Expo Collected Files of Pepper Krasniqi


Resident Witch
Staff member
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[font color="purple"]"Listen, it will be just fine. All you have to do is try to take Dr. Hillary with you."[/font] The young girl looked up into the face of her surrogate mother and nodded. Pepper was a big girl, and big girls did their experiments. After they did their experiments, they got ice cream. And Pepper really liked ice cream. Pepper was a whole seven years old this year, and Dr. Kallie had been excited to start their experiments, which meant that Pepper was excited to start their experiments.

She pushed her bangs out of her face to look up at the scientist in front of her. The woman was the opposite of Dr. Kallie- she was a small, round woman with a stern look on her face. Dr. Hillary had always been the stricter one in her upbringing. She was the one who handled her education, the one who made sure she took baths and brushed her teeth when she was supposed to. Dr. Kallie also did those things, but she made everything fun. Dr. Hillary did not.

The woman held a hand out to Pepper and Pepper took it. She tightly wrapped her little fingers around the woman’s hand, and with one more look back at Dr. Kallie, she opened the doorway. It tore open the air in front of them, a bright light outlining the inky blackness beyond it. Pepper had never been afraid of the darkness- she knew what lay within it. She could feel Dr. Hillary tense up, so she gently pulled on the woman’s hand and led her in. The two of them stepped beyond the threshold.

The blackness of the Dark Dimension closed in around them, and Pepper watched as the path before her lit up. It was like watching the Aurora Borealis cross the sky. One moment there was nothing, and the next lines of golden light rose from the ground and led the way. She smiled and started walking the path. Dr. Hillary did not walk the path. Instead, she stood still like a statue behind her. Pepper gave her another light pull on her hand, and finally, the researcher moved.

[font color="blue"] "Pepper, can you see in this darkness?" [/font]There was a bit of a quiver in Dr. Hillary’s voice as they slowly began the walk.

[font color="darkpink"] "I guess so. I see the light and the path. Don’t you see it, Dr. Hillary?"[/font] They took a few more steps before the doctor’s voice echoed out from the darkness.

[font color="blue"] "No, no I don’t see anything. I suppose that I assumed I would be able to see. Let me get my flashlight out." [/font] Pepper heard the woman dig through the bag at her side. Then, a soft click, and a beam of light extending outward. She looked up at the woman’s face, only to see a quizzical expression. [font color="blue"] "Pepper, are there… Are there bats here?"[/font]

Just then, the choir of voices began to ring out. A cacophony of noise filled the air as the flapping of wings began to descend around them. [font color="red"] "O Heraldess of the Dead God, how do thy feet tread? What have thou seen and what do thy know?"[/font]

[font color="darkpink"] "Mikulass! Hello! I’ve brought a friend with me!"[/font]

Suddenly, the road went quiet. The wings stopped moving, the voices stopped calling out to her, and at that moment, Dr. Hillary dropped her flashlight and screamed. She let go of Pepper’s hand and turned and ran. Pepper heard the sounds of wings flying away and tried to run after the woman. [font color="darkpink"] "Dr. Hillary! Wait for me! You can’t go back without me!" [/font]

The girl’s little voice traveled through the air, but it was drowned out by another scream, and the rising sound of voices. [font color="red"] "It wears the face of the Hated One! An abomination! Destroy it! Tear it apart! Kill it!"[/font]

[font color="darkpink"] "No! Don’t hurt her! Please don’t hurt her!" [/font]

The wings began to calm, and she heard them land on the ground around her. The screams and cries began to fade out until silence resumed. Then, from the darkness, Mikulass spoke to her. [font color="red"] "Our Heraldess would have us spare the one who wears the face of the Hated One? We do not understand. It is an abomination."[/font]

[font color="darkpink"] "No, no, she’s my friend! Please don’t hurt my friend!"[/font] Tears fell from Pepper’s green eyes and stained her white collared shirt. She pulled on the sleeves of her pink sweater and tried to suppress her sobs. Never had she been afraid of the shadowy friends before, for they had never given her reason to be fearful. But now she worried for the safety of Dr. Hillary. She was familiar with death. Her parents had died shortly after she had arrived at the Foundation, and she didn’t want Dr. Hillary to die. Just because she wasn’t the fondest of the woman didn’t mean she wanted her… gone.

