2019-03-24: Gravity is Desire

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<Pose Tracker> Neriah Parringer has posed.

Green
              light
                           spirals
                                            outwards
                                                                  like
                                                                              a
                                                                                   mandala
before tracing lines twist and bend at angles
                    that make absolutely no sense
          a mathematician's mind polluted with something               flexing
winding
                    twisting
               outlining something
               columns

          something buzzes in the senses.

               /in canaan

Passing through the halls of Jugend is an ordeal in and of itself, some days.
          Ever since that day.
                         But there are still things to try for.

It's a familiar place. It is not canted a few degrees. It is canted a few degrees. Like someone set the hover thrusters wrong.

Eyes watch him as he passes the classrooms. Whispers follow him.

          they buzz like stubborn little cicadas

For a moment the lights flash orange and there is a burst of sound
          a strangled thing crying out and silenced

The students walk past him with glances. The smiles of faces he recognizes. Peers he sits with every day. Names that could pass his lips in the regular course of his duties. Memories that have been scraped to the surface.

Paper smiles drawn over the faces of hate dolls. Polite words mouthed by the lips of hate dolls. Little niceties peddled in by the manners of hate dolls. Whispers buzz behind them.

          'don't tell me you're still hanging around with Voss'
                    'Voss just won't take a hint'
                              'did you see Voss'
'i hear Voss has a new friend'
          'you poor thing, sitting next to voss'
               'i hear voss has a new friend'
                              cicadas
     'i hear voss has a new friend'
          'i hear it's more than a friend'                         ABANDON THYSELF
'stay away from Voss, it's not worth it'
               'i hear voss has a new friend'

A hand reaches out. Long fingers suddenly slide over the backs of Loren's, then circle his hand. They slide into the spaces between his. There is a soft touch of metal. Something metallic on her finger meets something metallic on one of his. the cicadas buzz louder.

The figure that's moved up alongside him is no Jugend soldier. She's clad in a long, elaborate white dress, low in the back, streaming with lace and chiffon. A vast, covering veil spills over her face, fringed with a cascade of delicate lace woven into symbols. The train of her gown pours down to trail dramatically behind her. It continues off into eternity.

Soft applause mingles with a perennial buzz. Polite applause from a hundred automata. Paper smiles on the faces of people who know what he did. They draw closer to him. Utter soft words.
          'congratulations'
          'i can't believe you're a married man now'
                    'your family must be so proud of you'

"You're old enough now to be a good husband, aren't you," comes a whisper from nowhere and everywhere - and a delicate hand lifts, pushing the veil back.

"That's good. I always wanted to be with you," Neriah says with a smoky smile from behind the veil, as the wedding rings on her and his fingers heat and tighten like blazing cuffs.

          "My precious love."

<Pose Tracker> Loren Voss has posed.

          Time slowed.

                    Time stopped.

And he kept on moving running racing, as if he could beat the paradox, break the cycle. End the circuit. Lan hangs limp, heavy, against his shoulder -- over it now; he hefts her weight as best he can as he.

The wound, he'll have to fix it for her properly once he can, once he skirts the boundary of the paradox. He can do nothing for her now.

He keeps running.
Halls twist as if the world had started to tilt a scant few degrees. Hadn't he been here before? He keeps running.
Hadn't he been here before?
He keeps running.
Hadn't be been--
He keeps--

Hadn't--
He--

The cicadas buzz.


          ...
               ...

He's walking down the hallway, tablet pressed against the middle of his abdomen. He's already late. He should run. Except, then everyone will stare at him. More than they already are.
His shoulders hunch. He bows his head.

Just... bear it. Someday it has to end.

...Right?

The door's closed. Of course it's closed. It's going to be a whole thing once he enters.
Everyone's going to look at him.
He reaches out to open the door.

A hand slides over his.
And he realizes
                    he realizes as the hand takes his own
that he's wearing a ring.

He turns to face a figure clad in white. 'She', his mind supplies, as everyone about him claps, as everything turns into a parody of itself. He can't see anyone's face anymore, even when he looks.
'congratulations'
'congratulations'
'congratulations'

The cicadas buzz.

