She had always had a knack for finding. Objects sang to her in discordant browns and grays, the patterns overlaying what her eyes saw. Even before the roof fell in on her down in the basement she'd heard them calling out, but then their voices had been muted by the oppressive hum of humanity.
Now, as her eyes failed to focus on the scene before her, she relied upon the chorus of the willful weapons and devices around her to get her bearings. The ruins of the rocket still sung, gleefully, of the swift impact with the earth. Now, though, its voice was twisted and cracked as it had been by the man who whispered redesign.
Up on a hill, the alchemist still breathed lazily in unconsciousness as her gear vibrated with raw potential. A dozen spiders were sliced to quivering metallic joints by the rampaging host of the star. The Giant that had descended from above, more a walking tank than android, bled fire fiercely from one leg.
The warhead she had struggled to lift, though- that was a chorus in and of itself. It was now more than it had been during their flight. Both the winged creature riding it and the darkness Selytarel had unleashed were inexorably intertwined with its will. Its impact with the star did nothing to lessen its voice. Rather, it seemed to gain strength in a rising crescendo.
Selene wretched again, releasing more wisps of the vile smoke. Whatever it was the creature inside her had done, it was not yet done tampering with the process. She could feel it curving their flight into a tight circle around the star's eye, now glowing yellow as it opened.
Whatever the star's purpose might be, she knew that Selytarel intended to unleash a plague of darkness that would stop forever the world's potential life. As i'Lahm had told her, the people left might be the last ember of what had once been a beautiful bonfire. She was not going to let them be snuffed out so callously by the creature sharing her head.
With concerted effort, she turned her talent inwards. She knew that somewhere in there was a thread binding them together. In the silence of her mind, she sniffed out its trail. Outside, something thrummed ominously. Shaken, she lifted her eyes in time to witness a brilliant explosion miles overhead. Wherever the giant had descended from was systematically obliterating itself. Powerless to stop it, she turned her mind back inwards to her task.
Around one memory, she found the coil of an oily black whip. She began to carefully unwind it so as not to alert Selytarel. Her body was shivering uncontrollably and something noxious filled her nostrils with its ripe scent, but she persevered. After a few more twists and turns she became aware of what lay beneath and she recoiled in fear.
The memory Selytarel had chosen to bind itself to was all too appropriate for its purpose, and perhaps why she had been chosen in the first place. Gulping down her fear, she returned to the binding and pried loose another handful of loops. Suddenly a spectral face roared before her. Selytarel had become aware of her purpose and come to stop her.
In the dim glow of Selytarel's pulsing eyes, the sharp pain of the memory seemed almost comforting in its familiarity. Selene called forth all the words i'Lahm had taught her - the Tale from its very beginning up through the flight of the floating city - and let them rush out in one drawn out breath. As the noise left her, her enemy and parasite screeched in pain and backed away. Determination fueling her, Selene squeezed the remaining tendrils of the thread in her hand and pulled them free.
The storm clouds thundered in the distance. Rain came in waves, battering the rotten tree house back in the woods behind their house.
Her brother was there- one and a half years younger and always following her around. They'd come out to play in the drizzle, splashing in puddles back between the trees, when the storm broke suddenly upon them. They'd raced for the closest shelter, away from the house and toward the small hut they'd stumbled upon months ago.
"I'm scared," he said. His voice made her sob with grief- she could hear him so clearly.
"We've got to get home," she heard herself say. "C'mon!"
They rushed out into the gale, wind whipping their slick raincoats to and fro. As they neared the swollen creek, her brother slipped on the wet leaves and tumbled uncontrollably into the waves. She screamed, watching as he struck a sharp fallen branch. The slivers of wood cut straight through clothing and skin, jutting out the front of his left shoulder.
His face paled and he fainted from shock, though was still suspended above the swifter waters by the stake through him. She knew he needed her - maybe to carry him, maybe to get help - but the sight ripped something inside her and she ran in terror.
They would find him days later, floated well down the creek and dead from blood loss. She knew as she rewatched her memory that she could have saved him if she'd not felt such fear. For when she got home and her parents asked where her brother was, her shame at having left him made her answer, simply, "I dunno..."
The memory faded back into her mind, the afterimage of her brother's face superimposed on that of Selytarel. Now, however, she was back outside her mind and Selytarel was before her. The scene was chaotic around her- explosions and plumes of smoke filling the air. And yet, she was cool and collected.
"You are no part of me. I renounce you and your purpose," she proclaimed. The ephemeral creature snarled and clawed at her, but its incorporeal nails were as shadows and passed through her cheek leaving no mark.
No longer held aloft by Selytarel's wings, she was tumbling sideways toward the empty sand. She curled up tightly to protect her head, and the impact burst through her left leg. Somewhere above her Selytarel was diving madly towards the star, but Selene's attention caught on i'Lahm.
Something about the way his head lolled to one side told her he was gone. She sobbed and tried to stand, but the pain in her thigh stopped her. Through the din, she found the whisper of the spider still circling i'Lahm's spine. It told her of his struggle, the battle that had broken him, and his final message.
Sniffling back tears, she pulled herself along the sand until she reached the unconscious alchemist. Something oddly maternal seemed to emanate from her, and Selene struggled weakly into her embrace. The foul scent of whatever was taking place in the now open star was weaker here, and the fragile girl sighed deeply.
As she staggered toward dream, she thought she saw a brilliant halo of light open before her. Eager and nurturing hands reached out, smiling faces welcomed her. A warm breeze lifted her gently.
Inspired in part by "So Cold" by Breaking Benjamin