Ever, Only, All
rating: +30+x

It was not a holy place. No great deeds had been done there, or were remembered there. No god had touched the earth. There was nothing of value there, or for miles around: just stone and scrub and grass waving like an ocean when the wind passed over it. For that matter, it was barely even a cave, only a crack in the side of the hill where the rocks had broken untold ages ago.

He could still go back. Probably. Possibly. He could go back, and try and come up with some lie, throw himself on his knees and beg for the mistress’s mercy, and he probably wouldn’t die. For this, she would not kill him outright — would in fact make a point of not killing him for a very, very long time.

Whereas if he stayed — if he did not turn, if he continued his stepwise path up the slope to the black gape in the side of the hill — he would surely die. When she was certain that he had truly fled, and when she deemed him no longer to be worth pursuing, which might be at any moment and he would not know, she would have only to speak a single, simple spell and the bronze collar about his neck would constrict and he would die trying to claw his own neck open to get air. For reason of this fear, only one in a thousand of all the slaves across the span of the Empire ever attempted to run to freedom, and Ion had heard the stories about them. All found it, of course, but only one in a thousand found a freedom that still had life and breath in it, and Ion had heard the stories about them as well, passed around in secret in dark places and low whispers.

Maybe they’d fallen on him a different way. For at some point he had vowed — to himself, not with his mouth — that he would not die on his knees, and somehow he had found himself here, breaking a trail through thigh-high grasses and struggling to repeat that vow against the part of himself that was quite firmly insisting it would rather not die at all. And if he was going to satisfy both he needed, rather bluntly, a miracle.

A small patch of ground before the cave mouth was free of scrub, and he dropped the stolen waterskin and stolen bread there, unpinned his cloak, and dropped it on top. It wouldn’t be right, to take anything in. He wasn’t sure why, or how he knew this, but was sure about it nonetheless.

It was harder, to deal with his boots. That, he hesitated for, most certainly longer than he should have. Too vulnerable, too much — well. No-one ever demanded that except for when they wanted to — But eventually, he managed to force his fingers to work, to unfasten the toggles and unwind his leg-wrappings and leave those too with everything else. Because he was alone, remember. It was all right. Hopefully. Hopefully.

The ground that was not holy was still cold from the night, oddly soft and yielding beneath his bare flesh. And he walked in to the dark and the coolth, barefooted and empty-handed, and went to one knee, and then the other.

“All right,” he said. “I’m here. What do you want with me?”

For a moment there was no response, nothing but the dark behind his eyelids and the quiet of the steppe all about, and in a brief surge of panic he thought it had been true, there was no god there to answer him, he had made it all up and had doomed himself to a lonesome honourless death. It wasn’t going to mean anything, and his bones would stay here and rot, and everyone who had ever known him would forget him eventually and it wouldn’t matter at all. He would be nothing, like he always had been.

But the voices, the whispers reappeared, slipping like tendrils around his mind, into the space between skull and brain. And they sealed up his eyelids, nose, and mouth, stoppered his ears, and led him away into darkness. He never felt himself fall.

Ion dreamed of his mother.

This would have been less bizarre had he ever actually known her. Slaves didn’t - slaves weren’t allowed families or lovers or homes, on the assumption that you would be less likely to fight if you didn’t have anything to fight for. So before any of his memories had yet taken root, he had been taken and possessed and sold, and for him mother held the same sense as dam - yes, he must have had one, but it wasn’t as though she was important at all.

Nonetheless, somehow he knew that it was her. Her hair was long and dark and loose, her eyes tightly shut and mouth open as she laboured in childbirth with a child that may have been him, and may not have been, and it didn’t really seem to matter, then. Only that she would continue in them. And as he focussed, there behind her was his grandmother, and there too her own mother, who had borne her in the same way, the whole long string of his unknown ancestry, that stretched to before the cities, before the forests, back and back and back.

