Dipak gently touched Enaid’s forehead.
“But I’ve condemned her to something worse then death,” Dipak whispered.
Lee put her hand on Dipak’s leg.
“We need the tree or everything else would die,” Lee said.
Dipak looked at Lee, then closed her eyes.
“Everything dies,” Dipak murmured.
She wished that was true. There was no death for the Life Spark. It was like being rebound, each time a release and letting go, but then getting caught back up and the pain of being held down here in this mortal place. Breathing hard, Dipak gripped onto the torn jacket.
Lee touched her cheek and Dipak flinched away, but Lee did not withdrawn. Instead she touched her again. Her fingers sunk a little in the darkness, but the face was solid. The row of eyes swiveled to regard her. Blinking. Lee stroked her cheek and smoothed her long black hair back from her face. She paid no attention to the tendrils of ichor that stretched from Dipak’s face to her fingers.
“Show me your pain,” Lee whispered.
Again Dipak tried to pull away, but it seemed that there was no where to retreat to. A large root was at her back, Enaid was at her side and Lee was leaning in close to her. For a moment, Dipak thought Lee intended to kiss her. Instead, she touched their foreheads together and brought her other hand to Dipak’s cheek.
Together, they fell down into the chaos of time.
Coils and loops bound around them, pulling them. Always against that first wall. Into the dark waters, where the voice called her into being. Calling her back from the place of resting. Always back. Wake. Urgency. But then further back, through the waters and against the wall of death. All those hands. Touching. The silence. Silent hands. And another pull.
Initiating command sequence 28735.
Dipak grunted. The sensation was odd. This girl, clinging inside his mind. Wait he was a girl too. This girl was in her mind. How had she gotten into his mind? There was no way for her to come here. Beep. Her fingers, moving around. Poking. Shuffling things about.
“Where is your pain?” she asked.
He didn’t know.
Please, refine search.
Refine search? What are we looking for? Time tugged. Pulling him down. All the lines stretching out. Raven. Those wings spreading out. He could see him flying out across the sky. Raven.
Searching Raven. Beep. Scanning.
The cords dug in deep. Together, they screamed. The weave bound them and pulled down, revealing the images as the moved backwards. Jacob, hugging Lee as she arrived. Jacob running into the tree, brown eyes wide. He was yelling and had his arms out stretched. Slowing. Their thoughts going grey. Those fingers ruffling. Images flashing past. Flick. Flick. Flick. Like a kid’s book blowing in the wind, no control. No ability to stop or linger on one. Sounds and smells. Memories came and went.
Scanning. Please, refine search. Beep.
“Show me your pain,” she whispered.
Dipak wailed. Everything was pain. From the beginning. Down to the very cells of him. There was no ending of it.
“The beginning,” she whispered.
Searching pain, beginning. Beep. Scanning.
Back. Back. Back. How was she directing the time? He tried to grab hold of the cords and threads that sped by, but they twisted and wrapped around him, cutting deep.
“Let them pass,” she whispered.
He looked at her. Their faces close, foreheads touching.
“I’m afraid,” he confessed.
“That’s alright,” she said.
Dipak reached up and took Lee’s wrists in her hands and clutched tightly. Her white hands were cold. Behind this young woman stood a man. He was pale with soft brown eyes. His short hair was uneven. Each lock stuck up in a different direction, one yellow lock straight up while a red one shot out to the left.
“I never could get that hair to behave,” Dipak whispered.
“I like being him,” Dipak said.
“You don’t like being her?” Lee asked.
“No,” Dipak admitted.
“Why not?” Lee asked.
“End times. Wrath. Destroyer. I come bringing death,” Dipak whispered.
“Does that mean that the tree will die?” Lee asked.
“No. I’m the back up plan,” Dipak said.
Memory retrieved. Accessing.