"What?" he croaks, and he's no longer a boy of fourteen fifteen sixteen seventeen eighteen--

Clad in the broken battered bloodied body armor, he is a man of twenty as he stares at her as she pulls back her veil and he stares at her and he tries to jerk his hand away and he
he can't
his hand jerks and twists and pulls against hers and he can't free himself. The band is burning and he can't free himself.

"Parringer-- what the... where-- what are you.."

My precious love.

He stares at her lips parted. He stares at her through her and hoarsely utters, "Let... let go."

<Pose Tracker> Neriah Parringer has posed.


"Tommy, come now," Neriah Parringer-Voss whispers. "That's no way to talk to the woman you're going to marry."

Pulling away is like trying to pull a mountain out of the earth. The fingers are clad in a lacy white glove. They're slender and delicate.

But they won't let go. Not with that much will. The wedding ring burns into his finger like a cuff.

Around them, the familiar faces gather closely. They're faces he knows. The faces of people who were never his friends. The people who whisper things about him. The rumours who spill from lips.

          'congratulations, voss'
                    'you two are such a cute couple'
                    'your family must be so proud'
          'i hear voss has a new friend'
                              'i hear she murders children'
          'congratulations, voss'                    ABANDON THYSELF
     'those poor kids, having voss for a dad'
          'congratulations, voss'               'fuck voss'

Polite words mouthed by friends who reach out and clap him on the shoulder. Jostle around him, pushing Loren and his new wife along a sea of humans that crunches in close to him. Everywhere he turns, a friend brushes against him. Someone offers him a handshake. A hug or a pat on the back. Smiles and kind words of congratulations.

Paper smiles drawn over the faces of hate dolls, mouthing polite words they don't mean, because nobody ever means them. Sick fictions. Because he can hear the whispers. Rumours whirling all around him and the lovely wife he is bound to.

          whispers that buzz like cicadas do.

As the bodies press around them like an ocean of friends, Neriah slides herself around Loren. Something soft presses against his back - the curve of her body. Her chin comes to rest against his shoulder. Her free arm snakes around him, her hand splaying over his stomach. A long finger glides across the fractures of bloody, broken armour. The scars of Gethsemane. The broken man delivered into the honeymoon.

"Why are you so upset about it? Are you scared of me? It's okay, you know. The more I used it, the easier it got. It used to be that it felt like I was going to die. Now it doesn't hurt anymore."

Her hand splays over Loren's chest as she coaxes him down the hallway. "Would you rather I just left you alone?" she asks.

     a question from that day
          probably any other day for him
                    but one crystallized
                         within a shard of identity
                    stolen by a thousand ravens
          her fingertips knit into his back and she bites her lip
     pain and closeness
               neriah's fingers curl, nails denting the remnants of his armour

"You can't see anything but walls, can you," she whispers. "Isn't it so much easier when everyone hates you?"
          "When you never have to fail them?"
                    "Sweet Mr. Voss."

The jostle of the crowd pushes them into a T intersection. Ahead, the character of the hallway changes. It seems to wilt, visibly. The floor feels like it is beginning to slide out from beneath Loren. The floor is still there. It still feels like someone is beginning to angle it.

It isn't Jugend anymore. The corridor opens up into a huge room. Vast columns soar, pulsing with green. Confetti drifts through the air. Bells ring. Crowds clap. The people he recognizes file by, patting Loren on the shoulder again as they take their pews.

At the front of the church, familiar figures sit. Family members. Isolated from the rest and unable to see the paper smiles. The paper smiles the hate dolls all wear while they come to be Loren's friends.

          One family member is absent
                    there's a scarlet smear on the pew
in front of a blank space

At the altar, the priest waits for them.

"You're going to make your family so proud, you know," Neriah whispers as she touches her lips to the side of Loren's neck.

At the altar, a frozen Leah Sadalbari stands in front of the altar. Blue-eyed ravens perch all over arms and shoulders held in a crucified position. Stained glass windows stand behind her. The images wrought into them are hard to decipher. Fragments of something. Vaguely humanoid shapes.

