down her face, doing her best to calm herself. "Maybe you could coin the saying yourself; you're close enough to a sage."

She took a moment to glance at Folorian. He didn't seem injured, thankfully. There weren't many things that could hurt a Radiant, but she would hazard that those shadow monsters fell in that category. And her healing was probably blocked by that accursed bane; even now, his words were flickering dangerously close to invisibility.

"Oh yes, Pel's alright, I think." In confirmation, Pel drifted up from her pocket and hung in the air. "It didn't seem to be directly striking at his Cognitive Essence, just disrupting his connection to the Physical realm. If those things had been using anti-investiture I doubt we'd have escaped there alive."

"Aln," said the spren, "you may wish to ask Folorian about his soulcasting. I noticed a disturbance in the Cognitive Realm as he did it, like he was swearing an oath."

Aln cocked her head and looked at the other scholar. "Pel just said something about swearing an oath - do you know what he's talking about?"

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20 minutes ago, Rushu42 said:

Aln pulled her hands down her face, doing her best to calm herself. "Maybe you could coin the saying yourself; you're close enough to a sage."

Folorian's heart skipped a beat. Aln thought he was almost a sage? Him?

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She took a moment to glance at Folorian. He didn't seem injured, thankfully. There weren't many things that could hurt a Radiant, but she would hazard that those shadow monsters fell in that category. And her healing was probably blocked by that accursed bane; even now, his words were flickering dangerously close to invisibility.

"Oh yes, Pel's alright, I think." In confirmation, Pel drifted up from her pocket and hung in the air. "It didn't seem to be directly striking at his Cognitive Essence, just disrupting his connection to the Physical realm. If those things had been using anti-investiture I doubt we'd have escaped there alive."

"Aln," said the spren, "you may wish to ask Folorian about his soulcasting. I noticed a disturbance in the Cognitive Realm as he did it, like he was swearing an oath."

Aln cocked her head and looked at the other scholar. "Pel just said something about swearing an oath - do you know what he's talking about?"

So Pel was alright, good. "I... Yes, I know what he's talking about. I said my first truth just before making us drop."

Rust, she was going to ask what he'd said, wasn't she? "We... We should find somewhere safe for the night, and refill out spheres. As you can see I don't even have enough to weave words for you"

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Posted (edited)

18 hours ago, mathiau said:

“We... We should find somewhere safe for the night, and refill out spheres.

Just then, a forgotten flyer, old-timey yet charming all the same, drifted from an open window and floated in the air for a moment before landing gently on a nearby table.

Spoiler

BBC17840-28DF-4C50-A798-6407E93DF1C5.png
:P

 

Edited by I think I am here.
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Posted (edited)

"It's a recipe. The most wonderful recipe in the entire multiverse. And I even included the secret ingredient.” Reshilore was puzzled before realization hit him. It's detailing a procedure, a process. An Experiment. “The red river that gives and takes. Red red red, the loveliest color, don’t you think? I had all the red I could ever want, in the other life. That’s where I learned the recipe, Mr. Reshilore. It’s dripped and splattered and smeared on every Alley wall. Red frosting on white coats under a black black sky.”

Reshilore was taken aback by Vivica's answers. The Red River gives and the Red River takes. She was talking about blood. Was that the key, the piece of the puzzle he had been missing? Did the process of investiture transplantation require more of a physical element than he had thought? Was a transfusion needed? Could the genetic markers in the blood play a factor? Metalurgic abilities were often passed on through bloodlines. Maybe...

“You remind me of someone I once knew, Mr. Reshilore. He had the most wonderful smile. That’s why I’m giving you the recipe.”Reshilore looked up surprised. Someone she knew? "Well," he tried to regain his composure and focus on the moment, "I like to smile. I think we all have something to smile about, even if it doesn't seem like it. For instance, I got to meet you today. I'd say that's worth a smile, wouldn't you?" Vivica returned the smile, giving him a playful laugh.

"And as to why I’m here,” she grinned. “Why, I’m mad, of course. And this is where you keep mad people, in this world. It’s too perfect here. No room for me. Mind’s like a cracked door, and all the dark is shining through. Dark dark dark. It spoils the pretty lights. We’re in a doll’s house, Mr. Reshilore, and all the colors are thrown through stained glass. But who’s keeping the floodlights on?"

Reshilore tried to think of an answer, but found none forthcoming. He was unsettled, by her words and by her expression, both so at odds with the other. Was this truly her madness, or was there something more beyond it. A little while ago Reshilore would have written it off as the ramblings of the mentally unstable, little more than incomprehensible babble. But she had known the card was there, which was impossible. And even more impossible was the diagram she had drawn, that she had given to him. He could feel it's presence in his pocket even now, like a glowing ember that burned at him. He wanted to take it out and discover it's secrets, to scour it's surface for knowledge. it was, he knew, something very important. He couldn't let anyone see until he was sure what it meant, what it was telling him. Vivica's expression was happy and carefree, but her gaze was still locked on to Reshilore.

