It was time that my father be known to the world. I unearthed the rest of his works and placed them upon the burning stage of my former home. I took one last look at the family that could never have been, and then, replacing into sleep the family that had taken their place, I took my leave. Of the Prince of Smoke, there was nothing left save perhaps the stuff of his namesake. I had given him over to the fire, and his bones I had smashed to dust.
Throughout the Shepherd’s Game, I’ve endeavored to maintain the dignity and vision of those who have fallen to me. Never have I reveled in the death of a single artist or hunter or Wolf, and never have I had the desire to do so. This competition does us all the kindness and decency of placing its boundaries beyond the world, and as such it is our obligation, I believe, to strive to exhaust those boundaries—not to settle on keeping the ball, so to speak, in the mud of the physical realm. So, I resolved to show no consideration to those who played the Game for the sake of solidity and namesake.
Especially those who would disrespect and malign its players—those sorts I would destroy, utterly. And so, the Prince’s name was struck from my list and from the world, as completely as could be managed.
My mood improved once I recalled my next destination—Willard, where dwelt the skin-switcher, Mr. Hide. I was relieved to know that my next opponent had both feet firmly planted in wonder—even if he was a bit caught up with his own physical immensity—and was as excited as I to see our contest resolved in the corridors of a city carved from untamed madness. So, done wasting time on one so undeserving, I quickly made my way to the city of madmen.
As was my custom, I made my way across the most haunted environs as I could put between myself and my destination, wandering and wondering as I went, willingly lost in dreamy reflection. Soon finding myself in new surroundings, I drifted with even less direction, simply aiming myself at the cardinal points that would bring me, eventually, to my terminus.
My journeys were filled with all manner of wonderful weirdness, as I often encountered some scrap of Obscuruum. Either standing lordly and alien over the prosaic fields of the dead earth, or squatting within the hidden margins of some grotesquely resolute slice of reality, such contrasting aesthetics always made for delightful dreams. They informed and imprinted my nocturnal visions with the works of artists beyond the world, their canvases nothing less than the stretched and dried skins of the Deadworld.
This particular journey was no different than any other, it seemed, and in short order I stumbled upon a dream—or so I believed.
A pearl-white stream flowed through the woods, apparently killing any flora that neared its crumbling black banks. It reflected the moonlight in a way I had never seen, almost shattering the pale illumination wherever the moon sought to touch the albino rivulet, creating a kind of visual debris from the cold lunar light.
I moved to the edge of the water, careful to search for any untoward presence as I went. There was nothing save for the strange water itself. I looked for my reflection upon the surface of the flowing stream, yet found nothing—only endless, empty white. I became keenly aware of a certain familiar feeling, but could not put clear memories to it. There was also a tremendous artificiality to the scene—a deliberate and immutable falseness. I realized the stream held no relationship to the moon, the night, or even the forest through which it unfurled. It was an alien.
The darkness refused the stream its enshrouding touch, creating a thin film of light above the water where the night was left incomplete. The revenant light was sickly, holding a coldness that reached beyond the skin, a strain of radiance that failed to illuminate its surroundings. Instead, the light seemed only to solidify its immediacy in a way that removed the fear and wonder of unseen things, all while not visibly disclosing them. Within moments I felt utterly alone, without dream—purposeless. I was as bleached and bottomless and indistinct as the whited brook. I sat down beside the water and stared into its infinite, pointless depths. It was then that I realized what was happening to me—who was happening to me.
I had encountered the White Gaia, the dead queen of the worthless, rotting world. I had only once before felt her presence as keenly.
I was but a child roaming the back roads of the world with my new family. One afternoon, as we lay in the darkness of hidden places, my mother woke me from sleep and requested that I walk with her into the nearby city. The place was horribly new and over-bright, a plastic corpse laid at the feet of the terrible yellow noon. We walked deep into the urban thickets of glass and steel. My mother whisked me into a ruined apartment building, up a flight of rotting stairs, and into the shabbiest apartment I’d ever seen. Before me there was a double pane window, its lowest pane filled by a sheet of white-stained glass. Gently, my mother brought me to kneel before the white aperture, and told me to gaze through the glass. As I peered, I could see outlined in the white fog of the window the undead mother of the world—The White Gaia. She spilled upwards, thousands of feet, upon the skinless ragged bones of her bent legs. Her body was corpulent and heaving, with breasts like rotting moons. Her arms were as naked as her legs, terminating in crooked skeletal hands. Her head was deathly yellow and hollow, and her eyes shone like open graves.
“There stands the enemy of all enemies,” my mother whispered. “You will come to know her and her works. She already knows you well”.
As I recounted my first glimpse of the Dead Queen, I hadn’t noticed the white waters rising above my waist. Unseen currents tugged at me, and I heard a summons spill from the rotting lips of my greatest enemy.
“I would speak with you, artist.”
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