ON THE THRESHOLD
It was strange how soon Harry had come to accept that Ebrietas was his mother. And yet, the hug she gathered him into when he re-emerged from the Hunter's Nightmare was more welcomed by him than it had been before. He'd avoided Gehrman while in transit with Simon. He really wanted to, at the very least, tear verbal strips off the man, if not attack him for treating Kos like he did, let alone his lust towards Maria.
Harry could understand some of his attitude, his being imprisoned by a Great One. But he claimed that Kos was his gaoler, not the Moon Presence. And while Harry could have been deceived by Kos, something told him otherwise. Especially as Gehrman's account of the pogrom against the Fishing Hamlet differed to Maria's account, and Maria, he felt, had little reason to slant the truth, especially once she saw Kos, remade in her own image.
Eileen and Sirius were also present, and they listened to Harry's summary of what he had learned in the study at the rear of Oedon Chapel. Afterwards, Eileen pinched the bridge of her nose. "…Damn. That makes too much sense. I always thought there was something odd about the Doll. I mean, I was here when Lily told her who she was, and yet…she's taking it well?"
"As well as she can. Look, we've stopped the Hunter's Nightmare at its source. It'll remain in place, but the curse drawing Hunters into it when they die should be gone now, I hope," Harry said. "It'll be closer to the Hunter's Dream in nature rather than a true nightmare realm. But we need to stop whatever plans Micolash and Mensis have in place. I came here to ask for Mum's help, but if you're willing to come along, Eileen…"
The dark-skinned woman chuckled wearily. "I'm flattered, Harry, I really am…but this night is getting worse and worse, ever since you put paid to Rom. Sooner or later, something might attack this place. I'm already too old to go gallivanting about as a Hunter of Hunters, and yet…here I am. I'm not sure what use I can be in the Nightmare of Mensis, especially when you already have the likes of Lady Maria and Yamamura on your side. My best work is here, in Yharnam, helping the others. I hope you don't think poorly of me for it."
"Not at all. I don't want anyone here to die. Speaking of which, how are they?"
"Good," Lily said. "I erected a ward to keep the worst of the influence of the Paleblood Moon away. Oedon had marked Arianna, and if I hadn't intervened, well, she would have been raped by him. Even now, it takes a strong mental constitution to cope with the effects of the Paleblood Moon without my ward."
"How come I haven't been affected?" Harry asked.
"Because you're part-Great One, Harry," Lily said gently. "You take to madness and eldritch magic like a dolphin to the ocean. In those who are human, a strong enough psyche can help, though Insight sometimes can be a bane as well as a boon. Kos is probably right about what Micolash, the School of Mensis, and the Amygdalas intend. And if they do, most of this city would die, at the bare minimum. Worst case scenario…I have literally no idea, only that this world would be decimated. And I don't know how much time we have left. These nights, when the power of the Great Ones waxes, distort time. It could be hours, days, weeks relative time, all on the same night. But it must be stopped."
"But should I have killed Rom in the first place?"
"Yes," Lily said. "She acted like a dam, but even if nobody had killed her, she couldn't hold back the rituals the School of Mensis intended forever. And by the same token, she was preventing anyone from stopping the ritual and going after Micolash, at least under normal circumstances. Now, I can make my way to the Hunter's Nightmare, I don't need the lanterns. Kos acts as a beacon to me. But…"
"There's a problem, a possibly big one," Sirius said. "I got a message from Dumbledore at Iosefka's clinic. He couldn't get an answer from Snivellous, which means he's at large somewhere. And it's too much to hope that he got eaten by something nastier than he is. They're fine for now, Iosefka is holding onto her sanity, and so are the others. But this needs to stop before long."
"I agree, Sirius," came an unwelcome voice. Dumbledore was climbing up from the hatch leading to the Tomb of Oedon. "And I do not feel right sitting around while others risk their lives to save the world. I've made that mistake, time and time again."
Lily scoffed. "Not the only one, you old fraud. Is this your way of trying to redeem yourself? Because it's not impressing me."
