The hollow stopped, in the middle of grabbing for a sheet of paper. This time, there was something in that voice, some tone he particularly didn't like. It wasn't arrogant, or mocking this time...it was simply declarative. That was something Yaksha had never experienced from Salt, either in life or up to now. He'd always been larger than life, prepared to turn everything that happened around him into an excuse to cavort and prance about, showing off. Now, like this, he sounded like he no longer had any need for flair, for the dramatic. And that could only mean one thing."It's time, then? I don't suppose I could ask for a 24 hour stay of execution? I had a few affairs I wanted to get in order first.""No. Now. You've been building up to this for weeks, and I know you've felt it. It's no different from a snake shedding his skin. So get your ass in here."
Yaksha closed his eyes, letting out a faint sigh, and letting his mind retreat inwards yet again. It was something he hadn't done in a few months, too afraid to repeat last time's mistake; then, he'd nearly lost himself, and he had killed two women in the process of getting back under control. Now, he had a feeling he would be killing a lot more than that if he wanted to make it back out of the hallways of his own mind.
He arrived, to find a very unexpected sight; the last few times he'd arrived, his inner world had been black, bleak, something of barely contained violence and hatred. It was something filled with jagged edges and cold steel, something that drove him with every glance that it was the soul of a killing machine. That, for all his efforts, Yaksha could only destroy. But this time, there were flowers growing from the remains of what appeared to be old weapons of destruction; tanks, old and rusted, with flowers peeking out from within the treads. Munitions, covered in crawling insects. It was...peaceful in a way, and far more industrious than the last time Yaksha had been there. It looked like everyone was working towards some purpose, rather than simply...existing."Salt? I take it this is your doing?""Yes and no. You know the same way I do, Yaksha. Salt is dead, and gone. Even if he took over your body after all of this, it wouldn't be -him-. It'd be...someone else, who thinks they're him. Then again, couldn't the same be said for you? Do you even remember who you were a year ago? It's been such a busy time. You've been outrunning your own mind for so long. If you were to go back right now, do you think you'd recognize any of it? Probably. But would you feel the same as you do now? ...Well, who can say? You made this, Yaksha. Busy, busy little bee. And now it's time for you to partake of the royal jelly, and see if your destined for greatness...or not."
Those words struck home, painful to a level Yaksha had never expected. He'd known it well, of course; hollows had their own heirarchy, and vasto lorde stood at the top, beyond and above. Yaksha had watched his brethren fight and struggle for that designation for centuries, and he knew it as well as anyone else. No amount of effort could overcome the innate differences in hollows. Some...were simply destined for growth. It was no different from a trait like blue eyes, or red hair. When a hollow was born, the decision was made: To Vasto, or not. There was no court of appeals, no second chance. Those who fell short could never find a way to surpass that barrier.
Why was it, after all this time, Yaksha was scared
? Why did he want
to become one of those vast monstrosities? Why did the notion of evolving on that level...or failing to...suddenly hold such weight in his mind? Surely he didn't want to become a Vasto Lorde, after all this time? Hadn't he spent his entire life trying to -avoid- becoming more like those scrabbling -things- that he saw in the sands, all the time?
No, that was it. It was simply a question, to be answered, like any other. He felt as he did because this was one of the few things in the world that he couldn't think his way past, or trick. He couldn't fool the universe on -this- topic. Either he'd fall, or he'd fly. He couldn't convince the world that he was moving upwards, when the sand was looming ever closer with every moment. It was natural to be scared when your normal arsenal was deprived of you, no?"Why you, Salt? Ambition? Vengeance?""You tell me, Yaksha. You're the one doing this. You picked this form out of all the others, to embody everything you wanted to hide from."
Yaksha's limbs literally trembled as he contemplated the truth of the statement; that even now, he couldn't escape one of the worst mistakes of his life. That the hollow in front of him, a man he had once called friend, still held a grasp on his mind and heart even now. He opened his mouth to speak, and had to stop himself. This was a test, like any other, and he had to take care to understand things for himself. It was, after all, a talent he'd fought hard for."...I'm still stuck on that day. I killed a close friend of mine. I turned away from someone who needed me to be by their side.""Are you? You'd know. I mean, I would too. Since I'm you. But there's no cheat sheets in this test. You bounce around as many ideas as you like. You're just wasting time, but now that you're here, it'll take time no matter what.""For what?""Mutation."