Someone was screaming. He only distantly heard it, as though through many walls, everything else drowned out by the pain. His whole body burned like someone was filling his veins with molten gold, was flaying apart his nerves fibre by fibre. His ribcage hurt like it had been cracked open, his head like it had been dismantled seam by seam, and he couldn’t move or think or breathe or anything, there was no room in him for anything but the pain, and even that was too much, he thought he would break apart under it. Just crumble into so many fragments, and at least then it would end, it would stop, please, just let it stop.
It didn’t. But he drowned again, and under all that it seemed less important, and Ion dropped back down into another layer of the world, and let it close over him.

All was dark. Ion blinked, and blinked again, vision gradually adjusting. There was stone under his feet, dark, twisted, and ropy, and the air felt hot and heavy. There was no sun or moon that could be seen through the thick cloud layer, which extended brown-grey over the whole sky, as far as he could see. Tiny patches of stars glanced through it; he couldn’t recognize any of them, no familiar Wain or Archer, no red Adder’s Eye. And that was all the light there was, in this world of ragged black rocks and mist and soft unending rainfall under low skies.

Off in the distance, lightning cracked. He saw the dendritic bolt first, and then the thunder. Its shadow outlined mountains far off, equally jagged and black, equally empty, and the gradual rise of the land towards them.

There was the sound of water, which was mainly the hiss of rain falling into it. Guided by his ears, Ion turned, grinding fragments of skin from his soles off against the sandpaper of the substrate, and saw the coast, only a few paces away. He went to its edge. The waves were almost silent against the shore, because they had no shingle to break and suck over, only solid rock, and the crests and troughs were barely outlined by what light reached through the clouds and from the lightning, when it struck.

He bent down and dipped the fingers on one hand into the water, only to realize that it wasn’t. It clung to his skin the wrong way, was too dark and viscous and warm to be water. Under the starlight there was no colour, but he wouldn’t have doubted that, when the sun rose, it would be iron-red instead of blue.

Nothing moved. Nothing breathed. The entire world was dark and silent and still beneath the stars, more barren than any desert, and Ion crouched at the shore of an ocean of blood that stretched out to the horizon, and the waves came to within a span of his feet.

Drink. It was the tiniest voice, the one that wasn’t heard with the ears at all but inside the mind. It was the voice that spoke up when one was standing on a high place - the edge of a roof, or a trail above a gully - and said: jump off. The one that, when one was sitting next to a burning fire, said: put your hand in. Just to know what will happen. What it will be like.

So he scooped up a palmful and drank. It tasted as blood does, sweet and sharp and bitter all at once, and ran warm and rich down his throat and over his chin.

Step in.

So he did. One step and the waves lapped up over his ankles; a second, and halfway up his calves. Looking down, he watched the undulations, each wave as it came and went stripping a layer off his flesh, turning his skin red and inflamed, then revealing below it raw flesh, fat, muscle. Bone, about his ankles.

It didn’t hurt at all. And so he went further, let the sea eddy about his thighs and waist, soak his hands and arms, and finally, close over his head. And Ion dissolved, by tissue and cell and molecule, his own blood merged with it, and then he wasn’t, anymore. Nothing that could be recognized as Ion, nothing that could be recognized as alive, and whatever remained slipped down into the silt and flowed down the slope of the shelf, coming finally to rest deep down at the bottom of the basin, on the seafloor where heat bubbled from cracks in the stone, where rust dropped out to coat the area like snow.

There was movement, in a sense; there were soft currents that passed over the floor of the deep, and particles that drifted their slow way downwards to settle in papery layers. Matter clumped, broke apart, clumped again; threads like the finest silk shifted with every movement of every water molecule. They joined, end to end or side to side, twined, and split apart, over and over.

Time passed, or maybe it didn’t. There was no way to tell. Creation did not hold its breath, for such words had no meaning. Everything was quiet, and everything was at peace down there in the warmth and darkness of the sea.

