Fandom: Hollow Knight

  • Myla
  • Ghost
  • The Radiance
  • Mental Disintegration
  • Mind Control
  • Sleep Deprivation
  • Canon Compliant
  • Hurt No Comfort

Length: 4.5k, Oneshot

Date Posted: 2021-03-11



It must be a trick of her mind, though. Crystals don't know songs; they only sing, and she sings to them, with them, for them. She lands the pick again, and again, and each syllable twines around the tuning-fork hum of the crystals like a duet.

Or: It's easy to lose your mind, alone in the dark.


guess what i wrote instead of working on my WIP this week

She swings.

The pickaxe forms a steady pendulum weight in her claws, down like falling and up like flight, plucking out the high, resonant note of perfect crystal. Struck just so, it sings; one calls and the rest respond in echo. Myla sings along to it.

Her voice can't stretch low enough to play a proper countermelody, but she follows the rhythm of metal on stone, the crack and cry of crystal like a drum. It stutters at times, a little muddled by the work, but if she times it just right, she can end a song as she pries the newest piece free of the wall and stacks it onto the cart.

The interludes don't last long, though. Crystals cover the tunnel walls throughout the mine, ground to ceiling to ground again, thick as grass. Even the crevice she's found at the end of her current tunnel seems inexhaustible. She'll have to stop when the cart is full, but no sooner. The trip up to town takes too long to be worth scurrying back and forth any more often, and her wings get tired on the way up -- not from the weight, of course, but from disuse. All these low-roofed tunnels leave no room at all for her to fly.

She hasn't decided how many runs will be enough. The old house she's been squatting in above holds two cartloads already, and she has a plan to chain the scavenged carts together for when she eventually needs to bring them out into the wastelands. There's nobody to sell bulk crystal to in the little ghost town. Not that it would make much sense, selling crystals to folks living just outside the same caves she mined them from. Most of them don't have the money, anyway -- she'd be selling them half-price, at best. Better to wait for the market back home, where the foreign buyers will be ready to shell out extra for souvenirs from such distant lands as these.

Myla wonders if any of the bugs above her understand the value of these stones, outside their tiny grey village. Between her current find, and the geo she's collected from just under this kingdom's skin, any prospector between here and Queenscliff would be dead of envy.

Two songs later, the crystal loosens enough to pull from the wall. The bridge of the melody simplifies into long, lazy notes, interrupted as she huffs and puffs and pulls. It lands in the cart with a solid clunk, and she lingers in the slowness a moment, deciding. A particularly solid one catches her eyes, near the ground.

That one.

Her next strike sings a chord. She fumbles, briefly, before bringing down the pick again. She has heard that same harmony before, in a market square, in a mine, a dozen different places -- her sisters sang that harmony with her, once, before they parted (one after the next in a line of starving shells, work and hunger devouring them from the inside out.)

It must be a trick of her mind, though. Crystals don't know songs; they only sing, and she sings to them, with them, for them. She lands the pick again, and again, and each syllable twines around the tuning-fork hum of the crystals like a duet.

It's the same song, harmony for harmony, note for note.

She refuses to question it. It has been so long since she last heard this song in anyone's voice but her own. After all these endless hours in the mine, she's entitled to a little strangeness.


A rhythm of footsteps enters -- Myla starts adjusting the song's tempo to match, but finds she's already playing in time. It's a soft pattering sound, like rain made regular: tap tap tap tap tap, an undertone to what's already there. The song she's on has a good, solid beat to it where it meets the downswing of her pick, punctuating the lyrics with steel, twice each line.

She keeps on until the footsteps pitter-patter to a stop, just an arm's length behind her, and she's still singing as she turns around to look. The stranger, a head shorter than her and making up the difference in bone-white horns, fiddles with their ratty gray cloak as they wait politely for her to finish.

After a moment, she realizes they're swaying in time with the song, shifting their weight from front to back, side to side. On a breath between words, she stutters a laugh. The weight of an audience jitters Myla's nerves, a crystalline note bouncing sour, and she stumbles to a stop at the end of the verse.

The stranger doesn't reply to any of her babbling about songs, but their gaze stays fixed on her claws as she swings the pick again, and they shuffle closer as she speaks, until they're practically touching.