“Don’t worry,” she whispered. “I’ll keep your secrets. That’s what we’re all looking for, isn’t it? A secret that will let us change the world? Maybe your friend would accept a secret in return for keeping her waiting. If it’s good enough, she might even tell you one in return. Maybe even the one you’re most desperate to know. I like you, Mr. Reshilore. You’re like me. You let the dark in, too.”

What did she mean by letting the darkness in? Reshilore felt indignant at first. He was trying to help people, to save lives. He was trying to do something that mattered. He had spent years studying how the metalurgic arts worked and trying to develop a solution to the problem that had plagued their world for generations. He wasn't letting the dark in, he was trying to bring light! Where was the darkness in that? He, he... what was he doing? He wiped a hand across his face and blew out a breath. I'm getting worked up, which isn't going to help Vic or Vivica. Be present, you knucklehead.

He gave Vivica another smile, "I like you too Vivica. I enjoyed playing the game with you, you're a very talented artist. But art isn't worth hurting ourselves over, wouldn't you say? There is plenty of beauty to be had without having to sacrifice for it." He looked around the room and found a small bandage, which he wrapped around her cut finger. "You know," he said as he placed the bandage, "there's a lot more art for you to make, and you need your fingers to do so. So try to take care of them, ok? Everyone is worth taking care of." 

...

Victoria was alarmed to see that her soothing had no effect on Sanax. She was about to try again, when she remembered a note from his file that said he manifested some sort of investiture sink. She would have to use more conventional means. She knelt down in front of him and gently took his hands, trying to pull his focus away from whatever it was he was drawing. "Sanax, I need you to focus. Can you take three deep breaths with me? In... out... in... out..." 

By the third breath he seemed to calm somewhat, though his eyes were still a little too wide. But it would have to suffice for now. Mari seemed to take it all in, looking intently at Sanax, then over at Vivica and Reshilore. Her expression was carefully neutral, almost blank, and her posture seemed almost anticipatory. After a moment she turned back to Victoria and said, "Alright, I'll see who I can find." She turned and left, moving purposefully, and as she did she cast another glance at Vivica and Reshilore.

After what felt like a few moments emergency personnel and hospital staff poured into the room. Victoria realized that Byron's time-bubble had probably made the wait seem shorter than it was. They were all escorted out of the building and onto the street, where other doctors and nurses were waiting for them. Each of the patients was seen to, and Victoria noted that Vivica seemed to be in an especially good mood. She smiled at that. Resh just has that effect on people

...

An hour or so later, she and Reshilore were on their way home. They walked down the street, fingers entwined as a cool wind blew from the west. "You know," Victoria mused, "this was not what I had pictured when I imagined you visiting me at work." Reshilore laughed and pulled her closer, putting his arm around her shoulders, "It wasn't exactly what I had envisioned either. But the way you handled the crisis today was amazing." Victoria looked up at him, leaning into the embrace, "Yeah, that was pretty crazy. I'm really thankful for your help back there, it made the world of difference. Sanax and Vivica are both pretty complicated patients, and both of them together wouldn't have been good. And that kid Byron is a new admit, so that was a whole other unknown factor. Really, it could've gone south very quickly. But Vivica seemed to really enjoy your company. Maybe a little too much." She elbowed him playfully. "Should I be worried?" Reshilore coughed as the question caught him off guard, and felt the heat rise to his cheeks. Victoria laughed, she loved the goofy face he made when flustered. She laughed and gave his waist a comforting squeeze, "Oh Resh, you make it too easy." He grumbled something about perverts under his breath, but allowed her to pull him closer. He was quiet for a bit, then said in a lower voice, "I was really worried about you today. That earthquake could've been bad. If anything had happened to you I... I would've lost it."

Victoria rested her head against his shoulder as they continued walking. The street was  quiet, though you could still hear the hustle and bustle of the city nearby. After a moment she said, "I'll be okay as long as I have you looking out for me." He took a shaky breath and nodded, not saying anything. She looked at the grey and white clouds that drifted overhead, slow moving mountains in grayscale. "And if something did happen you would figure it out, because you're my mad genius. Remember?" Reshilore nodded again, his arm tightening around her. Shadows passed over them as the clouds blew through a somber sky, and after a while Reshilore said softly, "I love you, Vic." Victoria smiled, then tilted her head for a kiss. They stopped there, letting the wind and the clouds pass by them as they shared a moment of sweet stillness. When Victoria pulled back she held Reshilore's face in his hands and said, "And I love you, you wonderful man. Now don't be so dour. You just need to spend more time with the woman who loves you. Don't be such a stranger." She pulled him in for another kiss, then arm and arm they walked down the street.

And as they walked away, a shadow watched their passing.

Edited by Fatebreaker
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15 hours ago, Fatebreaker said:

Kan Mien

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Wrong char name? Or is it on purpose?

 

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47 minutes ago, kenod said:
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Whoops, I'll fix that.

 

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On 4/14/2022 at 5:10 PM, mathiau said:

Folorian's heart skipped a beat. Aln thought he was almost a sage? Him?

So Pel was alright, good. "I... Yes, I know what he's talking about. I said my first truth just before making us drop."

