Yooo! So it's been a fucking long time since I updated this. Finally got over my hate-boner for Fairy Tail's shitty ending, but I'm never reading or watching anything made by Mashima ever again. Fuck that guy and his new manga Eden Zero. Fuck him.
This chapter is just to get me back into the groove of writing this story. The Plot Kicks up from the next chapter... which hopefully won't fucking take several months to get to.
Living in the forest was a highly educative venture.
Taking baths from a nearby river source, relying on whatever wildlife you could find, skinning them and using whatever you could get to formulate clothes for yourself. Living off the land in every sense of the word – it was an entertaining venture. I had never one day entertained the fact that I would take up a hermitic lifestyle, yet, here I found myself doing just that. It was partially out of necessity, and significantly out of my inability to find proper civilization.
I had always wondered, how had Erza Scarlet done it? Navigated her way from a deserted beach all the way to civilization, when she clearly had absolutely no clue as to where she was going? Had she encountered help on the way? Travelers? Did she possess an encyclopedic knowledge of the land? How did she not get lost?
Even I, with my enhanced sense of smell, had gotten lost a countless number of times. My sense of smell was fine-tuned to find emotions, but only in close proximity. At far distances, it was fine-tuned to perceive chaos… and therein lay the problem.
Fiore was a peaceful land.
Unlike the Tower of Heaven that was filled to the brim with chaos and suffering and anguish in the air – the rest of Fiore was generally peaceful. I could not perceive the slightest flicker of great tragedy or disaster – my nostrils were unable to find those aromatizing scents that had once been so common place. This, unfortunately also meant that I had not fed on any miasma or emotions for the complete two months that I had left the Tower.
It was starting to take its toll on me.
"Hmm…! It's delicious!"
I watched as Sorano tore into the lamb of rabbit I had killed and seasoned with the few herbs and fruits I could find. To her, anything I roughed up was delicious. To me, however –
I took a bite.
It felt like I was chewing on paper. Gritty, hard paper. Its blandness was absolutely disgusting to my palates – my palates which had thrived and lived on ambrosial delicacies. The urge to vomit rapidly filled my throat, and I had no choice but to drop it to the side.
She took it from my hand with satisfied glee, biting into the rabbit lap and sending the juices of the meat dribbling down her chin. I turned my gaze away from the display, and almost grunted at the harsh rumbling that was slowly echoing in my stomach.
I could not eat food anymore.
It mattered not what it was or who cooked it – all of it tasted disgusting to me. All of it would make me vomit. I could only feed on Chaos. Misery. Suffering. Anger. Sadistic glee. All of which were things that were severely lacking when one was in a forest, with a single other companion.
I stood up from our makeshift campsite. My gaze turned to the sky, taking in the sight of the moon and the illuminated night stars. I had tried using them as guides to find the nearest source of civilization – and I had failed. It was amusing, actually. Still, we had made some form of progress. I marked down the trees we passed by, so I would know if we somehow ended up backtracking by accident. For now, we had been travelling in a general direction of North. At the very least, I believed it was North – using the rising and setting of the sun as a basis, it could as well have been South we were travelling.
"Get some sleep when you're done eating. We leave at first light."
She gave several quick nods, and I shook my head at the oddity of the girl. The child. Originally, I wondered why she even bothered following me – she could have escaped or left anytime she wished. The problem was, she was equally as lost as I was, if not more so. She had no idea as to where she was, and she had not the slightest clue as to how she would begin to find her way back home. Or, at the very least, back to civilization. Without me, she would have died within the first week.
I left the camp, doing my best to channel Ethernano to my nose to pick up something, anything which would serve as a guide for me to go in the right direction. Once more, my nose picked up absolutely nothing. My stomach growled in discontent.
I was beginning to doubt if I had arrived on the same beach that Erza was destined to have crashed on, when she had made her own escape. There was nothing but forests, forests, and more forests. No roads, not even the tiniest hints of civilization that would have given me an inkling of where I was.
Or perhaps, it was conversation of detail that was at work once more? For all I knew, perhaps there was indeed civilization deeper in, however, the problem was that the proportions of land were vastly underestimated in canon material. Similar to how one would visit a tiny city in a videogame, such as Whiterun or Jubilife City, but if one were to visit such places in real life, they would find it to be sprawling metropolises.