"So, what are you down here for?" she asks them, not quite expecting an answer. The bug stares at her instead, unreadable behind their mask. Their head turns slightly toward the cart behind her -- do they want her crystals? As sweet as their admiration may be, business is business, and she's not sharing. "If you came to g-get wealthy, just look around you! These mines are still bursting with riches!"

She waves her pick, breaking the rhythm for a moment to point to the caverns above. Maybe they'll take up a spot nearby, and they can collect their crystals side by side. It's better than theft, anyway, and business aside, she won't say no to another voice to sing back. Myla can't remember when she last got to sing a proper call-and-answer song -- though she shouldn't get her hopes up, when she hasn't heard the stranger say a word.

"There's p-p-plenty for everyone. Just grab a pick and join in!"

The stranger regards her for a moment, then gently shakes their head. They raise their hands, as if declaring innocence, and pat the gleaming grip of the nail on their back. When she isn't sure how to respond, they reach under their cloak and pull out a square of parchment, flipping it over to show her a map, rough and heavily annotated, but with a few landmarks she slowly recognizes: the cliffs along the western side of the canyon; the old temple in the abandoned crossroads outside the mines; the clustered shells of the village on the surface.

"Oh! You're an explorer?" The few shops above seem to cater to travelers and adventurer-seekers, all those rugged wind-blown types, so it shouldn't surprise her to meet one, but she hadn't expected to see one quite so small. "You m-must have seen a lot more of this place than I have, then!"

The newly-dubbed explorer shrugs, then nods, gesturing again to the map. They tuck it back under their cloak a moment later.

Myla hefts the pickaxe and swings, and the rhythm starts again, picking up with the next verse, but she chokes off halfway through under her audience's stare. Those empty eyes pierce past her shell into some deep part of her that knows nothing but darkness and light and danger, breaking her pace and scattering the lyrics like so many stone shards across the ground.

Stumbling, she tries again, but the words won't come. Is it the priest in a broken crown, or a tattered gown? Is the knight rhymed with the lady in this verse, or another? There's supposed to be different part next, but it's stubborn at the tip of her tongue, and the little explorer is still staring.

"I c-can't remember the rest of that one," she admits, and laughs. Her claws shake a little, but she brushes it aside. "Maybe I'll just hum it."

She does, and that's decent, at least. Her sisters never called her voice pretty, but it sounds no worse this way, without words, only a tune to carry like so much minecart freight, through the tunnels and anywhere beyond. The explorer nods along in time. Myla takes it as a sign of approval.


She doesn't see the explorer leave. They're just with her one verse, and gone a few later. She glances back during a break in the melody to make some quick aside, and finds she's talking to nothing but air.

There's more crystal in the minecart than there was a while ago, offering no dispute to the passage of time, but she can't find any trace of the explorer's presence. The whole encounter feels like a waking dream.

In their wake, loneliness doesn't hesitate to make itself at home, adding a hollow ring to each clang of the pick on stone, a phantom swaying in the corner of her eye like an audience. She fights it as well as she can, singing high enough to fill the tunnel with her echoes; if she shuts her eyes between swings, she can pretend her sisters are singing, too.

The last verse she can remember draws to a close, and she spares a few seconds to decide between starting a new song, or just humming the tune a few more times. It's still her favorite, after all, but the other songs deserve their turns as well. Besides, it's been harder and harder to tell time, working down here, and keeping to the same song without end won't do her any favors. Her father's old pocket-watch left her hands at the pawn shop in the kingdom before this one, her last treasure to part with before arrival. Not regretfully, of course -- it troubled her to waste something so delicate and pretty on claws all rough with stone and labor in the mines. But maybe if she's lucky, it will still be for sale when she returns, laden with the spoils of this cavern's riches.

She pushes on, chipping away at the base of the latest crystal in the crevice. The steady, pale light of the lumafly in her helmet lamp reflects through the body of it, bouncing from neighbor to neighbor, setting the whole geode aglow, dimming and surging in time with each swing.

And so it goes.


The singing of the crystals has grown more defined, since she began. Myla can hear the edge of a voice, now, when she's careful and keen with the timing of her pick, and it sounds not quite like her own. Maybe there's another living bug down here, somewhere, that she hasn't yet met, and the echoes she hears are theirs instead, calling out an unwitting duet.