Dumbledore turned a cold gaze onto Lily. "It is not you I am trying to impress or reconcile with, Lily. I am old, and it is past time I went on to the next great adventure. If I die saving this world, then so be it. I have many more sins than you know to expiate."
"Oh, I know all about that little fling you had with Grindlewald and where that led," Lily said. "I once discussed Newt's misadventures where he was concerned. Just keep this in mind, Dumbledore, if I find Severus, his demise will be somewhat protracted. Because if he isn't the one who betrayed your group to Umbridge and the Death Eaters, I'll eat my hat."
"…You're not wearing a hat," Simon pointed out.
Lily merely snapped her fingers, and a snazzy tricorn hat appeared on her head, clashing with the rest of her clothes, which she promptly reshaped into something not unlike Maria's. "There you go. And if I eat that, it'll taste of chocolate. Happy, Mr Pedantic?"
"…Ecstatic," Simon said warily, wishing to avoid pissing off a Great One.
Lily nodded, before looking at Dumbledore. "Just so you know…I'm in charge of this little raid against the Nightmare of Mensis. If I tell you to do something, it'll be for a damned good reason, unless you particularly want the contents of your skull decorating the walls of wherever we find ourselves. And that's not just from a bullet. Believe me, some attacks of an eldritch nature just make your cerebrospinal fluid flash boil. Or something along those lines."
Dumbledore looked a little miffed, but he nodded. "…You don't really believe me, do you?"
"Old man, suicide is a means to escape guilt, not atone for it," Lily said with a glare. "If you want to show you're contrite, fight to live to fight…"
Kos sat with Maria and Vesmir on one of the rocks littering the beach, gazing out across the ocean of the former nightmare realm. Even now, the Great One felt the Hunter's Nightmare beginning to change, subtly, but noticeably. True, her senses weren't as expanded as they were as a Great One, partly due to her more human form, and partly due to the power stripped from her by the Moon Presence. But she could feel it, like a change of the seasons.
Maria herself was gazing out across the water. "I used to love the ocean. Cainhurst was not far from it, being so close to Hemwick. It was one of the few places I could enjoy myself with relative impunity, before I fled the castle. But then…well, this place soured it for me. What I did here…what I knew lurked in the waters, of the world, and of other worlds."
"I had never seen the ocean before. In this life, anyway," Kos mused. "I had dreams of it, of swimming through sea and sky and stars, but the Hunter's Dream…it is beautiful, Maria, but it was limited. A gaol. For myself and Gehrman. But fear not its beauty, Maria. The ocean is not just filled with terrors and horrors, but wonders and marvels as well. It's the cosmos in…well, microcosm. For all its dangers, there is great beauty to behold. You are of Cainhurst: even if you do not share their macabre values, you appreciate beauty, even in the strangest of places."
"…I suppose," Maria conceded reluctantly.
"…There are many strange worlds out there. Once, many centuries before, I briefly passed through one where the world is kept alive by the burning of a primal flame, where gods and men throw themselves onto the pyre to keep it going. There was another with a great golden tree, Grace defined, and where those who are Tarnished are outcasts. There was one not unlike Harry's own, where a struggle in an ancient small country was made over a small boy with divine blood that conferred immortality. That sounds familiar, no?"
"I don't know whether to envy you for seeing them, or be thankful I never have," Maria said. "Not that I can travel beyond these dream realms now. I'm little more than a ghost, a revenant. Not so different from those left at Cainhurst after Logarius and his fanatics had their way with the castle."
The Doll smiled at Maria. "And not so different from I. Even now, I am but a shade of what I was. I have regained much of myself and my power…but a small fraction of that. I miss having my power, but I do not miss the experiences I had in this form, especially after Harry came into my life. I have lived more since his advent than I have even as a Great One, never mind as a Doll bound to the Hunter's Dream. And without him…I doubt I would have remembered who I was, let alone come back to my child."
Vesmir leaned into his mother. "But you're back now, Mother."
"Yes, but I need to depart before long." She stroked the hair of her child. "I need you to be brave, and to be strong, to wait for me. We are about to go into a very dangerous situation. I know you are powerful, very powerful…but I would not be able to forgive myself if I brought you to another death."