Rust, she was going to ask what he'd said, wasn't she? "We... We should find somewhere safe for the night, and refill out spheres. As you can see I don't even have enough to weave words for you"

"That's great!" she exclaimed. "What-" then she stopped herself at the look on his face. Lightweaver oaths were different than the other orders, she remembered. Whatever Truth he'd spoken was likely to be traumatic. He'd tell her when he was ready. 

"You're right," she said instead. "The Guild obviously isn't an option; what about that boardinghouse? I think it's not too far from here. We can compare what we've learned and regroup."

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If we're doing a week-long timeskip, should we start RPing a scene at the boardinhouse now or should we do it post-timeskip? I'll ping Emulaton so they can weigh in on what their character wants.

@EmulatonStromenkiin

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10 hours ago, Rushu42 said:

If we're doing a week-long timeskip, should we start RPing a scene at the boardinghouse now or should we do it post-timeskip? I'll ping Emulaton so they can weigh in on what their character wants

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My character is just waiting in the taproom right now(main area of bar/restaurant on main floor? is that what it is called?). I kinda want him to meet your characters before the timeskip, but I'm probably good either way.

@Rushu42

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9 hours ago, Rushu42 said:

"That's great!" she exclaimed. "What-" then she stopped herself at the look on his face. Lightweaver oaths were different than the other orders, she remembered. Whatever Truth he'd spoken was likely to be traumatic. He'd tell her when he was ready. 

"You're right," she said instead. "The Guild obviously isn't an option; what about that boardinghouse? I think it's not too far from here. We can compare what we've learned and regroup."

@EmulatonStromenkiin

She hadn't asked.

She had almost asked, but she had not

"Yes, the Boarding house seems like a good idea."

 

 

"And Aln, thanks. For not asking"

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I think it makes more sense with the discussion that happened between Balance and Tashi if we meet him before the time skip

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14 hours ago, mathiau said:

She hadn't asked.

She had almost asked, but she had not

"Yes, the Boarding house seems like a good idea."

 

 

"And Aln, thanks. For not asking"

"Well, as much as I do love a mystery, your friendship is more important to me. I'm not going to jeopardize that by prying." The sentiment caught her by surprise, even as she said it. Odd, that she suddenly couldn't imagine her life without him around.

"Anyway," she continued hastily, before he could read anything in her expression, "let's get going. We need to start making a plan. Every answer that I got in that hospital just seems to have opened up more questions."

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I'll make a post in the Boardinhouse thread now, to transition.

 

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This thread has time skipped ahead one week.

Vivica stared at herself in the mirror, one finger tapping against the porcelain sink. 

Not much time, now. Not much time at all.

She had felt them moving, the shadows. They flitted across her vision, lurking in the corners of her eyes, in that place where people did not want to look.

But Vivica had been looking. And the shadows had been looking back.

They were angry.

She had overstepped with that drawing, the one she had given to Reshilore. Vivica smiled as she thought of him. Such a nice man. She didn’t regret giving him the Recipe. It was important. It was the most important thing she had ever done.

Until now, of course. There was nothing more important than this.

Vivica looked down at her tools, arranged neatly on a washcloth next to the sink, and gave a tiny sigh. They were not what she would have preferred, certainly not like what she had had in the Other Life. But, there was no time for moping. At least she had on her baking coat. 

Yes, at least there was that.

“Are you ready, Bennington?”

Her voice sounded thin, the barest quaver ringing at the edges. Vivica scolded herself. A scientist did not pout. She did not bewail her lot. She did what had to be done, for the advancement of all. Someone had to throw the first stone in this glass house. Someone had to let the darkness in. Because only in the darkness did people claw toward the light.

She picked up her first tool: a spoon. It had taken her the better part of the last week to sharpen its edge enough to cut. But sharp it was. Vivica rolled up her left sleeve, inspecting the skin of her forearm with clinical detachment. An odd place for this bindpoint, really. Though, she reasoned, perhaps its location made more sense than it initially appeared. Such a common place for self-harm, for those who wished to be rid of their own mental torment. Maybe the bindpoint called to them, whispering in their ears. A way to be rid of their mental instability, if only they knew how to go about it.

Vivica did not wish to be rid of it, but then, many things had happened that Vivica did not wish for. Such a great many things.

“The first step,” she said aloud, “is to create easier access to the bindpoint.”

She held the spoon for a moment, hand steady as stone. Then, with a single intake of breath, she began to carefully flay the skin from her forearm.

Blood immediately started to drip into the sink, the bright crimson standing out starkly against white porcelain. Vivica felt herself smile, harder this time. It cut itself into the corners of her mouth just as she cut away her own flesh. Tears pricked her eyes, called instinctively by the pain - though pain held little sway over Vivica now. 

Bennington floated over her right shoulder, looking on with somber eyes. This was a crude job, really, and would have been totally unnecessary with the proper spike. But that was the trouble with the Cognitive Ward - they did not allow the patients access to sharpened metal spikes. So, Vivica had to make do.

She set down the spoon, then picked up a long, narrow piece of copper.

It had once been a paperclip. One of the orderlies was a Keeper, and she always had extra copper clips to use on patient files, storing memories in them when needed. It hadn’t been too difficult to slip one out of her pocket during a routine evaluation. People didn’t expect deceit from Vivica. Perhaps they didn’t think her capable of it. 