For a moment the lights flash orange and there is a burst of sound
               a familiar voice crying out and silenced
                         something exploding just out of view
          the icons in the windows leer like the faces of valmar
          blood pours from the crucified leah's eye socket

<Pose Tracker> Loren Voss has posed.

       "Marry...?"

He's slow on the uptake.
Despite their words.
Despite her dress.

Despite the rings. It's burning into his hand, feeling at least as if it's going layer by layer by layer.
He can't pull his hand from hers.

And all about him are people.
They laugh. They cheer him on. They whisper about him.
They touch him. "Stop-- don't-- give me some space--" he utters, attempting to recoil. But there's nowhere to go. All around the whispering won't stop.

'i feel bad for the kids'
               'lucky to marry at all'
'guess that's as good as it can get'
'kind of a waste isn't it'
                    'she could have done better'
          'maybe it'll turn out alright'

"Gh..." he utters, staring ahead as if he could fix on some point a million miles away.

Her arm slides around him, pulls him close. He tries to squirm away, but her grip is like steel -- deceptively, deceptively. He's transfixed as though she had instead impaled him--

The way he'd run through Isiris with a broken length of pipe.

Her hand splays over his stomach, over the break in the side of his armor, still slick with blood. "Get off-- let go-- don't touch me--"
He tries to break away, to peel her hand finger by finger from the rent in his armor.
He might as well try to move a mountain.

"Yes! Yes! --let go of me you--"

"--you wretched Lamb--"

He struggles again, like a rabbit caught in a trap.

there's somewhere he needs to go
there's something he was trying to do
where was he
when was he
what was...

Jugend, Gethsemane.
A descent into, perhaps, an underworld.
It all bleeds together.

it hurts where her fingers touch
like glass shards ground into flesh

Whether he likes it or not he's borne along, dragged on downwards, downwards.

She whispers into his ear.
He shudders, closing his eyes.Isn't it so much easier when everyone hates you?

Isn't it?

"I don't... want..."

He can't see anything but walls. No matter where he turns. Did he build them? Hadn't there been a reason?
He can't remember, anymore. Everything is...
is...

Around him people cheer. Confetti rains down in this space he's never been inside before in his life. A bell tolls, dully, somewhere overhead.
She still has his hand. He can't move his hand.
His hand hurts.

He stumbles forward, one step after another. Clumsily, almost, as if someone is pulling his strings. 'Stop', he urges himself as the altar approaches. 'Stop!'
But he cannot.

                              His parents are here.
So is his brother.
In a sense.
                         In a way.
               Blood drips slowly onto the floor from the seat on the pew.
His parents don't meet his eyes.

Everything is a numb dull static buzz. He...

Her lips touch the side of his neck. He flinches.

He...

He lifts his head up and gazes at the priest.

"Leah...?" he utters, across cracked lips.

The shapes beyond are just shapes.
The birds are just birds.
His attention is for Leah and Leah alone.

Blood drips from her face onto the floor.

He jerks forward, lurching back to life, back to the here and now, focus driven into him like a spike rammed right through his skull.

"Leah! No!"

This may try the tether that binds him and his bride, as he lunges to reach his brother's widow.

<Pose Tracker> Neriah Parringer has posed.

It's hard to tell where this church is anymore. Jugend. Gethsemane. Hell. The edge of sanity. It connects to places he's been, but the hall itself is new.

For her, however, it's not. A memory intersects. A fragment coaxed from her in a torrid moment of suffering crosses with Vivisecta. And somewhere overhead, church bells peal with the promise of love.

outside the window there is another burst of sound
               the bell peal screams like a dying man
                              fire blazes beyond windows that bear the face of valmar

          in the flash of the explosive light from beyond the windows, the crowd can be seen universally turning their backs on the pew in which the Voss family sits

Splaying long fingers, Neriah leans into Loren's back once more. Her soft lips part, so close that they brush the shell of his ear. That hand traces upwards, thumb moving over his cheekbone, just below his eye.

