The strangeness of the world boggled Kasita’s mind. For as long as she could remember, she had always been puzzled by the idea that people—human or monster—existed. Herself included. Nothing around her ever seemed all that real. A part of that could have just been her nature—she had no defined form and could take any shape she wanted. It gave her a certain disconnect to the world around her. One that she was well aware of. However, anytime she entered that line of thinking, she realized that it was all in her head. Which, if she didn’t exist, wouldn’t be thinking such things.
But that didn’t dissuade her from considering the nature of herself and the world around her.
Sometimes, given time alone with her thoughts, she entertained the idea that no one else was real save for herself. Intellectually, she knew that she existed as did others. It was just too easy to forget sometimes that as much as she had things she liked and disliked, others did as well. Especially when their likes were her dislikes. Comprehending the very idea that someone could enjoy something that she hated took a lot more effort than she was willing to put into most situations.
Most people out there, both human and monster, frequently did nothing at all. Or nothing constructive, in any case. Relaxing, they called it. Once in a while might be one thing, but so many grew addicted to it. They had goals to accomplish, things they wanted to see or do in their meager lives, but yet they would still decide to spend night after night in a chair, smoking a pipe while staring off into the stars. Or worse, go to their neighbors and just talk away entire evenings about nothing at all. They wouldn’t even remember the details of the conversation the next morning—not because they were too drunk, though that often played a part, but because the conversations were just that unimportant.
She could not grasp the notion that people wasted their lives on such things. The only ones who should were the ones who didn’t have to worry about their lifespans running out. Perhaps she was biased. Mimics didn’t live long lives. She didn’t have as long as a human to experience the world. She had lived ten years and would be lucky to see another twenty.
Which was why it took effort to remember that other people were real and not just the equivalent of rocks, things for her to interact with.
But she did try. Empathizing with the other monsters at the Waterhole had been one of her greatest successes. They had been utterly miserable at the fact that their lives were essentially going to waste. A notion that she could personally identify with. Of course, she hadn’t exactly spent all of her time in the whorehouse. Being curious and eager to learn everything she could, she had often slipped out. Once, she had even visited the human palace. That had taken a bit of sneaking.
A novelty place. Its view from the top was worth it, but only because the ground around it was so flat. The elvish constructs in the mountains were far higher even if the buildings were shorter, giving a better look of the world.
While at the Waterhole, she had decided that she needed to do more than just provide comfort for the other girls. And she had been so close. Just the week before, she had finally gotten her hands on enough poison to kill every non-monster. Being a mimic, she could never hope to fight the humans. Lifting a sword was nearly impossible. Even a dagger took far too much effort. While she might be able to use a dagger to inflict some damage on a person, maybe enough to kill one, as soon as the rest of the whorehouse became aware of her intentions, she would find herself dealt with.
So poison it was. She had just been waiting for an opportunity. A celebration, perhaps. Svotty had been well known for his vices and he frequently roped the guards into joining in. A way to kill them would have presented itself eventually.
And then Alyssa had shown up.
Kasita had honestly hated the human immediately after she had announced that Svotty was dead and that everyone was free to leave. Months of work had gone to waste. She might as well have spent her time staring at the stars. It was the worst sort of feeling. But a combination of Enrique’s utter rapture, Rizk snapping out of her daze, and the sheer ignorance Alyssa displayed had piqued Kasita’s interest.
And the weapon she had used to fight off goblins and trolls later that evening even more so. Kasita had really been hoping that she could use one without much trouble. But they were weighty and, the one time she had used one, had thrown her backward off a cliff.
Still, in following Alyssa around, Kasita had seen something of herself in the human. Except when she slept, Alyssa constantly moved forward. She created goals for herself then set out to accomplish them. More relevant, when she decided that her current actions weren’t leading her to her goals, she eliminated them. Working as a delivery agent for the human potioneer gave Alyssa some sense of direction in the unfamiliar city, but the second it ceased being valuable, she told Tzheitza that she was going to quit.
Kasita found it admirable. An attitude to strive toward.
Though now, entirely unaware of the strange world around her, Kasita couldn’t help but wonder if she had found herself impeding one of Alyssa’s goals.
There was nothing that Kasita could do by reflecting on the past weeks. She didn’t even know what had happened. Alyssa had appeared in the prison room, all the lights had darkened, and then she had felt a sharp pain. Her form being stabbed with a sword didn’t hurt. Her forms felt no sensations. They were illusions and little more. But this… she had never felt anything like it. So it had to have been pain.
Her sense of the world around her went inert after that.
