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    Firion -- Year 217


    "She approaches the cave and there is nothing but that anticipation and her ever-present fire inside her. No fear, no flickering echoes of love. It’s all been consumed for now. She is a wildfire contained only by the thin layer of her flesh." --Mazikeen, written by Squirt

    [open quest]  if you go down in the woods today...
    They make use of his generous gifts as he stares in awe of them all. All, of course, except for Gaspard. His carved grin becomes a deep frown as he dismisses the Loch Ness costumed boy with a sweep of his hand, returning him safely to wherever it is he calls home.

    The remaining eleven find themselves at the foot of the mountain or the mouth of the caves below. Jack resumes his smiling as the pitch-black night becomes illuminated by things in the distance. Various forms of fungi begin to glow when he claps his clawed hands together while scattered flowers do the same across the mountain. Mother Nature’s Clap On, he thinks with a high-pitched cackle.

    But perhaps the next leg of their journey is too peaceful. Mayhaps they need a little challenge to earn their place at the finish line. And so Jack plucks a delicate amethyst from a side table drawer, plus some ice cubes from his freezer. He carelessly tosses them into the potion with a plop. On cue, crystalline monsters pry themselves free of the cave walls and lurch dumbly in wandering paths. The snow on the mountain above begins to swirl and gather into bodies complete with heads and appendages. His monsters are impossibly beautiful in the gentle glow of the fungi and the flowers, he thinks. But they, too, are attracted to sound and they seem to be angered by it.

    The time has come to test your stealth,
    To make a dash and keep your health.
    Just stay alive and stay alert,
    Then find me in the red desert.

    1. If you didn’t use your gift in round two, you may use it here or in round four.
    2. Everyone’s normal traits/defects/abilities are still disabled.
    3. End your post on the borders of Pangea, trying to find Jack in the fog and dark. Also, describe what shape the ice/amethyst monsters take for your character.
    4. No more than 1,500 words per reply.
    5. This round will end on October 20th at 11:59pm. Late replies will receive a penalty in the next round.

    Gaspard has received the Curse of the Brood Mother. He is now the host to all sorts of awful spiders, beetles, and larva that crawl in and out of his skin. Luckily, their saliva numbs his flesh to their biting, but it’s certainly nothing pretty to look at.


    It is cold—so cold—and Despoina can feel her puppy teeth chatter as she feels the wind sweep down. There is still the thrashing of trees behind her and cackle of witches as they swoop through the air. Still the sound of monsters and pumpkins and things she cannot name as the rest of those alongside her lumber along in alien shapes. She still doesn’t know how she has managed to make it this far, doesn’t understand why that witch had picked her up and carried her the rest of the way, but she accepts it as best she can.

    Accepts all of this as best she can.

    There is a loud clap before things begin to glow gently before her. Lighting up the path with a gentle wash of light. It is calming, she thinks, and nearly beautiful if she wasn’t so soaked with her own fear. If she wasn’t so certain of her own demise. She never should have left this night. Never should have followed her own curiosity. She had never been the adventurous sort before—what was she doing now?

    But she thinks of her children, and of Torryn, and she resolves to make it through.

    She can’t give up. Not now.

    So with gritted teeth she slinks forward, pushing up against the wall of the mountainside as she makes her way up the path. She never thought she would miss her hellhound form—never thought that those things that make her a monster would be viewed as a comfort—but she does now. As her delicate pads begin to ache and her stomach curls with hunger, her thin coat doing little to shield her from the cold, she misses the body of the predator. That thing that could hunt and hunt and hunt and never need to slow.

    This is the worst of it, she thinks, as she continues to climb, her eyes narrowing to see in the dark with only the help of the flowers that dot the path upward. But as with all things, it is not.

    Not even remotely.

    Because just as she slinks onward, tail between her legs, she begins to imagine the snow is moving in unnatural ways. Forming together into a shape that is not that of fallen snow. Her heart stops in her chest as she recognizes one that rears back its head and yawns with icicle teeth. The tigers that begin to prowl before her that look so much like her late mother it takes everything in her to recognize they are not.

    All good sense flees from her.

    She is nearly to the top of the mountain now and she only has to keep sneaking through the bushes to go undetected, but fear does not care about logic. Because she is a puppy once more and she is watching her mother’s tigress form launch toward her. She is watching her teeth snap in the air above her and knowing that she wants nothing more than to kill her—wants nothing more than to end her own daughter’s life.

