Content Warning: Abuse, Animal death (Heidi), Violence, Kidnapping and abduction, Death + Injury, Static, Body horror
Intro - Tonight's Interlude
Hello, dreamers. Sorry, was I interrupting any important nightmares? The one with the teeth? Aw. It’ll be back. You and I have been getting acquainted most nicely over the last few months. Have you enjoyed my little stories replacing your dreams? These flashing images of life in the forest at the end of the world? One day you’ll understand why I am sharing these moments, and for what purpose I am ever so carefully curating them.
But even though I am mysterious and ancient, all-seeing, Nikignik, one hundred eyes in the dark, you should know that I am also your loyal host and certainly a trustworthy narrator. I know we’ve dwelt in some dark places lately—things are not going well for these little people I’ve chosen to follow. I thought I would treat you to something out of the ordinary.
There was, believe it or not, a mostly pleasant morning in the Hallowoods, the day of the Spring Equinox. There was a temporary goodbye, a heartfelt confession, and a meaningful dream. I would like to dwell with you, for a moment, in this sun-dappled dawn. Do not worry. The night will return soon enough. As the sun rises over familiar black pines, thawing the last great frost of the winter, I bid you good morning and Hello From The Hallowoods.
Right now I’m standing precariously on a string of colorful flags. It’s one of many that have been pinned up around the ramshackle fortress they call the Scoutpost. Despite the harsh climate and the constant threat of the black woods that surround this place, its inhabitants do their best to make it feel like home, and, when the occasion calls for it, to decorate. The title of tonight’s interlude is Spirits in the Spring.
Story 1 - Spring Solstice
“You could help, you know,” Violet said, balancing on a stepladder as she put a nail into a support beam.
“Then I’d miss the show,” Bern grinned, sipping her coffee. Violet shot her a disapproving glance as she pulled the string of flags tight, winding the end around the nail. What an incorrigible woman she had chosen to marry. She stepped down gingerly, and found Bern’s arm tucked around her shoulders as she surveyed her work.
Across the inner courtyard of the Scoutpost, decorations fluttered in the morning light—bright scraps of fabric , bushels of wildflowers, old Griffocaugh antlers that still teemed with moss and foxglove. A large banner announced ‘Spring Solstice 2051’; Violet had painted it herself in sweeping floral motifs. In the center of the court a few helping hands assembled the materials for a large bonfire, and gathered chairs in a circle around it.
Bern was smiling in the irritable way she did when she was keeping a secret. Violet elbowed her in the ribs.
“Nothing. It’s nice,” Bern said.
“No, you always mean something with that smile.”
Bern sighed, and kissed Violet on the forehead. “You’re cute.”
“Oh dear. What have I done? Just tell me.”
“That sign you’ve painted says ‘spring solstice’ on it.” Bern said.
“That’s what we’re celebrating. Same as every year.”
“It’s an equinox, my dear. Solstice isn’t until June.”
Violet squinted at her sign. Darn it, Bern was right. “I’ve done the sign this way for almost twenty years. You’ve known this whole time, haven’t you? You’re terrible.”
Bern looked around the courtyard uncomfortably. “You were always so happy doing it.”
Violet shook her head, and tugged on Bern’s shirt collar. “Well you’d better keep this to yourself, young lady, you understand? I seem to have fooled everyone else.”
Bern kissed her, and the sweetness was worth the coffee on her breath.
“When are you driving out?” Violet asked, looking over the Scoutpost walls. It always felt like the black trees were watching, peeking over the ramparts. Heavy mist rose from the forest today, disappearing in the sunlight, and the air was filled with strange birdsong.
“In a few minutes,” Bern said. “There’s a few other spots I’d like to check out. Never thought it’d be so hard to find a 30-foot RV out here.”
“I know it would mean the world to Riot if you can. As far as she knows, this Clara girl is still out there, maybe in danger. It must be heartbreaking for her to be separated like this. And at her age. God help whoever got between you and I back when we were spry and rebellious.”
Bern frowned. “I’ve been doing my best. Riot’s been with us for weeks now, and if Clara is alive she’s been facing the woods by herself this whole time. I’d be worried even about someone who knew what they were doing. But I’d like to find her out there, safe and sound, I really would.”
“Seeing Riot smile a little more would be worth it. And I’m sure Clara would be as welcome here as anyone,” Violet said. The Scoutpost had opened its arms to many new arrivals in the last months. Riot had been practically dumped at their doorstep, and despite her buzzcut and spiked baseball bat, the young woman was ‘polite company’ compared to their other new guests.
