There had been a time, when she had barely started out as Novice, when they dropped her down the Teaching Pit.
Common practice. A little test, the same for every girl.
She remembered holding onto the rope as they poured her down into the dark, touching the soft sand at the bottom. Hearing the echoes of the voices of others, up above, stretched to ghoulish sounds by distance and curved walls.
Then they shut her down. The lid closed, and the test began.
Every girl had just to resist a set time before asking for help. Five minutes was the bare minimum.
Ten minutes and you could show talent. Twenty? Nothing less than prime Augur material, to be shipped to one of the main colonies.
If she remembered correctly, Valeriana had resisted two hours back there.
It started with the smallest things.
Poured from above, or buzzing from hidden holes.
Just the appetizer, of course. You could still hear them.
Then the test got harder.
A humming noise began to spread, hitting your brain like a buzzing saw. You couldn’t use sight, now you couldn’t use your hearing.
That was the moment when they started to drop the spiders.
You just had to avoid them – at the very least, not to get stung.
Eerie, out there, would be far less gentle. That was what they told her as well.
And, stark from her perceiving Threads, she had read the glistening grin Verna had given her, when she had poured her young body down into the pit.
Make me proud, that was what she believed to read in that smile.
After the spiders they got creative.
Venomous needles. Jets of boiling oil.
By the hour mark, if the Novice had not yet asked to be pulled up, they would throw caution to the wind.
Elissa remembered the time when thick walls of metal unfurled to reveal Vestals pointing their crossbows at her.
In the screaming darkness.
When she tugged on the rope, it had been a full day.
Verna had come down personally to lift her up.
Elissa had waited for her, in the middle of a crater made out of every worm, every spider, every arrow and every droplet of oil and molten iron, and every bullet they threw at her, fanned out in a circle.
The previous record, held by the High Seer herself, had been of seven hours.
And she had wanted to find praise, in that smile.
Touching the metal surface of the battered shaft, landing on rubble and pulverized stone, she thought once again how much of a fool she had been.
But as she let go of the rope, Elissa sat on her back against the wall and took in a long breath, even as laying this close to industrial steel was making her feel like a hundred knives slowly pushing into her flesh.
She set her hands in her lap, and began by regulating her breath.
In and out.
Out and in.
To all things their measure.
You are not thinking clearly.
I would hate for you to lose everything, after all that you did.
When I will come to ask for your help, you will know, she replied. Now let me do what I must.
This will not give you what you want.
This will save her. And the people of this town. At least those few who put their faith in me.
A sad chuckle. It reverberated right against her ear. She has heard it. She was here. No idea why Elissa ever imagined something silly like this could hold Her back.
I see now that perhaps my words about not lying to yourself fell on deaf ears.
Another feeling. A brush of lips against her forehead.
Elissa recoiled and hit the metal with the back of her head.
Let us all hope it will be worth in the end. I shall wait for you on the other side. My offer still stands.
I don’t want it! She shouted mentally, trying to shut down the doors of her mind to the presence of the Queen of Thorns.
Who just left in silence.
She was alone again.
Alone and able to do what she could.
She eased her breath.
She could do this. She was – she was just about to think a good girl – no, she was an Augur. She had given proof of how great, how powerful and determined she was. What was yet another thing? Just a simple task… nothing major.
Ha. She could do this in her sleep.
Clenching her fists, Elissa brought her Threads onto the pillar laying drunken next to her.
On their way, some brushed against Sadja.
She was out there. Fighting and bleeding.
She would see her again!
She would see her again and when Sadja will know what she did for these people, she will be happy as well!
She will be happy, and she will- she will-
Elissa shook her head.
She extinguished the thought.
She had to think about the task at hand.
Pulling all the Threads around her like a spinning needle, she surveyed the thing she was supposed to move.
On the outside, it was a slab of metal and concrete, fashioned in one piece by furnaces too big for her to comprehend, in an act of desperation against an enemy they couldn’t really face.
It probably weighed just as much as the entire Temple.
On the inner side of the world, the hidden one where the Threads pulled tight, it was even worse.
Its metaphysical weight was much larger than the material one.
This action would reverberate through the possible futures, collapsing them all into one.
It was one thing to move a coin.
But the thought of warm blue eyes, and a large smile upon a pale face, and finally hearing her voice call her name in gratitude… that would give her the strength to move all the coins in the world.
Elissa lifted her hands.
She pulled into her mind, the same wide room without a ceiling where she looked up at the shape of pillar, feeling every piece of rubble, every mote of dust and every shard of metal that had fallen out of its proper shape.
She walked up to it, putting her hand against its metaphysical surface, buzzing and shivering between all its possible states.
And she began to push.
Outside, on the world of flesh and blood, a creaking sound rose from the depths of the Generator.
Pic by Vinz
Author’s Notes: I apologize for the likely poor quality of these last two chapters (though I really enjoyed Elissa’s little flashback). I had two stressful days with some ugly news in the family. I suppose my writing quality is not that much better for it. At any rate, I still hope you are enjoying the story. Things are coming to an head. Thank you for reading, and especially thank you for continuing to read.