Not long after Lilac had made her fateful pact, pseudopods spirited Dragonfly's remains away, limbs dangling like some gruesome marionette, presumable for the Temple to do its work. Lilac is treated little differently, ushered to another chamber. The veins run thicker here, snaking overhead and underfoot, felt throbbing where Lilac steps. Myriad eyeballs bulge from the walls much like before, flicking to focus on Lilac. The smooth, fleshlike sides of the chambers prior, while strange, are considerably more agreeable than the what awaits Lilac now… like nightmarish piles of viscera heaped around the chamber, mixed with disturbing shards of bone, or toothlike protrusions, some dripping like fangs, or pointing out from pulsating sacs like wasp stingers.
Lilac feels herself begin to sweat as she enters the chamber, unsure, once again, if she isn't dead after all. Is … is this some sort of hell? Punishment for my sin? Did I really drown and … have I made a pact with a demon? Despite her wonderings, she doesn't truly consider this to be an afterworld. No, she saw the images in the eyes, and the matter of the Temple was only recently discussed. It's rather a reflection of her fear at what she has chosen, and where she is a living hell far below the world. "This … this isn't going to … to hurt, is it," she inquires of the Temple of Being.
That strangely varied voice surrounds Lilac again. "You must be made suitable to carry me. This I shall do. There is something that stays with you, different from the others… a part of the intangible being that I cannot mold completely. I do not know how it will change that which you will carry, but it is enough that you will carry me. I change as I take on the essence of others; this is the way of things." The passage behind Lilac closes like a heart valve, with a faint thump, sealing Lilac within the chamber. The piles of guts around the room seem to come to life, uncoiling and oozing, pieces of bone rasping against one another like insect mouth parts.
"Oh," is all Lilac can manage in response to that bit of information. She pauses when the door closes behind her, lips twisting in an expression of apprehension. Deciding silence isn't at all what she wants right here, right now, she asks, "There's something different about me?" She turns around slowly, ears shooting up at the sight of the writhing cavern of flesh.
Something warm and wet bumps against Lilac's back. The chamber seems to be… shrinking. Everything is moving to the center, while the cluster of eyes rolls to the top and huddles there like a glistening clutch of frog eggs. "Something not of your being that clings to you, makes itself part of you. Something of someone else, but only part. It shifts and slides, evades and defies. It will not cost me this pact."
"That must be … what makes me a shapeshifter," Lilac breathes in a mix of awe and surprise. She had never heard anyone quantify the essence of what changed her, and to hear it addressed and evaluated is surprising. She slowly walks forward, having little choice in the matter but unwilling to rush. "I change shape. I … It's something we have in common, isn't it? You can become any creature, Temple of Being?"
"I am me. I shape myself, it is not for me to assume the shapes of others." It's starting to get crowded in here. It's not going to be long before Lilac can no longer avoid being touched.
Lilac scoots ever forward, feeling time running out. Still, she keeps on talking. "That must be … be very useful. If I could shape myself, I … " she's sure she could do something useful with it, maybe trick people instead of fight, " … I could be free of Hakuu." She still has to get out of here. My life is a series of bad decisions, she decides. Seeing now time is short, and that she'll be facing her pact sooner than later, she asks, "This … this thing you want me to do … it's … a child? Will it be … my child?"
Long, ropey tendrils… snaggled jaws protruding from shapeless masses… knifelike shards of bone… they begin crowding around Lilac, closing in. A clammy pseudopod snakes around Lilac's ankle, and something wet presses to her opposite hip. "Small beings shape themselves only in the crudest ways, and never hold their shapes for long. Such is their fleeting existence. I gather, I shape, and I survive. This is what is most important. Those that appear to shape themselves merely wear more than one body."
"I wear more than one body," Lilac says. She blinks down at the pseudopod that entraps her ankle, shaking her leg a little out of reflex. I mustn't fight, I … I made a deal. Dragonfly's life depends on my going through with this, but … She grimaces, more and more aware that agreeing to sacrifice something significant and doing it are vastly different. A drop of sweat rolls down her forehead, splashing to the floor as her heart beats fast within her chest. "Did you … did you change the flesh of your people? Did they leave you alone here?"