Kasita honestly hadn’t a clue what was going on. She couldn’t sense anything else, object or person. Her existence was nothing but a void. Even trying to change shape didn’t work. Or, if it did, she was unaware of the outcome.
This could be death. Though it was a bit different than she had imagined. The humans told tales of Tenebrael and how she would ferry them to a paradise upon their deaths so long as they strove to praise her and fight for her. According to human priests, those who led unworthy lives would be destroyed for eternity, fed to demons. Oddly enough, many larger monster communities had their own doctors of divinity… who preached roughly the same theories, though they claimed that Tenebrael was some sort of monster and put significantly less emphasis on actually worshiping her, believing her to be just another being that exists, if a powerful one. Perhaps even a precursor to the Monster Lords.
Alyssa certainly had different opinions on the matter. She hadn’t said anything specific, but her tone when mentioning these angels was anything but pleasant.
For Kasita, she wasn’t sure what death brought. Her line of thinking, naturally, leaned toward the idea that Tenebrael was just a powerful monster. If that was true, then it was likely that nothing lay beyond life. A very literal sort of nothing. No thought nor experience. It wasn’t a very comfortable thought, but there wasn’t anything Kasita could do about it. She hoped she was wrong; having everything she had learned and done nullified permanently was a depressing notion.
Still, this didn’t seem to be any of those deaths. She could think—she existed, therefore her theory was wrong. And this certainly wasn’t a paradise and she didn’t feel like demons eating her would be so unimpressive.
While certainly preferable to oblivion, the lack of all outside influence would probably make her go insane with time. As it was, she had no idea, no frame of reference as to how long she had been in her current state.
Just as she was about to try to meditate on nothing, she felt it. The world.
Earthen floor entered into her consciousness. Just a small pinprick, but it was expanding outward. Her awareness increased to encompass more stone floor, walls, bars. Mimics didn’t see like most other races, but she felt the world around her in a way that was fairly analogous to sight. From her surroundings, she managed to put a few things together. First, she was still in the underground prison. The cell wasn’t closed anymore, the bars had slid into the floor.
As her awareness continued to grow, she saw him. That human who had Alyssa all worked up, the Taker, stood roughly in the center of the circular room, mostly still. He wasn’t looking in her direction, but she was currently appearing as nothing more than a small stone—a defense mechanism ingrained instinctively in mimics. Rather, he was looking at the floor. At his sword? Kasita couldn’t quite understand what he was doing. Several of his fingers were twisted in wrong directions and his forearm had clearly snapped clean in two with how his wrist and hand dangled at an angle. His other hand was tucked into his pocket, but that arm had broken as well.
Deciding to wait to see the rest of the room before trying to do anything, Kasita remained where she was.
It took an agonizing amount of time, but she eventually had a full view of the room. Alyssa was nowhere to be found. Neither was the half-giant in the cell opposite hers. The room showed signs of a battle, walls being scorched or pockmarked with Alyssa’s strange guns. Glass littered the floor. The chair that had been in the middle of the room wasn’t there anymore. Some charcoal in a rough chair shape wasn’t far away though.
Someone had a party while she had been… had that been what unconsciousness was like? Not very appealing in her opinion, yet humans did it every day. Most monsters did too. Kasita much preferred not being trapped within her own mind.
Deciding nothing would get done as long as she stayed hidden, Kasita tried to assume her usual human form.
The moment she felt her body shift, something… stabbed? Was that the proper word? It was altogether an unpleasant sensation that made her stop trying to change. It wasn’t something she had felt before and it wasn’t a good feeling. Humans, after physically exerting themselves, frequently took heavy panting breaths of air. For the first time, she understood the need to do that.
It was the air. Something hung in the air around her that ate at her when she tried to work her magic. Possibly what had gotten her into this situation in the first place. When Alyssa had appeared in the room, she had brought with her that stabbing feeling.
But it was possible to change. Just painful. And wasn’t that a weird thought. A sword could slice right through her head while in human form and she wouldn’t feel a thing. Forcing herself into a human form felt like she was being torn to pieces. An impossibility given her physiology.
Straining for a few moments, she finally managed. Her form wasn’t perfect. She looked more like a fleshy blob with arms and legs than a proper person, but it was enough to return her mobility. Which she promptly used to exit her cell. There were a few odd things she had noticed, apart from the obvious human in the room. A few of Alyssa’s weapon parts were scattered around the floor. Given how dutifully she had collected them earlier in Svotty’s office, Alyssa was probably in trouble. That thought only compounded as she noted the blood on the floor. Although the Taker had a bone or two jutting out of his skin, he was far away and not injured enough to have produced this much blood.