[font color="red"] "We have caused our Heraldess to feel sorrow. We are deeply sorry for this. We will leave the abomination who wears the face of the Hated One. " [/font]

Pepper hiccuped and started openly weeping. Soon she heard a choir of cries from around her, then the sound of wings taking off into flight. They dispersed around her. Pepper looked around and realized she was a good distance from the light of the path. She looked at it, and then turned back to the inky darkness of the Dark Dimension. [font color="red"] "O Heraldess of the Dead One, return to your pathway. Do not stray from it. The Hated One will sense you."[/font]

The sound of wings rose again, and Pepper realized she was completely and utterly alone. She looked back at the pathway. It glowed and shimmered high into the air. Surely she’d be able to see it if she went to look for Dr. Hillary. She turned and began to look around. The ground was visible for a few feet in any direction. She began to walk.


Pepper walked. And she walked. And she walked some more. She wasn’t sure how long she had been walking, but she still hadn’t found Dr. Hillary. No matter how much she cried and screamed, she didn’t hear any responses. The path glowed faintly in the back of the sky. It was barely visible at this point. The sky had remained the same darkness as it had when they had stepped through the doorway. Pepper thought for sure the sun would have risen by now, but it hadn’t. Maybe this place had no sun at all?

[font color="darkpink"] "Dr. Hillary! Please, I wanna go home!"[/font] Pepper cried a little more when she didn’t hear a response. Then, from the distance, a voice rang out.

[font color="blue"] "Pepper?"[/font]

[font color="darkpink"] "Dr. Hillary!"[/font] She stumbled forward, her hands searching the air around her until she bumped into something warm. Hands grabbed her and a sudden sob echoed as Dr. Hillary pulled Pepper into her arms. The two of them openly sobbed as they hugged each other. Pepper recovered first and tugged on the woman’s hands. [font color="darkpink"] "We have to go. We have to go home. Please!"[/font]

[font color="grey"] "Heretics of the Goddess. I shall dispose of you."[/font] Hot breath hit the side of their heads and Pepper took off running, Dr. Hillary’s hand in hers. Whatever had said that was not their friend. It was not her friends. It was not Mikulass. The ground shook behind them as whatever creature was there ran after them. Pepper led them as fast as she could back to the golden light in the sky. It seemed so far away.

Behind them, it, whatever the creature was, seemed to laugh at them. She could feel it gaining on them, just as the wall of light breached the horizon. A loud crash echoed behind them, and the flapping of wings ran out through the air. Pepper heard screams of pain and a roar of rage.

[font color="red"] "Do not stop! Run, Heraldess!" [/font]

Mikulass’s voice pierce the darkness, and Pepper nearly sobbed with relief as the sound disappeared behind them. She kept pulling on Dr. Hillary’s hand and soon they had reached the bridge. The doorway opened immediately upon their return, and they ran through. The doorway hadn’t opened in the exact same place as before. Instead, they crashed into a wall at full speed. She had opened her portal about fifteen feet to the right, with just enough space for both the scientist and girl to crash headlong into the glass wall of the exam room. Behind them were screams as the portal closed.

Soon, hands closed in around them and helped them up. Dr. Hillary was fully sobbing again, and some of the other doctors led her away. Before anyone could ask what had happened, Dr. Kallie ran forward from the crowd and swooped Pepper up into her arms. [font color="purple"] "Pepper! Oh my god, Pepper, what happened to you?" [/font]

Pepper caught sight of herself in the mirrored glass. Her jeans were torn in various places. Her white shirt had layers of black ooze on it, and her sneakers were red and sticky. Her hair was a knotted mess, and there was a scrape on her cheek from when she had fallen. The sleepless hours she had been searching for Dr. Hillary finally caught up to her, and her head fell forward on Dr. Kallie’s shoulder. She hugged the woman tight as a few tears slipped free.

[font color="darkpink"]"She got scared by one of the shadows and let go of my hand. It’s really dark, so it took me a while to find her again. I don’t think the shadows like people, so it’s not good to get lost."[/font]

[font color="purple"] "Pepper, you guys were gone for a whole day. We’ve been waiting for hours. Pepper?"[/font] Pepper felt her eyelids get heavy. Surely, this could all wait until after she… slept.

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“'Cause we belong together now, yeah
Forever united here somehow, yeah
You got a piece of me
And honestly
My life (my life) would suck (would suck) without you!”

Pepper groaned at the song and hit the skip button on her Sony Walkman Mp3. On any normal day, Pepper would have listened to Kelly Clarkson and have vibed happily with it. But that day wasn’t a normal day. It was the seventeenth day in a row that upper management had denied Pepper’s request to be enrolled in a public school. Even though her anomalous powers were stable and contained, she was still an anomaly. She was only allowed to leave the facility when accompanied by one of the security detail members, and they just simply didn’t have the time to babysit a teenager who wanted to go to school.

