She was as still as a doll on that cold seat of power. Stone shackles and stone chains around her wrists and ankles held her prisoner, though now it was merely a weight, a reminder, for where would she run, exactly? The white bandages around her eyes. The simple white dress that clothed her body. Like the chains, they were meaningless here, for she no longer had any freedom. She no longer had any eyes. She no longer bore Yggdrasil's Curtain on her body. The violet curls and waves of her hair, wore the braid that she had in life in that same place. Asteria's fingers separating the tresses and plaiting them in thirds... she could still remember the tug on her scalp, the sound of the ribbon being tied... the smell of the soap they used... All that had become her. She was not a shadow but an essence: the true concept of 'Elyri Cadenza.'
He sighed a puff of cerulean flame. Child-sized hands cupped her jaw, forcing her sightless face toward him and the azure fires of his gaze. "So... why?"
Cadenza opened her mouth. Her thin lips were pale, almost as white as the marble stone that entombed her. "..." She let the silence linger. It was an easy answer to give. The rationale. The logic. The choices. They were clean and laid-out in front of her, yet she couldn't issue them. Not those words. What did it matter if she said them? She was no longer the Prophet and no longer bound to the standards of no-fallacy that rendered her mind inhuman. Then... what did it matter if she didn't say them? She was dead.
He half-spat a scoff and let her go to pull his legs up. Like a haughty stray cat, he perched on the chair arm and played with a curl of her hair. "You asked him for a contract. He'd protect you. You'd serve him. It's not such a bad deal if you look at it... from the outside. But you sly witch, trying to use the 'Choosing of a Master' to create a circumstance of freedom to free yourself! You were going to use him twice-over. What a fox... We started watching you 'cause of that, seeing if your mouth and your head matched up. You remember what happened? Of course you do. You of all people... don't forget those sorts of things." Palm up, his hand lifted, clenching with grace and deliberate speed around an invisible force. "Though, just in case..."
Cadenza sunk backwards. She felt the suffocating heavy-pressure of the magic suppressant injected into her on that day nearly a year ago. She and Severo had only been investigating a lead, one on missing women, seeking a potential connection that might yield some clues about what had been going on with Dante's uncle. But they were jumped almost like they were anticipated. Their attackers pumped them full of a hallucinogen laced with potions that kept both her magic and her rationality wavering, opening her to suggestion. They were locked away separately, he heavily guarded and her with a wizard after the Curtain's power. Her trust in Severo wavered while she weighed her chances between two routes of survival... and in her dilemma-ridden delirium, the boy had spoken to her from the Library.
Your body is just a hinderance. You should join us quickly when you can.
You could always call him you know. You have a good relationship with him.He watched her shiver and toss a moment longer before he let his hand fall, releasing her from the memory the way a cat bored of playing with a mouse let it live to be toyed with another day. "You remember me? Yeah?" She shuddered into stillness, then nodded once. Her silence let him continue with his games. "But here's the thing. What driveling excuses did you make to me, hmm?" Snapping his fingers, he summoned a copy of her disembodied voice to float between them.
“... he won’t come. He hasn’t accepted his end of the blood oath. And even if he does, If he is consistent as I know him, he will kill me if he comes.
To maintain Mimir… I have to have the will to live. Calling him will be contradicting.”
"So you didn't call him. I always found that a liiittle silly. Why'd you think he would kill you to be consistent?" He tapped his lip with a single index finger. "Wouldn't it make more sense that he would use you instead? If you went missing on his watch, that's his hide that's gonna get tanned. But what really gave it away was... when I asked you if he was important to you... and you didn't. Say~ A~ Thing~" Slipping down to sit beside her, he pressed his mouth close to her ear, whispering the same words, in the same tone, that he warned her with when she faced down Threnodia's keen edge. "You’re more human than you think... ... ... Thaaaat's not where it ends, exactly. Every vessel starts off mortal. Can't be helped that you'd have a kink here or there. Nope! The system's flexible enough to deal with that as long as you can rationalize everything you do. S'long as it all make sense, yeah?" One after the other, his feet swung and scuffed the ground. The great gears of the Library clicked and turned behind them far in the distance. A barren place. "But with you. It's more than just that~ You were hiding something. Something so big and bad and hid so well that you even hid it from yourself."
A giggle, then a skip that took him flying off the throne, he paced at a casual, mocking march, parading before her, as if daring her to ask him what she thought those were. Cadenza pressed her lips together until they sunk into a line. He would say it, whether she asked or not. That was his nature. To speak, and speak, and speak. He was the voice inside her head. He was her humanity.
"When you were attacked by that Vampire. Miguel, you didn't call for him.
When you fell into a spatial Klein bottle with the Jae-Hwa kid and nearly got trapped there, you didn't call for him.
When you got switched for a doppleganger and nearly got thrown down a well, you didn't call for him.
When you found out that another Vampire was on-board -- seriously you have the worst luck with those things -- you nearly got bitten... and you didn't call for him.
When you were attacked by wolves, you didn't call for him.
When you were trapped underground, you didn't call for him.
When you were dragged around by the Screechers, nope! Didn't call him.