    So Despoina runs.

    She yelps and begins to pound forward as fast as this small body will carry her, the tail sweeping behind her as she forgets about hiding. It is enough to set an alarm for the snowbound tigers and they come crashing after her with all of the silence of a winter storm. Despoina feels their icy breath as they gain ground on her but it is almost as though their speed is throttled. As though they know the true terror is in the chase and not in the catching. Because although they could easily grab the puppy, they don’t.

    They just chase and chase.

    Chase until her small heart could burst with the fear and the agony of seeing her mother’s face.

    With that one racing though that she would never see her family again.

    She cries out and crashes and, at one point, begins to fall down and down and down. She falls tail over head, her limbs tangling together, and her yelps bleeding together until she comes to a stop, deposited on the edge of the red sand. For a moment, she just lies there, tears leaking out of her eyes—waiting for the snap of teeth to close around her throat—but it doesn’t come. Nothing comes except the unending silence before her and the sound of her broken sobs as they rack through her body.

    When she is certain she has nothing left to cry—when she is certain that the creatures are gone and she will not die by their jaws—she finally unfolds her bruised and aching legs and lifts. She steps forward gingerly, whimpering, as she moves forward into the fog to find the end of what she has started.

    I guess the sound of your voice in the aching will just have to do

    Although the flickering torchlight lit up the base of the mountain, as Beechbone goes further up the trail, the only light comes from the stars and the full moon peeking eerily through threads of cloud flying past like ghosts. It's brighter than the forest was, and though her beady eyes cannot see far (or well,) they do extract every detail up close.  Maybe that's why, even when the flowers light up with a clap like thunder, she takes her time collecting pretty bits of rock and one or two of the glowing blossoms, and does not immediately differentiate the lurking ice monsters from the snowpack.

    She hears them, though, feels them, with warnings trembling up her many long, spidery whiskers. Beechbone's Opossum Sense is tingling, but there's no real option other than to keep moving forward so the girl picks up her quick trot again as she climbs ever closer to the peak. Silence is a game that she is quite good at and so they do not seem to take much notice of her, either.

    Her soft little hand-feet are getting colder by the minute as she reaches the peak of the mountain trail she is following, and the large marsupial pauses to tuck them into the warmth of her pouch, hoping to stave off frostbite. For good measure, she tucks her tail in as well, but can only sit on her feet and hope that she is chubby and fluffy enough to cover the bare, pink skin and protect it from the glass-sharp winds.

    This tactic would work better if the ground weren't also rather frozen, but it helps a little. At least it isn't wet.

    Her pink nose twitches madly, but it's too cold for the smells to come out, leaving the air rather homeopathic. The yearling isn't certain if she's smelling smoke or just air that once had someone say "smoke" into it, but the effect is suitably autumn-ish. This isn't so bad. It's better than undead and mummies, at least, so there's probably a trick she just hasn't stumbled across.

    (It's the ice monsters, obviously, everybody but Beechbone knows that.)

    One of the glowing flowers bobs its gleaming white head close-by and the opossum-girl reaches out with that long whiskey nose to sniff at it. It has disappointingly little scent, but more than its fair share of phosphorescent pollen which she snorks up her nose quite by accident. It makes her choke and cough as she stifles a sneeze. The noises seem to agitate the ice monsters, she can hear them grumbling where they lurk among the snow and the moonlit darkness on the eastern side of the mountain pass.


    Her hands come out too late to stop the enormous sneeze, but just in time to make it even worse. The noise splatters messily against the rock and ice and someone rather closer than she expected roars their sudden rage at having the silence broken. Which, frankly, does not make a lot of sense because if she can't have a perfectly normal, if sort of glowy, sneeze, how come they get to roar? Like that was way louder. It is, nevertheless, clearly time to be on her way.

    She scurries down the mountain trail as fast as possible, which is not terribly fast, actually, given her size, and her shape, but is at least slightly less thunderous than it might be on hooves, but the ice-monsters have gotten a lock on her now and they're gaining ground. Beechbone misses a step and falls heavily, rolling thrice before catching her feet back up again for a few half-stumbled strides, but in the chaos of spinning, she loses the trail and runs straight into a snowbank. The snowbank snarls angrily.