"Don't push me away," she whispers.
          "I want to be close enough to feel your pain."
                         "And you have so much of it, don't you?"

Her whisper buzzes in his ears. Everything buzzes in his ears. She flicks her tongue a little, like a serpent.

"I want to share it with you."

The graze of her nail over his cheek hurts
               hurts enough to draw a little blood from just below his eye
                         like the tip of a spike ready to be rammed right through his skull if she were to push it.

Nobody meets his eyes. There are whispers.

               did you hear about his brother
                              loren could've done better
                                        that voss, what a lowlife
                         i hear voss has a new friend
                                   did you hear about engil
i hear voss has a new friend
                    azazel

Leah, frozen and crucified in Gethsemane, does not say anything. She merely drips tears of blood from her eye socket. That eye.

There is an audible SNAP as the connection between the wedding rings breaks. Loren hurtles towards the crucified woman - his brother's widow. There is a heavy thud of body on body before both of them tumble, Leah deflecting away and unmoving like a statue, tearing away the white cloth from the altar, before they hit the ground.

with a thunderous burst of sound.

The stained-glass windows burst inward, to the sound of gasps from the crowd of automatons with their paper smiles. Their paper smiles masking the hate dolls they are. Shards of glass and fire spew through the room, impaling a few hate dolls. A few paper smiles are torn away from faces that are completely blank behind them. Tattered paper smiles flutter through the air.

Through the stained-glass windows, something groans. Something massive. The huge shape of a Gear. It collapses through the back wall of the church and plunges towards the altar.

Schiehallion.

               ABANDON THYSELF, something screams. It screams from everywhere.

Again something screams. It rings in Loren's ears
               the bell peal screams like a dying man
as the Gear descends like a falling tree. Smoke and debris flame out behind it. More shrapnel rains into the audience of paper smiles and whisperers.

               oh well there you go
                    i guess voss was just a voss all along
                              yeah this was probably inevitable
                                        runs in the family
                         that poor woman
                              always knew he'd be a loser
               i guess voss was just a voss all along
                    runs in the family
                              ABANDON THYSELF
               well so much for leah
                         that poor woman
          i guess voss was just a voss all along

Schiehallion is descending as if in slow motion. There is time for Loren to act - because it is about to fall on the altar, and on Leah. The ravens around her sit and wait, beaks yawning open.

But a pressure is at work. Trying to pull Loren back.

The wedding ring burns into his finger like a cuff. Behind him, Neriah holds out her hand - and her ring glows as well.

Seeks to pull him back towards her with a force akin to gravity.

The smile she wears is a loving one. One that calls him back towards closeness. Love.
               a paper one.

"Why even bother?" she asks. "You're just a Voss."
               "This is probably inevitable."

<Pose Tracker> Loren Voss has posed.

Even here -- wherever this is (hell, a nightmare, somewhere and something out of time) -- they turn on his family. Even here, they're all gold-plated pariahs.
Another slip, and even their blood won't save them.
Their cursed blood.

She pulls him close. He struggles, but feeblely, a fish caught on a hook. But even here he recoils when her lips brush against his ear.
"Why... do you want..."
My pain?
The sentence dies out instead into a hard-cut hiss as her thumb circles upwards, just under his eye.
It hurts.
The world spools out around him dizzily spinning, as if he were falling to the bottom of a well.
When she presses her nail in.
"Stop..."
Blood slicks his cheek, a parody of a tear.
He stares ahead, wide-eyed.

It's a weak plea, from a weak person.

Nobody meets his eye. Nobody says anything. Nobody moves.
They just talk, words spinning about him until it's little but background noise.
A dull buzz like a cicada.
Or perhaps
Water pooling in the dark places of the world.

He breathes out and he breathes in, and he lifts his gaze and
It's Leah's form that forces him into action.
Just like it was her presence that forced him into action.

                    Because really
                                             really
                                                                                really
what was he doing before that?
Other than drowning on dry land.

Something snaps. Shatters. Breaks away. Freedom. Clarity. Motion. He reaches for her--

She falls away. Still, motionless.