It's a nice thought, though she has yet to find another bug like the explorer. The strangers in the tunnels above stared at her through dead husk eyes when she dared to approach them, limbs ceaseless as machines. Harmless, judging by the third or fourth time she passed them without trouble, but the sight twists up her guts nonetheless. If the villagers aren't lying, this kingdom is cursed -- though, what kingdom isn't, really? Home had its own share of troubles.

The soft glow from the depths of the crevice keeps her attention more and more, now that she's gotten into the thick of it. The ringing of steel whispers lyrics she can't yet decipher, but curiosity drags her deeper and deeper, song by song. There's little else to do.

Her progress has slowed, if the height of the mining cart's pile tells anything. She ought to focus more on her work, but singing has never stopped her before, and with so few things left, she refuses to let it start.

She begins another song, one the lyrics have faded for, and listens as her echoes twist through the stone and the voice from below, calling back the line after. I've not a coin left in my pockets, starts this one, and back comes: and I've not a deed left to my name. And then, from fragmented memory, she adds: I've nothing to last through the winter, so I'll--

Wait here until light blooms again.

Myla laughs, low, like she's afraid the old foreman will hear. He's dead on the far side of the wasteland, under forty quotas of stone, but habit still catches her at the funniest of moments.

She can't tell if the crystals are singing back the right words, or if she's only making them up in her mind, the way unfamiliar shadows sketch paintings on a wall, but a song she writes herself is better than no song at all. She starts up, the next line, reaching for a phrase too dim to discern, stumbling through a few false starts.

I've... not a... a lamplight left to guide me--?

Nor sun to illumine the sky, sings the crystals, and she can't remember if that's right, but it sounds right, so she answers, words flowing from some source she can neither name nor question.

So I'll sit in my hovel and look up above, and it's on the tip of her tongue, waiting for her--

And I'll wait for the light 'till I die.


The cavern runs so deep, but the light runs deeper. The endless unmarked hours slide past her like a stream, flowing the same between every moment, immortal and eternal as the earth and the caverns. The crevice widens and deepens, crack by crack, but that's all, and it's not much. She smooths over the lonely edges with music -- a call-and-response song, one she hasn't sung since her third eldest sister died in a cave-in.

Time slips, again.

The cart should be fuller, but the stack of crystals still stops below the rim. Not a full load, yet. She won't strain herself with two bugs' quota, piled high above the sides, but she can't leave yet. The crystals sing so beautifully. Maybe she'll try for a fourth cart, even, just to stay a while longer.

She's beginning to find the words to songs again, little by little. Whether she's forgotten them so deeply she can't tell her own imagination from the original, or she's truly remembered them again, she can't say, but it's hardly like anyone she meets these days can correct her. And if she's wrong, what of it? What are lyrics, really, but words someone once thought to sing?

Plenty of thoughts like these occupy her time between mining and more mining, waiting and waiting for something to change. Plenty of times between, too, when her mind is nowhere and her body dances alone to the pickaxe's beat.

This one-- this one is correct, though. She's sure of it. How could she forget the lyrics to her favorite song?

Oh, bury the knight with her broken nail

Bury the lady, lovely and pale

A faint tapping interferes with her rhythm; she frowns, but keeps on. Is someone...?

Bury the priest in his tattered gown

Then bury the beggar with his shining crown!

A pale shape bursts into the side of her vision, nearly knocking the pick from her hands as she startles.

It's the explorer, again. They stare at her, picture-perfect in innocence, and she can't summon any real ire against them, but she still wheezes a moment, catching herself against the wall, until her worry crumbles away into laughter.

"Are you s... surprised?" she asks, when her heart slows down back into time with the crystals' meter. "I remembered the second verse! Lots of time to think while I work down here. Maybe I can even c-come up with some songs of my own!"

The explorer pauses and stares a moment, with a slow, subtle nod as if impressed.

She hums, pleased, and starts swinging again, adding the pickaxe's ting, ting, ting back into the song again, like a tributary rejoining into a river.

Not a moment later, something tugs at her arm, and she looks down to see the explorer again, tiny claws wrapped around her elbow, not sharp or harsh, but insistent. She expects not to budge when they pull at her, but their body hides a breathtaking sort of strength that drags her toward them, tripping, off-balance.

"What--?" They stop pulling once she's turned around, but don't let go. "What d-do you...?"

The explorer points to the cart, tilting their head in question.

"I don't..."

