Trigger warning for violence (including domestic abuse, gore, murder), suicide, self-harm, rape, cannibalism, and gratuitous vomit scenes
(there's a bit of romance too just so you know)
This is a reboot of an earlier story of mine. You may have seen it around; it's a series of three, but the final volume was scrapped and the series abandoned.
Welcome to Shattered Minds, and thank you for reading.

Those who fight monsters should take care
that they never become one.
For when you stand and look long into the abyss,
the abyss also looks into you.
- Friedrich Nietzsche


There was a small, glimmering spot of light on the floor. It was just a little thing, a tiny fleck of sun, but it was beautiful. The thin ray of sunlight that got past the rudimentary curtain that covered the window – a dark blanket – bounced off the shiny floor and into her eyes. The dust that drifted lazily through the air also caught the light, and it looked as though the dust only existed within it. It was a curious sight, albeit not a new one.

It was finally quiet. The blaring noises from not too long ago had disappeared, quickly and without a trace as though they never existed at all. The Noise had been appeased at last. Now it was nothing but a murmur.

Diann Westervoorde felt as though she had gone deaf now that the Noise had quieted. There was nothing to hear in the hallway apart from the soft ringing in her ears the Noise always left her with. Not even the bugs and critters under the floor, which she usually could hear if she listened closely, made a sound. She knew there were both spiders and mice below the floorboards, down in the basement. Below that, in the dirt under the house, there were worms and beetles that dug all day without rest. The scratching sound was always there for Diann. The Noise amplified the scratching, the shoving away of dirt, the footsteps of mice and the sound of a spider spinning its web. The Noise made her aware. It never drowned out other sounds. It was merely there, in the back of her mind, roaring and blaring and never ceasing until she appeased it. The Noise was at rest now. It was still amplifying noises for her, but not as loud as before. If she really listened well, she could hear all the subtle noises. But Diann didn't want to listen. Not right now. Though the cues of nature itself were a helpful aid in her profession, her skill wasn't useful right now. Not to her, and not to the Noise.

Her muscles were stiff. Slowly, slowly, Diann moved the fingers on her left hand, one after another. Each finger was slow. Sluggish. She could feel the joints scraping as they moved, bone grinding against bone and cartilage. Every time one of her fingers brushed against another, she winced. The skin scraping over skin. Dryness. Her skin felt rough, like sandpaper. She could feel every crease, every texture.

The most difficult part was to blink. Diann had not blinked for a long time. Her eyes were dry. The sound of her eyelids slowly sliding shut, scraping painstakingly across her eyes and blinding her, was fairly loud. It sounded like someone clawing at a somewhat rough cloth, dragging their fingernails – perhaps across a pillow – to create a soft and deep sound that did not belong coming from anywhere around her eyes. The milliseconds passed. As hard as her eyelids tried, moisturizing these dried-out eyeballs was impossible in the amount of time a blink lasted, and water welled up in her eyes to counteract the aridity. She blinked it away, noticing how much easier it got with every blink. Carefully, Diann moved her fingers again. It was still uncomfortable, but better.

Diann decided to sit up. She pushed herself off the floor. Every muscle in her body creaked and protested. Her bones were grinding against one another at every joint in a cacophony of agony. Diann closed her eyes tightly, as if trying to block out the sound she heard whenever she moved. It didn't work. Eventually, however, the noise lessened. Her joints got used to moving. Her muscles obeyed and let her have full control. She was standing. Though she was painfully aware of the dryness of her skin, the feeling of her clothes rubbing against her, the way her hair felt on her head, she had managed to stand. She was not dizzy, as she had expected to be.

Diann Westervoorde took in her surroundings before going anywhere. It was the hallway. It led into the living room. The bathroom was the first door on the left. Her bedroom was on the right. She remembered all these things. It was her home. Her apartment on the ground floor. House number 21 A. Every house around it was an apartment block, identical to hers. The hallway looked just like normal with its makeshift curtains covering the window to her right and the light brown floor. Her jackets up on the rack next to the window. Her keys on the key rack next to the jackets. It was normal.

