"Belialuin. When Nine Becomes Two."
The girl saw nothing at first, her vision entirely obscured by the darkness of the world. If ever the sun had graced the sky with its light there were no hints. Relying on just touch she could feel her lower body laying in something wet and oddly slimy. Her hands explored to feel the gnarled bark of what she assumed was a tree or a wooden structure at least. The air carried the stench of decaying wood and rotting meat strong enough to make her gag at just breathing. Then just as suddenly as a newly taken breath there was light from the sky, a bright perfect circle of white light. It's luminescence reaching down to let her see the shattered roof above her, a single room shack by the look of things. Her back was pressed up against a tree of ashen gray bark, it's location in a corner of the shack. Directly ahead, to her left, and even to her right she could a vast collection of corpses. Each body battered and broken to the point bones stuck out and their skin seemed to fall apart. Each and every one of them held out a hand however, outstretched above toward the ring in the sky. Past the corpses the half broken door hung from it's hinges, leading out into a flooded swamp of some kind. Looking down an inky black liquid filled the shack and spilled out of the broken archway where a door once was, the liquid going up to her stomach. As her gaze turned downward she could see her reflection perfectly in the black liquid.
The reflection she did not recognize at all, her mind only muddled and confused when she tried to remember if this was what she looked like. Her current features however were striking, mainly due to the unusually colorful tones for her features. Her eyes glimmered with an ominous purple light. Swirls of blue tainting the purple to the point it seemed like a mess of mixed paints. Her skin on the other hand was pale and near entirely colorless to the point it reminded her of porcelain. Reaching up to touch her own cheek her skin's texture changed entirely to be exactly that of porcelain, smooth and perfect. Her hair while entirely a pale white was boring to her thus she closed her eyes to think, it then changing to be a mix of black and white. A soft giggle escaped her lips as she then added blue and purple tips randomly. A genuine smile came to her lips as she experimented with multiple colors before just returning to the color scheme of black and white with colored tips. Feeling she was missing something she then just added in a pair of milky white antlers, this was enough for her to fall over laughing to herself.
Her genuine joy was enough for her to forget where she was for a moment. Then just as suddenly as her joy came she suddenly realized her attire was currently a massive cloak of strange black fur. It being pleasantly warm and covering her entire body she felt oddly attached to the cloak. Even as it dragged through the black liquid of the swamp it's warmth never went away, urging her to explore her surroundings. Upon inspecting the trees she could see the odd outline of faces within their bark. Gently stroking one of the trees she felt the need to hug it for a full minute before smiling with satisfaction. The girl then wandered from tree to tree, hugging each one for just a minute. As their outlines changes to include smiles in their bark-bound faces she felt her cloak grow warmer. She continued like this, hugging trees for an entire day until finally the white ring in the sky winked out to leave her in complete darkness. Where the shack she had once been in was she didn't care, just happy with each tree she hugged. Although unable to see she slowly sat down and closed her eyes to sleep among the trees,
After about five hundred and forty possible tree hugs the white ring returned and light flooded into the swamp. With its light the girl awoke to stare up and see an imposing figure who's height was about eight feet. The figure was slimming with a body that resembled that of a wolf standing on it's hind legs. Its body covered in thick brown and tan fur that seemed on the verge of falling off in most sections. The figure's rib cage pierced its own flesh to form a grim smile of sharpened bones on its chest. It's head seemed half rotted away to show an odd skull resembling a canine but with clearly saber cat sized fangs. Two gnarled and elongated horns stuck out from the very back of its head to make it look almost goat-like in shape. Where the eyes should have been there was only two dim orange lights resembling a lantern. The limbs seemed too long and without any muscle to the point they stretched abnormally into six fingered hands, only half of the fingers even had claws anymore. Then sprouting from its neck was a cloak made from seemingly hundreds of raven feathers. Despite the abnormal appearance of the figure it spoke with a soft and tranquil voice.
"A newcomer then? Its been quite some time since someone new came." There was a long pause before the girl tried to speak, only producing a shrill sound that resembled cogs scraping against each other. She took a moment to change her skin from porcelain to actual skin and tried to just think about being able to talk. Before she could respond the figure simply continued. "Ah yes...we all tend to be like that at first. Our forms shifting and changing to our thoughts. Perhaps just nod if you can't figure out vocal cords?"
