You’re a failure.
What are you even trying to accomplish? Let go.
Elissa groaned as these thoughts tried to pull her apart. This was taking place in her own mindscape, so those doubts looked like herself, mangled and twisted as they put their claws into her flesh, pulling her down bit by bit in the seamless darkness that awaited her.
This will change nothing. She doesn’t want you.
She likely never did.
You built your entire life on a lie.
“Shut up!” She cried out, the effort taking over her mind for a moment. The counterweight shifted backwards into a more natural position. “Nnnnoh.” Groaning, she focused the Threads to try and put it up so that it could withstand the ontological pressure that came from being in the wrong place, at the wrong time.
She doesn’t want you!
A pale hand reached out for her, turning her head and making her face a twisted mirror of herself, with her red hair turned to meaty straws and her skin punctured by worms.
You will never get her.
She lost all strength.
The Threads ran away from her hands.
The pillar went back to its proper place.
And when she took another breath, she was on the outside, breathing the cool air of the basement.
She gritted her teeth in frustration. She was so close!
Or at least she thought she was.
Even after putting it back, she’d have to reactivate the reaction, and that… that would prove to be even more challenging, if she had understood even half of what she was supposed to do.
You have failed in everything.
“I know.” She groaned.
As a person and a Vestal and a lov-
“I know!” Elissa roared, her shout reverberating through the empty shaft.
What had changed?
It wasn’t just her diminished powers that left her like this. She had never felt so alone.
She cringed hard, biting her lip. Her tears wouldn’t come.
All she did, she did for her. Why wouldn’t Sadja understand… the wounds Verna had set onto her had been deep, so deep that she couldn’t help but try to escape them. She had merely tried to help, to show her what had happened, so that she could understand!
So that she could be grateful.
And look where that brought her.
And she was making the same mistake, wasn’t she?
Sure, she appreciated the company of the engineers. They were keen and witty and it was nice to talk to people who did not kiss the ground after her every step. Especially Arguta.
It also showed she was not like Verna. She could entertain the company of these people without… without using them.
And she would never hurt Sadja!
Even though she had hurt others. Like those four porters that had carried her in the forest all those weeks ago. She had never given them even half a thought before.
But she had tried to be better.
Because you want her to look up at you.
“I do,” she let out in a bitter whisper. “I…” the words trembled on her lips. “I want her to smile at me. Only at me. Only for me.” She embraced herself and her nails dug deep into her flesh. “Isn’t what I deserve? Why is everything going bad for me? I should know better. I do know better.”
And if she didn’t do anything, Sadja could just die out there.
She didn’t even need to check the Threads.
Or to know the odds. The Tide was too powerful.
She’d lose everything once again, and this time forever.
Because she hadn’t been able to change it.
Because she was too weak.
Because she w-
“I don’t want to,” she whispered in a cracked groan. “I don’t want to! I want to live. I want to win!” She stood up. Blood run from her nose onto her lip and she licked it, uncaring. “For once in my life, I just want to win! I want to hold her. I want to look at her with my own eyes!”
Something jumped in her heart. It was like an old scab finally coming undone, a knot that was released.
She panted hard, chasing the words.
“I want to embrace her and to be embraced back. All my life I served for you,” she mumbled, imagining Sadja’s smiling face behind her destroyed eyelids. “I braved the forest for you. I wrangled my hands with blood for you!” And in a tired whisper: “Why won’t you turn and look at me…”
She fell on her knees, her hands holding onto the gravel and metal shards at the bottom of her shaft.
She had to give credit to the Queen of Thorns for this though: being honest with herself felt good.
Yes. She did not really care about anything else, did she?
That was all she ever wanted.
And she killed Verna for it.
She betrayed her Order for it.
And would she just lay down here and wait for death while the girl she had given her life to died out there because she was too weak to shift a stupid slab of metal into a fungible future?
Something else rose from beneath the depths of her heart. A sensation that she had felt before, but never like this, never as keen or as clear: a devouring flame, white-hot and uncaring. It blasted past the gates of her fear, of her uncertainty, of her regret and her sorrow: bursting from her throat in a scream.
“May my bones be crushed, if I do not!” She lifted her hands, clawing her fingers at the tilted counterweight. The Threads pulled taut. From all around her, from the possible destiny of the rocks beneath her feet, from the shivering trees outside the town, from the tumbling fast stars that streaked the sky orange, falling onto their destiny.
They rushed onto her. They filled her heart. They made her ripe with power, with intent and will.
“Now move!” She shouted.
She pulled her fingers closer.
With a shrieking groan of metal, the pillar turned on itself. Through the feverish air, trembling with the echoes of collapsing futures layered over each other, glistening in flashes of colors and shapes and mistakes from intersected paradoxes, the huge thing began to float.
Fragments and pieces fell back into place. The bent surface straightened itself.
The pillar stood up straight.
Elissa lowered her hands in one fluid motion.
With a final thoom and the echo of a rumbling impact that pierced the silence until it was heard up above, the counterweight fell back into its place.
As good as new.
After all, it was.
The female engineer that had accompanied the Augur down into shaft stood up, kneading her side. She had just been listening to the mangled echoes of cries coming from below, wondering if she shouldn’t just try and pick up the girl, when a vibrating had run all the way through her, making her lose balance and fall onto the floor.
And then the impossible happened.
Right before her eyes, the pillar floated up and straightened itself, falling into its proper place.
As it hit its socket she fell once again onto the floor, barely standing on her knees.
And it was like this that she met the figure floating up from the shack.
The bloodied body of the Augur oozed blood from her nostrils, from her ears and her lips.
She did not seem to care.
“Bring me to the Core,” she commanded.
Pic by The Panda
Author’s Notes: It has been a long time since I had so much fun writing a chapter, and I think it shows! I just seem to enjoy seeing Elissa suffer. I sure hope that determination in choosing Sadja’s future doesn’t come back to bite her in the ass. Thanks for reading!