A/N: I know I said we were done with interludes, but I’m a self-professed flake. We’ll be returning back to the present day in the next chapter! (Also, yes, two of the images are literally just black rectangles. That is not a loading issue, in case you were wondering 😅)
I can’t hold it off any longer. Aine’s magic breaks through mine. The ice and lightning pierce through me more times than I can count. Blinding light.
I hear L Faba calling my name. A least she cared a little bit.
And then it all goes dark.
Nothingness. All around me is nothingness. And I am nothingness. All I see is pitch black, but see is not really the right term. How could I see if I don’t have eyes anymore? My body is gone.
That in itself should feel liberating. Ditching the shell that always constrained me. I should feel light, and detached from it all, shouldn’t I? I thought death would be peace.
But I still feel everything. The anger. The hurt. The love. I thought all of that would be gone in death too. At least here, I can’t set off any fires, though. And that means L Faba is safe. That this was all worth it.
Aine was right. I was a weapon. A ticking time bomb that needed to be destroyed. She managed to contain her own emotions enough to not pose a risk to others, but I failed. But now I can’t hurt anyone anymore. I’ll just absorb into nothingness.
But I am not alone in the void. I hear the thoughts of another, as clear as my own. I realise it’s Aine. Aine’s dead?
I can feel her rage. Her rage made Caster’s Alley erupt. Seems even Aine can lose control.
You think I lost control? If I lost control there would be no more realm. I hear her thoughts everywhere. You’re right about one thing, though. There is no need to stay in control when we’re both in hell.
Hell. Is this what that is?
Every thought I think makes her angrier and angrier. She desperately wants to strangle me, but of course, neither of us have bodies. Just thoughts, thoughts I can’t separate, as desperately as I try. She’s trying to do the same.
The darkness fades. I see… her memories? They don’t feel like someone else’s memories, but they’re not mine.
What is that place? Has Aine been there before? She’s looking for something. A relic. She wants to wipe me out.
But I’m dead already. We both are. And now we’ll merge into the same void, stop existing.
Merging with Aine. No wonder they call it hell.
The temple disappears. I hear voices. I can’t make out whose they are, or what they’re saying. It feels as if though I’m under water, and they’re coming from the surface.
And then I start rising. But how can I be moving at all? I don’t exist. I have no body. But that seems to be changing now.
Is this a body? Not quite, but it’s more than the nothingness from earlier.
I realise Aine is regaining a spectral body of sorts too. She’s below me, but we’re both rising.
The voices are becoming a bit clearer. I can make out their chant now. Dedeathify. Dedeathify.
Aine manages to get hold of my leg and climbs upwards, clinging onto me.
Feels like there’s nothing more important than getting out of her grasp, though I’m not sure why exactly. I just know I have to fight her off.
“Let go of me!” I yell at her, but she keeps clawing at me. We struggle against each other.
“You can’t shake me.” Her voice pierces through the void. “Our minds have touched. I will always be there, whether you like it or not.”
But I do shake her, manage to kick her off, and she falls into the void, while I rise.
Blinding light. The moon. Caster’s Alley ripped to shreds, but this time it’s real.
I’m back at the duelling grounds.
I don’t have time to think about anything that just happened. Simeon and Haruka usher me towards the portal that leads back to HQ. I don’t recall them paying this much attention to me once since my arrival to the magic realm.
“How are you feeling, Morgyn?” Haruka asks.
They’re both looking at me as if they’re expecting me to spontaneously combust at any point. Which, in fairness, I have been close to not that long ago, but they have no way of knowing that.
“I’m fine.” I tell her curtly.
Simeon still seems annoyingly concerned. “Does anything feel… different?”
Different to what? Different since when? Since I found out L Faba doesn’t love me? Or since my trip to hell with Aine? Of course it’s bloody different.
I need to stay calm. Rational.
“No. Told you I’m fine.” I grit through my teeth.
The demon should be dead, but of course it isn’t. Can you bury what’s not dead? I sure hope so.
I try to think about how to make the situation productive. I have their attention. May as well get some information.
“Do either of you know anything about a… jungle temple?”
“A jungle temple?” Simeon repeats. Must mean he’s playing for time. Which must mean he does know something about it.
“Yes. A temple in a jungle. There’s some kind of relic in it.” I volunteer.
Judging by Haruka’s face, she has no idea. Or if she does, she’s hiding it well. Simeon definitely knows something about it, I’m sure of it.
