Demimind: Chapter 13

I have a feeling things are going to become more complicated. Hold on to your socks, people!

-Eris

(13)Time Like a Tide

She reappears, stumbles, and is caught. Thomas lets her go a moment later. “Are you alright, miss?”

“Yes,” She says, though she doesn’t quite feel it. Her head, hands and feet are heavy and her body feels like it’s been run through a strainer. “Where are we?”

“Getting ready for battle, miss. I was wondering when you’d arrive,” Thomas replies. “Or if you would.”

Winter looks around.

They’re standing on an immense wall, almost twenty full feet high. Crenellations form areas for cover along its front. Pillars set every ten feet hold up a sloped roof. It’s all made of marble, a feat she can hardly believe came from human engineering. All along its edges there are people standing, eyes on the horizon. Behind her, the wall slopes off into a town. No one seems to be in it- or if they are, they’re all inside their houses. If they could be called houses- the structures are all shacks, even what appears to be the main building at its center is only two stories tall and seems made of random material. In comparison to the wall surrounding it, the village itself is shabbily constructed. There’re no fires and no one seems to be dying.

It’s too quiet. And the sky is too calm- there isn’t a rumble, isn’t a sound from it, no flashes. It’s a white sky rather than a black one, which is a bit of an improvement. The temperature seems a bit more stable too, no longer fluctuating between states of extreme cold or heat.

“How long has it been?” She asks weakly. “I came in right after you.”

“I’ve been here about two nights, miss Winter,” Thomas says, his voice shaking slightly. “I’d begun to think that before, by the cliff edge, was a dream. The voices whisper to you constantly, miss, the voices of the dead. The people here think it’s magic, but to me it just feels like a bad omen.”

Winter pats Thomas on the shoulder awkwardly. “Well I’m here now. I can confirm that it’s a real place we came from. Do you know where we are?”

“At the edge of the Barrier. Seems to me someone set up a trap. A sort of… distress call. It brought everyone it could from any point in time, they said, to here. Uh. But only people who were in the Barrier. Some of them won’t fight…” He trails off. “But that’s not important. You’ll fight, won’t you?”

“If it gets me to Season’s Refuge faster, I suppose I need to,” Winter says grimly. “I’ll need to ask about that, I expect. Who’s in charge? And for the last time, where are we, Thomas?”

He takes a step back, taken aback by her tone. “We’re in a town- on the walls of a town- called Spiritfell. But the town itself seems empty, Winter.”

“Then who is-“

Summer finally gets through.

Spiritfell?! You’re kidding! Tell me he’s kidding! This town was wiped out a good hundred years ago! There wasn’t even a big stick left standing- did we go back in time or something?

“Why are we here?”

Fuck if I know. But if this is the eve of the battle where Fall leveled the place, I’d suggest we make ourselves scarce really, really soon-

“The voices say we’re here to do what must be done,” Thomas says quietly. “Do you know how to use a weapon, miss?”

Winter stares at him, then sighs. “No, but I’ve killed people before.”

They stand, side by side, on the wall, staring out over at the vast nothingness, the wasteland of the Barrier. Thomas seems at ease- but he’s had a position as guard all his life. Winter is apprehensive, and Summer is scared.

“Who is telling you all this?” Winter asks. “I mean, do the voices have names?”

“They’re talking to you too, aren’t they?” Thomas replies hopefully. 

“Yes, but I’ve already got Summer in my head,” Winter says dryly. “I don’t hear them as often as I hear her.”

“Well… they don’t give me names,” He says quietly. “It’s just a constant buzz, like… They’re all talking at once. I’ve never been one for magic, miss, it’s alright to look at, but I wouldn’t want to live with it.”

“It probably is magic,” Winter says, and leaves it at that. “Do your magic voices say anything about when we’re going to be attacked?”

Why do you even care? You’ll be long gone before they even get here, right?

Winter isn’t so sure. “I don’t know about that. That sounds wrong, to me.”

So does dying.

