Arista is.. not finished yet [5.8]

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A wise person once said:
'No-one messes with my family!'
Another wise person once responded with:
'I'd like to see you try and stop me.'

They weren't having a conversation or anything, just two random statements of fact across the centuries which have no connection or relevance to anything whatsoever really, I'm sure.

Events unfold including but not limited to:
A zap, a snap, and some screaming.
oh, but the screaming...

Not one for the faint of heart I'm afraid, but all is not lost quite yet, we can only hope.


 

“If you’re quite done pouting Alice?”

I ‘glared’ at her with all my non-existent might but remained silent despite that.
She wants me to speak, if I speak she can use it to her advantage and I know DAMN well that she can tell what physical motions I’m trying to do at this point too so screw her!

“I really didn’t want to do this Alice.. if you would only behave..”
She sighed heavily as if I’d disappointed her somehow and turned my body around to face the stairs forcefully.
“You have ten seconds to assist me before we go hunting for your sister.”

..I can’t tell her wh-..
‘NO! Not Sarah! Go find John, last I knew he had them on a syphon device to help recalibrate them after I overloaded them and burnt out the control runes!’

“See, that wasn’t so difficult now was it Dearheart? Isn’t it so much better when we work together like a real mother and daughter should?”
There was no irony in her voice, despite her having just KILLED my MOTHER in-bloody-front of me!

‘I hate you’

“You’ll get over it eventually dear, they all do with time.”
Apparently that was the end of our conversation because she started walking towards the stairs in search of John instead of waiting for my response to that load of trash she just spouted!

When we reached the foot of the stairs she turned around and gave a last long, hard stare at the kitchen as if silently taunting me with what she’d done.
A roiling bubble of pain, grief and anger fought its way back to the surface inside me, after I’d tried so hard to work past it for Sarah’s sake, and it threatened to swallow me up all over again just at the sight of Mum’s favourite spot in the house.. the spot she died in because I wasn’t strong enough to save her..

‘I fucking hate you’

======

“John, I’ve been looking for you dearest.”

Yet again her imitation of me was paper-thin at best.
Part of me wants to believe that John’s already seen through it at this point but I have my doubts and Theodora’s message about not trusting his help is pretty damning too sadly.

“I need my enchanted leather equipment back, is it finished being repaired yet?”
It really wasn’t my imagination this time when John’s eyebrow twitched slightly but he managed to wrestle it back under control and unless she’s actively checking my mind, which I really doubt because she’s busy interacting with the real world at the moment, I don’t think Arista will have noticed it at all with any luck either.

Come on John! Get it together buddy!

“The repair was finished a few hours ago, they’re in my room, follow me Han.”
His calm tone, lack of overt teasing in general and suspicious avoidance of calling the items in question my ‘suppressors’, filled me with a burst of hope that maybe this nightmare was close to finishing at last.
“I’m glad you moved everything around in here, it’s so much easier to find a spare room now then it was a few days ago.”

Yet again his tone was calm and I became fully convinced that John knew what was going on.
He’s doing small-talk.. John Jones does NOT do small-talk.

I swear John if we pull this off I could kiss you, you beautiful lying bastard!

“This way, middle hallway, take the first left past the painting of Godzilla fighting Barney over who gets to destroy the Eiffel tower and then a right by the statue of me naked.”
Arista didn’t outwardly react to his words aside from a slow blink, but me on the other hand.. well..

..WHAT?!..
Powers damn my subconscious!

I swear if that statues actually a thing I’m gonna kill him.
THIS is what you get for designing a massive living habitat while high on intoxicatingly strong magical power, damn it!
Damn it all and damn my subconscious, damn John too just because I bloody-well can!

..stupid sexy John..
Shut UP brain!

======

“Ladies first”

He waved his arm dramatically and pushed the door open with his other one to show off a rather large room that I assume was originally intended to be a dorm but John seems to have claimed it all for himself at this point judging by the changes he’s made to the decor.

I’m still fuming slightly over the discovery that the statue he mentioned is not only a real thing but also seems to have been carved directly from my memory of walking in on him naked back in Seattle.

Luckily that annoyance is helping me keep a lid on everything else running through my mind at the moment and judging by the small smirk on our lips that Arista allowed to form after we found the thing, along with the fact that she apparently hasn’t seen any of the worry I’ve got building as we get closer to my possible salvation, it’s helping a great deal to mask anything that could tip her off at the moment.

Sitting pride of place on an ancient looking huge wooden desk were my suppressors, laying innocently on top of a large slab of slate with runes marked into it in an almost sun-dial like pattern.

