Sadja lay stricken amidst the ruins of her thoughts. What else was there to do for her? She’d just lay there like a good girl, and wait for the tiles to turn into their allotted place. They would be given tasks and they would complete them, as it was supposed to be. A world that made sense, a world where she did not have to worry about anything, just like it had happened before.
Everything that had happened, everything she did, happened because she had been allowed to. Even if she could feel little other than the hollow pain in her chest and the pressure of the branches holding her against the tree, she did feel the weight of the collar around her neck, and the needles greedily drinking her blood, their plastic tails draped all over her arms.
She never really escaped, did she?
She had been a fool. Verna had only played with her, like in another of her cruel experiments. There was no other way for her to live anymore.
She did miss her friends, but what room did she have for personal feelings when everything she’d ever see had already been decided, kilometer upon kilometer on a strict rail that did not allow any deviation?
She had been her puppet from the start.
Maybe going back to be her puppy would be less painful.
She had already ruined enough lives.
Elissa screamed in her collapsing mindscape. She tried to stem the incoming wave. It was like trying to dam the ocean with a pocket of sand. She fell on her knees, letting out a weak groan as the figures of the Hunter collapsed into just a few possibilities, all of them depicting a corpse, blood surrounding him like a halo. All the while Verna remained as shifty and unpredictable as ever. She had only managed to prevent the Hunter’s demise for a few instants of actual time.
Even by gouging out her eyes, even by spending every iota of her energy, she could not slow down Verna enough to save even one person. She probably did not even notice her presence. She only believed it was due to the forest.
Nothing more than a fly on the wall, rubbing its legs together thinking she managed who knows what accomplishment.
Elissa’s hands searched for a thread, a potential future she could still influence, something she could still change, projecting her mindscape into the outside world would completely tear her apart, but it might be enough to give more time to Sadja, and after all that was what she had always wanted, wasn’t it? To see her smile again, to see her free, to see her… dancing under the open sky, holding her hands as they laughed together. That was what she had always wanted.
The Hunter’s death was a pity, truly, but what she had always wanted…
You’ve been such a failure.
Maybe she would do just that. She would turn herself inside out, breaking the bonds holding her mind together and going out in an explosion of chaotic possibilities, turning her Sight into an ill-fighting picture of many futures, coalesced into one cursed reality. It would probably do little to Verna and Sadja, but it would be better than going back to serving under her. She was probably too spent to go back to Belacqua anyway.
Around her, chunks of the black sky fell around her, like a final rain at the end of time.
She gritted her teeth.
I just wanted to set you free, she thought. I failed in everything.
She balled her hands into fists and tugged at how many threads she could grasp with her final defiance. One last blaze, one last spark to burn at least a patch of forest down. She wo-
Oh, come on dear. You cannot even lie to yourself.
The threads leave her hands. The collapsing mindscape freezes into a deathly stillness. She cannot not move. Her lips still trembles. And her heart beats faster and faster. She knows that Voice.
But why here, why now… she does not… she does not want to-!
I gave you a gift, it would cause me great pain to see you throw it out so soon. But perhaps it is also my fault: the fruit of life has to be entwined to the fruit of wisdom.
Not now please. Just… leave me alone. I just want to to end this.
A sigh reverberates through the paralyzed air. A warm sensation reaches her cheeks. The ghost of a hand. Behind her she hears a multitude of buzzing clicks, clipped voices, echoes of forgotten songs, the crackle of sizzling candles, the slumbering roar of blood running through veins.
That is the farthest thing from the truth. I said you interest me. I admire your focus, your willingness to sacrifice everything for one pure goal.
Just leave me alone!
But do not lie to yourself. Deceit is a powerful weapon and to no be underestimated. You could wield it to great effect, as long as you don’t point it towards yourself.
What does she mean? I am not lying, I…
You want her.
A spike runs through her chest, cool and endless, like truth. She feels her mind prickle, and yet it is tempted. Like the weary worker at the end of his shift: the feeling he could just… let go. Just let go.
I am not lying, she tries again. But she is – she recognized it before, in tiny secret moments she hid even to herself.
You do not want her shared. Seven years you have toiled, for her. Your shirt with blood you have soiled, for her. The hill of glass you have climbed, for her. Don’t you want her to turn and look at you?
The picture bursts into her heart: past any silly idea such as holding up defenses against the invasion of her mindscape.
She wears a white dress, lined in silver. She dances in a meadow covered in flowers.
And the moment her white hair move and her face turns she can see her blue blue blue eyes, and her smile is as wide as the horizon as she runs at her opening her arms wide and she recognizes her, Sadja is here for her and only her and she’s grateful for everything she has done for her forever and ever she protected her forever and ever and now she’s finally home they both are and she’s running too and they are just about to touch and hug each oth-
That’s better, the Voice says. That is the truth. That is what you want. That is what you worked for.
Why do you even care?
I admire a strong will. You have toiled and worked and got your back broken all by yourself, my dear.
She’s smiling. Spirits, she’s smiling at me.
No need to see it.
She can feel it against the nape of her neck. That smile of bottomless night, the same mind that’s been living beneath the moss for thirteen thousand years of powdered time.
And your effort is commendable. You have come this far, all alone. Wouldn’t a little help make the load lighter, my dear?
Pic by Amargaard