Across the courtyard, Violet watched as Diggory Graves emerged from the badger wing, and stretched in the morning light. Standing at seven feet tall and wrapped in a black leather jacket, Diggory would have been intimidating even without the thick stitches that ran across their patchwork skin. They waved with a handful of sharpened fingers, and were immediately accosted by several children. Violet was relieved Diggory had been received with curiosity and amusement rather than fear.
There was a peculiar twinkle of the sun near Diggory, and Violet guessed that Percy was also present, although Violet had barely seen a trace of him since his arrival. Perhaps that was normal for spirits, Violet had never met one before. Bern watched them all with a mote of concern in her face.
“Still worried about our guests?” Violet asked.
“Nah, I think it’s good to have them here. The world is just… changing, you know? I think about the thirty-nine undead things I’ve put back in the ground. And I don’t think any were as nice as Diggory. But then again, we didn’t always stop to talk.”
Violet tucked a kiss beneath the folds of Bern’s chin.
“You did the right thing in letting these two stay here. I’m glad. Don’t get lost today, Bernie bear. I don’t think I’d make it without you.”
“Sure you would.” Bern said, and pulled her close. “But don’t you fret now. I never get lost.”
Bern let go of Violet once the coffee was gone, and started for the trucks as the search party began to gather.
“Are you going to be back for the bonfire?” Violet asked.
“I’ll do my best,” Bern said. “Save some soup for me.”
Bern shouldered her crossbow, clambered into their green truck, and rolled towards the front gates of the Scoutpost with the search party in assorted vehicles behind. There was a creak of the metal front gates, and her wife disappeared into the morning fog beyond them.
Violet smiled, and began her next task for the day. After a brief stop to pick up supplies from her room, hidden beneath her bed, she wandered out into the courtyard.
She approached the tower of shadow first, a little cautiously. Violet had struck deals with barren warlords and kept Big Mikey from eating anyone for years, but Diggory Graves still put a little hesitation in her step. With the others, you could tell what they were thinking—it was all in the eyes.
With Diggory’s pale gaze, Violet could tell that the gears inside their head were always turning, but they were so distant most of the time. Still, they meant well, she knew that much, and she’d long since learned that appearances meant little out here. The children didn’t judge, and Diggory sat patiently while one played with their matted hair; another cut twigs against Diggory’s knifelike fingers.
“Good morning Diggory,” Violet said, shooing the children off politely.
“Good morning,” the revenant replied.
“I know you’ve only been here a week,” Violet began.
“Do I have to leave?” Diggory asked with wide eyes.
“Diggory, no,” Violet said, a bit surprised. “Not at all. You’re very welcome here. And so is Percy. If he’s around.”
There was a gleam from the wall nearby, but Violet wasn’t sure if it was just the sunlight. “I wanted to invite you to the Spring Solstice tonight.”
“I would like that.” Diggory said, and paused. “What does that mean?”
“Well, we’re celebrating the end of the winter. Changing of the seasons. Mostly just good conversation around a fire.”
“That sounds nice.”
“Good. Party begins at sunset. I always make it a tradition to give little gifts today. Now, I know you’ve only been here a short time, but it’s nice to have you in the Scoutpost family. Thank you for keeping the children occupied, and for rescuing Riot. I don’t know that she’d be with us today if you hadn’t shown up when you did. I made these for you,” Violet said, and pulled the socks from her pouch.
They’d been a rush job compared to her usual work, but the knitting had turned out alright in the end. Diggory accepted them with wide eyes, turning them over in their huge hands.
“These are beautiful,” they said. “I have never been part of a family. Or been given socks. Thank you.”
“Aw. Well I thought you could use them. I’m sure it’s been a while since you got a change of clothes.”
“I do not have a present to give you.”
“Oh that’s alright Diggory. You have a nice day now.” Violet patted the revenant’s knee, and rose to continue her journeys. Riot was almost certainly asleep; it was hard to get that girl up before noon, so she went to look for Walt instead. It took longer to find him than she would have thought—she’d expect to find him napping in the front seat of his hearse as usual, but she couldn’t see anyone through the tinted windows.
She went roving, as she was prone to do, and eventually found him leaning against the northern ramparts, sipping coffee. She approached the grizzled groundskeeper. His eyes were fixed on the deep pines beyond the wall.