Without my input my heartbeat sped up rapidly at the sight of them, so I’m guessing Arista recognises them from the ‘memories’ that she saw earlier?
Either way she quickly stepped her way into the room and moved over to them without hesitation.

‘How do I activate them Alice?’
She only dropped out of reality for a moment to ask that question before jumping back into control of my body again which was probably a wise move when you consider John had followed behind her moments later and come to a stop at our elbow with a reassuring smile on his face.

‘You.. you put the small ones on your legs, the medium on your wrists, the long one on your waist and the collar around your throat. When you’re done there are two runes on the left-hand side of the collar’s clasp that activate everything and your magic should start the conversion process by moving down towards your feet, then cycling about a lot’
For a long moment she didn’t move as she stared down at the leather and chain devices, which I dare not name at this exact moment, with a thoughtful frown.

‘Why are you being so straightforward about this Dearheart?’
She only dipped down long enough to speak yet again but it was enough to make me cringe internally.

‘John and Sarah.. I.. please, they’re all I have left.. I can’t.. I can’t lose anyone else today?..’
I could feel ‘my’ eyes soften at that and a wave of regret swept over me from nowhere before being hastily replaced by determination and pleasure.

It’s probably premature of me, but I think I’d like to put forward my nomination for the ‘best actress in an unmitigated disaster situation caused by magic’ award at this point and I’m going to do it anyway though.
I’d like to thank my fans and this manipulative idiot leech-bitch Arista inside my body for being so bloody gullible when she thinks she’s winning, thank-you-very-much!

The fact that she didn’t hesitate to take that last step or flinch when John offered to help her slip all the pieces on only solidified my opinion on that point luckily.
I watched with bated breath as the final piece, the ‘collar’, was slid around my slender neck and John helped her to clasp it shut at last.

His job done, John stepped back a pace or two with a reassuring smile and a nod to us as he went.
Arista reached up my hand to search for the two runes in question leaving me to hold my metaphysical breath in anticipation.

At what seemed like the last possible second, the door to John’s room burst open and Arista’s hand dropped to her side at lightning fast speed.
Standing in the doorway was Gran panting heavily and equally out of breathe Mrs Jones?!

“Mum?”

Mrs Jones leaned heavily against the door frame and offered John a weak wave while still trying to catch her breath.
Meanwhile Gran stepped over to us and leaned slightly against John in exhaustion too.

“Hannah.. dear..”
She tried to speak but ended up stalling out to take in a great big gasp of air before continuing.
“Hannah, there’s an emergency and-”

I only caught it out of the corner of my eye but it was far too late for me to do anything even if I wasn’t stunned by what was happening or completely unable to control my body to start with.

Gran’s hand had slowly crept upwards, ghosting its way up John’s back before latching on around his neck from behind.
Before he could react in the slightest, sparks flew between her fingers and his whole body crumpled to the floor in a twitching mess as his nervous system got zapped to hell by Gran’s lightning magic!

“Sorry Mother, we were almost too late. The items you were about to activate are part of an incarnation suppression system that Hannah designed after a few incidents involving her losing control of her body, which scared her enough to design and use them despite their limitations.”
Said body stiffened and a frown formed on my face as Arista stared at Gran for a moment.

Eventually she nodded to her in acceptance and started slowly removing the suppressors, piece by horrifying piece, until they lay on the floor as an inert pile of leather, no use to anyone at this point.

“Oh Alice.. my poor stupid Alice.. what did I tell you would happen if you defied me again?”
Gran and Mrs Jones both blanched but straightened themselves nervously a moment later before offering Arista an almost simultaneous set of deep bows.

“You both did well considering the circumstances. It’s a shame, but this is the last straw I’m afraid.. Louise, make the preparations to modify the ritual.. tell Dante he was right after all..”
Gran straightened up, only to dip back into one more quick bow and make her way out of the room at a hurried rush.
“Natasha, be a dear and make sure your idiot son won’t be bothering us for a while, then come join me outside the nearest Hub so we can move on.”

Mrs Jones also straightened, only to bow again sharply.
Instead of marching off however she moved cautiously over to John’s unconscious body and started checking his pulse while Arista lead my body out of the room with her apparently standard graceful but predatory walk.

‘..where are we going?..’
At this point I wasn’t really expecting an answer, kinda figure she’s going to be PRETTY pissed at me for obvious reasons at this exact moment.

Much to my surprise she actually did answer me a moment later, as we matched down the hallways back towards the main areas of the ‘realm’.