He didn’t wait. He scarcely was. It was the perfect kind of nothing, just watching the shifting of dust and the swirling of minute warm and cool currents. Watching molecules join and separate, join and separate, join and join and join and -

And out of the peace there came violence, and into the stillness a struggle. A tiny packet of oil filled with spooled filaments and specks of dust and bewilderment at its sudden existence, and had sound been known he would have cried out at the shock of being, at the flood of — ah, it hurt to become. Even the smallest movement of water, every touch on a receptor, all of them burned against his new-formed sensitivity — he was, now, whereas before he had only known, and there was so much more of existence as to make all of it agony. Where only moments before he had been only sea, now he was only pain.

It took far too long to calm. As near eternity as makes no difference. But eventually, eventually - well, it didn’t stop, not ever from that point did he stop hurting fully, no matter what he did, but stay, he told it, like it was some kind of wayward dog gnawing on him and not filling the universe, the interface where world and Ion met. And as endless years passed, if he could count years, he went numb to it, or at least number, like calluses growing on overused hands, and he could reck even the smallest changes against it, the littlest currents, the slightest shifts in the taste of the sea.

But slowly, so slowly it took him a very long time to notice, the world changed. No longer were the waters warm and sweet and gentle; something within them stung, something within them choked and poisoned, and he had no escape. Much as tried to adjust, much as he tried to excrete it, avoid it, there was too much, burning out his interior, and he suffocated, died, and was resurrected.

From there, from the other side of death and reformation, on the other side of the rebound, he grew sticky filaments and blue-green mantles, whip-like tails and beating hairs, in clumps and mounds, gullets and tendrils, sharing tiny threads and instructions and food. He gathered, he clustered, he slithered and floated and -

Something twisted. There was barely any of him to twist, but it did it anyway, a force that crushed somehow both inwards and outwards, and it divided the waters inside from the waters outside and they were separate. And split like this he could grow further, into the space between, could organize himself along higher levels, build himself a tongue to scrape, and fronds to wave in the murk, to feed. A foot to move on, long ribs for support. He flung out armoured plates and flexible lobes, tentacles and claws and tentacles with claws, eyes and sawteeth, gills and spikes, fins and funnels, swimmerets and spines, exalting in simply being, all the myriad plans and structures he could make, all the burrowing and swimming that he could now do, the hunting, clawing, feeding. He sprang from the seabed and into the water column proper, seeing all the communities laid out map-like from above, vulnerable now before him, in its thousands of colours, its tiers from sand to surface. A surface which, as he watched, darkened, turned to a slush of ash and then of ice crystals, turned to a solid roof underneath which the fish and plankton dropped out of the water column to land with small depressions in the shadowed sediment. Empty shells. Limp feathery tentacles. Stilled and curled limbs.

Fractured corals, tentacles frozen into mush and dissolving, and he froze too, ice over his eyes and into his gills. Dead, and resurrected in the thaw with bones of rock and new eyes, these ones glass clear, muscles contracting and releasing rhythmically, like the waves, like the pulse of his gill slits, and the water gave before him. He hardened and stiffened his fins, boned them with fine cartilaginous rays, and the abyss of the ocean was opened to him, great limestone and basalt castles that reared out of the darkness, sides riddled with caves where he could fall upon the hidden denizens that scuttled over the stone at unawares, shear them into soft flesh with the blade of his jaw.