“You couldn’t wait to worry about the forest until after coffee?”
“He’s out there,” Walt said. “Just waiting. Watching. I know it.”
“The Instrumentalist?” Violet peered into the trees.
“That dang squirrel.” Walt scowled, and glanced at her with bloodshot eyes. “The Instrumentalist too, no doubt. But the cracking branches all night? The pine cones scuffing up my car? The 3AM screaming? Mr. Friendly’s at it again, I’d bet you a dollar.”
“Hate that squirrel.” Violet said. “I came to invite you to the party tonight, and give you these.”
She passed the socks over, green and blue and brown stripes.
“Oh gosh, Vi. You didn’t need to do all that,” he said.
“Sure I did. You been far more help around here than you get paid to do, and you know it.”
Violet brought him in for a hug. “You know Walt, when you’re done monster hunting, there’s a nice room in Badger Wing with your name on it.”
“I’m fine with my car.”
“I know, but that’s not what I mean. Bern and I see you as family, you know that? Don’t you dare think you’re facing all this alone. You wanna retire some day, our doors are always open. You don’t have to be doing work for us to be welcome around here.”
Walt smiled wearily. “That’s awful kind of you Violet, but right now I got too much to do. Thank you for the socks.”
Violet gave him another hug, and began to wander off. “Take some time off today. Get some rest. You need it.”
“I’ll do that,” he waved.
Violet descended the stairs, humming to herself. She’d keep herself busy throughout the day, but deep down, she’d just be waiting for Bern to get back. She turned her eyes to the morning sky as the clouds rolled past. It was going to be a good day.
Interlude 1 - This December Realm
These forests are full of change, dreamers, life waking from hibernation to find a new day and a new sun in the sky above. The Wandering Night-Gaunts allow their calves to step outside their dens for the first time, teaching them how to move silently through the trees. Masses of Froglin eggs writhe beneath the surface of the water, filling the lakes with huge tadpoles.
And in the darkest pines of the Northern Woods, a man is walking back from the border of Northmost. One of his dogs is exhausted from the journey; the other will never know exhaustion again.
Hector is tired, but he forces himself to keep walking. His compass works again, his maps now match the landscape, but his mind is still spinning wildly. Each time he closes his eyes, he sees the Faceless King, the dread crown in the Northmost woods, pulling apart a man he was just learning to love. It is not easy to let someone in, but especially not when your heart has been in hibernation as long as Hector’s, sleeping beneath withered leaves, wary of the frost.
As he trudges south and thinks of Jonah, it might comfort him to know that in a different place, too abstract for the word ‘far’ to apply, Jonah is thinking about him.
Jonah sits on the floor of a crypt, designed for a being much larger and older and more beautiful than he is. Jonah would describe it with words like ‘terrifying’ or ‘evil’, but this is a matter of perspective. He reads the runes written on the walls, and to his surprise he can understand them. He is touched by this place, and the knowledge he is gaining he will never be able to truly explain. Tragedy is written across every wall here, but his thoughts lie with Hector.
Jonah hopes the man and his dogs are alive, that somehow he escaped the Faceless King. The tears that well in his eyes and fall into his beard burn phosphorous green. He touches the stone, a huge relief of the being with all the eyes and the one with all the antlers. If loss is a winter of the soul, it has been so in this December realm for millennia. Perhaps, he thinks, it is a fitting place for him to grieve.
He stands up, and cracks his back, and puts on his hat. He has studied each panel in this crypt, made as much sense of the cryptic passages and motifs as he can. He walks out of the tomb, and turns his burning eyes to the emerald stars, and then to the dark, distant mountains. If he fell into this realm through a door, he thinks, perhaps he can climb back out of one.
We go now to two beginning their first spring together.
Story 2 - Happy Together
The air was filled with mist, curling between the trees and pouring into the clearings of mushrooms and small wild flowers—but then again, all the world was misty to Percy. It passed by him in pale blues and white streaks, as if viewed through a window on a rainy day. The singular exception was Diggory Graves, and as the revenant sat in the clearing, carefully pulling together a flower crown of little yellow blooms, Percy could see them in pure and abyssal shadow, the crisp white of their eyes as they looked up to smile at Percy.
“I do not remember how to finish these,” Diggory said.
Percy lowered out of the air, placing himself next to Diggory. It was difficult to sit when you could just as easily pass through surfaces.