“I always have a contingency plan Alice, while the storage rooms I had here were the easiest for me to access, I have several more across the globe and I’m sorry to say that I’ve lost all trust in you at this point Dearheart.”
..shit..

“Mom!”
..oh no..

“Han? Where have you BEEN?”
Oh no..

Arista turned my body around to face the approaching voices and my stomach dropped as my worst fears were confirmed.

Sarah and Eris we’re approaching us with warm, oblivious smiles on their faces.
A small sly smile crept its way across ‘my’ lips as Arista took them both in and a wave of contented feelings washed over me yet again.

‘Please Arista, I’m begging you! Don’t hurt them because of me!’
The smile slipped from our lips into a more thoughtful look for a moment or two before she responded.

‘Call me ‘Mother’ Alice.. call me Mother and I promise to not permanently harm either of them.’

I can’t.. I can’t believe she’d..
..that sick bitch?!..
She just KILLED my mother damn it!
..what other option is there?..
I d-don’t have a choice.. do I?..

‘Please M-Mother, don’t hurt them..’

“Much better”
With that muttered statement Arista bent down and allowed Eris to run into my arms for a warm hug.

The little limpet wriggled around a fair amount until she finally managed to settle herself against my hip as usual and slowly let her head dip down to rest above my heart.
Arista turned her attention on towards Sarah for a moment before Eris went ridged in our arms and slowly her little head rose up as she stared into my face with fear in her eyes that was painfully obvious for anyone to see.

“Y-you’re not my Mom?”

As if her words were a gunshot going off everything happened at once.
Arista’s hand shot up and a heavy ball of ice formed out of nowhere to smack hard into the side of Sarah’s face, knocking her to the floor with blood flying freely from her now wounded head.

Eris kicked and fought to be freed for a few seconds longer but when Arista turned her attention down to her again she froze in fear. Thick tears fell down her cheeks and across her trembling top lip as she stared up at us like we were some great beast about to eat her.

I’ve never seen her look this terrified before!

“You remember me, don’t you Eris?”
Slowly the shaking little girl nodded her head before shifting the nod into a shaking motion of denial a moment later.
“Ah, you don’t consciously remember me of course but deep down you’ve never forgotten the fear.. clever girl.. clever, clever girl..”

‘Arista please don’t-’

“Bored now”
She cut across me and her free hand came up in a lightning fast movement that I could barely see.

In a sickeningly familiar motion that I’d seen happen to this exact same little girl from a completely different perspective when I had my vision of the insane vampire countess so many weeks ago, my hand jerked to the side and there was a horrible echoing snap that seemed to engrave itself into my memory in seconds as if branded there.

As Eris’s limp body collapsed backwards and Arista let her fall carelessly, I screamed.
I screamed and screamed, and screamed in agony at losing my daughter to this sick MONSTER in my own flesh!

“Oh do shut up Alice, she’s perfectly fine, I just needed to reset her compulsions.”
My screams died off slowly as I took in her words with a numb, confused haze.

..how can she be fine?..
How can she perfectly FUCKING fine when she just snapped her neck with my FUCKING HANDS?!

“I’d be more worried about your sister if I were you. Eris has been an immortal child for centuries, Sarah on the other hand.. well.. thanks to your existence she’s so painfully mortal at this exact moment.”

I wanted to yell at her, I wanted to thrash and fight and.. and just do SOMETHING to stop her, but my mind was going numb from an overload of.. of j-just everything..
It’s too much, it’s all too, too much for me to handle!

“I planned to punish you by killing your poor sister Alice but I’ve just thought of a better way to get my message across.”
She sunk to our knees and rolled Sarah’s head over until she could reach the still bleeding wound at the side of her face.

With precise control that I could never even dream of achieving, her magic rolled and her hand started to glow in a soft shade of light blue.
After a few heart stopping seconds she pulled back again letting Sarah’s head fall to the ground while almost lazily casting a mild transmogrification which turned Sarah’s shirt and jeans into thick binding chains to hold her in place.

As she sat back with a sigh there was a loud cracking sound from behind us which would have made me jump if I had any form of control over my body.

A knowing smile spread across our lips and Arista turned to face Eris’s crumpled body as her head jerked a few times and she suddenly shot up into a sitting position with a deep gasp of air.
Despite my almost numb state I let off a pained sob as those gorgeous little eyes fluttered open and her delicate little mouth broke into a wide yawn that stalled out half way, as she stared around herself groggily.