They release one hand, but not the other, to gesture with claws flat under the side of their cheek, head angled aside and down, and their shoulders rise and fall to mime slow, exaggerated breaths. (How long did it take her, to notice they've never been breathing? It's nothing she can linger on now.)

She stares for several long, frustrated seconds, before guessing. "... rest? Did I rest?"

They nod, twice, sharply.

When did she last take a break? She's no stranger to long hours, but by now, exhaustion should have settled under her shell like so much dust and grit. Something about this place seems to feed energy into her, as if it's piping light and life straight into her heart -- her movements grow rote at times, like sleepwalking, but she remains aware through it all, more daydreaming than slumbering.

Maybe it's the singing. Maybe it's the curse. She isn't turning it down, though. The longer she can work, the more crystals she can gather, the longer she can listen to the singing, and the closer she can get to... to...

To what?

"This is hard work, but I don't mind," she tries to assure them. "Down here, I can k-keep working without even sleeping."

The explorer says nothing, and does not let go of her arm.

"It's fun!" she insists. How a blank mask can speak such volumes of disapproval, she'll never know. "And every once in awhile you c-c-come to visit me!"

That they do. Every now and then, a little masked face scurries down into her tunnel to watch her work. More often than not, that's all they do, but they've made themselves a familiar sight nonetheless. Once or twice, they've even unfurled their map again to show her their travels through the caverns -- places she's never seen, marked with names she can't read, framed in notes and push-pins and sketches in the margins. It's strange, picturing the vastness of this kingdom, when all she knows has narrowed down to a sliver of the mines and what she carries in her head, bundled together like a caravan bug's possessions. She wonders what the air tastes like out there, and if the stones of the kingdom's depths know how to sing.

After another long moment, the explorer's grip slackens enough to pull free, and their claws drop back beneath their tattered cloak.

"H-how about this," Myla offers, after a full, unsung verse has passed. "Next time you wander by, I'll take a m-moment to rest. But then, I'll be going back to work! ...Alright?"

The explorer stalls, briefly, as if thinking it over, and then nods again, with a reluctant sort of delay that says they don't like the idea, but will take what they can wheedle out of her. Her siblings used to worry over her when she was smaller, working hours too long for something barely pupated -- the explorer's concern, however misplaced, endears them much the same.

This time, they leave in plain sight. Myla watches them vanish into the darkness past the crystals' reach, fading into a scrap of cloak and glint of shell before they scramble up the wall and out, and she picks the next song to match the patter of their fading footsteps.


I've not a scrap left in my cellar

My well has gone dry overnight

My path overgrows with misfortune, and so

I'll wait through the eve 'till the light

There's nowhere that I can be buried

So they'll cover my shell in the rain

And I'll lie in a meaningless darkness

To wait 'till the light shines again


An age could have passed outside, but the crystals remain, and the stone here won't weather in her lifetime.

She's been so wrapped up in singing she doesn't even see them this time; they dart about at the corners of her vision like a trick of the light, a ghost hidden away in refractions of refractions. Caught in a sleepwalking phase, she doesn't have the presence of mind of respond to them, though she forces out an effort, raising her voice to be heard above the pick-on-stone drums. The words of this song are unstable, shifting in and out of each other -- perhaps there are two songs, and she's confusing the melodies?

The explorer doesn't try to correct her, only tugs at her arms again, and jumps about in distracting circles behind her. At first she struggles to keep time between the bothersome poking of their horns and claws, but she adapts, tuning them out until only the song can sway her.

Bury my body, cover my shell

(There's a line she can't remember here, but she'll find the rhyme eventually. She continues.)

What meaning in darkness? Yet here I remain...

I'll wait here forever 'till light blooms again

The melody has changed, she's sure of it, but she can't remember which one she started with anymore, and it keeps slurring together, like the song itself wants to become yet another, with a tune she doesn't even know. She waits, and lets the crystals sing to her until she recognizes the notes again.

Bury... body... she starts again, skimming along through the parts she can still recover, and mumbling through what she can't. Cover... shell. Darkness... no meaning...

DANGEROUS, the crystals offer.

Dangerous, she repeats. Still, remain...


Light? She pauses, working through the tune again.


She shuts her eyes. 'Till light blooms again...

A foreign joy fills her heart. These lyrics are right, better than right. They're perfect. The crystals sing them back to her, again, again, until LIGHT reverberates through the cavern clear as day.

