What do I do, she asks the disembodied presence next to her.
Not what have I done. Or what am I going to do, words that would be tinged with regret and doubts – concepts that by now are far behind her, fading like candles in a snowstorm.
No, instead her heart, or the burning pike that’s replaced it, is pulsating with a savage joy. She’s about to take the situation in her hands once again.
Like she did when she first went after Verna and showed her she wasn’t like her, she was better.
Like when she restored the Generator. Did not simply restart it but extracted it from a different future into this one.
And what did these people say to her?
What did they give?
A thank you?
No, they have only taken and taken and taken-
Wasn’t it time to take something back?
I am glad you are choosing the path you want. You are ready. For its glory and its consequences.
Yes. Yes, I’m ready. I’m ready to get out of here and get her back. They are not taking her away from me. Not this time. Not now. What do I do? How do I get out of here? Am I even still alive?
An interesting question for a long night spent by the fire. I have given you life and I have given you wisdom. Is there anything you would have done with your power and knowledge to resurrect yourself?
Elissa raked through her brain. What would she do? The world hung by Threads. She could pull them and be pulled by them, but something like that would require-
She started, in the darkness. She knew the answer.
The Sere Rite.
“Anybody home?” Arguta took a tentative step inside the Temple, even though her instincts screamed at her to leave, to run away and never turn back, to throw herself into the forest, or in a ditch, or down the river – anywhere but here, because here and now something was about to happen.
But she had never been one to believe in such superstitions. She had always been a woman of flame and coal and steel – of precise amounts of material and minute differences, of rationality and its power over the world… or gut feeling.
Thus, she took another step in.
Elissa walked in circles in the darkness. She would have needed salt for the ceremony. And pyres, and iron and needles to carve her skin with. All these things and more she felt in her skin as she mimed the gesture of throwing salt behind her at every step.
What I bind, I leash. What I leash, I carve.
That is impressive.
She was so close. Just had to complete the Rite. She could feel something different from the Threads rising about and inside her. It felt like that time she had accepted Her help in locating and defeating Verna. But this time it went deeper, much much deeper.
Roots gnawing through her flesh, wrapping about her bones, drinking from her blood and blooming from her spirit.
The whole four seasons.
She gasped as awareness bit onto her, flooding her fragile human mind and creaking through its gaps, building bridges of crimson sap between them, a new structure growing from the corpse of the first.
Of course, you would never be able to do it on your own. I shall be happy to lend you a hand.
Just… just bring me to her.
Trust me. The swifter you burn through your own humanity, the sooner you shall be able to claim her as your own.
Cloria was still laughing when the stroke took her.
Her eyes rolled back and she hit the table with her nose, falling behind, her muscles completely limp.
When she came to, Bernardo was holding her nose in his hand, his palm stained red with red blood.
“Wha-” she was about to say, but that was only because her tongue was quicker than her memory. “No. Oh no no.” her blue eyes shifted to the Temple.
A fear unlike she had ever felt before seeped through her bones, like the chill of Winter anew. Yet it was deeper than that. It was the same fear she felt as a little girl when she looked down at the bottom of a dark flight of stairs, knowing there would be something beneath – something spindly and hungry that would laugh as it would gnaw on her flesh.
“What’s happening?” Marina was right at her side, propping her up, cleaning her vest where the blood dropped. “Are you alright?”
“Get everyone out,” she croaked.
“Get everyone away from the town! Now!” Her shriek was lost in the music.
Nobody seemed to notice how every flower and plant, every leaf and bloom and root and branch was withering grey.
On the world outside, water was going bad.
She was calling upon the bond between it and healing, just to pervert, twist and severe it.
Her body was burning up. If she had been on the outside, her skin would be going grey, wrinkle like a dried fruit. Show her yellowed gum, her hollowed-out bones. The failure of her human body to contain the energies she was calling upon.
Which did not answer like the Threads had done. No, she was not commanding them, she was-
This is just as you have experienced before.
Her skin creaked and ripped apart, revealing her dried-up organs, like the mummies she had seen in an old book as a Novice. A lifetime ago. Another life.
And I welcome you into your new one.
She cried out in anguish as new veins came to replenish the old ones.
Thin filaments of bark.
Pumping sap and not blood.
She felt smooth hands cup her withered cheeks, raising dusty clouds of dead skin. She looked up with her empty eyes – a brief vision of eight spokes like thorns in a queenly halo and a crown fashioned like two masks, one laughing, one grieving and the proud smile beneath those golden eyes of cinder –
You did not disappoint me.
And something flew into her cursed body, the wound wrapping upon itself by the Sere Rite.
Filling her up with the vitality of Spring.
The might of Summer.
The wisdom of Autumn.
And the cruelty of Winter.
Pic by morbent
Author’s Notes: well now raise your hands all who thought Elissa was going bad. I hope you liked this chapter, even though we are really going into dark territory. Thanks for reading.