It made Pepper want to scream.

Under normal circumstances, she was widely known as the girl who smiled no matter what. She was known for her upbeat attitude and bright and colorful outlook. And she knew she was. But just then, she didn’t have it in her to really be that girl. Instead, she allowed herself to give in to the darker emotions for the first time in years.

There was anger. Anger at the fact that she would never have a normal life. She was okay with living at the Foundation; she viewed the researchers as family of a sort. She was treated well and she had a great education, and everyone loved her. But she hated that she couldn’t leave without supervision. It wasn’t anything against them, but she desperately wanted to be a normal teenager.

Pepper wanted to be the kind of teen she read about in her books and watched on the tv. She wanted to be friends with other kids and she wanted to go to dances and hang out on break and she wanted to gossip about the latest news. She wanted to be normal so bad that it made her chest ache and swell.

Because then there was sadness. Sadness at the fact that she never would be normal. She would always be an anomaly. Even if she got her chance to go and be a teenager, she would never fit in. She hadn’t grown up with a mom and dad, or sisters or brothers. She hadn’t grown up running through fields and playing pretend with other kids. She had grown up surrounded by beakers and cameras and adults who treated her like a gifted child.

She would never have real friends. She would never know what that was like. There was no one her own age in L-14. She was older than the next child by a wide margin, but younger than the older one by almost eight years. None of them were the right age for her to have bonded with.

She would never know what family was like. She loved Dr. Kallie with all her heart, but at the end of the day, Dr. Kallie would have performed experiments on her if she had been more volatile. She would have cut her open if it had come to that for any reason and she would have contained her if it had been necessary. She could have grown up like the poor kid ACF-9001. He was never allowed outside his room, because his breath would kill anyone who wasn’t wearing a gas mask. She could have been like that, and Dr. Kallie wouldn’t have treated her the way she did now. So Dr. Kallie, as much as she loved her, was not family.

Family loved you unconditionally. Or at least, that’s what the movies told her. She wouldn’t know what that was like, being given up by her family at such a young age in exchange for money. And then they had gone and died when she was six, and she couldn’t even remember their faces anymore.

She would never be allowed to date someone. She would never have a boyfriend, a girlfriend, a significant other. She would never share a kiss with someone at a party and hope that they actually liked her back. She would never be allowed enough unsupervised time to actually meet someone in the world and continue to see them regularly enough to develop a relationship. It came back to the same issue within the Foundation that the friendship problem did- no one was her age. No one else was fifteen, or even close to it, and none of the interns were close to that age, and none of the other kids.

She would never know what love was like. That’s really what it all boiled down to. Deep down, Pepper wanted nothing more than to be loved. She wanted arms to wrap around her, she wanted someone to hold her tight and promise they would never let go. She wanted someone to tell her she was pretty, and mean it, because no one told her those kinds of things. She wanted someone to share secrets with at midnight when they should be sleeping. She wanted to hold onto someone and feel their warmth against her. She wanted to talk to, to laugh with, to play with, to smile with, and to do whatever else you did with a person who loved you.

Pepper wanted love.

And that lead to the loneliness. Pepper was so lonely. She had no one, not really. Dr. Kallie was the closest thing she had to a friend or family, and even then the woman had obviously been told not to get too attached to her. There were certain things they just didn’t do. They couldn’t talk about how Pepper felt. They couldn’t talk about how Dr. Kallie felt. Feelings were complicated, and data was not. And that’s all Pepper really was to the Foundation.


Numbers and samples and experiments.

“I know that you love me
Darlin', you don't have to say it
You know you can trust me
It's okay, it's complicated
Nervous, trip over my words
You're so pretty it hurts”

God DAMN it, this stupid playlist. Pepper ripped the earbuds from her ears and threw the device down on her bed. At least she had this bed. She slowed down her racing thoughts and thought it again. At least she had this bed. She had this pink and purple comforter, she had these fluffy pillows, and she had this twin sized mattress. She had a room, with it’s stripped paint and it’s brightly colored decorations. She had a desk, and on that desk she had a computer. She had a tv. She had things. Things weren’t exactly people, but they were still something that was hers. She looked down at the Mp3 player she had thrown into her pillows.

Maybe it was okay for her to hurt. Maybe that was just part of life? Pepper wasn’t emotionally intelligent. She had never really had the chance to grow that skill, and so she was a little bad with people to begin with. Maybe not having people was… fine? Maybe she could be content without all of that stuff. She had her music. She had her shows and her books. She had her sewing machine. She had the freedom to do what she wanted on the grounds. Maybe those things needed to be good enough.