    "Sorry, sorry, sorry," she starts, meekly, trying to extricate herself from the snowbank's heavy limbs (do snowbanks have limbs?) as quickly as possible, but her apologies glance off of it. With a shudder, the ice monster rises, turning grey-black eyes to her. They are cold and rimmed with feathery frost like eyelashes. Although Beechbone is not small, the monster is even larger, an enormous creature not unlike a gorilla, but all in white with dusky black skin full of cracks and impossibly long fangs that are clear and deceptively fragile-looking, glistening in the silver light reflecting off the creature's pale coat. A massive forearm strikes out and knocks her down, holds her down prone to the earth while other wintry apes approach, ready to tear her to pieces and the girl shivers under its frigid flesh. In the moments before death, she can only think of how the beast smells oddly stale (most likely a result of its former life living in Jack's freezer,) and also that one of its fingers appears to be a peeled shrimp that must have fallen out of the bag like six years ago and been forgotten.

    (Honestly, Jack, clean out your freezer Sick )

    Not knowing what else to do, she reaches into her pouch, now full of mostly useless trinkets, some glowing flowers, some rocks, some bits of candy, and her fingers close around the snickers bar. It's a little melty, but still in its wrapper, and she pulls it out without thinking, offering it up to the angry beast.

    "Hey! Eat this!" Her sudden shouting upsets but also confuses the monster and it takes the candy before it really even registers what it is doing, then angrily shoves the sugary treat, wrapper and all, down its throat as if to say 'Your next,' but there is no next. The enormous ape looks briefly startled and then melts back into a pile of ice and freezer-burned shrimp. Beechbone leaps to her feet.

    "You're not you when you're hungry!" she sings out to the little pile and races down to the mountain's foggy feet where the ice monsters don't follow and the gray gravel turns to red sandstone. 
    Don't let hunger happen to you
    His odd flat feet are much quieter on the hard-packed earth beneath him than his own familiar hooves would have been despite their awkward ungainliness. And since Saffron has no clue what might come out of this cave, he would accept his blessings where he could find them.

    He nearly leaps from his skin when a soft glow flares to life around him. He hadn’t seen the fungus clinging to the walls before, but now it pulses with light. Exhaling on a relieved sigh, Saffron edges forward to inspect an odd-looking mushroom. Despite the temptation, he doesn’t reach out to touch it.

    Only a short time ago he had been tired of always being the responsible one. Now though, in light of the horrors chasing him, he’s beginning to think maybe it wasn’t such a bad thing after all. But this is hardly the right time to dwell on it. Maybe later, after he figures out how to get the hell out of here. And back into his own body.

    Then, to Saffron’s horrified chagrin, something begins detaching itself from the wall next to him. With a yelp, he leaps backwards, staring wide-eyed at the crystal-covered monster emerging from stone. It doesn’t seem to like him either, for the minute he makes a noise, it’s featureless head turns towards him, violet blue crystals vibrating agitatedly. And the minute it’s free, it fumbles in his direction, forcing him to scramble backwards.

    The only saving grace is that it seems rather clumsy.

    Saffron sucks in a breath when he realizes there are more creatures detaching themselves from the walls all along the cave. Luckily, only the one that had emerged from the wall next to him seems intent on reaching him at the moment. It’s faceted appendages swing in an ungainly arch towards him, forcing him to dart away once more, pressing him farther into the cave.

    Moving around a large stalagmite, Saffron crouches behind the formation as the creature chasing him stumbles past. He is barely allowed a moment of relief however, before the ghostly voice is echoing around him once more, chanting a new refrain.

    Leaning back against the damp stone, he squeezes his eyes closed as he listens closely. He had made a mistake by not paying attention last time. He would not make the same mistake again.

    A test of stealth then. Opening his eyes, Saffron eyes the bumbling creatures warily. They are kind of pretty, after a fashion. Amethyst juts from their misshapen bodies like armor, giving them a faintly ethereal glimmer in the light of the fungi despite their uneven limbs and shuffling movements. Some walk on four limbs, others two. He even spies one shuffling by on three.

    They don’t seem to mind him crouching here in silence, but he knows he can’t stay. The voice said Saffron had to find them - whoever they are - in the red desert. Which is, presumably, on the other side of this cave.

