Eventually, you made it to the edge of the desert. This is not the false edge of grass planted by the Bridge maker, this is the true barrier of this place; a sudden inevitable cliff that spans far beyond the eye can see. You approach the edge casually and peek over. The sight that welcomes you is a sheer, uninterrupted drop into complete and total darkness below.
Absently, you knock a loose stone into it.
There is no sound of it hitting the bottom.
Of all the thoughts to have, you find yourself wondering how many bodies it would take to fill the canyon. How many corpses would need to pile up on top of one another in order to be level with the top of the cliff.
Does this desert world even have that many people?
Let's find out suggests your sheathed friend.
The thought makes you smile. You start travelling along the edge of the cliff. The notion of being afraid, the idea of worrying about falling, never occurs to you.
[You Wander the Desert]
Eventually you find a bridge. The bridge stands tall, white and gold and gleaming in the desert sun. It spans across the canyon before you, its other end far out of sight. It's the only one you have seen so far, and the dagger imparts to you the knowledge that this isn't just a bridge. It is the Bridge. The only way out of this world, short of divine intervention.
The desert angel is waiting for you at the Bridge's entrance. It feels like it's been ages since you've seen him, but he hasn't changed at all all. He smiles when he sees you.
"Finally," he says. "I've been waiting for you. I was worried you wouldn't make it."
You say nothing. At your side, still in its sheath, the dagger pulsates with anticipation.
The angel frowns. "Wait. Where's your Name?"
You stay still.
"You were supposed to find your Name!" The angel strides towards you, and you make no move to avoid him. He grabs your shoulders, grabs your head, turning you like he's looking for something, and you do nothing to resist him. Why bother?
Disgusted, he shoves you away.
"You were supposed to find your Name!" he says again, his voice thick with fury. "You had one job! Find your Name! Do I have to do everything for you?"
You suddenly beam at him, your smile wide and cheerful.
This, of course, makes him angrier. He shoves you again, knocking you back a few paces. "Are you enjoying this?" he snarls.
In response, you unsheathe the dagger.
The angel gives you an exasperated look.
"Are you serious?" he says.
You smile and nod.
"I'm not fighting you," he says. "I need you intact. You're useless to me if you die."
With speed that is unnatural, but feels so completely natural, you dart forward and shove the dagger deep into the angel's side.
He screams and, to your surprise, vanishes, leaving you standing alone, dagger in hand. Gold ichor covers the dagger's blade.
"What are you doing?" says a voice behind you. You turn and see the angel there, clutching his side.
In answer, you once again rush forward, aiming to drive the dagger into his chest.
The angel is gone before you get there, despite your speed. He has somehow teleported behind you again.
"Is this what you want to do?" he says. "You want to make thing difficult?"
You laugh noiselessly and run to him.
Fine!" he snarls. He raises his hand, and a flaming sword appears in his grasp.
He runs at you, faster than your eye can follow, and for a second you are certain you will die. But, without any conscious control, your arm is up. The dagger is in your hand, and you parry the angel's sword.
His eyes widen when you do, but he recovers himself almost instantly. He darts away, only to suddenly appear beside you, striking out again. Again, you parry the blow just in time.
Again and again the angel strikes you, and again and again the dagger blocks him just in time.
"When I'm done with you," the angel says between blows, "I am going to find a pit. The deepest--"
"-- one I can. And I will throw you in it."
You've just about gotten used to the pattern of his movements, so of course this is when he takes the opportunity to blindside you with a swift kick to the chest. He kicks you back, and you go flying through the air, then rolling into the dirt, the air knocked from your lungs. The dagger clatters onto the ground, just beyond your grasp. You get to your knees and reach for it, but his sandaled foot appears and steps on your outstretched hand.
You snarl and try to jerk your hand away. You can't; he presses his entire weight onto you until you hear your joints creak. Then, something cracks, and pain shoots up your arm. You're not sure what, exactly, has broken, but something definitely has.
He lifts you by your wrist, causing your shoulder burn in pain, and he brings his face close to yours.
"This world was built to be a prison," the angel hisses. "Do you think it would be difficult finding a place to keep you?"
You lash out at him, kicking at his chest and stomach. Your foot clanks against his breastplate, and in response he squeezes your wrist. His nails dig into your flesh hard enough to draw blood, and then they continue digging into your flesh. His grip tightens until you're crying out in pain and trying to leverage yourself by grabbing onto the arm holding you in a desperate attempt to stop the hurt.
Finally, there is a world-shattering crunch, and you howl. The angel listens to you for a moment, then releases you, and you drop to the ground, writhing in agony.
"There," he says, a little breathlessly. He stabs his sword into the ground by your head and leans over you. "Are you finished now?"
You sob noiselessly, clutching your broken wrist. You are filled with the complete certainty that it is not broken in the usual way, but shattered beneath the skin.
The angel sits down next to you with a sigh, apparently tired.
"I didn't want to hurt you," he says.
Through the blinding pain, anger flares in your chest. Part of it is your own, and part of it isn't. You realize that the dagger, though still away from you now, is also mad. The anger that is not your own has an oddly. . . possessive edge to it, and you're not entirely certain what it means.
