Thirteen sits in Zahara's workshop in the middle of the night. No lamp is lit; he does not need one. To one side, within easy reach, sits the eyes that were made for him; under his fingers, the Grim Reminder lies.
Thirteen nerves himself, takes up a hammer, and with a quick stroke, knocks off the index and middle fingers of the soulsteel gauntlet.
alsoquin The great gauntlet -- Kiriath's coffin reforged -- pulses with dark energies under his fists, and Thirteen is almost certain he hears a sharp -- but quick -- scream as he strikes off the fingers, elegantly closing the gaps in the soulsteel behind them in the singe blow.
Thirteen lets out a sigh he had unintentionally been holding, takes the fingers gingerly, and sets about the most difficult part of the process -- affixing the severed appendages to the insides of the eyes.
Thirteen The work takes many hours and much exacting care -- when he is done, two jagged claws jut backwards from the crystalline ovals, and the room is filled with light from Thirteen's glowing focus.
Thirteen picks up the eyes, fingering them thoughtfully. He pauses for a moment...and slaps them to his face, biting back a scream as the jutting claws dig deep into his brain.
alsoquin There is a sharp, vicious, burning sensation, like acid poured directly into his brain, that seems like it could last forever as it grows stronger and stronger.... and then, suddenly, clear sight. The room, inasmuch as Thirteen is used to seeing anything, looks utterly normal.
alsoquin A moment passes with Thirteen looking around the room before he notices something... grey... out of the corner of his left eye.
Thirteen flicks his gaze curiously sideways.
alsoquin In one corner of the room, faint and almost invisible, is a grey outline, features indistinct... leaning against a great anvil at a disrespectful angle, its unclear head tilted to one side. Even without eyes of its own, Thirteen feels like it is looking right at him.
Thirteen "Can I help you?"
alsoquin The shape seems to stand, and as it does Thirteen notices that it seems to be draining the color from the air around it -- the reds and blues of silks, the golden sheen of unused orichalque, seem to bleed out to empty, cold smoke.
alsoquin Without particular haste, it begins to move, step by indistinct, blurry step, towards the Solar.
Thirteen picks up his spear from beside him, squinting at the apparition before him.
alsoquin Thirteen turns his exotic senses towards the being, seeking out its exact nature... but by all accounts, nothing is there. No Essence dances in the space before him, no being trails the cloud of cinereal haze... nothing.
Thirteen "What are you? What do you seek?"
alsoquin It grows quite near now, and almost the whole room seems to fill with greyness, and the apparition does not speak... but as it draws near, it's face suddenly comes clear, distinct amongst the cloudy smoke...
alsoquin Thirteen's sight is new, and in the scant days he has possessed it, he has looked upon more wonders of elegant beauty than many chance to do in a full mortal lifetime. But today is different: today, for the first time in his life, Thirteen looks upon terrifying hideousness, beyond all bounds of description.
Thirteen hisses a curse, but does not look away.
alsoquin One ashen hand reaches up towards Thirteen's face, and the room around him burns up and blows away into undistinguished, formless ash... And for a few moments, nothing but that spinning refuse can be seen.
alsoquin When the curtain finally parts, Thirteen is looking at something very, very different: a cave structure, apparently natural, lit only by sparse patches of luminescent fungi... and leading downwards.
alsoquin Though the sights are strange, Thirteen's ears pick up the low, dull roar of the furnace, far off to one side... the sounds of the workshop he stood in just moments ago.
Thirteen moves forward slowly and carefully, following the cavern his eyes see, while simultaneously listening to be sure that his movement in the real world is not endangered.
alsoquin With a little effort and careful listening, Thirteen determines how to maneuver in a sufficiently safe way, and he picks his way down through the cave. It does not advance far before it bends sharply to one side, and beyond that bend it lets out into a vast, towering cavern. (...)
alsoquin Giant, softly glowing fungi of yellow and red hang down from the ceiling, and below... rising up nearly two miles, vast, narrow towers, like infinitely fragile stalks of sugarglass, rising up from a city so intricate in its fractal details as to almost defy description. (...)
alsoquin Thirteen has heard it described before, secondhand accounts of a harsh and distorted recording from times past, but still he recognizes it instantly: it is the city of Rintoko, and tiny glowing dots move and dance within its opalescent streets.
alsoquin The cave passageway, like hundreds of others, turns to a ramp that begins to wind down the very outside of the cavern towards the great streets that begin outside the city's borders below.
Thirteen proceeds down the ramp carefully.
alsoquin It is a long descent, though somehow it seems to pass quickly... and Thirteen walks into the streets of the living city, upon paths of striated agate. Creatures, like masses of tiny many-hued glass fragments, constantly shifting shape and color as they move around a skeletal framework of light,
alsoquin pass one another in the streets, bubbling noises and flashes of lights speaking the words "Hello, how are you?"
alsoquin Quickly, too, he wends his way through the streets, and towards the center plaza, where a pale light, like faint sea-green, seems to emenate.
alsoquin As the glorious minarets and palais rise up around him, the buildings ahead fall away, until the crowded central square lies ahead: hundreds of the glass beings, each twinkling with their own unique radiance, and... something else, in the center.
alsoquin Amidst the crowd, standing before a large stone, glittering gems shining within it, is a figure -- like a human, but thin and ephemeral, glowing with a pale, greenish light... a beautiful god-being, beyond all mortal beauty.... and Thirteen has seen its face before. % alsoquin It seems to glance at the stone lovingly, as some of the glass-beings stand around it, their Essence-webs glowing and shifting with great abandon, their hands running over its surface gently and leaving trails of glowing essence in their wake...
Thirteen strides calmly up to the stone, placing himself between it and the god-being, and nods politely.
Thirteen "I ask again, creature. What do you want of me?"
alsoquin The being seems to continue on as if Thirteen were not even there... but now, to one side, he notices the grey phantom once again, translucently standing to one side, arms crossed.
alsoquin Just a moment after a glass-creature steps through its empty form, briefly scattering it to shards of grey smoke before it re-coalesces, the ashen creature raises one of its hands up to its mouth, and -- though no sound comes out -- it makes the gesture universally understood as "Sssssh."
alsoquin To the side, some new, different glow begins to appear.
Thirteen raises one eyebrow, grimaces painfully, then steps back and observes.
alsoquin From the stone, a torrent of light pours out, then two, then ten... and riding upon them, like little birds, tiny versions of the creatures around him soar outwards, up into the air, and a great applause like jangling bottles is kicked up, as the beautiful being smiles....
alsoquin And suddenly, without warning, something shifts.
alsoquin The glowing mushrooms overhead are chopped and broken; the city itself coated with soot and the streets wet with blood. All around, bodies -- humans hacked to bits, and glass-creatures broken to bits, bright yellow streaks of their essence-fluid smeared out on walls and cobblestones...
alsoquin And the beautiful creature, the only thing that still seems to live -- but barely -- crawls its way along the ground, to the great sinkhole that has opened up before it.