    So, slowly, carefully, Saffron rises. He’s getting more used to walking on two limbs instead of four, but he remains slightly unsteady. With exaggerated care, he moves forward. The monsters don’t seem to notice him picking his way along the edges of the cave, lips pressed tightly together, eyes darting constantly between the beasts and his way forward.

    When he accidentally kicks a rock however, the sound it makes skittering and bouncing causes the creatures nearest him to turn abruptly in his direction. Keeping his curses behind clamped lips, Saffron leaps forward as the crystalline beasts bumble after him far more quickly than he’d anticipated. He tries to put on the same speed he had outside, but finds whatever boost he’d been granted before has abandoned him.


    Eyes roving wildly around him, Saffron tries to quiet the slap of his feet on stone as he looks for a way out. His gaze lands on a large stone shelf ahead, and, with a grimace, he angles towards it. It takes him several tries to scramble up the uneven rock onto it, and by the time he does, he barely has enough time to scoot as far back as he can before the monsters reach him.

    Their angular limbs scrabble at the edge, but to his immense relief, they don’t climb immediately after him. Instead they mill around as though confused. Breathing as shallowly as possible, Saffron waits, hoping they will give up and leave. When, after a few agonizing minutes, they don’t, he glances quickly around, searching for a way out.

    Nothing. There’s nothing. Behind him is solid stone and before him are angry monsters.

    Then his gaze lands on the debris that had sloughed off the cave walls behind him over the years. There are several large chunks of stone, and as Saffron eyes them, an idea begins to form. Slowly, careful not to make a sound, he picks one up with the strange, flexible appendages he’d been given in place of hooves. Eyes rising to survey the cave past the creatures, Saffron weighs the stone in his hand for a moment before lifting his arm and tossing it as far as he can.

    His first attempt is rather pitiful, much to his dismay. It flies only a few feet to the other side of the milling beasts before clattering along the stone floor. On the bright side, it works perfectly at drawing their attention away from him. Picking a second stone, he tries again, heaving as hard as he can. The stone travels much farther this time, and the annoyed monsters stumble after it as it skitters across the cave.

    Carefully, Saffron climbs down from the safety of the stone shelf. He makes even more effort not to kick anything else as he picks his way quietly through the cave. He barely dares to breathe every time he is forced to sneak past yet another of the shuffling creatures. Until finally, finally, a dim outline begins to take the ragged shape of an exit from this hellish underbelly.

    He nearly whoops for joy when he stumbles out into the night.

    The urge disappears entirely the moment he begins to survey his surroundings however. The night is dark, fog lingering heavily over the land. The black earth beneath his feet shifts to dry red dust as he moves cautiously forward, and Saffron swallows thickly. He has made it to the red desert, but how in the heck is he supposed to find anybody in this thick, soupy mess?

    This dream is quickly turning into something of a nightmare. No, it wasn’t the trees that seemed to want to kill her. Or the freakish body that she was trapped in or the super weird pants she was wearing. Before her eyes flowers begin to grow and Anuya feels like she’s back in her first home. The super shitty place where she had 500 older siblings and they all lived at home and they weren’t nearly as fun or pretty as some of the gigantic families here. And where flowers glowed and almost everything you touched was ridiculously poisonous.

    There is a brief, powerful desire to turn around and just let the trees tear her apart. Or maybe that moose will return and she’ll get pleasantly trampled to death instead of being forced to take this trip down memory lane.

    For some reason she is undoubtedly going to regret, the fae-turned-mountie decides to move forward and follow the path up the mountain.

    Taking a lot of care to avoid the flowers on the way.

    For a while, it seems like it’ll be fine.

    So she starts humming to herself. Almost immediately as soon as she does, she hears stones on the mountainside begin to shift. Totally normal right? Nothing to worry about Anuya. Just because this place looks like your old home, doesn’t mean some mutated monsters are going to come burst out of -

    Okay so that’s exactly what’s going to happen. What she first mistakes for a large snow ball tumbling down the mountain unfurls itself to reveal a giant monster. Its elongated body sports at least a dozen legs (she gives up counting) all sharp, icicle-like points. And the head, which is currently roaring at her, reminds her of a misshaped bear - if a bear had a mouthful of hundreds of needle teeth.

    This sure would be a good time for a certain moose to show up - but dear Bullwinkle seems to be MIA so Anuya just runs. And trips a lot in the process. And on the fifth or hundredth time she stumbles to the ground her face lands in a flower patch and she jumps back from the glowing plants as if they’ve burned her. And she is just realizing that she is, in fact, unharmed from any poisons when ice-dagger jaws bite into her neck and pick her up.