When you got hung up by that slave-driving demon who toyed with you for nearly a day -- a day's worth of time! You could've called him with that much time, right? Right? Instead you got yourself cursed and he even told you, 'Why won't you let the Master come and play?' You wind up half-broken-down but instead of doing it yourself you tell that cat Remy, 'go on ahead. Tell Severo.' And of course he says no but you just nod and say okay instead of properly calling the blasted demon that has your loyalty in contract."
He punctuated each word with a stamp of his foot. Though there were no walls to be seen in any distance in that great void of information, his voice echoed and reverberated, ravaging her ears. "'It wasn't mortal danger,' you said. 'Judgement on injuries deemed fatal are uncertain until death occurs,' you said. The System said that all made sense. That's the System. We're the imperfect cogs and gears that run the uncertainties of the System so none of us were fooled by your shenanigans. Perfect Prophet? Ha! HA! You." He leaned in close, a hand on one hip as he bowed at the waist, the other hand prodding a single finger into the cold skin on her chest, painfully jabbing into bone.
"Elyri... I know your secret. You, from the beginning... never intended to call Severo. Ever." His accusatory voice stabbed through her. "You never intended to reap your end of the benefits even though you paid your blood for it. Your blood. To a demon."
Slowly, she turned her head away. The bandages around eyes rustled where her hair brushed by it. He was faster. With a single hand he grabbed her hair by the back of her head and wrenched it down, tilting her chin up, forcing her to face him. The mocking playfulness and the teasing and jeering were all gone. All of it and every piece of the mask. Only a cold, livid growl remained. He gave her head a firm shake, eyes wide and demanding, holding her there for long, long moments.
"Why? I only... I only wanted to watch you live, truly LIVE... so why did you choose... to die? Why?"
Like the snow melting in spring, his grip loosened. Cadenza lowered her head. Her answer hadn't changed. It was still as easy of an answer as it had been when he asked it the first time. They were concepts in a hypothetical space. They were ideas. What was so difficult? Yet that answer... it was too easy, too simple. Somehow it didn't feel quite right. Was she truly correct? Or was she mistaken? Or was all that... all the accuracy and precision, all the adherence to truth and rationality... all of that... was it irrelevant now? And had it been irrelevant before?
"Because..." An indigo voice burned in her chest, a tiny glimmer. "Because I..." Hesitation grabbed it and sealed it in a lamp. She opened her mouth yet found no sound. The weight of the boy's body sunk into her lap. He pressed his cheek against her knees, hugging her legs close to his chest. His face was as cold as her skin. The coldness of solitude.
"I saw it. The cat was blind but we all saw it here. When the curse... when that slaving demon's curse touched your body, you force-fed it all three of your dark spells. You made the curse stronger yourself. Big enough to create a-- a zone of control. As long as his curse was stronger than Severo's demonic aura, the zone of control's an absolute signal block and Severo never finds out a thing. You knew he hadn't eaten in months. If you called him with your blood... if... if you... it would... he would..."
"He would lose his disguise. When he arrived, he would have been discovered, or he would have killed Remy."
Her hands pressed against the back of his head. His hair... the concept of it was soft. Did Anise and Asteria feel this way when they brushed her hair and braided it? She had never considered the notion. Cadenza gently brushed her palm over his skull the way Remy had done for her when they... when he...
She murmured. From her tongue came warm indigo words, lit with quiet color. "Because I always... wanted..." The word was still strange on her tongue. While she lived, 'want' was not a word she used for herself. "... to be strong like him. I had an-- ... I had an irrationality. The... parallel roads we walked. I wasn't satisfied."
"Stop. Stop here." He tried to stand but her hands were on him still, stroking through his hair and his incorporeal body didn't struggle.
"I wanted it. I didn't want it. I wanted... more..."
"Shut up! I don't want to hear it!"
"But not of what we had. Of another. Something bigger than walking in the same direction--"
"Don't say anything else--"
"I wanted to--"
"I SAID DON'T SAY--"
"--walk beside him."
Cadenza let her hands come to a rest. The boy beneath them quivered. She didn't know why since he had asked her why to begin with. "I wanted to walk where he walked. But if I couldn't, I thought... I would rather he continued to walk where he wished."
The longest silence held them. She who saw nothing. He who wanted to look away. What should have tensed like a tightrope eased into a semi-comfortable lull. Despite everything, all that lingered on them was an air of acceptance. As if the words he screamed were merely for show.
"Not only him. Remy. Asteria. Dante. And..." She breathed in a soundless inhalation and invoked the concept of air. It filled her chest. Words rarely came difficultly to her. Yet now when time had become irrelevant to her, she had none of that ease. Everything caught. Caught in the memory of a throat. The illusion of a body.
"But he was different to you. He was special to you." He muttered, half indignant and half apologetic.
"... yes. He was-- is... special to me. He is my proof."
She nodded. "Mm." Fire tore at the edges of her bandages. He raised his head and touched them, catching the flames on his fingers. They scattered like petals, rending the two of them to shreds of embers, decaying into the night. "He is the proof that Elyri Cadenza was there... As I have been your proof."
The deep indigo of the Library swallowed them; swallowed the syllables of his name on her lips.