Observations on Madness

She was only here for observation. She was only here for observation.

That was the official tagline and the mental lifeline that she clung to in this place. ‘You’ll be undercover as a patient at the Spire. Keep an eye out. Watch and observe. You’ll get closer than most to all the staff, access to the grounds and patients.”

Only it wasn’t that simple.

“When the curse wears off, you will be changed by it; you’ll never go back to who and what you were.”

She would leave each meeting with her assigned Doctor, and rush back to her room, barricade the door with a chair and just sit and pray for the Courage to remain, do her duty. But soon that became predictable, and they would follow to continue observing her. She soon varied her hiding places, always moving, never again predictable.

“The normal everyday control of impulses and emotions will have to be managed by others.”

It was slowing down whatever progress the staff hoped to make with her. But they were always looking for her, so she stopped trying to sleep after the first patient since her arrival disappeared. Since she first snuck into the records room to check the patient lists and noticed the faint markings of altered records. Since the first night she saw the strange lights by the regio.

“You are describing symptoms of hallucinations and mirages. Can you truly trust what you believe you are seeing?”

The next step was to skip meal times, avoid the debates that the Spire staff engaged in unless she was hidden well. But she soon avoided spying on even those meetings when on the fourth day of her stay they were discussing her, and ‘treatment options’ that left her paralysed with fear in the cupboard she hid in.

“The curse is leaving her highly susceptible to manipulation within the stipulations of the curse’s effects. It is an imperfect route to managing her, made more difficult by her lineage and the developing briar madness.”

On the fifth morning of her stay, she noticed the shift in language now being used by the staff that unnerved her most. No longer a case of managing curse symptoms, but managing madness symptoms. This was not an until-the-curse-ends but a forever thing. She ran until she collapsed from exhaustion after noticing the change, and it was nearly dark before she made it back to Frederick that night, questioning everything.

“We should move the patient’s treatment timescale forward, as symptoms are progressing rapidly.”

The sixth, the first day that conference attendees began arriving. She had forgotten the conference in her anxieties; she began doubting that it was truly happening, despite Frederick assuring her when she came running to him in fear that it was going to happen. But she kept forgetting.

“Your mental faculties are and will forever be compromised by the effects of the magic. Don’t you feel it already?”

Her nerves were a wreck by the time it began, unable to find the words to clearly explain what was happening to others that were there. Bursting into tears, lashing out, and the ever present desire to run that conflicted with what she knew she was here for. Observation… right? She was here with the Militia… and because she was going mad. Right?

“Vitória, I didn’t know you were coming– why are you here if not for the conference? Are you alright?” She crumples at the question Lisabetta asks her. She can’t discern the truth from the lie. She can’t remember why she’s here anymore.

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The King-in-Chains

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.