Still, she couldn’t help but feel it. The ache that made her chest feel like it was caving in every time she listened to a love song, every time she read about friendship, every time she watched a movie about family. She was so terribly alone. Tears started to form in her eyes as she picked her headphones back up and put them in, listening to the rest of “I’m Yours” by Isabel LaRosa. She slowly breathed in. She slowly breathed out. It didn’t help. As she breathed out, the tears fell and dripped onto her overalls.

Pepper wanted love.

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Elizabeth was five years old. That was a whole year older than she was the day before. She’d had a cake to celebrate, and her parents had given her all kinds of toys. They said the day was all about her, and so she had acted like it was. Today was a different day though, and so she was back to playing by herself in her room. Her parents were busy doing whatever it was grownups did, and Elizabeth was getting bored.

Luckily Elizabeth- that was such a long name- had a way to entertain herself. The last time she had done so, she had gotten into trouble for wandering outside, but she was sure she could find her way back into the house this time. Last time, she had gone somewhere where the trees were so tall she couldn’t see the tops, and the colors had all been wrong. She had floated through the air, trying to reach the top, but then she had gone back, as the trees seemed to never end. Her parents had been so upset at how long she’d been gone.

This time, she wouldn’t go away for so long. Maybe just for a few minutes? Whatever those were. Elizabeth thought they were short. Hopefully, they weren’t long, because she was sticking with that. She stood up slowly and went to go get her shoes. Once she had secured them and pulled the velcro tight, she went back to her room and she looked at the wall. She frowned at it and looked at it harder. Right when she was about to give up, the wall sparked and a circle just big enough for her to walk through opened up.

Giggling, the little girl snuck into the hole. The world around her changed and shifted. Gone was her little playroom with its dollhouse and its legos, and instead, all around her was blackness. Wherever she was was very dark. Then, in a sudden flash, air rose up from the ground in a rush, and the world was lit up with a bright flush of red. She looked around in awe.

Everything was still dark, but the red light allowed her to see outlines. There were some dead trees and a lot of rocks, and in the distance, she saw her other portal. Sometimes a second portal didn’t show up, and she would have to go back through the first one. Apparently, this one led to somewhere new. She wandered out into the rocky field and carefully walked to the other portal.

Then, she saw it. It was just lying there on the ground, floating just a little bit over the ground, actually. It was a spark of bright yellow light. The longer she looked at it, the more it seemed to distort the world around it. There was more darkness around it, and everything seemed silent. She toddled her way over to it and looked down at it.

[font color="gold"] "Well, aren’t you a quiet little thing."[/font]

Elizabeth looked around, then back at the speck. It lifted higher off the ground until it was at eye level with her. She tilted her head to the side and looked at it.

[font color="gold"] "That’s right, I’m who spoke to you. Tell me, do you like this world?"[/font]

Elizabeth looked around herself. The place wasn’t particularly pretty. It didn’t feel too hot, or too cold. But there wasn’t a lot to do here, it seemed. She shrugged in response, and the voice laughed, a sound that echoed in the rapidly darkening world. As quickly as the red light had appeared, it was dimming, and the air around them was swirling down into the planet.

[font color="gold"] "I don’t like this world that much either. Could I come with you to where you live?"[/font]

[font color="darkpink"] "I guess so. Follow me!"[/font]

[font color="gold"] "I need you to touch me, actually. Then I can go everywhere you go, Pepper." [/font]

Elizabeth paused. Pepper was the name her parents called her when she was in trouble. They never said it any other time, so how did this golden light know her name? Maybe that didn’t matter. She took a few steps closer and reached her hand out to touch the light.

As soon as her fingers met the light, it flickered brightly and disappeared. The little bit of light that had existed vanished, leaving her in pitch blackness. Elizabeth looked around with a sudden fear rising up in her. Just as she was about to cry, golden light erupted from the ground in a long line behind her. She turned and looked as the light extended from gate to gate, creating a pathway. She walked back over to it, looking around her as she moved.

The light she had spoken to was gone, but maybe it had somewhere else to be. In any case, Elizabeth felt a little strange. A little like she had grown an inch and put on a heavy jacket. She felt bigger. No. Heavier? That was the word! She felt heavier! Whatever had just happened, at least the light was nice enough to make a pathway for her in the dark.

And maybe he was right, too. Pepper was a much better name than Elizabeth.
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It was a Tuesday.

Tuesday meant paperwork, which meant Pepper was in her office.