"Hush…I know, my child. It is a risk. But if we don't…then this world, along with so many others, could be affected, destroyed, or devastated. And those who bound us to these dream planes would only applaud."
Vesmir didn't seem happy, but he eventually conceded with a nod. "Then stop them, and come back," he said simply. "I won't be happy if you die, Mother."
"Neither will I," Kos said with a smile. "Be brave, and be steadfast, while I do this."
As if on cue, there was a brief puckering of the air nearby, revealing a rent in the very fabric of the world. Stars glimmered within this portal, an embodiment of the cosmos, before disgorging Harry, Dumbledore, and Lily-Ebrietas. Dumbledore looked nauseous. "Most unpleasant," he remarked.
"Put a sock in it, you old fool," Lily snapped irritably. "We have to breach the Nightmare of Mensis the same way. Besides, Portkeys and Apparition are worse."
"Easy for you to say," Dumbledore muttered, rubbing his head. "I am not certain spatial geometry is meant to warp like that, and believe it or not, I have studied astrophysics. Somewhat idly, but still…" He looked over at Kos and Maria. "…Is my brain more addled by that portal, or are there two Dolls?"
Kos walked over, Maria in tow, with Yamamura ambling over from where he had been waiting. "This body was modelled on this one, Lady Maria, the Prodigal Daughter of Cainhurst. Maria, Yamamura, this is Professor Dumbledore, once Harry's headmaster. Why is he here?"
Lily sighed at Kos' icy tone on the last sentence. "Unfortunately, Kos, he seems to have gotten it into his head to redeem himself for his many, many fuck-ups by coming with us on what he thinks is a suicide mission. Which is not far from the truth, but it's merely highly dangerous, not true suicide. Incidentally, you seem to be at peace with your original identity. When I first told you, well, you weren't taking it well, albeit in a stoic, reserved way."
"I am now," Kos said simply. "But that is because your son has been so kind to me. Even when Gehrman attempted to drive a wedge between us, and he fled, his earlier actions had given me hope that he could understand in time…and he did. And I have forgiven my killers, or rather, I have decided that they have been punished enough. The Hunter's Nightmare will not plague the Hunters from now on, if I can help it. However, we have a more urgent issue. I am glad that you have come to aid us, Ebrietas."
"Kos…I prefer Lily. Ebrietas was the Abandoned Daughter of the Cosmos, the one left behind to rot on the material plane as the other Great Ones ascended to so-called higher planes. You may prefer your old name, but to me, Lily symbolises what we have both learned, that humanity and mundanity are not bad things. Lily was the mother who sacrificed herself to save her child. Lily Evans may have only lived for a short period compared to the millennia Ebrietas existed, but she lived where Ebrietas only existed. You and I, Kos, are vastly superior to other Great Ones because of that alone. We have both lived, not just existed. Still, it will be no mean feat to stop whatever the School of Mensis have cooked up. We are going up against at least one other Great One if not more. My power has waned on being trapped beneath wards for so long, and I think Oedon weakened me still out of spite. Your own power has waned, Kos, and Harry…"
Kos noted Harry flinching a little. "What troubles you, Harry?"
"…I just worry. Worry that, if we are to stop this…I may need to tap into more of my power."
"And you are right to fear it, Harry," Lily said gently. "The power of a Great One is dangerous. But fear should not preclude you from using it. Already, you have. It was how you brought the Doll to life in her physical aspect, how you were able to traverse the dream realms, how you were able to withstand the madness of Yharnam and the Old Blood. Fear your power, but not to the point of not using it, not when so much and so many are at stake. Humanity is more than being a human being, Harry. It exists, somewhere between the rabid impulses of the beasts, and the cold aloofness of the Great Ones, and is not unique to human beings. This old man," she indicated Dumbledore, "claimed that love was a power Voldemort knew not, and that it'd be key to stopping him. Which was bollocks, considering that Voldemort simply didn't know how to deal with the power of a Great One."