A soft rhythm, forgotten, fades out down the tunnel. Wasn't somebody down here with her?

The sound is lost beneath the words.


Bury my body, cover my shell

Down in the shaft where last it fell

Here in the darkness, my heart remains

To lie here forever, 'till--


Her entire body aches.

The numb weight of her pickaxe drops again and again into stone. As it lands, the crack before her grows, pulsing as if alive, spreading deeper and broader across the floor of the cavern as the earth fractures beneath her.

She shivers. The air is too cold, or maybe she's too warm; her head feels stuffed with sap and silk.

It's nearly here. She's so close, and she can free it, and they will sing together for an eternity.

Only... she can't stay here for an eternity. There's something aboveground she needs to come back to, and far away -- she needs to take the crystals back with her, doesn't she? Wasn't that what she came for?

Her head flares bright with pain, and she wipes tears like nectar from her eyes as pressure pulses behind them.

No. There is nothing for her in that doom-bound little village, and there is nothing in any lands beyond. There is nobody left alive for her to make proud, no brothers and sisters to save. Her mother is gone, and her father is gone, and the rest are all dust under the foreman's heel, seven kingdoms away.

The crystals offer her purpose. They will save her.

She calls out, and her voice comes out a withered rasp like dry grass. How long has she been here, singing?

The crystals do not judge her. They answer in chorus; she can hear all their songs twining together, overlapping closer and closer into singularity, the sound of a new and brilliant voice--



(Who are you?)

IS THIS NOT WHAT YOU SEEK? it asks, instead of answering. It flickers and gleams beneath the stone, pleading. JUST A LITTLE DEEPER. DON'T YOU TIRE OF BEING ALONE?

Something keeps the rhythm, a voiceless steel clamor, bent unrecognizable by the cavern's endless resonance. Bright and alien, she cannot align it with the mechanical sense of her arms, swinging in time, up-down, up-down. Her voice echoes through the crystals, but a thick, sweet bile clogs her throat, rising with each heave of the pick. It must only be the echo. The reflections of each strike repeat in waves now, layering over themselves with a beat of a steady delays, synchronizing with a slow dripping like a heartbeat from her head.

(How much longer...?)


Her shell burns and throbs, exhaustion twisting beneath it, setting fire to every joint and limb that moves too quick. She staggers, braced against nothing. The world tilts like she's falling, but it never reaches the end; she only falls and falls into nowhere while her legs float somewhere beneath her, and through it all, the rhythm: up and down, crystal and shell and metal and stone.

The crack opens up beneath her, lit from within. The voice raises from a whisper to a ringing cry, a queen upon the clifftop calling out over the valley, her voice a war-horn to the ears of every subject below. There is no answering it, and it offers no respite.

She doesn't want to trust it. It does not matter. She cannot refuse.

COME, the voice of the crystals says. TAKE THE LIGHT INTO YOUR HEART, AND I WILL BE WITH YOU.

She reaches, and the earth bleeds riches until her vision drowns in gold.


Footsteps distract from singing. She doesn't recognize the rhythm of them. Too regular to be some shambling husk, but it's not only husks that concern her; she has three cartloads of crystals to worry for, and some bugs will kill for riches like she's found.

Go away, she tries to say, these are mine, get your own!, but the words stick like honey in her chest, and the crystals drown her out. Her grip on the pickaxe tightens.

The chorus around her carries the melody along through her silences, waiting for her to rejoin it. She keeps pace with the snatches of lyrics as they filter through her thoughts. The crystals do not need her voice anymore; her mind sings for them, instead.

A bug peers into the tunnels, and when it approaches she can see a glimmer of pink inside it, somewhere behind the black of its awful gaping eyes (consumed, her treasure inside the devourer--) She can only threaten it through clumsy gestures with her burning, feverish limbs, but any pick or chisel worth its weight will splinter chitin far easier than stone. If it doesn't understand this, she will teach it.

It stands before her, and its gaze is empty, angled as if aching to swallow her whole. Its nail reflects in the crystals a thousandfold, dragging her eyes to the focus of its point, the hemolymph on the blade.

It approaches, closer, closer, too close. Its hands are empty. The empty one, the enemy, swaying to the tune it cannot possibly hear, and it reaches for her--

She has to kill it. She has to kill it, before it kills her.


A shadow lingers before her. The pickaxe hangs weightless under her claws.

The world lies still.