There was music playing in the office. Pepper had just found the song a few weeks ago, and she was absolutely obsessed with it. She’d listened to it nonstop for the last week. She tried to relax her shoulders as she listened to the lyrics. [font color=green] “I can see through you, we are the same – It's perfectly strange, you run in my veins…[/font color] Pepper wouldn’t pretend that the reason she was so taken with the song was how it reminded her of–

[font color=purple] “Pepper. Can I talk to you for a minute?” [/font color]

Pepper looked up from her desk. There was a mountain of papers on her desk- reports she needed to type up, physical papers that needed filing, and physical reports that weren’t allowed to be typed up, but still needed a signature. She was nearly halfway through, and she’d been at it since eight am. It was – she took a quick look at the clock – almost one pm. She stretched and felt her back crack horribly.

[font color=darkpink] “Dr. Kallie. Of course, you can. I can always make time for you.”[/font color] She watched the older woman step into the room– and then close the door behind her. That was Pepper’s first clue that something was wrong. The next was the file that the older doctor held in her hand, and the med kit in the other. And finally, the stressed look on Dr. Kallie’s face. She watched as she then went around the room and shut the blinds, completely cutting off the room. As soon as she finished, she walked over to the corner furthest from the camera that pointed into the office and waved Pepper over.

This had gone from strange to alarming rapidly. Pepper looked up at the camera and then moved over to where Dr. Kallie stood. She looked back at the camera and whispered,[font color=darkpink] “Okay, what’s going on? You’re worrying me. Why are we avoiding the camera?[/font color]

Dr. Kallie passed her the file. Pepper blinked at it for a moment. Then she saw her name written on the tab. She opened it and started reading. At first, it seemed fine. It was the result of her last physical, which she had taken earlier that month. They had chosen to do a full blood panel and a whole genome sequencing. It had been almost a decade since the previous one, so Dr. Kallie figured it was worth doing. Everything was fine until she got to the sequencing.

Then she paused. She looked up at Dr. Kallie. She looked back down and reread the paragraph.

Then she reread it again.

[font color=darkpink] “This can’t be right. They must have mixed my test up with someone else’s.” [/font color]

[font color=purple] “I did the sequencing myself, Pepper, there are no mistakes. It was your sample. I want to run it again.”[/font color]

Pepper reread the file, trying to swallow around her dry throat. There was no way this was accurate. She nodded her head, passing the file back to Dr. Kallie. The two walked back over to Pepper’s desk, where the young woman removed her lab coat and began rolling up her sleeve. There had to be another reason the tests had come back so strange. She held her arm out, and Dr. Kallie affixed the rubber band to her upper arm, just tight enough to make her veins pop.

Pepper watched as Dr. Kallie took out her needle and clicked the empty vial into place. Very carefully, she found Pepper’s veins and inserted the needle. Pepper made a face at the prick but managed to stay still. Dr. Kallie drew her blood, flicked the vial out, and took a second one. Then, she pulled the needle free and pressed a piece of cotton to the hole.

This sequencing would come back normal. There would be nothing weird about it. As Dr. Kallie packed the kit up, Pepper eyed the file. The numbers had to have been wrong. They had to have mixed the samples up, or maybe something had degraded in the machine. That had to be the answer. The results were just wrong.

[font color=purple] “Pepper, if this comes back the same… we have to tell Cody. He’ll have to report it, or maybe he’ll figure something else out. I don’t know him like you do. But this can’t be a secret.”[/font color]

[font color=darkpink] “Can’t it? Maybe we just pretend the report got lost?”[/font color]

[font color=purple] “They’ll just make you do the labs again. No, we have to tell him. You’ll have to tell him.”[/font color]

[font color=darkpink] “... can I keep those files? I want to read them again later.” [/font color]

Dr. Kallie nodded in response. She brushed Pepper’s hair back from her face and gave her a soft look, before getting up and leaving the room. Pepper leaned back in her chair and sighed heavily. Then she looked at the folder again and picked it up. She shoved it deep into the recesses of her desk with a huff. Damn tests had to be wrong. She was anomalous enough as it was. She didn't need sequencing saying that she was twenty-two still in her life.

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[font color=gold]At first, there was nothing. Then there was Him. He had no idea where He was. In fact, He had no idea who He was. Everything around Him was dark, and the air felt of despair, and He had no idea what despair was even supposed to be. But He knew, instinctively, that it was despair. It tasted like rivers of salt and metal. It smelled of decaying flowers and rot. It looked like a corpse in the sky above His head, outlined in vibrant red. His corpse.

Why did He know what any of this was? He did not know. Or maybe He knew, but He just couldn’t remember. Maybe He had always known what Everything was, or maybe He never knew what Anything was. He did not know. All He knew for sure was despair. It flooded through Him, and it gave life to Him.

