Elissa followed the old woman down into the Generator’s belly. She had covered her hands with gloves, blaming the cold, and she could write off the ugly feeling that hooked her at the stomach on nerves. But it was much stronger than last time. The metal walls, the pipelines, the intent to reshape and control behind those artifacts yanked and pulled at her in every direction, trying to tear her apart.
Was this what her holy water did to the Eerie? What Sadja’s blood did, only much faster and stronger? This feeling like something inside her was twisting and it would come off at any moment?
The gifts of the Queen were bitter indeed. She gulped down a wad of saliva and proceeded.
“How long have it been since you have come outside of that place,” asked Arguta, squaring her with a worried look. If only this hag’s tea and cookies hadn’t been so good, she’d given her a piece of her mind. Literally, if she could still manifest enough power in this alley of steam and steel.
“Not long enough,” she groaned.
“I haven’t seen the Wise Mother in weeks,” said the same engineer she had met with while checking on the Generator. A frown spread over his sweaty face as they proceeded down and temperature rose and rose. “We were all worried about you.”
“You… were?” What did he mean? Was this part of the tactic to have her deal with the Generator, or something like that? Or was it the old woman’s plan?
“I told you she’d denser than tungsten! Must be all that vapor not good for the brain. Turns them into airheads and then, bam! They can’t even think for themselves.”
“We did not know what to do,” the engineer continued, ignoring the cawing old woman. “This has been such a dreadful winter, and we have all felt the drop in power in water.”
“Of course.” Ah. There it was. They were all blaming her. She wasn’t enough. Had never been enough. Not enough for Verna, and not enough for the only girl she cared about, the only girl she had sacrificed everything for…
Next to her, the pipelines began to groan. Metal reacted to her stress, tension faults wrapping upon each other as the probabilities of failure piled upon each other like the snow had piled outside, one unlikely disaster after another, pulled in by her diminished, but still strong Threads.
“But we couldn’t do anything to get to you,” he continued.
Elissa blinked. The pressure relented.
“You forbid anyone to enter the Temple!” He turned back, wringing his hands. “And- we thought that would be taboo to break in, so nobody knew what to do. We wanted to know how your health was. Your past attendant was so worried – she saw… she saw you lose consciousness many times, even bleed out!”
Elissa’s mind went back to that autumn day when she had collapsed in her arms. Other than Verna’s orders pushing her past her limits, she had been using and abusing her body for so long… and these people were worried? For her?
“But…” she tried. “I’m not Lenora…” she retorted in a whisper. The engineer did not seem to pick up on it. Once more she felt pulled in a thousand directions at once, but this time it wasn’t thanks to her mutated nature or the pull of the Queen, it was because she really did not know how to feel about all this. Were these people making fun of her? Trying to her pull her into some sort of zany scheme? Was it all a ruse, a trap? Something devised by the Council to test her?
But what did it matter? Without Sadja…
“So we thought about it and while your prohibition does apply to everyone in the town, the people who came here from Trefiumi do not count.” He tapped the side of his bald head. “I was the one who came up with the idea! And Arguta is known to be one of the best metalsmith this side of the headless rivers, so we just had to ask her. She could speak for us all.”
“The best one,” the old woman replied bumping her chest. “And a decent cook, as your friend here might attest.”
They reached the bottom, where the rail looking down to the Generator gave onto the endless darkness. There awaited for her a group of people: men and women, sweaty and tired and covered in grease stains, looking at her with unclear expectations. Their minds pressed against her own, but maybe due to her diminished powers or maybe due to her fact her heartbeat seemed to drown everything, she couldn’t comprehend what they were feeling.
“And I came up with the rest,” Arguta said, gently pushing her down and onto the waiting people, who came to her, crouching in front of her feet, raising their hands not to ask for further blessing or a drop of water, but to just brush their fingers against her own.
“Augur!” Said a woman, looking up with a wide smile. “You came! I knew you would, I knew you actually cared.”
“Wise Mother,” addressed her an older man, wringing his hands as if embarrassment had him in its iron clutches, “how are you feeling? Are you alright? The Winter has bitten deep onto you, has it not?”
“I…” she wasn’t used to this. Her mind whiplashed back to the time she had been presented as Verna’s pupil to a crowd of young girls, and shown as the little prodigy, the one who would always stand out. Stand out and stay out.
“Give her a little space!” Arguta dashed forward, chasing the engineers off. “She agreed to come here, not to a check-up!” She turned to look at her. “Sorry. This would not have happened in Trefiumi.”
Elissa nodded, not really knowing what to say, or even to say anything. She let Arguta pull her in, drawing her like from ropes. But it was the kind of rope that felt light and easy to untie, so different from Verna’s poisonous threads biting deep into her flesh. They had prepared a wide table right besides the rail and even though the presence of the Generator so close was making her stomach tumble, she accepted to sit down.
And actually to people. With people.
They shared a light meal, little more than slices of bread, apples, dried meat, and the delicacy of a can of food (she did not like it – and Sadja loved this kind of stuff?) and little by little she let the little stories of these people worm their way up into her heart. There was who had arrived in Belacqua because they wanted to work on ancient Generator. There was who had heard of the disaster with Lenora and the overrun town and wanted to give some help – then found a wife or a husband and stayed. And there were the survivors, of course. Those who had lived through that tainted day and were still there to share a meal and laugh.
And nobody asked her to bless one drop of water.
Nobody asked her about her opinion on one thing.
This place reeked of humanity, or the heart-wrenching ability of their hands and minds to define, confine, direct and control and choke in a line of numbers and words, and she…
For the first time in her life, even as her body ached, she felt right at home.
Pic by NFWarAuthor’s Notes: It has been a while since I have like writing down a chapter this much. It has also been a while since I mused over the fact I am over one month into the new part of this challenge and I can’t seem to stop writing each day. It’s something magical and something that both fascinates and worries me. I hope I can start to write down a few thought about this, later on. In the meantime, thanks for reading.