During the Tower of Heaven arc – the group had gotten an invitation to a hotel and casino that was based at the beach. We are never told the distance from the hotel to Magnolia. For all I knew, it could be several weeks' worth of travel with a magical vehicle, or it could be several days. I supposed it also made sense that they would locate the R-System Tower in the middle of an ocean that had no nearby human settlements on its closest shores. All it would have taken would have been one over-eager fisherman to have sailed out, stumbled across the tower, and immediately reported it to the authorities.
I stood in the middle of a small forest clearing, ignoring my growling stomach once more. I never once envisioned that a challenge I would encounter in my quest to slay Eris would include getting lost. But then again, I underestimated how important something as simple as geography was. It was effectively the same thing as casting a man born in London into the jungles of South America and expecting him to find his way out with no map, no clues, no guide, no knowledge of flora or fauna, no compass, and no specific destination.
It was an exercise in futility.
The only option I possessed to find my way was Eris, and I had already swallowed my pride and anger at the goddess and asked for her help. I had received no response. So, I was truly on my own. The only real way I would be able to find my destination and make my way out of this forest, was if I had one of the most coveted of all abilities.
If I learned how to fly, I would be capable of escaping my predicament, and getting from place to place significantly easier. There were numerous mages who had displayed the power of flight in this world, from Dragonslayers to Godslayers and more – the list was practically inexhaustible. Hence, I began my foray into the arts that would elevate me to a status above mere men.
It was not easy.
I sat down in the clearing, pushing aside figs and dead leaves as I focused once more on the well of magic that was deep within me. Flight required propulsion and stabilization. A force that would elevate my body weight off the ground, and a steadier force that would enable me to maneuver and stay elevated off the ground.
My first attempt had been to merely pump out ethernano from the bottom of my feet in a massive stream – but the sheer amount required would run me dry just to get me three feet off the ground. Fantastic for short bursts of speed and movement, but ineffective for continuous, over-time utilization.
The second attempt had involved using a form of elemental magic as a focus, such as fire or wind, but I did not know how to use fire or wind magic, and hence, that was another exercise in futility.
My third attempt had me attempting to conjure corporeal wings, or perhaps a corporeal beast that I would be capable of riding as a mount. This, too, ended up in failure, as the magical cost was far too tremendous to be feasible.
The fourth attempt involved morphing my arms into wings using Transformation magic, but again, I lacked sufficient knowledge of the magic to make this work. 'Intent' alone was not enough.
My stomach growled once more, and I could not help but wince at the biting sensations. Even now, I could hear whispers and voices attempting to convince me to feed on Sorano, to pin her down, scare her, or perhaps torture and rape her in order to get the best tastes of misery. Except, I knew that doing so would only feed me for a short while at best, and it would kill Sorano in turn. The brief satisfaction simply was not worth it.
Attempting to suck out the natural Ethernano from the air was as effective as attempting to drink the ocean with a perforated straw. It was far too much, and far too pure for me to merely drink in. Natural ethernano lacked emotion – and because it lacked emotion, I was unable to consume it.
I lay down flat on my back, my gaze turning to the sky. So strange it was, to possess this power, the power to alter the world, yet, I knew not how to utilize it. I was prevented from using it due to lack of knowledge. The agony was comparable to watching a beautiful woman strip and dance around a pole, before sauntering over to you, grinding herself on you, yet, going no further, stopping just as your throbbing member demanded release.
Cockblocking. Ah, I remembered the word now. I was being magically cockblocked.
It was frustrating. Was I to believe that someone like Erza who had unlocked her Telekinesis from grief possessed a more instinctual knowledge of magic than I did? I, who could channel my ethernano to my eyes to give me sharper vision, to my ears to give me sharper hearing, to my nose to give me a sharper sense of smell? I, who could empower my physical attributes with magic to become faster and stronger – I did not have a good enough understanding of it to use it?
Or perhaps it was instinct… perhaps I was thinking too much about using it, that I couldn't use it. Such as how if one were to become consciously aware of their breathing and their blinking, they would impede the activities.
My vision flickered over to the small form that was standing over me. "I told you to sleep once you were done eating."
The girl's nose scrunched up. "I couldn't sleep."
Sorano crossed her arms. "You haven't been eating."
I did not bother with a response.
"Don't think I don't notice – I'm not dumb! You haven't eaten anything since we left the Tower! You've been starving yourself! You've gotten skinnier and your skin keeps getting paler."
