AN: This story was originally written on AO3, and is already complete there. I will port it to at a rate of 1 chapter every day. The story will not be edited from how it appears on AO3 except to fix the most blatant and easily fixable of mistakes (e.g. spelling errors), so if you give me advice in the reviews, then... well, thank you very much and I'll keep it in mind for my other projects, but don't expect to actually see it be followed in this story.
An AN section at the beginning of each chapter will be used to respond to reviews from the previous chapter. I'll do my best to respond to all reviews left on the story.
Most of the actual author notes from the AO3 version of this story won't be ported to this version, since a lot of them were really just written because, well, AO3 has a specific space for author's notes, so why not? Since doesn't have that, most (or, honestly, probably all) author notes won't be ported.
Oh, and by the way... I know this isn't very reassuring, but the story gets better as it goes on. So if you like the concept but just don't like the writing, I'd suggest you stick around, at least for a little while. (Because honestly, I'm pretty sure some of the stuff near the beginning was REALLY bad.)
A monster stood in the garbage dump.
At first glance, he might be described as a humanoid bird. His round head was covered in yellow feathers, and they continued growing down his neck before vanishing into the robe hanging from his shoulders – a sleeveless one, and one that was beige and hung all the way to his knees. On his face were two large, circular eyes above a beak twisted into a facsimile of a frown. His limbs, on the other hand, were featherless, and thin and spindly. To a human observer, they'd look like the feet of an eagle, only extended.
Of course, there were no observers here, human or otherwise. That was the reason he'd come down here. Almost no one ever came down here, and that worked well for his purposes.
Less pleasant for the monster was the fact that, as he stood there, he realized, very quickly, why it was that no one came down here. The stink was horrendous, and the piles of garbage all around were hardly something one would want to look at, either. He caught sight of one of the piles and, with a flash of disgust, saw a group of flies picking away at a horrifically rotten chunk of… something. Bile rose in his throat, and though he immediately turned away, the noise of their buzzing still seemed to haunt him.
Ever since he realized that the most secluded place in the entire Underground that he could access was a garbage dump, he'd hated that fact. Now that he actually stood there, he hated it even more. The correct decision was clear – get on with it, if only so that he could leave.
His hand shot out in front of him, and a faint pulse of magic appeared in front of it. It was hardly an unusual sight – or at least, that was what it seemed like if no one looked too closely. If someone did, they'd see something rather odd. They would see that the pulse of magic he was holding out now did not come from his own power.
No, it came from someone else. That was unusual – a monster couldn't use someone else's magic. But that was fine – what he was about to do was no normal magic. It was something that had never been done before. In fact, as far as he could tell, there was never an opportunity to do something like this before.
The first time he thought of it, the idea of doing something no one had even attempted before seemed intimidating. After further consideration, though, he'd realized that, in theory, at least, it would actually be rather simple. He was no scientist, of course, but the logic seemed sound enough to him.
During his time in the Underground, there were a few times he'd felt an odd sensation, almost as if something had brushed up against him. At first, he'd been ready to dismiss it as something in the air. That's what he would've done, if not for the fact that every time it happened, he'd noticed a faint trace of magic around him. For any ordinary monster, it would be far too little to spot, but… he wasn't exactly an ordinary monster. Or at least, he wasn't working with the same tools available to one.
And so, he could spot this trace of magic, but he did more than that. He captured it, he trapped it, and he inspected it. And when he did, he found something very intriguing – because this seemed like it came from a soul. Not a complete soul, though – more like as if a soul somehow broke down into millions of tiny pieces, and one of them had brushed up against him.
That possibility seemed so unlikely, though, that for a while he'd outright rejected it. After all, any monster soul that broke apart would have vanished instantly, and even if a human soul somehow got here, it wouldn't have left a trace of magic.
Yet every time this happened, he'd looked at the trace of magic, and every time, he'd come to the same conclusion. Eventually, he'd had no choice but to accept it – and when he did, he realized it presented a very intriguing possibility for him. After all, he reasoned, monster souls are made mostly of magic, right? So, in theory, one that was broken like that could simply be mended by using more magic – even if the magic came from a different monster – to fill whatever cracks caused it to break apart in the first place.