    She screams, obviously, which only seems to make the creatures angrier and it tosses her further up the path.

    Her red coat quickly becomes even redder as the wounds on her neck bleed but Anuya very suddenly just Does Not Want to Die Like This so she scrambles back to her stupid legs clothed in these stupid pants and continues to flee. She loses track of how many times she's fallen and by the time she collapses into a thick blanket of fog, she's drenched in sweat and blood and her clothes are tattered and caked in mud. Anuya can hear the tink-tink-tink of the many icicle legs on the stone ground as the creature enters the fog with her so she claps her hands over her mouth to cover the sound of her sobs and breathing.

    The skittering sound comes closer before retreating further into whatever land she's found herself in. She does look around, but it's from a horizontal position as she lies down to catch her breath and have a good cry. And from this position, everything just looks grey and dark. Which is fine, because even if she was wandering around it would look grey and dark too.

    Like distant stars illuminating a cloudless night sky, the mountain began to twinkle. Tiny orbs of soft light flickering into existence. Their glow illuminating a dark path which wound up and up. It seemed straightforward enough, and without too much thought nor hesitation, Etojo pressed on.

    The night air grew colder here. Small swirls of snow catching the breeze as he trudged up the mountain path. An eerie desolation humming along with the wind gusts, rattling the brittle sticks of a mane that was all that remained of his former self. The flowers twinkled, the wind howled, the snows in the distance swirled. And suddenly, Etojo was no longer alone.

    Seemingly made from ice and chiseled in a whirlwind of snow flurries, creatures staggered out into the night. Their crystalline bodies illuminated by the soft glow radiating off the petals of the mountain flowers. Etojo stopped in his tracks, momentarily gobsmacked. More and more of them popping through the shadowy shroud of night, beginning to exist. My god they were ugly. Big and lumbersome in overall size and how they moved, though there was a lanky thinness to their crystalline limbs which he began to recognise, plus a perceptible brittleness to the pointed shards of ice of their unnatural manes. And Etojo's grimace of shock twisted into horror.

    They were crystalline ice giant versions of him…

    An eerie riddle again pierced the gloom, but it hardly registered this time. Etojo's senses rather more centred on the physical threat massing before him.

    With their lumbering walk and heavy footedness they seemed to draw the attention of one another. The crashing sound of their ice rock hooves whacking the ground sending the others into a raging frenzy. Stomping towards one another, jaws widening to release maddening roars. It seemed the situation was intensifying rather rapidly. But they also didn't seem necessarily attracted to him, rather loud sounds…

    That seemed promising. At first. But it soon became clear that they needn't be after him to be dangerous.

    They attacked one another with brutal force. Spikes of ice careening through the air and icy body parts flung skyward, falling back down earthbound as dangerous as boulders. There was no sneaking, no scheming, and no little soldiers to sacrifice this time. Etojo had no option but to run.

    Soon enough his lungs burned and his legs grew heavy as if made of ice themselves. And somewhere deep in his side by his ribs, there was a sharp twisting pain that came on suddenly with each gasping breath. The mountain was a monster in itself. A large ice chunk of a head swooshed past him. How he had avoided the big really dangerous chunks thus far he didn't ponder. Though his flesh now glimmered with cuts that weren't from tree branches. Another icy chunk crashed onto his hip. Big enough to spin him off course momentarily though not large enough to down him, not yet.

    Eventually he reached some sort of peak. He realised in a daze as his head thumped into something hard. The glow of the flowers merging with the twinkling stars above as his head spun and he tumbled unnaturally down the otherside.

    Etojo found a solidness sometime later. His shoulder colliding first with a firm but giving enough sand as he slid to a halt. Fine traces of red dust irritating his throat and eyes as braved enough to open them, peering out into more bloody darkness.

    Then find me in the red desert…

    How? Etojo groaned inwardly as he attempted to heave his bruised and battered body upright. There was nothing to find here, nothing but more darkness and a fog growing so thick there was no longer a night sky.

    And there is light.

    There is light.

    There is light.

