Demimind: Chapter 17

Keep your head, Summer.

-Eris

(17)Solo

Summer breaks into a run the moment she has her bearings.

Jane… Winter whispers weakly. Here too?

Summer’s hands burn with heat. The ground underfoot- stone- smokes where her feet land, and power, gathered from a hundred waiting Servants, hums through Summer’s body as she closes the gap between herself and Autumn. A bolt of power slams into her shoulder. Autumn’s finger glows, His hand remains outstretched.

It doesn’t faze her. She lets the pain sink in and keeps running. He’s three yards away when He takes one step back. Two when His expression changes to anger from boredom. One when He throws up his other arm slowly, too slowly.

Summer slams into Him, the full force of her fury burning the air. She watches Him tumble away from her, watches Him pull himself to his feet.

Autumn reaches for His long sword, draws it from His scabbard. He holds it left-handed, leaving His right hand empty.

If Summer were thinking, she’d be cautious.

“You bastard!” She screams instead, throwing up both hands and shouting an Eldritch Word: Burst.

Power floods her arms, streams out of her fingertips and leaps outward, striking snake-like in a long, red line towards Autumn. He slashes it, deflects it with His blade, struggling for a moment before sending it soaring away. It hits the far left wall- stone ripples, then explodes outwards in a brilliant wave of heat. It melts through the solid rock and leaves a smoking crater. The shockwave shakes the cavern and the wall of wind that flees the explosion blows Summer’s long hair back.

Autumn’s face twists in anger.

His blade is steaming now, flashing brilliantly, and His eyes are wide.

“Why?” Summer growls, her hands low again, crackling with barely restrained energy. “What the hell has she done to you? She wasn’t even involved yet, you monster! Have you gone completely insane?”

She can see Autumn’s eyes narrow, see Him open His mouth to respond.

Vanish,” He says, and does, disappearing in a crack and a puff of brimstone.

She has just enough time to wonder where He went when she hears the clack of His hooves on the stone of the room. They pause after a moment. From behind her, near the entrance and only exit, she hears “I need no reason for doing what’s right, Sister. Enjoy cradling your dead pet-”

She whirls and points at the exit. “Wall!” She snaps. Immediately a wall of pure fire splashes upwards and ignites on the ceiling, filling the arch by which she’d entered completely, and casting red, eerie light all over the dim room.

Silence from her brother. Either He’s left, or He’s waiting to strike now, Summer thinks. 

Why did He kill her again? What had Jane done? Why did she have to see it again? It’s so much easier, in Winter’s head, it’s so much easier when you’re shielded from it. Summer trembles with fury. Tears evaporate on her cheeks, leaving salt. Jane had been her friend for so long. To meet an end like this without knowing why…

“Hiding now, brother?” She snarls. “What a difference from the last time we fought! Have you weakened so much now that you fear me?”

She searches the room, one green eye, one blue eye, staring into corners, into shadows.

Suddenly, a click behind her, and a white lash of pain draws itself over the back of her thigh. Something slippery drips down her leg, and she stumbles forward for a moment. There’s a clatter. She whirls again, sees the long sword- edge half-melted and glowing cherry red- drop from thin air. She throws up one hand.

Strike!” She hisses. Again the power streams into her from the slumbering Servants. It gathers in her hand and jumps forth in the blink of an eye- this time taking the form of a whip, a tendril of energy, thin and crackling. It sweeps out and catches her brother directly. The glow illuminates him in an outline before he’s flung by the force. The invisibility Word fades.

His thin, tall frame flies away, slamming into the stone floor several feet away  once, and again after striking a pillar. The sound reaches her next, a thunderclap that shakes the ancient dust from the ceiling.

It’s too much to hope that he’s dead. He rolls over and then slowly gathers himself.

He pushes himself to His feet, glaring at her, one hand clutching His midsection- His clothes are torn and burned, and blueish red drips from his lips and runs down his middle.

“I cannot fight you here,” He growls, spitting the strange blood. “But mark my words, you both will meet your end. Quite. Soon.”

He reaches out, fingers curled, and peels reality open as if tearing through paper. Summer’s legs feel heavy as she watches Him step through the gate. It snaps shut behind Him, leaving her alone in the gloom. In the distance, the screeching noise is growing louder. In her head, she can hear Winter sobbing.

Summer’s recently regenerated left hand aches horribly. Her shoulder drips blood and the back of her leg bears a short, deep cut that flows slowly. Her bones ache and her head throbs.