Kasita moved a foot over one of the little red and brass gun parts, pulling it into her body. Even that prickled, but the sensations were lessening. It was to a level where she didn’t have to try to ignore it anymore. Still, she couldn’t help but wonder about the little cylinders. They flew out of the guns every time they fired. Their insides clearly had gone through an explosion, but bodies hit by the weapons wound up shredded, not burned. The whys and hows were beyond her. If she could get a few samples to an elf, maybe she could learn more.
She found it odd that Alyssa had left them behind as well. The human meticulously kept her things to herself. To Kasita’s knowledge, the only ones she hadn’t kept had been those used on the trolls and goblins. Were they important or were they not? The inconsistency irritated her. Yes, Alyssa had been fleeing from monsters at the time, but she could have gone back to the streets the next day as Kasita had. But she hadn’t even tried. With a scowl, Kasita collected the other gun parts. They could go with the parts she had collected from the streets.
A crack followed by a throaty grunt pulled her attention to the Taker.
His shoulder had broken. Between his arm and his neck, it looked like someone had grabbed him with two hands and pulled.
Kasita ignored the tingling as she forced her form further toward her usual. Most importantly, she gave herself lips and a mouth, allowing vocal interactions with the world. “It seems as if things did not go according to plan. But this is a good look on you. Ufu~ If I sit here long enough, will the rest of you break to pieces?”
The Taker didn’t respond aside from swiveling his eyes to look at Kasita. There was no way he could see. It was abyssally dark in the room. But he still looked toward her voice. All his earlier gloating from when she had first dropped into the pit was nowhere to be seen.
“In the original plan, you died. What happened? What happened?” His sword. On the floor in front of his broken arms. Bright red blood lined the tip. Alyssa’s, most likely. If she had been wounded, that could explain the Taker’s continued survival. And with the half-giant missing, perhaps he had carried her away.
But none of that explained why the room was dark, why the Taker had several lacerations over his body in addition to the broken limbs, and why Kasita had found herself unconscious.
Perhaps Alyssa hadn’t done anything to her after all. The room could have had some magical defenses that activated because of Alyssa. That would be a nice thought. Kasita didn’t like the idea that the human who apparently didn’t mind the company of monsters had been duplicitous since they had met. That’s my job. Smiling at that thought, Kasita nodded. That had to be it. When Alyssa had appeared, she had been kneeling, confused, and seemingly in pain. She had been in no position to attack.
The smile on Kasita’s image froze. Why was she happy about that? What was one more human trying to kill her? Humans couldn’t be trusted. Lexar had been the same way. As soon as she told him what she was, he had run off to the Waters Street gang, intent on selling her.
Kasita clicked her tongue in annoyance at having remembered unpleasant thoughts. Alyssa might be interesting, but she had to remember that, no matter how friendly she appeared to be, Kasita would be thrown under the wagon wheels well in advance of any human should push come to shove.
Or, she thought, looking over the Taker’s broken form, any human who hadn’t tried to kill her.
The corner of her lip ticked upward into a smile, though a smile fueled by far less elated feelings. Walking near the door of the room, she moved her foot over a black dagger. Weighty, being solid metal, but small enough that she could pull it into herself without much difficulty.
“Sometimes,” she said aloud, facing away from the Taker. “Sometimes, I wish I had been born differently. Perhaps as a race with sharp claws or powerful muscles. Being a mimic, being weak, it leaves me frequently unsatisfied.” The Taker didn’t react to her words. Even when she started walking back to him, resurfacing the dagger in the palm of her hand, he remained still. Mostly. His arms were trembling ever so slightly. But that had been going on since she awoke. He just sat there. Helpless.
A tingling welled up within Kasita. Not the painful prickles, though those were still present if she concentrated hard on feeling them. These tingles were of a far more sadistic sort. Using two fingers, she dangled the blade of the black dagger right in front of his eyes. It was dark, but maybe he had some way to see.
“I just want to rip your face. Slice it to shreds. Tear out your throat. Pull your heart from your chest.” His eyes followed the tip of the knife as it swung from side to side. “But,” she said, sighing and pulling back. “I can’t. Even if I were to use all my strength, this dagger would only give you a shallow cut. No matter how much I want to… no matter how much you deserve it…” She trailed off, thinking back to her time at the whorehouse. “You remember Selpa? Black fur, fire burning in her eyes? I… find it difficult to connect with others. But she and I, we had a plan to kill everyone there. To remove her chains and set her free to feast on the fat pigs running the place. Until you came along. And then you threaten my new… interest?”
