Sunday, February 28

thus endeth the lesson

"Common issues with the reanimation serum involve dosage difficulties with repeated use, and theoretical damage to the cerebellum," continued Frau Lowey with a twinge of nervousness in her voice.

Midway through the introduction the surroundings began to blur and gently twist. Voices started to echo and distort. Bloodwing glanced down at the student version of Darien, his head sinking towards the desk. A flick of his hand to the back of the youth's head as he muttered "Pay attention, Brat!" made him sit up straight in his desk, clarifying the scene again. The headmistress pointed to the aethernaut's backpack as gloves fumbled behind him to seal a jet of escaping oxygen. The clear glassteel tube began to collect droplets of familiar green inside.

The Founder nodded quietly at the descriptions of deadly levels of radiation and nergative pressure, combined with the chemistry of reanimation serum. while sifting through the connections, trying to find a link to Ash or Gematria.

A girl sitting in the front raised her hand, to which the headmistress nodded.

"So Doctor Mason is now a walking reanimation serum factory?"

"Yes, very well put, Miss Corryong!"

That much the demon understood. An apparent serendipity cascading into catastrophe. He nudged the young Darien again with his wing, and the boy raised his hand.

"So if he can't die from an overdose of the serum that won't let him die, what will happen after complete insanity?"

"Well, continual overproduction of serum compounded by radiation levels will result in an exponentially expanding level of mutation..."

The aethernaut's back was still to the class, but they could hear his faceplate shatter.

"...will lead to the final Pandoran phase."

The children screamed and bolted for the exits as a tentacle stretched through the faceplate and climbed towards the ceiling. Why was he sensing fear from the headmistress as a random array of misshapen limbs ripped their way out of the aethersuit? His crimson eyes saw terror in her gaze as she stood in place. A tentacle brushed against her ankle.

"You brought her spirit here as well? STOP THIS!" He waved his arms at the entity he knew surrounded him. "CLASS DISMISSED!"

Frau Lowey vanished, and everything else in the room buckled and fell in upon itself like a crumpled blueprint, until he was again floating in the silver void.

"Darien, a Pandorus...loose in the Steamlands." He shut his eyes again in the silence. "It will absorb everything in its path." He shook his head and sighed. "What now, Spark of Darien? What is left that we can do?"

He felt a hand reach around his wrist. He opened his eyes and found himself in operating theatre of Caledon Regency Hospital. The smell of chemicals mingled with the cloying stench of charred flesh. Lying on the operating table before him was an image of himself, skin seared black from radiation. Rubber tubing hanging from standing vials of reanimation fluid were jammed into him haphazardly where a vessel could be found intact, The shriveled wings under the patient were ready to fall off on their own. bandages tied around the victim's forehead bled through where the rotted horns were sawed away. Even though the dying demon's face was covered by the Soul Mask, Bloodwing winced at the memory of what lay beneath.

"Darien," the patient whispered in a gravelly voice. "Please. End this."

Bloodwing looked away from his destroyed double. His folded his wings and shuddered as the hand released its grip. With dread in his heart, he opened his eyes again. The void was growing dim as the poison outside the Spark reached higher saturation.

"I understand."

Far below him, Bloodwing saw through parting clouds of nightmares a flashing red epicenter in the mindscape. With a snap of his wings, he dove through one of the clouds. The hive of creatures inside parted a tunnel for him as he descended, their myriad eyes staring back at him as he passed with alien visages of hope and sorrow.

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