"Leah?"

He rises on his knees.
As glass comes down in a shower about him. He might raise his arm in defense but still small fragments pass his guard, shred his skin, particularly his exposed hand
with the ring.

"Schiehallion..."

He stands, shakily; ice alone runs in his veins.
Leah doesn't move. She lies as a statue.
A corpse?

She should have died back then. Most people don't survive that sort of accident. Even with all of Solaris' medical expertise.
Even with her rank, her prestige. Her family.
Her blood.

He takes a step forward.
Something is pulling him back. Something is dragging him away as if on a chain. Inch by inexorable inch. He won't can't will not reach her in time. He'll get to watch her die.

What do you care? You didn't even think about her back then.
You're only thinking about what will happen if she dies.
You'll be left without someone to watch out for you, right?
And you'll fail if that happens.
Because you're useless on your own.

It's--

It's not untrue.
He's using her.
She's using him.
It's the nature of their world, their society. Their lives.

He's fine with that.
But is she?

Still, he--
He's known her for almost all his life and--

He can't stand back and watch. Maybe other people can but he can't! Hadn't Leah said something like that, about him?
"So long as it continues to bother you, you're in the right line of work."
It's not just that she's kin. It's not just that she's /useful/ to him. It's-- the principle of it--
He struggles against what holds him, chains him still.
But all tethers must break.

"Leah!" he shouts again, and his voice is not entirely his own as he puts his all into the sparkling white barrier that burns into existence about her. If only he had Drive--
But his will may have to suffice. He exhales hard. He vocalizes a grunt. And then screams as he prepares to catch a Gear with a wall of Ether.

<Pose Tracker> Neriah Parringer has posed.

"Why would I not want your pain?"

The buzz of conversation in the background is everpresent in the kirk which seems to tilt a few seasick degrees to the right, the periphery of it hazy, centering down to this moment.

Neriah's eyelids lower as she holds her hand out. The wedding ring burns into his finger like a cuff. Its pull is inexorable. Brutal. Demanding. Defying Loren's efforts to pull away from attraction and do what he must.

"I thought you might understand me," she says behind a paper smile. A paper smile of love over the face of a hate doll in a wedding dress. "You were kind to me at first... but then I reached out to you."

The paper smile falls away. Her eyes darken. They burn a shade of familiarly clear blue.

"And you put your wall up and pushed me away."
               "Like you push everyone away."
                                             ABANDON THYSELF
                                                            "And you made sure to be extra cruel, too, didn't you?"

The wedding ring on her hand blazes - and pulls. Insistently.

"It's not safe behind your wall anymore," she says.

The ring pulls --

And yet, all tethers must break.

Schiehallion continues to descend, hurled through the window like a godhammer and coming down in a sickening trajectory straight for the immobile woman in the circle of ravens. Another accident is about to happen. Another disaster is about to befall too many people. And it's going to be Loren's fault. He's 20 years old and he's a man now, and he's going to ruin everything in front of his entire family.

He's going to lose his brother's widow. Another accident will befall her. Again.

All tethers must break.

Leah does nothing to respond to him. She's frozen in place - but her eye is darting back and forth. The light of the etheric barrier flares to life as Loren makes his move.

The barrier around her.
               he's using her
                                   she's using him
                                             can that nature be enough
                                   to stop what is inevitable

                                                                      what else is there, loren voss?
                                                                                     ABANDON THYSELF

The barrier squeals as the falling Schiehallion collides with it. Dual pressures rip through the reality that has been constructed for him. The inexorable pressure that strains to pull Loren back. The unstoppable weight that threatens to descend through the barrier and take away the woman who is more than useful kin. More than just a person he can use.

A useful tool could not break this tether. And all tethers must break.

The barrier is brighter than it has the right to be. Energy bleeds off of it as Schiehallion sinks against the magic. When Loren screams, it echoes through the hall.

The ring around his finger begins to cool.

