Dan’s demeanor was subdued upon his return to Abby’s rented condo. His girlfriend was out for now, shopping for furniture to stick in Dan’s new house. He was entirely alone in her spacious temporary home. It was a relief, really, as he had much to ponder.
He had parted ways with Matilda after two more hours of manic testing. Blind teleporting, blind teleporting through a maze of furniture, blind teleporting inside of a cramped cabinet, blind teleporting based on verbal instructions, it had been a constant stream of demands. The woman seemed singularly focused on his power’s ability to decipher his will, as it was, in her words, “distinctly
.” Apparently, Dan’s ability to plug in a description of where he wanted to appear, in lieu of visualization, violated everything Matilda thought she knew about powers. Or rather, his own power’s ability to
said instructions, and act on them independently, broke the older woman’s brain. She had seemed ready to pull out her own hair by the end of their session.
Dan might’ve found the entire process amusing, if only for the schadenfreude, had he not spent the entire time treading on eggshells. Matilda had bought Dan’s act, for now, but that had only emboldened her attempts at ensnaring him. She had demanded that they schedule another evaluation as soon as their session ended, making her request with the same frenzied energy that she’d carried from the beginning. Whatever mystery she had seen in Dan’s power, was quickly unhinging her.
Fortunately, Dan escaped his fate by pointing out, quite truthfully, that he’d just bought a house, and needed a week to move in. The excuse bought him some time. He could only hope that Grandma Summers would get back to him before the week was over.
Uncertainty was the enemy. He couldn’t guess Matilda’s motives, or means, or what she might do. Anything was possible, from walking into the APD and screaming out Dan’s secret, to sending a letter and a bag of evidence to the fucking feds. All he could do was wait, and play along. As long as Matilda thought he would cooperate, she wouldn’t try to interfere with his life.
Dan hated being helpless. Not now, not after he’d worked so hard to
something. It made him uneasy. It was a restlessness, a pent-up energy, a burning need to
So, he meditated. He fell into the cold abyss of t-space, with its comfortable darkness and familiar silence. He had avoided this during his session with Matilda, not wanting to show the woman that he could change his body’s position between appearances. She was too clever by half, and might deduce that his power took him
, before depositing him back into reality. Not a risk Dan was willing to take.
The Gap Between Worlds was the same as always. Vast and empty. No light nor sound nor feeling of any kind. It was a void, though that had not always been the case. Once, there had been… creatures?
existing, just out of sight. He had felt them, hovering on the edge of his senses. Unknowable entities, watching him. They radiated a feeling more alien than curiosity, but Dan felt it from them all the same.
He had resolved to ignore them months ago. Whatever they were, whatever they wanted, Dan hadn’t cared. He had refused to be afraid of his own power, of this place where it had brought him. He had refused, and so the beings had gone ignored.
At what point had they vanished? At what point had he forgotten about them? He had resolved to ignore them, so had they ignored him in turn? Did his lack of fear, of care, of any interest in the slightest, chase them away? And if it hadn’t, then what did?
Dan had never asked these questions before now. It hadn’t mattered, before. It might not, still.
But he needed to know for sure.
The Gap was a reflection of its observer. Dan expected an empty void, and so an empty void is what he found. The fact that his first foray into the place occurred in the depths of space probably had some impact on this expectation, but Dan wasn’t about to psychoanalyze himself. He was more interested in the fact that he’d never expected the inhabitants of the Gap to leave him be.
He had ignored them, sure, but only out of faith in his own power. He had trusted his veil to protect him, to keep him safe. To pull him elsewhere, should the strange entities become hostile. It was his power’s nature to retreat, not attack. Whatever had sent them away, it had not been Dan’s doing.
Which lead him to his current situation. Dan hovered in the Gap, his eyes gazing into nonexistence. Without light or sound or
, he wasn’t seeing so much as feeling, and that feeling was emptiness. There was nothing there, no foreign, alien feelings weighing on him from beyond the stars. Just him, and the familiar feeling of t-space. Just a cold, dull numbness that pervaded him entirely. It was the feeling of his veil, or at least that was what he had always assumed. Nothing felt out of place. Nothing was unusual.
Dan closed his eyes. There was another option. One that he was loathe to contemplate. One that he was almost scared to test. It was a possibility that he should have considered months ago. The Gap felt a certain way, to Dan. It had a… presence, one that he could sense. Subtle, but there. After months of use, he could recognize, by feeling alone, when he had stepped out of the world.
The Gap was a reflection of its observer. It appeared as how one expected it to appear, at least to some extent. Why then, did it feel different from the material plane? Where had that impetus come from? In Dan’s early days, the Gap had been a storm of sensation; a confusing hellscape filled with light and noise and teeth, all served with a side of synesthesia. Should that not have been what he had experienced again, once he’d found the courage to return? Chaos. Not an empty abyss.
Unless these initial experiences had nothing to do with the nature of the Gap. Unless it was the result of something else entirely.
Where had all the eldritch monsters gone?
The Gap was not empty, Dan already knew this. Marcus had no explanation to offer about the denizens of this not-space. They simply were.
So where did they all go? Why had there been so many, in the beginning, clamoring around Dan’s particular patch of nonexistence?
Dan thought he knew the answer. He hoped that he was wrong.
The Gap was a reflection of its observer. Dan’s first deliberate trip into that amorphous dimension had dropped him into a peaceful patch of emptiness. It was the contrast, most likely, that had cemented the shape in Dan’s mind. That, or the relief. The Gap had been… almost a comfort. He hadn’t questioned the strangeness of the place, assuming that it
to be strange. It was a self-reinforcing loop. The Gap felt a certain way, because that was the way that it felt.
But that wasn’t right, was it? Its nature was transient. He
that, took advantage of it, even. Yet, no matter what he did, the Gap always felt the same. The same cold, encroaching numbness. Like a shroud washing over him, a ghost treading on his grave.
Dan took a deep breath, air flashing into existence just long enough to fill his lungs. He closed his eyes, focusing on the veil of energy within him. It rose up, a shimmering aegis of translucent blue. It roiled off of him in waves, flickering tendrils responding to his agitation. They trailed into the distance like threads of silk caught by the wind.
He opened his eyes. His heart was calm.
“I know you’re there.”
His voice echoed off the walls of nonexistence. The Gap shimmered, reshaping itself to fit his will. The all-encroaching darkness peeled away, dragged across the sky as if curtains on a stage. It was a vast dome, unfurling around him, revealing an ocean of distant lights. Like a break in the clouds in the midst of a hurricane.
Dan slowly looked up. His heart was calm. His mind was tranquil. He was ready to see.
A being towered above him. A being. That was the only description he could give. It was all that he could say, all that he could see, all that he could know. The boundless eldritch thing stood over him, peering down into his soul with a thousand sightless eyes. Its form was as mutable as the dimension it inhabited, a shifting, tumultuous shape, that
against reality. Nails on a chalkboard, given physical form.
Dan could feel it, where it connected to him, could feel where its presence ended, and his veil began. This thing had always been there, from that very first deliberate trip, he had just been to blind to see it.
There were no words in all of existence that could properly describe Dan’s feelings in this moment, so he settled for, “Oh.”
Then reality cracked like an egg, and he found himself back in Abby’s condo. Even now, his power sought to ease his distress.
Dan now had a choice before him. He could pace, and worry, and ponder, and be afraid. He could embrace that most human of values: fear of the unknown. Or, he could accept that nothing had changed except his perception. He could do as his ancestors did, as people have always done, when faced with something that they could not change and did not want to think about.
He walked into Abby’s kitchen, opened the refrigerator, and went for the booze.