Sunday, June 23, 2013
A History Lesson, Concluded
He decided. Time she knows. "Not quite. You know how many gets lost in the process? Either don't survive the Draught, or don't complete the Change?" She shook her head. "Nine in ten. Of the ones who breathe at the end, nine of those have to be put down -- can't remaster the body, or don't have a mind left." He took a deep shuddering breathe, remembering the agony as bone melted and flesh flowed, the vivid hallucinatory qualities that smell and sound took on during brief flickers that slowly flowed together. The first timeless time where his limbs were too long, the lights too bright, everything crashing in on him and crushing him beneath the weight of the world.
His voice was gentle as he finished, "So. Think. One in one hundred is still useful at the end. Terrible waste, yes?"
Spike sat for a moment, then looked up at him. "It's a death sentence." Her voice and eyes were flat.
"With a slim chance of beating the hangman, yah."
Her brows knit together. "But -- you still serve the family."
He spread his arms. "How we run? How we hide?" With a wry smirk, he continued, "Can hide brands, peel off tattoos, cut collars. But this -- this pretty damn obvious."
"Nah, has a choice. Can drink the Hundsbrau and take your chances, or can climb the scaffold. Isn't a bad life. We all has cages, even you."
"Cages?" But thinking a little further, she could see the point. She was at school, free to do as she would -- within the confines of doing well at her lessons, learning the skills she would need. Would need in order to get into a cage of bigger expectations, she realized, where she would be free to do as she pleased so long as she bore an heir and a spare, and did whatever other work she was called to do. "Cages."
"When you Atyets decided that his infant daughter would have an honor guard, he also determined that we would be bonded to you as tightly as we was already bonded to him. So he had the Doktor help out with some conditioning to protect Little Mistress." He closed his eyes for a moment, turned his head away. "Ensured we'd be safe to watch over you, never be turned from our duty." His claws scratched the wood of the table as the hairs at the nape of his neck prickled.
"Took longer for Sascha. Bit harder for him than for me and Dimcha." He shrugged, quickly, as is warding off a blow from behind. "We had childer, way back in the beyond, before we were changed. Already knew what it was to have piece of our hearts walking around outside our bodies. Made a channel there, all that needed to happen was to clean the detritus of time out and let if flow again."
"So Sascha . . ."
"Took broader and deeper -- anything small and helpless and hurt." He looked back at her, nodded gravely. "He believe in you, Little Mistress. Maybe have more faith in you than you do, at this point. You grow into the magicker he think you are, you be powerful indeed.
"Which is why he ask you to fix, to make it all be all right again, when he find something small and hurt."
The penny dropped for Spike. "Oh, by all the absent gods."
"Take it you didn't fix, just now."
"Oh, Totenberg. I couldn't fix; no one could have fixed. I had to . . . end. You know. Sometimes . . ."
He nodded. He'd had to end more than once himself.
"But I thought -- I thought he was just gentle. Like a child himself. So I didn't want to confuse or hurt him be explaining that --" she closed her teeth on the last words. The Order of the Phoenix was supposed to be secret. Her secret. Something she couldn't -- didn't -- share with anyone. "--That it was already dead and just didn't know it yet. That it was dying by inches -- by miles! -- All I did was make the hard part stop." For a bigger purpose. She put one hand on the table between them, begging him to understand.
He looked at it for a long moment, finally laid his hand atop hers, completely engulfing it. "I know you mean good. Just watch that meaning and action remain in tandem, yah? Too easy to stand in the ashes after, saying 'But I meant well, why can't you see that?' as the survivors come marching with pitchforks and torches."
"But -- "
"But Uncle Vasily meant well, didn't he? Wanted the throne to pass to a successor who was powerful and could not only keep it, but expand. Wanted to keep the family strong."
"I don't know, I never actually met him. Just cousin Rezno, once." She frowned. "If Vasily thought a girl was too weak to hold Scahdelthron, how would he have expected someone in leg braces and a cane to --" She stopped in midthought, staring at Totenberg over one hand covering her face.
He read the message in her wide eyes and pale skin. "Just so. Just as Sascha meant well when he stopped the plotting. Be careful what you do if you can't undo it once done."