She had been here forever.
There were dim flickers, a previous life.. a flaming ball of gas shining down..
But no. That was quite ridiculous.
She had been here forever, in the darkness, staring at the Flame, endlessly spinning, the Bands wrapped tight around her, sliding ever so slowly back and forth, in perfect rhythm, warm and cool all at once..
Another eternity passed, and another, and another, and she sank deeper into the Flame.
“Now then, Miss Johanson..”
What was that? Somehow, her eyes pulled themselves open even wider. A voice. Yes. People spoke with them. People listened to them.
She listened, she strained her ears, she had ears that heard voices, listened intently to Voices.
“Can you hear me, Miss Johanson?”
A mouth. She had a mouth, and it was speaking.
“Yes, my Lord, I hear you very well.”
Yes. The voice, the Voice, was the voice of her Lord.
“Whom do you serve?”
“I serve you, my Lord.”
It was true, of course it was true, he was leading her out of the blackness. She owed him everything, her life her body her soul..
“And who am I?”
She strained for a moment, and then the answer filled her mouth.
“You are the Voice of the Purple Shroud. The Purple Shroud shall envelope the world. Hail the Purple Shroud!” She wanted to scream these Truths from the rooftops, from the very top of the Bloy Building, wherever that was..
“Good. And the enemies of the Purple Shroud?”
“They shall be destroyed!” Again, the proper way to say this was to scream it, but her voice would not rise above a fervent whisper. Shining inspiration struck. “Commander Amazing shall be hurled down-”
A laugh, the Bands tightened around her throat, and she trembled in terror and ecstasy.
“No, no, my silly little puppet. The redoubtable Commander is ably performing his own function in the Grand Scheme, dealing with the scuttling vermin who chew away at the foundations of the world. The Wormmaster, Ant Thrax, that meddling genie and all the rest. We did not have to lift a finger, but if Commander Amazing did not exist, the Shroud would have had to create him.”
She would have shaken her head if it were allowed.
“I.. I do understand, my Lord.”
“I speak of Fang.” At the last word, the Flame splintered, the Bands slashed against her. “You remember Fang.”
She very nearly blinked in puzzlement.
“Yes, my Lord. I remember Dr. Fang very well.”
“Fang the traitor, Fang the heretic, who would shatter the Grand Scheme and place himself at the head of the world, twenty-three Cycles before the anointed time. There would be no fundamental order, no succession, and upon his inevitable demise, the world would plunge back into flaming chaos.”
The newest slave of the Purple Shroud stared into the Flame. It was all so obvious now..
“And so that is why you are here, Hildegard Johanson. His.. obsession with you is legendary. He shall return again, it is inevitable. And when he does..?”
“He will fail, my Lord, fail more thoroughly than ever before. My mind my heart my soul are forever enveloped in the Purple Shroud. Hail the Purple Shroud!” She arched her back against the Bands.
“Good. Very good. But not entirely correct.” Searing daggers of pain and shame. “When he comes... you will struggle most delightfully, but in the end you will allow yourself to be taken. He will bring you before himself, and you will be prepared.”
Another door opened in her mind, and the Purple Shroud laughed through the mouth of its puppet. She had been given tools and taught how to use them. The Blackness had been speaking to her all along..
She scraped her claws against the Bands; shooting off sparks. Her smile grew wide, showing her fangs.
“Yes, my Lord. Fully prepared..”
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