The bathroom first. Diann opened the white-painted door and turned on the lights clumsily. The fluorescent lamp flickered on, one half at a time. The white pipes were eventually all lit up, and she could see. The mirror was not very big, but it was big enough to fit her entire image from the waist up. Without looking at herself she leaned down to fumble through the drawers. Her fingers rubbed uncomfortably against everything she touched. It felt as though she would skin them just by dragging them across the counter, which she did after finding what she had been looking for. Her skin remained on, though she might've wished it off if it would help the incessant itching and flaking. Trembling now, she turned on the tap, letting the water rush into the sink for half a minute before sticking her hands in. The current exploded over her fingers, washing into every crease and fold, easing the horrible feeling ever so slightly. It was cold, yes, but it drove the dryness away. When she was done, Diann turned off the water and dried her hands on a towel. The unpleasant feeling did not return. Her knuckles were cracked and bloody, however, which was why she now grasped the box of Band-Aids she had fetched from the drawer. She covered up the mess around her joints with the bandages, keeping her eyes shut to avoid looking. So dry. So, so dry. Diann put the Band-Aid box away, out of sight and out of mind, before returning to the hallway. She felt better now. Her fingers were smooth and workable now. Her dexterity had returned.

But she didn't have the guts to look in the mirror.

Diann really should have had a drink while the tap was running. Her lips were so dry. She feared that if she tried to open her mouth, her lips would be stuck together until she pulled so hard they ripped apart in a bloody mess. She wandered into the kitchen, which was in fact not its own room at all. Her living room was divided by an imaginary line. One part was living room, and one part was kitchen. There was no separation. No tables or counters between. She went into the kitchen to get a glass of water from the tap there. She chose a tall, roomy glass and filled it to the brim, in hopes that the water would soak her upper lip as she drank. When she parted her lips, they did not tear and bleed, but they did stick to each other in a very uncomfortable manner. She set the glass to her mouth. She didn't even need to tip it back for the water to touch her lips. After a few tentative sips, she downed the entire glass and set it down. Her lips didn't want to let go of the glass at first, but with some persuasion she managed to unstick them. The glass felt odd in her hand, very smooth and slippery while her skin was rough and worn. She quickly let go of it and left the kitchen.

The second youngest Westervoorde had quickly settled in her new apartment. Sometimes she nearly forgot that it was a mere fortnight since she had moved out of her parents' house. Of course, she missed them, and it was strange to be so alone, but it felt good. She was standing on her own feet, supporting herself. She had been worried that she might not have enough money or time to eat properly the first time, but she had been pleasantly surprised. Time was plentiful when the Noise didn't want her, and her salary was more than sufficient to feed her every day. Of course, it would only get harder if she didn't watch out. So Diann bought the cheapest foods that lasted the longest. She could get fancy meals later, after she had properly settled and sorted through all her new bills and costs. Living on her own forced her to pay for a lot of things on her own, and on a regular basis. Rent, electricity, water, Internet.

It would be fine, though. And if she really got into a pinch, well, her family was fairly wealthy.

Diann sat down in the secondhand sofa she had picked up from a charity shop with a deep sigh. It wasn't the prettiest sofa. It was a reddish brown two-seater, a worn and weary couch from many years ago. It was surprisingly clean-looking, apart from some stains on the pillows. She had flipped the seat cushions over to hide the spots. It didn't particularly smell, either, which was always a plus. But all in all, it was far from stylish. The color was especially bad. She had wanted a more neutral color, like black or gray. White was out of the question, though, because it was horrible to keep clean. Or so her mother said, anyway. Instead, she was stuck with this red couch, at least for now. She didn't really mind, but eventually she would have to pull the living room together and make it look presentable.

It was too much work for right now. As a subordinate of the Noise, Diann rarely had energy for such things. She came home from work, tired from the long day, only to be bothered by the Noise's incessant commands. After doing its bidding, she went to bed.

The Noise wanted many different things from her. Even if it had been nearly a year since it had come to her, she could sense that it was still only testing her. Seeing how far it could push her. Checking to see at what point she would draw the line and say no. The Noise made her do things like buying a certain item at the store or taking a different route home – innocent enough. Occasionally, it asked for her to draw it a picture. One time, it wanted a picture of an eye, ripped clean from the socket, lying on the floor. Still glistening with moisture. The Noise made it very clear that this detail was very important. Diann had drawn the picture. The Noise had been satisfied and reduced to murmurs for a few hours.

Sometimes it told her to go to a specific place. It could be anything, from a statue to a café to a quiet alleyway. She was never sure what it wanted her to do there. There was no way to ask the Noise to clarify what it wanted, so she usually just waited at the locations until the Noise told her to go home.