Green slicks spread out over the basalt of the shores, and each sprouted a carpet of fine stalks that cast spores out into new areas. And under their assault the stone cracked and crumbled, and into the new-formed dirt went out filaments of hyphae and tiny roots, a knee-high forest unrolled over the hills like a blanket of fulled wool, broken in places by the gashes of canyons and the pillars of fungi that plaited themselves like a trunk composed entirely of ivy. He opened a mouth, popped open lungs sticky and damp, swallowed and - oh. Oh. The air was sweet and clear and warm and there was more of it, so much more than water. He tucked in gills and scrambled up on jointed legs, the ocean clinging over him and inside his carapace and under his scales, melting into his blood. The mosses were soft, much softer than the basalt, and grew and died and grew again in layers upon layers of greyish and emerald and gold, crumbled and rooted and sprouted anew. In their breath the air grew soft, so easy to breathe, to exist in -

And then it was not, anymore, it was only cold and empty. He froze, and suffocated, and was resurrected into a riot of greens and browns, layers upon layers of branches and leaves and fern fronds and rotting water, though many times warmer than the pools that rose in the forests he knew when spring melted the world. Naked roots in pinks and new-grown white worked their way into the mud and water, their fuzz of root hairs pale against the tannin-black of the rest of the shores, ringed in water moulds and tiny flecks of rot.

Seven fingers Ion trailed through the froth, clinging at thin drifting weeds and sprouting feathery mouths, shells rolling ridged and jointed and sharp-edged in the sediment beneath, bent in two and horn-curved. Too many. He sliced the littlest pragmatically off, ordered them to close up and be no longer, and the blood trickled pink out against the sand.

He wove rhizomes like basket-walls through the swamp, blocking the flow of the water and the swirl of the mud, catching the fronds and scaled stalks that extended and fell and rotted, were drawn back up to be re-built and re-extended again, and the peat grew thicker and thicker still. Seeds dropped down, rooted, or tried to, and were eaten: he packaged them in paper and bark cuir, gathered into cones.

And perched atop the branch he grew wings, spread them and took to the air, feeling all its currents run like water around and over and through the world, pouring through his setae, into the channels he had opened for it, and he breathed. The air grew thick with the whirring of flight, the dropping of seeds, the drift of needles into burial mounds upon the mud. Above here he could see the forest’s end, the pale blue that was the water over lime, clouded with runoff and the white silt, and the glimmering red-tan that was the desert at the world’s centre. And rivers ran through it - he could hear the clatter of stones as they rolled together in the beds, the terraces and steps the water sliced into the sand, see the prints in the soft mud at the edges with their five-toed pads, the slither-tracks of lungfish and of serpents and of lizards, their nests, hidden among the rocks, where inside pale leathery eggs tiny coiled translucent things twitched as they grew. He marked the distant arcs of mountains in burnt orange, and descending to their coast again, where piles of shell and bright whorls of tentacles and thousands of sand-like spicules reared in barrier reefs -

- and the world changed, a rush of warmth flowing out and over him and over everything, like the sigh of the ocean, and some force took a hold of his breath and pulled it out of his lungs. And it wouldn’t return, no matter how hard he scrabbled at his throat and lips, trying to force them to open, to let in again air turned fever-hot and heavy. His knees buckled, and he fell, first to kneeling and then down onto his back in the shallow waters of the near sea. Silt swirled up around him, settling over his eyes and nose and mouth and over his whole body, and sediment and water swirled down through his nostrils and into his throat, and he couldn’t breathe and he had to -

This time, it was almost a relief when the sunlight faded away, and his body gave out, and he died.

Death was cold. It was an endless, freezing greyness, with hard edges like chert or like fractured ice. There was no pain in it, and that was the worst of all - just a numbness that seeped in from his skin through moveless blood and muscles and bones, all the way into the centre of his being, stilling sight, hearing, scent, and movement.

And that was all. Just cold and sterile grey and a vast aching sorrow he was too numb to feel.

(Somewhere, in a different place, a different layer of the world, there was someone weeping, great racking sobs for all the grief and all the loss and all the horror of death, and tears of salt water and plasma ran from them into the dust of the ground. It wasn’t here.)