"Is there anything else you wish to add? A point you want to make?"
"Why aren't you eating?" she asked, frowning. "You don't eat, you barely sleep – and you go out and work non-stop – it's like you want to… die."
"None of your business."
"It is my business!" she argued, "I want to help!"
Something irked. The sensation was an unpleasant rash. One that occurred at a position both unreachable and ill-timed which only served to magnify the sense of unpleasantness.
I sat. To say my gaze locked upon her form was to say that a falcon casually glanced at its prey. My nose detected the change. Uncertainty. Apprehension. The smells wafted to me and unleashed a leviathan within my stomach. The unshackled beast roared. The transliteration echoed to the outside world as a hair-raising growl.
"All you have been so far is a liability."
She flinched. Disbelief. Denial. Fear. My throat itched uncomfortably as behemoth joined leviathan in the uprising within my stomach. My breathing slowed.
"I hunt your meals. I provide your clothes. I provide your shelter. I provide your clean water. What have you provided me in turn?"
"I – I –" she struggled in vain for an answer. Her struggles reeked of fear and uncertainty. The itch in my throat began to grow as did the whispers in my ears.
"Your continued existence is detrimental to my own survival. Were it not for me, you would have starved to death, or been mauled to death." I said. "So should I instruct you to do something, you shall do it without question. Is that clear?"
"I-I don't understand! Why are you being so mean to me? You've been mean to me ever since we escaped from the tower!"
Frustration. My tongue unconsciously ran along my lips. Saliva began to slowly bubble in my throat. "I am not a nice person."
"But – but you saved me from that slaver, and then you told me that we would be free –"
"I never intended to save you." The truth. "It was merely a by-product of my goal of killing the slaver." The truth. "I intended to watch you get assaulted and devour your misery." The truth.
The truth was an unpleasant thing for her. I could smell it. The turbulence. The friction. The disbelief. Like a child who had recently witnessed their sibling slit her wrists in the bathtub, or her father pound against their mother with a leather belt and broken beer bottle. The shattering of a sense of safety; the brutal execution of their innocence.
My breathing got harder. It was not the only thing.
"And we are not free." I said. "I am enslaved to a god. You are enslaved to me. Freedom is not a privilege we are entitled to."
The wafting aroma was getting strong, too strong, courtesy of Sorano's face which looked as though someone had kicked her in the stomach repeatedly. Betrayal, fear, uncertainty – it was coalescing around her, and it was drawing me forward – I had to – I needed –
I rose, turning my gaze to the girl, swallowing the saliva that was overflowing in my mouth. I failed. The saliva overflowed like a condemned aqueduct, dripping out of my mouth, pouring down my chin and unto my chest.
"Do you want to know why I do not eat? It is because I cannot. The only thing I am capable of feeding on are emotions… strong, negative emotions."
I stalked forward. One foot dragging slowly in front of the other. "Sorrow, despair, betrayal, chaos, sadistic glee, anger, rage… emotions fuel me." I wiped the saliva dripping from my mouth, an effort that was as futile as attempting to drain the ocean with a rag.
"I am not a kind person." I repeated. "I am not."
Take her… take her… consume… devour…
Sorano stumbled to the ground, scrambling backwards, and the powerful, delicious scent of fear, of terror hit my nostrils –
I lunged for her. Instincts and an overwhelming urge compelled me – I pinned her to the ground with relative ease and locked my gaze with hers, drinking in her terror. I could taste it. I could feel it. The more she struggled, the more she despaired –
A single word gave me pause. Gave me clarity. That single word made me pause.
"I-I-If it'll help you… t-then – t-then you can… you can…"
Despite her fear, I could smell new emotions bubbling to the top. I could detect it, paradoxically, courage, determination – selflessness. Her eyes were squeezed shut – tightened as she waited for me, waited for it.
She waited for me to consume her.
My hunger receded. Clarity grasped at my neck and choked away my frenzy like a desperate woman freeing herself from a drunken molester. The smell of her courage, of her selflessness – it reeked. It slapped me across the face as a corporeal force.
I collapsed to the ground, tempted by the urge to utter out a bitter laugh in lieu of my pitiable state. The action of laughing was something that still eluded me. My lips could barely curve themselves upwards, their weight on my face possessing the sensation of hardened bricks.
