Chapter 3: Monster

Darkness coils around me. I am the darkness, coiling in an emptiness.

You tire of this.

You are waiting… for what?

I don’t know…

You deny yourself.

… Who…?

I am—…










“Eirien?”

The voice pulls me from my hazy, unfocused state. I manage to resolve Klaer’s face in front of me. One of her hands is on the glass of the tube I’m in.

“How long have you been in there?” Her expression pinches with worry.

I don’t answer, still trying to center myself, but Syne does.

“They have been here for five hours and seventeen minutes.”

“In the middle of the day?” Klaer looks at the fragment of Syne that had appeared next to her. She looks back at me. “Eirien, you said you were fine—”

“I was,” I interrupt. “I am.”

By now, I’m fully aware. I pull the dispersed shadows of my body back into a solid form, coalescing into my khimaeran appearance. The glass of the maintenance vessel slides open, and I step out. “I’m fine,” I insist.

Klaer looks at me with doubt. Looks at Syne’s fragment.

“They are 93% stabilized and show no signs of mental corrosion.”

Klaer continues to eye Syne with a doubtful look, but eventually sighs. “Alright,” she says.

“I told you.” I give Klaer a Look.

“Can you blame me for getting worried, though?”

I glare at the floor, resisting the urge to flinch. Of course, she’d know better than anyone the sort of dangerous entity I am. “No, I suppose not,” I answer monotonically.

“Why did you enter so early, anyway? You only have to do it overnight, if I recall.”

I take a moment to answer. “I feel like I’m hearing things. A voice in my head, trying to tell me what I want. It almost seems like it wants me to let go.”

A touch on my shoulder startles me—but it’s just Klaer. “Has—has this happened before?” she asks urgently. “Is this what it was like when you—”

“No,” I interrupt. Pause. “Maybe. I don’t know.” I look off to the side. “But all of Syne’s scans say I’m fine.”

Klaer lets go of me to wave her hand. “They might not be able to detect everything—”

“Give it a rest,” I say, letting irritation color my voice. “I’m going to the labs.”

I ignore whatever retort she has to that and shadow-step away.

“The labs” refer to a large section of Ascera dedicated to various research facilities and laboratories. It’s already quite big from the outside, but spatial magic has allowed even greater expansion of the space within.

My destination is the containment facility in the laboratory section of Ascera—the subjects of containment being captured monsters.

Most are put into temporal stasis in spatially compressed units. Hundreds of monsters are contained that way, frozen indefinitely. Or at least until there is some reason to let them out—usually, that reason is my research on monsters. Then, they are put into active containment rooms for study.

I walk down the hall towards one of these rooms, heels of my stabilization suit clicking against the shiny black polymer-alloy that the floors and walls here are made of. I pass by a few rooms before I reach my destination. The glass door is darkened until I approach, at which point it lightens enough for me to see within.

I wave my hand with a mental command, and the doors slide open before I enter.

The room is split into two sections, separated by a transparent magic barrier with the appearance of glass. The observation section is the half I enter, and it is empty save for the two control panels against the left and right walls of the room.

The other section is the subject section. There are various structures inside, including pillars, artificial rocks, enclosed spaces, and other things that together create an environment for the one housed within.

I stride forward without hesitation, pressing my hand against the barrier and directing another mental command to make it create a hole that expands into a rectangular entrance that allows me to enter. The barrier closes behind me.

E-ee-eir-riiien.

The hissing, chittery voice greets me, and I look up to see a dark shape uncurl from the beams across the ceiling. A river of black hair falls down, followed by sharp black limbs: one, two, then a clawed hand, then another.

“Hello, Senkhe,” I greet.

Senkhe uncurls further, the three spines on her back unfurling with the movement. She reaches down, her segmented gray torso extending as her hands reach the floor. Her four spidery legs come down one by one until she is on the floor entirely.

After a moment, she lifts her head. The dark hair parts to reveal her black mask-like face, one curved horn emerging from her right temple. She opens her eyes: four, with dark teal sclera, blue-teal irises, and glowing slit pupils.

She approaches me in skittering steps, looming over me and letting her hair cascade on me—with her legs bent, she is still tall enough that my head is just about level with the bottom of her torso.

H… hh. Hel-lo-o.” She makes a clicking sound.

I hum. “How are you today?”

Senkhe moves suddenly, bending her legs and arching her back so that her face is level with mine. “I… I a-am. Bored. Wan-t-t-t to. Hh. Hunt.” The black mask-like portion of her face lifts away from the gray of her neck, revealing an array of glowing blue teeth. A smile, in a way.

I return that with a sharp smile of my own. “Alright,” I say. “We can play for a bit.”

I jump back while manifesting my wings from my arms, putting some distance between us.

