Did it really think that if it yanked your end of our chain, I wouldn’t be pulled along too?”

In the bleak of this despairing night, slowly the stars come out again.

It’s so soothing a balm on her soul that she is loathe to lose this feeling (and she is willing to ignore the possession for this fact alone). The blind faith in self and in others and the ties that bind that she hasn’t felt since she was dedicated solely to Loyalty, made whole again instead of broken.

She passes others with a peaceful smile and explains how to exorcise the Tulpas– this is a thing she can help with. She passes by the naga twins, and places their hands together. She finds Dan, suddenly so eager to tell him she is finally able to fulfil her promise to him. She smiles at people coming together, helping others, revelling in the sight of the shimmering golden chains that tie and bind so many together. A little nudge here, a small comment there, and it is so easy to help bolster the Loyalties of those around her.

Her heart stops, flutters, then leaps to life in her chest as her eyes fall on the one she sought. Her fingers pull out the silk pouch from her pocket, and she perches on the chaise edge beside him. It’s a good time to exchange rings, a paired set, even if all the words are wrong and not what she thinks he deserves to hear. This golden chain –their chain– burns brighter than any other. She feels like she’s come home as he slips the ring onto his finger, and she does the same to her thumb.

Later, she sits calmly (a sign something was wrong), perched over the room watching the possessed and their friends who have all congregated in her consecrated space. Friends helping friends, loved ones, even strangers. Slowly but surely the Tulpas are pushed from their souls. Still she keeps quiet, knowing that the priests are running out of Liao. It’s not a hard sacrifice to make, all things considered. And she knows what the Tulpa inside her wants, and she knows that she cannot provide it.

It’s with that thought that the Tulpa turns on her, and what once was golden turns to black. The cold weight of iron shackles fall onto her shoulders, weighing her down, pulling her to the earth. The black chains wrap around her arms, body, neck, each one an oath and a promise and a Reckoning debt to the dead that she cannot fulfil now– to Kayne, to Andrea, to Ysabel and Asher, Hansel, Sylvia, Isaac… All the names crossed out in her Reckoning leger. All gone, debts beyond reckoning.

It’s suffocating, and she cannot breathe, though she claws at the invisible chains, then at Frederick beside her, desperate for help. He shouts for Watcher while she chokes for breath, trying to mime ‘chains’ and ‘weight’ and ‘choking’ to them both. She doesn’t want to die this way. She wants to live–

It releases as Watcher pulls the Tulpa off her soul, and she gasps for air. She is herself again, with all her burdens and chaos and confusion and brokenness. Frederick clasps her hand. They are themselves again, but not unchanged by the experience.

The star wink back into the darkness, disappearing.

Frederick’s hand takes hers, and their rings wink up at them.


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