Confusion. Uncertainty. Relief. The scents wafted from her form and caused an uprising within my stomach. It was not the first time I had attained a state of utter starvation. Perhaps, if it were, I would possesses significantly less control over myself. I would consider bugs and beasts, barks and leaves as materials fit for consumption.
"Why?" I repeated myself, the well of conflicted sentiments swirling within my stomach. "You realize what I intended to do to you. What I would have done to you."
"B-because… you… you needed help." She stammered uncertainly. "A-and if I could help you… if I could… take away your pain…"
Madness. Such was the first sentiment that ripped through me at her declaration. Idiotic. I found, with a little bit of irritation, that the weight on my lips seemed lighter. Treacherously, the top and bottom part began to curve. It was not an unusual feeling for my body to betray me. It was, nevertheless, the first time they chose to betray me in this manner.
It was the closest I had come to laughter in a long, long time.
My body could not move. My stomach gnawed madly within, every fiber and muscle of my being was weighed down. The moon in my vision seemed to swirl and turn, and I could not help but utter it out again.
"J-Jason? Jason – you – you're shriveling!"
Was I? I supposed it was an interesting venture to have survived this long. The average human could go months without food, but only a mere three or four days without water. I had gone upwards of two months with neither. I could not even drink water, without forcibly throwing it up anymore. The most basic of human needs was torn from me by a malign goddess.
Sorano's frantic face appeared hazy. My eyes could not focus on it. All the magic within my reserves keeping me alive were completely exhausted. Willpower was formidable, but willpower alone could not stave off the eventual death of my organs from starvation.
I expected to survive a bit longer.
But, it was not the first time I was betrayed by optimistic expectations.
~~~~~~~~~ Deicide ~~~~~
"I'm heavily disappointed."
I stood in a vast endless plain. Grass the color of blood littered the ground. Pitch black flowers bloomed from the earth and coiled into the air like hunting anacondas. The sky was pitch black and blood rained down upon the already red grass.
Ever the dramatic witch, Eris lay casually on the grass, her white robe now pitch black.
"You would choose to die of starvation rather than merely feed yourself off an insignificant little girl." A butterfly with the color pattern of a skeleton landed calmly on her finger tips. "And you were so close to giving in to your baser instincts."
The urge to insult her rose up on my lips. The desire to cut her down verbally itched at my throat like an unsightly bacterial infection. I abated my anger as best I could.
"You were right." She said.
"I gave you far too little to expect you to navigate your way through the world. Watching you stumble around blindly in a forest for two months made it clearer than ever. Your abysmal navigation skills and your general lack of knowledge of basic geography was simply painful to watch."
I was tempted to offer out a petty 'I told you so', but I wisely kept my tongue.
"Fortunately… you've empowered me enough to be able to help you."
Those words struck something at me. "I… empowered you?"
The goddess rose from the bloody grass, her pristine white robe, I now realized, shone brighter than ever. Gone were the tears and tatters, the sorry-state, the blemishes that indicated her fall from grace. Her eyes sparkled with unspoken power. Shivers traversed throughout my soul at her gaze.
In a step, she was before me, her finger lightly brushing the underside of my chin. Her lips claimed mine before I could protest, her tongue forcing her way into my mouth and ensnaring mine. Her saliva, the literal spit of a god, baptized the insides of my mouth, before she detached herself, a connecting trail of glistering liquid connecting our lips together.
"Not even the tiniest reaction to me. I feel insulted that a human does not turn to putty at my touch," she said with a wistful sigh. "But I suppose that defiance is what I love about you the most, my Champion."
"How did I empower you?"
Eris smiled. "Already – you've thrown a wedge into fate and utterly destroyed destinies. You have sown the seeds of chaos and despair into the world and you did it without even realizing it. My powers are returning at an obscene rate… it is overflowing in a manner that is almost driving me mad with pleasure."
The difference was clear. Eris seemed composed. Calmer. It did not grant me any satisfaction. No, it did not. The realization that Eris would continue to amass power for as long as I continued to act in Earthland was not comforting. How would I kill a being who gained strength from my every misdeed?
"I've provided you with a new gift as a token of my appreciation."
I did not appreciate that. "After your last 'gift' – I do not want anything from you."
"You do not have the right to refuse. That aside, I have already given it to you."
