The Circle

[Trigger warning: topics include depression and suicide.]

[StoryADay May prompt: “Write a Story In 30 Minutes“]

Marlenesot worked without watching the time. She measured time by the anxiety of those around her, their rising fear, the number of times rebel leaders walked by her, not daring to speak but in their throats screams to hurry up held back. She felt the darkness outside, arriving as darker shades of gray. First, the sun heading rapidly to the horizon, leaving the world behind. Second, the atmospheric turmoil, nature itself responding to the coming Ascension with storm clouds and vicious gusts. Third, the mood, not just of the members of the rebellion, but also that of Nentantuck’s army. They knew full well the future they were allowing.

She worked and she did so while her own body felt like it was darkening, swallowing up her shadow in candle and fire and lamp light that seemed to dim the more light servants added to the hall. She felt a moment’s regret thinking about herself in this way. How easy it was for her to sit here surrounded. What a privilege at the end of the world to be waited upon and depended on and allowed to do what she loved. Her pen sketched, her hands discarded and reached for an endless supply of sheets of paper, and slowly the Circle took shape as a multitude of attendants made copies and sent the plans out to the battlefield.

Marlenesot heard the new activity a minute before Amela arrived. Amela would not be stopped, no matter how many servants, aids, and leaders stood in her way. When she arrived, she stood next to the table without saying a word. Marlenesot ignored her, ignored speculation, worked to complete the…

“There were no other options. A choice needed to be made.”

She would have ignored this, too, but the darkness she felt all around her pulsed. She looked at the table clock. Still an hour left. Her stomach dropped. Only an hour. Or had the timetable change? She looked up. “What did you do?”

The ground shook. All that Marlenesot had been trying to avoid thinking about cluttered her brain as she tried to keep her seat, and she realized with horror that the plans for the Circle itself flickered in her mind. She had to get the rest down on paper!

Distant screams. Her anger was closer than fear. “Tell me, Amela. What is happening?”

Amela, the mother. Amela, the leader. The Amela who stood before her was someone else. Her skin seemed to hold the only light left in the room, and her eyes were mad. “It’s too late. You haven’t had time to realize that.”

“It is not.”

Amela turned away to look toward the end of the hall, toward the side facing the mountains the abomination about to take place near its peak. Marlenesot picked up her pen.

“All we’ve done is give ourselves something to do before we die. Activities for the damned.” Amela’s voice clawed at Marlenesot, demanded she listen. She sounded nothing like a mother or a leader. “What we need isn’t more time.” She turned and stared at Marlenesot with those horrible eyes. “What we need is immediate change. Big change. One terrible change against another.”

The distant thunder over the mountain seemed to vanish at that moment, as did the sound of chaos outside, the grumble of the other people in the hall, and all the other sounds she had had to repress. Amelia dominated.

“I had to let Varuna die.”

Marlenesot stood abruptly, pulling her knife from its pouch as she did, and pushed it against Amela’s clothing, through the layers of the garment, and to her skin. “Varuna. Is. Dead?” It hurt to say the words. It hurt to see Varuna in her mind’s eye and to realize how much distance her brain had left to travel to catch up. To realize she did not have time for this conversation. No time for revelations in this late hour. The ground shook violently but she held her stance, ready to hear what Amela had to say and ready to…

What exactly? Take her life?

“She wanted this.”

“Did you kill her, Amela?”

Amelia laughed and it was ugly. “No. I told her she could let go now if she wanted to. I told her it was all right.”

“She killed herself?”

Amela staggered. The knife scratched across her stomach. “Yes. I let her. We needed another option. Now we have one.”

Marlenesot’s eyes widened. The time left until Nentantuck’s Ascension. The shaking. The hall empty now except for her and Amela. Amela, tall and powerful, the whisper of what she had composed with her magic fading but not gone yet.

“Oh, I’ve been planning this for a long time. How to get her to wait. How to get her to choose today. How many people around the world are killing themselves even now? She wanted escape, and not only from the Ascension. I gave her permission. And then I opened a gate.”

The shriek was not from this world.

Marlenesot understood it all now. She had not been there but she saw Amela standing over Amela’s long-suffering daughter, telling her it was fine to want to let go, to end the pain, to make the choice and find in suicide the grace of empowerment. Maybe Amela stayed with her until the end. Maybe she left her as soon as she saw Varuna make her choice, headed toward the hall, taking her time.

Stalling.

“I can do something about this,” Marlenesot shouted.

Amela looked at her with sadness, what passed for sadness on a face lined with great age and the fresh reckoning with what she had done. “It’s too late, dear. A new Goddess has risen. She’s full of sadness and shame. I had to make sure you didn’t find out before it was done.”

Too late for a Circle that would have stopped Varuna’s Ascension. Marlenesot felt poised between too many possibilities, but the one she most wanted to select required only a quick thrust. She would have, too, except that she saw Amela expected it. She stepped back instead. Amela shrugged, then took two careful steps backward as well.

Enough. Marlenesot felt the partial Circle out in the field, attempting to surround the mountain even now that a different monster was in their midst. She felt, too, how there would not have been enough time, even given more years, more rebels, more magic. The Ascension wanted to happen, now that there was evil enough in the falling world. She felt along the Circle and discovered ways to unite what was there, and to shape what was not. The green light in her eyes was brilliant and Amela gasped and shielded her own. Marlensot made subtle motions with her fingers, tying the pieces she had together, adding what she could from deep inside her, and then she let it launch.

In the field, the rebels watched the green light surround the mountain and felt new hope. They watched it grow in intensity until it was a dome. It began to shrink. Nentantuck and his army watched it as well, but he had no concerns. The Ascension wanted to happen. He felt it in his blood, how awful it felt, how much worse was still ahead. The green light collapsed around him, and, maybe, yes, for a moment he felt a twinge of doubt, but then that moment passed and in the next his blood was even angrier. Nothing had changed. Nothing at all. The end was coming, a glorious new beginning.

Marlenesot collapsed back to herself and Amela caught her. In fact, Marlenesot shuddered, there was almost nothing I could do, and all this preparation and work meant nothing. Nothing except a thin thread to taint what would now unfold. The Ascension could not be stopped, but perhaps Nentantuck the New God would find things not quite so certain in the fallen world.

“Thank you,” Amela nodded at her, and her voice was full of the same barely-contained madness in her eyes. “That’s what I’d hoped you’d do when pressed. When angry.”

Marlenesot scurried away from her. “What?”

“Meeting chaos with chaos. Two New Gods, now, and that last spell. This is still the end, but maybe something unpredictable will come out of it. Something Nentantuck with all his new abilities will be unable to prevent.”

Then she walked away. Outside, utter chaos. The end had already arrived here, before Nentantuck’s Ascension. He had been robbed of something, after all. Soon two Gods instead of one, one evil incarnate, the other driven by thinking she could escape.

Marlenesot waited to learn how she would die.

StoryADay May 2016 Day 1