She watched the harsh fluorescent light play off the copper, then turned her attention back to her wrist. The cuts had been precise, the skin peeled back to allow the dull and narrow piece of metal the best possible chance at hitting the bindpoint. It had to work. It had to. There was only one way to dismantle this fictional world.

Vivica had to remove the linchpin.

She had tried so many times to tell the Professor. To make him see. Make him remember. But he was too blinded by the false light, too happy by far. Too sane. Much too sane. 

Vivica did not have time to wait for him to go mad on his own. So she used what she did have: a copper paperclip, and blood.

She looked at herself then - really looked. Her sallow, sunken cheeks, her bloodshot blue eyes, her lank mousy hair. A ruin of a girl. A madwoman. Not even the power of a god could patch the cracks in her spirit. Even in this perfect world, Vivica was broken. 

But even that had a use.

Vivica held the copper wire between her fingers, suddenly uncertain. This would be slow work. Nasty. Inelegant. She glanced upward, towards a piece of paper taped onto the mirror. A drawing of a woman and a cheerful violet orb, holding hands with a tall man in a labcoat. Nox. The Professor.

The Lonely God.

“We have to do it, Bennington. For him.”

Vivica looked down again and grit her teeth, marking the bindpoint in her mind. Then, she began to slide the copper wire into her wrist.

Twenty minutes later, Vivica sat at her little desk and waited. She had wrapped a towel around her wrist, though blood continued to soak through. A neat little envelope sat at the corner of the desk, marked with the words “Professor Esserethel.”

“We did it Bennington,” she whispered, watching the shadows bend oddly in the light of her single lamp. 

There was no reply.

Vivica looked upward, to where Bennington usually floated above her shoulder.

Nothing. There was no one. 

Vivica was alone.

She bit her lip, though that did little to stop its trembling. It had been a possibility, she knew. A risk. Spiking out her own insanity would naturally rid her of her hallucinations. But some part of her had still hoped…

A low hiss broke the silence, and Vivica stood, clutching the sharpened spoon in her right hand. Tears traced quiet lines down her face. 

“You missed all the fun,” she said softly.

Beyond the reach of her lamplight, shadows crept and slunk and oozed across the floor. This was no simple mental edit. They had come to make her disappear. To patch the cracks. To keep the darkness out. 

“Don’t worry,” she said, raising the spoon. “I still have one more trick.”

Something black and slick moved one foot into the lamplight.

“One last surprise.”

Another step.

“I think you’ll really like it. It’s my disappearing act. Are you ready?”

Vivica felt her grip tighten, watched the shadows coil, ready to steal her. To take her. To make all this for nothing.

“I’m ready,” she whispered, smiling. White, and hard, and sharp.

Then she took the spoon’s scalpel edge and drew it across her own throat. 

7

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Posted (edited)

Vivica wasn’t at the door when Emily knocked. That was unusual for her - she was a pretty early riser. Emily opened the door. Vivica was sitting slumped next to her desk, blood in a puddle on the floor. Emily shoved the door all the way open, running in. She was about to check Vivica's pulse before noticing the incisions on her wrist and throat, a sharpened spoon fallen from her hand. There wouldn't be a pulse. The cuts were straight, precise, careful - like Vivica's art had been. An envelope, made from a neatly folded sheet of paper, lay on the desk, just outside a pool of blood. Professor Esserethel, it read. A blood-soaked towel lay underneath her wrist. Drops of blood dotted the floor beneath the sink, though the sink itself looked like it had been rinsed clean. Emily held back her emotions. Suicide was uncommon among her patients. The ones who were most at-risk were kept under strict observation, but Viv had been doing so good recently. Dr. Estrella had even commented on how calm she'd been after the earthquake. There just hadn't been any warning signs. Emily clenched her fists. Her nails dug into her skin, the pain giving her something else to focus on besides Vivica's body. Emily stepped out of the red puddle, leaving vivid footprints. Emily carefully slipped her shoes off next to the door. She didn't want to track blood around the hospital wing. She closed the window screen and softly shut and locked the door. She walked down the hall to the receptionist. 


"Could you buzz Dr. Larsen and admin? Vivica...um. A patient's, um, expired, and I need a doctor to pronounce her... gone... before we can start any of the post-mortem procedures." Emily was proud of how steady her voice was. John stared for a moment, then picked up the phone and made the call. 


Emily stood awkwardly, the tile floor cold on her socks. “Did Vivica have any, um, family we need to contact?” John typed a few keystrokes on the computer, then shook his head. Emily nodded, biting her lip. In the corner of her eye, Emily saw Katarina Larsen walking up. “Okay. Okay. I’ll, uh, I’ll help Kat then.” 

Kat and another nurse, David, walked ahead of her. Kat entered Vivica’s room. She gestured at the body. “Emily, could you confirm there isn’t a pulse?” Emily nodded. She slipped her shoes back on and carefully touched Vivica’s shoulder and Read her. She shook her head. Kat frowned sadly.