My hand went up to my mouth, remembering the kiss.
"When you consume a person's peaked emotions – you consume their soul as well – and you learn everything they knew as if you lived their lives with perfect recall." She smiled. "A far better method of bringing you up to speed about the world without having to go into a long, boring history lesson."
My mind went blank. I could not help the straight gaze I shot at the goddess. Did she not understand the sheer capacity this power possessed? Did she not realize just what one could do with the ability to gain the souls of others? Or perhaps, she failed to realize what one could do with souls.
"You are giving me the power to absorb souls."
"Yes," she said gleefully. "You can also use them… but how you do that is entirely up to you."
"I would wager that I take on the traits of the people whose souls I've absorbed"
"Correct." she admitted. "But only the fun traits."
"Their greed, anger, lust, sadistic pleasure, darkest desires, contempt… the fun traits. The boring ones like compassion and hope aren't necessary."
"Of course." I said. "You will do everything in your power to ensure I become nothing more than a tool who gains delight in suffering and misery."
Eris paused, staring at me as though trying to figure something out. "Why would you not? The manner in which you suffered at the hands of your tormentors was tragic. Do you not want to make others feel the suffering you endured? To abuse your power on the world and attain anything and everything you want?"
"Doing that would make me no better than they were." I snarled. Snarled. "I will not become a monster like them."
Eris let out a soft laugh, her hand covering her lips. "Oh, but my champion… you already are." She pointed her finger at my skull. "You have consumed the peak emotions of several slavers. Their souls rest within you… now, what would happen if I were to unlock their memories as well?"
The memories of the slavers? The memory of that obese monstrosity that forced Sorano to suck his –
"No – you –"
"I wonder how long your conviction and principles will last, when you have the memories of being nothing but a monster." Eris let out a squeal of glee. "You've earned my admiration for the amount of willpower and defiance you've shown me. But not even you can win a battle against your own mind."
"Have fun… my Champion."
~~~~~~~~ Deicide ~~~~~~~~~
Memories were the core of a human being. The self. One could argue that the formation of memories, the ability to recall past events and make conscious or unconscious decisions based on nature and nurture was the building block of the human psyche. Philosophers argued on it constantly. The Grandfather's Axe. The Ship of Theseus. Different postulations presented to argue that one's memory made one's self. Adding or subtracting from it would invariably, unchangeably, modify the self.
Eris failed to break my body by making it a biological requirement to consume chaos.
Now, she decided to break my mind, by fundamentally editing my memories to render me unable to continuously defy her.
There was no doubt that the malevolent goddess was wary of me. It was the only reason she would go to such extremes. She wished to quell the flames of my resistance before it could flare into a conflagration that would consume her.
It was working.
I stood in a familiar room. Something pleasing my cock, slowly, inexperienced, and weak. Tiny sobs echoed. I remembered this scene. It was my last moments.
The slaver's last moments. Sorano on my cock –
On his cock!
I AM NOT HIM!
But I was. The memories of my life played in reverse. Of how I became a slaver on the tower of heaven. Of how I'd been in a Dark Guild called the Bloody Sow which specialized in terror, assassinations and kidnapping. Of how I tricked women and girls into slavery – cuckolded married men by raping their wives, and cared little about the consequences of my actions. The memories travelled far back, to my youth, to my first time in a small gang and the fact that I'd sold off my own older sister to be raped because I hated how bitchy she was.
I AM NOT HIM!
But I was. The memories rushed through my mind and felt like I lived it. I did those things. I killed those people.
And this was just one of the slavers.
Once his run ended, I found myself ascending a bunch of stairs, and came across the sight of a slave child spread eagle on them. A boy with dark hair and red eyes rushed me with a blanket –
And thus another set of memories rushed through my brain.
I knew that I would lose myself if this continued. There were still three full sets of memories, three full sets of lives of horribly people that I would come to believe were mine. If that happened, if I let them override who I was – then it was over.
Eris would win.
I did not want her to win.
There was only one way to stop that from happening. One thing to focus on. A guarantee that would assure that I, Jason, would not become but an afterthought in lieu of the memories of scum of the earth.
I needed to focus on my suffering.
