Selfia’s alarm departed, leaving only confusion in her eyes. Lucretia tried to remember how many years she had lived in Tellus. So long that this past life seemed nothing but a dream. But then Selfia seemed to take in Lucretia’s lavender hair, and her eyes widened. “LUCRETIA?!?”
To Lucretia’s surprise, Selfia rushed up and engulfed her in a hug. Some part of Lucretia softened. She had come back cautiously, not knowing what to expect when she returned as her instincts dictated.
Icklid, or really any location controlled by the Wights, was not a place where emotion was easily shown. They were monsters, designed for a singular purpose. Although the purpose varied, the Propagator’s prided themselves on their efficacy, and none more so than the Autarch. Often, emotions were seen as… superfluous.
“Thank god you are here!” Selfia gushed. Again, Lucretia wondered at her previous cautious attitude. Would this be simple? Or was the casualness of Selfia an indicator that she hadn’t been cautious enough. Would the fate this black thread was dragging her towards be unavoidable?
Pushing Lucretia back, Selfia smiled at her. “...alright I’ve informed the Autarch. You are to be brought to him immediately. Lucretia… he requires your strength, now more than ever. Your timing couldn’t be any more perfect.”
Lucretia’s world was plunged into cold water.
That was a familiar term that ripped upwards out of her recently reacquired memories. There was only one time that a Propagator would ‘require your strength’. It was something of a euphemism amongst the Wights. They only spoke that way when you were selected for deconstruction. You would be reduced to your parts and would then fuel the assembly of a new generation of Wights.
“I-” Lucretia began, but she couldn’t continue. Of all times, her body chose now to break down on her. Not on a truly physical level, but she began to tremble so violently that she could barely stand. There were two parts of her mind at the moment. One yearning to cease.
And another, grown independent in the System, burning with fear that she would soon die.
The Way that Lucretia had utilized brought her right into the compound of the Autarch, in the fortified center of Icklid. Largely ignoring her shakes, Selfia began to drag Lucretia through the halls. The strange blue-grey metals of the building filled her with a strange sense of helplessness and nostalgia. If she had any control over herself at all, she would resist and fight back. She needed time to double check her preparations-
Her Skills! Her Class! All she had worked for! The threads of karma she had woven into Tellus during her long tenure there still remained. They strengthened her and gave her power. Her budding relationship with Randidly, her unmade connection with Shal, her life witnessing so many tiny lives in Randidly’s Soul Skill. Did this really mean that all her connections would cease? Would anyone remember her?
Karma was something that could only be formed by two existences that came into contact with each other in some way or another. They were, by far, her most valuable strength. They were what made her HER. She was the Eternal Witch. She was… she was more than a fucking machine that had fulfilled its role and was now returning for parts.
Lucretia dug her heels into the ground and Selfia stumbled as she tried to continue to pull her. Selfia turned around with a twisted expression. “You dare keep the Autarch waiting?!? I should-”
“Quiet, child.” Lucretia hissed. Immediately Selfia paled as a dangerous aura swirled outward from Lucretia. This is what she feared. The powerlessness. The sense of helplessness. Was it so easy to have that fear grow after her adopted parents on Tellus died because she already knew subconsciously how she was being controlled…?
It was something that Randidly would dwell on, for sure. He deeply cared about feeling in control of himself, which was one way that he was very similar to Lucretia. But Lucretia didn’t fight it on a principled level, as Randidly did. No, Lucretia was just afraid.
Afraid of the other half of herself that was born here. After all, that part of her insisted that this was the Autarch. He would undoubtedly have the ability to preserve her strength and use her to improve the Wights. His understanding of her exceeded all others. He was the architect of the entire species. Rumor had it that the Wights had been a meaningless rabble before the Autarch had ascended to become the completely transcendent being that he was. It was by his hand that they could progress so far.
She was one of his first creations, and the finest. From that alone-
And in the face of the fact that they had captured the spear-source-
Dammit, but if she was deconstructed-
A voice seemed to flow out of the walls and into her legs and feet. It took several seconds for Lucretia to notice that she was moving without even intending to. That did very little to ease her growing fears. Soon, the panic and loneliness that animated Lucretia in her darkest hours had emerged from within her. All that healing that had occurred inside of Randidly fell away. Mentally, she flailed around when confronted with her fear.
Her inner self reached… and it found her old tools. Cruelty. Viciousness. Hatred. Manipulation. They fit easily into her hands. They had a reassuring coldness to them. Very soon, the trembling that had continued since Lucretia had arrived in this place ceased.
The hallways blurred, and before she knew it, Selfia had brought Lucretia to a door guarded by two of the powerful elite called Witch Kings by the people of Tellus. The two opened the door and Lucretia stepped reflexively through with an amused smile as she looked at the guards. If people knew that these Witch Kings were just the normal Wights created by the Autarch and not any of the lesser Propagators…
Well, perhaps they did. After all, Shal was able to kill one rather easily, if the stories were to be believed.
Suddenly Lucretia felt a flash of wistfulness. Perhaps she should have visited Shal before she had addressed this issue. But she was so afraid… and she didn’t want him to become involved. If she would endanger him again-
“Good luck,” Selfia said cheerily, and the door closed behind Lucretia with a click. Hopefully, coming here didn’t mean she had to pay with her life.
The room was sparsely decorated; the Autarch was not an ostentatious individual. In fact, the only real furniture was a long metal coat rack that was stuck into the floor at the center of the room. Hanging from it was the Autarch’s cloak. It was a lush thing of black fur, sleek and powerful looking. It seemed that strange colors hid in the fur, and oftentimes it seemed to glow when viewed out of the corner of your eye. Lucretia didn’t doubt from the right angles, rainbows refracted from that fur.
Lucretia had never seen the Autarch wearing the cloak, but it was rumored that he would wear it when he moved for war, and not a minute before. Lucretia believed it. It was an object that stank of death.
The Autarch was standing over the body of a Wight, idly staring at it. Even when she entered, he didn’t seem to notice, just continued to study the Wight. Lucretia calmed her beating heart and did her best not to make a sound. Freezing calmness spread as Lucretia gripped her cruelty and fear tighter and tighter.
“Flawless…” The Autarch whispered, waving a hand. Immediately the spark of light flowed into the Wight, and a Witch King stood, its eyes piercingly bright. The Autarch waved his hand again and the Witch King shattered into nothing. The bits of bone and metal clattered on the ground.
The Autarch turned and faced her. His expression was distant and tired. Beckoning, he said. “Come.”
Her body obeyed before her mind registered what was going on. It was only right beyond his reach that Lucretia managed to stop herself. And part of that was because she looked at the Autarch. She truly looked at him.
He looked old. His back was somewhat bent, and the hair streaming down his back was a pale grey. His bushy eyebrows covered sharp eyes, but his face was a maze of wrinkles. He was not infallible. He could die like they all could. Just like she would. Perhaps hope was not truly lost. In her mind, the dark numbness continued to spread outwards.