Time passed, or maybe it didn’t. There was no way to tell. But gradually, the grey lifted like mist at dawn - the thought slipped from his mind as quickly as it had come, because there was no mist nor dawn here in death. There wasn’t anything. But nonetheless, the mist cleared, curling away into - nowhere, because there was nothing else, and he saw death surrounded by walls, great dark pillars stretching up and down into infinity. Hemming him in. Imprisoning him. He couldn’t see what they were made of, and didn’t care to, because there was no feeling in death either.


So he clomb. With talons and nails and spurs, through years that became centuries that became millennia, he clomb, his grasp sinking into the material as though into clay. Until the world faded away above and below, until there was nothing left but grey and the endless sequence of reaching, pulling himself up, one limb, and then another, and then another.

It was getting harder to breathe - and he was breathing, again, now, he realized, lungs and gills contracting in and out, dragging air through. And that recognition brought back sensation, burning muscles, the material crumbling off in his hands - sheets of mineral soil deposited atop and all around him, blocking his path, his pathetic upwards crawl. The clay fell in chunks as he clawed at it, slicking over his scales and flesh. Small fragments of grey sand and jet-brown peat were embedded in it, and there were dead leaves and chunks of rotting wood, and fungi and roots that tangled between his fingers, and the more humus the harder he fought, because that meant air, closer now the blacker it got -

He scrabbled out through the dirt into a world of a different shape, all the mountain-walls and forests and coastlines in other places now, and digging his claws into the earth he went out to them. Clothed in bone carapace and poison glands he went out to meet them, heavy nailed feet and membraned digits, bony scutes and crushing teeth and the confidence that nothing could touch him ever again. Cones thudded into the ground and he gnawed them open for the seeds and planted whole gardens, weaving between the scaled trunks and burrowing between the roots. Ah, he could run faster now, his sinews springs, his bones pillars, his wrists interlocking as the foundations of his house, ferns lashing his flanks as he ranged through the forest and scrub in the hunt, nostrils flaring after the scent of his pray, gliding and pouncing, slashing open the stomachs, the skin and soft scales of all the others, getting gore on his whiskers, in his fur, the luscious hot smell curling up into his nose along with his own steaming breath.

Until the sky darkened, and fell upon him like a blanket of snow. And the colour of it was ink-black, and the weight of it was the weight of a mountain, and he was crushed into the earth inch by inch until the ash slipped into his mouth and nose and eyes. He suffocated, and died, and was resurrected.

Crawling out from the ash he slithered and scurried, buried eggs swaddled in nests of soil and moss, and when the eggs hatched he fed them on hunted insects and on his own flesh and in his own blood, bound his offspring to himself with tethers of body and vein. He slipped out gills to filter-feed and clawed limbs to hunt, carbonate shells in great stacks until he filled the continental shelf with piles of his own corpses, and reached out for the sun from the top of them.

He seized pigments, and reached around to paint his wings in blues and reds and yellows, in tiny flecks of all the colours that could be seen and a few that couldn’t, and he raised limbs made of bone and grew new wings, wide and strong and feathered, and he flew again. The world below was a swirl of green-yellow-blue, and great beasts strode through its forests and over its plains, and above their heads he alighted on a branch, crushing the needles. Further he crushed them, flat and fine as paper, and drew veins with the tip of a claw and nipped the edges with the end of a beak, a million shapes to wave in the wind.

He scrabbled in the sand and burrowed, and in the safety and darkness of the tunnels within the loam he made more of himself, egg upon egg and larva upon larva, an entire army that was still all him. And when the new-made leaves first began to unfurl, soft and green, he poured from the ground and marched over the plains and forest floors, all in rank and file and all in step; sensitive antennae and devouring mandibles, he went forth, to take all that he could into himself. In his myriads he ripped carbon from the air, flashed silver and white through dark waters and poison-coloured through the winds, gave himself devouring teeth, armour of ribs and panoply of scales, feathers and flaps of skin, continuing another radiation.

And this time there was fire, that poured out over the land like an offering, like a bowl full of oil that is dropped and smashed, and it kindled all the forests and the surface of the rocks and in his feathers. For a moment he was transformed into the firebird of lore, every surface traced in orange and searing white, crying some unknown call into the depth of the sky, and he burned, and died, and was resurrected.

