"Yet again I am impressed," Eunice said, looking me over. "Your core is recovering far faster than I had estimated."

I nodded. Eating monsters regularly did the trick.

"Stats," I whispered when Eunice turned around and walked to a bookshelf.

Nothing happened. I gritted my teeth. Eating monsters didn’t give me back my human soul. No matter how much I had tried to meditate or imagine the control room of Chernobyl, the numbers would simply not come to me.

Eunice returned, bearing my container. The container was a pitch-black nightcrawler skull decorated in runes. Eunice had directed me to carve them on top of the bone of a monster I killed, so that I could practice pouring my soul into it. In the past three years I had learned to feel my soul, to still my body sufficiently to begin to gradually move parts of my ghost out of it under her supervision.

The runes covering the skull shimmered with ruby red color in my eyes.

"Top it up," the high-cendai ordered. "Then it shall be ready for use."

I sat down in a lotus pose and stilled my body and soul as much as I could. Then, I started to sing. The cendai song my Master taught me resonated across the domed living room.

"Your pronunciation is still abysmal," Eunice shook her head.

I ignored her commentary, focusing on the song. At least she didn't smack me this time. It took me a long time to memorize this damn song and years to execute it properly.

Myriads of gold runes across the living room lit up, activated by my song. They responded, focusing their power on me, helping me out, guiding me along.

As the song reached its final crescendo, I felt a twang as my soul disconnected from my body, my body suspending itself completely.

I continued to sing as a body-less ghost and moved my finger out of myself.

A ghostly, silver-blue finger made up of glowing threads emerged from my hand. It was a very odd sight.

"Good," Eunice demurred.

A small, sharp knife appeared in her hand. I always hated this part because it hurt like hell.

The high-cendai swung the ceremonial knife at my ghostly finger and I winced as a small segment of my soul came off me.

It was somewhat unnerving to see a piece of my ghostly-self come off me and float down into the nightcrawler skull sitting on the ground below me.

My ghostly finger dissolved into the skull as it connected with it. The glow of the blood-red runes on the skull intensified.

"Very good. It is almost ready now," Eunice declared.

I stopped singing and my body and soul slowly came back together.

Getting back into my body felt a bit unnerving. My finger felt very cold and hollowed out. I moved it about, trying to regain the warmth in it. It looked fine physically, but it was damaged spiritually.

I looked at the nightcrawler's skull. Inside of it sat three years of my crystalline hair, ground to a very fine powder. The runes painted on the skull were infusing everything inside it with my soul. I felt the skull and the crystalline sand within it as some distant part of myself.

“Begin adding the protective barrier to your body,” Eunice ordered. “Take your time. This is your personal test. Summon me when you are finished painting runes on your entire body.”

The high cendai handed me a paintbrush and departed. I blanched at her as she left. I wasn’t going to paint runes. The high-cendai’s methods were imprecise, unscientific. I had decided to improve upon them using everything I knew about armours.

I pulled out a pouch from my shiny beetle armor. There was a little shell inside of it, filled with… glue. I had harvested the glue from a very large spider, by boiling its sticky web in a pot. Alessi and I had knocked the spider out with sling-thrown rocks and then cut down its web with my favorite nightcrawler-sword. I had tested the spider-web glue under various conditions and confirmed that it was the best bonding agent that could be applied to crystal sand and then the resulting mixture could be peeled off and reused, akin to latex paint. Simplified, what I had essentially made was glue with glitter in it.

I poured the red, sparkling sand from the skull into the shell and started to mix it. Once it was of sufficient consistency, I started to apply it to myself with my hands. I didn’t draw runes.

The power of the spirit-shield wasn’t in runes, it was in the ideas they represented. Eunice told me that the more power and soul I poured into my shield, the better it would obey me. Every sunday for three years with my Master’s help, I had been cutting off little bits of my soul and putting it into this sand. The skull was completely filled to the brim with the stuff, its eyeholes sealed up with clay.

I felt the crystalline grains, even though they were not part of my body. It was a very strange sensation akin to having an ocean of microscopic, interlocked hands located far away from me.

After years of experimentation, I had confirmed that the smallest rune I could imagine was a grain of sand. I knew that I could possibly go smaller, but alas it had to be something that I could actually see and I lacked a powerful microscope.

I once again visualized, affirmed with all of my will that every grain of sand in my paste was connecting with the other, forming a shield that would protect my soul against the hollow phantom. In this shield, each grain served as a microscopic rune, an idea, a desire for protection against ghosts. I also knew that the natural honeycomb structure, aka the hexagon, offered the best strength-to-weight ratio. The hollow phantom’s shell was made up of hexagons, because hexagons formed in nature due to their efficiency.

I started to slowly apply the paste to my body with my hands, not leaving any gaps, mentally forcing my soul-infused sand to form a microscopic hexagonal grid all around my body.

After a few hours of application, my magic latex-suit was ready. Hopefully, if the glue and the sand bonded correctly, I would be able to peel it off whenever I needed a wash, melt it and reapply it again and again. In a manner, unlike Eunice’s body paint runework it was completely impervious to being washed away by a thunderstorm. From what I understood, the cendai's runes were held on by magic on the body, which would be a massive waste of mana for a little young chimera like myself. Why waste magical power on something when glue could be used do to the same?