Instead of nodding she continued to try digging deep into her memories, remembering a health book on the human body. Her voice came out staggering and shrill to the point it was incomprehensible. With a defeated sight that came out like a bird's chirp she simply nodded to the figure she now noted as 'The Wolf' to herself.
"I gathered that much. We don't have too much time, only about nine hours until the ring goes out for a while. Do you mind following me?" It asked.
Changing her form seemed to make her thoughts grow muddled and harder to focus on. She made a mental note of this while beginning to shake her head, her breath catching for a moment as her neck continued to shift and change.
"Good. Good. Come along little one."
The Wolf then led the way through the swamp, its long cloak of feathers dragging in the ink of the swamp. After a few minutes the transforming of her neck seemed to end and she opened her mouth experimentally saying a simple "Ah." Her voice sounded oddly similar to the Wolf although she supposed that was natural as it was the only thing that had spoke to her. With a slight frown she turned her attention to the trees that she hadn't hugged yet, their faces still not smiling. Although to her surprise the trees ended entirely. Instead the landscape was vast and open with plains full of gray grass that went up to her knees. Looking straight ahead she could see a city that looked to be entirely upside down and in the sky. The only part that even touched the ground was a large silver bell at the top of an upside down temple. Or at the bottom of the temple in this case. The very notion of up or down confused the girl the more she looked at it.
"What is this place?" She asked the Wolf.
"Belialuin. The Ninth Non-euclidean Nursery."
"I don't understand...I think I want to go back into the swamp."
"You are free to go if you like. Just touch the contradiction bell when you are ready to face other lost souls like yourself. I'd recommend against staying too long in the Wilds however. This ruined world is no place for a lone human."
The Wolf turned and stalked back toward the swamp; the last visible part of it a mangled tail poking out from underneath its raven cloak. With it fully gone the girl stared up at the city and took note how she was standing underneath the very center of the entire city. Its buildings were extremely angular, coming to perfect points of mathematical perfection. The temple however stuck out, it seemed built entirely to just place the bell so far up to the citizens that it touched the ground. There were no doors of entry from what she could see, only windows depicting a few images of suits of armor. Fear of what sort of people could be within the city hung heavy in the girl's heart, thus she turned and walked back into the embrace of the trees. The familiar feeling of trudging in the black liquid comforted her all the way back to the shack she first opened her eyes in. The only thing different was the feeling of the Wolf watching her from elsewhere.
The days began to be separate by nine hours at a time, the ring's glow signaling the dawn of a new day. No visitors came, aside from the Wolf every few days, but she didn't mind this at all. For three visits it said nothing at all, just gently watching from within eyesight. When the fourth came however it brought with it planks of pale white wood, laying the many boards down in a pile near the shack. It then spoke with a simple flourish of a hand pointing to the broken down shack.
"You are intent on staying here?" It asked.
"Of course. Where else is there to go?"
"Belialuin. You could go there and be among the others." A slight agitation was heard in its voice as a crack seemed to widen upon its skull.
"I'll pass, for all I know they could be unpleasant people." Turning away from the Wolf she simply picked up the planks of wood to test their weight.
"That depends on your definition of unpleasant. Besides how do you know you're not an unpleasant person? You might fit right in among them." The crack seemed to slowly repair itself as the agitation left its voice.
"The trees seem to like me so I must be somewhat pleasant. You also come here so I must be tolerable at least. Maybe you are even seeking me out as a friend?" She said this with a sly smile while walking inside to put the boards of wood in a corner of the room. "You could stay here if you like mister or miss Wo-" She stopped talking upon coming outside as the Wolf was simply gone from sight.
With a sigh she then went about moving all of the corpses out of the shack, taking the time to separate the flesh from bone on each and every one. The bones she put in their own pile near a particularly happy tree, the flesh meanwhile she put next to a tree who seemed oddly grumpy looking no matter how much she hugged it. By the time she was done sorting this all two days passed. Without any enthusiasm toward fixing the shack up she instead began to assemble the bones in odd shapes or trinkets that made her giggle to pass the time.
