The forest falls silent. Tears well up in Tanim’s eyes.

“Oh…”

He trembles, frozen beneath the spirit’s quiet gaze. There are no pupils in those colorless eyes but he feels the weight of piercing sight nonetheless. The creature has no definite outline, but as the afternoon Sun breaks through the edge of the clearing Tanim glimpses high cheek bones and an angular young face, lips twisted in muted grief. This is a beauty for which Tanim could not prepare himself. This is a longing against which he could never protect himself. This is a moment no number of years of dreaming could comprehend. He is dizzy and overwhelmed and his chest aches like his heart cannot stand to beat again. Unable to turn away from the gaze which holds his own, Tanim stumbles forward like a man in a trance. At his first footfall, the specter shudders and begins to back away.

“No, no, wait…” Tanim holds out his gloved right hand and begs desperately, “wait, please. I won’t– …I-I’m not–” He cannot find the right words, and even his lips seem moved to incompetence by this image. “You–… …I have been searching for you. For such a long time… Please. You called me…”

The spirit pauses. Tanim pulls the black glove from his hand and turns up his palm to show the words carved into his flesh. “Please.” His hand trembles and the tears cling to his eyelashes. “I can help you.”

The spirit’s footsteps make no sound on the forest floor. Tanim humbly lowers his eyes away as the creature approaches, inferior and insubstantial in its impossible presence. “I have been searching for you,” he murmurs again, “for so many years…” A pale hand moves to mirror Tanim’s. Hesitantly, he raises his gaze and is met by the apparition’s empty eyes. Every part of him goes cold and hot at the same time.

“Let me. Please.”

The spirit touches its fingers to Tanim’s. The misery is a sudden maelstrom, overwhelming and agonizing in its intensity. It is a familiar grief, the one which has driven Tanim to this desperate quest for twenty long years, but it is not his and never could be. Tanim swallows down the urge to howl against this wretched madness and instead opens his mouth and calls forth the words carved into his palm.

Tanim becomes the gate. Tanim becomes the key. Tanim becomes the catalyst.

The crossing has never hurt like this before.

After, Tanim is alone in the clearing once again. His hand falls to his side, the words pulsing with a dull pain. The tears spill over and will not cease. His chest aches as if his heart will never beat again, constricted within a ribcage which has grown much too small. Giving himself over to the hurting and the sudden unbearable loneliness, Tanim sinks to his knees and lets free the sob which chokes his throat.

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