Djoric's Sandbox
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The seal is broken

O fallen King of splinter’d crown

Eye pierced upon thy spear

The girl has got you bested

{ALTERNATE PROSE VERSION: The King tore the spear out of his ruined eye, bellowing with a rage so great that all the court of Qliphoth shook. A foaming red tide poured forth from the wound, boiling away at the dim slave-Stars around his splintered crown.}

The seal is broken

The Mother of Hunters has shattered her chains

The Firemaker has fled to her hidden shop

Having fired the first shots of the last war

The seal is broken

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed

Boiling away the stars and the depths

None best the King for long

The seal is broken

The hour stirs

A beast slouches towards Gotham to be born

Rippling up from Benthos’ black realm

The seal is broken

The child whimpers in pain

For hers is the womb by which the world ends

Hers is the womb by which the end of the world begins

The seal is broken

Gaping eyes bear witness, gasping mouths sing praise

Two keys open Atom’s Gate

It shall never be closed

THE SEAL IS BROKEN

There was a great and terrible silence

A bulb of fire rose upon a column of cloud in the sky above Montauk Point.

There was a great and terrible noise

There was a great and terrible silence

The girl who had forgotten the names of the world stood atop a grassy mound, trembling in the light wind. Color soaked the world around her: Mossy green hills, blanketed with fields of tiny white flowers. Dark, distant mountains with fire-red crowns. Sharp-blue glaciers settled in the shadows of knife-edged valleys. Vast standing stones, mottled pale with ancient lichen, rose above the hills, wearing garlands of seashells and pink flowers. The breeze brushed against her bare ankles, neither warm nor chill. If she strained her ears, she could hear the crash of waves against far-off cliffs and the cries of seabirds.

There had been a flash of light. She remembered a blinding moment, a blast of heat, and the feeling of arms around her. Not the arms of a Masked Man, all muscle and bruise. Soft arms.

Light, heat, arms, nothing, and then waking on the hilltop.

The world she had no names for called out to her. She could not remember the colors or smells, nor the grass or mountains or wind. She could not remember a world without corners and white tile, without humming lights and cold metal against her back, without Masked Men. She could not remember, but she answered all the same. She did not remember this world, but she knew it, as if she were returning to a vanished dream rising from the mist.

The girl with ratty hair and hollow cheeks, dark bags under her eyes, pressed a hand to her stomach. It stung at even a gentle touch, a sharp bite of pain, but the pain was nothing compared to what had been. Nothing compared to the pain the Masked Men delivered upon her body, or the writhing, gnawing, clawing pain of the Thing in her womb. No, it was nothing. A new, nothing pain.

The girl had given birth.

The Thing lay in the grass a few feet away – a blackened mass of flesh, torn up and knitted back together in cancerous coils, cloaked in a rotted placenta. Shattered bones twisted limbs into uselessness, suckling mouths opened and closed wordlessly, skin peeled away from melted muscle. Blood and fecal matter splattered the grass, a dark ooze leaked into the soil from its bloated gut. Organs pulsed and spasmed underneath thin skin. Breath wheezed and gurgled out of its bone-punctured lungs. Tiny hands clawed at the loam, desperately trying to drag itself across the ground.

When the girl first saw it, she wanted to kill it, to stomp on its neck until it was dead. She found that she could not, and she did not understand why. Nor could she bring herself to leave it, this disgusting, broken Thing.

Her terrible child.

The air stirred, heavy with the smell of salt. A lonesome cry echoed in the hills. The girl turned, and saw that a woman stood there on the hilltop, past the place where the Thing lay.

The woman’s skin was smooth and grey as polished slate, her braided hair like silver silk, her eyes wide and dark. Her cheeks and brow were lined with glowing blue patterns. Her bare shoulders bore clusters of bright tube-worms. She wore a white dress; her belly was stained with red.

“Hello,” she said. Her voice was deep and wide, and felt as if it would carry for miles for its size.

The girl recoiled, hobbled legs tensing to run. But the woman didn’t come any closer – She just sat down in the grass, tucked her legs up underneath her, and began picking flowers. She hummed a melancholy tune, and it rumbled across the hills.

The girl edged closer. The woman began tying stems together. Her thick fingers looked clumsy, but she did not miss a step. The girl watched intently, trying to mark if she was threat and not-threat.

