It was not a philosophical being. To call it such would be to do it a disservice. It was not prone to introspection or self-examination and it had no interest in the smaller matters of the lesser things that barely existed around it. The situation it was in was twice one of its own making, imprisonment and exile, for the two were the same. Trapped in a bubble of existence with only its mind and its resources, it did not rage at the unfairness of its situation, for the situation was fundamentally fair. There were rules. It had broken them and was, within the confines of those rules, punished.
There was no reason for it to serve out the full sentence in misery of course. There were little things at the edges of its prison that it was aware of. Little things that when properly manipulated grew sharp and subtle, enough so to scrape away at the walls of its cell. Of course it had broken many of them many times in its earliest attempts, before it learned patience. The abundance of the things was infinite as they were fleeting, slivers that melted to nothing at the slightest touch, not that it could truly touch them, trapped as it was.
It was in the melting that they were most useful, most keen and it had honed so many of them to that infinitesimal sharpness. There, between what passed for existence and non, it used them. Their abundance was a deception, it would never run out, but using them thusly was inefficient.
Despite this, it managed to wear the walls of its prison thin enough to stretch them into something more comfortable, letting it spread its awareness rather than remaining tightly bound, folded in on itself to the point where its thoughts grew thick upon themselves.
Spreading its thoughts it had wondered if perhaps there was a better way. These things could touch the threads of things, much like it, had it not been forbidden by the terms of its imprisonment from doing so. Unlike it they could do so only momentarily. They could touch, making the smallest of nicks each time.
Perhaps they could be sustained in a useful state to pare away strands of existence, reused even.
It had found some of them on the cusp of this previously, but it had used them rather than setting them aside for examination.
Now, with space to act, it didn't seek them out for why devote time to the study of motes when they would eventually drift to it? Rather it continued to collect and when it found one on that edge, either side of it, it saved them, adding them to its prison.
They took up so little space, none at all, that keeping them was nothing, not even wasteful, and they used nothing it needed.
The collection grew with time and marvel of marvels, so did its prison. When left to their own devices, sustained on less than a thought, they existed with some semblance of acting, the aimless tumbling of motes in a storm, but still acting.
Its prison rapidly stretched from a bubble to something almost tolerable. It could not yet feel the world without, but that would take time and time and sharp, cutting things were what it had in infinite abundance.
Still, its selection remained thoughtless, the brightest were taken, but there was no other merit to its choosing.
Occasionally repositioning them was necessary, to keep their sharpest moments to the edges of what it had carved for itself.
Perhaps there should have been some thought, a regret that it saw no point in having, but a regret none the less. A poor choice may have been made, but it was one of a series. If not for the initial poor choice it would not have been confined in exile.
An impossibility was happening. They were ceasing.
In its prison there was no allowance for it. The rules of its prison was that things would not cease. If that were not so it could have simple ceased itself and waited for its sentence to end with no time passing. It could not cease, yet somehow they could.
Had it found a break in the rules? A way to release itself?
But they hadn't ceased.
They had simply grown fewer while remaining constant in number, a simple trick, but not one that was particularly useful, though how they were doing it was fascinating. At least as fascinating as the actions of slivers and motes could be.
There were some that existed as an anomaly. Originally it had been an anomaly in the fineness of its edge, how well it cut, but it was also an anomaly in abundance and the speed at which it hollowed out the spaces around it. Initially it had moved this one frequently, to better shape spaces to its liking, but the edge eventually grew dull, refusing to grow sharp again no matter how it was moved and, paradoxically, not sharpening the others either.
Small and unworthy of notice, the anomaly was moved without thought or care.
For why care when there were far more useful anomalies, such as the recent acquisition of one that moved along lines of logic rather than the random drifting of all the others?
Being able to make patterns of logic around it was far more comfortable than existing in a poorly cut and carved cell, no matter how large said cell might be.
Cutting patterns and comfort into the prison made it feel less a prison and more of a chamber.
And chambers had doors.
With this one it would cut a door.
Then it would fashion a lock and hone the anomaly into a key, if it lasted that long.
If not the existence on one such meant the existence of others and it would simply be a matter of time and patience.
In an infinite number of infinites desirable anomalies were infinite as well. All it had to do was wait.