"If I may, Lily…"
"No, you may not. You've said enough, done enough. I have dibs in perpetuity over you now, by dint of being your senior by thousands of years, and having more power in my little finger than you have in your entire body," Lily said flatly to Dumbledore, before returning her gaze to Harry. "But…love and compassion are not weaknesses. They are a double-edged sword. They can be used against you, but such things enrich your life. Power can only bring you so much happiness, that's what the other Great Ones failed to understand. They were once mortal, but they discarded their mortality in search of power and knowledge. I was born as they achieved apotheosis, and I was left behind. And I've found what I have been missing. So…remember yourself, Harry, who and what you are. You are Harry Potter, and no matter what those inbred idiots in Britain think, you are a hero, and a good person, and I am so proud to call you my son, and so would James, once he got over the whole, you know, Lovecraftian entity thing. If something happens to either of us, and I do NOT want that to occur anyway, I want you to know that."
Kos noticed Harry looking at his mother, not knowing quite what to say, before he smiled, a tired sad thing, and hugged her. Kos was happy for him, happy that he had a chance to know his mother. In truth, she felt a little envious.
Still, Kos could appreciate Lily's sentiments, especially now she had become, if not human, then human-like in form. Before the Hunters murdered her and Vesmir, humans to her were a curiosity, on the level of pets at best, to be looked after, true, but not something to truly emulate. But after becoming the Doll, and gently fumbling her way through humanity, she grew into something more than even herself when she was at her most glorious and powerful.
As a Great One, she had little she truly treasured, save for the child she conceived, and to some degree, her worshippers in the Fishing Hamlet. But now, she did, both within herself and without. She had friends and acquaintances, feelings that were alien to what she was as Kos, and yet…they felt right.
And she had Harry. Young, especially compared to her, and yet, she felt something for him she hadn't before. Not kinship, but rather, something deeper.
Was it love? She wasn't sure. She had yearned for love, the love of a child, the love of worshippers. In the Hunter's Dream, she came to love humans out of a misplaced form of creator worship, knowing Gehrman had created her, and adoring those who gave her life meaning. Ironically, that very love helped her gain an appreciation for humans and humanity when she regained her true self.
But romantic love was an unfamiliar emotion, and she wasn't sure whether she felt it for him. She knew she was attractive, and he was attractive himself, so there was mutual desire on top of their established friendship. But was that love?
Questions for another time, Kos knew, a time less fraught with danger. They needed to prepare for the assault on the Nightmare of Mensis. And this would be the most dangerous thing done to date, for all of them…
CHAPTER 27 ANNOTATIONS:
Well, sorry this took so long. There's a few reasons for that which I will discuss. Firstly, I still needed to get the endgame of this story sorted. That's still a bit of a bitch to get ready.
Secondly, I had other projects to work on. That included my Dark Souls crossover You're the Son of Legends, Harry! (and if you ever wanted to see Harry paired up with everyone's favourite fluffy-tailed dragon waifu Priscilla, give that a go), along with a Resident Evil: Village crossover, Mycoreincarnation, and a Mass Effect crossover, Quarian's Wizard. All of those fics have been updated with the December update this chapter is part of, so if those crossovers interest you, give them a go.
Thirdly, I will admit, my interest in Bloodborne has waned somewhat since I posted a chapter last for this story. That, and some burnout on this story.
Still, here it is, a new chapter. And we've gotten some interesting new Soulsborne news in the interim, including more details about Elden Ring. I'm sure many of you have seen the trailers, the previews, and maybe one or two of you have participated in the closed network test, you jammy sods.
When it comes out, who wants to see me do a Harry/Melina fic? I mean, assuming she doesn't make like Nashandra or the false Iosefka or something…
Anyway, I nearly ended the chapter with Harry and the others I peril thanks to Micolash and Snape's preparations. But I decided against it. This is a chapter meant as a Christmas gift (well, early Christmas/Thanksgiving), and it would've been cruel to leave it on such a cliffhanger. Instead, while it ends on an uncertain note, it's a warm note. So, hope you enjoy it.
No numbered annotations this time.