“Fuck,” Kim said, but the thing – the woman – she stared, dead-eyed. Glassed, someone had called it once. She lay breathing on the bed, eyes wide into some unseeing world. In a day or two, her skin would be grey. In four says, she would be gone. Ash, or something else. Dissolved. Like the others.
He pulled himself off the hotel bed onto his feet. His body ached with strain and need both, like a Viagra kick after running a marathon. He’d never got her name, and now she was dead. Worse than dead. Empty. Hollowed. He staggered from the body. Even now, after two years – after over eight bodies – death still rolled through him. He held back throwing up, made it to the bathroom. He breathed, flicked the taps on, doused his face with water before staring into the mirror.
The face that looked back through smeared glass was dull. Pockmarks and crooked teeth, cheap glasses, the baseball cap to hide the fact that he was starting to bald even if he wasn’t even twenty. There wasn’t any way to get a girl like he was, not without help. He stumbled into the bathtub, masturbating through the ache of exhaustion, almost throwing up again after.
A life of almost as he staggered back out, put his pants back on. He didn’t clean up: his idea of penance. Of something. He didn’t know what anymore. He’d pushed through to the giddy place on the other side of exhaustion, and reached into the world with his Talent. To touch emotions, to catch them and set them on fire inside people. He could make friends. Make people want him, but too much, too hard and too fast, and they glassed. Burnt out. Were lost.
But there was enough emotions in a hotel room to call up heat. Enough for fire. Enough to burn away all traces he’d been in the room. Kim left with his wallet, clothing, and found the nearest bar. He burned through a hundred dollars in ten minutes, chugging drinks that ached through his throat until their fire shook him back into normalcy. He ate a burger and fries, which took away some of the emptiness gnawing inside him. A second burger helped even more, his talent settling into its cool waiting.
A Talent only has themselves to draw on. That much he’d been told. There were people with talents that were far more than his. People who could focus and do things with one small ability that he couldn’t even begin to grasp, but he didn’t hate them. Talents weren’t common, but they tended to be unique. The same song, but always different tunes. Something like that. He considered another beer when a man sat down beside him.
“Kim,” the man said, and his voice said he knew Kim, in ways Kim had never known anyone.
Kim was out of the seat so fast people might have thought of it as magic, his fear a hammerblow on the air. Glasses cracked along the bar, healing before they could shatter as the other man stood and walked over. He wasn’t tall. He was ordinary. Painfully, weirdly so, except there was a hardness to his expression, and his eyes were cold with judgement.
Kim covered his ears and ran. Into the kitchen and out the back. He made it into the side street, turned his elation into a blade that – unmade itself before he could swing it as the magician was simply in front of him between moments. Kim knew about magicians. A Talent did one thing. Sometimes strongly, but on: magicians did anything. Anything they wanted, some said. They had voices that could not be disobeyed.
He grabbed his longing, his hate, his need, and hurled it through the air like a bomb as his body shook and spasmed with the effort.
The magician caught it between two fingers almost absently. All of that power, caught and held like one would a toy. “I felt your talent, and my magic pulled me to the hotel. To what you had done.” The magician stared at the emotions until they were a small visible ball of seething greens and reds between his fingers. “So many lives damaged. So many people ruined. I will do what I can for them, and always wish someone had found you sooner.”
Kim reached, in a way that hurt more than anything he’d ever done, his hatred a living thing in the air, screaming without sound.
The magician unmade it with one flat stare, and then flicked the ball of hate and need into Kim. Hard.
Kim hit the ground, feeling something breaking deep inside. He tried to move, but nothing responded.
“This is what you did to people. Burned our emotions, burned out everything that could move in them,” the magician said, and Kim couldn’t ignore the truth in the words. “But I think most of them will end up in the Grey Lands, where ghosts are born and made. And I know you will end up there, to face their judgement.”
And the magician smiled, and the smile dissolved Kim’s body into ashes and hurled him toward judgement.
And all he felt, all he could feel, was his desperate lust for the power a magician held. Until he felt them around him. All those who had died because of him, directly or otherwise. Waiting. They had glass in their hands, and sharp blades, and all he could do was scream until they denied him even that. But they did not stop cutting into him, and not a single one spoke at all.