For the last few days, thresholds had been on Elissa’s mind.
The threshold of the Temple in Belacqua reminded her a lot of the one in Venexia at her training monastery, where it clearly set an inside apart from an outside.
She had believed staying in the pen drawn around her would be enough. Believed, and did nothing to deal with the hooks put into her mind to soothe her.
When had she stopped fighting?
A dash of red spattered her cheeks as she walked out – her winter dress a variation on her usual Augur garb, but with boots and a thick cotton coat. She was not like Sadja who could roll in the snow naked and be none worse for wear.
She had forgotten, or decided to. Because it would have been easier… easier for to put trust in the words of the woman who had separated her from Sadja, who had put her under the kind of training that made her bleed out of ever orifice, and who in the end would just squeeze Sadja out of ever drop of her blood.
You have been a fool, her conscience barked at her. She took it in stride – ever since that fateful day when Sadja’s pain unraveled Verna’s careful mind-fitting, she welcomed this kind of pain and shame. It meant she was still on the right path.
Even as things were getting ever harder.
“Good evening, Augur! Out and about so late? May the Spirits watch over you!” Said a middle-aged man giving her a small bow.
“Ah, Gioanni,” she welcomed him with a smile. “It’s a beautiful night, isn’t it? The stars are so bright.”
In his eyes passed a flash of doubt – wasn’t she blind? – but then he just nodded and lifted his head as well.
“Indeed. When I was young my grandpa used to tell me once we didn’t have so many stars.”
“Is that so?”
“Oh, for sure! Most of those up there are artificial. Metal and stone balls shot up by the Erepeople. Spirits know how they don’t fall down!”
She looked up as well. The stars, even the quick ones, appeared to her like motes of possibilities, of light rushing in from untold distances. They waxed and waned, reflecting the thoughts and hopes and fears of millions of beings looking up to them. She did not see stars per se, but the after-effects of the great thread in the mindscape.
She had never seen them with her own eyes, though.
She had always lived underground, and then…
Well she just didn’t get the chance.
“Are we going to make it, Augur?” He asked then in a wavering whisper. He looked back at the walls of metal and spikes, half-hidden in the scalding vapors. “Every night beasts and worse things bang at the town’s door. I have heard it so bad only when… well, you know. You more than anyone.”
She gave him another smile.
Six years ago. The day the previous Augur went missing.
Speaking of which…
Maybe he’s right, she thought. Maybe the Spirits were indeed looking over her.
“I have faith everything is going to be just fine,” she replied and walked down to the old residences of the Augur built besides the Temple. The man waved back and went his way. He’d come home to a scared but lovely family. She did no dare peer further in the threads binding him – she had given him a little hope, and she indeed trusted she could deliver, especially now that she was free at last. He had also given her a good idea on where to begin.
She should get out of that temple more often.
Perhaps walk through the city, not just stay in her rooms and dripping her blood away to make more holy water. These people have lived with her for a long time – maybe it was the time to know them.
At any rate, an intriguing thought for a future time. If she survived.
Verna would come.
She was currently dealing with some productivity delay and she’d soon shoot a couple of Fae dead with her new bullets, bullets made (oh, what did she do, allowing for this to happen, allowing for her to be exploited…) from Sadja’s own blood.
Oh, Verna’s mind was a mystery yet, a dangerous field covered with barbed hooks and grinding gears dripping poisonous oil, but her final goal? Her hate spread from her like heat from a blasting furnace.
She was trying to kill the Heart of the Forest. But that did not really matter to Elissa. And perhaps, if she had tried to do so in a different way, without brutalizing her and poor Sadja especially, she might have even be happy to help her.
But no second thoughts now. Not even her own.
She stopped in front of a low and white building, the wooden door held by a lock.
It had not been open for a long while.
Here she might get what she needed.
Elissa raised a finger and the lock wriggled. Ingenious little things, locks. You needed a key… or just to peer through the hundreds of combinations and give it a quick turn.
It clocked open.
Thresholds were another funny thing. She was about to cross yet another.
She pushed the door and slithered inside. The windows had been barred and little to no light came inside. Sadja would have known where to put her feet, but she had to proceed tiny step after tiny step and making sure not to hit something. A knee bruise would be difficult to explain, and the noise wouldn’t help the wave of distorting threads she was pulling over the house, to make everyone just look the other way and forget about seeing anything weird happing there. She wasn’t an expert at brain fitting, and Verna was by far the master of that particular trade. She could reverse-engineer it just so much.
But here? Here she could try.
The house felt cold and it smelled dusty. It smelled… of longing. It was a small dwelling, and it had held the previous Augurs for the time they did not want to spend in the Temple. But she had almost never set foot out of it, and the previous Augurs preferred to spend their time among their people.
One big exception had been Lenora.
She didn’t know much about her predecessor, but Elissa had quickly picked up the disdain firing off in Verna’s mind when she came up.
Elissa reached for the small dining room and sat on a dusty chair. Nobody had touched anything here for years, and yet there was not a trace of mold.
Maybe a little gift on the part of the Spirits.
Here, she took a long breath and got ready for her journey.
She withdrew into herself – the threads she had been pulling already forming a neat design.
The main one, the silver one, was Sadja, of course. She couldn’t stifle a smile from her body at the thought of seeing her again.
Another one was the Hunter’s smelling like salt and the iron tinge of blood and a leathery, sweet scent. And there were a few more… Cloria’s own black-and-white, a coiled thread made of frayed decisions and never-defeated ghosts of the past. And a couple more she had pulled along the way, like the tiny one that reached for the Hunter’s sled, still lost in the forest… or the family of moth-people.
And these main threads connected to others, and others still… until the final design got lost in a kaleidoscope of feverish dream as patches of colored futures mixed together until her Sight got lost.
And yet, her structure was sound. She had to make it so.
Now for the hardest part.
Her efforts, no matter how valiant, no matter how amazing, would last less than a candlelight in a storm if she were to come closer to Verna. She had already been alerted (you know she has been!) by her apparently-perfect countenance. She’d be here soon, to check on her own.
And her hooks would go back into her mind.
Elissa let out a long breath. Here, in the home of the Augur who Verna likely loathed the most, the echoes of said memories would protect her. She put her fingers over her forehead and grit her teeth.
Then she sent her threads deep into her own mind, deep like seeping roots, until they hit the core of her being, her inner memories, her desires, needs, and the bond that tied her to that lovely wolf-girl with a heart too big for this world.
And then she began ripping it all off.
Pic by The_SilentAuthor’s Notes: I feel a bit like Elissa in this chapter. I had a bit of a stumbling block, but the Spirits helped me as well. I feel like Lenora and Elissa would have much to share. At any rate, thanks for reading… and we’re almost at fifty chapters! So thanks again for keeping up with this.