“They have to go like this for the last one,” Percy gestured, hands bleeding through the flowers. Diggory cut into the last few stems with their index finger and tied the crown together.
“Put it on,” Percy said.
“I was making it for you,” Diggory said, “but I realize now that you can’t wear it. I am sorry.”
“Trust me, if I could change my look I would.” Of course his mom would make him wear the ugliest collared dress in existence—it would have been old-fashioned in pioneer days, and somehow it looked better in spectral tatters than it ever had as a material garment. She’d sewn it with the same stiff hand that had later sewn Percy’s own face. Any of the goth clothes he’d smuggled would have been fine to die in. But there you go, just one more decision he hadn’t been allowed to make.
“Wear it for both of us, okay?”
Diggory placed the crown on their head, and smiled, and Percy could not remember the last time he had seen anything quite so beautiful.
“It suits you. You look pretty,” he said.
“You really think so?” Diggory glanced around the clearing.
“Are you… embarrassed?”
“For all the time I have been awake, I have only had the clothes that were made for me.” Diggory pulled up their jacket from the grass, and sure enough, there was a little embroidered tag with ‘Property of Diggory Graves’ on the inside. “And today I have been given two new things.”
They pulled the socks from their pocket, examining them for a moment. “I do not know if I am… allowed.”
“It’s your body, Diggory. You can put whatever you want on it,” Percy said. “I think you look lovely.”
“You look lovely too,” Diggory said, raising an arm around Percy. It was an elaborate charade of intimacy, really—Diggory’s arm might as well have rested on thin air. In that moment, Percy wished deeply that he took up any real space, and rested his head where Diggory’s shoulder was, looking at all the stick-and-poke tattoos caught under Diggory’s skin.
“No I don’t,” Percy said quietly. “I’m hideous. I look like a starving dead kid. I look like a ghost that would live in a piano. That’s the worst thing.”
“I don’t see that at all when I look at you.”
“Well then you’re kidding yourself. I look like I’d haunt Ebenezer Scrooge and tell him the meaning of Christmas.”
“Percy,” Diggory said, the flower crown drooping over one pale eye. “When I look at you I see these things.”
Diggory traced each item on the list with a long black fingertip.
“Your dark eyes, your powerful face. Your strong shoulders. When you feel things, you feel them so greatly your eyes and your hands burn with fire. Sometimes you are quiet as a shadow, and sometimes you shine like the moon on a cloudless night, but you are entirely wonderful and wonderful to behold, and I have seen nothing so captivating on any of my walks.”
Percy blushed, and hoped it didn’t show in his translucent form.
“...aren’t we supposed to be looking for a present for Violet?”
“Oh. Right,” Diggory said, picking up their jacket and rising. Percy drifted up; the sun gleamed over the tops of the pines. Percy followed Diggory slowly between the trees, picking their way over a fallen log.
“Do you know what you’re looking for? Flowers maybe?” Percy said. “They’re blooming all over the place.”
“I’m not sure,” Diggory said. “I find that if I go walking, things happen.”
“...do they ever.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well you just happen to go snooping in a strange house in the middle of the woods and find me. Since I’ve been with you, you’ve found your old mansion, that Big Mikey guy, and the Scoutpost with no maps or anything. Do you just always know where you’re going?”
“I never know where I am going. I just get the feeling that there is a right direction to walk.”
“What’s your feeling telling you now?”
“My feeling tells me that way,” Diggory said, and smiled with their perfect black lips. The trees parted like curtains at a school play, revealing a shining lake. The water was dark, the mist still curling around the edges. Sharp crickets bounded away as they approached.
“There,” Diggory said. Out on a mossy rock some distance from the shore was a treasure trove of shiny objects—a bicycle, a flashlight, a tackle box, a gas can overgrown with moss, among other glittering items.
“How do you do this?” Percy said. Diggory shrugged, and began to walk towards the edge of the water.
“You’re thinking about something,” Diggory said.
“You have a different kind of quiet when you want to say something. What is it?” Diggory paused on the edge of the lake, black water lapping at their boots. Percy sighed. Diggory was getting to know him frighteningly well, and that made him nervous in addition to the rest of their troubles.
“How do you know you like me? I was the first person you ever met. I feel like one of these days you’ll realize I’m not that great. And that there are other people out there would like you, and they have real bodies, and you wouldn’t have to deal with their terrifying murder dads or piano-related trauma.”