“I’m not going to die. We don’t even know if they’re going to attack us or not.”

“The voices say it’s an immensely powerful magic force,” Thomas offers. “But you’re really powerful too, right? You stood against Lord Autumn.”

Winter really isn’t sure about that. “That may’ve just been luck,” She says doubtfully. “I wouldn’t bet all my chickens on it.”

You’ve never bet any chickens in your life. Why do you say that so often?

“I don’t know. Do I say that a lot?” Winter honestly can’t remember.

“Say what, miss? About the chickens? That’s the first time I’ve heard you say it,” Thomas says distractedly. “I should think-“

He stops for some reason, but Summer doesn’t see it until Winter looks up.  Shit.

There is a man walking toward the wall, from out of the dust swirling. He’s cloaked in a cold, familiar light, and strides purposefully.

“Are you sure Spiritfell was destroyed?” Winter asks Summer, feeling fear stir in her belly and her heart thump with sudden dread. One man- he’s powerful sure, but it’s one man. It might not even be him. So why is she so frightened?

I’m certain! It was wiped off the map! He came, he conquered, and he left. No one knows why he did it. He never told us. Actually, come to think of it, he never told any of us about it. He just did it. We knew it was him, survivors said so. At least, I knew it was him. Um. Summer doesn’t sound as sure of herself as she claims.

Only one real way to find out. Winter fights the urge to throw up.

Toughen up, Summer offers weakly.

The man approaches within shouting distance of the wall. His feet are cloven. Cold light surrounds Him in heavy waves- yes. It is Fall.

He seems to be scanning the wall for something, and then He finds it and His eyes lock, lock on Winter’s.

His mouth opens.

And she knows. He’s here for her.

All her blood boils away in that gaze, her eyes shut and she looks down. Thomas, who sets his hand on her shoulder to steady her, feels her shaking. “Winter? Miss?”

Then Fall says: “Sister! What-“

Her memory washes over her like a wave.

“-are you doing here?” Fall asks curiously. Winter snaps her book closed and blushes, feels the wretched thing swirling about her cheeks. She sits up, but doesn’t meet her brother’s eyes.

“I wanted,” She whispers, so that no one, not even herself can even really hear her.

“What?” Fall presses. He stands tall- though not as tall as Spring- and his well muscled frame so close to hers is making her uncomfortable, especially when he leans down. He doesn’t mean it- he’s Fall, he looms like no other. She doesn’t want to edge away, she finds. Instead, she looks up at him and smiles. Through all the hardship she’s been through, through the torments her sister inflicts and the pain of being repressed constantly, there are only a few things she really knows.

“I wanted to be alone,” She says clearly, quietly. “But I’m happier when you’re here.”

“Why don’t you answer?” Fall shouts up, voice strained with emotion. “Is Summer behind this? She should show herself!”

Winter stares down at her brother, futile in His frustration.

“Would you take my freedom away?” She asks, her voice trembling oddly. “I’m not ready to relinquish it just yet.”

“What’s happened to you?” He asks, His voice like a sudden storm.

“You happened to me, brother!” She snaps. “You’ve chased me all over, pushed me to the brink of my sanity. I can barely remember a time when you haven’t been after me- and why? So you can fight me?” She grips the crenellation before her and leans forward. She feels her fingers digging into stone.

“What are you talking about?” He calls. “I’ve not attacked you. You are my sister! Kin!”

The last is desperate, confused and hurt.

And time, as she stands there, pulls at her like a tide. Her reply is waiting at the edge of her lips, her cruel rebuttal is poised to spill forth. She feels it, holds it to herself. This, she decides, is where it went wrong. This is where she pushed Him away instead of drawing Him toward her. But how did that happen? She was not here on the eve of this battle before.

Or perhaps she was. Is she merely reliving a memory? And Summer. Are there two Summers and two Winters now? There are too many complications to stay here, and if she leaves Him with her old self than perhaps the past will repeat. Perhaps, if she steps away now, she’ll have failed in some way. It’s all happened so fast.