“David, can you get the room and the body ready for the morgue? Emily, you’ve done enough here. Could you get the paperwork filled out? Her chart and an incident report?” Emily nodded. Kat shook her head. “Gosh. I didn’t think Viv…. I’ll - I’ll have the charge nurse call the police.” Emily slipped her shoes off again, grabbed Vivica’s chart from next to the door, and headed to rinse her shoes off. The changing room had a bathroom off of it to shower if needed. Emily washed the blood off her soles. Then she rinsed her hands. There were spots of blood on her fingertips, on her nails. The dark red almost looked black, like tar. She scrubbed them again, rubbing soap over her hands vigorously. Another nurse came in - Jose, maybe? Emily was pretty sure she’d seen him in the physical wing of the hospital once or twice. He waved, stepping into a stall to change into scrubs. Emily made a quick smile at him. It felt fake, like a cheap Halloween mask, chafing the skin. Emily slipped her shoes back on. She grabbed the forms she’d need from John, and David handed her the folded envelope she’d left for Professor Esserethel. She walked to an empty office, flipping open the folder with Vivica’s chart. There were so many blanks on the first form.

Name: Vivica Roth. 
Sex: Female. 
Age: ~30. 
Date of Birth: Unk. 
Race: W. 
Planet of Origin: Sc. 

Address: Perm. Hosp. Res., Rm. C181
Home Phone: N/A. 
Email: N/A. 
Patient’s Employer: N/A. 
Emergency Contact: N/A. 
Family: N/A. 
Approved Visitors: Prof. E., Laurelai Esserethel. 
Insurance: N/A. 

Marital Status: S. 
Language Preference: Eng. 
Hearing Impaired: Yes. 
Vision Impared: No. 
Allergies: N/A. 
Natural Investiture: fBz, aBz (Comp.). 
PMHx: Left ear, neck - severe burn damage; hearing in left ear impaired. Severe insomnia. Frequent hallucinations. Complete Bronze Compounding dependence. PTSD. Minor agoraphobia, severe pyrophobia. See psychiatric history for specific mental health treatment plan.
Notes: Do not permit new items to remain in the room without a doctor’s approval, regardless of type. Vivica may attempt to use them to assault orderlies.

Emily pushed the folder to the side and started filling out a suicide incident report form. It was the first time she’d had to fill one out personally.

(1) Identifying Information
Name: Vivica Roth
Sex: Female. 
Age: ~30. 
Date of Birth: Unk.
Planet of Origin: Sc. 
Address: Perm. Hosp. Res. 

(2) Suicidal Act
Place: Einladung Hospital, CW, Rm. 181
Time: ~4:00am, 12 Scholus
Method: Lacerations on right wrist; severed carotid artery; significant blood loss. 
Discovered by: Emily Azizi, ~7:15am

(3) Psychiatric and Medical History
Emily copied down the notes from Vivica’s chart. Vivica is - had been - such an interesting patient. You never knew what you were going to get with her.

Left ear, neck - significant preexisting burn damage; hearing in left ear impaired. Severe insomnia. Frequent hallucinations. Complete Bronze Compounding dependence. PTSD. Minor agoraphobia, severe pyrophobia. Prone to mental breaks. Recent psychological evaluations indicated increases in emotional and mental stability.

(4) Family Psychiatric History 
N/A

(5) Personality and Lifestyle
Often detached from immediate circumstances. Enjoys artistic expressions. Can have quick mood swings. Generally curious.

Emily wiped a tear away before it fell onto the papers. She had a portrait Viv had done of her in some papers at her apartment. Vivica had given it to her on her birthday. 

(6) Typical Patterns of Reaction to Stressors
Increased detachment from reality. Hallucinations. Mental breaks. 

(7) Recent Stressors
Short temporary relocation due to earthquake. Attempted assault on nurse - non-malicious. 

(8) Role of Drugs or Alchohol
N/A

(9) Interpersonal Relationships
Professor Esserethel, Laurelai Esserethel

(10) Suicidal Ideation
Assaults on others - rarely injures self.

(11) Deterioration of improvement prior to death
Mood and stability seemed more positive prior to death; handled stressors of earthquake and new visitors well. No obvious signs of emotional deterioration.

Emily tried to think of anything Vivica had said the past week, any sign at all of her plans. The sharpened spoon meant she’d been planning this for some time, but Emily couldn’t think of anything out of the ordinary Viv had done. If anything, she’d seemed happier. She’d even said Bennington had been feeling particularly purple, which was generally quite positive for her, and Vivica wasn’t a good liar. There just didn’t seem to have been anything. Emily banged the desk. I should have seen something. This can’t have been out of nowhere. She picked up the envelope. Maybe Vivica said something in here that would explain why she did what she did. She toyed with it, then set it back down. She’d let the Professor read it first. Maybe Vivica had something to him that would help this make sense. 

Emily kept filling out paperwork, writing final notes and the date of death on form after form. She turned it in to John, and asked him to make sure Professor Esserethel got Vivica’s note. Eventually, a police officer came and asked her a few questions. A hospital psychiatrist left a voicemail on her mobile, trying to set up a meeting. She ignored it. She’d deal with it tomorrow. Katarina told her she should go ahead and head home, get out of the hospital for a bit. So Emily did. She drove home in her scrubs, walked in her apartment door without turning on the lights, shut the blinds, and went to sleep.