She kneels down next to Jane’s body. After making sure her Servant is truly dead- the heads and serpentine form are both still and cold as marble- she tries again to understand where she is. The room is huge- and must be to contain even a young Goliath. 

On the far, far southern wall there is an enormous dark mirror and a small raised dais before it. The dais bears a few strange stones on it, and she remembers now. It’s a Seeing Terminal. The old castle back in Season’s Refuge- well, Black Refuge right now- had one.

She only knows the combinations for her friends and family, of course. The sort of magic that runs in the old stones here is common enough, though she’d never seen it on quite this scale.

Why would he do this? Winter repeats. Why?

“He cut off our support early. He’s trying to make us waste our time,” Summer says softly, furiously.

She stalks over to the strange terminal and stares at it. The screen is made from a strange crystal- from within there can shine a light to illuminate images that dance across the mirror’s surface. She’s not really sure how it all works, but at the moment it doesn’t matter.

She takes a deep breath, shoving the corpse of her friend out of her mind, and depresses four stones on the dais.

The screen flashes a multitude of colors, light playing over the mirror and sending eerie shadows over Summer’s face as she stands near it and waits. There are two of them here. Will it focus on the future or the past?

The screen goes dark for a moment, and then shows her Fall.

Her brother stands there on a hill, shading his eyes as he looks out over the wall around Spiritfell and into the wastes of the Barrier. His expression is at peace, and its image contrasts sharply with the one of the enraged Autumn she’d fought. Similar, but far from the same. Past and present.

“Brother,” She says quietly. “Why?”

He starts, looks around. That’s right, Summer thinks. It transfers voice too!

“Summer?” He asks the open air. His voice can be heard, like a whisper, though it’s plain he’s speaking out loud. He’s all alone on the hill though.

“I’m talking to you through a screen,” She says plainly. “Can you hear me?”

“Yes,” comes the faint reply. “Is everything alright? What’s a screen?”

“Jane is dead. And there’s no time to explain.”

She watches Fall’s expression slide from anxious to grieved in a flash. “What?” He asks. “How?”

“Autumn was here waiting for me.”

“Cycle above. Are you hurt?”

Summer shakes her head and sighs. “Yes, but it’s nothing that won’t heal.”

“How about your uh. Your hand?”

“It regenerated before I left,” Summer replies dryly. “You were there for that, brother.”

“Right. What will you do now?”

“Bring Jane back.”

“How will you do that?” Fall asks, arching an eyebrow at nothing. “There’s no way to bring back the dead.”

“Goodbye, brother,” Summer replies quietly.

“Summer-”

She slaps a hand against a stone, cutting the connection. The screen goes dark.

She finds that she’s trembling again. It’s hard to believe that Jane’s death would take her quite like this.

She walks back over to Jane’s corpse, taking another long, deep breath. Her Servant doesn’t stink, like a normal body would. There’s no mark on her, no sign that she died in pain.

We heard her before, Winter says grimly. While we were coming this way she was in pain.

“Yes,” Summer replies stonily. “I am Summer- I am responsible for life, like Spring is for renewal. I remember that.”

And I am for death, like Fall is for decay. I’ve figured out that much.

“Are you prepared for what we need to do?” Summer whispers to herself.

I will do whatever it takes. We need to do this twice in any case- now and in the future. Just show me the way. Winter sounds determined. She’s changed now- as Summer has. In so short a time, they’ve both changed, and Summer, while she doesn’t understand it, thinks she might enjoy the feeling. After so much time being a monster….

Summer looks around her for a stone or a knife, but all she can see are pebbles. But they’ll serve. She draws on the heat of the now silent Servants. She gathers a few pebbles in her hand and in a flash of heat, fuses them together into a mass. The heat tickles a little, and the smell of burning rock nauseates her.

“Sharpen this, Winter.” Her voice is emotionless. She moves back to stand over the still body of her friend “Hurry.”

It’s so clear to her, here. She’d done it. It had been done before. She’d never needed to think about it- she’d just known that she’d done it, that she’d brought back the dead. Winter will have to help, but she’s part of me, Summer thinks. She wants this as much as I do, even if she doesn’t know the way.

I know the way. I’ve known it since forever.

This will just be the first time I’ve done it, though I’ve done it before. Does that make sense? More importantly, will it work?

Why? Winter asks. But she wills the melted stone sharp with all her heart, and, as Summer’s grip tightens on it and it lengthens to a razor sharp tip, she realizes that was the vast majority of her energy.