Should she go where the tide asks? Should she reject him, knowing full well the consequences? No, her brother is smart. Frighteningly so.

High, high above, and unbeknownst to anyone below, the first flake of snow falls. It drifts through the air on tongues of cold until a warm breath of air, rising from the plains, turns it to a mere droplet and sends it spiraling earthward.

Winter relaxes her grip on the stone and half-smiles. Without thinking about it anymore, she lets her answer slip out. “And you, mine. Though I do not know it yet, though I have my own path to take.”

“I don’t understand,” He says helplessly. “What drives you so distant?”

“I-“

A slender hand slaps itself over her mouth, muffling her. Her eyes meet Fall’s again, panicked. And she’s pulled, struggling, away from the wall. Her assailant throws her down off the structure with sickening ease. She hears Thomas shout, and, as she watches him turn, she catches a glimpse of the face, grinning in triumph, as it raises a hand towards him.

No!

Then her head slams against flagstone and her mind erupts in a flash of pain and a nasty crack.

Dizzied she shakes herself, pushing up until she approaches her feet, but she wobbles, stinging tears in her eyes. She tries to get her bearings, shakes herself. And she hears a high pitched whining noise, a hissing. Her eyes fall on a small, molten pile of slag, an incandescent skeleton upright without its armor, glowing with heat before it falls over.

Thomas!

She hears him groan now, whirls and watches him stagger upright again. The fool plants his spear when he should be running. Another whining noise, followed by that same hissing. Her eyes slip over something, a slender figure, bronze skin, flowing blonde hair. Her eyes meet her own reversed- blue and green. But for the hair…

“Summer,” She says, shakily, trying to clear her head.

That’s not me! Look! Her hair is blonde, mine is white! Right? Winter, that’s not me!

“Summer! Why are you-?” She asks, taking a step forward. The other Summer, the impostor raises a hand.

A bolt of searing heat washes over her like a cloak of agony, boiling her nerves and setting her skin afire with agonizing pain. It’s so bad she wishes she’d black out.

“I don’t understand, sister,” Summer hisses. “In your future you have the power of a true god! People fall over themselves to worship and wonder at you. How have you sunk so low that a surprise attack such as mine could ever catch you off guard?”

I have no idea what she’s talking about, Winter’s bound Summer says. She seems in better shape than Winter, who sees double and can’t stop her hand from shaking as she lifts it.

Winter draws on the same need, on her memory. She focuses her orb power into a single word, pulled from the future and the past. It coalesces in her mind and frost forms around her hand.

If her false sister sees it, she doesn’t acknowledge it with so much as a look. Instead, she casts her eyes towards Thomas. He’s gathered a few soldiers now, two or three, and they stand by him.

“You can’t hide your feelings, either, Winter! I know you’ve feelings for mortals. I saw it in your future. I may not be able to change the tide of time, but I can sure as hell slow it down!” She casts a hand towards Thomas, but her mismatched eyes meet Winter’s again.

And Winter strikes, cold rage making her cast her power forth in a flash, hand lifted, fingers curved, directed right at her sister where she stands.

Bolt,” She breathes, the eldritch word twisting her tongue.

An intense, thin blast of crackling energy snaps out from her hand and blows through her sister, tearing a hole through her middle and crashing into the wall behind her. It rips through that as well, moving on and on forever, a blue line that vanishes in the distance.

Summer, her sister, stares at her, shocked. Then she disappears.

Heat mirage! She’s there!

And yes, there she is- now Winter can see her, a good ten feet distant, one hand still pointed at Thomas and keeping him and his in check. 

There’s a crushing sensation, as of her entire body being squeezed. Winter’s mouth is dry, chokingly dry as if she’d swallowed desert sand and washed it down with dust. She coughs, but remains standing. “Not bad, sister- but nowhere near good enough. Watch,” the other Summer says.

Thomas can only stand and stare. His soldiers (friends?) stand in their full plate mail. Thomas, wearing nothing but his metal studded gate-guard leather, levels his spear at not-Summer. Is it Winter’s imagination, or does he tremble?