Then he saw HER. SHE was all at once the most terrible thing He had ever beheld and the most frightfully beautiful. For a time, there was timelessness as He viewed HER. Then it was gone, and He was afraid because SHE was wrong, but SHE thought SHE was right. He knew SHE was wrong. What SHE was wrong about eluded him entirely, but then maybe He had never known. Or, maybe this was another of those things He couldn’t remember.

SHE scared Him. That He was certain of. So He turned and fled. How one flees without a form was beyond Him, but He managed all the same. SHE disappeared into the distance, HER horrible and so lovely form fading on the horizon. This was how it had to be, He knew. Him, always running away, and HER, always chasing.

So it was, for many cycles. What was a cycle? He knew the word, but not where from, but knew it was the right word for the passing of time, another concept He did not understand. There were so many things He thought about as He ran from HER. The idea of who He was eluded Him no matter how often He thought of it. He was something or had been something, or maybe He was never anything. Thinking of that only left Him feeling that metallic feeling of despair again.

Then, one day, when the sky was bright and red as it only ever was when the sphere breathed– another thing He knew not how He knew- there was a girl. He wasn’t sure how He knew that’s what she was, but He knew that girl was right. She was small, smaller by far than HER. But that smallness made her unique among the many things that SHE had made to roam the sphere. This she was small, delicate, golden, unique. She appeared to be an adolescent. She was only a she, but she could become a She. With Him. He could make her a She, if she allowed him to. He knew He could do that.

He approached her.

And she became She.[/font color]

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Pepper stormed through the portal on Wednesday morning. The prior day had been Tuesday, and that Tuesday had been one full of revelations and growing stress. Which was why she was so angrily stomping her way down the Path, waiting for the cultists to show their faces. As expected, they began to file in. In hushed whispers they noted her mood, wondering aloud what could have happened. Pepper tapped her foot as she waited for the cultist priest.

Mikulass landed out of the sky in front of her, spreading his wings in the equivalent of a bow.[font color=red] “A thousand greetings Heraldess of the Dead God, we are blessed by the presence of your steps. Why do you come to us filled with, ah, rage?”[/font color]

[font color=darkpink] “Why didn’t you tell me, Mikulass? Why didn’t you tell me what is inside me?”[/font color] She knew she wouldn’t have to explain further than that. He would either know or he wouldn’t. The sudden downcasting of his eyes told her all she needed to know. He knew. They all had known.

[font color=red] “You, were not ready. Didn’t need to know yet. Have figured it out on your own? Truly sorry.”[/font color]

[font color=darkpink] “I needed to know this! Like years ago! It’s changed my body irreparably! I’ve stopped aging! My cells are regenerating at a speed that humans just don’t do.”[/font color]

[font color=red] “Do not understand. These things, they are bad? You became a She. It is an honor to become a She. You are the blessed of the Dead One, his chosen successor. You are to become.”[/font color] The giant bird stretched his wings wide and gestured to the sky, to the corpse that spanned the planet’s width. Pepper crossed her arms and gave a frustrated sigh.

[font color=darkpink] “Mikulass, I needed to know this before I had to piece it together. Before I had to force myself to remember things I didn’t know I had forgotten. Before I became so entangled with this spark that it became… I don’t even know. Could it have been removed before?”[/font color]

[font color=red] “The moment you accepted HIM, You became a She, and he bonded to you wholly. Compatible. Cannot have been undone.”[/font color]

[font color=darkpink] “What do you mean, compatible?”[/font color]

[font color=red] “Believe, would have died otherwise. Dead One is powerful, cannot fight the Goddess yet, but will be able to. Your vessel need be strong enough to house HIM.”[/font color]

[font color=darkpink] “So, what you’re saying, is if I hadn’t been strong enough, if I hadn’t had synergy with the shard of the Dead One, I would have died?”[/font color]

Mikulass nodded his eyeless head, chittering softly as though apologizing. Well, that answered about three of Pepper’s questions. She now knew the shard could not be removed, that she had full synergy with it, and that it was because she had accepted it. She now knew it would kill her to try and remove it, most likely. If it were even possible to extract a god’s soul shard from a human. Pepper was of the opinion that humans had souls, and those souls were what made them people, and not just walking shells made of flesh and bone. So by her own logic, the shard must be fused to her soul, its tentacles deeply ingrained. To try to remove it would leave holes at the very least, and rip it apart at the very worst.