Amser moved so that he was standing in front of the boy. His watch chains hung about him. They writhed and twisted around him. Clutching one in his hand, it swung freely. In the palm of his other hand, a watch was nestled with it’s face opened. The hands were spinning.
“This isn’t my memory,” Dipak said.
Lee shrugged. It was what the Drive was showing them. There was not much point in discussing its value until they had watched it.
The boy was Pahana and the change in him was clear. Stepping forward, the boy raised a knife aimed at his father who stepped back in fear. But when he stepped through Amser everything changed. They both felt it. Amser grabbed his chest and struggled to breathe. Staggering, he fell onto his knees. Pahana stopped, turned and looked down at Amser, seeing him. Their eyes met through the ether barrier.
Amser flipped the watch shut and closed himself from the past.
“This isn’t my pain,” Dipak said.
“The Life Drive thinks it is,” Lee stated.
Fog was covering them over. Dipak nodded. The first ripple. All back to the three and the promise. He knew that. Did healing time mean giving up the promise? He’d rather stay broken.
“Come home now,” Lee said.
The cords fell away and he was able to lift himself up. Up. He followed her back. Beep. Everything was so clear. Beep. He could slide through the fabric.
Cancel command sequence 28735.
Dipak opened her eyes. She looked at Lee a long time.
“Do you know when your sister will come?” Dipak asked.
“No. I can’t connect with her,” Lee said.
“Her Life Drive doesn’t feel integrated. It’s active, but disorganized and her mind is unfamiliar with it,” Lee said.
“It will take her time to learn,” Lee stated.
“Mother is waiting,” Dipak reminded.
“I know,” Lee said.
Dipak stroked her cheek.
It was Lee’s turn to confess.
“That’s alright,” Dipak answered.
“Will you go with me?” Lee asked.
“Only to the gate,” Dipak said.
Lee nodded. Of course it was something that she would have to do alone. She knew that before she had asked, but she wanted someone to come with her. Mother was waiting and she was the child who had misbehaved. But had she really? There was no reason she could think of for the fear that crept into her bones, but it was there.
Twining her fingers into Dipak’s, she got up from the floor. Enaid closed her eyes again. They left together. The others were still standing outside the tree, waiting. She went to them and hugged each of them. Just in case. Maybe mother would be as angry as she imagined and she wouldn’t come back.
“I have to go to Rachna,” Lee said.
Nick took her by the shoulders and looked her in the eyes.
“You can make this choice. No one here can tell you what you have to do,” he said.
“I was made for this,” she whispered.
“No. You were made because men are stupid and greedy. Anything you do with your life is yours and you choose it. Don’t let them or me or anyone else decide a single fucking thing for you. You don’t have to do anything. What do you want to do, Lee?” Nick asked.
“Nick,” she whispered.
Lee searched his face for an answer.
“What do you want?” he asked.
“I want to know,” she whispered.
He nodded and kissed her on the top if the head.
“Then go and you be careful,” he said.
“Thank you,” she said, choking on a little sob.
He ruffled his hand through her hair. Pulling her back into his arms, he hugged her tightly.
“It’s time to let her create,” he thought and stepped back from her.
Going back to Kevin, she kissed him. Full on the lips, long and hard. No more flirting. No more waiting.
“I love you,” she whispered.
He blushed, put his hands on her hips and murmured “I love you back.”
Then she turned and followed Dipak away. Looking over her shoulder at them, if felt like she was leaving behind normal. Damn. If that was leaving normal, what the fuck was she going to? There was no answer to this. But she knew she was leaving everything behind. Dipak stopped at the tree line and left her to approach the gate alone.
The iron gates stood before her. She stared up at them. Large, but otherwise unremarkable on their own. What made them awe striking was the two enormous trees that they were bound to. Each tree held one of the gate doors. There were no hinges or latches, just their twisting branches and leaves that held the iron rigidly in place. Lee reached out and placed her hand where the iron bit down into the bark of one of the ancient trees. They had long served this role. She could feel the fire that burned against its wood.
