Non-Existence Therapy
rating: +18+x

by LAN 2D

The Grand Archivist closed his eyes and breathed.

It was his first public speaking event for over a year; the hypothetical curtains were drawn and the spotlight was on him. As a creature whose time was mostly split between reading and sorting, you’d think speaking in front of an audience wouldn’t be on his list of fortes — and you’d be wrong. Many a wanderer had underestimated the charm of the Rounderpede, yet he could never understand why. Perhaps it was his complexion.

His eyes opened, flitting across the now crowded seminar hall. The room was steadily filling up with members of the Library: some he recognised, some he didn’t, probably more that he couldn’t see at all. Standing centre stage, the Rounderpede had a full view of the room and its occupants. Pages busied themselves with their duties, moving aside to allow others to pass. Chairs were lined up in concentric rows, expanding outwards from the curved stage. Volunteer stewards greeted people at each door, before ferrying them to their seats. It was a truly wonderful sight. The derelict and unused hall he had come across years prior was just a distant memory.

After taking in the scenery, the Grand Archivist readied himself to begin. He positioned himself behind the podium and cleared his throat. The audience, now settled, turned their attention towards the front.

“Hello to all. I am glad to be presenting the Library’s third official educational seminar. This time we are working in collaboration with the Incorporeal Entities Association. We couldn’t have done this without them, so please, give them a hand!”

The audience offered polite applause before allowing the host to continue.

“Our subject for today covers the difficulties surrounding incorporeality, some methods of dealing with them, and some insight on how they may arise. As our guest speakers will explain further, the Library has a long history with the incorporeal. One of my predecessors, the Second Chief Archivist, was suspected to be partially incorporeal, yet at the time, ‘immaterial’ would’ve been a more common description. The flexibility of the modern term is a testament to our newfound understanding of the different realms of existence — our language is no longer purely limited to what is physical and what is not. Despite this, many of you may in fact lack a physical body, which, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, is the reason for the unoccupied seats. That, or this seminar is not as popular as I had hoped.”

He positioned the microphone closer to his face — the hall’s amplification runes made use of one unnecessary, but he still liked to wield it for effect.

“Now, for those in ‘vacant’ seats, you may be wondering how you can hear me. To that, I present the lovely Malaise, who will be transmitting, or perhaps translating, all dialogue throughout the seminar.”

A grumble came from across the psychosphere.

Lovely? Didn’t expect that.

“Lovely indeed.”

The technicolour octopede made a motion resembling a sigh.

“To conclude the introduction, I would like to bring on our first guest speaker.” With his front four arms, the Rounderpede gestured in the direction of nothing in particular. “Please welcome the brilliant, the excellent… and the currently invisible, Professor Alanei Yazar!”

At this cue, the Professor presumably made her way towards centre stage. The centipede-like host handed the microphone to what appeared to be thin air, then moved to the side of the room and folded his front eight arms.

After a moment, a clear, crisp voice emanated from the stage.

“Before I begin, I would like to extend my gratitude to the Grand Archivist and his colleagues, all of whom were very welcoming to both me and the association. I see many familiar faces in the audience today, but to those who don’t know me, my name is Alanei Yazar. I am a Doctor of Spectrology, a subject which I have written on extensively — you can find my works in the Library, I’m sure.”

The microphone, which had been hovering around the stage for the last minute, made a sweeping gesture to the surrounding bookshelves. All eyes were on the empty podium.

“Yes, I am aware of the fact that I am invisible; invisible to most, that is. Worry not, this is part of my condition, conveniently leading us to our first topic of the day.”

The microphone paced across the stage.

“In some societies, the incorporeal is seen as a mysterious realm, often only accessed through death. Of course, each world connected to the Library will have distinct cultures surrounding the incorporeal, which in turn will contain unique planetary cultures and so on. And yet, throughout the Ways, physical creatures have shown time and time again to be the dominant sort, with non-physical creatures being sidelined, or more commonly, unknown. Is this to say that it is natural? Perhaps, but it does mean that our understanding of the incorporeal is less than it should be. And so, we come to what I hope to shed light on: how can I, as an incorporeal being, live properly? How can we, as a non-physical community, ever integrate ourselves within a physical world? And most importantly, we must ask ourselves the question, is it even worth the effort?”

The audience was fully engaged at this point. It was a masterful introduction; the Grand Archivist was almost jealous.