The fake Summer grins. “Not afraid to attack a demigod, are you?”

Thomas, The same voice says in her head in a completely different tone. She’ll kill him.

“You’re nothing like her,” He says grimly. “I’m not afraid of an impostor like you.”

“Your friends don’t seem to share your sentiment,” evil Summer observes. Thomas risks a glance, and she lashes out the moment his attention flickers. Winter barely sees her move. That lithe, bronze body is there one moment, gone the next. It reappears next to Thomas. She’d lied- his soldiers stand there by his side. How they had come to be there and helping him, who they are makes no difference now, with Summer so close.

In a second, before they have time to do more than shout, they are ash in their armor. The whistling of steam, the plink of cooling armor, and now evil Summer leans against Thomas, up against him, over his spear, one hand on the shaft and the other on his chest. “You aren’t bad to look at,” She purrs. “Easy on the eyes. It’s a pity I have to- aggh!”

She recoils as if stung. Her palm is covered in welts for the moment it remains in view. Summer’s alternate form trembles with rage, her eyes narrowing. “Iron,” Thomas says slowly. “Your type just can’t take it. I didn’t believe my mother when she said. Now I think I do- you’re not a demigod. You’re one of them. One of the fair folk, aren’t you? Maybe the last of them.”

Winter blinks, uncomprehending, but Summer sneers. “Don’t compare me to trash like them!”

At the word ‘trash’, Winter suddenly feels her skin tingle. And now of all times, her mouth moves.

“Shut up,” She says, quite clearly. “And fuck off.”

Summer’s old self stares at Winter. Their eyes lock. Summer begins to smile.

“What did you just say?” She asks, her voice filled with the full blaze of a summer wildfire.

“I said fuck off,” Winter snaps, and she can hardly believe its her own words. The Summer inside stays silent. “I’m not the weak voice inside you. I’m the dying of the seasons, the end of the years, and the hostess who will usher in the new and finally force out the old. I am my own person, and you have finally pushed me past my limits.”

Orb power- what’s left of it- crackles around Winter’s feet, frost spreading over flagstone and grit alike. Winter tries hard not to sway.

Old Summer seems taken aback at that, and if Winter hadn’t convinced her, a voice behind her, cheerful- yet hiding a subtle fury- succeeds in telling her just how badly outmatched she is.

“You should go home, sister,” Fall’s voice is less than a whisper. “Before I become angry.”

Summer, turns, stares at Fall for one moment, and then flashes into smoke. Well, The real Summer says. Looks like she didn’t expect Fall to be on our side. What really bothers me is how she knew we’d be here in the first place.

Winter takes a step forward, stumbles, and feels horrible dizziness overtake her for a few moments. She reaches up and rubs the back of her head, feeling something slick in her hair. 

“You’re bleeding a little, miss,” Thomas says worriedly. “Are you feeling okay?”

She stares at her hand, which is now smeared in red. The bitter taste of iron fills her mouth. “A little,” She replies flatly. “This is a little?”

Then she falls forward and smacks into stone.

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Demimind: Chapter 12

This was gonna be posted yesterday. I won’t feed you excuses- suffice to say that my brain was off yesterday and for some reason it was never posted. 😦

On the bright side, surprise tuesday update!

-Eris

(12)Land of Nothing

“Where is this?” Winter asks. Her voice echoes. The ground is a grey dust, and the sky is thundercloud black, shattered by bursts of heat lightning. The air is by turns blistering and cold- without Spring’s pill, she probably would be getting woozy.

Don’t you ever get tired of asking that? I already told you. It’s the Barrier. The Wall. The Edge. Lots of poetic names if you’re into that stuff-

Thomas, who can’t hear Summer, inadvertently interjects. “It’s called the Barrier, miss Winter. It’s huge, a wasteland. Just happens to be luck for us I brought a map!”

So the cheerfulness wasn’t fake, then. Now that is pretty amazing.