Looking into a mirror on one of the library shelves, I painted dots all over my face, mentally connecting them into a grid-like pattern. Then, I parted the crystal-covered hair-strands on my head dotting my skull with the paste.

When I was done decorating myself, I moved onto the nightcrawler skull.

I emptied the skull completely, pouring the precious soul-infused sand into several bottles made from beetle shells. Then I broke the clay that was covering up the eyes and cleaned it up. Once that was done, I placed lenses made from polished crystal into the skull’s eye holes, sealing the edges with my sparkly glue.

I painted the skull's entire interior and exterior with the sparkling, sticky paste. I wanted to be completely, utterly impervious to the phantoms and I didn’t want to put too much glue all over my face nor near my eyes. I also placed filters made from a sponge-plant into the skull's nostrils, sealing everything together tightly with my crystalline bonding agent.

I poured crystal sand atop the sponge layer, this time using all of my knowledge about chemical contaminants, mentally shaping the sand to block anything that could be considered poisonous or dangerous to my lungs and then sealed it with another sponge. The idea was to replicate a 3M filter using magic. If the sand-infused paint could be assigned function to block phantoms, why couldn't the powder infused with my soul be used akin to an activated carbon filter that could in theory block dangerous magical and mundane particulates?

The entire process reminded me of the time when I made cosplays, getting ready for comic cons. When the skull-mask was complete, it looked quite beautiful and eerie, like a primitive, savage-style helmet worn by some quirky anime character. Dark red, barely discernible sand grains glittered all over it. I painted a very thin layer of dots over the lenses and the sponge-covered sections, so that I would be able to see out of the mask and breathe.

I slid the skull-helmet on top of my head, testing how it fit. It was much too big and sat wrong. I took it off and filled the insides with more sponges, bonding them to the interior until the skull-helmet sat comfortably on top of my head and I could see through the eye-holes with no issues.

I added a rim of sponges around the neck and painted over them, so when I moved my head the skull wouldn't rip up the paint on my shoulders and secured the entire thing with leather straps, firmly attaching the skull-helmet to my head. I moved my head side-to-side and jumped, testing the straps and readjusting them until everything was perfect.

To complete the outfit, I waited for the bodysuit to dry and then donned my vantablack nightcrawler armor. Sadly, I didn’t have enough soul-infused bonding agent to paint all of it, so I merely added dots all over the armor, bonding each segment to the other mentally. The connections held, like a thin, invisible mesh. I felt two hexagonal grids around me, one incredibly solid and the other weak and thin, but still responsive.

“Master, I’m done!” I declared, my voice slightly distorted and made tinny by the nightcrawler’s skull.

Eunice descended from one of the rooms upstairs via a bone-carved stairwell. Her mouth dropped open.

I grinned. I had managed to surprise her. Ha!

“What is this?” She uttered. Her eyes flashed from within with a fiery radiance as she circled me.

“Ghost-proof armor,” I tapped the helmet with my finger.

“Very… unique,” she said. “I see no gaps. Excellent. You are ready to step into the Still Forest.”

Eunice guided me out of her living room, down one level into a basement section.

She unlocked a steel door and we stepped into a circular room covered in gold runes painted on metal, interconnected plates. The runes formed an enormous spiral the focus of which was a black, circular gate that stood in the center of the room.

“Stand in front of the End-Gate, monci,” Eunice commanded.

I stepped towards the gate, feeling nervous.

Eunice started to sing. Her ethereal song danced across the strange, metal-covered room. As she did, every rune around us lit up. The gold symbols covering the black gate ignited and where there was once air, a ripple had formed woven from black fluid hanging in the air. The ripple danced in the air like ferromagnetic fluid, distortion waves coming from the symbols surrounding the entrance into purgatory.

The high-cendai’s song stopped.

“Step through the gate,” she said. "It will take you to the Still Forest."

I slowly took a step forward, then another.

The black ripple embraced me, curled all around me as I moved forward towards what I felt was my certain doom.

Hell waited for me beyond the gate.

It had always waited for me, just as it waited for everyone in Andross and this time… this time I hoped that I was ready for it.


A note from Vitaly S Alexius

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Instead of drawing runes by hand Yulia created what is very well known to cosplayers - latex bodypaint mixed with glitter. Basically:

I've used this stuff myself for studio photoshoots several times, it's very fun.

I've tried out store-bought ones and I've made them myself too in my studio by using glue, paint and different glitters to experiment with various techniques for making unique photos such as:

Wake from Anabiosis


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About the author

Vitaly S Alexius

  • Canada
  • Archbishop of Captania and sovereign territories

Bio: I was born in the year 1984, in the 4th most polluted city of Soviet Union.
On April 11/1997 fate has given me an unexpected twist and by means of aerial transportation I was dislocated 5555 miles across the Atlantic Ocean to Ontario, Canada, wherein I currently preside in an 1890 cathedral and partake in writing and drawing things.

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