You open your eyes. It’s cold. Colder than it has any right to be. Shivering, you sidle closer to the rusted steam pipe running through your tiny bedroom. The flaky metal is warm to the touch. You curl up to it, shift into a more comfortable position, pull a threadbare pillow over your head. Morning comes all too soon, not that any sunlight penetrates down to Echo Bottom, and with morning comes another day of repetition, reprimands, and regret.
You start upright, hand sliding under your pillow for the paltry little knife you keep there. It’s scant comfort, here in the pitch dark, but scant comfort is better than none.
Did one of Gristle’s lads get in? You had two weeks yet on your debt. Or a sharpsweet addict? You struggle to still your shuddering breaths, your rapidly beating heart. No sound, none beside the blood pumping in your ears.
You brandish the knife toward the shadowy bedroom door, shout a threat to whatever invader has forced their way into your home. Then, slowly, you realize that the voice didn’t come from outside. It came from within your own head.
Are you mad? Did you finally snap? You aren’t surprised, but you always figured madness would, you don’t know, feel different. As it is, you feel rather the same.
Somehow, you can’t help but obey. Your bare feet touch the chilly cement floor, sending another ripple of shivers up your spine. Maybe there’s time to get shoes? No, you know there isn’t. You stop, puzzle as to how you know there’s no time. The brief delay leaves you anxious and tingling, like a thousand tiny needles driving into your scalp.
You leave your little shack. You don’t bother to lock the door. The streets are as close to empty as they get, beggars and pickpockets and the occasional twitching addict. You ignore them. Something more important calls you, drives you, pushes you toward an unknown goal.
As you walk, silhouettes melt from the shadows, fall in time. A handful, a score, a hundred. More, perhaps? You can’t stop to count.
Up, up, up, out of Echo Bottom, through Elftown, to the top of the Greenhouse just as dawn peeks pink over the horizon. All at once, the men and women around you seem to sigh, and the world sighs with you.
Make it whole.
The voice in your head sounds… sad, almost. Its sorrow fills you to the brim. Tears brim your eyes. You repeat the phrase under your breath, roll it around your mouth, over your tongue, repeat it again. You stand up straighter, fill your lungs with the fresh morning air. It’s cleaner than that in Echo Bottom. Funny how you’d never noticed before.
Around you, the vastly diverse crowd does the same. Dark-skinned folk from Vault, dagger-ears from Elftown, bespectacled magicians from the University—all the city is represented here, in their bedclothes. Somehow, you’ve never felt closer to anyone in your life.
And you know, somehow, it’s up to you, all of you, to make it whole.