After a few months, the Noise had breached out a little. It asked her to follow someone. She didn't know who the person was, nor where they were going or why the Noise wanted them to be monitored. Diann had agreed, albeit reluctantly, to find and trail the person for a few hours. It was a woman, fairly short, with red hair and glasses. There was nothing out of the ordinary about her. She didn't do anything interesting for the duration of the three hours Diann followed her. Just a normal woman.

Then, a week later, a cat turned up on Diann's path as she was walking home. The road to her parents' house was a fairly quiet one, with very few cars, so the cat wasn't actually in any immediate danger – however, Diann felt a lurching, foreboding sensation upon seeing it. It was a magnificent cat, with thick, bushy fur and a strict-looking face. The Noise hummed in her ears, told her to kneel down and call it over. The cat came immediately and began rubbing its face on her hands. It was definitely a pet, used to being the center of attention and receiving plenty of affection every day. It loved human interaction. Diann had no problem with giving it some love, and gently pet and scratched it wherever it wanted. She could feel the vibrations going through the cat as it purred at her, rubbing against her knees as it circled her.

The Noise suddenly changed from a placated murmur to a growl, and it ordered Diann to grab the cat and kill it. Before she had any time to consider it, a sharp jolt of pain shocked her, going from the center of her back all the way through her skull and limbs. It felt like being ripped apart and cleaved in halves at the same time. It was the Noise, warning her for the first time that if she disobeyed it, there was pain in store for her.

Diann took the cat. It didn't seem to mind being plucked off the floor, though it was a bit suspicious. She took it with her, off the street and back into a dead end alley. The Noise didn't tell her what to do. The Noise was quiet, waiting with great anticipation. If it had a breath, it would most likely be holding it. It was excited.

When Diann sat the cat down on the floor and crouched down before it, the Noise murred its disappointment and shifted around in the back of her mind. It didn't like it one bit. The cat and Diann stared at each other for a long time, neither of them wavering. Diann reached out to pet it again when an odd sensation came over her. It felt good. It was a very soothing sensation. Though she had been nervous and worried, all of that melted away. It felt good. She wasn't sure what happened, but she suddenly heard everything: the cat's purring, the sound of its organs working away, posh canned food from earlier melting in its stomach acid. The sound of her hand crushing its soft fur as she pet it. The creaking of its ears when it laid them flat in fear.

The cat hissed at her, its fluffy fur standing on end as it shied away. She caught every detail, from the dilation of its pupils, the way its body seemed to contract and how it whipped its tail slightly before holding it still, close to itself. Animals had never been afraid of her before. Diann tilted her head slightly and reached out as though to pet it, but she never reached the cat. A glowing light made its way out of her jacket sleeve, twining around her hand. It was a solid line, no, an arrow, glowing a faint green. The arrow paused for a moment, as though staring back at her, before coiling up like a snake. After but a split second, the arrow uncoiled, shooting forwards like a bullet out of a gun. There was no controlling it. Diann knew it was part of her somehow, that she had produced it, but she did not know how and she could not stop it as it plowed through the cat, killing it with a faint sizzling sound. She could hear the heat burning up the cat's organs, heard it cauterizing the wound as it pulled out. She heard the whistling of air leaving punctured lungs.

The Noise grumbled happily as the arrow disappeared and Diann's mind let go of the pleasant sensation. The only thing that didn't go back to normal was the beautiful cat. It was definitely, irredeemably dead.

Diann Westervoorde took her first victim to the nearby river and, after carefully checking that nobody could see, dropped the cat corpse into the stream. She knew that the water had powerful currents. Both she and her little brother, Gilbert, had been forbidden to bathe in the river for that very reason. The cat was pulled under and quickly disappeared. Diann tore the jacket off and shoved it into her backpack to avoid unpleasant questions about the blood that had gotten on it.

It was the first time Diann had truly pleased the Noise.

Since then, it had attempted to get her to kill several times. She had nearly gone through with it, too, on several occasions. In the end, however, her own humanity won out.

So, the Noise began plotting. It would remove her humanity. It would cut her off from it and isolate it far away. It would turn her into a loyal servant, a human machine to do its bidding. Diann knew of these plans. The Noise could see into her mind and read her feelings, but she could also read the Noise to some degree. Through the incessant blaring there was some sense. There was logic.

There was vulnerability.