Diggory stepped beneath the surface of the water and was gone, leaving the flower crown floating on the surface. Percy followed, pushing himself beneath the water too. The glowing wire around his wrist led into Diggory’s pocket, somewhere in the murky depths, and he followed its direction.
“You think I am too… inexperienced to decide?” Diggory’s voice said from somewhere beyond.
Percy passed through drifting weeds to find Diggory approaching the great stone.
“It’s not about you, but… you shouldn’t have to take on all my problems. I don’t have anything to offer. I’m barely here.”
Diggory turned to Percy, white eyes shining in the darkness. “I do not think that…”
They were suddenly cut short as a flurry of motion surrounded them, and Percy realized that there were great serpents rising from the silt—or no, not snakes at all, but tentacles. A mass of glowing green eyes peeled open in the rock’s surface as eyestalks emerged, and a maw of writhing mandibles opened, and through the storm of silt Percy watched as it dragged Diggory towards its hungry teeth.
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Story 2, Continued - Happy Together
I have been here for the entire history of your planet, dreamers, minus a few thousand years of vacation. I see through your eyes into millions of lives, I know many of you as well as you know yourself. And yet I have never met a being as annoying as Lady Ethel Mallory. If I had a physical form I would be pulling out my own fur in frustration. Whoever let this spidery woman get her sticky hands on the power of dream needs to rethink their life choices. We return now to Percy Reed.
Percy knew he had no real reason to be afraid—he could not feel the ropelike arms of the creature any more than he could feel the water or breathe the air. But Diggory was all too real, and they kicked up the silt as the blackish slug drew them into its mouth.
“No!” Percy screamed, and before he knew what he was going, his hands were burning white, and they glinted in the creature’s eyes as Percy rushed through the water.
His hand grabbed the tentacle wrapped around Diggory’s arms, and squeezed. Percy was shocked by how good it felt to feel—his glowing fingers were not just transparent, but solid, and they dug into the slimy surface, and there was a shriek in a thousand voices as the whelk released its loop. Diggory lashed out, throwing away a grasping second coil from their neck.
The eyes began to retreat into snail-like stalks as it backed away, taking its shell—and the items perched on top—with it. It stirred up the silt with furious twists of its arms, and Percy lost sight of everything, Diggory included. There was only the dark, and the glowing wire leading into it.
“It is true that I have not known many people,” Diggory’s voice said from somewhere in the silt. Percy followed the phantasmal thread.
“But I know that there are none like you,” Diggory continued. “You have died, like me, but you are whole. You think and all your thoughts belong to you. You know where you have been and you have all the freedom in the world to choose what you want.”
The black shape of the beast loomed in the clouds of mud ahead. It was like a large snail or mollusc, Percy thought, but around it other lights were blinking open too—sleeping skeletons with green ember eyes that smoldered in the darkness. The wire led up above the surface of the water, towards the creature’s shell.
“I just don’t want anything bad to happen to you, Diggory,” Percy said, and the creature shrunk back as he approached, pulling in tentacles and eyestalks until it very well resembled a stone pillar again. Percy rose towards the water’s surface. “But I’m so afraid that it will, the longer we spend together.”
Percy broke the surface of the lake, finding himself face-to-face with Diggory, who sat cross-legged amongst the treasures on the creature’s shell. Their stitched face was close to Percy’s, and they held out a clawed hand.
Percy’s fire still burned from his fingers, flickering white in the morning light, and he put his hand on Diggory’s. He could feel the damp skin, the roughness of the stitches that ran across Diggory’s palm, the gentle grasp of their clawed hand entwined with Percy’s. Percy looked up, and found Diggory’s pale eyes staring at him.
“Nothing bad is going to happen to me. Or to you. We have seen enough sorrow to last a half-dozen lifetimes. For now, can we just be happy together?”
Percy looked at the person made of people they had never met, catching his own reflection in those milky eyes. He leaned in and pressed his lips to Diggory’s. He felt, for a fading moment, completely real.
Interlude 2 - The Weather Warms
There is a beauty in the springtime of your world, dreamers. For all the pettiness and slimy details of organic life, it is hard to look at a forest in bloom, a warm sun thawing the final frost, life awakening in all its glory, and not at least appreciate it. This is on some level how I feel about your very world. It is springtime, for your kind. New life is growing in the black water that will uproot the tyranny of the winter. Your winter.