“Mommy?.. my head hurts..”
Arista quickly made her way over to her and scooped her up into my arms.
I strained to feel the physical sensations, anything just so I could know that she really was alive!

Slowly Eris’s head settled on the spot just above my heart and she seemed to drift off into a fitful sleep in the space of a few seconds as something tugged at the loose strands of magic drifting off of ‘my’ core, heading towards her ear.

..so THAT’S how she knew Arista wasn’t me?..
Every time she rests her ear above my heart she must be checking my magic somehow?!
Her little face scrunched unhappily for a few seconds but there was no mistaking the even breathing pattern she took on for anything but sleep a moment or two later.

“Hmm.. should be about long enough..”
Arista eased Eris out of her arms and gently settled her body flat out on the floor where she curled herself into a sleepy little ball.

‘Wh-what did you do to her?’

“Oh Alice, the world is a very big place and you are so painfully naive about it at times..”
She sighed and brought my hand up to brush my hair out of our face.

“Eris.. is a form of ‘golem’, I guess you could say?”
A gasp ripped itself from my non-existent lips as she continued on.
“Part-golem at least, her constant dying all the time was so terribly distracting to my work. I’d spend years shaping an incarnation to do what needed to be done only for them to toss it all away in order to save the useless little brat, leaving that incarnation broken and equally useless to me all in one go.. I knew I had to do something about it..”

I couldn’t process what she was saying at first.
No matter how hard I tried the idea just did NOT want to sink in at all.

Eris.. Eris is REAL! She’s my DAUGHTER!
She’s MINE!

She’s not.. she’s not a THING?!

“Oh don’t get so sentimental over this Alice. Eris was once human, she was once that same annoyingly precocious little girl you’ve come to know and for a time she even grew up to be an equally annoying precocious young woman.. but she got in the way, and you know what happens to people that get in my way, don’t you?”
If I could I would have shuddered at the suddenly cold tone to her voice.
“A suite of compulsion charms set to specific triggers and a hundred years or so to gain almost exclusive access to the old garden realms was all it took to eliminate her as a problem, turning her into a surprisingly useful asset instead.”

..she’s a monster..
No, she’s WORSE than that! I’ve met demons who are more human then she is!

“Who are you talking to Alice?”
What?
“I’m still in your head Dearheart, never forget that, you just disagreed with someone?”

What’s she going on about?
..I’m just talking to myself..

“Mother you’re making this far too easy, I couldn’t confirm it before but now..”
A slow malicious grin formed on our lips as Arista turned away from Eris’s now sleeping body to focus back on the slowly waking form of Sarah instead.

W-why is she smiling like that?
..she’s insane, that’s why!..

“Hello Sarah”
Arista moved us even closer to her until my face was hovering above Sarah’s and even as my sister thrashed against the restraints holding her still, her eyes widened in fear.
“Now while your dear sister slowly comes to terms with the fact that she shares her head with my manipulative old mother, who has spent decades subtly shaping the way she thinks at this point, I’m going to tell you a story.”

“Han? she’s still.. can she hear us?”
YES I CAN SARE!
..she can’t hear me..

“She can hear you Sarah and that’s going to make this story all the more fun to tell, now don’t interrupt me or I’ll be forced to hurt you and none of us want that to happen again, do we?”
Luckily for my sanity if nothing else, Sarah decided that now would be the perfect time to keep her mouth shut for once in her life as she nodded her mute acceptance up at us.

“Wonderful, now, a long time ago, let’s say twenty-four years ago, give or take a few months?”
Arista shifted on our knees to get comfortable as a smile spread across our lips.
“A set of twins were born, one magical and one for all intents and purposes, not.”
Oh, it’s about us.. great..

“This state of affairs didn’t last for long though when the twin’s Grandmother came to the maternity ward and ‘borrowed’ the pair for a few hours.. you see, the child without magic was a very special child, destined for greatness if only it could have the right.. motivation?.. to grow correctly.”
Where’s she going with this story?!
..not like this..

Arista moved our body again, pulling herself uncomfortably close to Sarah so our hand could come down to stroke her face almost lovingly.

“Plan’s had been in place for generations at this stage, all to help create this one perfect child. Through a set of rituals and a lot of hard work your Grandmother achieved what many would consider impossible.. she transferred an un-awakened magical core from one human-being into another..”
Sarah gasped aloud, her face clouding over with repulsion and sadness.
I wasn’t quite following the story well enough apparently because it took Arista’s next words to really make me see why Sarah reacted that badly all of a sudden.
“You’ve always felt lesser to my Alice, haven’t you Sarah?.. Well, aren’t you glad to know that it wasn’t just in your imagination now?.. She IS better than you, she stole you’re magic after all, you’re just the pathetic little mess that remained-”

‘STOP IT!’
Arista stalled in her speech at my internal shout but the damage was already done.

