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Dee's thoughts poured into the red void within the strange object she held. That's what it was... not a gem or a crystal, but a void. There was a part that existed... that she held in her hand... but there was an even greater part that was missing. The absence... the shape of that absence was what made the light red, and gave this fragment its peculiar properties.
Fragment of what?
Dee's mind tried to fill in the strange gap and determine what it was that was missing. What it was that she... needed to... find?
She sensed Treach darting past her. She heard his deep growl, and deconstructed it into its constituent sounds, pulling the symphony apart to examine each instrument in turn. He left a slight disturbance in the air as he went by. The wake washed over her; she felt every speck of dust, skin and hair.
Dee could feel... everything. She was still within her body, but the borders of that body were expanding... crawling across the floor and snaking through the air around her. Tendrils of her new, larger self fed into her expanding consciousness like new limbs... new fingers and toes. New sensory organs that weren't limited to the tiny slivers of sound and light that trapped her real perceptions. These new parts of her were ephemeral... the dust of Treach's passing was a thousand times more substantial. But she could change that. Oh, yes, she could. She would.
Something was going on behind her. Dee pushed it away, but it came back. Sounds?
Treach? Why was she thinking about the dog all of a sudden?
There was a scream, and Dee's mind pulled back from the void. She spun, clutching the glowing gem tight.
Mind and body both recoiled at what she saw.
It was a person.
The feminine shape that the creature had vomited forth earlier was now before her. The folds of black flesh that clothed it before had crumbled away, revealing the truth that lay beneath: A warped and barely human form with a tiny, bald head and thin, elongated arms. The almost-toothless face looked melted; skin and flesh seemed to slide across the skull with such fluidity that it looked like it would slough off entirely. The short legs were misshapen tubes of flesh that seemed to have far too many bones, all of which had been shattered and set incorrectly, making them utterly useless. Even so, they slid and kicked wildly as the figure struggled with the pit bull that was trying to clamp its teeth around her throat. Slimy fingers clawed at Treach's face, pushing the hound back even as the pit bull's teeth shredded her fingers. The woman was stronger than she looked, but it was the strength of madness. Even as she struggled, the woman's head flopped to one side and fixed Dee with a pair of milky eyes.
The word came out of the misshapen mouth as an insane shriek. It was not the voice that had spoken before, but Dee knew that this was not the first word that mouth had spoken to her. Just as that flesh-shrouded figure had been tucked away inside the larger creature, THIS ruined thing had been inside of that 'woman'. And since it seemed capable of out-living both of its outer layers, Dee knew that this was the real shape of the thing that had killed those men, drank their blood, and raised their desiccated bodies up as slaves. Now it was speaking to her once more.
The eyes fixed on the red gem. It glowed in Dee's hands, and the glow brightened when the woman's eyes fell on it.
"No..." Dee said without realizing she'd spoken. She took a tentative step back.
"THE RED IS MINE!" the woman shrieked. "GIVE IT BAAAACK!!!" One arm reached for Dee... the woman apparently forgetting that the arm had been serving a vital purpose. Treach surged forward and clamped his teeth on the woman's other wrist. He'd been going for the throat, but the wrist had been in the way.
There was a wet snap as the bones broke.
The woman screamed. Her outstretched hand began beating at Treach's muscular head, but it was like slapping at a brick wall with a wet rag.
"GET AWAY, EVIL THING! YOU ARE NOT ONE OF THE MOTHER'S CHILDREN! YOU CANNOT HAVE MEEEE! DIE! DIEEE!"
She changed tactics and began to pull at the dog's ears.
Treach growled and pulled back, but didn't let go. She pulled harder, then raked her fingernails across the dog's face, trying to gouge out his eyes.
"No," Dee mouthed. Then again, louder- "NO!"
Dee's arm flung out reaching for the woman. A red heat surged through her body in a single, massive wave. For a moment, Dee's mind was back inside the red void. It had never fully left, but now it dove deep... deep and through... and out the other side. Power built up inside her and then rushed down her outstretched arm.
Something in Dee's arm snapped. There was a bolt of pain as SOMETHING broke...
In the pulsing red light, Dee saw something long and thin pass between her arm and the squirming woman. The woman shrieked and then jerked as she was struck. Something long and dark went completely through her from front to back with such force that it broke the stone beneath her and buried itself in it.
The woman had been impaled by what looked like a gnarled staff or a tree branch. The 'branch' held her to the stone floor; three feet of it protruding from the woman's back.
Surprised, Treach yelped and scampered away.
The woman went still. Her head sagged... eyes permantly fixed on the "thing" that Dee had somehow thrown at... and through... her. Dee didn't know what it was. She didn't know where it had come from. But it had pinned the strange woman to the floor like a bug in a collection.
Dee looked at her arm. It was whole. Nothing was broken. The pain she'd felt... the power!
What had she done!?
Dee backed away from the woman's corpse... for the thing was surely dead now. Dead by her hand... no, but her THOUGHTS. Impaled by some... substance... that Dee had manifested. She hadn't meant to, but-
Dee's mind darted in several directions, ricocheting off of the events like a pinball. The creature. The woman. The vines. The gem. The vines. ...vines that moved at the creature's command. Vines that began disintegrating when the creature was injured... just as the creature itself began to crumble apart when it died. But not the woman. Not the woman inside the woman... the woman who wanted her gem back.
Dee eyed the black "spear" that pinned the woman's body to the floor.
The woman was real. Still was... though very dead.
But what about everything else? Had there ever really BEEN a creature? A giant... bug-thing? Or had it only been... the woman?
It had taken only a few seconds with the gem for Dee to create a simple weapon. What could she do with days... years...
And what if she was... insane? What could she make, then?
The sound of the gem hitting the floor broke the spiral of Dee's thoughts... the spiral that would have only ended in madness had she followed it. Instinctively she went to pick it up, but then she stopped herself.
The gem wasn't glowing any more.
She was... free of it.
Dee wanted to leave it where it lay, but at the same time she didn't want it out of her possession for an instant. What if someone ELSE got it? What if... what if everyone here was as insane as that woman on the floor? Those soldiers she'd seen had been human, but they didn't look friendly. They'd been sacrificing people. What if one of them got their hands on the gem?
Dee opened her pack and removed the emergency blanket that lined the bottom of the bag. She draped it over the gem, then wrapped it up and carefully put it in her backpack before zipping it closed.
"Treach," she called.
The dog was standing behind her. He looked up at her expectantly.
"Let's get out of here," said Dee. She started walking, and the dog followed.
Behind them, the black spear that pinned the witch's corpse began to crumble with a faint, crackling sound. The body did not move, but a loud, wet crack sounded within the misshapen skull. The skin around the left ear bulged, and, an instant later, the left ear peeled away along with a ragged flap of skin. A black, segmented shape slipped out of the bloody hole onto the stone, and crawled away into the darkness.