You realize something, then, as more knowledge of the Higher Powers makes itself known to you: a secret regarding the fire in your veins. The magic.
The fire inside you is in its starting embers. But the Harrower threatens to snuff them before it bursts aflame. But it is not fire exactly inside of you, you realize. Though that is perhaps a more eloquent way of describing it.
Poetic. But misleading.
It isn’t inside you, either. Rather, you can pull it into you and make it dance to your will. But what is “it”?
You’re raking through your fragmented memories, when a word makes itself known to you: Movement. Movement and heat and force and energy, made Ambient and funneled into the storecaches of your veins.
You reach out to sap the pressure from centuries of sediment pressing down above you. But you withdraw, quickly. If you pull on even a little of that pressure you could bring the whole cave down in your folly. You’re powerful enough, anyway.
(You’re not sure how you know this.)
There’s sound, then. It draws you out of your own remembrances. No, not sound. It’s in your head, you realize. The pounding of hooves down the cobblestone street. You’re not hearing it. It’s being projected into your mind.
You swivel to look down the adjacent path, and nearly vomited everything (if anything) that’s in your belly onto the street.
The rider’s mount is a dead thing, dragging the coiled gray ropes of its own organs down the street and painting a single bloody line.
The rider is a woman who’s missing the flesh of half her face. The left half. The muscle is exposed and the eye is gone, and dry, pink gums are visible where her lips should be. The teeth below are brown and rotten. She smiles at you, and you can see the muscles constrict on the missing portion of her face. Red rivulets drool down her neck.
“King in the Mountain,” her voice rings in your head. Throbbing in your skull. “Well met!” she calls.
You can feel the back of your throat scrape out your scream, but the sound doesn’t pass your lips.
The mutilated rider swings down from her horse. You back away, your back flat against the gigantic door. “Do you recognize me, Mountain-King?”
You shake your head no.
“You were supposed to save me. You were supposed to save all of us.” You wonder if this is Anthea. You pray to a God you can hardly remember that it isn’t.
“Toric promised he would aid you. Even after you let me die,” she says. “Even after the Harrower killed me. He possesses me now. I was supposed to wed, Toric. You understand that, don’t you. He should have been mine. But you had to save him. Him! Not me! Only you and he escaped the destruction of Snothringham.”
She’s closer, now. You see her eyes, black and shining. Her form flags off her own body. Unraveling like streamers in the wind.
(Streamers. What are those?)
Her corporeal form sprays off itself, swirling into gray-blue ash and smoke. “I hate you, Peter,” she says, hurling toward you in a spray of dust. It’s changing colors, you realize. Like the funnels that descended from the gray wolf’s black cloud.
She is a part of him, you realize. He owns her.
“I hate you, Peter! I hate you!”
A wraith-lantern flickers in the corner of your eye. You’re not sure if you reach for it out of desperation, or…well:
When you unlatch it, the blue flame sputters and dies. It rattles. You remember that it is supposed to make a humming sound. It cannot, as yet. There is no sound here. The cloud of the woman’s body sloughs off itself, whorling into the wraith-lantern. The glass slams against your chest, sending you stumbling. It tries to fly upwards, half-dragging you to the tips of your toes as the rider’s form is sucked into the lantern you created so long ago. It makes one final attempt at escape, shoving against the glass with enough force to send you sprawling to your stomach, arms outstretched.
You close and bolt the latchand a moment later, all has returned to the unsettling stillness from before.
The contrast is startling. You can feel your pulse in your neck. Slowly, you push up onto your arms.
Did you grab the lantern out of desperation, or did you know that would happen? You’re not sure.
Then, inside your head:
That was mine. I don’t like people who steal my things.
You reach for your sword when you hear a low boom inside your head. It will do you no good.
It’s as low and grumbling as a rockslide. You think back to the voice, You don’t know that, Harrower.
Down the road from where you stand, two eyes emerge. Inky black darkness descends around two glowing red ovals. They blink sideways. The town descends into darkness.
Remain incorporeal, and I’ll pass through you. Take form–you draw your sword. And I will cut you down. Make your choice, Harrower.
The Harrower doesn’t heed you.
I can smell your fear. You are ripe with it. Even in my current state I can smell the rank terror of you, One-Eye.
So he’s not at full power. That’s good. You can use that. You try not to let yourself feel relieved. He might sense that.
Do you think I don’t see how your hands tremble on that sword? Do you remember how to use it?
Let’s find out, you think. Then you realize you’ve given him his own measure of you. You curse, inwardly, and wonder if he hears that too.
(Hears? Is this hearing? You’re not sure.)
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