Well! It’s the tenth chapter. A milestone, if I do say so myself. Actually it’s the eleventh, if you count the prologue. Remember that you can read any of the chapters by navigating up to the black bar at the top of the page and clicking on Demimind chapters.
Winter’s eyes are open, but she doesn’t register what she sees until Summer screams at her the third time.
The world around her is in utter chaos. Twisting, writhing tendrils of light and dark lash out from all around. Thomas, the gateguard, stands by her side, holding onto her hand with the attitude of a scared, confused child lingering close to his mother. There is no consistency in this place.
No up, no down- everything is an agonizingly bright sea, or a coarse dark wasteland. It shifts and rocks and rolls in her vision, though she feels very firmly planted on the ground. Hissing, bubbling and shrieking fills the air, the whole world is a tortured temporal mess that wriggles and squirms in her vision until she feels she might be sick.
“Stop,” She says softly. She can feel the truth of her words as she says them, and the chaos doesn’t frighten her. “I know where I am and what this used to be. This is not how I left it.”
The world around her stops moving and falls, slowly, into place, colors and shapes changing- almost apologetically.
She turns, sees clouds of white in the ceiling- the sky?- and the twisting tendrils that once slipped up from the floor instead still, forming white grass. Everything is white here, different shades of brightness, but white all the same. Before her, three steps forward, is a table. The horizon becomes white, the earth underfoot is white.
“A pocket world,” Thomas whispers to himself, and Winter gives him a strange look.
“How did you know that?” She asks, genuinely surprised. Inside she wonders how she knew that. “I didn’t take you for a magic user. I don’t see how anyone but a magician could know.”
Thomas clears his throat and looks away. “I’m not a magic user. My dad was, but I’m not. Before the world went to hell and back- pardon my language, miss- my family was right respected. Long history of keeping portals of one kind or another. As it happens, my granddad used to tell my dad stories about pocket worlds. Folds in space, he called them. Places the Gods lived.”
“We’re not Gods,” Winter says quietly. “I’m not a God. There is no God. We’re just regular people.”
“Begging your pardon, miss, but you know at least two Words of power,” Thomas responds mildly. “If that ain’t God material, what is?”
Winter thinks about that. “There’ve been sorcerers who knew Words of power, haven’t there?”
Thomas shakes his head ruefully. “If there were, miss, I never learned about ’em. Sorry.”
Winter decides it’s time for a change of subject. She goes to take a seat in the white grass- but no sooner does she think of sitting down than a chair appears and forms under her butt from the vastness of white around them.
Creepy, Summer remarks. Never got used to this dimension.
“What do you know about Bringer-of-Spring?” Winter asks.
Thomas shrugs, then smiles, taking a seat as well. The world seems not to care what he thinks- when he sits, he sits down in the grass. “What do you want to know about him, miss?”
“My name is Winter, it’s… kind of weird when you call me miss like that,” Winter says wearily. “As for what I want to know- tell me about how he is, what he does. Just about him, I guess. I didn’t have the chance to know him very well before we were… separated.”
“He built the town I was born in, mi- Winter. He’s sort of like a local, ah, God there,” Thomas starts, then stops, plainly uncomfortable now that he actually has to think about it. “He never really did much magic- but, strangest thing, it was in the middle of the snow plains, where he built it. Somehow he made it so that the snow and cold is sort of… surrounding it, but not affecting it. Like he took it… out of time or something.”
“What’s the name of the town?” Winter asks curiously. “There’s no sign or anything.”
“Very nice,” Winter says politely. A bit boring and cliché, Summer snips.
“Well, the town is always just warm enough to be outside, without ever being too hot or too cold. It’s sort of stuck between the two seasons- well, you know how Spring is, right?”
The man or the season? Summer asks dryly.
“Yes,” Winter replies.
“The town never sees winter- er, your pardon, not you, but the time of year- and it never sees summer or fa-” Thomas stops himself in time, looking around fearfully before he continues. “Or autumn. The trees are always healthy and the crops always grow and harvest time comes whenever Bringer feels like it. It’s magic, pure and simple, and it’s legend- and truth- that it was Bringer-of-Spring who did it.”
There’s admiration in Thomas’s tones, so much that Summer wonders how much is an act. Winter has no such thoughts, nodding for Thomas to continue. “Did he ever say anything about Words of power?”
“No, miss Winter. He never did. Not to my family at least, and we were closer’n most to him,” Thomas says. He sighs heavily again. “Sorry I don’t know much about him. He’s pretty mysterious.”
“He is,” Winter says shortly, suddenly lost in thought.
