Everything was falling apart.
Again, again, again. Never would she find peace, it seemed. It would never last; such carefully crafted havens were always doomed to crumble, bursting apart at the delicate seams and leaving her surrounded by bloodstained shards of glass, stared down by a million wretched reflections soaked in shadow-black tears.
And what made this all infinitely worse was the fact that, for once, this had been preventable. All her life, cruel fate had ripped everything away from her, never letting her grow too familiar with any sort of happiness. Illness, murder, treacherous loved ones. Forces beyond her control, all twining together like a dark and hideous tapestry that threatened to blanket and constrict her, cutting off everyone and everything she loved until all of the breath was squeezed out of her, until darkness was all she saw, lived, breathed; until death could finally steal her away for good and end this miserable existence. But this time, damn it all, the tapestry was her own horrible creation. Golden fibers, pulsing with each heartbeat of the broken queen, made this all so much more personal. This was her fault. If only she hadn't been so unalert, so slow, so weak. It always came back to that, didn't it?
But it was true. It was her own weakness that ultimately landed her in this miserable situation. If she'd been strong enough to fight off her attacker, then maybe she wouldn't be here, limp in the infirmary as life carried on without her, plagued with wretched wounds that still ached despite the fact that the bleeding had dried and the skin had recovered. They would always haunt her, these phantom pains — whispered reminders of her horrendously foolish mistakes. But that was nothing she wasn't already used to.
It was the impulses that were truly tearing her apart. Foreign and deeply, intimately familiar at the same time, they were constantly swirling in the back of her mind like shadowy wraiths. They made her blood boil, left her teeth tingling and her mouth dry. Through heavy-lidded eyes she would watch her clanmates through the infirmary's stone doorway, pupils constricting as they lingered on legs, flanks, exposed necks. It grew worse as people came to check in on her. Their voices were grating, reminiscent of clanging metals or nails on a chalkboard as they assaulted her sensitive ears. Her bed became increasingly uncomfortable, the fabric of the blankets scraping her flesh like hard straw. Everything irritated her, and when her clanmates dropped by it was all she could do not to scream at them to get out. All she wanted was to be left alone before she lashed out in frustration and dragged her claws down their worried faces, before she sank her teeth into their delicate necks and— and—
It was her family that broke her. As soon as the thought of tearing into one of her children even dared to cross her mind, she rose on thin, shaky legs and stumbled forward through the infirmary door. "A mother should never hurt her children no matter what," Ver had stubbornly insisted some time ago. "She's no better than a fucking monster." It was Sango she'd been speaking of as she tried to convince Mercy of her own goodness. But now that supposed purity seemed like a facade, and the words felt far too applicable to herself. It hurt beyond belief.
Her breathing was ragged, the shadows clinging to her face (the only consistency in her life, how terrible) pulsing and swirling like little hurricanes. Tendrils were creeping along her body, wrapping around her neck like a dark noose, swirling around her legs and torso and leaving an inky black trail in her wake. She would not, could not turn into her mother. The urges were becoming increasingly difficult to resist, and she wouldn't be able to forgive herself if she suddenly lost control entirely and took it out on Ver or Charlotte or her children. Or Shadow Veil as a whole, for that matter; young or old, all of her clanmates were her children and she absolutely could not let herself turn against this place that she loved so dearly. Not again.
Any possible attempts at getting her attention were determinedly ignored as the weary molly trudged along through the ruins and out into the misty forest. The cold, dry air cut through her like a knife. The pain came almost as a relief. Perhaps she deserved it. Perhaps she deserved far worse.
Exile was a good enough punishment for now. Her gaze was clouded as she paused just before the border, her vision swirling violently. Quite an accurate representation of the tumultuous thoughts raging through her head. The storm was deafening.
Her whole body trembled as she drew in a deep breath and looked back in the direction of her home. The dense woods, once so threatening, called out to her. Come home, the trees whispered. Come home and everything will be alright. How desperately she wanted to listen. She would've given anything to curl up in the arms of her lovers and tell them everything, to finally finish the puzzle they'd slowly been piecing together since meeting this desolate, traitorous woman. But she didn't trust herself. Charlotte and Ver enticed her in two ways, and the latter once more ignited a deep, primal hunger within her. Hunger was all she'd been feeling these days, even though she'd been unable to consume much of anything without throwing it back up for a few weeks now. The implications were terrifying, enough to leave her weeping silent tears night after night.
It hurt so deeply to abandon the clan she'd first loved, then feared and despised, and then once more come to cherish above all else. Shadow Veil was her baby, and it was difficult to imagine a life without it. Impossible, even. What would come next? Mercy couldn't even fathom an answer.
But there were no other options; she was a danger to her loved ones and the mere thought of turning on them was nearly enough to make her retch. That reminder brought her back to her senses. With clenched teeth and stiff muscles, she turned her gaze forward again and set off on quick paws, starvation gnawing at her very psyche.