The human mind was a marvel, as it remembered bad, hurtful and painful events more vividly and preciously than good ones. One could often remember and recall and embarrassing or heart-shattering moment in their lives easier than they could recall joyful ones. Biologically speaking, this was an advantage to ensure the survival of the species. If you were not highly attuned to remember negative occurrences, and thus, remember how to avoid repeating those negative occurrences, the human race would have died out before man learned how to shape stone into tools.
My saving grace, was that none of the slavers had suffered or endured as much suffering as I had. None of the slavers possessed memories of being whipped, choked, beaten, starved, and forced into sexual activities against their will. None of them knew what despair tasted like, and none of them had savored the sweet satisfaction of choking to death their tormentors.
They had been the inflictors of suffering unto others, but they had not suffered themselves.
And because of that –
I will not lose who I am.
I awoke to the sound of chirping birds. My eyelids slowly rose, meeting the absence of darkness and the presence of what looked to be the early morning sun. My head felt hazy – far too hazy, and I forced myself to relax, and forced my mind to calm itself.
Now – I needed to think – to see if something had indeed changed in regards to my knowledge.
"Who am I?"
Jason of Earth. Brought into Earthland after dying by the Goddess Eris.
My lips, fortuitously curled. I rose from the ground, charging up as much conviction as I could in my voice, taking in a deep breath, and bellowing as loud as I could.
"I AM STILL HERE ERIS!" I roared. "I! AM! STILL! HERE!"
Birds departed from trees in lieu of my scream. My voice echoed throughout the forest, the reverberation cutting off the beginning, and only leaving the hollow echoes of:
The day I would kill the goddess came ever so closer. I decided there was no point in continuing to waste time in attaining strength. First, I needed to see what sort of useful information I had garnered from my memories of the slavers.
"What year is it?"
The answer popped up to my head immediately, and I knew, there should have been no way for me to know that information. However, all the slavers had known, and thus, I knew it as well.
"What month is it?"
It was May two months ago. So it is July.
It was strange, knowing something, yet, possessing the knowledge that you should not know it. I could not complain. The presence of new knowledge was empowering, uplifting even.
"Where am I?"
Unfortunately, it seemed not everything could appropriately be remembered.
"Where am I most likely to be?"
An uninhabited island belonging to the Caelum Kingdom – South of Fiore.
…I was never in Fiore? I did not land in Fiore at all? I supposed it would make far more sense. Now the next thing I needed –
"How do I get to Fiore?"
That was not helpful. Nevertheless, it was no longer an obstacle. I possessed knowledge now. Knowledge that I lacked beforehand. Important knowledge which allowed me to use it… Magic.
The power of corrupted souls, combined with Lesser Telekinesis from Slaver No. 2 and pure magic power combined to make four, long, thick tendrils of magical power – tendrils of magical power that made me shiver with the sheer feeling of maliciousness. Two tendrils extended from my left shoulder, and two more extended from my right, wavering, turning and circling around me. I could not help the excitement that overwhelmed me at seeing it – at being able to control it –
They were thick like ropes, intertwining ropes often used for mountain climbing, yet at the same time, they were smooth, like ice. But they weren't cold… they were warm… warm… with a slight vibrating buzz to it.
Telekinesis, surprisingly, was not a high-tier magic in Earthland. Nearly any decent mage with enough magical power could utilize it and Erza used it instinctively to control her swords. However, it possessed limitations in range and power that varied from user to user. My own version apparently, had power in spades, but it was limited severely in range. I estimated that its maximum range was seven-feet in all directions. In exchange however, it had been given 'form' and 'essence' due to the nature of my magic… chaotic and malevolent – my Telekinetic tendrils gave off an ominous vibe despite being invisible.
It reminded me of a character from a show… I could not remember which one.
I placed two tendrils beneath my feet, and commanded two of them to stretch up and grab the nearest tree branch.
Only for the branch to snap in half.
I would need to work on that. If only the tendrils were curved at the end to give it more gripping power… Could I? I closed my eyes and focused. I poured magical energy and then focused on shape – shape –
By the time I opened my eyes, the end of each tendrils were replaced with a vague human appendage.
The path to god-slaying begins with a single swipe of invisible telekinetic claws.
I heard the sound of desperate panting, and I saw her, emerging out of the forest, her scent filled with disbelief and just the tiniest, smallest, flicker of hope. Sorano's wide eyes locked unto my form, her body unable to move. In the end, I found myself repeating the words meant for a malevolent goddess to a young lost slaver girl.
"I'm still here."