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The dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water. Only
There is shadow under this red rock,
(Come in under the shadow of this red rock),
And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.
An egg laid outside the territory of the eleven does not hatch: without the gods' magic, a soul does not knit to the body. That little spark of Mind that might one day become a dragon waits, enclosed in darkness, for an anchor that will never come.

Without elemental magic to hold the Shade at bay, this unfortunate creature fades away, lost in time and memory. But between the cracks, that little spark flickers, ignites, and somewhere beyond time, a soulless Mind blinks awake.

The egg never hatches. I was never born, but I am alive.

Slow footfalls sinking into the soft earth, lurking along the edge of reality and imagination, awake and asleep, dream and nightmare—anxiety, fear, hatred, shame, paranoia—I am a predator of predators.

I am the moment of the wolf's bite, the instant the tiger unsheathes its claws. I am the howl in the pitch black night that you can barely hear but can somehow feel. Young or old, insect or dragon, you all know me the same. I am action without thought, the ultimate hunter, and everyone is my prey.

I am Fear. And I am always with you, in your dreams and in your shadow. Formless, like smoke, seeping through every crack in the walls.

A glowing red orb—an eye? You blink and it's gone.

Terror, Fear, Dread, Panic, you have so many names for me. Yet, no word is needed to know what I am. It's an instinctive, bone-deep, blood-chilling knowledge. I am the hairs rising on the back of your neck, the tremble in your limbs, the cold liquid running down your spine, the hot pressure burning and twisting in your chest, stealing your air and forcing your mind blank. I am a shadow cast by the moonless nights.

You startle, and gasp, jerking up, chest heaving, heart hammering. The world seems to blur around the edges.

In waking Sornieth, I appear as nothing more than a mishmash of toxic plumes; noxious and nauseating, but melting away like fog in the sunlight, with nothing to show for my presence except the lingering smell of smoke, and the memory that once, your eyes watered and your throat shrieked.

Under that light, you are safe for a moment. Until the shadows lengthen again, and out the corner of your eye you spy a scorch mark on the ground and little bits of ash. The light fades, slow-building smoke dances over a red-stained evening, and our hunt begins once more.

The wet slide of a tendril on the wall, you whirl around, but nothing's there. A tickle on the back of your neck, a breath beside your ear. A flash of a tooth-studded maw, slowly widening in a sickly grin.

You feel brittle, as if a puppet being pulled on a string. You check the walls, the door, the locks and bolts. The house is quiet and empty. You check again anyway.

You are caught now, possessed by my horror, weightless and trapped beyond reach in your own nightmare. Your mind strains, fractures, as I carve my influence deeper, the shadows under your eyes lengthen, darkens into bruises. The light becomes fevered, blinding.

Did you remember to lock that door? Was that window always open?

Everything you've ever loved is now just ashes in your mouth. Isn't it so much easier, to stay here in the dark? Oh how you wish for silence, no more dreams or mind or reasoning, to just be grave and static.

The smoke twists, congealing into a teeming eel-like mass, wisps thickening into a maze of veins. Innumerable, blunt tentacles wind around you, incorporeal yet running thick as oil down your arms and fingers.

"Monster!" You cry. You tell anyone who would listen, tell them of the nightmare stalking you, feeding on you. But no one wants such a poor, sad, lonely creature. They ridicule you, lock you up, quarantine you away in a house of madness. A wretched and pitiful fool, an unfortunate without escape. But even then, you beg desperately for them to save you (no one can save you), unknowingly planting my secret seed in their mind.

Could the monster be real?

A beautiful parasite.

I spread on the wind, in words and in stories, hurling from the highest cliffs to the deepest mountain valleys. Drifting from mind to mind, generation to generation, growing in size, in influence. Mortals are riddled with so much anxiety, so much fear of the deeps, of dark smoke and tendrils.

You still see me in the darkness, and though no one answers your cries, you cry anyway.

A vulture eye, distorted, red, pulsing to an unnatural beat. Then another, and another! The world is suddenly full of eyes. Watching you drag in another lung-full of air. Watching you make those half-moon marks in your palms, deep crescents, weeping red. Watching every scar tattooed across your body, at mercy to that bend of fleshy iron.

I will swallow you whole, turn you to dust. Your bones will scatter under their own weight and leave nothing but an empty void in your wake as you echo into silence.

I will follow in your shadow; every morning striding behind you, every evening rising to meet you. In your every stuttering step, every helpless tear, every shaking breath, every silent whimper—your pain, in all my veins.

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