Sarah’s face crumpled as all of her childhood insecurities were dragged to the surface by Arista’s words and her own self-doubts that have always been so ready to drag her down again, despite how she acts normally, surged painfully forward once more.

If what Arista said is true then so many things in our lives would make more sense.

Our connection growing up, far deeper than what just being twins normally entails would be an almost inevitable consequence of us sharing a ‘soul’, right?
The way Sarah would always freak out as a kid if I was too far away from her and the way she always used to be so CLOSE to me constantly, rubbing herself against me as if desperately trying to make us into one being again..

The implications.. it doesn’t matter if Arista hurt’s her physically at this point?.. she’s already hurt Sarah more than I would have thought possible with just those few simple sentences.
She’ll never be able to look at our lives the same way again.. she’ll never.. she’ll never be able to forgive me for this?..

“Now, now, no need for tears darling girl. Today is a happy day!”
A warm chuckle rumbled out of my throat, one that hurt me to feel my body give off almost as much as it hurt Sarah as she stared up into my face with a lost look of despair in her usually bright eyes.
“Alice awoke her locus point to its truest, fully stabilised form a long time ago.. put simply, she doesn’t need your core anymore darling.”

A smile played across our lips again, despite the tears I wanted to let lose otherwise.
Sarah’s crying, if she cries then I cry, we’re twins, that’s how it works damn it!

‘What are you going to do t-’
Before I could even fully voice my question Arista continued her speech, raising my hand up to my chest almost casually as I felt my magic roll around inside us with an almost painful twist.

“I think it’s about time she gave it back to you, don’t you?.. this is going to hurt both of you very much, but don’t you worry darling.. I’ll be fine..”
The smile on my face stretched and practically glowed for a moment as Arista did something to my magic and I found myself yanked out of the real-world into a massive snow covered world filled with ice as far as the eye could see.

======

After a few seconds of disorientation things started settling into my head a little better and as I stared down at the far too organised looking cracks trailing a massive web of lines through what parts of the ice below my feet were visible past the snow, I finally realised where I was.

This.. this abyss of a frozen wasteland.. these are my lines.
This must be what my lines look like to Arista?
Gone are the circuit-board like layout and the golden glow coming from a single ball of bubbling power at its center and in its place..

All I can see is snow, ice and the bitter darkness from the eclipsing sun sitting high above me.

“Lovely, isn’t it? My beautiful ice..”
I jerked on the spot and found myself facing Arista again, a younger Arista.

Her face was oddly blank despite the almost dreamy quality to her voice all of a sudden.
She looked like a clone of my usual mental avatar which, I belatedly realised, I was back in the form of as well with all the recognisable traits of my current real-world body I’d expect to find normally.

“What are you going to do Arista? Stop this madness! Leave Sarah alone and just.. just do something else!.. p-please, leave her out of this?!..”

“Oh Alice”
She glided forwards and cupped my cheek in her palm lovingly, somehow making my whole body lock up on the spot and stopping all resistance I could hope to give in one gentle movement.
“I’m setting you free Dearheart. For my plans to work you need to be unhindered by that girls nasty fire core, so we can finally join together properly at last as we always should have from the very start.. just you, me and that wonderful locus point ‘core’ of yours.”

She turned my head slowly and as my vision panned across the endless seeming, frozen wasteland before us something caught my eye.

Far off into the distance a storm was raging, violent and heavy feeling even from here, with flashes of lightning going off for miles around.. and at it’s very center was a tornado that must be the size of a state!

“It’s amazing what you can do with a few compulsions really, isn’t it Dearheart?”
Arista let my gaze linger fearfully on the tornado for a few moments more before turning my face back towards herself.

“You would think someone of your intelligence would have seen something like THAT in here a long time ago, wouldn’t you?.. unless you didn’t want to see it.. or COULDN’T want to see it at least..”
Once more she turned my face again until I was staring up at the eclipse happening high above us in mild confusion.
“Look familiar darling? You came so close at one point to truly seeing what’s been right in front of your eyes this whole time, but you fell at the last hurdle in your rush to go save your precious ‘John’..”

As I stared up at the eclipse, connections started forming in my head.