    She wonders if this how the universe had first been born. She feels the click of these new teeth in her mouth, notices how bumps creep across her arms and suddenly she feels a cold she has never felt before. It feels strange in this body, ice leaping to her skin. She is reminded of the ice horses her mother used to tell ghost stories about. The name Frostbane still tries to creep into her nightmares, but there is so little room amongst the forests, and graves, and unicorns.

    As she draws nearer to the light. No, it is lights. Like the snowflakes she watched glitter across the mountain in Denocte. As if this night were desperate to confirm suspicions, the path grows snowy. She thinks of the snow angels she and Bird had made and she wonders what sort of angel this new body would make. It is a wholesome enough memory, but there is another story to that day, another creation. The cutting of flesh as they both bled onto the snow. Blood sisters they had called each other.

    She tights the red cloak tighter around her as the wind kicks up snow around her. She is not sure how to warm up this body. Her big blue eyes look wider in the soft glow of the wildflower petals. And perhaps they are as she wonders what yet is to come because a mountain is never just a mountain.

    Something like a cold breeze brushes the back of her neck.

    No, not a breeze—a kiss. The kind unicorns with blood stained lips press to an ivory heart on your forehead.

    Elliana runs, she runs and runs and runs. She feels her legs growing tangled in their unfamiliarity with this body, but she lengthens her stride as she glances over her shoulder. The snow and ice has swirled and curled into the shape of twin unicorn that eyes can still glow red even in the white of the snow. Delicate face turns back around as the red hood flies from her head and drops down to her shoulders. Once again, blue eyes peer over her shoulder. They are walking slowly, so slowly, and Elliana, her heart pumps courageously as she tries to run, she thinks she should be putting more distance between them, but she can never get any further.

    Before her the snow rises up around all sides like a gravesite made of ice instead of soil. Not yet, not yet, not yet, she whispers to herself as those feet pound their way along the mountain path.

    A foot reaches out a little too high and pulls down the edge of that red cloak and sends Elliana tumbling forward. The snow she once admired is now ice and digs into the bare skin of her arms. It both stings and burns and she lets slip an ‘ah’ at the sudden pain. She crawls on all fours for a moment, still desperate to get away, until she can slide a leg underneath her and pushes up, running on two legs once more. Elliana realizes the contents of her basket are lighter after the fall. In a moment of panic (because she is not thinking of anything but one foot then two, again and again) she throws the goodies in her basket one at time behind her. A distraction, a weapon, something. She just knows it is something she can do besides this desperate running and labored breathing. She thinks maybe it is safe to look over her shoulder, and blue eyes peek behind her, trying to see the monsters through the snow, like a deer searching for a mountain lion in the tall, tall grass.

    Not yet, not yet, not yet.

    Her legs are shaking when she reaches the red sand of a land she has never seen before. She wobbles into the fog, her chest shaking and heaving. There is an eerie calmness that stands there in the fog, waiting for them to come. Her hands tremble with no basket to hold onto to hide it. “Who is doing this?” She asks as blue eyes train themselves into the fog as it grows thicker and thicker. Straight ahead, she thinks, the secret is hiding because she is learning, nothing can be clear, noting that you are searching for at least.

    Everyone, everything, wants to hide.

    She speaks like this.
    some are ghosts before they are dead.
    « r » |
    Sintra sits up to peer into the black mouth of the cave and as he does so the parrot squawks in protest, clambering up to his shoulder where it settles in with ruffled feathers. It plucks another seed from his hair, gripping it tightly in one foot and grumbling and growling over the snack while the pirate wipes the remainder from his brow where wet orange strings threaten to fall into his violet eye. He should stop, he should walk away while he can, two legs or four, but the memory of those burning star eyes of Hera, frowning down on her from the wall of the Lion's ring makes his stomach flip. He is a mortal thing, not suited to outwitting gods. A disconcertingly joyful voice rumbles directions in the back of his head and Sintra can only pass a dark hand over his face, he can only sigh and stand, knowing that quitting was not an option.

    Not this time.

    Hera's curse is at the forefront of his thoughts as his tongue runs across the strange little teeth in his strange, flat face. They still taste bloody, and a bit like weird dirt, and his heart is racing a mile a minute to make up for the beats it missed while he finally, resolutely, steps into the graveyard shroud of the cave. The instant his feet touch the ancient floor, fluorescent mushrooms flare to life, their light bouncing off the mica-flecked walls. Amethyst crystals gleam a million shades of purple in that other-worldly light. The parrot is still growling, it doesn't like the cave. Without thinking, the man reaches up to cup the bright bird in his hand.