@ZincAboutIt @Voidus

Edited by 18th Shard
Continuity
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Professor Esserethel had not been sleeping well.

Every time his eyes had closed he had seen that dark cavern, the silently falling water and the tiny, quiet figure who stood beneath it staring directly into him as she pulled his hand into the waters. He remembered a flash of... something. Something dark that he was deeply thankful he could only recall the dimmest impression of. If even this flash sent the hairs on the back of his neck up and drenched him in sweat then he didn't want to know what the actual vision had done.

A steadily increasing beeping sound next to him continued, uninterrupted as he struggled to muster the energy or desire to switch the alarm fabrial off. Nobody expected him at work with any kind of regular hours, benefit of pulling so many hours of consistent overtime. But while once he had needed to be dragged away from his desk and his research he now struggled each day to walk to the campus and put thoughts to paper. When he did drag himself to his desk his mind wandered back to the cavern, to the smile that had seemed so sweet right up until the flash of forgotten memory.

"Not going to solve anything laying here." He muttered to himself, though it was still nearly an hour longer before he actually silenced the alarm and dressed himself for the day.

Perhaps a different distraction would help, he'd never been in a position where work had not immediately distracted him from anything else that came up in life so he had little experience in this. However there was perhaps one place he could go and set his mind at ease, someone whose life was in even worse tatters than his. Other people thought that his visiting the Cognitive ward at the Einladung hospital was simply another eccentricity, some quirk of genius. But honestly he'd simply always enjoyed the company there, they felt somehow more familiar than other people did.

He dressed quickly, looked at the week of stubble that had grown in the mirror and contemplated a razor for a few minutes before sighing and putting it away. When he started hesitating over a simple decision like that he'd learned he was about to shut down completely into lethargy again, and who knew how long it would be before he roused himself again? As he walked down the street towards the familiar old building, hestopped to order a coffee with a triple shot and a shocking amount of sugar. But even that taste seemed somehow distant, though the grit between his teeth felt very real and frustrating as he struggled to remove that while also rubbing at sunken red eyes.

"Morning Professor." Someone at reception greeted him on his arrival. "Visiting or studying?"

"Visiting." He replied, struggling to muster a smile. "Assuming she can have visitors today."

Vivica was not the most stable patient in the ward, sometimes she acted out enough that she had visiting rights suspended though the staff often looked the other way for the Professor. He hoped today was not one of the days they were going to be sticklers, he already felt a little better just with the thought of seeing her. Excited to see what outlandish tales she would tell today, to ask how Bennington was feeling.

"I'll check." The receptionist said, pulling some files out and flicking through them before switching to a stern voice. "But are you sure you should be here? You look worse than I did cramming before an exam. Push yourself too far and we'll have to admit you too."

He was about to politely smile at the warning that was only half a joke when he was assaulted by a sudden and violent dizzying sensation. Almost he thought it was another earthquake shaking the hospital and had to steady himself on the desk. But it was not a physical feeling, just an overwhelming sense of deja vu followed by an equally overwhelming sense of dread. Like a nightmare he already knew the end of.

"Are you alright?" They said, voice becoming less stern and more worried. "I was mostly joking but you really do look ready to collapse at any second now."

"No." He said, an ashen taste in his mouth. "I... I'm okay, just please check? It's very important."

She gave him a worried look before slowly nodding, triggering another wave of familiarity and horror. She was flipping through the folders, slowly reading the name on each before frowning at one. He could see Vivica's name on it as she was about to open it but he slammed his hand across the desk onto the file before its contents could become visible. She gave a shocked shout and stood up, taking a hasty step back and shooting him a scared look. He looked down at his hand, pressing the file to the desk in horror, body shaking. He shouldn't read that. Nobody should read that. If he destroyed it then nobody would be able to read it, nobody would be able to tell him the terrible words contained within.

"Professor?" A shaky voice said, repeating itself when he didn't look up. "Professor Esserethel? Are you alright? Please, please sit down I'll get one of the doctors."

No, the doctors would know. They'd tell him if they came. He couldn't see any of them, couldn't talk to any of them. He needed to go, needed to go to her room and speak with Vivica, that was how he could end this nightmare.

"Sorry." He muttered before stumbling towards one of the doors, pushing his way through.

He staggered each step at first, trying to work through the ever increasing knot of tension and dread forming in his stomach. But step by step he picked up speed to a jog, then rounding the corner to the cognitive ward he broke into a sprint. He did his best to avoid people before colliding, leaving a hurried apology to those he couldn't avoid until he finally reached a familiar corridor. He stood at the end, staring towards the handful of doors to patient rooms and one that held records. But his eyes were glued to one door. He just needed to take a step forward. He had just taken so many, why was this one so difficult? Why was it suddenly so hard to move his arm, to raise a hand to the door?

The door opened, and he felt a sudden sense of hope, Vivica was about to step out. She would be restrained, probably having misunderstood something again and hurt someone. He would talk to her, calm her down and make her laugh and they could have a quiet chat while eating something with plastic utensils. She would-

A squeaking sound proceeded the bed, wheels that had not been oiled rolled across the smooth hospital floor and a patient gurney exited the room as one of the orderlies quietly closed the door behind it. A sheet stretched over the bed hid something beneath it, a small form shrouded beneath the white cotton. He wanted to rip the sheet from the bed, wanted to scream at the orderly for scaring him like this. How could they mislead him by taking something like this from her room?