“What kind of relic?” Simeon asks. More stalling, clearly.
“If I knew that, I wouldn’t be asking.” I can’t stop myself from snapping back. No. Focus. “I think it has something to do with death. It can be used by the dead. To defeat other dead… I think.”
I’m aware how little sense that makes, now that I say it out loud.
Simeon gives me a strange look. “Morgyn. You’re alive. It will be for the best if you don’t revisit the time when that was not the case. For your own good. Concentrate on living, on your new role as a sage. Leave death relics to the dead.”
The ceremony is in full swing. I wait for Simeon to finish his speech. I can tell his mind is elsewhere. Not that he’s ever been a good public speaker.
L Faba appears on my side.
“I’m glad you’re ok.” She says. Even the sound of her voice is too much right now.
She sounds so sincere. Like she actually cares. Why does she bother to keep up the façade? She got what she needed, she’s ascending.
I feel the familiar burning in my chest. Don’t look at her. I can’t cope with seeing her face, her smile, the way she looks in that dress. The damn dress. That evening in the attic. That clearly meant nothing to her. Why is she wearing that same dress? Is she trying to mock me?
The burning intensifies. Shut it down. Don’t go there.
But she keeps talking. “And now we’ll get to be sages, together.”
“I know what you did.” I cut her off. This needs to stop now.
“What?” Why is she doing this? She knows exactly what I’m talking about, doesn’t she?
I feel the demon rising. No. Shut it down. She’s standing right next to you. It’s too close.
I don’t know if I could live with burning down HQ, but I’m positive I can’t let anything happen to her. Keep her safe. Shut it down.
I can almost feel a shadow of Aine laughing at me.
“I know exactly what you did to become a sage.” I tell L Faba. “You had to cast a love spell. You’ve put one on me. Tried to make me your puppet.”
It was easier than I thought. Maybe there really is a part of Aine in me now. Maybe that’s for the best. The demon’s not happy, though.
L Faba tries to object. “That’s not-“
“Not true?” I interrupt her. Cut it off swiftly, while you can.
But I can’t. The urge to look at her finally takes over.
She is just as beautiful in that dress as I remember. Her face though… she looks crushed. Is she not lying?
That’s just the demon talking. Don’t let it win.
I let it win.
“So tell me you didn’t do it.” I plead with her. “Tell me you didn’t cast any love spells, L Faba.” For a moment, I let myself believe that what we had was real, that I meant something to her.
But then she responds.
“I… I did.”
So it was just a task to her. She does not care. I was right the first time. My chest feels like it’s in flames again. It’s like I’m back in the botanical gardens.
But you’re not in the botanical gardens. You’re in a room full of people. Including the one person you love the most in this world. Losing control is simply not an option.
I almost feel the fire at my fingertips. Protect her. Shut it down.
I close my eyes. It’s like time ceases to exist, and I fall back into the void with Aine. I can feel the chill. I will always be there, whether you like it or not. If that is true, I might as well use it to my advantage. Kill the demon.
I need to stop her before she says anything else.
“I’m not interested in your excuses. Joke’s on you, mischief sage. You really thought I couldn’t break your weak spell? I’ve been to hell and back, came back from the dead. You can’t control me. I am the master of the untamed. Your spell over me is gone. You are nothing to me.”
It all pours out. Could almost convince myself that I mean it, if I don’t think about it too hard. Good. Just use the void. It’s working. The burning feeling is lessening.
“But thank you, L Faba, for showing me what ‘love’ is. I don’t think I’ll be doing any of that ever again.”
The look of pain on her face flares up the demon right back, but thankfully, I have an excuse to turn away.
“Introducing the new sage of untamed magic, Morgyn Ember.” Simeon announces in a tone that sounds like he’d rather be anywhere but here. I suppose that makes two of us.
As long as I don’t look at her throughout the ceremony, I can hold the fire in. Just keep using the void.
I think of what Simeon said. You’re alive. It will be for the best you if you don’t revisit the time when that was not the case.
What did he mean by that, exactly? Does dipping into the void keep Aine around? I swear I can hear an echo of her voice somewhere. But if I don’t use the void, how else do I keep the demon buried?
Simeon doesn’t understand what’s at stake. I need the void. The demon is too dangerous without it.
If that means keeping Aine in hell… well, maybe that’s a bonus.