A flash of memory from a few weeks ago, back when I frantically tried to get a grasp on the connection between my brand and John’s core so I could find him.
I never did manage to find the point where it connected to my core properly.

Despite all my efforts at the time, the point where it connected to my core stayed tantalisingly out of view, as if my core was turning with me to keep it hidden some..how..

“What did you do?”
A smirk formed on Arista’s lips that chilled me to the bone despite this not being a physical realm at all.
“W-what did you DO Arista?!”

Her free hand came up and waved in my face mockingly before it shot forward, plunging into my chest effortlessly and making me gasp in surprise, although not in pain oddly?
That almost welcome state of being didn’t last long as Arista’s hand latched onto something deep within me and twisted hard.

My legs gave out and my whole body went limp as pain on a level I never imagined possible radiated out from my chest and through my mind where it seemed to only get worse with every twitching movement she made.
High above us the eclipses light moved slightly, allowing a shining ray of warm sunlight to come down upon us, illuminating Arista’s rictus grin in horrifying profile as she pulled and jerked her arm around inside me.

The pain spiked and so did the sunlight above us before finally, with a stab of pain that almost made me pass out entirely, her arm came free from my chest and the light around us died out instantly, only to be replaced moments later by a warm radiating glow from Arista’s palm.

I stared at her hand with dazed amazement as a molten ball of fire, a ball of fire I remember so often seeing on a much larger scale whenever I came into my lines to cast a spell, back when I first started to learn magic years ago to a degree that I practically have its rolling patterns of liquid light memorised.
Exactly the same as it used to be.. but shrunken down to a worryingly small size.

My core?.. My FIRE core!
The core I used for so long before my second awakening where it changed over to an ice.. one..

It didn’t change into an ice core, did it?
..no..
Yes?.. No, that’s not.. That’s not possible!

The eclipse! This world is symbolic, just like my mindscape, and with that logic there’s only one thing that could have been blocking out the sun-like power of my fire core so perfectly at this point.
My ice core.. I’ve got two of them?..

One was Sarah’s stolen fire core and the other.. the other is ARISTA’S ice core!

“It’s all about perspective Alice, do you feel it yet? The chill as my magic finally runs free across your body unopposed by this disgustingly bright little flame.”
I could feel it, a choking cold, as if someone had replaced all the blood in my veins with cold bubbling soda water!

“Take a deep breath now darling, this might hurt a little bit, don’t worry though I’m sure Sarah will thank you some day for returning her core to her.”
Arista’s knowing smile was malicious and only fed into my fears about how Sarah would react to all of this.. how she would blame ME for it, no matter how unfair and out of character that action would be for the adult Sarah I know now..

As the waves of cold power crashed down around me, burning in my veins, I couldn’t see any other ending to this horrible messy situation.

“We really must get on with things Alice, you should have held your breath when I suggested.. Goodnight Dearheart..”
With those last ominous words Arista grasped m-SARAH’S fire core tightly in her hand and pulled herself harshly away from my crumpled form.

The world whited out.
All I could see was pain, all I could feel, think and breath was an unstoppable pain that seemed to burn almost as much as it chilled me beyond rational thought!

If we were in the real world I might have puked.
If we were in the real world I might have passed out.
If we were in the real world I might.. might have screamed..

As it is, all I could do was lay there, crumpled into a twitching pile within the mental plane of existence I call my ‘lines’ as my brain shut down completely with a horrible finality.

======

“-back you little beasts before I destroy her mind and you will NEVER see her again!”

It wasn’t anything like waking up.
I don’t know much at this exact second, but I know that I’ve never felt this strangely disconnected feeling before.

The moment where my conscious mind went from true ‘non-existence’ and back to being ‘awake’ within a nano-second, without there really being a transition between the two states.

At first I wanted to wince and blink a few times on reflex alone but that wasn’t possible with Arista in control so I found myself staring angrily at a platoon of golem-mounted imps instead.
The golems were all pointing rather big guns at me while a multitude of other fae races could be seen nervously moving about behind them as if preparing for a fight.

“Your mistress is asleep, not gone, if you allow me passage to retrieve my items then within the day I promise you that there will only be one consciousness left in this body and you can join with your precious ‘Lady Death’ again for all I care.”

The imps shared worried glances among themselves from their perches on the oddly familiar looking golem’s shoulders, inside the oddly familiar looking golden hallways we were apparently now standing in.

It took a few more disorientating seconds before I could finally put names-to-faces, as it were, and things started to ‘click’ at last in my head.