As her giggles echoed however she could hear an odd clicking from the trees above. As her eyes looked upward the sound stopped to instead come from the flesh pile behind her, the clicking followed by the sound of slurping. It was upon turning around that she saw the culprit, a large owl clearly, its feathers a mismatch of gray and bright tan to the point it looked striped. It's beak was also missing however, instead there was a gaping maw of hundreds of teeth that nearly overtook its eyes. Although as it slurped down the pile of meat its wings spread to show an uncountable amount of eyes upon the now muscular wings. Its talons seemed oddly clean, shining with a pristine cleanliness as it ripped and tore apart the flesh below. The girl calmly watched the Owl eat, waiting until it finished eating. This took a few minutes before a quarter of the pile was just missing. The Owl's wings closing and its mouth shifting to resemble a more normal owl. Although the beak was missing and thus instead there was a very clear mouth only showing a few small fangs that brought to mind a kitten. Assuming the Owl could talk the girl then spoke to it with a clear cheer.
"Why hello there my owl friend!"
"And to you my...whatever you are." Its voice sounded oddly regal and refined, every syllable spoken almost like it were part of a song.
"Feel free to eat as much as you like, I was just tossing it all out anyways."
"Oh I think I will partake of your hospitality. You may call me...well you can...um on second thought I don't know. I suppose Owl works." Their singsong tone seemed to come out more scrambled and erratic with each word. To a point the girl could even hear static.
"Owl it is. To be fair I don't really know what I call myself either."
"Hm I'll have to think of something." The sound of a piano's highest key came from the Owl's mouth as if to signal the end of their sentence.
"That would be lovely thank you!"
"No problem. This place could use more friendly citizens."
With those words said the Owl simply flew away and left the girl alone once again. The last few notes of a somber keyed song the only evidence they were once there. There was a drop of odd moisture coming from the girl's eye as the Owl left her. The reason for this she herself did not know or particularly care. Her mind was instead full of an intense curiosity of what other creatures could be within the Wilds, as the Wolf called it. This curiosity was put on hold however, instead she set herself to fixing up the shack using the planks of wood provided. Lacking tools she instead changed her body to simple metal or stone objects to help with the process. Its shape changed to resemble a small temple by the time she was done. A high angular roof to top off a now much larger and roomier building below. While she worked there were always planks to be used, a pile of extras appearing outside the building. In addition to this patches of vines were left directly on the doorstep accompanied by the softest of wing beats. Not questioning any of the purposes she placed the vines around the outer walls, their black plant fibers seeming to spread and make the home fit in with its surroundings nicely.
With her home finished her attention turned toward herself. The few she had met up to this point were resembling an animal in some way, albeit malformed or unusual. The closest thing she could think of about herself were the pair of antlers she stuck on herself as little more than a joke. She pondered the idea of claws but before she could give herself a pair the sound of a loud crash came from behind her. Standing there was the Wolf, a fallen tree where it looked to have rested a claw. With a warm smile the Girl ran over to the Wolf as it simply picked up the tree and put it back where it once was. The Wolf spoke with a clear curiosity while staring up at the home she had created for herself.
"I suppose that is what the puzzle of construction looks like when its been assembled. I assumed you'd just mash it all together and make another ugly shack."
"Careful your pessimist is showing." She responded with a smile.
"And your optimism is overbearing...it is a nice house though." What sounded almost like a sigh came from the bone skull of the Wolf before it continued speaking. "Would you mind perhaps making it a bit bigger?"
"Taking up my offer to live here?" Excitement reached into her voice.
"No, well not yet at least. I have many books to bring over. When my library is all here we can go about organizing each and every book. Then setting up furniture and making sure there's more than enough space for both of us to have a room. We have a lot of work to do."
"Do you have any fairy tales I could read!" She said more as an enthusiastic demand than a question.
"Plenty, I have stole-er...I mean acquired. I have acquired many books in my time here. But of course we should also make sure there's something to keep the people above out. They are too busy with their petty wars with each other to appreciate stories."
"Whatever gets you to stay! Plus there's my new owl friend."
"You're an odd one. Welcome to the Wilds."
The thin ghost of a smile almost came to the Wolf for just a moment. The girl simply smiled as she felt at home. Whatever mysteries were in the city of Belialuin she did not care. Thus she went to work, building and creating. Making it a home not for just three but one fit for any in the forest who wanted a home. She worked through each day and night of nine hours under the white ring in the sky. All the while her mind wondering about what sort of stories the Wolf had in its collection. Thus she knew she would live happily evermore.