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.

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.

Demimind: Chapter 10

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. 

Enjoy.

-Eris

(10)Memory

Winter’s eyes are open, but she doesn’t register what she sees until Summer screams at her the third time.

Winter!

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.”

“Uh, Everspring.”

“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?”

“No, but-“

“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.