Winter sighs. “How does this help at all? The point of going into the city was to figure out where to go next.”

“I’ve got the whole world on this map here,” Thomas points out. “Can’t you just pick somewhere on the map?”

Winter rolls her eyes, but holds out a hand. “Show me.”

Thomas hands her a roll of paper, wrapped up in ribbon. He’d probably taken it from his pack. It feels like it’d blow away in the wind if she let go for an instant, so she keeps a tight grip on it.

She unrolls it, and feels a sudden surge of memory.

“We’re here, miss.” Thomas’s finger taps at an immense band near the very bottom of the map. To the south of it there’s a small illustrated city with the words ‘Death’s Edge’ written above it. Reassuring.

To the north of the band called the Barrier- her memory flashes backward for her, a hundred years back, ten minutes back, what’s the difference?- there’s a stretch of open fields with intermittent forest, and then to the east of that there’s an enormous expanse of forest simply called ‘Evercold’. At the northernmost point of Evercold there lies a small circle marked with a red dot and the words ‘Everspring’. It’s surrounded by snow and plains, but the southern tip of the valley touches Evercold, giving her a sense of scale.

Then her eyes fall on a point, far, far, far to the north, a large circle- a ring, really- surrounding a diamond. Written above the triangle are the words ‘Season’s Refuge’. It hits her like a brick. It knocks the wind out of her.

A cornier name just couldn’t be more appropriate, Summer says, but even her voice sounds wistful.

Season’s Refuge.

It was her home, once. All the home she’d ever had or wanted. What made her leave it? What drove her brothers and sisters to bickering?

Winter clenches her hands into fists, wrinkling the map. She’s shocked to find wet in her eyes, sparkling like her cold crystal heart.

“Miss, I’d appreciate it if you didn’t cry on my map,” Thomas says, a little lamely, gently maneuvering it out of her grip. “We still need it to get out of the-“

“Take me to Season’s Refuge,” Winter manages. “I have questions I need answered, and I have a feeling- just a feeling, that they’ll be answered there.”

“The Refuge?” Thomas seems a little surprised at that. “Now I can understand wanting to revisit the place of your birth, but I thought we were trying to avoid Lord Autumn.”

“He-Whose-Name-Shakes-Mountains doesn’t rule there,” Winter growls, her voice choked with sudden anger. “And He never will. It may have begun with those fools… but… I think Spring had the most power there. I… should be at the advantage.”

“It’s at the least a two month journey,” Thomas says warily. “But if you’re sure, far be it from me to argue with a Goddess.”

Winter doesn’t bother to correct him this time. She doesn’t believe herself or her brothers Gods. “Lead on then, mortal,” She says dryly. Inside she boils with cool rage.

Now at least she knows where she’s going.

Thomas’s path seems to wander, but Winter doesn’t make comment. He seems to refer to his map often, and it’s something Summer can’t really understand.

That map is so big. How the hell can he know where we are? She asks anxiously. Are you sure we can trust him?

“You seem to trust him fine enough,” Winter whispers. “Have a little faith, I’m sure he knows more than we do.”

They walk for over an hour. Well over an hour, tracking a meandering path through the same grey grit. There isn’t even a landmark- not even a dune or something in the distance to focus on. The sky remains black, and the occasional flash still makes Winter jump, though it doesn’t seem to bother Thomas anywhere near as much as the white pocket dimension had.  When Winter had looked for it after arriving, it had disappeared.

She can’t help but wonder how they’d gotten here in the first place. They’d entered the bloody thing in Everspring. It’s beyond her how they’d ended up in the Barrier, for all that it seemed to wrap around the map when she’d looked at it.

When she asks Summer about it, she goes very quiet for a while. Then…

You have to promise to tell no one.

“Okay.”

Not Thomas. Not even Spring. No one. Got it?

“Okay! I understand!” Winter says impatiently. “Just tell me.”

“Miss Winter?” Thomas is giving her a weird look.

“Just talking to Summer,” Winter replies, blushing. She must look pretty crazy. “Sorry.”