But as the bed squeaked past, he found himself paralyzed, unable to move anything but his eyes as he watched her be wheeled away.

"Excuse me?" A quiet voice asked, one of the doctors approached. Touching his shoulder gently, she pulled him to face her. "Professor Lucien Esserethel?"

He gave a stiff nod of confirmation, knot of horror tightening even further and the wave of deja vu felt like a physical thing. Like a wave that he would gratefully let crush or drown him right now.

"You should come with me." The doctor said. "She left you something."

5

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Posted (edited)

Experiment 17ΨÅΩ: Testing and Analysis Controls Report

Department Head: Xanas Khaevarin, Head, Department of Testing & Analysis, Dark Alley; Inventor of the Disclaimer; First Denizens, Member, Dark Alley; Censor of Hawaiian Pizza; etc.

Researchers: Xanas Khaevarin, Shoggoth-delta, Phil Smith, Sila-son-Andura, Dhlam

R&D Experimental Results Summary: hCu micropsikes (⌀2nm±10pm) containing consciousness/intelligence obtained from eldritch residents of Alley (3+4i)-ژ [subjects 17ΨÅΩ-d1:10] implanted in entomic eusocial right thoracic occipital bindpoints of members of a Ishakidris ascitaspis colony (source: Earth) [s.17ΨÅΩ-r1:300]. Subject 17ΨÅΩ-r49, a female ergate, ~6 months old, cultivated the colony fungi into eldritch variations on Aonic symbols (see App. 3.1.2), before internal hemorrhaging in the hemolymph of the petiole caused termination. Time from procedure to variant behavior: 10m:05.721s. TIme from behavior to decease: 1m:10.290s.

Controls report: Subjects selected from the same colony (17ΨÅΩ-r301:100300) implanted successively with s.17ΨÅΩ-r49 spike [spike 17ΨÅΩ-T1]. S.17ΨÅΩ-r100301:200500 implanted with hLs spike containing the spiritweb of s.17ΨÅΩ-r49 [spike 17ΨÅΩ-T2]. S.17ΨÅΩ-r200501:300700 implanted with spike 17ΨÅΩ-T1 with minor variations in placement (on order of 2 picometers]. S.17ΨÅΩ-r300701:1000000 spiked with the other intact spikes remaining from R&D experimentation [spikes 17ΨÅΩ-R1:100]. S.17ΨÅΩ-r1000001:2000000 spiked with various potential local Investitures, referenced for confounding variables, on orders of a hundred thousand with the following tests: Scadrian, Selish, Rosharan, Nalthan, Taldainian, minor Shardworlds, Calamity/Invocation, cytonic, eldritch, Alleymatic. None of the subjects exhibited exceptional behavior as reported of s.17ΨÅΩ-r49. S.17ΨÅΩ-r2000001:2000009 frozen for genetic sampling. Remainder of colony [s.17ΨÅΩ-r.2000010:200020] terminated. 

Recommendations/Notes: DoT&A reminds R&D that evidence of experimental repeatability is required for submission to T&A controls testing, particularly in unexpected spontaneous development of Realmatic capacity. N.b. Sanity is a complex subject with a chaotic response to multiple variables. Like thermodynamic systems, a state of high organization is unlikely due to the high number of potential states. Entropy applies to sanity as much as macrostates, and the likelihood a mind will fracture in a repeatable way is an exercise in futility if random chance is to be relied upon. Conversely, given a great enough sample size, sanity should develop in nearly every circumstance.

Sanax unthreaded his blanket in the darkness. There was a thread loose, so he pulled and pulled. The stitches came undone. The binding came undone. And eventually, there was a pile of threads, but no warmth. Sanax wrapped his own darkness around the threads and trailed them around the window, around the door. Around the bed, around the floor. Dark threads, to stop the light threads. Light threads, tangling around the hospital. There were many threads here, and many threads meant many holes to poke and many tangled ends. The binding was coming undone. Sanax was insane. The reinforced, unopenable window was proof of that. But  a stopped clock is right twice a day, and a blind man sometimes sees more clearly. There were threads that needed pulled in the hospital, and Sanax was in no position to tear the cloth. But there was one thread he could pull, the only thread he still was tangled up in. Himself. He knew him and him would want him to pull the thread so he could free him. Hmmm. Sanax opened a small Alleyway, pulling a dark, cracked Blade through. Tsarik was dying slowly, as surely as if Honor’s counter-rhythm was playing within him. But the edge was still sharp, and it could still cut. The Alleyway shifted to a dark hallway, a gold plaque on the wall. Sanax dropped the Blade, giggling. Him would sing hymns of him when he found what he did for him. Threads in the room snapped with Sanax’s brief sanity. He started arranging the piles of threads by color. There was green and more green and greener-green. And then faded green. And white, like bone. 
 

Edited by 18th Shard
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Emily stopped outside C180. Sanax’s room. She glanced down the hallway. She could just see the room where Vivica had – well, Vivica’s old room. She looked away, knocking on Sanax’s door. Focus on the ones you can help, she reminded herself.