"They lived by the pacts, changed by the pacts. Some went away, and I heard their minds no more as they went to the lands to the north. Some remained, and changed more with each rebirth. Small beings only have what they gather from the world, and they gathered no more. I gathered the fruits of their pacts unto me, it became of me. They yet remain, but they are lesser beings than before, and still give unto me. Some might think they are of me, and perhaps they are. That I remain and grow is all that matters." There is no no more room to move, even if Lilac wanted to fight. Another tendril loops around one of her elbows, another snakes around her waist. She feels herself being lifted up, and suddenly there's a biting pain at her side… a stinger the size of a knitting needle being thrust into it.
Lilac gasps when picked up, struggling from being manhandled. She starts to ask if the Temple could be gentle, but her words are broken in to a yelp by the stinger! "Ow," she complains moments later, trying to reach her side but being unable to do so. She looks over, eyes widening at the size of the needle. She lays her ears back, asking, "Ow … ow! Wha-what IS that? OW."
A sac at the base of the stinger contracts, and it withdraws, a trickle of blood rolling down Lilac's side. "It is the first of many methods to change you, to make you suitable." Already, a burning sensation is spreading from the puncture, pouring through Lilac's veins. She can see her skin flushing, ruddiness creeping across her. She can feel her arms and legs being tugged in all directions, as if the Temple were preparing to draw and quarter her, but all around her, it's as though monsters merged with the walls are hunched over her defenseless body, the cluster of eyes leering from above.
"Uhha," Lilac moans, giving her pain a sound. She struggles feebly, fear overcoming her before she can regain control. "L-let me go! I'm s-sorry I … I … " A flash of memory, a piece of time assaults her memory: Dragonfly's empty, yet accusing, eyes. I can't tell the god to stop. Oh gods … gods? … I can't make it stop. She bites her lip, then shakes her head vehemently. "N-never … nevermind. S-sorry." She looks down at herself, red and feeling swollen, as she were suffering a body-wide bite.
The slimy mass of writhing flesh around her seems to have no intention of stopping, whatever Lilac may say.
The next several hours are marked by many sensations… foremost among them pain and sickness as the unspeakable is performed on Lilac. Images of nightmare sear themselves into her eyes… she is subject to the sights and sensations of being sliced open and sealed shut shut again, of seeing flesh grafted to her innards, a few of the squirming gobbets from the pools introduced to her insides where her skin is stretched away from vital organs, all while she remains alive and awake. Each time it feels like she may lapse into unconsciousness, a stinger or fang jabs her and spits liquid fire into her blood, jangling her into full, excruciating consciousness. Whatever this may be for, the Temple doesn't explain, it just grimly goes about violating Lilac's body to fulfill the pact, again and again, with no end in sight. But eventually the end does come, the Temple satisfied that the bargain has been completed, and Lilac at last is allowed to fall into comatose.
To Lilac's mind, time has become an impossible thing to measure. Days may have passed, and she can't tell. All she knows is that she's tired, and that she hurts. The Temple of Being has left her in excellent shape, despite the horrors wrought upon her body. Whatever power it used to rend her it used to wipe away what it had done, leaving her whole. But, the Temple did nothing for her mental trauma. There was no serum to smooth away the scars from the horror, no chemical to destroy the memories of screaming and crying where no one could help her. Though physically fine, Lilac suffers far beyond her wound only days ago.
Awake now, Lilac stares at the fleshy ceiling. It's all she can do, all she wants to do: stare and lay there, apart from time, apart from mind and memory. Memory hurts, but she finds a comfort in empty silence. The world could burn, her friends call for her help, and she doesn't think she could move or care right now. There's just no energy left in her.
