Interlude – Craven Slink
Dreams typically don’t dream, so when the [Craven Slink] lay down with the pillow, it was surprised to find itself standing on another world. Once which had never existed before, but which seemed as real and solid as the one it had been stalking through. The only difference, apart from absolutely everything, was in the Slink itself.
“Why do I have fingers?” it asked, admiring a hand which it was sure it hadn’t possessed before laying down.
“You’re trying out an identity,” Jin said.
The Slink knew her. She was the one who had given it the pillow.
But she had been in the other world. The tasty one.
How could she be here?
The Slink was still struggling with the concept of “here” in general. It couldn’t remember what it’s existence had been like before it was conceptualized and then forcibly incarnated. It put that aside through to ask what seemed like the most pressing question it could articulate.
“Why me? Why like this?”
“All part of the experiment,” Jin said. “I need to see what happens with you in the long term and I can’t wait for a long term to pass in that world, so I had you make this one instead.”
“I made this?” the Slink asked. It looked around and saw an endless series of hallways branching from the crossroad it stood on.
Rather than being a hedge maze or a dungeon carved from stone, each branch seemed to be pieced together into a patchwork irregular corridors taken from every milieu of the world.
“You made this and you are this,” Jin said. “This is your dream. Almost everything here is a part of you.”
“What am I supposed to do?” the Slink asked.
“Whatever you want,” Jin said.
“But you’ll be judging me, won’t you?”
“I’m not here for the decor.”
“Fine.” the Slink said and turned to sit facing away from Jin. “I just won’t do anything then. If I’m trapped her I don’t see any reason to help my captor.”
Jin didn’t reply to that, so the Slink stayed where it was and waited.
After what felt like forever but was probably closer to five minutes, the Slink turned to look behind itself, convinced that Jin had left it trapped there in the center of a nightmare.
She hadn’t through.
When the Slink turned she was sitting right where she had been.
“Making no choice is still making a choice. Your know that, right?” she asked.
“That’s unfair!” the Slink said.
“Of course,” Jin said. “You’re alive. Fairness isn’t something you can expect to happen on its own. It’s something you have to make.”
“I want to go back to what I was,” the Slink said.
“What were you before?” Jin asked.
“I don’t know,” the Slink said. “Not this.”
“All of those paths lead you being something other than what you are now,” Jin said. “If what you want to be is ‘not this’, any of them will suffice.”
“They’ll be worse than this,” the Slink said.
“Some of them,” Jin agreed.
“How do I know which one will lead to something better?” the Slink asked.
“People have been asking that question about their choices since the concept of choice was created.”
“That doesn’t help me,” the Slink said. “I don’t know where to go.”
Jin shrugged and leaned back to rest against the padded wall on one side of the crossroads.
The Slink saw how small and human she looked. Easy prey. Another part however was much wiser than that. It remained quiet.
All it had to do was sit down and not get up. The horrible curse of self-awareness would wear off eventually.
It might takes year.
Or forever. The Slink wasn’t sure if it was mortal or not.
It could stay sitting for billions of years and neither fall apart nor fade away.
“I’m going to try that one,” it said, rising to its feet after a solid thirty seconds of contemplation.
Jin nodded, neither affirming nor condemning the choice, before fallen into position behind and to the side of the Slink.
The Slink hadn’t picked a passageway at random. Some of them were too dark to see down, even for its eyes. Some of the had obvious pitfalls, or harbored creatures the Slink had no desire to attract the attention of.
Not that it was in any danger it suspected. Nothing in the odd maze was going to come close to the danger the young woman walking behind the Slink.
“How far do I have to walk down this path?” the Slink asked. The comforting uniformity and lifelessness of the plain gray walls was growing less appealing with each passing step, and despite a few twists and turns, the path didn’t seem to be leading anywhere.
It was just an endless track of bland, artless monotony. Unless maybe it wasn’t? Maybe the Slink just needed to walk farther on, to the next turn, or around the next curve. Maybe something worthwhile was waiting for it, if the Slink just kept plugging away.
“”There’s nothing down here,” it said.
“There’s a gray hallway,” Jin said.
“I mean nothing good. Nothing that I’m looking for.”
“Got a sense of what you’re hoping to find?” Jin asked.
The Slink stopped short.
Was it hoping for something?
It definitely was.
Because it was missing something.
It had no idea. When Jin had instantiated it, she’d left some vital piece out. Whatever she’d missed was what the Slink needed to find.
It turned without explaining any of that. She probably already knew what it was missing. It was just an experiment after all.
The walk out of the gray hallway was far shorter than the walk in had been.
“Was that all I did? I thought I’d walked farther,” the Slink said. “It didn’t matter at all did it. I just wasted my time.”
“Did you know the gray hallway wouldn’t work for you before you walked down it?” Jin asked.
“You learned something then.”
“Is that what I’m supposed to do then? Walk does every one of these paths and learn that I hate all of them?”
“If that’s what you want,” Jin said.