He saved you, you know. Summer volunteers. Let you run away when you needed to.
“Yes,” Winter replies quietly. “He did.”
“Sorry, miss?” Thomas asks, forgetting himself.
For a moment, a blissful, blessed moment, Winter is left alone in her head and can think. She figures she may as well make the most of it. She stands, looking around this white world. It seems safe from Fall, for now. She wonders at her brother. Where did He come from? What does He want? What had Summer taken from Him? Or had He meant Winter? Had she herself taken something from Him? If only she could remember.
She half-expects a book to appear out of the ether at that, with all of the answers. She’s almost disappointed when it doesn’t. Summer seems to guess at what she wants.
This place, as I understand it, is made from memory, Winter. It can’t remember what you don’t for you. I remember you told me there was a place that you stored your memories once, I remember watching you do it. But I can’t for the life of me remember how to get into that place.
“We’ve got seven days to kill,” Winter says to no one in particular. “Why not?”
Not knowing exactly what she’s doing, she walks off through the white grass. Thomas, not knowing what else to do, follows.
After a time- with a white forest of needled trees visible in the distance- she reaches a white pond set in white earth, flowing and swirling- a pond of opaque fluid, like glue or paint. She reaches down and cups some in her hand- but it feels as insubstantial as cloud. She watches it slip between her fingers and trickle back into the greater mass.
It triggers…. something, a memory rushing from the blackness of her mind and striking her squarely.
A pond. She is near a pond, a blue pond, clear crystal blue, like the sky. Trees are visible off in the distance, but around her green grasses tangle with her feet. Green grass tipped with brown.
No, she sits with her knees up near her chest, and at her feet, half in the water and half out, there lies Spring on his back, his strange hair tickling her toes. His head rests on his arms.
“You should go home, Winter-Long-Frost,” he says, tone gentle as wind through leafy branches.
“You… you can’t tell me what to do,” Winter says, in barely more than a whisper. “Summer said to be out here. So I’m going to stay out here until she says for me to go inside.”
“She’s probably just pulling a prank, Frost,” Spring remarks. “I’d thought you’d get better at recognizing them, but Summer is right- you’re too easy to manipulate.”
“I don’t need your sympathy,” Winter snipes back, her sharpness surprising her. “I only listen to her because she’s older than me.”
“Summer will always be older than Winter,” Spring says mildly. “Are you going to let that dictate your life forever? What would it take to make you do things for yourself? It kills Fall a little when you get hurt, you know, and Summer will laugh every single time.”
“Fall?” Winter asks. She stares down at Spring suspiciously. “What about The-Leaves-Fall? Why should he care if I get hurt?”
“Winter, it’s almost painful watching you lie. Fall is ever so much more than a ‘brother’ to you. We’re all family, but you and Fall are like lovers, that much is no secret.”
Winter feels a sharp blush creeping up, starting with her tickled toes. “You really are shameless. I really hate you sometimes, you know that?”
“You really hate me, not Summer? That’s a start.”
“Winter!” Thomas hisses. “Miss Winter, what are you doing?”
Winter. You’ve just been standing there for close to ten minutes now. We have days to kill, but this is ridiculous.
Winter’s eyes focus and she comes back to herself. She gazes into the pool still, calling up a memory of Autumn’s face now. It swirls into shape in the liquid, formed of whiteness but still visible as the contours of the horned man’s visage. To Winter, it rises from the pool and stares back at her. She reaches out, leaning perilously close to the edge, her hand outstretched, seemingly completely oblivious to Thomas’s pleas or Summer’s admonition.
After a few seconds it becomes apparent she’s out of it.
“What is she doing?” Thomas asks himself. His eyes are drawn to the figure in the pool, flat in the strange white liquid. It looks startlingly similar to an old portrait of Lord Fa- Autumn He can’t help but wonder if it was drawn from life.
Summer sighs mentally and rolls her figurative eyes.
If I knew I’d tell ya. If I knew and you could hear me, anyway.
“Lord Autumn. What will you do to help us?”
The merchant is quaking in his boots. This close to the horned man it’s extremely difficult to keep your wits, its said his gaze can cause insanity, and the merchant looks as if he believes it.
Lord Autumn shrugs his shoulders expressively, half a smile creasing his lips. “I suppose that depends. Dear sister, what do you think is the best course of action?”
Summer grins and looks the merchant dead in the eyes. “You want me to decide a peasant’s fate? Lost your touch of mercy?”
“If I wanted mercy I’d let Bringer decide,” Fall says, his tone bored. “I think this case requires your rather unique touch.”