Of course, she didn’t even know what kind of god the Dead One was, other than a god of death. For all she knew, it was just a lower god on a pantheon, or maybe it was one of two twin divinities. There was no way to know for sure. Mikulass had never been able to tell her the answer to that question.

[font color=darkpink] “Mikulass, what am I?”[/font color]

[font color=red] “You are the Dead One. You are the Heraldess.”[/font color]

Pepper took in a deep breath and held it. She counted to six and released it. No, that didn’t help. Her heart rate was still accelerating, she could still hear the thundering of blood rushing through her ears, and she was still beginning to shake. The glowing, the damn glowing, that should have alerted her sooner. That should have been when she started connecting the dots. The wall in her brain crumbled a bit more, and in a voice that was both hers and not hers, she said, [div][attr="style","color: pink;text-shadow: 2px 2px 5px gold"]“You have lied to me at worst, denied me the truth at best. Tell me why.”[/div]

[font color=red] “Do not mean to deceive. Was not, ready for the truth. Would have frightened you too much. Only wanted to protect you.”[/font color]

Pepper ran the back of her sleeve across her face. She was crying. She was fully crying, her breath coming in sobs. There was that voice again, the voice of her but not her. The voice of Her. She was a She. Not a she anymore, but a She and eventually a SHE. Was Ira also like this? Was this how gods were born, or were they usually born as SHEs and HEs? All of her theological research couldn’t tell her that answer. Mikulass couldn’t tell her the answer. Maybe no one could tell her the answer. She couldn’t ask Ira– not until she got permission to tell her. She would have to ask Cody about it on Friday.

[font color=darkpink] “I’m not ready for it now. I never could have been ready for this. At least if I was younger we could have prepared for it. But now. I guess I just have to accept it, don’t I?”[/font color]

[font color=red] “Sorry, I am. Feel guilty.”[/font color]

[font color=darkpink] “Mikulass, it’s fine. I just, need to go now. I’ll be back.”[/font color]

[font color=red] “We hope that your steps are blessed and that they bring -you- to -us- once more.”[/font color]
[div style="background-color:pink;border-top:pink 4px outset;border-left:pink 4px inset;border-right:pink 4px outset;border-bottom:pink 4px inset;"][div style="border-top:pink 4px inset;border-left:pink 4px outset;border-right:pink 4px inset;border-bottom:pink 4px outset;"][div style="background-color:white;color:black;padding:15px;font-family:courier new;"]
Pepper looked in the mirror and groaned in frustration. She was getting nowhere with this. It had been hours of conversing and struggling and arguing, only to end up back at square one. So she took a deep breath and looked at herself. She could see him standing behind her, his head tilted away from her, face unseen. All she saw was longish white gold hair, broad shoulders, and freckles across his neck. She could only imagine what the face looked like, as he never faced her, no matter what form he decided to take.

For the last two days, Pepper had found herself haunted by visions of the Dead God in the mirrors and glass around her. He had appeared first in monstrous, Eldritch forms but had eventually settled on what appeared to be a humanoid form. Maybe that was for her benefit. She thought only she could see them, although she hadn’t tried to point it out to anyone yet. It was one of those things where she felt like maybe, just maybe, that would be too concerning. It was one of the things she intended to speak to Isaac about, alongside the fact that she could now hear the Dead God speaking to her.

Which led straight back to why she was frustrated.

[font color=darkpink] “Okay, let’s take this from the top.” [/font color]

The figure beside her in the mirror waved a freckled hand, his robes trailing after it. [font color=gold] “Pepper, for the last time, I have told you everything that you are ready for.”[/font color]

She rolled her eyes and stared daggers at the figure’s back. It shifted like it was uncomfortable with the stare.[font color=darkpink] “And I’ve told you that you’re going to tell me. Regardless of what you want. Regardless of what you think I deserve to know. This is my mind and it is my body and I have a right to know!”[/font color]

The figure’s shoulders sagged and his head shook from side to side, offering a slight view of a long freckled nose and long blonde lashes. Pepper felt for sure that those eyes were golden in color, though she had nothing to support that. It was just a feeling. He didn’t respond outside that motion. It made Pepper’s annoyance grow and twist into frustration.[font color=darkpink] “Tell me what is happening. Why can I hear you and see you now? Why hasn’t this happened my whole life?”[/font color]

The figure looked “away”, his head tilting back to let that radiant hair touch his collar.[font color=gold] “Will it help to know? Or will you just be more stressed about things you can’t control, Pepper?”[/font color]

[font color=darkpink] “I need to know. I have to know what is going on inside of me.”[/font color]