Cracks begin to cobweb through the floor of the church hall - through the walls and the ceiling. They dance through the faces in the audience. Through the paper smiles that flutter through the air like a thousand blue-eyed ravens, whispering judgments that are no longer clear.

          loren
                         loren
loren                                        loren
                                             thomas
                         thank you
                                                  idiot
                                                                 it's the principle of it
               so long as it continues to bother you
                         what do you care
                                                       what do you care
                                                                                          do you care
                                                                                                         you care

The light blazes like a new dawn. The cracks in the universe grow brighter.

An inescapable universe begins to flake away. And something else begins to decay.

The ring around Loren's finger begins to crack. The heat binding it to him grows lesser and lesser. It seems to pinch at him less tightly.

The barrier expends itself. Schiehallion slides down from what's left of it. It slouches to one side and crashes down in the wreckage of the church.

Beyond the gash in the wall through which Schiehallion fell, familiar structures can be seen. The structure of Gethsemane, that old outpost where this encounter began. A hallway stretching into infinity - and a white light at its end, beckoning to him. It shouldn't be here. It's like a ray of dawn streaming through Vivisecta.

And yet... the floor still seems tilted.

With a soft click of heels, the image of Neriah moves to one side of Loren, then circles him. Behind him, a thousand hate dolls stand and watch him. Half of them have lost their paper smiles.

For the first time, they are silent. Watching him with expectation.
               Judgment?
                         Or curiosity?
               There are no whispers to affirm right now.
               ABANDON THYSELF

Neriah clucks her tongue softly. "Go ahead, Tommy."
               "Loren."
                         "Let her in."

The world begins to tremble.

And with a groan like a familiar man's scream, it begins to collapse. The cold blue light becomes a warmer orange hue.

Everything behind him is all fire and burning. One of the wings of the church burns. The altar burns. It spills up towards he and Leah. The flames scream in a familiar man's voice both hated and loved as they lap towards he and the woman who is more than just a warm body he is using for these purposes. A Gear - one of the most advanced units - has been crashed. Schiehallion is mangled beyond all repair.

The nail scar Neriah left on Loren's face won't stop bleeding. Conspicuous near the altar is the pew. Shunned parents sit in it.

With every pulse of his blood, something red drips from the empty seat on that church bench.

<Pose Tracker> Loren Voss has posed.

"Kind...? That... was..." he manages by turns, struggling to get the words out. It buzzes awfully, a circling buzz of cicadas as he continues to drown in this hell he's been sunk into.
"What do you..."
"...care..."

Like a drowning man raising his head above the surface.

He sees things now. They're growing ever more insistent. Unignorable.
They writhe as he sinks further and further away, as he grows numb.
Dead to the outside world.

He
sees
things

Her eyes are such a clear blue. Beautiful, like Azazel's.
...were they like that before?

It's not safe.
the ring burns
He knows it's not safe. It's never been safe, not really.
but the thing about walls is that you can build them as high as you like
but taking them down again is difficult
lengthy
and painful

And yet, even if those walls are impassable -- even if they stand -- even if he continues to add to them.
Even so he strains against the tether. Shapes dance and writhe in the corner of his vision; every time when he jerks his head he can see them, see them, before they slip away.
All the more as he weaves Ether, burns it in every exhaled breath.

He can't let her die (again).
Can't allow this stain to darken.

(the blood on the seat continues to drip drip drip)

Can't allow himself to lose his only ally.
Can't allow someone so important and powerful to be lost.
Can't
let go
can he

He's not good at making pragmatic decisions, in the end. Not for himself.
Maybe that's why he was put into Medical, so long ago. Someone noticed it. And they made their own pragmatic decision.

Leah's lone eye moves. She's alive--

His barrier burns ever brighter. White, pure light. Crystalline.

He shouts. He screams out defiance, baking his will into the spell. He pushes back against the falling Gear.

Is it too much to hope that it is also against fate?

               ...

                                   ...

Blood spatters the floor in the aftermath, dripping from his nose. He heaves out an exhausted breath. He sinks to his knees, cupping his still gloved right hand to his face and brings it away smeared in blood.

