Pale's entire back was drenched in sweat and his legs were throbbing in pain from sprinting. He had run faster than he had thought possible, for farther than he could have imagined. He pressed his back against one crystal tree in a forest of a thousand and he prayed desperately that it was good enough. He needed to breathe, to get air to his lungs. Tears fell silently from his eyes as he struggled to calm his body, to stay absolutely silent. He couldn't unclench his fists, and his nails had begun to draw blood from his palms.
Taree stirred awake, "Wh-what's happening, Pale?"
Pale pressed his bloodied palm against her mouth, operating purely by instinct. Taree saw Pale's panicked look, his shrunken pupils, the desperation in his gaze, and she nodded obediently.
A mournful wail of many-voices filled the sky, shaking the earth, rippling the ten thousand mirrors among the ten hundred trees. The laugh of a murderer killing his wife. A farmer's lament at his fields aflame. The wolf's low growl as the pack surrounds its prey. The pleasured moan of a rapist sampling his first.
It was evil.
Taree covered her ears with her hands and buried her face in Pale's chest. She wanted to take a needle and pierce her eardrums. She wanted to jump into a mirror and fill her lungs so she would stop breathing. She wanted to cry and sleep and cry and never wake up. She wanted to curse the gods. She wanted to beg forgiveness from anyone who could hear.
Pale held the back of her silver hair and softly rocked the girl back and forth. Tears fell silently, hot down his own cheeks.
"I'm sorry, I'm so sorry..." She cried, muffled into his chest.
"Everything will be alright," he lied, his voice a hushed whisper.
His eyes were swollen, bloodshot, and dry from the cold. But he remained vigilant. Taree's voice had broken him from his panic. Fear still gripped his heart, making him question his every action. But he could keep watch with his eyes. He could embrace Taree with his arms. He could lie to her and to himself with his voice.
He stared off in the distance through the distorted crystalline trees. He stared upon the visage of that which hunted them.
She stood among the towering trees, over thrice the size of a man. Her flesh, sick and grey, popped and bubbled with disease. Black thorns and flowers grew lovingly on her skin. Withered briars curled around her waist, skulls of man and beast proudly interweaved and on display. She wore only a filthy mask, oily patches of black-green hair oozing from her scalp and from between her thighs. Her mask of smooth, cracked bone scanned the horizon as she limped with uneven, too-long legs.
She reached down a webbed hand, wrinkled and gnarled and smashed through a mirror. A man screamed as she grasped him by the waist. She tore apart his clothes, stripping him naked with the long, black talons on her hands. She cut into his flesh. She placed his legs in her mouth and she chewed with pointed teeth. Slowly. While he struggled. While he screamed. While his dying voice alone filled the silence.
Gone was the faithful dog, whining to be fed. Gone was the old man, struggling to breathe. Gone was the child, begging for its murdered mother to awaken.
And soon... Gone was the sound of the screaming man of the Muto family.
She reached down once more, breaking another mirror, and the process began again. She smashed the man to paste upon the ground. She tore a woman apart, piece by piece, and shook out her insides into her mouth of iron nails.
And then she was gone. The earth didn't shake. No sound cried out. She had left as she had arrived, without warning, without mercy.
Pale didn't know how much time had passed, bells or suns or moons. His tears had dried, as well as the blood on his palms. Taree had fallen asleep on his embrace, so he laid her gently down and tenderly wiped away her tears. Still deeply asleep, she grasped his hand.
"I have to go somewhere... But I'll be back. I promise." Pale whispered, not wanting to wake her.
Taree loosened her grip, letting Pale free, and a sleeping smile appearing on her face.
Pale stood up and walked out from behind the tree. Seeing no signs of the creature, he headed to where he needed to go.
The dark-haired boy laid in a pit-- it was ugly, covered in blackened mold, and bereft of the mirror water that once filled it. Nothing remained below the middle of his torso, save stretched and torn flaps of flesh. Dozens of translucent white butterflies with wings larger than either of Pale's hands swarmed on the guts and viscera that still remained.
"I can feel... Them eating me... Warrior... Pale," Baketsu groaned, his voice a pathetic whisper.
Pale raised his spear in one hand. He felled it, killing a butterfly. Blood splattered where it died, a brilliant shade of blue-green. He raised it again. And again, it fell.
By the time he was finished killing them all, his trousers had been stained by dozens of shades of colorful blood, mixed together as a disgusting, dingy brown.
"I spared your life," Pale whispered reverently, meeting Baketsu's gaze.
Baketsu weakly grabbed the end of Pale's spear, cutting his hand upon its dull blade.
"Take it now," he begged, putting the last of his strength into his voice. "Please!"
"DON'T CLOSE YOUR EYES!" Pale screamed, jolting awake, throwing off his bed covers.
Tycon didn't bother turning in his seat to face the boy. "And why in the Seven Hells not?" He asked, before returning his attention to the letter on his desk. Pale stared at Tycon's back, seated at a desk, writing with a tall quill pen.
Pale looked around and breathed a sigh of relief. Had this all been a nightmare? He was in one of the servant's rooms at the manor. He must have fallen asleep on one of the beds. He felt he had been sleeping for so long, but it was still dark outside the windows, and he was still so very tired.
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Pale cleared his voice shyly. "S-sir Tycon? Are you--"
"Awake?" Tycon slammed his elbows upon the desktop and dropped his head into his palms, "Yes. This is an absolute nightmare... But it will be over soon. Everything ends, after all."
"Everything ends..." Pale muttered. As tired as he was, he concentrated on moving. He willed himself to stay awake.
He put every ounce of his willpower towards listening to his own advice.
All of his instincts screamed.
'Don't close your eyes.'