“I will answer the first two questions in due time, but the answer to the third is clear. Yes. Yes, it is worth the effort. We could easily live in two worlds — the incorporeal barely interacting with the physical, and the physical suspecting they have ghosts in their house — but here in the Library, we are welcomed and embraced. I believe the same thing can be achieved for all universes.”

The microphone continued moving around the stage, waving itself around.

“However, like all things, it is easier said than done. In a place filled with magic, that has its own immutable laws and guardians, of course, we are welcomed — because everyone is. It is not a simple task to do the same for worlds that are potentially hostile to the incorporeal. So, we must first establish our methodology. What are the most effective and widespread changes we can implement? Is the problem physical or cultural? Once we have done so, we can start to—”

The microphone suddenly fell to the floor, followed by a gasp from the audience.

“So sorry, I’ll get that.”


*


The seminar continued as such, passing beyond the original two-hour limit they had originally planned for. After Professor Yazar concluded her part, a blue spectral entity spoke about its personal experiences, followed by a floating archivist who outlined their plan to help incorporeal entities within the Library. Now, the hall was clearing out, Pages carrying chairs and picking up seminar programmes. Malaise had left as soon as possible, but Rounderpede stayed behind, answering questions and making pleasant conversation.

“No, I don’t have infinite arms — most of them are legs. Finish your question about wraiths, that’s much more interesting.”

He felt a tap on the back. Assuming it was a Page, he politely excused himself and swivelled, but found nothing.

“Ah, Professor Yazar, I didn’t realise you were still here.”

There was a slight pause; perhaps there truly was no one there.

“Sorry to interrupt, I wanted to ask if you were busy after this.” She paused. “Also, call me Alanei. I’m only a Professor up on that stage.”

“Oh, don’t worry about it.” The Rounderpede rubbed his chin with his two front hands. “I have some things to be done, but nothing I can’t delay. What’s on your mind?”

“I need to discuss something… personal. Something I need the Library’s assistance for.”

“In private I presume?”

“Well, reasonable privacy would be appreciated.”

A smile formed on his face, that is, as much as an arthropod can smile.

“I know just the place.”


The Armas stood against the backdrop of endless shelves. Its style was defiant, hideous to most, but the Grand Archivist had a certain respect for the black and red colour scheme it flaunted so confidently. Among the tired Library green and gold — which most establishments adopted upon opening there — anything else was a refreshing sight. The colours felt familiar to him; if he ever grew bored when designing a new wing, maybe he’d try something similar.

“Table for two please.”

Appropriately, the waiter wore a black suit with a red bow tie.

“Of course. Are you waiting for someone?”

“You could say that.”

The waiter escorted them both to their seats, staring in awe as the chair opposite Rounderpede pulled itself out. One pincered head-tilt later and he had shuffled off to another table.

“That happen often?”

“Not as much as you’d think. I tend not to eat if I can help it.”

“Yet you can, curious.”

“It’s complicated,” she explained. “I said so in the talk, but the variety of incorporeal creatures is as large as physical ones. We have spectres, many of whom can’t eat, or choose not to. Spirits often feel hunger, but can only consume certain enchanted foods. I would go on, but I can’t think of any other beings beginning with ‘sp’.”

“Spook?” He offered.

“Maybe. Never met one myself.”

“I might have. Difficult to tell when most are invisible.”

Alanei laughed, “it does have its advantages — at least for me, considering my unique situation.”

“It’s not a choice, is it?”

“I don’t know if it’s a choice, but it’s easier than the alternative. My true form is actually quite visible; some would argue too visible.”

“True form…” Rounderpede pondered for a second. “An interesting concept. Usually, when I encounter that kind of language I’m defending the Library from an insane magician or researching an ancient god.”

“Don’t read too much into it. However… now that I think about it, my true form looks awfully similar to a centipede.”

The Grand Archivist leaned forward, suddenly intrigued. “Really?”

“No, not really.” Alanei laughed again, “Malaise was right. Give you a mystery and you’ll devour it immediately.”

His first two arms formed a shrug.

“Curiosity is the quality that got me promoted.”

“I think gullibility is more fitting.”

As she was talking, he waved down the waiter from earlier, who proceeded to stare at the talking chair once more.

“Ah yes, I’d like the, um…” The menu rustled as she spoke. “I’d like to order the Celtic Dragon, and for my friend here…”

“The same for me, please. That’s everything.”

