Nothing is forever lost, save time. We shall return, and the stars shall tremble at our coming.

-King Freidand'r IV, First King of the Tamaranean Migrant Fleet

Timeless

Formless

One foot in front of the other.

Keep it together.

That's all there is.

There was a Danger, that I remember. There might still be, lurking outside the tiny bubble of reality. I don't dare look.

Greta hadn't been able to keep going. I refused to leave her. Now she's clutched to my chest- when had she become so small?- as we both walk.

One foot in front of the other. Over and over.

And then, light.

Corrupted, shaky, barely holding together. But it's still blood and bone, still the Red, for all that it thrums with unknown energies.

A trap? Or salvation?

It doesn't matter.

I follow it, anyway.

It burns, the corruption in it tearing at me, hate and ceaseless fury, but I huddle close around my child and move on.

I will not be denied. I will not-

24:03 Station Time, 12th Day of 14th Lunar Cycle, Year 3,102 of Mind

Psion Research Station Alpharius

Cold metal. Screaming alarms. The smell of blood and burned flesh, my own.

Greta's safe. Unharmed.

Small lizard creature. Shouting, a lot of it.

So tired…

26:12 Station Time

"⍙⏃ ⟒ ⎍⌿."

The voice is harsh. Reptilian. I try to open my eyes- only one works, and opening it feels like dragging a lead weight. I try to move, only to feel cold metal at my wrists and ankles, weighing me down, keeping me restrained, stuck spread-eagled on a rack. Not good.

The sensation of air moving across my body, and a quick look downwards, also confirms that I'm naked.

Very not good.

There's a screen across from me, a sneering reptilian face on it. It bares teeth.

"⏃⍙⏃ ⟒, ⟟ ⌇⟒⟒. ⟟ ⍙⍜⋏⎅⟒⍀- ⏃⋏ ⌇⍜⋔⟒⏁⊑⟟⋏ ⌰⟟ ⟒ ⊬⍜⎍ ⟒⎐⟒⋏ ⎍⋏⎅⟒⍀⌇⏁⏃⋏⎅ ⋔⟒? ⊬⍜⎍ ⍜⌇⏁ ⋔⟒ ⏃⋏ ⟒⌖⏁⍀⟒⋔⟒⌰⊬ ⟟⋔⌿⍜⍀⏁⏃⋏⏁ ⏃⍀⏁⟟⎎⏃ ⏁, ⍀⟒⏃⏁⎍⍀⟒. ⟟ ⏁⊑⟟⋏ ⟟ ⍙⟟⌰⌰ ⏁⏃ ⟒ ⋔⊬ ⌿⍜⎍⋏⎅ ⍜⎎ ⎎⌰⟒⌇⊑ ⎎⍀⍜⋔ ⊬⍜⎍ ⟟⋏ ⏃ ⍙⏃⊬ ⏁⊑⏃⏁ ⍙⟟⌰⌰ ⊑⎍⍀⏁ ⊬⍜⎍ ⏁⊑⟒ ⋔⍜⌇⏁."

That expression does not bode well for my future.

Where's Greta?

The camera's view widens, showing what's behind the lizard.

Greta. Unconscious. Strapped to a similar rack, in the same shape I am.

No.

I struggle, try to dissolve into a swarm, but the restraints hold me back and nothing at all happens when I most need to get free and find my child.

The alien chuckles, the first recognizable sound I've gotten out of it. "⟟ ⊑⍜⌿⟒ ⏁⊑⟟⌇ ⋔⏃ ⟒⌇ ⊬⍜⎍⍀ ⌿⍜⌇⟟⏁⟟⍜⋏ ⍜⏚⎐⟟⍜⎍⌇." I have no fucking idea what he's saying but the smug tone makes me snarl. I reach for the Red, but find it thin, far away. Is it really that weak here? Am I just too exhausted?

Maybe the lizard-fucker knows what I'm thinking, or my dismay shows on my face, because it laughs. I am going to rip this fucker apart with my own bare hands, I decide.

I can't recall much of what happened with the ambush, the memories of it fogged and blurred, but I remember my form changing. I hang my head, closing my eye as I concentrate. Muscle tightens and hardens, bones develop armored coating, and I feel shifts as internal changes optimize me for combat. Keep it under the skin, for now. No call to raise an alarm.

"⟟ ⏃⋔ ⌇⏁⟟⌰⌰ ⎍⋏ ⟒⍀⏁⏃⟟⋏ ⏃⌇ ⏁⍜ ⍙⊑⟒⏁⊑⟒⍀ ⊬⍜⎍ ⏃⋏ ⎍⋏⎅⟒⍀⌇⏁⏃⋏⎅ ⋔⟒, ⏚⎍⏁ ⊬⍜⎍ ⌇⊑⍜⎍⌰⎅ ⍜⍜⌿⟒⍀⏃⏁⟒. ⍜⍀ ⏁⊑⟟⋏ ⌇ ⍙⟟⌰⌰ ⍀⏃⌿⟟⎅⌰⊬ ⏚⟒ ⍜⋔⟒...⎍⋏⌿⌰⟒⏃⌇⏃⋏⏁...⎎⍜⍀ ⊬⍜⎍⍀ ⌇⌿⏃⍙⋏."