I know it is an early spring—Tolshotol and the others were quite convinced the arctic ice would be a place of safekeeping, and they clearly underestimated you there—but this is simply an acceleration of what always happens. Life grows brilliantly, so beautiful it brings tears to your eyes. Or perhaps that is the allergies.
It lives in glorious summers, descending into autumn and finally a frigid winter. The life that emerges in the spring is not the same as what came before. The beginning for some is often the end for others. I know this is hard for you to accept right now. You are allowed all the stages of grief for your kind, but still, the weather warms, the new life hatches, and the spring cannot be stopped.
We see this in Walter Pensive, who is unsuccessfully trying to bait a most terrible squirrel with cuts of meat. He’s got it all wrong. It’s the bones that Mr. Friendly likes best, and it chatters shrilly at him from the trees, pelting him with pine cones. Walt has come to a sort of peace with his position, if not with Mr. Friendly. The notebook tucked in his bag is his swan song, a testament to accepting the change you cannot stop, with as much grace and understanding as you can.
We see change also in Violet Keene, who, although she is confused as to why a dripping Diggory is giving her a rusty bicycle as a present, is doing her best to put on a brave face. Every year her life becomes a little stranger, but she knows deep down it is the way of the world to change.
We go now to one who fights for all she has, for all she has lost, and dreams in strange colors.
Story 3 - Weird Dreams
The world surrounding Riot looked like a landscape peeled off an 80’s metal album cover, and she kicked idly at the rocks on the ground. Ominous greens lit the sky above, burning flame that twisted and ebbed through emerald stars. A gothic temple or something like that stood on a distant plateau, mountains crackled across the horizon. In the distance a lonely traveler with a yellow hat, almost comical in the grim scenery, trekked across the wastes.
Cute setup, but she had the gnawing feeling that there was more than just scenic vistas here.
“If this is a nightmare, can you get it over with?” Riot called. “I’m already bored.”
“Bored is just a word boring people use to describe their lives,” a voice said, and Riot wheeled around. Clara was standing in front of her, but her eyes were filled with green light. “Ever try reading a book?”
“Can I just get one nightmare without you in it?” Riot said. She thought about having her spiked bat, and suddenly it was in her hand, still dripping with the blood of the Instrumentalist. “Let me guess, we’re fighting nightmare Clara today and it’s all my fault. Is that the plan?”
Clara laughed, but it was… not her laugh.
Hm. Sorry dreamers.
It wasn’t her usual laugh, like crinkly wrapping paper. It was a laugh that shook the stone and the air alike, trembled in the darkness beneath the world, and…
I’ve heard that laugh before. Why is that in your dream, Riot Maidstone? This is… sorry. I’m getting distracted. Focus, Nikignik. Focus.
“When I’m bored, I like to create,” Clara is saying, and now she... has antlers, blooming mushrooms and creeping vines spreading across them.
“I can’t tell you how much I’m not in the mood for this.” Riot said, and plucked up a rock by her feet, chucking it in Clara’s direction. Immediately the apparition was gone, and the stone was sailing into the sky like a planet, pulling the whole world into its gravity. From its abyssal weight something emerged—alien pipes and mechanisms, twisted together in a facsimile of life, and the sound of it was Clara’s heartbeat. From where the abominable heart hung in the sky, blackness poured into the night, eating up the stars.
“Isn’t it beautiful?” Clara said from beside her. Antlers now grew from her eyes, from her head, from the collar of her shirt, carrying life and decay alike, and there was a rotting emptiness in the cavity of her chest.
She knew it was not Clara, but…
It is not Clara.
I know this presence, dreamers. Just an afterimage, I have to remind myself. Traces of creators live on in their work, and in the Hallowoods I am surrounded by these little memories. Focus.
“I want to wake up now,” Riot said. The thing before her was definitely some abstract nightmare, probably best repressed until her midlife crisis.
“What is creation but change?” the voice continued, and the thing that was no longer Clara stared in a direction over Riot’s shoulder.
It is looking at me, dreamers.
What are you dreaming, Riot, this is…
It is speaking again.
“The universe is only so much matter organized into purpose. Life, death, these are illusions. States of being. We do not grieve ice when it melts, or celebrate the sapling when it rises from the soil. They just are. Life and death and rebirth are one constant state. And without change, there would be nothing to watch, would there, darling?”
That’s too far.
Are you mocking me?