Kasita gripped the knife with both hands and thrust.
The tip sank into the soft flesh of his eye.
He opened his mouth, screaming. His jaw, already broken in two, swung to the side and came unhinged. Though that did nothing to stop the sweet sound coming from his throat.
Kasita ignored him, continuing to push as hard as she could. Her goal wasn’t the eye, though she wasn’t complaining. She wanted his mind.
Her arms stopped with a jerk, hitting the thin bone behind his eye that protected his brain.
Even with the full force of her body behind the knife, it didn’t make it through.
The Taker jerked back the moment she felt resistance, taking the dagger out of her fingers as he fell backward to the ground and writhed in pain.
Kasita jumped back, surprised at his movement. She had thought he was trapped in some spell. Watching him roll back and forth, arms flopping about with their broken bones as he shouted about his eye, all her sadism dropped to nothing. Fear and worry replaced it. He had definitely been under a spell.
She had broken that spell.
Whatever it had been, whatever its intentions were, they weren’t working anymore.
What to do? She had ruined it. There wasn’t anything she could to do fix it. She couldn’t kill him. Even trying to stab him in his opposite eye wouldn’t work. Not with him flailing back and forth. A mimic couldn’t wrestle with a human.
Kasita backed away. While she had only seen the Taker on occasion at the Waterhole, she knew his reputation. He wouldn’t stay down for long. Even with a broken body, he could still be a threat to her. All it would take would be to activate whatever defenses had caused her to black out in the first place. That could buy him plenty of time to deal with her in a more permanent manner.
Slamming her weight into the door, she pushed it open a narrow crack. Not enough to fit through had she been a real human, but she was a mimic. So long as the gun parts she was carrying could fit through, so could she.
She sprinted through the empty hallway and made it to the stairs. An obvious lever opened up a wall to the passage Cid had led her through. She didn’t bother trying to close the wall again. Familiar with elven engineering though she was, she might not have the time to puzzle out which of the light holders activated it.
Only when she reached the open skies of the city streets did Kasita finally stop. She hadn’t encountered Alyssa. Either the human had gone the wrong way and needed a rescue from the Waterhole or she had made it out…
Without taking Kasita with her. A small part of her mind flashed with anger at the thought of being forgotten, but she quickly dismissed the notion. If there was one thing that Kasita had learned about Alyssa, it was that Alyssa… did not pay attention to her environment. Her awareness of small things that changed around her was almost depressingly low. Since Kasita had wrapped herself in the safety of a small pebble, there was no way for the human to have found her.
Especially not given that the room had been utterly dark. A being without Kasita’s natural sense for the world around her would have been blind.
Kasita turned, angling herself toward the potion shop. Alyssa would be there.
After her first step, she hesitated. Why? Why did she need to go back to Alyssa? Or rather, why was returning to Alyssa her first thought? For over a week, Kasita had been following the human around everywhere. That wasn’t her normal behavior. Following a human? Again, her thoughts turned to Lexar. It had been a long time since she had been genuinely friendly with a human.
Kasita turned in the opposite direction and started walking. She had no aim or goal. She walked more to prove to herself that she could.
Only to stop again after a few paces. Kasita sat on the dirt road and stared up at the stars. What am I even doing? The stars twinkled in the black of night, bright white lights. Some people, both humans and monsters, used them to help navigate. Same with the rings and the pale moon. Others relied on them for less literal guidance, believing that there were connections between the points of light that held spiritual advice or perhaps even that they could be used to foretell the future. Kasita just stared. She found no meaning in their patterns.
They had been there since before the Monster Lords. They would be there long after Kasita perished. It was enough to make her scoff in disgust. What right did they have to live so long? They couldn’t watch the passage of time. They couldn’t make decisions or interact with anything else.
Even a rock was worth more than a star.
Kasita shook her head. At times like this, she found herself hating everything. The very thought of bothering with doing anything when it would all be nullified in a few years time just made her hate the fact that she had been born in the first place. Why did anyone do anything?
False belief in Tenebrael. Humans and monsters had the same mental flaw and it had a name. Tenebrael. Not even a deity if what Alyssa had said was true. An angel. A monster and nothing more.
Kasita stood again. Her thoughts had come back around to Alyssa, though this time they had a reason. Alyssa continued forward. The human strove toward her goals. But she knew that Tenebrael wasn’t what the doctors of divinity advertised.
What drove her?