A door off to my left opens, and two hulking humanoids in heavy armor and carrying what look like cattle prods enter. One stays by the door, the other approaches me, electricity crackling at the weapon's end.

Focus.

I can barely feel the Red, but it's present enough in the both of us for me to find her, in the depths of the station, a bare thread of a connection but still a thread.

Following that thread is like fording a river on unstable stepping-stones with the Red so distant. A plunge back into the abyss we'd wandered for so long threatening at every turn. But with the connection leading me on, lending solidity to the Red by its mere existence, it's still- barely- doable.

I blink into reality in front of her, and as the lizard gapes my hand lashes out and crushes his windpipe. His eyes bug out, but the single step back he takes in shock isn't nearly enough to avoid my grasp. My hand grabs him by the muzzle, and the sigil burned into the back of my hand flares as I reach in and seize his unanchored soul by the throat. The swarm takes its due, and I feel whole again as the shredded remnants of Al'kr, Third Caste scientist, fill a void I hadn't even known was there.

Undoing the shackles takes little time- they're barely more than simple latches, impossible for someone stuck in them to undo, but a five-year-old could do them from the outside. I catch Greta as she falls, still unconscious. I cover her with the somewhat tattered remnants of the lizard's robe, then set her in a corner of the room.

Looks like the one I woke up in. Big screen, creepy torture rack, door off to the left of said rack.

Door which is just now starting to open.

I grin, and launch myself forwards.

28:17 Station Time

Time passes in a blur, too fast and too slow at once, blood and slaughter and everything that crosses my path dying as I hunt through the corridors. The station's largely silent, now. I take a look around speculatively. Whatever this place is, it's not going to be of much use now. And whoever takes possession of it afterwards will have a great deal of trouble getting the blood out of the floor. And walls. And ceilings.

One hand's occupied holding Greta in place against my chest. The other is carrying a not-quite-dead Citadelian- as my newly acquired and subservient souls inform me they're called- by the head. Let's see. No real signage, but I've got a mental map of the station, of a sort...hmm. Let's take the left turn here...yep. Big old sign, the first I've seen, reading 'Laboratories Biological' in the fucked-up script the Citadelians use.

Ah, stolen soul knowledge. What would I do without you?

The door's sealed, or at least it was, but using a Citadelian marine as a door knocker proves 'persuasive' enough to knock it off the track it was using and open up a hole in the metal. It does, unfortunately, liquefy the soldier's face, but I'm not exactly caring.

I've got enough knowledge from the few Psions I've devoured already that I would be more than happy throwing every single one of them into the sun.

A small portion of the swarm takes care of the soldier, while the rest of me moves on.

The labs seem empty at first, but as I walk deeper in I begin to see charred corpses. Not my work. Looks more like someone set off a flamethrower in their faces.

Another captive got loose? Good on them. I should find them. Maybe one of them knows how spaceships work. I don't think any of the ones docked to the station are meant to be flown by one person, and I...might have been a little overzealous in destroying the souls I just chowed down on. Not much mind left in any of them, definitely not enough to do something complicated. Hell, I was lucky to figure out this place was a space station before I ended up wandering into a section the central control could jettison.

Well, I'd eaten the central control as well, so that wasn't a problem anymore, at least.

"Karras, n'en ya, pvar!" someone cries, weakly, from one of the rooms ahead. I step up the pace. That definitely wasn't Citadelian or Psion.

The room I enter is filled with both scientific equipment and dead Psions, neither of which is at all interesting in comparison to the two semi-conscious orange-skinned women huddled against the far wall. Both are glowing, the black-haired one with a guttering purple light while the red-haired one glows emerald. The black-haired one slumps back as I walk closer, breathing heavily, but the red-head looks up, despite the effort it clearly takes her. "Pvar...pvar, cal ras," she groans, before slumping back as well.

Fuck, what the hell did the Psions do to them?

I can barely feel the Red, even strengthened by the hundreds of lives I've taken, but I have my senses and my knowledge, and that needs to be enough for this.

I sit down across from them, settling Greta against the wall, I pour awareness into each of them, looking for the source of the sickness or fault or whatever is wrong, only for the Red itself to lash out as if I were a foreign invader, tearing at my brain like scalpels. I feel blood drip from my nose and eyes, and ignore it and the attacking presence.

I will heal them, no matter what. I brace myself to fight my own source of power, and-

The pain stops. No time to question it; I focus on their condition.

Each and every cell is practically burning, energy-processing organelles frantically trying to offload radiation and light into chemical bonds and failing to keep pace, other organs altering themselves rapidly in response to it, trying to cope with the overload and breaking down in the process...I can't fix this, can't undo this.

But I can keep them alive long enough for them to recover.

I don't know how long I sit there, pouring magic into their bodies, burning down my stock of souls oh-so-steadily. Minutes? Hours? It doesn't matter. What does matter is that, when I finally stop, their breathing steadies, and their eyes open.

And then the black-haired one punches me in the face.