I know that you are gone. How dare you taunt me even in a dream, even as a memory, a fading image. Much as I like to dwell in your Hallowoods, with the people that run from your black rains—much as I miss you in every moment I spend outside of these broadcasts—it will not bring you back. I have looked everywhere for you and I cannot see you with any of my eyes, and I am hundreds upon hundreds of them. You are nowhere in this universe, and not even in the Grand Archives of Zelkryzelk, The Omniscient, is there a way to bring back an Indescribable One.
Stop looking at me.
I have watched the light flee from those abyssal eyes of yours. I heard the universe scream in anguish as they broke you. I was there in every star as all creation trembled at your destruction.
I was there when Tolshotol Who Guards A Thousand Suns burned you with the light of all days, when Syrensyr the Reclaimer of Fire shattered your antlers in his fury, when all the others tore you into atoms, and then again into nothingness.
How many times did I warn you that they were to be feared? In the end I could not stop them any more than I could stop you. I could only watch. I am all-seeing and little else, and how quickly I would put out all my eyes for one more chance to see you.
The real you.
Not a shadow, like this.
A memory buried inside a nightmare in the head of this human girl.
The image is fading now. The figure with beautiful antlers is little more than a shadow, the stone is dissolving into night. Riot is waking up. But there is no harm in staying another moment, I suppose.
It’s easy to forget how slowly light travels. Much faster than humans, but not faster than me. There are certain places, impossible distances to which I can go, and look back on this world, and see the light of many millions of years ago just reaching that moment.
All that will happen has happened, but in that long-dead light I see us. Walking together. I try not to look for too long, because the light eventually carries pictures of your death. And in a way, as with all moments, it is still happening, and always will be.
I miss you, Marolmar, Garden of the End. Life, Death and Rebirth. The changing of the age, the turning wheel, the spirit of the spring. It is a privilege to watch your final work play out in this dark little forest, but I wish, as I start each broadcast, that you were here to watch with me. I know you would be proud of what you have wrought.
...I’m sorry Dreamers.
Riot woke with a start, the thoughts of her dreams fading quickly from her mind. A clock on the wall said noon. Right on time for breakfast. She rolled out of bed, pulled on her clothes, and removed the skeleton key from under her pillow. The skull with its crown of flowers glittered in the morning light. She’d had weird dreams ever since arriving at the Scoutpost. She stuck it in her vest pocket and went out, and was immediately jumped by Violet.
“Oh, hey,” Riot looked around curiously. “This place looks fancy.”
“It’s the spring solstice tonight, you’re invited for a good meal and a party. Might help take your mind off things.”
“Maybe. Where’s Bern?”
Violet paused. “She’s out looking for your Clara. I don’t want you to get your hopes up, but she says there’s a few places she needs to check. Now here, I made you these.”
Violet handed Riot a pair of red knitted socks.
“You made these for me?” Riot said, and suddenly she felt defenseless. “That’s… really sweet.”
Violet pulled Riot in for a hug, and Riot accepted it quietly.
“I’m glad you made it to us here, Riot. I want you to know you’re always welcome. I know you’ve got folks in your life you’re worried about, but please, don’t hesitate to think of the Scoutpost as home.”
“Thank you,” Riot said. The enormity of those words seized her chest, stopped her from breathing right.
“See you tonight,” Violet smiled, and released her. Riot stood for a moment, pulling herself back together, and looked up to see Diggory standing, sopping wet, next to a rusty red bicycle. She waved, and went off to find something to eat. It was going to be a good day.
Outro - Spirits In The Spring
Dreamers, I apologize for my earlier outburst. This is not the place for such things. This is about you. I am just a thing with eyes, and thanks to a good teacher, a thing that speaks in dream, too. You are the one who has a body. You are the one who has a mind.
You sleep now, and dream of these dark woods because I make you dream about them, but as the sun rises it is you who will wake and go and live in the world. Whether you will better it or worsen it with your actions is a decision that rests with you. I hope that, in little glimmers of memory, moments of deja vu, you remember these dreams, and when the moment is right, take action.
Until that day comes, dreamers, and as we descend back into the darkness of the present day, I wish you fair dreams and bright mornings. I, Nikignik, One Hundred Eyes in the Dark, your loyal host, will be waiting with a crown of flowers for your return to the Hallowoods.
The Season One Epilogue story that goes with this episode is called 'Sharper, and is available on the Hello From The Hallowoods Patreon. Consider joining for access to all the show's bonus stories, behind-the-scenes and more!