Summer holds the makeshift knife out. She takes a deep breath, drawing on the life of the Servants above her and flooding herself with power again. Everything has a price…

Her vision flares, white and black. She is sheathed in white, her Servant sheathed in black, the shadows glowing and the very surface of the stone beneath her feet etched in her eyes when she closes them. She can see, she can feel everything, every little twitch of every little cave creature… Every hiss, squeak, squeal and click from the Servants above her, in the tunnels surrounding her.

Following memory, Summer grips the stone knife in white knuckles. She floods everything around her now with her power, eyes shut tight and heart pounding.

“Life for life,” Summer whispers. “Blood for blood.”

It’d be comforting if the words shimmered like she did, but they sink like stones in the dark, swallowed up. And the dark waits for her.

She jams the sharpened edge of the stone into her neck. The rock tip bites deep, thrust through bronze skin. With waning strength, she pulls it out again, lets the flood loose. 

Blood washes out thought, and Winter’s scream is drowned out by the roar as it floods from her severed veins in a ruddy stream, soaking the hungry stone and splashing on her dead Servant’s scales. She slumps forward.

Demimind: Chapter 3

(3)Banished

The ground here is freezing cold, but Winter can’t even feel it. Summer can, trapped in Winter’s head as she is. C-couldn’t have picked a better spot, She grumbles. What is it with you and cold?

“I don’t know,” Winter says quietly. “I… I must not have had a memory of somewhere warm. I still don’t know how I remembered this place.”

Did you mean to bring the Illmetal with you?

Winter shakes her head. “No. I didn’t know it would come along.”

She clutches the tiny bead in her fingers. She could put it in the pocket of her jeans, but she worries if she drops it it might disappear. The metal-stone had lost its luster shortly after arriving.

It’s useless without the column though.

“Yeah.”

The air is frigid. Trees stand here, covered in frost and ice, buried under ages and ages of white. Even the snow is frozen solid, so that she leaves no tracks.  For as far as the eye can see there are more trees, an infinite forest. The eye can’t see too far, of course.

She had hoped that the binding spell would leave Summer when she left the column and He-Whose-Name-Shakes-Mountains behind. It hadn’t. Winter hasn’t the faintest where she should go, and Summer is too cold to be much help.

She looks all around, trying to find a path through the trees. She has as much time as she needs, really. Summer had told her, sleepily, the last time she’d woken up, that Winter needs only the occasional bite of life energy to survive.

Summer, on the other hand, needs to be surrounded by it in order to thrive.

It seems fairly inhospitable here, but if she concentrates, Winter can feel the presence- like tingling pinpricks on her thumbs- of life, far off to the east.

She decides that will have to do. She gives up her aimless wandering and sets herself off to the east.

Her clothes are stiff. Summer had guided her through the long, laborious process of conjuring them. Of course, Summer had also been half asleep. It figured there were some flaws in their creation- namely two long blank strips made of conjured material, but not dyed, and one long slash down the right leg where Summer had nodded off mid-teaching.

After a while of walking, she feels very exposed. A strong oppressive presence lurks nearby- she can feel it.

She can feel the sting, the dangerous hum of the scar on her thigh suddenly. And Summer is awake in her head.

Uh oh. Magehunting squad by the feel of it.

“You don’t sound too concerned,” She mutters.

Comes with being a demigoddess. We could probably take them under any other circumstances. I dunno that they’ll even know we’re magic users. Our type of magic is usually undetectable. We can get by without hurting anyone.

“I seem to recall you being much more-“

And suddenly, she remembers. And the memory hits her like a hammer.

“Come on!” Summer growls gleefully, lifting an arm and sending out a stream of power towards the nearest man. It vaporizes the poor soldier in his armor, leaving hissing plate in its wake. It withers some of Summer’s power, but she really doesn’t care. What does it matter? She’s never felt so alive. The sheer life around her is granting her power beyond any mortal dream.

“Are all of you cowards?” Summer’s eyes glint. Her body is the same as Winter’s, but bigger- taller, a little plumper and with golden bronze skin. The switch between hers and Winter’s is usually seamless. Only their hair remains the same- a short pixie-cut, naturally white-blonde. Summer’s eyes are green.

The men circle her. Their lead mage sets her arms, perhaps a little uncertainly. “I didn’t even feel it!” She shouts. “What type of magic is that?”

“Thomas is down,” One of them grumbles. “We should call for backup.”

