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Aug. 27th, 2011

When you fight for three years, you get used to the aspects of it. The secret keeping. The sudden pounding rush of adrenaline. The constant thrum of fear under your skin. The exhaustion. The rage. The helplessness and the power.

There are different kinds of 'get used to,' though.

There's the kind where, free of those constraints, you can relax. It never leaves entirely, but it ebbs. You don't miss it exactly but you recognize that you could go back to it in a heartbeat, if you needed to - and you tell yourself you don't want to.

There's another kind. Less readily admitted to.

The kind where you relax immediately. And slowly, surely, the thrum under your skin comes back. But the fear has a different flavor this time around, more restless than anything else.

The nice thing is, the solution is obvious.

The bad thing is, it's a solution you can't admit to.




Rachel does a lot of things to channel that thrum. Waking at dawn. Gymnastics routines. Runs around the lake. Training with the punching bag. Reading with Tobias. Talking, talking, talking to people. Morphing for fun.

But they're only channels, and none of them for much purpose.

There's only one thing that's given her true relaxation, release, since Milliways.


An afternoon walk in Milliways' forest and Rachel finds herself standing before a tall rock face, more than a hill but not quite a mountain. An opening several feet taller than she is - a rock cave.



Carved into the stone, a symbol she won't readily forget.



"...Daedalus."

OOM

After This:



Milliways is there for those who need it.

So they say.




I was dead.
I was dead.

I was dead.


And now I'm - well, not.





The door swings behind her and the grass beneath her feet is cool and soft. The sun is going down behind the mountains and the sky is streaked with color. All is green and cool and beautiful.

Last summer, it was boiling hot and every spare day was spent indoors or at the beach - not of a lake, but the Pacific Ocean, and they had to take a bus to get there unless their parents dropped them off and... and if she were there right now, there would be no buses and the beaches probably survived but not without their own scars and if she survived if she survived if she survived if she if and if.



Walk. Steps. One in front of the other.

If she had survived, what would she have said?

Trees up ahead, turn, the way is clear.

How would she have justified?

Move, just move.

Was. Was dead.

Run.



Jog, really. Just move. Until all of her energy is taken up with breathing and moving and staying upright.

Or just the last two.

Was. Was dead.

OOM: A Letter

On the kitchen bar, when Tobias flies back through the wide open balcony doors one morning, is a note.

I'm okay. Don't worry. I might be gone for a little while but I'm coming back.

Trust me. I love you.


Words are scratched out with an X - then scratched out even further, darkened to nothing by the pen.



Then smaller, further down, carefully rewritten:

Don't hide.

Tags:

The door to room 2754 slams.

A minute or so later, it opens again.

A few seconds and it slams again.

Just to make a point.




But it's open when the other person who lives there finds his way.

OOM

Sometimes a routine is a useful thing.  When it's broken in the slightest way, it's obvious.  Noticeable.  There's no way to miss it and let the change go by, possibly to the detriment of others.

So Rachel notices when Tobias doesn't leave her in the mornings to go hunt.  When he tries to follow her down to the garage rather than eat.  And when she's gone outside with him and he does nothing but look at her and obey suggestions on her behalf, she continues to notice.  He's either refusing to listen to his own body's urges, or simply can't hear them anymore.

It's the sort of thing she'd talk to Cassie about, if...

Or maybe, since it affects his life so completely, since he's changed so much, it's Jake that she should...

Of course, she probably wouldn't have to.  Ax would have noticed first that he...

The first day, she carries him to the woods on her arm and asks him to wait on a branch while she morphs.  When they're up in the air, eagle and hawk, and he still does nothing, she starts pointing out prey.  But once it's noticed, as is the nature of quick-moving animals, it's too late for him to dive.

The first day, she hunts for him.  Downs a demon rabbit and holds it, pinned to the ground struggling and screaming, and calls to Tobias to come down and finish it.  He needs to eat and the hawk prefers its prey live.

She keeps holding it while he eats, only moving when she's in his way.

They've been through so much.  But there was never anything that Tobias couldn't cope with, or pretend he was coping with.

He's never let her take care of him.  Not like this.

It scares her.

And it's not right.



She does the same that afternoon, before the sun goes down. And it's a rabbit again - they are everywhere - and she holds it while he eats.

In the morning, it is the same.

And the next afternoon.


The third day, she starts to ask him about it, to say something, anything. But every attempt is aborted for the simplest reason.

Why won't you-
Can't you-
Aren't you-
You should-


Guilt.

Maybe he would, could if she hadn't left suddenly. Maybe he wouldn't be like this if she hadn't left that first time.



But it's still some time before she realizes. That first time?

She'd said goodbye.

She'd made sure she could.

And this time?

Was not her fault.



"Tobias? Let's go outside."

OOM - The Labyrinth Part III

"Jo!"



The castle is as dark as ever it was before, with the added benefit of the section Rachel is currently trying to look into having no torch. No source of light at all beyond the torch in the hand that isn't pressed to the tile, trying to peer into darkness for her friend.

OOM - The Labyrinth Part II

For the record, Rachel has been issued enough homework to know the name Daedalus. But in a cave, behind a waterfall, in a forest, inside a cupboard, lurking in a gloomy castle is not the best place for memory recall. And by the time she'd dragged herself out of the water and up onto the rocky shelf behind the fall, there were only so many questions she wanted to ask.