"Over... did it... huh," he murmurs, staring at the evidence of overextertion. He reels for a moment.

As does the room.

You're not out of the woods yet, some more prescient part of his mind voices.

"Ha..."

There's a gash in the wall. Light pours in.

Slowly, unsteadily, he rises to his feet. He tugs at the ring, still on his bared hand.

Should it come free, he hurls it, next, at Neriah.
He has good aim with small objects. It'll land where he wants it to land.

Slowly, dragging his feet, he limps towards the light.

Towards Leah, who lies there still.

Can he lift her? In this state?
Should he leave her now and escape?

Hadn't she said...

His vision swirls with blue.

And he can't seem to move her, however he tries.

"Sorry," he says to Leah.
"Sorry. I fucked up. ...Sorry."

He has to sit there for a moment at her side, in a world that's starting to fall apart.
He's still bleeding.
He doesn't care about that.

Lurching to his feet he just about passes out when he gets there and leans on a part of Schiehallion's wreck for support.

The world is coming to pieces. It's breaking into nothingness. Just splinters, shards.
A million pieces of a mirror.

She had said--

"You... promised, right."
It wasn't a promise. He knows that.
But in this moment he has to lie to himself to do his job.

She had ordered him to get out and break the loop.

Everything's burning. Everything is being consumed. He grabs onto the side of Schiehallion and hauls himself up, crawling across the length of the chassis in pursuit of the light.
Of escape.

All tethers must break.

<Pose Tracker> Neriah Parringer has posed.

the blood
               on the seat
                              continues to drip in perfect time with the nail cut

The last time Neriah appeared, in the penumbra of Nisan, her eyes had opened in the sky. They were red.

Now they shine another colour. Clear and beautiful. A fragment of her interwoven with a thread of something else. An iscariot tapestry of damnation twisting and binding with something more dire.

In the pews, the fire burns. The cold blue becomes a warmer orange hue. The edge of the world vanishes in those flames. They lap at the fringes of a hundred hate dolls with shapes and bearings he's seen before. They fray the edges of paper smiles. The paper smiles they put on their faces when they were whispering about him.

               They aren't whispering anymore. They burn away, motionless.
                                   Rumours burn away. Whispers.

Beyond the flames, shapes haunt the edges of his view. The shapes of things. Flashes of stonework. Metal. Cracks that spiderweb through existence.

All tethers must break.

It takes force to break this one. It does not want to move from Loren's hand. It gnaws at his flesh - and as he pulls it off, it bites into his finger insistently. It refuses to go. Little scars rake into him as it drags down the digit. Streaks of blood slash through the surface layer and leave red runways behind.

But it slides into his palm - and he hurls it with will.

Neriah opens her mouth to say something.

The ring punches through her. Her body cracks like a pane of glass as the ring pierces her, hits the ground beyond her, and rolls, teetering on its edge, then falling to its side.

The shards of Neriah fall away from one another, colour leeching from them as they tumble to the ground. They land as blank pieces of reflective glass. A few hang in the air and drift off in odd directions.

It leaves Loren with just he and Leah. Her sole eye is alert and darting, and focuses on him for a moment.

Nothing can be spoken. Nothing can be done to budge her. The cracks in the universe dance through everything.
          But they never reach Leah Sadalbari.

'sorry. i fucked up.'

The flames crackle a persistent buzz. The crumbling world burns and tilts. Flames draw ever closer to the circle that now contains nothing more than Loren, the still Leah, and the wreck of Schiehallion. Beyond the fire, the hate dolls have ignited into sitting pyres, paper smiles little more than burning cinders upon unseeing faces.

The pyre has reached the bench of the Voss family. Wreaths of flame in the shapes of people sit and watch.

Blood drips from that seat
               that seat left hatefully empty
                              every drop a drop that beats through the one left behind

Climbing up Schiehallion is like scaling a mountain. It seems bigger than it has any right to be, and he's climbing that mountain alone. Below, the single spark of blue that is Leah's lone remaining eye shines through the orange flames that consume everything now. Schiehallion almost seems to be sinking into the ground. He has no choice but to leave her.