I know those golems because their MINE!
I stole them fair and square from Handyman.. and then the imps stole them from me while Felix thanked me for them as if they were a bloody gift?!

These halls, these garishly designed golden hallways shouldn’t exist at this point considering I changed my realm so drastically.. although a moment later the worryingly obvious answer to that problem came to the surface as well.
..we’re in the Hub?..

My ‘infectious’ golden magic has been changing the hub into.. into ‘my realm’, all this time?!

‘Oh shit..’
..awake at last?..
‘what?’

..nevermind, more important things..
Important things like Arista, her current situation and finding out what the HELL she did to Sarah!

I swear to the Powers if she hurt her again, I don’t care if she is some nearly omnipotent leech-turned-oppressor inside my own body, I’ll KILL her if it’s the last thing I do!

‘Awake at last Alice? You had me worried for a while there.’
If I could I would have glared at her for the almost jovial tone to her mental-voice.
She’s enjoying this!

‘Of course I’m enjoying this Dearheart, the fae are always amusing and the fact that you’ve inspired such loyalty from these semi-sentient little bugs in such a short time makes me ever so proud of you, despite the way it’s currently working against us slightly.’

My first instinct was to rage and yell at her but that’s gotten me pretty much nowhere lately and, if anything, all it’s done is harmed me in the process so I think it’s about time for a change in tactics?
..calm works, calm helps..

With the best approximation of ‘calm’ that I could offer I ‘sighed’ heavily and turned my attention back to Arista as she squared up for her little stand-off with the group which can only be described as MY imp-golem army at this point.

‘Tell me you didn’t kill Sarah?’

Our face twitched for a moment in surprise making the imps in front of us shift worriedly and share another uncertain chain of looks between themselves even though it apparently wasn’t enough to make them move out of Arista’s way yet.

‘Of course I didn’t kill her darling, that would just be a waste after all the effort I took in putting her core back inside her body.. which I’ll admit wasn’t much considering the unreasonable amount of power that you obliviously allow to run rampant through your body at any one given moment usually..’

I gave off the impression of my shoulders relaxing in relief at that point
It wasn’t exactly intentional but having been back in a physically body, to my perspective while visiting my lines, I could feel a bit of a stronger connection to the metaphysical idea of a seperate ‘body’ existing in general and instincts from actually HAVING a body are kind of hard to shake off honestly, especially when-

‘Whether she actually survives the core transfer is a whole other thing of course, but if she dies it’s from her own weakness and nothing I’VE done at least.. last time I saw her she was.. hmm..’

Without warning a memory blasted across my eyes, a memory of Sarah’s body laying splayed out on the floor of my realm, wearing only her underwear as fine lines of red flickered all over her body, in some places becoming so bright that they burned dark black marks into her skin before dimming out again into a patchwork mesh-like net across her skin.

‘W-what did you DO?!’
Arista sighed internally again and our eyebrow popped up incredulously for a moment before she answered me.

‘All I did was give her back her core, what you’re seeing is her long forgotten ‘lines’ waking up to a rather rude invasion of fire magic from a fully established adult core being slotted into her barely developed system.. to be honest the poor dear will be lucky to walk away from it magically crippled but alive I’m afraid, but then, I’ve been wrong before with you two haven’t I.. so who knows?’

Our lips twisted up into a malicious grin as Arista obviously enjoyed the franticly worried, half-formed thoughts shooting through my mind as I created and then tossed away thousands of plans to help save Sarah which all had the rather vital flaw of requiring me to actually have an actual FUCKING BODY!

‘Language Alice’
FUCK YOU!
‘Well honestly, you try to be nice and look what it-.. oh? Looks like their leader has arrived..’

We both focused on real world and stared at the back of a larger imp who’d suddenly appeared before us in a flash of sulphuric smoke, one of us by choice and the other because I lacked any alternative option aside from just swearing uselessly to the parasite inside me who apparently couldn’t care less aside from mild rebukes about my ‘language’.

“I take it you are their leader, little imp?”
The imp slowly turned around to face us and if I could have, I would have gasped in worry.

It’s Felix!

“Felix, the imp leader”
GET OUT OF MY HEAD!
“Alice has spoken of you to me, I’ve just been telling your compatriots that I mean no harm and simply wish to take back what’s mine so I can be on my way.”

Felix glared back at us harshly, a fire burning in his eyes that I can only remember seeing once before when he faced off against Maven herself in my vision of their argument.
Slowly, with more than a little reluctance, he nodded to us and waved the other imps on their golem-mounts back to allow a pathway to open for Arista to walk through.

