Erin shoved her arms into the basin, sinking into the viscous fluid up to her elbows. She closed her eyes as she groped around, her fingers brushing over all manner of strange things. She recognized the skittering of the N'rux bug - bulging warts on the thick hide of a nameless beast, it shrank from her touch before she could get a good grip. Serrated teeth nibbled at her fingers ad she pulled away with a wry smile. The Grib was always hungry and one day, she would be just a little too slow and start to look a bit too much like Auntie Grins, who only had three fingers unevenly distributed between her two hands.
Erin shifted and made a quick grab, her fingers closed around the slender body of the pale Reb. She pulled it from the fluid and it immediately began to cry a soft heartbreaking sound that brought tears to her eyes. Its body was grayish-white and veined with blue. It wrapped around her slender wrist, and before she could grab it with her free hand, it sank its proboscis into her warm flesh and began to suck. Her vision blurred and suddenly she --
Her training was supposed to go on for another three weeks, but due to an little-known custom, her Master had decided to move it to today. She had tried to reason with him, knowing that failure meant expulsion and expulsion meant she would be kicked out of the only home she had ever known.
"You should have taken that into consideration, Acolyte," said Master Tuum. "If you can't pass this test, maybe you deserve to scuttle about the wastes."
"Please, I just need a few days to review. By all rights --"
"You've heard my answer," he said, his voice cold.
Erin began to go through the motions. It felt like her limbs were moving through cold pudding. Nothing was connecting, her runes did not achieve their spiritual ascendancy, no matter how careful she was in their carving. Her incantations lacked any umph at all. And she could feel failure pressing all over her.
Erin stopped. Sweat plastered her hair to her forehead. She leaned down and bit her wrist. A spout of warm blood filled her mouth, but she kept gnawing, ignoring the agony. Suddenly, a cold, bitter taste filled her mouth.
Blue ichor mixed with her coppery blood and clotted into odd purple streaks covered her arm. And she knew it was smeared over her face as well.
"How did you like that, you little shit?" she asked, still tasting the Reb's ichor in her mouth.
"Well done!" cried Master Tuum. "It's hard to break the Reb's hold. How did you do it?"
"It was the Incantations. I knew they should be working, but the Reb doesn't actually know the words. I do. And I knew they should have sparked ripples across the world," said Erin.
Tuum elbowed the robed Master next to him, who gave him a rather irritated look.
"I told you she knew them in her sleep," he said with a guffaw. A couple of Masters nodded, but seemed less than impressed by his enthusiasm.
"How would you apply the Reb in your work?" asked Master Helen.
"Moistened meshed nets are ideal. Hands on is strictly for testing and emergencies," said Erin. "I would apply it to the hairline of a visitor. Often times it will tap into their stresses and feed. When sated, it will detach and can be placed back in the basin."
Cowled heads nodded.
"We will add the cost of the Reb to your tuition," said Tuum.
Erin knew this was more than fair. Other Acolytes who had applied to the School of Somnum Exterri had been assigned to capture some of the specimens they lost control of or killed, rather than pay for a new one. Often, those Acolytes never came back. It was a way to keep tuition low.
"Welcome, Sister Erin. Bring unease to our visitors. May they wake in terror," said Master Helen.
"May they wake in terror!" called the circle.
Erin couldn't stop herself from clapping her hands together and grinning like an idiot.
There was a sudden piercing pain on the side of her head, and she slapped her hand against her temple. There was an audible crunch, and a hot, sticky fluid oozed down the side of her face.
"Oh, no," she whispered. She looked at the remains of the Froob Bug, squished on her hand, yellowish guts boiling away into a noxious gas before her eyes. She would have a horrible, blistering rash on the side of her face for at least two weeks.
The circle of Masters faded. Reality came back. Her test for full admittance was today.
"For fuck's sake," she said.