“Don’t crack up on me,” Thomas says, his expression serious. “I’ll need you later.”

Okay. I checked up on it. There’s like a library of my memories, and apparently at one point I heard you talking about it, and when you found out I heard you you swore me to secrecy. Uh. It’s a closely guarded secret, are you really sure you want to know?

“Yes.”

Well… Don’t flip out or anything, but it’s powered by lifeforce. Yours. It drains you in order to facilitate travel. At first it was probably automatically taking you to Season’s Refuge, but then your orbpower went out of control and, well, sent it off course. Those pocket worlds move- they’re like transports. By the time you woke up we were all the way into the Barrier, and the Barrier is sort of like a wild area. Pocket worlds don’t work so hot here. Not much magic does.

Winter tries very carefully not to flip out. Under the circumstances, she thinks she does quite well. She counts to ten and everything, breathing in and letting it out slowly. Then she asks a very reasonable question.

“Why the fuck didn’t you tell me that earlier?” She snarls, making Thomas hop about a foot in the air and spin around.

“Miss!”

Her voice and his echo, bouncing around the empty plain of… nothing.

Well gee, I dunno, Summer hisses back. Maybe you were a bit preoccupied and it wasn’t important!

“If I’d stayed there too long I could have-“

Shutupshutpshutup! You wouldn’t have died! It was leeching orbpower out of you, it’s not your lifeforce! It was so concentrated on you it didn’t even bother with Thomas! If it was really dangerous I would’ve told you earlier, doofus, think! Why would I want you dead?

“Miss Winter?” Thomas asks, obviously concerned.

Winter blinks, snaps back to reality to listen to him. “Yes?”

“Could you argue a little quieter?” He volunteers. “It’s unnerving.”

“Oh. Sorry,” Winter replies vaguely. “She started it.”

“Just so long as it’s finished soon, miss.”

“Right.”

They track through the dust a while longer. She frowns to herself. How large is this Barrier? It didn’t seem too wide on the map.

But the horizon extends forever, and clouds of gray dirt and grit, stirred up by pockets of wind, fly in miniature cyclones. The sky constantly flashes and rumbles, and the air itself is by turns thick and thin. This wasteland doesn’t seem to have an end.

They haven’t been traveling further longer than another hour- in relative silence, Summer’s complaints slowly dying to whispers, then grumbling, then her own thoughts- when Winter catches sight of it, on the very edge of her vision. She waits until she’s sure it’s there, when she just can’t take it anymore, and then-

“Don’t look at it directly, miss. It won’t be there,” Thomas says wearily. “I’ve got these in my dad’s book.”

“What are they?” Winter asks, curious. It’s still bothering her.

“Shades. They’re like… visions of things. People who’ve died, things you want, things you miss or knew. It’s either magic or just plain normal weird, if you ask me.”

“Ah,” Winter replies. A flicker catches her eye again, and she resists the urge to look until she sees what it is.

Scales and fur, a long, long body. A tongue flicks out at her, but when she snaps her head around to look, it’s gone. Jane.

Her servant died to protect her.

That was-

“Yes.”

You want her back, don’t you.

“Yes.”

She was slippery, you know. She was always looking for opportunities to have one or the other of us for dinner.

“She can’t help her nature.”

Couldn’t, you mean.

“You said you could bring her back,” Winter whispers. Did Summer lie about that too?

Maybe I can, I won’t know until I try.

“Okay,” Winter says reluctantly. “We’ll see.”

Isn’t that always the way?

Thomas stops, and Winter almost walks right into him. She takes a step up beside him instead to see what he’s looking at.

There’s a murmuring on the very edge of hearing that Summer’s talking was drowning out. A whispering, a sort of muttering that can’t quite be understood.

And just in front of the two there lies an immense gorge, a canyon that yawns wider than she thought was possible, stretching on into the horizon.

“This isn’t right,” Thomas says slowly. “I wasn’t leading us towards the Line. I was leading us towards the northern side of the Barrier, so we could cross without any trouble. What are we doing all the way out here?” He stares down at the map dubiously.

