The euphoria from the Generator kicking back into life did not last long. Cries of hope and joy ran through the defenders, but steam clouds did not follow. The heat did not come back, and the Eerie were still trying to overcome any resistance, rising each time like the mounting tide of black hunger they were.
She and Hunter had almost reached the last line of barricades when she felt a strange poke in her thoughts – she focused to block it, like she did with Verna’s, but this one wasn’t a spike of oily steel trying to pierce her mind, it was a gentle knock on the side of her mind. It smelled like gunpowder and crushed flowers, and it tinkled with echoing laughter.
She recognized it.
Hey, little wolf! Are you still alive out there?
She held Hunter’s hand in her own as he turned and blasted away a few Eerie critters aiming for their ankles.
We are trying our best.
The Venatrix seemed to hesitate and Hunter turned to look at her with a quizzical look on his face.
“Cloria,” Sadja explained tapping on the side of her head. “She’s… ah. She says the Generator has not come back yet.”
“I suppose there’s more to restarting a century-old machine than giving it a few kicks,” he commented helping the two of them jump over a ditch. Behind them the Eerie groaned and screamed as more covering fire held them back, at least for the moment.
Also, the Furnace District had been fitted with heat pumps that still managed to create a secondary cloud of holy steam that could protect them, for the time being. They were getting closer, but not too close.
But I think our little Augur has more than one card up her sleeve. You have to hurry! I’m sure she can do this I-
A vibration passed through Sadja’s head. She stumbled forward, lost her footing and Hunter held her up as the feeling took over, erasing all sensation of Cloria from her mind as another kind of mind, one far older and far more powerful, took over.
She groaned helplessly in his arms as she lost all feelings and fell into the darkness.
What was happening? Something else was trying to get in.
Did get in.
She looked around in the darkness. It was different from Verna – the Augur dripped contempt and power, but this one felt like corrosive hate, a kind of loathsome hunger that had passed under the skin of centuries, or millennia. She felt like listening to the tail end of thousand of years of gnawing, lamenting, and increasing anger for vengeance and consumption.
Ah, the other trespasser, it said, and Sadja remembered. She had caught glimpses of it before, but she had never been this close to it. Out of the darkness, a pair of gangly hands rose to grasp her, holding her in like a bird in a cage.
And after them, in the distance, a huge twisted head with branching horns, bearing bones that tinkled this way and that from some invisible wind. The black skin of the being seemed to ripple and wave in amusement at seeing her like that, contained and helpless.
I have grown quite tired of your little tricks, whatever you are.
Two beady eyes focused their gaze upon her and Sadja felt a spike of pain take over her mind. She groaned and fell on her knees.
Whatever you are, you shall be no more.
Elissa knew at once it was different, it would be different. She proceeded down the entrance to the Core. Air smelled like after a storm, fresh and enticing – this was the place that had kept the heart of town burning, and now that all the pieces were back together, she only had to restart the reaction.
And then get out of there. Somehow. She closed the heavy doors behind her and stayed there in the darkness, holding onto the jar and the last few shreds of hope that she still held. Each breath felt like gulping smelter and dross. The floor was smooth – as smooth as glass in fact, and maybe even more. For what could live here, in the heart of a furnace older than many outposts in the human world?
And she was supposed to restart it.
She held a handful of Coronite in her palm.
According to Arguta, these were good for normal smithing and as fuel – they could generate a huge amount of chemical energy. But whatever took place here in the Core was a different kind of reaction. She was just following the instructions they had deciphered, and couldn’t really explain it past a few mind-images they shared. But the way she put it – like clapping her hands together – made sense to her.
It wouldn’t just be one hand flapping through hair, but the rebound with another that would cause the clap to happen. And to echo onto itself, rebound through the Core so that it could power the entire machine. She would have only a fraction of an instant to translate herself out of it.
She gulped. Just setting that little detail down would take a lot of energy out of her.
It was the first part to set through – a contingency rite to make sure that no matter what happened, she’d shift out of there even before the reaction happened. Collapsing more and more futures… this was taking such a strain out of her.
Would she be able to go back to be a Vestal after this?
Elissa regarded the utter darkness. Inside and outside.
It was peaceful, here.
One final moment of respite.
“I know it,” she said to the empty room. “I know what might happen. I am not sure I can deal with the contingency and the reaction at the same time. I have tried shifting futures – this will be more like knitting them together into a flat circle.” A pause. Behind her eyelids, the shimmering face of a wolf-girl, smiling at her. “But I have taken my decision. I am doing this for her. I am doing this so that I can hold her once again. I have made peace with my desires.”
I suppose there is no talking back from this anymore.
“No. And I suppose that makes you much more happy than me begging for help.”
A soft chuckle resounded next to her ear.
Pic by KelThuzad