It seemed to him to be sound logic, but there were two major roadblocks he could see. The first was that repairing a soul scattered into this many pieces would require a staggering amount of magic, but if anyone could have that much, it would be him. The second could not be solved so easily, and it was that he'd have to figure out a way to get all the pieces into one place if he wanted to repair the soul.
Here, he didn't have any ideas that would guarantee success, but he did have one that could give him a chance. With how many shards of the soul must have been flying around, at least a few should, in theory, be at any given location at any given time. That meant that he could at least start assembling the soul. When he did, he hoped that the rest of the pieces would spot the beginnings of the soul, and be naturally attracted to it. He wasn't certain that was how it would work, but it seemed plausible.
Still, even with that, his nerves were up in arms. Of course, there was nothing that could go too horribly wrong. Even if he failed, there'd be no real consequences… so why did he feel so nervous? Why was it so hard to just do it?!
But regardless of how hard it was, he sure as hell wouldn't back down now. Not because of perseverance, though – out of stubbornness. Backing away here would mean admitting that he'd let himself be defeated by something as stupid as being worried. Even if the only person he was admitting that to was himself, he still couldn't do it.
Even then, he hesitated for a few more moments. Finally, though, fueled by pride and the unwillingness to let that pride be hurt, he began his work.
He'd taken the trace of magic here to act as an example of what to look for, in hopes that it would make the search for the shards of the soul easier. Of course, he wasn't looking with his eyes – with how many pieces this soul must've been broken into, each one would be invisible. Instead, he inspected the area with magic, and try to use it to feel where the soul shards were. Even with the trace as a sample, though, it was still hard. Several times, he seemed tantalizingly close to finding one, only for it to slip away. Once or twice, he'd even managed to spot a shard, but lost it again before he could use his magic on it.
Finally, after a very frustrating few minutes, he'd managed to keep track of one long enough to pour some magic into it. That kept it in place while he found the next one, a process which took almost as long. When he finally had 2 shards, he carefully put them together and, with a flash of magical light, fused them into one.
The process had taken less magic than he'd expected. More than that, though, it seemed his wild guess was correct. With 2 shards fused together, he could feel the other pieces of the soul in the air slowly creeping towards them. As they reached the fusion, he added them in too, and each time he did, the others accelerated a bit.
For a second or two more, everything was fine.
And then, panic shot through the monster's mind.
At first, he'd been able to keep up with the shards fairly easily. Now, however, they were flying in so fast that fusing them all together was taking a noticeable effort. More than that, the growing soul was still tiny – there would be far, far more shards to graft onto it.
Even worse, this was now at a point where he couldn't just stop it. If he stopped fusing the pieces onto the soul now, they'd still be attracted to it, but instead of attaching to it, they'd just smash into it at full force. With the soul not being stable yet, if it was hit by that many little shards flying that fast, it would most likely explode – something that wouldn't be pleasant for a monster standing so close to it.
No, the only choice he had was to keep the magic pouring in. But he was a monster, and he was made largely of magic himself. If he expended too much of it, he would die.
The shards were flying faster and faster and faster, and still the bird monster stood there, flinging more and more of his magic into that blinding light. Exhaustion and agony ravaged his body simultaneously – exhaustion from losing so much of his magic, and agony because the sheer amount of magic he was projecting through his body right now was nearly tearing it apart.
Still, he held out for a while. Eventually, though, his knees buckled under him, and a moment later, the stream of magic flowing out of him began slowly losing its intensity. Desperately, he held on, pushing himself to the very limits. The original reason he'd decided to do this was forgotten. Now, only one thought ran through his mind – DON'T. DIE.
And then, there it was. A monster soul, right in front of him. For a moment, the bird stared, almost in disbelief. Then, he collapsed onto the muddy ground, losing consciousness in an instant.
A body started taking shape around the soul. Black shoes, black trousers, a white dress shirt, a red tie, a black jacket. Bony, skeletal hands, a circular hole in each one, and a round head similarly made of bone, a crack running from each of the eye sockets – one up, one down.
The monster examined his hands carefully, moved his fingers a bit. Finally, he stared down at the bird's unconscious form.
"H… how did you…"