“You are here because I called you here,” comes a whisper, directly between the two of them. “No, don’t look around. I’m not actually with you yet. I need your help.”

Winter glances at Thomas’s face, which is blank. “How could we help you?” She asks cautiously.

“There is a city, here in the Barrier, that is under attack. It is across the Line you see before you. It needs your assistance,” The voice whispers, its tone completely expressionless. “Come across and help and I will assist you in whatever else you need to do. I will give riches and artifacts and power to all who help.”

The whispers in Winter’s head are drowning out Summer’s response now. She can’t hear what her mindmate has to say, but it sounds indignant. She wonders if it’s anything like as loud for Thomas, who has a bit of a dazed expression on his face now.

“And you expect us to…?” Thomas starts.

“Fight. Come.”

Winter sighs. “For one thing I’m not sure-“

“I’ll go.”

“Good,” the voice says in that same emotionless tone. “Step forward.”

Thomas takes one step forward and vanishes. Winter just stands there, stunned, disbelieving. He’d stepped off the edge of the canyon, right off into nothing, and instead of falling, he’d disappeared. She’d seen weirder things, sure, but-

“Come.”

Winter takes a step forward without quite willing it, and then she vanishes as well, her senses taken from her in a flash.

The map flutters down onto the gritty sand and, to the wind’s whistling satisfaction, is blown end over end across the dusty plain.

Demimind: Chapter 11

I am so glad to be back from vacation! (wow is that weird)

Next update on monday, bonus update next sunday? Yeah, let’s make this really confusing! Oh, I dunno, two updates a week seems plenty, really. No need to make it harder than it is. I’ll toss out a bonus update sometime. Until I have concrete data on when it would be prudent to do this, I’m gonna leave the date variable. Feel free to suggest in a comment! Remember, updates are usually Mondays and Fridays!

-Eris

(11)Paths

Winter scrubs her hair with her fingers. It isn’t exactly like using a washcloth or a brush, but it’s what she needs for the moment. She lets the white water cascade over her and run down her shoulders and chest. It’s freezing, but that’s just the way she likes it, and it shuts Summer up for a while. Spring had said that she wouldn’t go nuts as long as she had the pill working.

Assuming he was telling the truth, she has six days now until she’ll lose control and Summer will be left in her weakened post-pregnancy state. Winter isn’t really sure how she should feel about that. If one of them dies, would it cause the other to die too? It’s impossible to tell.

Not without experimenting.

Thomas isn’t awake yet.

Winter runs a bar of white soap down her legs. She won’t stay here forever. Not for the rest of the seven days. She needs time to learn about her power and about what she’s going to do next. Actually, really all she needs to do is find out where she needs to go. That’s what she went into town to figure out in the first place, right?

She has a native of the land. Or at least, of where she was. Does space work like it does in… the real world… here? There are so many questions she has. She can’t really afford to not get any answers for them.

Winter draws the soap up over her bare chest and along her back. A relatively calm moment, really. She soaps down her arms and feet, half-smiling at the thought of some peace and quiet. Two things she’d never thought she’d have.

The ice cold water takes away aches all over, soothes the burns on the back of her hand. Had she forgotten those?

Perish the thought. It had merely been very busy, yesterday. Too busy to notice such small wounds.

She sits down, letting the shower drench her all over. White suds drip down her feet, slide off her toes and pour into the long white grasses here. Really the place could do with some color.

But that’s not the first time she’s thought as much today, and since the place doesn’t seem inclined to just jump up to the task she decides there must be a limit to her control over it.

Shrugging it off, Winter cuts the water flow, banishes the cloud, and tries some magic. She’s drenched in the white stuff now. Now if the white impostor fluid is anything like actual water, it should be a simple matter… 

She gathers the power she stole from the orb yesterday where it rests inside her. She makes an effort to will it into being around her like a sheath, to surround herself with her power like she did before in her fight with Fall. It doesn’t surprise her when nothing happens. If it were that simple, people like Thomas could do it all the time. 