“Come in – door’s unlocked,” Sanax called. She opened the door to find Sanax sitting on the floor, his silver hair done in a ponytail. His blanket was missing, and paper was scattered around him. He was hunched over some figures and equations, scribbling notes in a tiny script furiously. Logicspren kept appearing along the corners of eyesight, the tiny stormclouds disappearing whenever she looked directly at them. Looking at the papers, Emily saw diagrams, pictures, math, all notated. There were notes in Thaylen, Alethi women’s script, English, Arelish. She even saw a few pages that looked like Nalthian writing, but in greyscale. He glanced up toward her, his black irises staring for a long moment at her shoes, before turning back to his notes. Emily bent down and picked up a page. There was a poem she’d heard written across the top, “The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ, Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line, Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.” Scribbled underneath were notes: “Suppose the hand to linger: would the inscription run wider or deeper? Is the Writer single-handed? Suppose another hand. And which finger? Natural motion of primates suggests the index finger. Is there then a finger Nameless, which rings of nothing bears? Does not time wear flaws in all that is writ? Does not nothing remain ‘round the decay of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare the lone and level sands stretch far away’? Who is right then, the eastern mathematician or the western humanist?” A series of equations followed the notes, with the symbols fading into mere scribbles near the end. Sanax snatched the paper from her hand, setting it back into place carefully, placing a hand-drawn paper with various angles drawn on it down and orienting the paper precisely. Then his head dropped back to the paper in front of him.

“Don’t touch – you’ll ruin the organization.”

Emily carefully stepped between papers until she stood next to him. “Sanax, what is this?” she asked. It was worrying when the ward patients started acting like they were all-knowing; it often preceded some break with reality that removed any progress they’d made. A few patients she’d treated had regressed enough to forget she’d even met them, and she’d had to start from scratch with them. Sanax muttered under his breath.

“Sanax, what is this?” Emily asked again.

“It’s broken. All of it.” He started scribbling again.

“What’s broken, Sanax?”

He looked up, finally making eye contact. “Everything is.” He held his sheet of scribbled notes. “Reality is axiomatic. Defined by the divine Commands, populated with the various permutations of Investiture. But this reality, it’s all wrong. It’s the Realmatic axiom of foundation – it’s broken. The physics don’t work. Thermodynamics don’t work. In this reality, there’s not a void set.” He saw Emily’s lack of comprehension and started elaborating. “You add zero to anything, it’s unchanged. It doesn’t affect whatever it touches. You can’t get a net positive out of nothing. In statistics, there’s a null hypothesis, the supposition that nothing unaccounted for occurred. In set theory, everything is constructed from the empty set. There’s a vacuum state for every quantum field, the state of the field without excitation, without particles. Empty space. Investiture is the same. All investiture can be quantized, just as elementary particles can. All investiture can be described as a combination of various variables – there’s alignment to a Shard, or intent. The ground state of the world should include very little unbound Investiture. A vacuum, with minor quantum fluctuations. To borrow from gravitational models, my soul is a singularity in that field, absorbing investiture, but wrapped in aluminum as I am, the radius of curvature in the field is quite small. I should have absorbed almost zero investiture passively.”

Emily stared again. “And that’s important because…?”

“I require investiture to live, to maintain the Connections binding my soul to my body. I absorbed the investiture of a flamespren just before the earthquake. However, it had been over a week since I’d absorbed any significant measure of Investiture, and I haven’t absorbed any significant source since then. I should be dead, or at the least, functioning at a far lower level than I once was. But I’m not. And that’s only one example. The rate of dimming in the gemstones here. Rates of physical illness in the city. Assuming the basic laws of physics I know, that means the vacuum state of reality isn’t at zero energy. Take everything away, and there’s still something. Something from nothing. Energy from nothing. Entropy, shattered. There is no null set.” He started scribbling again. “I must have missed something. This is fundamental. Something is wrong in the math.” He trailed off, muttering. “Some kind of Investiture cosmological constant? A spiritual dark energy equivalent? No, no, it’s all broken. It’s all BROKEN!” He threw his hand across the papers on the ground, sending them whirling to the side. Emily stepped back from him, moving towards the door. The whites of his eyes went black, and a dark mist seeped from his fingers onto the ground. Paper and tile started disappearing, consumed as if by an invisible fire. He screamed. “The lights are coming for me. The strings, the strings. The puppetmaster’s strings!” Sanax grabbed a fistful of paper and tore it to pieces, throwing the remains like confetti around him. He started beating his fists against the floor, more in despair than in anger. He started sobbing, though he didn’t have any tears. “The questions just don’t have answers anymore! How is anyone supposed to do science in these conditions?”

Then, in a moment, Sanax straightened, cocking his head as if listening to something. “That tone…” He smiled. “There it is. Something snapped. A thread of light snapped, and the vibration is echoing across them all. The empty set is empty once again.” He hummed a pure tone that resonated inside Emily’s chest, a tone of perfect quiet and raging chaos all at once. A massive headache formed, as if the humming were hundreds of times louder, and Emily passed out.

8

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