Senkhe tilts her head at me before rushing at me in a sudden movement. She swipes at me with a leg, and I extend my claws to return the favor. She dodges with a skitter backwards before lunging at me with both claws.

I side-step the attack and go for her neck—but she intercepts my claws with her own. We stay in that deadlock for a moment, watching each other, before I release and we both jump back.

Senkhe’s eyes glow as she watches me, something calculating in her eyes. I tense, and she rushes me again, body close to the ground. I dodge backwards, only to freeze as a sudden powerful fear overtakes me.

Senkhe’s claws surround me, closing in. She is a hunter.

I manage to stumble backwards to avoid the strike, but I feel myself responding to the threat. She is not the only hunter here. I can be powerful, I can feel the potential, the magic that I can pull into myself to become better, faster, stronger. My body warps, claws lengthening, multiple jaws opening, wings spreading—

No. No, no—I’m not—

Do not be afraid of yourself.

There’s a force that strikes me, trapping me against the ground, and the panic immediately fades. Induced fear and panic, I realize. Two of Senkhe’s legs cage me against the ground.

Caught you…” Senkhe says, a chittering laugh following immediately after.

I take a moment to breathe, to let my racing heart calm down. Then, I let myself go boneless on the floor with a sigh. “So you did.”

Senkhe steps back, and I sit up. “That was dirty,” I mutter. “You don’t usually use your magic on me.”

Senkhe blinks at me owlishly. “I o-only used… what was already there. You are—afraid.” She taps the control unit on my chest with a leg. “Of becoming… like me.” She pauses. “A monster.

“Heh…” I chuckle wryly. “Well, I was like you. At one point.”

Mm… no…” Senkhe bends down, lowering herself so that she has her head resting against her folded arms on the floor. “You have only been like you.

I pull my knees to my chest, frowning.

The Other. Wishes for you to know that. Accept that.” She rises again, looming over me. “R-realize that you are… denying yourself.

I blink. “The… other?”

Yes,” Senkhe says. She pulls her hands in front of her, resting on her knuckles. “The Other has always been there. I d-did not realize it at first. Your…” she clicks, “your feelings are the same. Now they are different. One… became two.

“What?” My eyes widen. “That’s…”

A nascent espira, most likely.

I startle at Syne’s voice in my head. “But I…”

Visit me once you are finished, they say.

I look down at my hands. “Alright,” I say eventually. “Then…” I look up at Senkhe, who tilts her head at me.

Y-you have to go?

I almost reach for her, but pull back. “Yes.” I stand up and make my way towards the barrier. “It was good to see you again.” I sigh softly. “One day, you’ll be able to change back. I’ll make sure of it.”

Senkhe doesn’t answer for a moment. “You cannot guarantee that.

I turn back to look at her. “Nothing is impossible—”

This is—” Senkhe interrupts me, “this is th-the way it is.” She twitches. Jerks. Holds her head in her hands. “W-we are… hss…” She devolves into a clicking hiss before twitching violently. When she looks up again, the lucidity is gone from her eyes.

Her jaw opens wide and she screeches at me, her magic aura perfusing the area. I shadow-step backwards through the barrier, which recognizes my signature and lets me through.

I hear skittering behind me, followed by the thrum of an attack against the barrier. Looking back, I can see Senkhe trying to attack me, no recognition in her eyes.

With a sigh, I activate the sound and light-blocking functions of the barrier with a mental command, preventing Senkhe from seeing me and keeping sound from crossing either way. She stops trying to attack, but continues to prowl the edge of the barrier.

I pull out my data cubes. “Add log,” I say, and a holographic screen with a red dot in the corner appears to indicate recording. “The subject displayed clear lucidity upon seeing me, though her behavior was still that of a monster, desiring to hunt, rather than her human personality.”

The words appear as I speak them, and for a moment I watch their progress before continuing. “After a combative activity, her speech was more organized, but she rapidly degraded into a feral state once more.” Another pause. “The subject remains one of the most lucid monsters ever captured by the Praeta. Further observations must still be made to understand why she in particular has a relatively coherent psyche compared to others. End log.”

The holographic screen finishes the transcription before closing, and I return the data cubes to my shadows as well.

I give one more glance to Senkhe. She’s still prowling the edge, teeth bared.

I turn and leave. To Syne, then.

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Bonus

Senkhe Lerath

[SEN-kee LARE-ath]

A monster who was captured by Eirien Ward and detained in the laboratories of Ascera Academy. She demonstrates a much stronger sense of self than most monsters, but still often regresses into a feral state.

Affiliation: Civilization

Age: 27

Species: Monster

Chroma: Azure Emotion

Class: B


Gender: female

Pronouns: she/her


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