The woman looked up and smiled at the girl, who drew back again.

“It’s okay,” she said. “I’m not going to hurt you.”

The Thing gurgled, blew a bloody bubble of spit.

“I’m sorry about all of this,” the woman continued, her fingers still weaving. “But I promise, everything is going to be okay now. You’re safe.”

The girl looked the woman over, her eyes hard.

“No Masked Men?” she asked at last.

“Never again.”

The girl narrowed her eyes.

“You’re lying.”

The woman held out her right hand, and drew her left across the palm as if holding a knife. Blood welled up from a deep, straight cut. The woman clenched her fist, sending dark droplets onto the grass.

“I swear by my blood, shed in the war against the King, that you will be safe here, so long as a drop of life remains in me.” The woman’s voice boomed across the land. “I am not lying.”

The girl could feel something inside those words. Something powerful. Words that were not words, meaning untamed by speech. She felt afraid, and very small. Not because the woman was a threat, but because she could feel her power coursing through the air, the soil, her very being. The woman that sat before her was an image of something vaster, a form of something greater and broader than she could even hope to imagine.

“Is that good enough?”

The girl nodded. It was all she could do. The woman wiped her hand on the grass, her palm already healed into a pale scar.

“My name’s Abby.” She placed her crown of flowers on her head and began picking more. “You can come and sit over here, if you want.”

The girl didn’t move.

“I know I look really suspicious right now…why did I say that? Since when has that ever been a good thing to say? I’m sorry, I’m sorry.” The woman sighed. “It’s been a long time since I really had a chance to talk to anyone. I’m not lying to you, I promise, but it’s difficult to say exactly what I want to say. I could show you, but…oh.” The woman glanced over her shoulder. “I think we have a visitor.”

A second wind passed over the hill, smelling of leaf litter and dirty snow. A cloud cast a shadow, and that shadow became the cloak of a pale man. The girl shivered, but kept her gaze locked – she could feel in her stomach that if she looked away, she would die.

The pale man nodded at Abby, though it was really little more than a tilt. She returned the gesture. He turned his eyes towards the girl. Hard, empty eyes – it would have been easier to bear if there had just been sockets, but no. Hard silver eyes, as empty as marbles.

“I am not here for you, child,” he said in a dead-leaf voice. He swept up to the Thing, and a silver-moon sickle was in his hand. With a motion, he drew out a shimmering cloud from its gaping mouth, reached forth with a sickle.

“Wait…” the word slipped from the girl’s mouth unbidden.

The pale man drew a shimmering cloud from the Thing’s gaping mouth, reached forth with his sickle.

“Don’t…”

A short soundless cut across the imaginal tether, and the cloud dissipated.

“Is this not what you wanted?” The pale man framed it more as statement than question.

The girl swallowed, staring at the still, lifeless Thing.

“Take it as a lesson, girl. Be careful when you invoke my passing.”

The pale man turned his marble eyes towards Abby.

“And as for you…” he hissed.

“Another time. Please. She’s been through enough…”

“No. You have brought the girl into this, she will listen. You are responsible for everything that she is now to face.” He swung back around to the girl. “Remember that, girl. For all that is to come, she is to blame.” A thin finger pointed with dread accusation.

“I saved her,” Abby said weakly.

“Only from my mercy, because the broken bride desired a pet. But the Fool has gone and angered the King. The center cannot hold.”

“It can for long enough.”

“It cannot. Yesod cannot resist him without the thirty-six, and they are scattered to the winds. Things fall apart, spiraling into anarchy. Your father has already sharpened his carving knives and drawn blood, and all that is left is for him to devour creation and choke upon it.”

“We can still defeat him.”

“Nothing but the Fool’s vanity, which you lap up like your mother’s milk."

“Not so nearly as vain as you.”

“Vanity, vanity, everything is vanity. All of creation is the vanity project of a god most utterly mad.” The pale man paused, seemed to hear something that the girl could not. “I am forever needed, and wasting my time here. I will see both you again.”

With a swish of shadow and the smell of decay, he vanished. Abby smiled, though it was clearly forced.

“He’s so full of himself, isn’t he?”

[THERE WILL BE MORE]

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