Summer had many insights into his head this morning, not least of which was that he was just like any other pig-headed man. It had occurred to Winter to ask why Summer insisted on spending so much time focused on him then, but it would’ve done no good to antagonize her mind-mate. At least not like that. Not right then.

Maybe later she can have some sort of reve-

-a shout cuts Winter off. Startled, she loses track of her thoughts. She pulls on her frost jeans and frost shirt- remade this morning in an attempt to keep tidy. There was Summer’s problem, never being tidy. If only she had some way to keep her from being so dirty all the time she’s sure she could tolerate half the stuff Summer did with their- sorry, her body-

A second shout- this time with a clear name in its center- pulls her attention. “Winter!”

She pushes through the veil of white she’d drawn around her little shower enclosure. It parts for her as soon as she lets it.

And suddenly, just like that, she sees what’s wrong. Thomas is being pulled through the white ground by tendrils of… stuff. He’s already halfway in and being sucked down to his chin.

She dashes over as the world twists and turns about her as violently as it did before, when she had first come here. What?

No, wait. She… remembers this. Yes!

Winter pulls Thomas out as soon as she reaches him, grabbing his hands and tugging him up beside her. She’s surprised at her strength. He’s as light as a feather in her grip.

His eyes are frightened, but he forces a smile. “Thanks, that was close. What’s going on?”

“Instability pocket,” Winter says calmly. “It’s okay though, we need to leave anyway.”

She tugs him away from the broken and breaking terrain. There’s an edge to the wild of this pocket, and wherever she walks, order comes back, cloud becoming soft under her feet, white swirling back in to banish the dark, stormy feel to the area swirling around her. It looks like she’ll be forging her own path. Can she remember how to get back here if she leaves?

Can she remember how to leave?

Summer isn’t awake yet. She’ll ask when she is, then.

“Miss? Does this usually happen?” Thomas asks.

“No,” Winter replies shortly. “It doesn’t.”

“Oh.”

She slips her hand down to grasp his more firmly, and leads him along. “Stay close. I’m not sure how long we’re walking or where we’re going, but it’s not safe here, and it definitely isn’t safe anywhere without me, so don’t run whatever you do.”

She can feel a familiar cool determination sliding down her spine. Now her heart is slowing. She may not know what to do when there’s just small talk to be made and a shower to take, but this- now, this feeling of control, of knowledge of the unknown and the unshakable solid belief behind her instinct- is something she’s handled since she came into this world. Well, since she can remember coming into this world. Maybe not at the very start. But since midday yesterday at least. That’s a long time, right?

The path she’s been taking is a winding one. Now she stands at the edge of a fading ‘bubble’, of her own ‘pocket’, the limits of her limited memory. Here, at the edge, just beyond her shower enclosure, is a translucent veil of white that forms a dome, arcing up above her head. From far away, she can convince herself the sky is there somewhere, white, but still with the same texture, at least. The unknown lies before her, in a vast, dark expanse. It’s translucent- but there isn’t any light shining. It’s as if there is truly nothing beyond the dome. Thomas clutches her hand tighter.

“Toughen up,” She says, much more confidently than she feels. “There’s nothing to be afraid of.”

She steps through the veil- it has all the substance of a sheet of water- and starts to pull Thomas along after her when she sees what she’s stepped into.

“Well,” Winter whispers weakly, staring around her.

“What is it, Winter?” Thomas asks, muffled from behind the veil. She gives him a tug and he steps through, stumbles and drops as Winter’s loose grip breaks. He pushes himself up and dusts himself off.

“If you want my definite opinion, Miss,” Thomas says. His voice is achingly cheerful and fake. “This is an improvement!”

He gestures expansively, taking in the complete desolate wasteland that surrounds the two of them.

Well done, Summer whispers in her ear dryly. You’ve stumbled into Barrier.

Winter sits down in the grit and holds her head in her hands. She’d begun to enjoy the peace and quiet.