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making monsters of us all

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It was dark. A simple dark, not cold or warm, neither benevolent or otherwise. Simply, eternally dark. She was waiting for something, maybe. Perhaps she had always been waiting. She was at peace with it.

And then, stepping as a shadow through the shining door that he drew himself, he arrived.

“Don’t be afraid,” The cloaked one said. His voice was masculine and difficult to age. There was some other sound, too, as he spoke. Whispers.

The child was only newly aware and afraid. She curled up in on herself, her voice high with fear when she asked, “Who are you?”

The figure hesitated in his approach. Around him, the dark took on form, became space and plane so that he might move through it. He began to walk again, more slowly, and as he walked he spoke in the smooth, controlled cadence of a scholar.

“I’m Nobody! Who are you? Are you - Nobody - too?” Ink recited.

When he reached her he pushed back the hood of his cloak and knelt before her. As he looked at her, his impassive face was warmed by a smile.

“What does that mean?” The child asked, hesitant, but curious. He looked like a person, not a monster, not like an ancient skeleton in mouldering armour. He nodded politely at her query and his voice was gentle.

“Those words were written by a poet in another world. Her world is much like ours, but different in one very important way. You see, in that world, there are no Phoenixes. That means that there isn’t any Dread, either. No Bones, or Chant, or Skinchangers.”

“My family!” The girl exclaimed, memories of her first life rushing back. “The Bones were coming! I tried to get away, to warn them, but I- I-“ She trailed off, her young grief choking her.

“A bitter death,” Ink murmured, and for a moment, he faltered. Then he was ice again, blue eyes guarded, will steeled. He continued in the same soft, confident tone.

“Yes. You died, because of the Dread… and because of the Phoenixes. You see, magic comes at a cost. The Phoenixes have a very great power, but there is no light without the dark. I was a Phoenix, once. But now I want to put an end to the Dread.”

At that, the child perked up. Much of this was above her head, but this man was a Phoenix. A hero. That was the stuff of stories.

He confirmed her suspicions of heroism when he continued, drawing a copper stylus from inside his cloak, “I want to save everyone from the danger that the Phoenixes bring. I want to stop the Dread, and that means ending the Phoenixes. Do you understand?” At that, his voice took the slightest edge- a blade wrapped in silk, an unintelligible chorus of whispered voices behind it.

She didn’t, she didn’t understand, but she had been a good girl in life. Always helpful, if overly inquisitive. She nodded yes.

“Good,” He said softly. “That’s very good, because I need your help. I need you to do something very difficult for me. Would you like to help me change things?”

After a moment of consideration, she nodded again. Yes. But then, daring, she ventured, “Will it hurt?”

“No,” he lied. He smiled beatifically, and she was heartened. “Don’t be afraid.”

This was a new kind of dark. No peace here, no eternal sleep.

This was a storm at midnight, howling wind, bone-shaking thunder; the press of deep water; claustrophobic grave panic; ghosts in the shadows; and screams, screams, screams.

And it hurt. Oh, it hurt. Forever pain, always.

She hoped it was enough.

And then it was over. Defeated, rescued, freed. Hands on her, dragging her into light.

She knew that she had become Something Else.

“What’s your name, little one?” The big one asked, kneeling down. He was huge, muscled and horned, but he had warm, kind eyes.

She turned her face towards him, lifted her chin even as she still trembled.

“I’m No One.”