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Familiar

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Dissonant. That is the world they, he, steps into. There is nothing here as far as he can tell. All a blank slate of purity.

He stands alone despite arriving with friends. He can feel their presences still, feels the shifting of their confusion and hears perhaps even the slightest of sounds, but physically, he doesn’t see a single body in sight.

The clock has begun its countdown.

The heavy air is uncomfortable. No one has left, as far as he can tell, but it won’t be long until they do. His teammates have always been restless. They dive without thought, jumping into easy rivers without second consideration. Khun is the only reason they’ve managed so long. It’s his job, after all.

As expected, the presences begin to fade until he can’t feel them at all. They’ve all seemed to have moved away in a mix of curiosity and haste. He can feel them scramble as if chasing after something. Peculiar.

Unlike the rest, he remains unmoving and observing. Nothing has changed. The floor surrounding him is still empty. There are no shadows other than his pitiful silhouette. No signs of life other than his borrowed breathing. He’s unsure where his team could be. If they aren’t with him, where else could they be? If they were sent off, how could he have felt them still? He’s left with too many questions unanswered. There’s not enough information to make a sound conclusion. So beyond his better judgement, he wanders. There was probably nothing for him to lose anyway.

As he traverses, surprisingly nothing comes jumping out at him. Even with his echoing steps, it all stays serene. It should relax him, but in this place all it does is tense him even more; The unexpected hanging on a thread above his head.

Something changes with a crunch under his feet. The smell of the cold rushes into his face. He looks down to be greeted by snow and then back up to see everything new.

A white forest with heavy blankets of snow. Amid the sky’s frozen tears, he watches with short wonder as they flutter luminously. They land softly on him, kissing his nose and lashes. For a second, he feels comfortable.

He moves again. The wind sweeping past his face turns to a rhythm and his warm breath that fogs is magic swirling in the air. The sounds of a sad requiem play in the distance and in the hidden springs of his past, he sees two children running with laughter through the trees. It’s melancholic and leaves bitter feelings on his tongue.

He spends his time wandering with the memories of a stolen childhood rushing to him. The snow is falling harder, sticking to his skin. He should feel it, but with every drop the fire in him burns hotter. He stays warm and dry.

When the storm lets up, someone is watching him. They watch with contempt and with the same glare Khun has engraved into his soul.

With the draw of his breath, a rush of discomfort spreads through him and he watches as those eyes take form.

A child half his size blends into the mountain around them. Clad in a large white fur, he identifies with easy familiarity the simple clothing underneath it and those stunning, disgusting crystals.

Blue, cunning.

Blue, manipulative.

Blue, manipulated.

Blue, useless.

It bothers him. How there is nothing to perceive in those eyes, but he can feel every emotion that brews under its walls.

Confusion. Amusement. Hesitance. Fear.

It aligns within, but it’s repulsive to feel what doesn’t belong to him.

They stare at each other for what seems like eternity until the crack of a dying branch tears the ribbon.

The other immediately sprints away into the white of the forest. With the white fur cloak and light appearance, Khun almost loses him. Almost. He didn’t make it this far just to lose a child in the snow. The child is not hard to keep up with, but the turns and crafty movement keeps khun permanently behind him.

The trees are changing and reforming. Nothing is staying in place, they change the moment he looks away and even while he's looking. Once he is under the arm of a dead tree and in the next he is freefalling off a cliff, and then again he shifts to land perched on a branch. The first few times he stumbles, tripping over himself as the world changes indifferently, but as it continues he realizes the path is the same and the ground will always be under his feet when he takes a passing step. He stays focused on the view in front of him. The heavy sway of fur and the quick lashing of hair. The child is so easy to see, but far, far out of reach.

There is no distance; he can’t focus enough to make sense through the haze. It blends together in colors and to even try makes his head ring. It’s annoying, but there’s not much he can do about it.

The child turns and for a brief moment they make eye contact. This time, panic brews in his chest. It bubbles unfamiliar and Khun despises it.

The chase continues, the calf and it’s devourer. It’s become easier to predict its movement.

Desperation, fatigue, and anxiety now stews in the back of his head. It feels as though something has crawled under skin where it doesn’t belong.

They share the same shinsu. Khun can tell by the way it flows. It’s hard to tell the difference, but when he does, he can tell that the shinsu hasn’t been polished. It stays rough, unclean, untouched.

He can feel it like it's his own. If he reaches out, the will to take it grazes his fingers. Calling for him. A chance. Use me. The tips of his hands slip past the surface and consume.

The forest shatters and the child falls. He loses the fur; He loses his control.

They stand on a frozen lake.

Khun looks down at himself. The child, this thing, looks up.

It’s cruel. Below him is a reflection of himself. Familiar, yet a stranger all the same. This one is cold, heartless, and naive. This one is scared and afraid of death.

Acceptance.

He shoves it down by the throat.

Blank, neither of them let anything leak through their eyes. He cornered it, pinned it down onto the frozen plain of the lake that never seems to end in front of them.

Again they stare, unwavering and overwhelmed with the unnatural feeling of dread. At that moment, he fears himself too.

The ice is cracking from beneath the body that lies listless under his lithe hands. The cracks begin to spread out like a web and the water begins to leak through. He’s long since been numb to the cold, but it has not. It has not yet borrowed a living flame. With its fur cloak having been stripped from it, it lays bare against the ice and the leaking waters draw a silent pained gasp from him. It squirms, but when Khun’s hand tightens, it forces itself still.

This time, Khun can hear the cracking like fine crystals. It’s a sign he’s running out of time, the invisible hourglass running down to its last sand. The knife in his hand grows heavier by the second, the sweat makes it hard to grip and he fiddles with it in his palms. The knife isn’t his.

It’s haunting to even think of sinking, of watching his own face dull. The words in his head that don’t belong grow louder, begging for mercy and scared for what’s next. Truthfully, neither of them know. So without apology, he plays god and swings.

In the last second, he notices the sinister smile.