Sadja danced with Fortunato under the lamplights. The town square was full of people, old and young together, holding their hands as they swayed back and forth to the rhythm of the music. Some were old songs from the Ereworld, that for some reason had managed to pass through long years of darkness to reach that wonderful celebration.
As they all bore their flower crown and let their shadow wave under the bursting flames of the bonfire, Sadja found herself following the song, muttering some words about some young man who prompted a young lady to go fetch some milk (whatever that might mean), and looking into Fortunato’s brown eyes, the right one growing murkier and redder with each day.
He had given up so much for the Hunt that could deliver his wife some peace, and now look at him: the smile on his face was lighter than she had ever seen.
Those eyes shone more kindly than ever. Since the moment she had seen them, they had brightened in fury, darkened in anger – but she had never seen them so clear.
Feeling her cheeks flush with her blood – cursed, blessed, it was all of those things and none – she rested her head on his chest as she let the music carry the two of them into a song of their own.
She raised her eyes and met his again. And feeling brave, or maybe a little crazy, she turned her face so that their lips were level.
“Hey, hey!” Marina elbowed her as Bernardo pleasantly kneaded her neck. “Look at Hunter! The old man is getting some action at last!”
“He’s younger than me,” Bernardo retorted.
“Hush, both of you,” Cloria fret them. “This is their moment. And I don’t want you two bone-heads ruin it for them. Especially not for Sadja.” She grinned and raised her glass to her friend. Yes, she could definitely call her a friend now. “Nice catch, girl.”
While the town was filled with song and dances and sound of laughters, the Temple was dead silent.
The only person who was walking towards it was an old woman dressed in white, but she did not seem to care too much about the celebration, beyond dressing for the occasion. She held a basket with a boiler and a small pouch of tea, and she wanted to end this night with a visit to her young friend.
All this was well and good, and yet so lacking.
There was a hole in the Temple.
And it was about to turn into a gaping maw.
She floats in the dark – how long has it been?
Years of blackness.
She can’t say. All time is equal to itself and stretched and coiled and hungry and like brambles wrapped around her heart-
Where is Sadja? She was supposed to be there.
Her engineer companions?
They had left her alone. She had barely felt his presence as he tried to fix her body but then-
And she had done all that for this.
This was what she wanted.
No, it wasn’t.
What she wanted was…
Help, she croaks in the blank blackness around her.
It saddens me it has taken you so long.
Sadja counted her breaths. One.
Her eyes moved from Fortunato’s lips to his nose, to his strong jaw.
Was she really going to do this?
He was waiting.
Waiting for her.
She was about to-
Her eyelids drooped.
I did not ask for you, I did not! She tries.
And who do you think might come?
She can feel a presence next to her. It’s vast and ancient like the roots of the mountains, and yet it feels as if she can talk with someone who’s just like her.
Your body is broken. Beyond repair. The contingencies you had set up have made it so it is now beyond any chance of rejuvenation. The entire Order could bathe you in their blood and it would change nothing. In a way, you were impressive before and you still are. I am just grieving it took so much out of you.
It was necessary! I had to! Without it she’d be… she’d be… it’s your fault! It’s your fault and that of your creatures, if you had never been born nothing of this would have happened! It happened because of you!
Her rage burns like the flames that had devoured them – a change from the endless years of sorrow, but a brief one. The Will next to her does not leave. If anything, she feels soft, silky fingers wrap around the beck of her hand and she hates how soothing it feels to be touched like that.
I commend strong wills and I give all my children what they ask for – no matter if those desires are ugly or beautiful, stupid or witty. It does not concern me, only the strength of the crave that keeps the flame lit. You have garnered my attention more than one, my dear Elissa.
I did not meant to. I did not want to. I-
She is at the end of her wit. Feels like drowning. She had felt nothing but sorrow for who knows how long, gnawing on her wounds, begging for someone to come, and the moment she asked for help, there She was?
This has to be a trap.
Only a fool would consider her words.
You are free to send me off at any moment. I do not ask you to do anything but to be true to yourself. And to what you have always wanted. Can you still feel that?
And to her dismay – she can!
She can still imagine that soft, pale skin between her arms as she gently strokes her white hair, and she pulls her in closer and closer.
Sadja pushed closer, her hands trembling in Fortunato’s palms. This was all new and tremendously exciting. Her heart felt like it could stop at any moment-
And she was so close, their breaths mingling together.
Whatever you wish for, you have but a sliver of time to ask for the strength to turn it into a reality. The voice is overpowering, but if she has to be honest with herself (wasn’t this what she wanted?) it feels like a freezing balm over an open wound. It heals it, but it leaves it twisted. But that was… that is what she wants.
Even if a part of her knows it is not right.
But another, far more powerful, knows that she is about to lose it all – forever.
There would be no going back.
She had lost all powers.
Nobody had come for her.
Nobody ever would.
The Threads and the Spirits would not be able to rescue her, nor would any of her friends.
You are now watching the last ship sail: you have to decide to either lay by the pier and let it go forever, or throw yourself into the waters and reach for it.
Why are you asking me? Why me?
Oh dear. Who else would I ask about what you wish? Who else should I, if not you?
It made sense.
She was the one who decided about her future.
She had never been given any other-
Any other chance.
And there she was, with the fruit right at hand’s reach.
She would spend the rest of her days in this floating darkness, knowing she couldn’t communicate with anyone – knowing Sadja was out there somewhere, without her.
She would be happy.
And in the darkness, she reaches out for the forbidden fruit.
Arguta was the first to feel it.
A cold wind that seemed to come from nowhere, like an echo of the past winter.
For a moment it chilled her right to her bones and she lost all strength in her fingers.
Her basket with her boiler and tea and everything she had planned for her night fell onto the floor right at the entrance of the Temple.
“Someone’s here,” she whispered through chapped lips.
Pic by Hayate
Author’s Notes: oh no.