They are several times taller than me, with something of a serpentine form. A sharp face of glowing white, a long neck expanding into something like the bell of a jellyfish, though shaped more like a cloak. Underneath are four glowing white arms, each pair of hands clasped together, as well as ribbons of light and several tendrils that extend to the walls, blending with the glass.
They turn their face towards me, and I see the large eye on their forehead blink at me slowly. The two smaller symmetrical eyes follow.
“Hello, Eirien,” they say, with a voice that sounds like thousands at once, reverberating in both my ears and my mind.
“Syndetri,” I say, bowing my head slightly.
“Come, let us see you.”
I walk closer, my steps echoing in the chamber. As I approach, they form more tendrils that reach for me. I slow and stop as the soft, warm points brush against my face, and close my eyes as I feel Syne’s magic washing over me.
Their survey of my essence is gentle, as strange as it is to feel something else rooting around in my mind and soul. Yet—I’ve known Syne all my life, as anyone in Civilization does, and their presence is almost familiar.
Their magic seems to touch something in me, and I stiffen as something else swells within my mind.
“There you are,” Syne says. “Tell us, who are you?”
“What?” I murmur. I can’t help but feel I’ve missed something, even though I didn’t exactly hear anything.
“You cannot hear them properly yet, we see.” Syne leans down so that their eye is level with my face. “Your espira is beginning to develop. We believe it would be especially helpful for you to learn how to connect with them, to learn the true shape of your soul.”
Syne pulls back, tendrils sliding away with their movement. “We find ourself surprised that you have begun to develop one, given your nature when you first khimaerized. It would be interesting to see if espiration is possible for you.”
I look off to the side. “Don’t you think it’s more likely it’ll stay as just a voice in my head? The number of khimaera who eventually become an espira are few and far in between, and we’re talking about someone that was once classified as a monster.”
“Indeed,” Syne says, tilting their head. “And if you were able to transition from a state of madness to stability, who is to say that you would be unable to actualize into your true self as well?”
“Stable?” I scoff. “I’m only ‘stable,’ and only just, because of this thing,” I say, pointing to the core on my chest. “Isn’t that why you won’t let me go gallivanting off?”
“It is meant to be a tool. Training wheels, if you will. We have told you—when you are ready, you can remove it. If you are able to retain your faculties, then you are free to travel among Civilization as you please. Perhaps you are stronger than you know.”
I curl my claws around the device. I haven’t been parted from it since it was placed on me all those years ago. “I know how strong I am. You gave me that S-class designation, after all.”
“You know very well what I mean.” Syne hums softly. “If you wish to live your life without moving forward, then that is your choice. If you wished to abandon Civilization and live in the Boundary or even the Wilderness, that would be your choice as well.”
They turn their face to the facets of the chamber. “It was through our efforts that Civilization was unified. We needed a strong order for that; a precision blade to cut out the danger and weakness, to organize the natural entropy of chaos. We were successful, but we do not claim perfection, nor do we claim that our order is what is best for all individuals. It is simply the best we can come up with for the majority.”
Syne turns back to me. “You know, yes? Before us, before the Unification, only forty percent of khimaerizations resulted in monsters. That is, of course, a misleading statistic—after all, ninety percent of individuals experienced khimaerization. So in the end, thirty-six of one hundred individuals would become monsters.”
“I’m aware,” I say, resisting the urge to roll my eyes. I research monsters. Syne knows this. I know Syne knows this. I know Syne also probably knows I know they know this, except I also know that they love to go on long-winded explanations to anyone that directly talks to them, as opposed to just a fragment of them.
“Is it better or worse, that ninety percent of khimaerizations result in monsters now, despite the fact that the total number is smaller? Humans are able to pursue activities meaningful to them without basis on their magic ability. Social hierarchy is not defined by strength. Individuals are free to pursue a mundane happiness.” Syne pauses. “Some do not believe this is the way life should be lived, and we do not believe our way is best for all. That is why the Boundary exists, and why we still offer some of our assistance to them. That is why some leave; because the world of Civilization is not the world they want.” They lean closer, setting their arms on the glass railing of the platform. “Tell us, Eirien Ward, what do you want?”
“What do I want?” I look at my hands. “I… I’m here because I want to help monsters. If I can be saved, why can’t they?”
But are you truly saved?
I flinch. Syne’s gaze bores into me. When I say nothing, they continue. “Some argue that favoring the human existence prevents individuals from discovering their true self. That the natural progression of a khimaerian is the confusion and discovery of humanity, followed by the transformation into the pursuant existence of a khimaerian, an existence to shape one’s identity with their power. Then, the espira forms, reflecting the truest form of the soul you have shaped yourself into. Finally, espiration. The death of the mortal form, the exuviation of the cocoon, the shedding and consumption of the molted shell.”
“I’m sure that’s all great for you since you’re the one on the consuming end, but I’m not sure how I feel about dying and getting eaten.”
“Death comes for all mortals… but even ‘you’ are not the shell. We are the human we once were, and the khimaera, and the nascent espira. We are the final integration of all our selves, no less than who we were. More, perhaps.”
“I hardly even know what kind of self I am,” I mutter, tapping the device on my chest. “Am I me as I am right now, or is that ‘self’ actually this thing? Or am ‘I’ that monster Klaer caught all those years ago?”
“A self can be complex. Faceted. The device helps to stabilize you, but it does not present a consciousness beyond you. Perhaps you are one or the other, or both, or neither.” Syne tilts their head, reaching a tendril towards me. “Shall we remove it and find out?”
I jerk back from them, heart hammering. “No,” I say. “No, let’s… not.”
Syne blinks slowly. “Truth will come out, one way or another. You can only flee for so long, once you have set yourself on the journey of a khimaerian.”
“It’s not like I had a choice,” I snap. “If I didn’t, then I’d be dead. And so would…” I trail off, looking away.
“Perhaps so,” Syne agrees smoothly.
“Anyways,” I mutter, crossing my arms, “like I said, it’s not likely for me of all people to fully develop my espira by the time I keel over.”
“Yet you already are in the process of it.” Syne pats my head with a tendril, and I grumble and allow it for just a bit before I bat it away. “We ask that you attempt some exercises in internal communication.”
“What, the… meditation stuff?”
“That is one option. We will send a few guides to your fragment.”
“Right. Sure, okay,” I say. “Is that everything? Confirm that I have a developing espira, wax on order and chaos and identity, prod me into another existential crisis…”
“Well, when you put it like that,” Syne says, though their voice is colored with mirth. “Yes, we believe that is sufficient.” Their gaze becomes heavy with… something. “There are many possibilities. An infinity of them, truly. Do not fear change, and be open to the future.”
“I’ll try,” I say, since that’s all I can promise.