Yaksha's eyes widened at those words, his hands clenching tightly, jaw clenching, as he realized what that meant. His physical body was probably sloughing off flesh and growing new limbs, new organs, new vital fluids, with every passing moment. It truly may be the case he wouldn't recognize himself when he got back to it."These memories started hitting me when he came back. When he tried to kill me. He said that I was no different from any other hollow. That's it, isn't it? I'm about to be in a position to betray and backstab the entire world. Everyone I've made promises to, before now. It's you because you're the first time I turned my fangs on someone I -liked-.""Yeah. Something like that. The pack protects one another, Yaksha. You know that, don't you? The pack always protects one another. Kill everyone else you please, but never shit where you eat. Even a hollow knows that. Better to die in a suicide charge with your buddies by your side, than to live with the guilt."
Yaksha could feel a cold sweat breaking out on his arms and legs, as he heard the words. Pack creatures? Salt was a dangerous sociopath, a man who would've cut and run the moment he was certain he would lose. There was no chance of success, letting him call the shots. He would've done the same thing Yaksha had done. He was a traitor; treachery had been ingrained into every cell of that man's body. Why had Yaksha ever trusted a word the man had said?"You can't expect me to believe you think that. You're me, so you know what he was like. He would've killed everyone over petty arrogance and greed.""And you'll kill them all out of cowardice and hesitation. You hated Salt for having power over you, plain and simple. You're a hollow, and what hollow doesn't long to be in control? You hated the way he made you felt.""...What the fuck are you talking about? Salt was my friend! I cared about him! I -loved- him! I wanted to spend every moment with him I could. That doesn't mean I'd -die- for him! No one should -ever- ask that of someone else!""Oh? So that's your resolve, then? To rule over them without ever throwing away a single life? No one dies? Period? This is why we're here, now. You think you can rule better than Barragon? Than Salt? You think you deserve to be the Vasto Lorde? Admit it, Yaksha. You'll sacrifice them by the -droves-. Probably even people you -like-. It's the sign of a good king."
Darkness. Rot. Everywhere Yaksha looked, he could see it; the plants were withering at great speeds, shooting out clouds of spores large enough to encompass the entire area. The insects were crushing themselves beneath the treads of the tank, thick green ichor forming from it now. Everywhere Yaksha looked, he could see it...and sense it. Somewhere, beneath his skin, Yaksha could feel the deaths of each and every one. The weight of their lives, and aspirations. He collapsed to his knees, fists balling, as he let out a few hitching sobs."What do you want me to -say-? That Salt was a stepping stone on my path to greatness? That he -deserved- it? I'm not that callous. You know that, since you're me and all. I loved him. I still love him. I love all of them.""They don't ask for your love. They never chose to idolize you. You did this, Yaksha. You went to them all, and you handed them a bill of goods, and when it comes time to collect, you're gonna have to snatch food out of someone's hands. Out of their mouth, even. You convinced these people, each and every one, that you were their best hope for a future. How is that any different from what Salt did?""Salt never loved us! None of us! That man only had a capacity to love himself!""...Isn't that just something you decided for yourself? And even if it's true, does killing someone out of love make it any less heinous?"
Yaksha hit the ground now, fists so tight that his hands were trembling, eyes watering tremendously. He wanted to shove his fingers into his ears until he couldn't hear any of it, to puncture his eardrums if he had to. He wanted to scream and drown out all of these hideous thoughts. He wasn't certain he could live in a world where he'd killed a man who had truly wanted the best for him, because he couldn't stop himself from fearing for his life."All I wanted was to help people. I want to give them something to believe in. The shinigami are ineffectual at best...or outright incompetent. Demons, hollows, monsters...why can't I just be the one they can trust!?""You're a hollow. Treachery is your life's blood. You will always seek a way to destroy that which you care for the most. It's inevitable, Yaksha Dokuja. That which you cling to, you will ruin. You are no better than any of them. Those who you despise. All of them...and you too. It is the nature of a hollow. Ours is a self-defeating species. And this is your flaw. You will manipulate and tarnish and disillusion, over and over...until hope is a wasted commodity. Until they are too jaded to hope for anything. If you get your way...this is what will be."