“What I want is to be out of here,” the Slink said. “What I want is to be someone else.”
“So what’s stopping you?” Jin asked.
“You are! You won’t tell me where to go!”
“Is that what you want?” she asked. “Do you want me to plan out your life for you? Do you want me to make your choices for you?”
“No, but these aren’t choices,” the Slink said. “If I don’t know things are going to turn out how can I make a choice?”
“Some choices are made with full awareness of the consequences, some are made entirely on faith. Most are somewhere in between though.”
“What about that one? Is it a good choice?” the Slink asked, pointing to a corridor shrouded in shadows which danced to the torchlight from deeper in.
“Yep,” Jin said with a nod.
“Then I’m going there,” the Slink said, stalking off in a huff, but not so fast that Jin couldn’t keep up with it.
“This would be easier if I wasn’t alone,” the Slink said.
“But wandering alone makes you such an easy target,” a pale [Slaver] said as he hurled a weighted net over the Slink.
To call what happened next a fight would be to suggest that the [Slavers] were a viable combat force against the Slink. The term massacre would be more appropriate.
The net fell from the Slink’s shoulders as its flesh and blood crackled with a destroying layer of static.
There were five [Slavers] waiting in the recesses of the hallway.
None of them escaped.
In the aftermath of the battle no blood stained the walls and no bodies were left behind. Only incriminating piles of dust lay where the [Slavers] had once been.
“I thought you said this was a good choice!” the Slink said, whirling to face Jin.
“It was,” Jin said. “You got to fight. That would be wonderful for some people. You destroyed those who would degrade the innocent and the weak. That’s some people’s entire definition of good.”
“It’s not mine!” the Slink said. “I didn’t want their blood on my hands. I didn’t want to be a murderer.”
“And now you know that,” Jin said.
“Sure. Now that it’s too late,” the Slink said.
“Except that it’s not,” Jin said. “This is your dream remember. The [Slavers] were as much as part of you as the body you’re piloting around or the walls you’ve erected to keep yourself in.”
“I didn’t kill anyone?” the Slink asked. “This is all an illusion?”
“Correct and incorrect, respectively” Jin said. “You didn’t kill anyone, but this is far more than an illusion, and far less. You are on the border of what is real and what’s not.”
“I could go back to being what I was before then?” the Slink asked.
“You could leave reality and become a disembodied Remnant again,” Jin said.
The Slink felt like there was something Jin wasn’t saying there, but other questions crowded out contemplation on that.
“What would I need to do?” the Slink asked.
“Pick a hallway which leads to Oblivion,” Jin said. “Walk down it till there’s nothing left of you.”
“That sounds easy,” the Slink said.
“It’s easy to perform the actions. There’s no trick to it.”
“How do a figure out which hallway leads to Oblivion though?” the Slink asked.
“Ultimately they all do,” Jin said. “The trip’s just a lot shorter on some.”
“What about that one?” the Slink asked, pointing to a corridor which seethed with a beating crimson light.
“That can be a quick one,” Jin said. Her expression was neutral, which left the Slink wondering if she disapproved of the choice or if she was grateful at the prospect of seeing it destroy itself.
“And all I have to do is walk down it?” the Slink asked.
“Yep. Pretty simple.”
“Will it hurt?
“By definition, yes, but, if you return to the state of a Remnant, those memories will be lost too.”
“Can I do it without it hurting?” the Slink asked.
“No,” Jin said. “You may avoid feeling the pain, but there’s always pain in loss.”
“But I don’t have to feel anything?”
“No, you don’t,” Jin said.
The Slink started walking towards the crimson hallway. It reached the entryway and stopped though, turning back to Jin for another question.
“What if I change my mind? Can I come back here?” it asked.
“Not as you are, or as you could be in this moment,” Jin said.
“That sucks,” the Slink said.
“That’s why there’s always pain, even if you don’t feel it,” Jin said.
“Ok. I get that,” the Slink said but made no move to advance forward. “Why is this even here? Shouldn’t there be a door in front of it? Or a big boulder or something?”
“For some people there are, for others it’s all too easy to walk down hallways like this, sometimes without knowing what they’re doing.”
“That’s terrible! Who lets that happen?” the Slink said.
“Few people let it happen, but sometimes there’s no one in a position to warn someone that they’re traveling down a path to Oblivion,” Jin said.
“Nobody should stumble on a place like this and not know about it,” the Slink said before venturing over to one of the other paths and yanking it’s door off to cover the entrance to the crimson hallway.
“I agree,” Jin said.
“I…I don’t think I want to go down there yet,” the Slink said.
“That’s ok,” Jin said. “This world is better off with you in it.”
“But I’m a literal monster,” the Slink said. “How can I possibly make the world better? It’s not even my world.”
“It can be,” Jin said. “Our worlds are what we’re given and what we make of them. Would you like to see what you can make of this one?”
“Yes! How?” said the [Hopeful Slink]
“Choose a path,” Jin said. “I’ll be there with you.”