"I need you. And you'll have to die once I find your name. But there's no sense being cruel."
Your breathing slows, becoming steadier. You glance at the angel and are filled with a familiar burning hatred.
"I'll still have to lock you away somewhere," he goes on. "Someplace you'll be safe until I need you, since it's clear to me now you can't be trusted not to play with dangerous toys."
You hate him so much. Your hatred could fill oceans. Your hatred could topple cities. Your hatred could fuel the stars.
"But, if you're willing to behave, I won't put you someplace dark. How does that sound? Hmm? You be good, and I'll find a place that's nice and leave you there until it's time to kill you."
Then, to your absolute fury, he touches you. You nearly choke on your anger. You're not certain if he is trying to be kind, if he is trying to demonstrate some level of control over you, or if he really does see you as some kind of animal that needs to be calmed, but his hand rests lightly on the back of your head.
How dare he? Part of the consuming rage you feel is your own indignant fury, the shame of being beaten and the humiliation of being touched, but part of it is not yours.
This is mine, the dagger seems to feel. How dare he break my things.
Though the dagger is out of your reach, you feel its strange consciousness as though it were with you. You feel your mutual hatred, your mutual lust for blood, your mutual desire to murder the angel beside you. You want the dagger, and the longing is mutual. You need it. You'd give anything to have it--
And then you do.
By the power of your joined hatred, the dagger springs from the ground and lands securely in your broken hand. Your fingers immediately wrap around it, and while that should hurt, it doesn't. Your pain is gone, all of it. Instead, you feel an immense and joyful energy.
The angel doesn't realize what's happened, not even after you suddenly turn and drive the dagger hilt-deep into his chest.
he shouts in pain and tries to teleport away, but you've grabbed onto him. Your arms are wrapped around his chest you're holding onto one of the wings protruding from his back. The angel loses balance, and you both topple onto the dirt. He reaches for his sword, and you drive the dagger through the back of his hand, shoving until the blade has gone clean through, and then youtwist it.
The angel shrieks in pain, and you laugh without sound.
The fight is different this time around. You don't know if it's that the element of surprise gave you an edge that could not be overcome, or if the renewed connection with the dagger has given you strength, but the angel can barely hold you off. There's a playful feeling as you and the dagger dart to and fro, nicking the angel's arms, nipping at his sides, clipping at his wings and slicing off the tops of feathers, and you are reminded of cats toying with their prey.
The angel seems to realize what's happening, and the fervor of his attacks intensify. "No!" he snarls. He strikes at you again and again, but each time, the dagger is there to meet his blade, sending him clanging back in recoil. Again and again he tries to take you, but it's useless. You're too fast. The dagger is too strong. Your joint hunger is overwhelming, and you and the dagger both have the same desire: you want to feed.
The fight continues on for some time, though not long enough to suit you. But eventually the angel stumbles to the ground, the tendons in the back of his leg sliced clean through. His once white clothes are stained with yellow blood and desert dirt. His wings are shredded, incapable of lifting him, though he tries anyway.
You lazily walk towards him, enjoying the sight.
"Don't," he says. He tries to crawl away backwards, dragging his dead leg in the dirt. "Please."
You crouch down beside him and grab him by the hair. Your jerk his chin up, exposing his throat. With a smile, you run the blade through his jugular.
The angel chokes on his own blood, spasming madly as though in the throes of a seizure, gurgling and gasping as yellow blood with the consistency of marmalade dribbles down his throat until, finally, he is still.
Several things happen at once.
The first thing you're aware of is that dagger in your hand burns. You yell out voicelessly as it suddenly feels as though you've wrapped your hand around a hot iron, but you do not let go. Perhaps it is instinct, perhaps it is the dagger's influence, but you are filled with certainty that you should not let go of it, despite the excruciating pain. The blade of the dagger burns bright red, and you grip your wrist, trying to steel yourself to the pain. As you watch, the light from the blade spreads down your arm, traveling down in strange, square patterns as though following along a groove.
The second, far less important thing is that sun goes dark. The entire desert is bathed in pure darkness, and the burning blade of your knife and the signs burned into your skin are the only source of light. They cast a hellish red glow in the dirt around you.
The third is that the angel's body begins to rapidly deteriorate. It disintegrates into a strange white ash.
Finally, the pain ends. You're left panting for breath. Your arm is a network of strange red marks that glow in the ongoing darkness.
For a second, you're afraid. What happened?
But as soon as you have the thought, a sense of calm overcomes you.
Don't worry, the feeling says. You are fine.
We are fine.
You sigh, relieved, and pick yourself up. You look at the remains of the angel with disappointment. You had some ideas of way to play with it, and now you won't get the chance. Frustrated, you lash out at the ashes, but there's no satisfaction there.
Don't worry, the dagger tells you. There will be other opportunities.
You look up, and the sky is empty. You look down at the knife and, though you cannot see it, the red glow casts your face in shadows. The knife pulsates in your hand, hungry.
You turn away from the bridge and towards the center of the desert, the dagger guiding you.
You have a friend to feed.
* * * * *
You finished the Dagger path!
You became a Good Friend!