    "Shhhh," he says, softly, as if the bird is a fretting child, but it is rather more like a talkative cat and the soothing gesture is met with a vehement bite that leaves a puncture and a horseshoe-shaped slice in his hand. Blood and curses well up to the surface together.

    "Carnage take you!" Sintra exclaims, tossing the bird from his shoulder between the burn of tears and the throbbing wound on his hand, and his voice rattles hard enough to break the walls. Purple crystals fall away and shatter into a thousand shards. Man and bird grow still and silent, crouching low as if that will save them from the impending collapse of the cave, but silence grows around them again, oppressive silence, and, still crouching, Sintra begins to creep through the cave again with the feeling of a million eyes on his back.

    He's not gone more than three steps when the bird begins screeching.

    It's a horrifying noise in the echoing cave and it shatters the crystalline walls further. The amethysts crack and break apart, but as they fall, they don't simply lie still in the dirt like rocks should do. They scurry towards the source of the sound on segmented legs with blade-sharp pincers, and as the parrot's weight settles onto Sintra's shoulder once more, he realizes that the source of the sound - as far as the crystal insects can tell - is him.

    A small insect, even one made of stone, is not terribly frightening, but there isn't just one of them. Not just a dozen. There are millions of the intricately carved creatures, some no bigger than a pinhead and others nearly the size of Sintra's head, and every one of them drawn to the parrot's outraged screaming. There's no way past the but through and Sintra barely breathes as he runs, hoping his thin fake-leather boots are enough to protect him.

    They aren't. The fine edges of the amethyst insects' claws are razor sharp and they shred cheap costume clothes and skin alike. They drop from above even as Sintra sprints over top the ones below and soon his black hair is matted with blood and even the parrot is missing a few feathers. The guilty avian tucks itself close to the pirate's neck, beneath the canopies of hair and beard and the protection they offer, and there it continues its litany assault of piratic curses and shrill non-sequiter noises that draw the little beasts to them. One boot falls away and without it every step is like running across broken glass - broken glass that clings to him, shaving away at the calloused soles of his feet and burrowing into the meat of his leg. He can feel them cutting through his flesh, taking root.

    Kill the bird. a voice not his own whispers in his ear. Sintra sobs and shakes his head. He can't kill the thing any more than he could kill the lion. He is so tired of Death. 

    Kill the bird. 

    The parrot is in his grip before he knows it. It would be so easy, such a little body and his own hands are so strong. Such a simple thing to crush the screaming, terrified bird. His hand twitches, tightens, and a sudden horror seizes the man, a sudden illness that makes him retch violently. Instead of crushing, he yeets the feathered nuisance as hard as he can into the faintly illuminated darkness and falls forward, vomiting dirt and amethyst insects onto the cave floor. How did they get there?

    He rips the eyepatch away in a panic as realization dawns. They are getting inside him. His fingers fumble at the scarred socket behind it until they find the hard body of the tiny monster there whispering murderous thoughts into his skull and this, too, he plucks away. There is a cheerful whistle from just ahead where the parrot has (with his help) reached the other end of the cursed cavern and Sintra runs there to meet it. There, at the edge of freedom, he smashes the whispering amethyst creature between a pair of rocks and, bootless and bleeding, limps into the fog of Pangea while the parrot chatters happily from its perch atop his head.

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    Sawbone knows where he must go with a sudden shiver down his spine. He blinks wide, orange eyes and hums the tune he sang to the witches. The upbeat rhythm is in no way soothing, but it does hype him up enough to get moving. He bounces energetically from foot to foot, shaking his hands rapidly at his hips.

    “I am not afraid to keep on living,” Saw sings as he takes one step into the brilliantly illuminated cave. “I am not afraid to walk this world alone,” another humming addition as he studies the bright blue and red fungi. “Honey, if you stay, I’ll be forgiven,” his voice though a shaking whisper, he begins to feel confident in his path.

    “Nothing you can say can stop me going ho—”

    Just as Saw’s raw, teenage voice cracks on a powerful note, the walls around him begin to writhe. The purple stalactites above fall into the cave floor, piercing the ground until they fall into each other and begin to form shapes. Saw takes several stumbling steps back, mouth opening and closing like that of a beached fish.