Summer regards the merchant. He’s a bit of a short, fat man, sweaty and covered in the thick stench of fear and apprehension. His face is one of a tired traveler. He stands before two legends. Things couldn’t have gone well to bring him here in the first place.
Summer shrugs. Empathy she might have, but sympathy has never been her strong point. She decides to defer this decision to her younger sister. Should be worth a laugh.
In a flash, she shifts shape, becoming Winter, and leaving her mind-mate confused and too hot in what used to be Summer’s seat and wearing what used to be Summer’s clothes.
Here, Winter. Decide this case for me, Summer says. I’m too bored to bother.
Winter’s eyes, two piercing blue orbs, rest squarely on the merchant. She’s about to open her mouth when Fall interrupts her thought.
“She wants you to go home, pick two of your finest wares, and deliver them to the nearest temple of Winter. When you have done that you will be cleansed of evil, and you may converse freely with your rival without fear of hatred or anger,” Fall says. His expression is stormy, but it’s not the merchant’s fault, Winter is sure of that.
The merchant, however, flees anyway after the necessary farewells and thank yous.
When he is gone, Summer forces her way back into Winter’s body, shoving her weaker sibling aside and letting her resume her usual position- watching.
“Well that was boring,” She grumps. “You should have let Frosty decide.”
“Summer, I do not approve of you using our sister like that,” Fall says, his tone amiable, though his expression is murder. “It hurts her to have to make decisions so quickly.”
“It was just a joke. You ruined it,” Summer snaps. “I’m older than both of you, you can at least pretend that makes a difference.”
“To me it most certainly does not,” Fall says dryly. Leaves crackle in his voice. “A few moments difference is hardly something to go by. Bringer-of-Spring came before you. In any case, I was prepared to accept your interesting punishments for the poor man. That does not mean you needed to take Winter out into this hot throne room and force her to make snap decisions about his life.”
“She may be your lover, but that’s-“
Lord Autumn’s eyes glint dangerously. “Did I say I ask this out of love?”
“Then do not place words in my mouth. You delight in tormenting her. You may be older, but I am more powerful, and I will not have you picking on your twin sister. There will be order, or there will be no mischief whatsoever, and you may find yourself imprisoned.”
Summer nearly snorts, but stops herself in time. She isn’t a fool. “Fine, brother. But one day I won’t need to listen to you.”
“When that day comes, I shall make pigs fly in celebration,” Fall says solemnly. “Perhaps also the world will cease to spin and the Cycle will stop turning.”
Winter pitches forward into the pool face first. It surprises her so much she forgets herself, and takes in a lungful of the liquid.
You really are a ditz, you know that?
She surfaces after a moment, blinks. The liquid doesn’t seem to obstruct her breathing at all. She still coughs it up. It’s uncomfortably warm, even if it has all the substance of a cloud.
“Winter? Er. Miss Frost?”
Winter stares up at Thomas. “How do you know more of my name?” She asks, thickly. Her head feels full of white foam.
“You were mumbling. Staring at the… the water, and mumbling,” Thomas says sheepishly. “I just guessed.”
He’s lying, Summer says flatly. An image, complete with sound, appeared in the pool. He watched the whole thing. Now he’s terrified of you, I’d guess.
Winter sighs. She runs her fingers through her hair. It’s sticky and greasy. After the events of the today, well, that probably shouldn’t be so surprising.
“I need a bath,” She remarks. “Probably two.”
“You’re on the right track,” Thomas says without thinking. He looks like he regrets it immediately.
Seeing his expression she almost laughs. “You don’t need to look like that. I’m not going to bite, Even if I remembered how. And you’re right anyway.”
She steps out of the pond, wiping off the… stuff… from her frost jeans and shirt. It’s pleasantly cool here. She sits on the bank of the little pond and lies down in the grass. It’s been so long. Maybe in the morning she can worry about where she’ll go next or what she’ll do.
Mirroring her thoughts, the world darkens around her, white sky turning black. Thomas is greatly disturbed by this.
“What’s going on?”
“I’m going to sleep,” Winter says irritably. “Stop being such a baby. You can rest too.”
She closes her eyes. She neither sees nor cares what Thomas does, so long as she can finally get some rest. The power of the orb seems to have settled down the moment she set foot in this place.
It’s a bit of a comfort knowing she doesn’t have to worry about Fall here.
It’s a bit more of a comfort knowing she doesn’t need to worry about anything at all until morning.
Her dreams take her quickly, surrounding normally white thoughts with black until there’s no white at all.