As the profound things in this world most often do, our story begins with a dream.
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The two figures sat hunched at a table made from a gnarled tree. Each wore a long black cloak that billowed at its feet and all but concealed its face. Whispering animatedly, they gesticulated at each other with a strange and godly grace that was more sensed than observed. The dreamer silently crept forward, listening.
“She’s ready, I can feel it!” a woman’s voice seemed to come from everywhere at once. “We cannot afford to wait any longer. Tomorrow morning, I will send the First Sign, whether you tell me to or not.”
The other figure stirred uncomfortably. “You know why we can’t do that, Sister. Your rashness runs ahead of rationality, as usual. Above all else we must have patience. Do you recall the last time we initiated before the subject reached sixteen years of age?”
“We had the wrong person! Age had nothing to do with it; his mind was too weak in the first place. Trust me, I beg you. I’ve been watching her, Brother, from the moment she was born. She’s a remarkable child, and if we are too patient, she won’t be able to help us at all.”
Between them, balancing precariously on the wooden surface, a glass orb glowed in the darkness. Its sanguine nature pulsed with a rhythm similar to that of a heartbeat, as if the glass itself were alive. Casting shadows randomly about the room, the light passed briefly over the face of one of the silhouettes. From here, the dreamer could only make out a ghost of a woman’s mouth, which was twisted into a pained grimace. Opposite her, a man (as deduced by his voice) wrung his hands. One could tell he knew how this argument would end (indeed he was quite familiar with his sister’s unwavering obstinance); it was only a matter of how long it would take to submit to her demands. Finally, the light caught a cruel smile in his lips. His voice dropped to a whisper.
“And are you willing to accept the consequences if you fail again, dear Sister? Another mind claimed by insanity, another life in ruins? Your guilt nearly killed you last time; one more mistake would become the single raindrop that opens the floodgates, destroying not only you but this world as well. I am well aware that I cannot convince you; my only hope is that you will at least consider the risks.”
At this, the woman leapt to her feet. “Consider?” she spat venomously. “Is that you what you call it? You don’t know how long I’ve sat at this table, poring over every single possibility, trying to see a way that wouldn’t jeopardize another child. I’ve looked to the stars for answers, but even they are dying because of my indecision.” She sank back into the chair in defeat, the anger in her voice replaced by sad reflection. “You can’t possibly understand the measures I’ve taken, the rules I’ve broken, just to spare her from the weight of this burden. It’s humorous you call it a ‘consideration’, as if I were deciding on a route for my morning stroll. In case you haven’t yet noticed, Brother, this is slightly more severe than that; either I must choose Scylla, or I must accept Charybdis. And now here I am, breaking the only promise I ever made to myself merely because it involves committing the lesser of two evils.”
“Then go!” the man cried, and the dreamer gave a start. “If you have already decided, then there is not a moment to waste! Make your preparations at once and carry it out as soon as you can. I will help you in every way possible. Just remember,” he faltered slightly, “remember that it was I who stood in your way if history is to repeat itself. That is all I ask of you.” He extended his upturned palm in an imploring gesture. Her eyes met his, and what she saw startled her. The eyes of her brother, which usually radiated arrogance, were sparkling with barely concealed tears that revealed a deep pain. Until this point, it hadn’t occurred to her how the boy’s sacrifice had affected him; she had automatically assumed that he had moved on. Indeed he had never shown any signs of grief or guilt, whereas she had simply withdrawn from all company, growing more and more detached with each passing day. And yet, before her now stood fifteen years of hidden suffering that was just now beginning to manifest at the human surface. Holding his gaze, she took his hand and spoke with resolute conviction.
“It is done.”
Suddenly, the man cleared his throat and wiped his face with the sleeve of his cloak. Turning his back to his sister, he said curtly “Quickly, now. We don’t want to keep our Only Hope waiting too long, do we Sister?” He hastened from the room. The woman, however, remained still for a moment, contemplating. At last she murmured “As you said it, brother. Indeed our last chance for the revival of this world, our Only Hope, truly lies with Tess.”
All at once, the floor disappeared from under the dreamer’s feet while the walls melted like a surrealist’s painting. As the conscious mind began to resurface, the woman’s final words echoed throughout the shattered landscape. Finally, the barrier dissolved completely. Miles away, the dreamer awakened with the words only hope still caught on her lips.
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