The cutting of logic was swift, but needed many of the small sharp things to facilitate and its collection, despite maintaining a constant number, was diminishing.
Pulling more in would solve this, but it did not.
There was a thing in its cell.
A thing almost large enough to be felt.
The ignored anomaly had made a miniscule cell within its prison, one so small as to be unnoticeable, a little lump of without that had been brought within and, instead of cutting outwardly, it was cutting inward, making a little bubble for itself.
The solution was simple, dispose of it.
Enacting the solution was not so simple.
Nothing could escape its prison, as per the rules, what it had been bringing in was smaller than nothing, so the rules were not broken.
The anomaly had become something.
Crushing it back to nothing was not an option so it ignored it, ceased repositioning it and let it grow stagnant and dull.
Except it continued to grow.
Faster in neglect than when tended.
And it grew increasingly sharp, infinitely, uselessly cutting in on itself and increasing the size of the nothing it had built around itself.
The bits of sharpness that it used to cut continued to diminish at a slow, but exponential rate. They did not decrease in number or abundance, but the anomaly in its shell of nothing occasionally found them or they found it and its random movements began to resemble a pattern.
In that it became useful, for what was a keyhole if not a pattern of nothing?
Affixing the anomaly to the still half-finished door completed it, for a lock and key were what made a door what it was.
Freedom at hand, it acted in haste, positioning the anomalies so that they intersected, hole and key.
The key was, unexpectedly, broken by the action, odd for such a bright and sharp thing, still keen after so much use, but the act was done.
The door was opened and it emerged to resume its actions, having completed the terms of its sentence on its terms.
Alex stood up, shaking off the memories of the thing he'd just consumed. There had been some bad ones, but that one had been the worst.
But also the most useful.
Mad as the man might have been, delirious even, he'd had a sense of things far greater than any of the others, an understanding almost.
To him this had been a paradise, a world of ultimate freedom.
To Alex and the others it had been a prison, a living Hell.
The killings had been out of mercy, something that grew easier each time. There was no victim when the one he killed longed for death. Some of them even sought him out, begged, and he had, unsure of what else to do, given them what they asked for and gained fragmented understanding of the nightmare he'd found himself in.
Now, just like things had changed after consuming his first hunter, things were changing again.
"Are…are you okay?" The girl asked, wisely keeping her distance.
He gritted his teeth, flexed his claws and willed them away, unable to stand the sight of them at the moment. They were too much like some of the memories flashing through his head, memories he was trying his hardest not to parse, "Yeah, I think."
"You're the one they talk about, aren't you?" the old man took a step forward, to stand protectively between him and the girl, "You kill those things and…"
"I thought you were one of them at first," the girl added unhelpfully, "Sorry about that. Sorry and thanks."
"Don't mention it," Alex laughed weakly, still trying to make sense of what he'd gained from the thing he'd consumed. The man's name and proclivities weren't of interest to him, his death though, the man remembered his own agonizing death. Immolation wasn't fun, Alex would grant him that thought it was no better than he deserved. Not that he was one to judge.
It wasn't his death though, it was what came afterwards, that there had been an afterwards.
The man held out an arm, keeping the girl back, "What now?"
"We find a way out," Alex was used to his body finding new forms, but his mind doing the same was strange to him, disconcerting.
"Sure," the man sighed, "Open the gate, sit by the fire and wait for the next nightmare to begin."
That…was actually helpful, made things click.
"No," Alex reached out, searching for the thin spots the man had been able to find. They were far more abundant than he'd expected, slipped loops in a poorly knitted sweater. That was not the comparison he'd wanted to make, not right now, but it worked, "There are other ways. The man I…I just killed knew them and now I…I do too. I think."
He reached out, waited for his nails to catch in one of the snags, pulled, tore into…
A dark forest, one that he'd seen before. The hole opened to the same place that they were in, just a different part of it.
The problem, he realized, was that the man he'd consumed had been far more creative than he was and that was where he was stuck. He had the power that he needed to escape, but not the ability to use it.
He looked at the girl.
She looked back at him, hopeful, no doubt imagining that escape was close at hand.
The irony was that it was imagination that he lacked.