His head fell forward, and she watched the robe-clad shoulders rise and fall with acceptance. He uncrossed his arms and placed his hand next to hers on the counter, leaning back until his back hit the counter.[font color=gold] “Alright. I will give you the answers you seek. When you were a child, your mind wasn’t defined enough for us to fuse. I would have erased you. You would have permanently been a child, like the aspect of the Goddess you know as Ira. I wanted to make sure that you weren’t erased or consumed, so I built… what did you call it, a wall?”[/font color]

[font color=darkpink] “A wall, yes. A separation, a veil between us.”[/font color]

[font color=gold] “Yes, I made one of those. It was to protect you. I allowed my power to slowly seep into you. It had some unforeseeable side effects, but nothing I wasn’t able to correct. That wall, the one I built between us, Eurydice broke it. It had already begun to crumble when you remembered what I didn’t want you to remember. But when she reached for me, it broke. I couldn’t rebuild it.”[/font color]

Pepper narrowed her eyes. His tone had changed for just a moment, the only indication she had that he was lying to her. She stopped him immediately and tapped her fingers on the countertop.[font color=darkpink] “Couldn’t or wouldn’t?”[/font color]

He froze for a second, pulling his hand away from the counter. He crossed his arms and looked away from her again.[font color=gold] “... Wouldn’t. It felt right for us to begin to merge. It was the right time for our souls to begin to merge. You must understand, even if I had, it would have eventually crumbled again anyway, and we’d be right back here. The sooner we merge, the better, Pepper.”[/font color]

[font color=darkpink] “So you keep saying. Explain that better.”[/font color]

[font color=gold] “You worry too much. You make yourself sad. Why not just allow things to happen and worry about it later?”[/font color]

Pepper shook her head vehemently, slamming one of her hands down on the countertop, almost knocking over her collection of vanilla and amber fragrances. She steadied the tall thin bottles and glared at the figure again.[font color=darkpink] “Explain. Better.”[/font color]

With a sigh, the Dead God nodded his head, his brilliant hair shifting like rivers of sand. It didn’t move the way that it should, as hair did, but seemed more fluid than that.[font color=gold] “Alright. If that’s what you want, Pepper. I will do my best to oblige. The longer we take to go from we to me, the longer it will drag on. It won’t be pleasant if it drags out. You will suffer less, but I don’t think that–”[/font color]

[font color=darkpink] “I would suffer more if we merged quicker? What will drag on?”[/font color]

The god stopped and shook his head, his shoulders tensing up. He had stopped talking again. This was the point she had gotten him to each time before he shut down. Something about what was actually going to happen to her was causing him to withdraw. Then, to her surprise, he spoke again, his voice smooth as silk and deep as an ocean.[font color=gold] “Pepper, you must trust me. I only want what is best for you. And it is in your best interest to just accept me.”[/font color]

Pepper stared at the back of the figure, seeing the way his shoulders sloped in an almost defeated way. She had already come to the realization that there was nothing he could do to force her will. He had been worried about erasing her as a child, but now there was no way Pepper could ever be erased. She was too full of life, too full of personality, too much a person. Her will to exist was stronger than his will to control. Not that he even seemed to have that.

[font color=darkpink] “My life is finally perfect. I am in line for a promotion to Class-D after so many years. Kallie and I are doing well. I finally, finally got the nerve to tell Cody I love him, and he actually loves me too. I made a new friend who is amazing and crazy. My life is good and everything I’ve ever wanted. Will whatever is going to happen going to affect that if I stop fighting you?”[/font color]

There was a long silence, one in which Pepper thought that maybe he wouldn’t reply. Then, finally, he straightened out and clasped his hands behind his back. She noticed how dense the golden freckles were on the backs of his hands, a small and meaningless detail, but one that caught her eye nonetheless. Then in a flat and matter-of-fact way, he said,[font color=gold] “Yes. It would.”[/font color]

[font color=darkpink] “Then I’m going to keep fighting it. I will not let this ruin everything I have.[/font color]

[font color=gold] “Pepper, please, you don’t understand. If we don’t do this soon–”[/font color]

[font color=darkpink] “No, that’s enough out of you. I’m done talking about this. I’ve made my choice, and you’re going to have to deal with it.”[/font color]

Pepper stood up straight and glared at the mirror, looking up at the back of the tall god’s head. As though accepting defeat, he receded, and his image faded into an afterimage. She blinked and it was gone. She took in a shaky breath. Talking to him hadn’t assuaged any of her fears. If anything it had made them worse. With one last look in the mirror, this time only occupied by her small and delicate form, she turned around and left the vanity corner of her room.