“His fault, he wasn’t wearing antimagic plate.”

“How do you know it’s magi-” says a clever third, but he’s interrupted as his skin flash-fries. The sickly sweet scent of charred flesh and the hiss of his steaming blood as it escapes from his armor fills the air.

Summer’s finger smokes. “I told you,” She hisses. “I’m a demigoddess. You can’t fight me. You can’t lay a blade on me!”

Heat rises around her in waves. It’s enough to make the strongest of men uncomfortable. The sorceress backs away, lips pressed into a tight line.

The rest of the soldiers flee. And Summer stands there, laughing.

“-vindictive,” Winter finishes weakly. The memory had been quite strong. And very, very vivid. The smell of burning skin still lingers in her nostrils, no matter how much she wishes it wouldn’t. Summer feels a bit uncomfortable.

Different days. I’m a bit different than before-

Whatever else Summer was going to say is lost.  There’s a series of fantastic ‘pops’, and three figures appear out of thin air.

One is dressed in crimson robes. Another, obviously and emphatically female from the shape of her clothing and body, wears nothing but two strips of cloth and is being carried in chains. The third, holding the chains and looking particularly morose in a wide, black-rimmed hat, is wearing sensible working pants and a thoroughly sensible vest with leather armor under it and a metal circle  on the front. In one hand he holds the chains, in the other he bares a long metal blade. From the chill it radiates- somehow much more piercing than that of the cold around her- and the warping sense it gives off, the chain and the blade are both made of earthmetals, though what type Summer has no idea. The stuff would drain her magic if she were to try to enchant it, but fortunately Winter seems nonaggressive and probably wouldn’t try it.

“See here now, Argus! You’ve gone and given me the wrong coordinates again!” It’s a man’s voice, and it comes from the crimson robes. “It’s freezing cold! We’re probably in some godforsaken tundra-“

“Forest, actually,” The man in leather and vest says mildly. He doesn’t seem perturbed by the chill.

“You’re always getting us lost and- what?”

“Tundra are bare of trees. This is a forest.”

The woman in chains shivers violently in the cold and mutters something that might be a curse. Then her eyes look up and find Winter standing there, not ten yards away, under the shade of a frozen pine.

She lets out a clipped cry, and muffles it quickly, biting her lip and trying not to draw attention to Winter at all, a moment later.

The look had been a pleading one. Winter stands there, rooted to the spot and staring. Is that one of my- your disciples? Summer asks.

“How should I know?” Winter hisses. “I’ve forgotten pretty much everything!”

And then the men see her, too. The one in crimson robes seems to spot her first.

“Hey- Argus. There’s a woman there in the shade of that pine. Do you see?”

The man in leather is only a little slower. “Yes. I see her.”

“She’s standing there- gracious Cycle, is she barefoot? She should be frozen to the core.”

“Seems in fine enough health to me.”

“A bit rigid, perhaps.”

“It’s not exactly pleasant weather, my magical friend.”

They talk as they move toward her, carefully as though she might startle. It’s a hunter’s walk, a predator’s walk, though neither is likely to be aware of it. Summer notices, though.

Winter, these men are dangerous. That woman is a magic user, likely they’re transporting her to a prison for not having a signed doc for its use.

Winter backs away slowly, unfreezing.

“A slip of a thing, but clearly a Frostwitch. Natural, by the look,” the red-robed one says.

“You give her too much credit- she can’t be more than ten years, the idea of her using more than a cantrip to keep warm is ridiculous.” The other is still skeptical. Their respective life-forces feel exceptionally strong, this close. It’s making her strangely hungry.

They stop, some ten feet distant, still eyeing her, talking and shaking their heads. The woman doesn’t look at her.

Winter wants to keep backing away. You’ll have to fight them, Summer says grimly. The woman clutches the Illmetal bead tightly. I’ll help. Look, you can’t run- you might lose them, sure, but they can track you. I know how it works around here.

Winter clenches her fingers into fists. She raises one hand uncertainly. But she hasn’t the faintest how to fight, and she feels very silly.

Her stomach growls at her, throwing her off a bit. She’s quite hungry. She’s not sure why, but being near these three is making her very, very hungry. She tries anyway, bringing up the will, or trying to, feeling her scars begin to glow.

No, don’t use your magic. Just drain them. You need the energy anyway.

“Sort of a crooked nose, don’t you think?” says the one in his crimson robes. “A little on the ugly side.”