The waiter walked off with their menus, shaking his head.

Alanei resumed the conversation, “You didn’t have to order the same thing just to be polite.”

“Quite the opposite. I’ve been here so many times, I thought it’d be interesting to experience it with a fresh pair of eyes.”

“You don’t know I have just two eyes.”

“Touché.”

There was a natural pause, after which Rounderpede spoke.

“To abruptly change the subject, I’d like to talk about what you need the Library for — if you don’t mind.”

“No worries, I’m used to ham-fisted segues, I work with ghosts.”

The archivist looked expectantly at the space above the chair.

“It’s hard to explain. I wish I could show you, but I’m afraid you’d get a headache.”

Alanei audibly breathed in, “Firstly, I must admit I am not invisible — but you already know that. Secondly, I am not incorporeal either; not in the traditional sense.”

“Go on.”

“The most accurate description is an apparition or a projection. My true form, as it were, is not natural to this world. I wasn’t born, I was imagined, dreamed up by a being in a universe I have never visited.”

“For what reason?”

“I am not entirely sure. My body is dynamic; it shifts and changes shape, colour and characteristics. It’s not a pleasant sight. I suspect I am something more akin to an idea — a concept — than an incorporeal existence.”

She breathed in again.

“And thus, I am inexplicably linked to a being I know nothing about. All I know is that they have an idea of an educated woman, which somehow creates my pseudo-physical body.”

“That is extremely interesting. I know of cases where ideas have had physical embodiments, but those are all a one-time deal. Usually, they are summoned by a magician, or happen on their own, and once they are created they aren’t connected to the original summoner. As you said, they are born.”

“Yes, exactly. My existence is dependent on the mind of another. I can only learn about them through researching myself; it’s what led me to the IEA in the first place, hoping for some guidance on my condition, but alas…”

Her voice tapered off. If she had been visible, Rounderpede would’ve seen her solemn expression.

“And now you guide others. I know the feeling, to complete oneself with charity.”

A sigh came from his opposite.

“Which leads us to the problem. I have been able to live fairly well in this body, but I can feel the link fading. Being a scholar, I fear the worst.”

“I may know of a method…”

The Rounderpede put his hands together in thought.

“The link — is it more of a physical feeling or an innate knowledge?”

“It’s a bit of both.”

“Hmm. Spiritual transfusion is not my speciality, but I think I can help you.”

“Spiritual transfusion? What does that involve?”

“I’d have to consult with Malaise; he has more experience with that stuff. I’d like to warn you though, he is quite… abrasive.”

“I met him before the seminar. He was rather lovely.”

The Rounderpede muttered to himself, “Lovely indeed.”


*

They ironed out the details, finally settling on a meeting the following week. Alanei gave herself a few months at most before she expected to fade away — they had time, but efficiency was key.

After an exceedingly long wait, the waiter once again came up to the table. The archivist was surprised he was willing to come back at all. He decided he’d tip extra.

“Your food sir?”

Rounderpede held eye contact and the waiter got the message. Tearing his eyes away from the archivist, he attempted to smile at Alanei.

“Apologies. Your food is here sir…” He paused, “and madam.”

“Thank you very much.”

A true professional.


The seminar hall looked strikingly different without the crowds of people.

With the chairs now missing, the mosaic tiling was visible. Concentric circles patterned the floor like the ripple of a water droplet, and in between the rings, countless symbols had been inscribed. The atmosphere had changed too; going from crowded and cramped to spacious and serene.

Alanei stood beside the Rounderpede, chatting with him as his octopus associate arranged the ritual.

“This place has an especially interesting history. You know, when I came into my current position, it was in utter disarray!”

“Is that so? It’s so beautiful, I couldn’t imagine it like that.”

“Unfortunately, it’s not the only place in the Library that has needed repairs. The Library works by its own rules and we trust it to do so, but some of these special-purpose rooms have been neglected.”

She noticed a weight to his words as if he had seen the Library in a state he didn’t like to remember.

He has. As much as we bicker, we were both there.

“Malaise is right, we spent years fixing this place up, and the work is far from over,” the Rounderpede said, shaking his bug-like head.

“But stop prying, you maleficent mollusc. Her mind already has enough interference as is.”

Fine. Her thoughts were exceptionally loud.

“Then keep it to yourself.”

Rounderpede apologised for them both and continued his lecture.

