Sunday, September 11, 2016

The Hunted Hunter

There were laws. Accords. Pacts and promises, but the old Accords were nothing in small towns in the middle of nowhere where there were none to enforce them. Places barely on maps where no one could be missed. Source of food. Half the town is gone, in hunger I have denied myself for centuries. Their fear is the nectar that sweetens all things. I was feared once, long before I fell into the smallness called a universe. In places far Outside my name is still spoken in terms of fear and dread.

We fall so far when we do not notice we are falling.

There is interference, of course. One human has a Talent, enough to sense me. Not near enough to be a threat. That one dies first, and others they know as well. One meal, another. I eat slowly, savouring questions and terrors in equal measure. Every message they try and send out, I intercept. Every person who tries to leave, I devour. They learn not to leave, though it takes them time. Humans are such small things.

The magician that comes into the town is an unpleasant shock. I have made baffles and barriers and he wanders in as though they did not exist at all. There is a god-eater with him and a human boy. I decide they will feed me with energy enough to break even a magician. Magicians are, in the end, only human.

But the boy unmakes the hunger when I reach for the woman. Turns and sees me, through the disguise I’ve used for centuries. “Excuse me, but we’re drinking tea,” he says, as though that somehow was of deep importance. “And you’re trying to hurt us and Honcho and that’s really rude you know!”

“You have killed almost a hundred people.” I have no idea how the magician comes up behind me without my noticing, how he escaped my senses at all. He carries the dead in ways magicians do not – no magician deals with ghosts, with desires they can never answer. But this one – he studies me, and smiles, and all at once I understand the stories that have reached me even in the centre of my Power.

“You are the wandering magician.”

“And friends,” the boy adds firmly.

“I am,” he says. “You have rooted yourself deeply into this place,” and he says my true name, which I had almost half-forgot. “I can force you out, but it would damage the skin of the world in this area for a long time. I could destroy you with the dead I have gathered, but it would be revenge and cause the same wounds in the Grey Lands. Flee back Outside and never return.”

I would laugh, but there is nothing in his voice save certainty.

I open a Gateway, step far Outside and weave a way back with all the energies I have stolen. I can slip to a different point in time, or even another place entirely, and feast without being noticed at all. That is within my power as Opener of the Ways.

The Gateway crumples. The Way I am is unmade, with such power that I can no longer be certain where I aimed it, or even where the Universe is. I shudder a little. I have been away a long time. Reputation will only carry me so far. I remember why I entered the universe, and what is seeking me.

In time, It finds me. An Unravelling, ancient and mighty. But it asks about the boy I barely recall. His name, abilities, the truth of his strength. I know nothing of such things, and it is almost a relief when the Unravelling turns its power upon me and says it can send me back. At a price. And for a cost.

Energies flow, within and without, and I... reach, fall short of something, feel everything I was dissolving. There are barriers I cannot breach, and that is almost a relief even after all the Unravelling has turned me into.

“He resists me?” the Unravelling screams. I did not know they had speech. I never knew they had hate. All I am is relieved to feel myself being umade and freed of powers far beyond my ken.

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