“She’ll sell,” Argus shrugs. “That’s all we need. Hey, kid!”

No, no. Not like that! Here, watch, Summer says.

There’s a moment where time seems to hiss and bend, where the world is distorted and everything is scrunched up tight. Summer makes Winter spread her fingers. There’s a sensation of tugging, of pulling in such a fashion that seems to make her legs wobble. The hunger inside, the gnawing emptiness reaches a glorious peak, settles in her hand, in her arm. There’s a wet sucking, popping sort of sound, like tugging a slick rubber dart off of a window.

Then there’s a brilliant flash of light. Two red streamers of twisting something leap from each of the men and writhe, twisting into her outstretched hand. The connection snaps just as the last of it is siphoned off. The last streaming tendril of energy whips out and then in, funneled to fill the emptiness in her arm warmly, snugly.

Winter just stands there, stunned.

The woman doesn’t appear to notice until the two men stop dead in their tracks and both topple, strings cut. The girl starts, at that- she can’t be more than seventeen or eighteen. Her eyes snap from the men, who lie prone, to the slip of a child who seems to have been responsible. She looks at Winter, at her outstretched hand, a mixture of pure terror and awe on her face. She shrinks away as Winter first moves.

But it’s only to stare at her hand. Her scars- visible all over her body in weird shapes and lines- are glowing brightly. She feels full again, the hunger is gone.

“What did you do?” She whispers, her gaze traveling all over her body. A feeling of horror comes over her.

Fed you, Summer says blankly. There isn’t even the slightest hint of unease.

And that seems to be that.

Or would be, except for the feeling of outraged violation Winter nurses. It contrasts sharply with the pleased, full contentedness of a good meal. It also cements something in her mind. She is extremely dangerous. And so is Summer.

The shaking in her legs she can tell herself is relief. The men were going to take her somewhere and sell her? Or take her to prison. That’s what Summer said.

Their deaths are on Summer’s conscience. Right?

Are they dead? Yes. Their lifeforce is gone.

Oh come on now. They just return to the Cycle. It’s not like you’re stealing their souls or anything. Toughen up, wuss.

“Shut up,” She hisses. “Don’t preach ethics at me, murderer.”

Hey, I’m just using what’s there to save our hides. If you can’t wise up and protect yourself, we both’ll die. If I have even the slightest bit of control, I’ll take it, Summer snaps. I’m in here too.

“It’s your own damn fault you got bound!” Winter shouts. “Don’t try and pin this on me! I never wanted you in my head!”

Winter, sweetie, I’ve been in your head from the fucking start. We just usually take turns.

“Liar.”

Think what you want, fine. Your memory’ll come back eventually, I’ll find a way to free myself.

“You’re just like you were,” Winter snaps bitterly.

Summer is silent for a moment.

“Did that hurt?” Winter asks. Summer’s silence is all she needs. “Good.”

Finally she takes a deep breath and turns to the woman. She’s since crumpled, breathing shallowly, on the snow. Her skin is blue and her eyes are shut.

Fiery anger is banked. Summer is still quiet, so Winter acts, rushing over to the woman’s side. She strips the first man of his crimson robes awkwardly, wraps the young girl up in it. The robes are probably cold, but much better than nothing. The woman’s skin feels warm to her, but she can’t trust her own sense of touch, and Summer won’t tell her what the girl’s real temperature is.

Winter eyes the chains. They’ll prove a bit awkward. She can’t afford to drag two corpses around. Searching the one named Argus reveals a set of strange metal things-

Keys. Summer grumbles. They go in the locks.

– which, with Summer’s reluctant guidance, Winter puts in the locks of the woman’s manacles and turns. Undone, she finishes wrapping the woman up, staggers under her weight, and sighs.

Here’s the formula for the spell you want. Summer offers, showing Winter the way. Borrow some of my power, it’s what it’s there for. This woman is giving me some, only fair I return the favor.

Unsure if she should trust her mindguest’s words but with little other choice, Winter recites the incantation. Her scars flare and magic floods her for a moment. It weakens her- tires her- but she finds the woman in her grip light as a feather now.

She turns. The woman’s lifeforce is strong- blurring her grip on where the faint forces were before- but she remembers the direction she was moving. The sun is hidden by treecover and clouds, but she knows it’s going to set. She needs to find shelter. With that in mind, Winter strides off through frost and snow, a new burden in arms.

The corpses of the two men lie silent in the snow, and eventually the thick forest surrounds and swallows them.