Once the smoke started clearing, and the sky was pale again and only smudged with black, he clambered back out from the depths of the forests and the shelter of the leaf litter and humus, and on the trees that remained he scrambled up to the branches, balancing on claws and long thin tails. And when all the canopy had been explored he slipped back down to the forest floor, where the dirt crumbled under his feet and his legs became strong, hard-nailed, good for running and creeping. Where the forest had edges he moved out, and invaded the savannahs and mountains and coastlines, migrated into tundra and desert and across continents that now bore new shapes and new biomes.

He went back down to the ocean. Of course he did. The ocean was always there, always hungry, and the mud squelched beneath his feet and nails as he scrambled down to her shore and let it rise about his legs, above his knees, to cradle his stomach and throat and tail. When he dove it licked over him, giving him fins and flukes and flippers, smoothing out his body, holding him up. The embrace of lover and mother and self all in one.

And back on land he became not only animal but plant, stretched his roots deep deep down into the soil and at the ends of his branches he unfurled flowers, blues and reds and whites to call the bees and birds and bats, to make unions, take their claws limbs fingers in partnerships, and dig rootlets through soil until he found the thin pale filaments and intertwined there, a thousand alliances against oblivion.

He was all of them, everything that moved and breathed, sugar and protein, growth and decay, a cycle never-ending and a network of a million branches, flicking from species to species and life to life with an ease like breathing, and he knew all their secret places, the flickers in their brains. The behaviours that spun from that, the claw for continuity, seconds and resources and just keeping existing, until he struggled to his feet under a sunrise that burned the sky red as iron and -

- and the sky bent down with spear in hand and antler pick hanging from belt, and it smiled a horrible square-toothed grin into his face, and he wanted to beg No before he even knew what he was begging for. But before he could it spoke, words he felt he ought to know but were strange, as though he was hearing them reflected across a thousand mirrors. Yet he could still taste the sorcery there, hard as stone and cold as snow, and managed to grab one panicked breath before its hand closed around his throat and dragged him back up and into the world.

Even there, it did not let go. Even there, it tightened further, even as he pulled, even as his fingernails broke on the bronze, the collar did not give. Couldn’t breathe couldn’t think couldn’t even gasp out a plea it hurt so badly -

(There was more than one way to be free, but he had prayed it wouldn’t come to this one.)

Cartilage crunched sickeningly, and he would have screamed, the bone above jerked painfully out of alignment. There was blood on his fingers, under his nails, smearing into the dirt, and he still had no air at all, no, please, please -

What do you want? asked the voice of high places, of fires, of blood, in the space at the centre of his brain.

I want to live, said Ion.

What will you give -

Anything! he cried. Everything.

It must have agreed, for it lunged and seized him between his teeth, and it took.

For a long time, there was nothing else.

He peeled open one eye, and then another, and then a few more, only to squeeze them all shut again against the daylight and the dizziness that came from trying to fit five visual fields into a brain that had only ever had to handle two.

Everything hurt. It hurt to breathe, to think, to be. Even the ground was five clear points of pressure along his left side, somehow flat and razor-sharp at the same time.

One eye. Then the second. And he stopped there, the world soaked in honey-yellow light from the low sun through the cave mouth and still tilted onto its side - vaguely he thought he could do something about that one, and forced loose the joints in his arms to push himself up to something resembling sitting. That returned the vision to the right direction, although it was still off somehow, colours fringing the edges of light and shadow and lining the edges of his hands, when he held them up.

How long had it been?

Maybe he should stand up. Maybe that would be a good idea. So he took a deep breath and pushed, only for something to slither loose underneath his ribcage, and he crumpled back down to his hands and knees and vomited blood into the dust.