Bear in the castle. Eagle in the woods. Dolphin in the water. Not to mention swinging a torch around and running hard through the forest floor.

On her hands and knees on the stone floor, Rachel watches a puddle of water form beneath her hair and clothing. At the moment, it's the only thing keeping her from falling over from exhaustion.

OOM - The Labyrinth Part I

There is boredom. There is restlessness. There is anxiety. And there is recklessness. Stages of reactions following the common phrase of There's nothing to do. If left alone for too long, this condition can result in conversation, conflict, experimentation, explosions, discovery, and death.

Among others.

But sometimes, Fate steps in. Someone looks down and notices the ever-increasing stages and says, Hey. That looks kind of dull. Let me help you out there.

The common reaction to such politeness is gratitude.


Well into the stages of boredom, Rachel opens her eyes and finds herself not in her bedroom, her apartment, or even the Bar's couch. Instead of soft fabric, there are hard, rough stones beneath her back. Instead of open space, the walls are close and dingy and the ceiling is low. And when she sits up, sharp and sudden, she is staring out of an archway that leads into the darkest of dark hallways, despite the flickering torch on the wall.

Blue eyes dart in every direction and not a single one of them makes sense - including the other person, crumpled on the stones nearby.

OOM

There is a reason why chess is such an overused cliche for the art of war. In no other game are aspects of ruthless conquering so simply displayed. One side against another, the same basic shape and purpose, differing in only simple ways. Guarded by many disposable pieces, flanked by those willing to sacrifice, the leaders lie safely ensconced from beginning to end, if played well.

And at no time are any of the pieces on the board, so focused on their objective, every truly in control.



There are things about chess that Rachel would agree with, when applied to war. An aggressive opening is always a good choice. One should sacrifice for the good of many. A loss here and there, while disheartening, is inevitable and must be anticipated, accepted, and forged through.

The point is to win.

You must win.



These are things Rachel would agree with, if she had ever played chess. Or had any interest in chess.

But to play chess, you must be a player, the mover of pieces, the gentle strategist.

And even Rachel knows, she is more likely to be a knight.

If the player is being charitable.



Certain subjects are not talked about.

Some of them haven't changed since the early days of the war. The word Nothlit never passes between them. The very first battle, the hours following their descent into the Yeerk Pool. The construction site, at any time, for any memory, is taboo.

What they saw there, did there, is unspeakable in many ways.

The final moments of Rachel's life are not talked about. In fact, the entire twenty-four hours preceding, though she knows that Tobias has guessed how long she held her secret, that she could have warned him and didn't.

She would say couldn't. He would say didn't.

But they don't talk about that.

Some subjects are not so easy. After the last time she tried, Rachel knows now that Loren is not to be discussed. And after the initial questions about their friends, about the aftermath of the war, when Tobias did not mention a single member of her family, she took that hint, too.

The time between her death and her arrival in Milliways, if any time passed at all.

Tobias does not know it exists and sometimes Rachel isn't sure.

What she is sure of is that telling him would change nothing.

And would solve less.



You were just a kid, she'd said, when the great player himself finished his story. Like us.

And he was, she could see that. She spoke the words, knowing he wanted some form of forgiveness, perhaps more than he wanted to honor her, to explain why she had to die. She wonders, sometimes, if he was comforted at all to hear her say so, to be given the opportunity to speak the words that meant so much.

Yes.
You were brave.
You were strong.
You were good.


You mattered.


She wonders if he realized, if he cared, that being a child in a war offers little excuse.

For either of them.



Chess is a game for the brave. For the confident. For the dedicated. For the patient.

For the player.

Not the pawns.



There are things that are not spoken of.

Bringing up the fight with Yrael was allowed in a moment of distress. Like a moment of silence for Elfangor while discussing the Blue Box. Because the latter is necessary, the former is allowed.

Because she had to say something about Yrael, Rachel was allowed to say the Ellimist's name. And when that time passed and they agreed, together, that neither understood or perhaps could understand, it was over.

But it stays with her.

In all his storytelling, the emotions the Ellimist displayed to her were elevated and far away, things he had grown past and was no longer capable of feeling as he once was. A creature so beyond what he had once been that he would never return. It's why he could stop time and tell her, in those moments when surely she had already died but was not quite dead yet, tell her his story when she demanded it from him. When she had sneered his name and demanded to know what right he had to pick up the pieces and move them where he wanted, even when such a move would sacrifice the piece.

And he had told her, in that way that is part answer to the desperate cry of a dying child, part a desperate cry of his own for forgiveness. Too elevated to see the ludicrous nature of it, and she too scared to protest.

She hadn't wanted to die. He was one of few creatures who truly knew that about her.



The Ellimist is a curse to them. A four letter word, as it's said. Rachel can think of him in moments where she is clear-headed and be angry and confused and exasperated and sad all at once. For his story and his purpose and his choices.

They don't line up in her head, the Ellimist and Yrael. Their choices and their attitude. The Ellimist is a player, Yrael has the potential to be a player.

Perhaps they all do, in significantly smaller ways.



I did not cause you to be one of the six.

An extra piece on the board. Stacking the deck for one side, one more square taken up by a soldier the other side didn't have.



But Rachel doesn't play chess.

All she really knows, if she had to think about it at all, is that one side plays with black pieces, the other with white.



She is the grey knight.

More useful than a pawn.