Despite knowing that they were all on my side, it was still unnerving to ‘walk’ down a hallway lined with glaring imps.

We carried on down seemingly random yet surprisingly lifeless hallways from there, with the exception of the fae, who seemed to be waiting for us at every corner with glares and sometimes gnashing teeth on show.

..she’s really not making any friends in here is she?..
Nope, feels like we’re walking through a heavy metal crowd singing pop music at the top of our lungs from the almost tangible but restrained hostility at every corner.

“Talking to Mother again Alice?”
What?..
..ignore her, she’s crazy after all..
Yeah! Stupid crazy Arista..
“There you go again. I’m curious, is it wilful ignorance at this point or are you just THAT far into denial?”

Seriously what the hell is she going on about?
..crazy people equals crazy crap..
True, she seems to be a bit frustrated though for some reason?

“This is just pathetic.. Alice, darling, you have someone else in your head. She’s had a lot longer to bond with you and she likes to hide in the shadows making others do her work for her when possible. That questioning little voice in the back of your head you keep arguing with is my MOTHER you useless little twit!”
WHAT?!
“Well? The game’s up now mother, aren’t you going to say anything?”

We fell into a long awkward silence where the only sound to be heard was our feet hitting the floor as Arista continued to walk through the Hub’s confusing mess of hallways with apparent ease and, as the silence stretched on, I started to feel progressively more worried.

Something doesn’t feel right?
Usually this is the point where I’m challenging the crazy person’s opinions with logic, facts and..ya know?.. statements like ‘stupid vaguely-insulting-description-of-the-person-in-question’..

“That awkward silence would be the sound of Mother finally realising that all I needed to do to turn all of her hard work for the last twenty-five years against her is to tell you the unvarnished truth Alice, I told you when we first met that she’s been manipulating you, shaping your thoughts for her own gain into the perfect weapon to stop me.”

..that’s not how it- um..
You what?
..umm, well I.. SHE! uh...
YOU!

“I’ll leave you two to talk, why don’t you take a timeout in the mindscape to sort this out with Mother-dearest little Alice?”

..NO! Don’t let her-..
There was a violent shove to my chest and the world disappeared with HER sentence half-formed.

I’m honestly not sure if I’m glad for that fact or not at the moment?
I can’t believe she.. and I!.. all this time that little voice in my head, my ‘brain’..
The one encouraging me when I needed it, giving me hints an-and? DAMN IT ALL!

Why can’t anything ever just be simple for Powers sake?!

======

I came crashing down from the sky within my mindscape and I ended up having a relatively comfortable landing on ‘my’ bed rather than the hard floor for once, which was a bit of a relief honestly.

..-FUCK!..
One thing that wasn’t a relief on the other hand was the sound of HER speaking again!

“Ari, I take it?”
I could feel a few different emotional shifts in my head ranging from awkwardness to embarrassment, feelings that I doubt I would have ever picked up on from how weak they were without specifically looking for them.

..um, yeah?..
My shoulders slumped and I pushed my face down into the mattress below me with a heavy sigh.
..sort of, it’s complicated..

“Isn’t it always?”
Despite the situation, I found myself letting off a little burst of laughter at the absurdity of it all, stopping a moment later when my laugh was mirrored almost perfectly by the voice that’s seemingly always been with me but is apparently not part of my psyche at all.
..I kinda am part of you, as I said, it’s complicated..

Slowly I rolled over on the bed, taking a moment to appreciate that Arista hadn’t turned me back into the tiny little girl version of myself that she did before at least.

“I honestly have no idea where to start on this one..”
..are you going to be okay? What she did to Mum and John and Eris a-and Sarah? I d-don’t..

Tears started gathering in my eyes at that rather unwelcome, awkwardly delivered reminder of everything I’d lost or almost lost at Arista’s hands in the last twenty-four hours.

Before I knew it I was crying openly as the pain overwhelmed me and, weird as it may be, it felt reassuring to hear ‘Ari’ crying right along with me, with an almost equal level of pain and loss radiating through our weak bond.

Theodora’s words about ‘never being alone’ tried to push themselves forward into my brain for some reason but they were quickly swept away by grief as I cried hard to myself as if the tears would purge the pain from my heart somehow if I could only let enough of them out.

..I hate her for what she’s done to us!..
You and me both Ari, you and me both.

We’re going to stop her.. I don’t know how yet but I’m going to stop her plans dead in their tracks somehow and THEN I’m going to purge her insanity from my mind at long last like the parasite she really is!



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