“After its reconstruction, there was a large debate on what we should call the place. One name we were throwing around was ‘The Grand Hall,’ but we decided against it.”

Too similar to the Main Hall.

“Exactly.” Rounderpede looked over at Malaise. “We eventually chose its official name: The Basilica Arcana, meaning the secret, or mystical hall, but apparently it was too pretentious since people only call it the seminar hall.”

“I can see why people use the simpler one.”

“But the name was perfect!” The Rounderpede exclaimed, lifting his frontmost arms in the air.

“I thought people would connect with it! How basilica has the same root as basilisk, the Serpent King. How arcana is related to the arcane and the magical. It was so perfect, I’m still upset about it.”

For once I agree with you. Alas, it was too clever for its own good.

Alanei watched the two archivists in awe. The centipedal archivist was pacing the floor, whilst the octopedal archivist made the final preparations. Both were heavily engaged in the conversation.

“And don’t get me started on the new wing we opened recently. I swear, sometimes it feels like the Library is working against us.”

Maybe the Serpent is jealous of your constant slithering. Or they can’t stand the complaining.

The Rounderpede stopped pacing and folded his arms. “Call it what you will, pointing out the flaws in things is the only way to improve.”

Perhaps, but that doesn’t stop it from being annoying.

Suddenly, a laugh echoed across the room. “Are you two always like this?”

Like what?” They said simultaneously.

“Watching you two is the most fun I’ve had all week, but I don’t have much time left. Really.”

“I know, sorry about that.” The Grand Archivist glared at Malaise. “Can we just start already?”

Alanei spoke up. “I mean… it looks like he’s been done for a while.”

The Rounderpede blinked. “But he—”

No, she’s right. Let’s get to it.

With a sigh, they both turned towards the yellowish Librarian and listened to what he had to say.


*


After his explanation was complete, Malaise set the candles alight and stepped into position outside the circle.

On the tiles below, the runes were lighting up one by one as the room emerged into a vibrant orange glow. Alanei stood in the centre of a triangle, which was itself inside another larger triangle. The archivists stood on two corners of the larger shape, their eyes closed. Her own eyes were open - Malaise hadn’t specified what she should do.

A moment later, she felt a voice within her mind.

Please, remove the bracelet.

“How do you know about that?”

There was a pause, but the archivist didn’t answer. Hesitantly, she looked down at her wrist as she slid the charmed bracelet off. One moment she saw the floor, and the next her arm was in full focus.

The room erupted into a raging cacophony of colour. Her form was unveiled; a glowing, vibrating flame of energy, barely in the shape of a woman, yet it was clearly her. The embodiment of an idea without concrete edges, a dream given life. She was sculpted from pure imagination alone, and even through their eyelids, the archivists could see her outline.

In the light, a solitary object floated towards her.

Take the stone.

She reached out to grab it. It was warm to the touch; a stone the size of her palm engraved with a sigil she didn’t recognise.

Now place it down and complete the trinity.

Compelled, Alanei put the stone at her feet and took her place as the third corner of the triangle.

A moment passed and a foreign voice filled the room. It boomed as it spoke:

What is it that you are searching for?

I wish to sever the link.

This cannot be done. You must provide a sufficient substitute.

And I have provided such.

A pause, before the room was engulfed in their voice once more.

The substitute is sufficient. It will be done.

As soon as the sentence ended, all the light in the room started to bend around the stone, which started to levitate. It slowly rose, casting shadows on the far bookshelves. It was too bright. She shut her eyes.

In her mind, she felt the archivist once again.

Focus on the link, the sensation leaving your body.

Alanei concentrated on the feeling. She imagined a white light being pulled away from her, towards the stone. Everything she was — her whole existence — focused on one point. The sensation flowed through her, and her through it.

The stone continued rising, now a maelstrom of colour and power. The innate feeling she had lived her life with left her body and permeated itself through the room. Like a star, the stone absorbed and emitted, it was in almost perfect harmony. Alanei was so close to her goal, the ritual nearly complete.

For a moment, a singular doubt appeared. If the link was gone, surely she would cease to exist? She would be forgotten as easily as a dream upon waking.

Alanei heard the archivists’ groans of exertion from either side of her. She couldn’t match their determination. At once, the light dimmed and the stone fell.

But it did not reach the ground.

Even if the earth disappears, the bird can still fly. Concentrate, the ritual can still be completed.