It's not the same as the way he leaves everyone in his life.
               She had ordered him to get out and
                                             ABANDON THYSELF
break the loop.

The Gear's hull creaks, growing hotter with each passing moment. He climbs upwards. His hands find edges, letting him boost to the top. He reaches the cockpit before long.

the pilot's dome is nothing
          but a bubble painted with crimson
                    a single crack in it is seen
                                                  all one can see behind it is
                                   a breathtakingly clear blue eye
               watching him

To pry the hatch open isn't possible. But that eye follows Loren as he climbs past it.

          The gaze
                              will not let him move past it
                                                            as the burning spark of Leah watches from below
                                                                                          waiting for him to obey the order

The flames lap ever higher. They burn up the arms and waist of the Gear now. They crackle out of the cockpit. They wreath that single blue eye that watches all the time.

The light is closer now. The universe has crumbled away and that ray of freedom shimmers just beyond Schiehallion's head.

Within the glint of Schiehallion's headpiece, something is reflected. A slender, feminine shape leaning in behind Loren.

"You're never going to see her again, you know," she murmurs, before he can pull himself up the last little way.

          the light
                         swells
                         shines brighter




               there is
                                                            a breath of something cold


                                                                 blindness


               a heartbeat








               save me, leah sadalbari.






Like water draining from the outside of a glass, the light sloughs away. It rains down in unnatural streams and rivulets. Filtering away, it pours into the battered flooring and walls around where he has emerged, pooling in unnatural puddles that then crack apart and break down into mere fragments and dissipate into the air.

What he sees is not a tilted world. Not a church or a wedding. Not Jugend. Not a crucified Leah.

He stands at the threshold of GETHSEMANE. At the threshold of reality. The real reality.

A reality he emerges into... but not without cost.

<Pose Tracker> Loren Voss has posed.

It's not her proper eye color. It never was -- that color is from /him/ and him alone.
They're beautiful eyes. He's beautiful.
Loren wants to kill him still.

Such thoughts only flicker across his mind as he turns towards /her/ and wrenches the ring off. As the fire begins to roil, begins to take with it the pews, the congregation, the contents of the kirk.
It does not come free easily. He grunts as it takes with it flesh, blood -- leaves behind a wound that's sure to leave a mark if not scar over if it's not handled well. But such concerns are for a future him. All he cares for now is getting the thing off him and--

And he throws it.
Right for her.
Through her, as it happens.
The bride's image shatters. He, in that moment, exhales a breath.

Everything is blue. Everything is cast in a dazzling blue.

Where am...

I?

In those moments before
he
shouts
screams
and draws upon everything he has.
                                                                      No, more than even that.

Blue continues to blaze before his eyes, ghostly, distant. As he steps towards Leah's still form. As he takes stock of his condition.

                                        Recalls her last order.
Get out, if not in those words. Break the loop, if not in those words.
Live.
If not in those words.

His parents.
They go up in flames.
He doesn't look. He can't.
Each inch of ground over the bulk of the Gear may as well be a thousand. His hands ache; blood smears across the chassis of the Gear.
        Across the pilot's dome. Broken. Half-melted. Red.
He catches a glimpse of an eye and closes his own, continuing his sad crawl towards the light. He moves past it. His body screams with the effort of it, but he moves past it.

And at last at last at last
he ascends to the broken headpiece. The light is just above--

You've never going to see her again, you know, says the shape in the reflection. He cracks open an eye.

"She's... she'll save herself. I have to... trust..." he gasps, before reaching for the light.
She'll save herself. He can't do it as he is.
It's up to him now to save himself.
Lest he truly become a liability.

               ...

                                   ...

When he comes to he's slumped against a wall in Gethsemane.
No sign of Lan.
Nor Leah.

In the end, he's a good soldier, even if it clashes against his deeper impulses and drive.

He rises to his feet, bracing himself against the wall as he walks out slowly, slowly, pushing back against the taloned grasp of the Ether exhaustion.

He has to get out.
Has to.

It's the only way he can help the others.