The ceiling is blessedly dark and devoid of eyeballs. The whole chamber seems like just a pouch or something, though the floor is firm enough, even if it's got that same raw liver texture as everything else here. Echoes of pain dart through Lilac's body every so often, nerve memory triggering little spasms, but she seems physically unharmed… or at least, put back together well. The scar from her hastily cauterized cut is gone. Her skin is unbroken, though it's difficult to tell at first, liberally smeared with blood and… other fluids.
Rolling over, Lilac curls in to a ball. She struggles with her conflicting emotions beyond the pain, trying to make sense of it all. Pain, of the heart and mind. Sorrow, at the mistakes she's made and her loneliness. Hate, but without a target. Anger, at herself and the world. Such feelings might force her to change normally, but she also feels something else: dead. She feels dead inside, blunting her rage, stemming her anger, and dulling her mind to anything except resting. She closes her eyes, and tries to sleep … but sleep doesn't come. So, she just lies there for a while longer …
Rolling onto her side brings an odd… something into Lilac's field of vision. It looks like a cyst in one of the walls, a large sac bulging out of the side, its skin stretched tight and shiny, the surface taut as if it were ready to burst at any second. The illumination in the room is coming from one of the walls, as usual, and the way it's slightly offset reveals a dark shape inside the blister.
Lilac can't say why she decided to get up and look. Maybe time does heal all wounds, and healing starts now. Maybe curiosity is the one emotion not crippled in her head, or at the very least, moving and searching is more comfortable than thinking and sobbing. She wobbles on her feet, feeling hollow and not quite here, as if she were dreaming. Idly, she brushes a hand across the cyst, thinking with detached speculation what might be inside. "Another fool," she whispers dryly. "A victim of the devourer?"
The skin dimples in where Lilac touches it. Surprisingly, it's the only thing that really feels dry here. Veins in its surface seem to have shriveled. As Lilac puts some pressure on the side of the cyst, there's a wet tearing noise, followed by a splash. Thick, warm fluid spills across Lilac's feet and shins, washing away some of the blood, the blister seeming to deflate. The dark mass inside falls against the paper-thin skin, and it further tears, coming away as a figure collapses out of the draining cyst and flops onto its side with a wet 'splap'. Its fur is dark and covered in shiny, sticky dreck, but it immediately comes to life, shuddering and coughing, then retching a stream of goo. Dragonfly rests on her hands and knees, shivering, threads of amniotic fluid stretching away from her muzzle. "Wh-… wha-… "
Lilac watches the mass fall impassively, her face devoid of emotion. The figure might as well be trash being tossed from an upper story Rephidim apartment for all the reaction she gives it. When it hits the ground, she cringes, the wet slapping sound bringing back memories she'd prefer remain buried forever. She almost turns away to curl up again, when she hears the figure speak. For the first time since she woke, Lilac's face shows something other than blankness, or the twist of pain. Ear ears perk, and her mouth parts in a look of surprise. Wonder, an emotion seemingly beyond her, creeps back in to her head, sending a shiver down ehr spine. "D-dra … Dragon … fly?" she wheezes, her voice feeling strained.
The eeee brings a hand up to her throat without thinking, then looks down into her palm, as if some ghost of a memory stirred. She looks up at Lilac's words, tall ears perking up and then swiveling around uncertainly. "Where… where am I? *Cough* "What happened? Who're you?"
Lilac suddenly laughs, her emotions flooding back in a complicated mess that brings her to her knees. She laughs, yet tears come to her eyes, so that all she can do is laugh and lean forward to hug on to Dragonfly.
Dragonfly just puts her arms and wings around Lilac in confusion, never minding the slime that coats them both, a look of deep puzzlement on her face.
It takes Lilac some time to stop, but eventually she does, leaving her head against the other woman and holding on to her as if afraid she might be lost again. "Oh, Dragonfly … I thought … I hoped but … but … Ahh." Lilac just shakes her head, some of her judgment coming back to her along with another vital part of herself: happiness and hope. "Hello, Dragonfly," she says, starting again, "I'm glad to finally meet you this is how it should be."