The Dirge Dynasty

Act 2: Corroded Souls

The Best of Intentions

Vam Silan felt a blend of surprise and shame when Uncle Berv exhaled. His unblinking eyes, having been flayed of their lids, turned towards him with widened pupils. Uncle Berv's skin was thoroughly flayed, with a texture like raw steak. His broken form was swaddled in rags, with his body covered in blood and grit. He jerked upwards, like a beached fish's last gasp.

Silan stepped back, before unleashing a final torrent of dirt through Berv's eyes. His uncle's body spasmed like a fatal seizure, before he finally stopped moving. What was left of his brains burst through the rear of his skull, painting the wall behind him in a putrid arabesque of bodily fluids. As loathsome as he'd been, Berv was tough to kill. A sense of sadistic pride welled up within him as he stomped Berv's mutilated skull into thick pulp.

What caused Silan to leap was the scream behind him. Yuli shrieked and out of the house, her half-ripped clothes billowing like tattered flags. Silan sprinted after her, as his mind raced for words to say. He wondered what the book would have to say on his feelings, but he hesitated as his hand moved towards his side. Instead, he continued running after his sister.

"Yuli!" he shouted. "Come back!"

The darkening woods were like a demonic host closing in on him. The treetops were like a horde of angry giants, the canopy their unruly hair. Their branches were arms holding wicked weapons, or talons able to rend him with a single swipe. Their roots were like the feet of terrifying behemoths, able to crush him like an insect. Silan crashed through dried scrub bush, when he saw his sister vanish into a darkened glade.

The book tumbled from his side, into a dried gully. Silan reached for it, only to see The Needful Sadism's pages were opened and facing him.

You know, the poor girl's scared out of her mind now. She-

Silan hastily and unceremoniously slammed the book shut as he leapt to his feet. His sister almost vanished entirely from his site, but he saw the path she'd forced through the woods. He cursed himself for not being as active as his younger years, when he easily outran the other children in the village. He forced himself onwards, though his legs felt like a heavy burden at risk of falling off. He smashed through a wall of dried brambles, and one caught the book. His eyes involuntarily shifted to the book, but he processed the entire message from a few slivers on each page.

She cannot run forever, so there is no need to pursue her like a base predator. Focus, and sense her.

Silan would have hesitated if he was not so focused on the chase. He clutched the book to his chest as his momentum carried him through a withered branch. His dead sprint slowed to belabored jog, with each footfall more erratic than the last. He staggered forward, propping himself up against a tree. He took another step forward, but tumbled into mire. He pulled himself out of the mud, panting like a whipped dog. He tried to call his sister's name, but no words left his lips.

The woods grew noisy as Silan curled into a ball on the ground. The moments dragged onto an eternity as he listened to the arboreal symphony of hooting owls, calling animals, and whistling wind. He could see stars peaking through the canopy above, and he knew he'd let his sister run off terrified. He felt a cool breeze, and immediately feared his sister dying of exposure. He stood beneath a column of dim starlight, frantically paging through his book. He expected the tome to be soggy and illegible. The fact they were bone-dry would have otherwise disturbed him.

You should not have acted so rashly. Tracking your sister would have been a trivial task, had you not run like a maniac through the woods. Remember where we left off earlier. Not only do you channel the dust, but the dust channels you.

Silan exhaled. He shifted his focus into his torso, his legs, and his feet. He concentrated on the ground, but only managed to feel the area beneath the soles of his boots. He tried once more, and an upwelling of gas belched up from the mud around him. Alarmed, he huddled back up against the tree. He focused more deeply, this time feeling the roots that crossed beneath his feet. The ground beneath him was his own body, and the roots were interwoven like a tapestry of veins. He felt them penetrate him, and squealed as he sensed the fluids traveling through them.

Yes, the sensation's quite memorable at first, but it soon becomes tiresome. Just as you sense deep, you can also sense out.

Silan focused, and he felt the ground buckle around him. Every grove, every depression, and every gully was naked his to sense. He felt the ground buckle before him. From peculiar ecstasy, his world was now one of utter agony. The earth itself yielded to him, and he felt it all. Every babbling brook was an open wound. Every erect tree was a penetrating stranger. Every gust of wind was a torturer's lash. Every footfall was a pinprick, a sharp pain into his spine. He shouted in pain, collapsing before the tree.

Now, now, Silan. You really think you can have pleasure without the pain? Just as the first time can bring an orgasmic delight, so to can the other sensations be overwhelming. Just as you frustrated yourself and your family by futilely studying for the civil service, so will you be exposed to the rigors of a new topic. I only hope you better learn for the next time. The first time is an experiment. The subsequent ones are comfortable iterations.

Silan clenched his teeth and focused once more. He felt the forest around him, and he focused on the depressions of his earlier footsteps. The world around him shifted, and he closed his fists tighter. The world melded around him, as he knitted together his memories with his cursory knowledge of the surroundings. He felt where his sister ran, and saw he'd blindly run off in his own haste. He cursed to himself, wishing he'd not been so rash.

See the importance of discipline? That is how a peasant can be made a princeling. That is how a drunkard is made a soldier. That is how the insignificant may rise to change history. Just as bones become dust, so to does the dust form them.

Silan exhaled and calmly retraced his steps. His sister was not fleeing deeper into the woods, as he earlier feared. Instead, she was returning to the house. He chortled nervously to himself, musing upon how foolish he'd been. He would be unable to explain things to Yuli if he was blindly traipsing around the woods. As he'd felt hungry, he turned once more towards Berv's house. He reflected on how he'd crush his uncle's body into an unrecognizable paste before burying it. A man like Berv deserved such a fate.

Press onwards, young Silan. Yuli deserves better treatment from the world.

Silan closed the book and headed out of the woods. He smelled smoke wafting through the woods, and he turned towards Berv's house. The crackle of distant flames echoed through the woods. Silan cursed to himself as he ran towards the burning building. He followed Yuli's tracks onward, to the stable, and to the road.