“Why do you hold it?” she asked.
Two large black eyes opened and looked down at her. A thin branch uncoiled from the iron and wrapped around her wrist. She did not resist it.
“Rachna,” reverberated in her mind.
“Yes, she is here,” Lee whispered, resting her head against the tree.
“Why do you come for Rachna?” the tree asked.
“Mother is waiting,” Lee whispered.
Lifting her by the wrist, the tree regarded her. It flung her towards the other tree and she tumbled through the air as a doll, soundless and limp. Her mind was lulled and sleeping; reaching and reaching, struggling to connect to Rachna. Mother.
Attempting Life Drive link up: Rachna. Mother. Beep. Searching.
The other ancient caught her. Its large black eyes opened and it looked down at her, cradling her in a loop of wood.
“Why are you seeking Rachna?” it demanded.
“Mother,” she whispered.
Initiating command sequence 83645. Scanning. Seeking Rachna. Location undetermined. Beep. Scanning.
She reached out her hands, groping. Vines twisted up in her hands and small branches pierced through her palms. She cried out.
Initiating command sequence 98365. Beep.
“Mother!” she yelled.
The grain of the wood became sharp and crisp, painting out fine, detailed lines. The leaves played delicate notes that hummed quietly. The smells of the earth and the distant flowers came to her. The taste of honey. Everything around came to life.
“Why are you seeking Rachna?” it demanded again.
She didn’t have an answer. Something inside her told her that she needed to go, that she had to be there, that mother was waiting.
“It’s mother,” she whispered and then added, “mother is waiting.
“Mother?” one of the ancients asked.
The giant trees shuddered and the shrugged themselves. Slowly, some of the smaller branches unwound themselves from the iron and from each other. Leaves shuddered and fell, raining down on the damp earth. Wood moaned. The trees hunched themselves down over the creature that was captured in the loops of wood. Heaving their roots up from the ground, they moved closer together, bringing their great bulks in front of the gate.
She wept. There was no answer.
Then the attack begun. The branches came down, striking through her. Each biting into her, taking away chunks of flesh. A large, pointed branch came down at her chest.
“No!” she screamed.
She tore her arms free, breaking the binding wood into splinters and caught the branch. Holding it an few inches from her, she looked up at the ancient. The attack continued while they looked at each other. With each strike, she cried out. But she offered no other resistance.
“Why?” she asked them weakly.
“Why are you seeking Rachna?” it boomed at her.
She flung the branch away and laid herself back against the loops of wood. It didn’t matter any more. She saw the final strike coming, but made no attempt to block it. Letting the wood bite through her chest, she closed her eyes. Making a quiet grunting noise, she thought to her self “There, it’s done.”
Gaia Shard engaged. Beep. Renewal initiated. Beep. Initiating command sequence 98365 over ride. Beep.
Her eyes snapped open. They glowed green. Now she fought. Breaking the wood and tossing it aside. Running up the length of a larger branch she dove down, severing it. Striking the ground, she staggered and fell to her side.
Renewal priority. Beep.
Green light flared, washing over her body. Slowly, she floated from the ground, turning so that it looked as though she was laying on the air; peacefully asleep. The torn and bloody flesh boiled up in snapping little bubbles. It ran off in hot rivers and dripped onto the ground, burning holes where it fell, tunneling down into the dirt. Broken bones cracked and realigned themselves, stretching and growing to fill gaps where needed. Muscle and skin spun themselves out and smoothed out over the once damaged body.
Renewal complete. Beep. Preservation given priority. Beep. Scanning. No threat detected. Beep.
She settled back onto the ground, laying in a pool of brilliant green light.
Command sequence 98365 stand by. Beep.
One of the ancients reached out a leaf to her.
Scanning. Beep. No threat detected. Beep.
“Gaia seed,” it said.
“I must see mother,” Lee stated.
“Lodi,” the other ancient said.