An End Other Than Death (Part 3)
Every time after that I thought of the white-clad city, I would be driven to madness.
Every time the torment wracked my body, it would be accompanied by a new fear, one of existential dread, one that distills from a fundamental imperceptibility of true reality.
My wanderings in my world of mind were far from over.
It was to come to pass that I would not only think of the white-clad city, but see it. Experience it. It began like a watery moon, like soaked paper, barely brighter than the blackness of the starlit sky. I ventured towards it as I would any other experience, with curiosity, and yet unlike any other encounter before this, I was scared. The viper woman had taught me not is all as it seems.
Like from a thick fog or mercurial jelly, the stone corner of a home came into view. Steadily, the veil was stripped back, and the white-clad city was revealed to me.
Blanketed by cold snow in some places, silken sheets in others, buildings about me rose, some only one story, some like needles intending to pierce the blue and orange and purple stars.
Massive crystals of ice rose, each birthing more crystals along their lengths, and those too giving life to more. The spines of ice grew as I walked, expanding like fractals that bastardized the laws of space.
The largest of these ice spires was a veritable tower in what I could only assume was the center of this white-gowned citadel. I peered at the blue ice and the tower sundered before me, shattering into chunks here, slivers there, needles of impossibly tall height and infinitesimal, razor-keen points and edges. They stung as they rained, and they left in my body the scars of apathy.
Standing before me was a creature, having emerged from its prison in the tower of ice.
Its arms were black, knotted, and gangly. They appeared scorched to obsidian, and errant knobs and nodules protruded from the appendages, rendering any discernible joints invisible.
It sloughed forwards in its stance, as if it were tired or ancient. Perhaps it was both. It was the same height as me and yet I knew it to be much taller than myself. Its legs ended in claws that gripped the black loam angrily, its knees and legs gnarled and scarred, turned retrograde.
It spoke, then, with a half-dozen voices, and yet with only one at a time, its head twitching and contorting violently as it did.
The creature before me spoke these words with two of its voices. Another screamed as it did. Its face twitched, jerked aside, and a faint ethereal image of another head was left in its place, one that disappeared when the first jerked back to occlude it.
Its head was no more than a skull with taught, leather-black flesh pulled across it. No nose was to be seen except a gaping orifice, and the skin about it cracked from age and dryness. Its eyes, however, were piercing white, with no iris and a feline black pupil, naked like tar against the snow-white sclera.
“Do you feel afraid?”
I responded that I once did not know fear in this place, but I did then.
It spoke and told me that I would be destroyed, ousted in every manner, before I ever knew my truth. It screamed and laughed, and I realized I was crying.
With the shared screams of anguish and sorrow of thousands–nay, millions–a red fog swept over the white-clad city. The ice spires retracted sharply, like flowers or slugs retreating from a threat.
When I awoke, the city was no more.
I was gripped with unimaginable sorrow. I clawed through the black loam at my feet and found a shard of ice, with which I hacked at my wrists.
When I came to, there were no more shards of ice to be found. I rent my fingers raw searching the sodden earth for a stone and dashed my head open with it.
When I came to, there were no more stones in the earth. Sorrowful and angry, I plunged my face into the earth and drowned myself.
When I came to, the loam was dry and flaky, and the waters of fate were gone. I fell prostrate and cursed the stars above. As if in defiance, despite their quiet, eternal sentinel, they shimmered on.
I cannot escape this place, and I cannot die.