Theater of Spontaneity
I stared at the time stream, no longer seeing its beauty. I no longer cared that I could watch it roll through space because to me it now looked like a serpent…a viper, undulating under the leaves right before I stepped on it.
Time, which I had learned to love, had betrayed me.
Have to give it to Cruelty—he definitely knew how to set up the long haul kind of punishment. Knew how to make it hurt too. Knew how to maneuver new immortals into two of the most powerful offices. Knew how to keep Magic from being able to stop him, using wholly mortal explosives no eighteenth century scientist could have any knowledge of. Knew how to keep Desire from what he most wanted in the world too. All that took was a little assistance from the previous officeholder and a nasty immortal named d’Orléans and his punishment back trick. Cruelty even knew how to guarantee Time couldn’t save me from myself, making sure that he could not intervene until there was only one punishing choice remaining.
The left? Or the right?
I chose the right.
Now it didn’t matter if I was awake or asleep, drugged or sober. Faces clustered in my dreams, and I lived in my dreams now. And those faces? I knew them all.
I knew them all.
I could feel him again. He was standing just inside the door of the sanctum, watching me. The Harlequin spent a lot of his time watching me. Oh sure, he tried not to be too obvious about it. After all, I hadn’t spoken to him or anyone else for eight days, neither aloud nor psychically. I couldn’t have been clearer if I tried that I was done playing this fucked up game.
Everything was silent around me now…save for that one horrible question and my desire to take all my grief out on myself. I’d shut down entirely. No food. No drink. No condolences or sorrow or anger or fear and by all that’s fucking holy no more cruelty. I just wanted to sit right there on that chaise and contemplate Time, endlessly debating myself on whether the left or the right was the correct choice.
Just me and Time, having conversations like the good buddies we were.
“You know, Catherine, you might find it hard to starve yourself to death in our bedroom,” the Harlequin said without warning.
Really now? We’ll just see about that.
“In fact, I’m reasonably positive that it’s impossible.”
Whatever. Nothing’s impossible.
“Mostly because I forbid it.”
Don’t worry. You’ll have your new battery soon.
“I do not need a battery,” he said coldly.
Stay out of my head.
The next thing I knew, I was picked up from the chaise and held up against the window. My feet dangled a couple of inches from the floor, and I could barely manage to hold my head up.
Tristiano looked much better, although seriously drained. The first few days we’d both been unconscious in this room. He’d been healing from the aftereffects of trying to save more people than was possible, and I’d been kept insensible by Doctor Franklin for a week after the Harlequin woke up and healed the worst of his wounds in the time stream. I’d woken up eight days ago. Franklin had left the sanctuary earlier that morning, and he hadn’t wanted to. But the Harlequin had insisted, and one can’t argue with the Warden of Time in his own dominion.
“You are going to listen to me,” Tristiano said in that dangerous rage I’d always assumed he had but had never seen. “Catherine, this is not your fault. This is Cruelty’s fault—his plan, his doing, his explosives! Not—”
“He forced you to reach for it. You had no choice—”
Yes, I did. I chose the right.
He closed his eyes briefly and dropped me when his grip loosened by accident. He swore viciously as I collapsed on the floor in a pile.
“And my incompetence forced you into that choice, not yours.” He picked me up easily and my head fell back against his arm. “So now I’m going to force you to make another choice, Catherine, and I like this one no better than the last.”
He strode across the sanctum briskly. I let my eyes drift closed.
“Yes, I know. You’re asleep. As usual.”
No. Watching the ceiling move is making me sick.
“Whatever it is. You don’t even have enough of your mind left to keep the two thoughts I didn’t hear in the course of a day to yourself.”
He sounded pretty mad.
“You have no idea.”
I vaguely heard a door open, and he didn’t even break stride. The next thing I knew he’d hurled me through the air—
“The time stream heals her mages, you know,” he said coldly. “Or immortals her Warden wants to help. All those times I brought you in here? I was healing you, Catherine. Basically had to rebuild you from the ground up last time. The time stream isn’t easily swayed by tears or guilt or me feeling lonely, and it sure in hell isn’t going to give a damn that you just want to curl up and die. Not one bit. So unless you can give me one good reason why I shouldn’t lock you in here for a century, I’ll be on my way.”
See you later.
“That’s what I thought.”
His furious steps sent him right out the door, which he slammed behind him with a bang. I opened my eyes.
Once again, I was floating in absolute nothingness, a void of black so deep it was colorless. And it was cold. Brutally cold. Strange, actually. I couldn’t feel my limbs, couldn’t feel my skin. I couldn’t even feel my weight. But I could feel the icy indifference of Time, and as coils of the time stream wrapped around my limbs I was dragged into a current of pain.
The last thing I wanted to feel. Not physical pain. God knows I deserved to feel every snapped bone, every severed limb, every agonizing burn my uselessness had unleashed upon the people I loved.
No, this was raw, ripping, ravenous pain that tore my mind from my body and dissected it. Every choice I’d made lately had led to destruction. I lasted less than ten seconds before the screaming started.