It was harder than it should have been, like his body had forgotten how to work or move, a tool that didn’t fit right in his hands, and it left him panting and dizzy, staring blankly at all that red red red. Some memory told him that he should have been worried, but the why of it escaped him now. It wasn’t as though it didn’t make sense.

Still, though. Couldn’t stay kneeling here forever. So when he’d finally got his breath back, scrubbed a hand that must have belonged to him - it obeyed his commands if in a jerky awkward kind of way - over a face that felt like someone had rammed a metal bar through it, and stood up, tail lashing for balance. In the late afternoon light he could see the depression in the dust where he had lain, and beside it a few twisted bits of bronze, each small enough to fit in the palm of his hand. He poked one experimentally with a foot, and it rolled and clunked against the others. And then he realized the weight on his collarbones was gone, and would have laughed, if he hadn’t still been numb, only an alien in his own body.

Ion left the metal where it lay, went out, and sat down against the stone. His cloak and food and water were still just as he had left them. He picked up the cloak and wrapped himself in it again, for the air was cool, and picked up the bread. Not that he wanted to eat at all - that was another thing he seemed to have forgotten - but want to or not, he probably ought to. Absently he pulled off a piece, forced himself to eat it, chew, swallow. And that, that served to awaken his hunger, and the rest he devoured, tearing shreds with almost animal-like want, half-choking in haste.

It went about the same with the water.

Having finished that too, having nothing left to eat or drink, he set aside the waterskin and reached for his boots, dragging them towards him. He unfastened a toggle and then hesitated, looking between the leather form and what had been made of his limbs now. Boots. Feet. Boots. Feet, that had been so elongated and moulded as to now be paws, and that would never fit into any human boots ever again.

And then he did laugh, finally, until tears started into his eyes and a stitch slipped itself blade-like between his ribs, because it was real. Finally. He was free, remade strong and smooth-skinned and scarless, and he was alive too to see it, and he was he was he was and that was good. So he laughed until he had no breath left and had to rub the pain from his chest with the heel of his hand.

That helped, some, and so did the sunlight. Made him feel more like him, like he did in fact own the lungs and hearts and limbs that he had been given to inhabit. And since he no longer had a reason to return to his home, nor indeed by now any home to return to, he stayed put, watching the sun slide lower and lower towards the horizon. A tuft of grass sprouted near to his left knee; he picked out one of the leaves and started shredding it from the pale soft end, the tearing loud to his ears. Green fragments fell into his lap and off into the dust, and when that blade was done he pulled out another, and another, rendering them into smaller and smaller pieces.

He worked until his fingers were stained chlorophyll-green and he felt that they were his, even though the new joints were different and at their tips were wickedly-sharp claws that slipped out when he flexed his hands, and back in when he relaxed them. Just out of curiosity, he dropped the leaf and dragged one over his other wrist, watching as the skin split as evenly as though beneath a blade, red blood well out. When he pulled his claw away the tissue sealed itself back together again from the inside to the outside. Thoughtfully, he bent his head and licked the spilled blood away. At least that was the same, or tasted so, that unique viscous bitter-rich.

Waters inside, waters outside. There is an ocean within your blood, everything you have ever been is a part of you. You are life, your heritage is life. Fight for it.

Before him, the grass stretched in pale greens and yellows out to the edge of the sky, like waves before the wind, and he shut his eyes and reached out, listening to the rustling of fieldmice and nesting birds among the stalks, the footfalls of beetles and buzzing insects, all the tiny lives in the grass. And he reached out further, felt the deer drumming upon the soil as they ran, the fish in the river, green mosses and great trees in the forest, singing birds and slithering lizards, the fungi in the mould, small creatures and great, hunter and hunted, all in their endless forms most beautiful that ran and swam and flew and sprouted and lived. And then he raised his eyes and looked beyond, to the villages and roads, and to the great cities of Daevon, and all that lived there as well.

He stood up.

And Ion went forth, to take what he could.

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