    What stands before him are panting, screeching, insect-like monsters the size of his original horse form. They thrash their heads around, eyeless and noseless, their features mostly glittering stone and wide mouths set with wicked sharp teeth. Their limbs—four too long, bent, spindly legs attached to slender, shapeless bodies—stab so hard into the stone floor that they score it over and over again.

    For the moments Sawbone doesn’t move, the creatures don’t notice him. They just swivel their heads back and forth, quieting as they attempt to pinpoint their prey. Saw takes a single step back, kicking a pebble in the process. Every single monster snaps their head in his direction, staring him down despite their lack of eyes.

    As one, they charge.

    Too frightened to even make a startled noise, Saw turns around and sprints toward the cave entrance—but there isn’t one anymore. Where the world once opened up, now two tunnels exist. One to the left and up, one to the right and down.

    The creatures are gaining on him much faster than he can run. Saw knows he doesn’t even have a spare second to think. It barely registers that the amethyst bugs used sound and only sound to find him, so without stopping, he picks up a rock in the path and tosses it up the left path while he barrels down the right. 

    To the boy’s surprise and delight, it works.

    For the most part.

    In Sawbone’s relief, he gets sloppy. The slope takes a sudden dive and he stumbles, loudly huffing and grunting as he rolls down the dirt and stone hill. It is just enough sound for the very last bug to pause then skitter curiously down the cave Saw is now bleeding in. With his last ounce of sense, the boy manages to crawl out of the path and into the shade of the wide, glowing mushrooms. He hazards a glance down the path, just wide enough to see the creature approaching as well as what lies in wait. The cave flattens out further ahead, revealing a slight incline illuminated by a bright moon.

    Once he steadies his breathing, Saw creeps alongside the creature, careful to make sure his hands and knees are softened by smaller fungi. The bug carves a slow journey, continuously moving its head from side to side. Saw barely breathes or blinks. He has a wild, hopeless hunch that the monster won’t leave the cave; and the entrance is just seconds ahead.

    When they reach the mouth together, Saw lurches forward, whipping his body around to a frightened crouch to see if the bug will follow. A Pangean moon blazes above him. The monster pauses at the mouth of the cave, seemingly peering right where Saw landed. Then with a screech, it launches forward just as the boy is grinning in triumph. He flattens himself to the dust, expecting a painful death.

    Eyes squeezed tightly shut, Saw presses himself further into the earth.

    Seconds pass.

    Too many seconds.

    Slowly, painfully, the boy looks up and behind him, eyes just barely catching the silhouette of the creature barreling after a deer.

    “SUGAR WE’RE GOING DOWN SWINGING!” he screams after the bug.

    Then he stands up, mouth set in a frown. The light of the moon completely dies in sudden darkness and fog. Resoluteness settles in his chest.

    Where is the fucker that set this party up?
    She runs headlong into the cave, so intent on outrunning the witches and the pine-cones they hurl like grenades that she does not pause to take in her surroundings. Breathless and panting, the cave echoes with the sound of her footsteps, and she does not even notice when the walls around her begin to glow. Without thinking she follows the glowing path that they create, but when everything around her begins to shake and tremble and the crystalline creatures peel themselves from the walls she stumbles to a startled stop, her bright blue eyes going wide.

    They would be beautiful if they weren’t terrifying—the glow of the fungi glinting off the amethyst surface, casting strange shadows on the walls as they move. But the closer she looks she sees that they are the most grotesque shapes; one that crawls like a giant ladybug, another that stands tall like a disgusting praying mantis. Bugs are fucking gross even in Beqanna, and scurrying quickly, she manages to dart past them. She continues through the cave, trying to ignore all the horrifying crystal-creatures: a group of amethyst pick-me girls in one corner, each one laughing louder than the other; another one shaped an awful lot like Donald Trump, yelling things like ‘covfefe’, ‘sad!’, and ‘stop the count!!!’; and then just before the exit there is everyone Colby went to high school with, but with a high-pitched rat screech Rare manages to send them scattering.

    She makes it out of the cave but only just barely, and thankfully the creepy crystals don’t seem intent on following her out here. Taking a moment to gather her surroundings she recognizes the red desert of Pangea, but with the thick fog rolling in she can only just barely make out her surroundings. “Hello?” she calls out tentatively, unsure of where to go from here.

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