“The bird will need to land one day, what then? Do I simply die?”

No. You exist in the minds of others. You exist in your own mind. It will create its own ground. You must forget what you once relied upon and let go of it.

You must fly.

He was right. It was her choice, her existence. If she truly was an idea, the thoughts of herself and others could will herself into being. Alanei imagined who she truly wanted to be, and she flew.

And the stone flew, up towards the epicentre of the room. It flashed and it pulsed in neon lights, creating a supernova of energy. Spinning faster and faster, all the light in the room was absorbed into it, and for a second, it was still.

Then it fell to the ground, leaving nothing but a clatter on the tiled floor.

It is done.

Alanei opened her eyes to see the archivists, at the same time slipping on her bracelet out of habit. They were noticeably exhausted but thankfully, appeared relieved all the same. The candles had been blown out, and since the stone lay inert on the floor, the room was dim. With a wave of a tentacle, Malaise turned on the hall’s lights. They all took a second to breathe.

The Rounderpede was the first to speak. “Come on, let’s clean up.”

She was too tired to object, so she nodded her head and got to work.


*


Over the next 10 minutes, the candles were dealt with, as well as the wax on the floor, and the stone was picked up by Rounderpede and promptly pocketed. Surprisingly, all this was done in silence — no arguments to be found. It seemed everyone needed to clear their heads.

Alanei broke the silence; “Are rituals always this tiring?”

The two archivists replied immediately:

“Not always.” yes.

They looked at each other.

I’ve spoken enough today, you answer.

“Hmph, okay.”

During the ritual, the Rounderpede had gone a deep orange, his shell only now fading back to his signature brownish-red.

“The exhaustiveness of a ritual usually depends on two things. Firstly, the difficulty of the ritual or goal you want to achieve. Secondly, the power — and more importantly — technique of the person performing the ritual. This ritual was tiring for both of those reasons.”

“I understand. I’m inexperienced, and the nature of my situation is mysterious, to say the least. Just… it could’ve been a lot easier if I didn’t hesitate.”

He gave her a look. “It’s natural for your first time. He didn’t say so, but Malaise fully expected us to need another try.”

Rightly so. She almost let the stone fall.

“But she didn’t, and that’s what matters.”

Without my intervention, she wouldn’t have passed. But it is true—

He turned to face Alanei.

—you did do well for your first time.

“Thank you.” She stopped as if forgetting something. “How do we know it worked? Was that the entity you spoke to? My entity?”

No, it was not.

“Then what was it?”

The octopede sighed.

It was merely a projection of my intent. When manipulating essophysical entities, it is wise to use a projection to interact.

“And what about the stone?

It’s a simple spell to execute, however, in your case, it required substantial power. Unlike your entity, my projection took intense concentration from both me and Rounderpede to manifest, even for a few seconds. I had to be cautious — your entity is powerful enough to manifest a full person subconsciously. I imagine they would not appreciate this link being broken, so instead, we provided a ‘sufficient substitute.’

Alanei nodded slowly. “Which was the stone.”

Glad you caught on so quickly. Now please, stop questioning me; perhaps you can ask the Grand Archivist to set up a seminar on the difficulties of spiritual transfusion or something.

Rounderpede nodded. “That can be arranged.”

The telepath started towards the exit, then turned.

And to answer your other question; I don’t know. There is no way of knowing if the ritual worked until the link is severed. We merely moved the end of the link onto something else; we cannot know how much of a connection to you the being still has.

“…I see. Thanks for your help, I mean that.”

Malaise nodded once in her direction, then once at Rounderpede.

I’m off now. If you need anything, you know where to find me.

They watched as he left the room.

“I see what you mean by abrasive, but I’d still argue for lovely.”

“To his credit, rituals are tough. No wonder he never wants to work.”

A pause.

“What happens now?”

“I think we simply wait.”

The Grand Archivist moved towards her, clasping the stone in one of his many hands.

“Here, this is yours.”

“What do I do with it?”

“The sigil now represents the link that was once between you and the entity. It represents that sensation, that innate feeling which you described to me. If you look, you can see the stone is inert, but the weaker that link, the brighter it will glow.”

The sensation, now called to her attention, was no longer there. That feeling of being pulled and pushed by another, gone — and all it took was a simple ritual. She felt free.

“I feel free.”

“As you should. Your existence is now your own.”