Yaksha knew it was true, the moment he heard it; the words seared his mind, left him full of an unbearable pressure that made him almost feel like he was about to burst open. He tried to rise back to his feet, but stopped. He wanted to refute it, and couldn't. He sought to scream, and found his throat shut with grief, and doubt. He couldn't deny it, not any of it. Ever since he'd closed his fangs around the one person in the world he'd cared for, he'd known it somewhere in the back of his mind.
Yaksha was cursed to kill everyone he loved. And Yaksha loved everyone
."...You understand. Good. This will be quick. You needn't move. You needn't do anything, in fact. You need merely...cease."
Yaksha felt it, surprisingly gentle and caring even now. The faintly clammy feeling of a hand on the back of his neck, touching the flesh there...going beneath
. He could feel it melding, Salt's mind and his own, could feel his will being sapped second after second."Uh uh uh...""Be silent. Forevermore. Greatness was never your cross to bear. There will be another who will inherit what you have created."
Yaksha's eyes opened, the vertical slits there widening, expanding...seeming to become full of a life and vibrancy that had never
been there before. No longer merely cat's eyes, each eye seemed to contain a universe
unto itself. One could stare at them for hours, watching stars blink into and out of life, watching tiny motes of light within them drift about lazily...and watching hideous black -things-, hinted at only in silhouette, pop up just long enough to snuff out a light, like a fish swallowing an insect hovering just above the surface of the ocean."Cease, Yaksha Dokuja. 2500 years. It has been long enough. You needn't struggle any longer. Just let it end here. Before you hurt anyone else.""Uhhhhn..."
His fingers were thickening and elongating, tears streaming from the corners of his eyes, as his hands reached up, scrabbling slowly, ineffectually at Salt's own hand. Slender though it was, it held a surprising strength, something undeniable in its simplicity. That was strength, strength of a sort Yaksha had never even bothered to contemplate. Always stuck staring off at the world itself, certain it held the answers to his own struggles.
And then, just as he could feel the last embers of his soul spitting off sparks, as the last of his self was about to fade, he saw his birth. It was a frightening event, something he had never expected to experience in person. He had existed far before the advent of recordings, so this was something he was unsure -anyone- could justify, least of all himself.Memory is an illusion. All things have happened. All things will happen. The fact you did not experience it is moot. You are the stuff of souls, Yaksha. This is hardly your first trip through the world. You are privvy to all of the world's secrets.
He saw his mother, and his father, performing a dance of antiquated desperation. A plea to...something. Something ancient and unspeakably malicious, something powerful beyond comprehension. And he saw it consign its deal with two mortals. But most of all...it saw him. In a single instant, Yaksha locked eyes with something ancient and terrifying, a creature that he lacked the proper vocabulary to describe. And it noticed him.As Above, So Below. You are not meant to fade here.
All of a sudden, Yaksha's hand shot up, grasping Salt around the neck, and pulling him closer
. His eyes, still containing that same cosmos in each orb, met his old friend's, as he spoke in an ever so faintly slurred tone."You came from me, you said? That's good. That will make this simple. Return to me, then."
Before another word could be spoken, he embraced the hollow, so tightly it almost looked as if he were a snake, constricting its prey...and indeed, Salt seemed to diminish with every passing moment, shrinking smaller and smaller, unable to even struggle as Yaksha consumed him whole, trembling faintly as he did."If it is my destiny to destroy those I care for, then the solution is simple. I need only surround myself with those too strong for me to destroy. That was Salt's mistake, not his lack of love. He never could recognize his own weakness. But this time, it'll go differently."
He opened his eyes, at his desk...and could immediately feel it. He rose, walking on unsteady feet, towards the full-sized mirror in the corner of his room, to examine his new form. He inhaled, running one clawed finger along his body, and then tutting, ever so slightly."All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all shall be well. Let's go see if we can't get ourselves a few new friends, shall we?"
Coding Altered From: [The Frost]