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.