“Before this ritual, I felt a building up. Like something was about to happen. I told you already, it felt as if I only had a few months left. What if the ritual only removed the feeling and not the link? I assume I’ll find out sooner than I’d like.”

He pondered for a moment. “I was wrong. We don’t just simply wait, we can also hope.”

“Yeah.” She nodded her head in agreement. “I’m hopeful too.”


It was the holiday season in the Wanderers’ Library.

Pages scuttled around, providing warm drinks to all. Members of the Library congregated in the main hall, where they chatted about their latest literary adventures. As always, Malaise protested, but everyone could tell he secretly enjoyed it, and The Planasthai watched it all play out, ready for the next holiday scandal.

Deep below the stacks, the Rounderpede slumbered.


*


The Grand Archivist was completely shattered. Over the past few weeks, he had been running around the Library almost non-stop, directing Pages, chasing overdue books and performing other, more festive duties.

His nest hadn’t seen a proper cleanup in almost a month. But that could wait, he was exhausted. Curling up on a mountain of books, the Rounderpede’s eyes closed. Finally, he could—

A cough came from the other end of the room.

His eyes cracked open. Who was in his nest? Pages didn’t cough, it must’ve been someone else.

“Sorry to intrude. It’s me.”

At the far end of the nest, a shimmering outline stood. The Rounderpede moved closer, making his way through the piles of books littering the nest.

“Ah, Alanei. What are you doing here?”

He suppressed his frustration — sleep would also have to wait.

“I thought you should see something, before the stone… Well, take a look.”

She removed the stone from her pocket, enveloping her surroundings in an orange glow. The sigil on the top looked as if it had been engraved in gold.

“It’s almost time.”

The Rounderpede looked down at her and contemplated. Her body was no longer a mass of fluctuating energy. She looked stable, like she was in control.

“No bracelet?”

“Glad you noticed. But no, after the ritual, I don’t use it so much anymore. Anyways, I was sure you wouldn’t appreciate an invisible intruder.”

She was probably right.

“How long has it been like this?”

“Every day it glows a little brighter. I’ve considered using it as a nightlamp.”

“I wouldn’t recommend that.”

“That’s what I thought you’d say.”

“Did you say goodbye to them, the IEA?” The Grand Archivist asked.

“Yes. No. I don’t know. Some of them noticed I looked different, even with the bracelet on. I didn’t tell the others, it would worry them. Otherwise, I didn’t tell anyone.”

“No family to tell. I know how that works.”

“The IEA is like a family to me, that’s not what I’m worried about.”

“And the Library to me.”

He gestured to a small pile of books, conveniently the height of a seat.

“Please.”

“Thanks.”

She sat and looked past him, at the far wall.

“You know, this past month, I’ve been trying to figure out how to live my life. Look at me, trying to figure things out — I’m old enough!” She laughed, but the pain was evident. “I don’t know whether to expect death or to continue living normally. Though, I guess it's too late to worry about that.”

He hesitated, then spoke. “I know this may be the last thing you want, but I know a spell to speed things up.”

“What do you mean?”

“I can artificially weaken the link, and perhaps you can escape this limbo you’re stuck in.”

She raised her eyebrows. “Or I could die, just saying.”

“I have faith.”

“I know. I do too. It’s… a hard decision.”

Alanei breathed in, her colours swirling like a cloud of gas.

“Let’s do it. I can’t wait anymore.”

“You’re sure?”

“Yes.”

“Then pass the stone over.”

She stood up and handed the stone to one of his lower arms, which made its way up the ladder of hands. He closed his eyes, the runes on his pincers glowing. Six front hands moved to clasp the stone, each causing it to glow ever brighter.

“Good luck,” she said, but he was already in a trance.

The room was suddenly filled with a fiery hue. The Grand Archivist held the fire within his hands, a bubbling, raging mass of red energy. She watched as the flame grew and grew, spitting sparks through the air. They swivelled and turned, but dissipated before touching any of the books. The stone itself was now imperceptible.

Alanei couldn’t feel the sensation any longer, but she knew what the stone did. The link was breaking. She knew the chances were nothing more than a coin flip, yet even so, it felt infinitely more important. It was time.

Inside herself, she felt a warmth growing. Her belief, her hope, was manifest within her body, creating an ever-changing glow that refused to die. She was the calm within the storm.

In the heat, a single ember floated down towards her face.

She closed her eyes.

And breathed.

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