There was a deep sorrow in the realisation that Illy was right. It was time to leave the town behind, move on with their life. Rachael watched as they busied themselves with dousing the furnace, watched as the pillars of steam rose up and out the garage door.
There was nothing left that she could do. The only question was, where would they go?
“To the capital, there will be work for us there. Always is.”
She had always dreamed of leaving, but… “We just leave everything behind?”
Illy slapped their hand against the auto-arm standing against the back wall, “I think we can take maybe, a trunk each. You, me, Victorie. Anna doesn’t have anything, far as I know.”
“I guess, we should go pack.”
“You’ll have to find Anna first, I’m sure she’s wandered off again.”
Rachael cast her eyes to the dirty floor, “The day’s finally here…”
Illy rushed across the workshop, placed their hand on her shoulder, “It’s alright to be sad, this house is special to me – I can’t even imagine how you must feel, but it’s a house. You’ll always have your memories, and we’ll have each other.”
They hugged her, held her close. The silence between them settled on her, and like so many moments in her life she was struck by the desire to paint. Happiness, sorrow, hope, despair, it didn’t really matter as long as she was doing what she loved.
Illy let her go, released her back into the world.
“I’ve just got one thing I want to ask you.”
She smiled, following them as led her across the room, “What is it?”
“I need you to turn this water into something,” they patted the rim of the barrel, it was still half full of water, “It’s hard to explain so I’ll just describe it to you.”
“I can only change water into paint, you know that right?”
“Sure, yeah, trust me it’s very similar to paint. You can do it.”
“Alright,” she placed her hand down into the barrel and her fingers just managed to submerge into the water.
“Alright, close your eyes and picture very carefully what I’m describing.”
She nodded her head, shut her eyes and focused on the water against her finger tips.
“It is slightly thicker than water, it should resist you only a little. It’s slick, like grease between your finger tips and sticks like oil. It’s clear, slightly dry against your skin like it’s not meant to be touched. And it smells like paint remover or undiluted alcohol.”
She could feel it on her skin, smell it against the inside of her nose, burning slightly against both. Then she could really feel and smell it, not just in her mind but physically, tangibly.
“Alright,” she lifted her hand from the barrel, the clear liquid coated her fingers and made her hand very slippery as she tested it between her finger tips, “what is it?”
“Oil? I can’t make oil.”
Illy pushed her back and dipped a rag in the new liquid, before sniffing the wet rag and throwing it outside onto the wet cave floor. Curious, she followed them as they approached the rag and pulled a torch from their belt. The rag went up in a ball of flame and burned up almost immediately.
“It’s mineral oil. Now go find a brush.”
They didn’t need to tell her, she rushed into the workshop to rummage through her own little bench and found the first brush she could and filled a bucket with water. Outside she nearly dropped both but scrambled over to find Illy waiting patiently with a thoughtful look on their face. She already knew what she wanted to try as she dunked her brush in the bucket and splashed water everywhere as she ran her hand over the side of the house. She didn’t even need a brush, with just the tips of her wet fingers she scrawled in fine white chalk her own name. And with her brush, she swept in long patterns, drawing nothing of significance but that didn’t matter.
She finally turned to Illy who stood watching her paint in chalk and oil and metallic paint that lustred like real gold in the moon-like light of the lanterns surrounding them.
“I tried so hard, for so long.”
“Paints are minerals ground up to make pigments. Did anyone ever tell you how you were doing it?”
“I-No, I never even stopped to think about it. How’d you-?”
“I was thinking about the indirect approach to solving a problem. Sometimes you can’t do something one way, and you focus on that so much you don’t realise there are other ways to do that very same thing.”
She gestured towards the workshop, “Not to ruin the moment, but we should probably get started. I’ve got a lot to pack before we can go.”
Rachael admired her work for a moment longer, “Yeah alright. I’ll go find Anna once I’ve told Vicky.”
She followed Illy inside, and headed through to the kitchen. Vicky was gone, but probably just to go lie down. She was worried about them but, they wouldn’t do anything drastic… she hoped. It wasn’t until she had checked both bedrooms and the bathroom that she began to panic.
“Em! Em! Fuck-”
Illy rushed into the atrium, wrench still in hand.
They tucked the wrench into their belt and with eyes already looking out through the cage wall of the atrium, they took her by the arm.
“She can’t of gone far, it’s alright. We’ll find her.”
The town square held a heaviness. Candle light flickered across the stones, illuminating the plaza and casting grim shadows through the crowd. The faceless god watched over her as she sat down amongst the mourners and the grievers, their eyeless, lipless smile shared with her.
“Mother. You are the Faceless God aren’t you?”
She closed her eyes, the thought of them, the image of their face so vividly stained her mind. The smile, their bright eyes so happy to gaze upon her. Proud, loving. Nothing was as pure, as untainted by reality than the years she had spent by her mother’s side growing up.
“You always told me you would find a way to save everyone. I suppose you did… you sacrificed everything to save us. To save me.”
A humble woman, undeserving of the curse of being deified. The saved had forgotten their face, their voice, their name… why was beyond her, but she didn’t forget. Hard voice, with the smoothness of honey and fire… so passionate about everything they did. Like create her, create her sister. Save the world.
“Lady Mariah Rendi… I miss you greatly.”
She opened her eyes and gazed up at the mural, through the people now praying at the Lost God’s feet.
“But I am glad that you succeeded. I hope to follow your example… but I do not have your strength or your wisdom. I am not as brave as you, or as passionate as you. I do not fear failure like you did… I am a machine – but I don’t know my purpose.”
Her eyes watered, “I know you left me guidance… I know you would not leave me alone in this world. But where? My sister… I do not know if she is truly my sister. You never told me about her, but I struggle to imagine how she is not. Why did you never tell me about her?”
She swallowed, struggling down the dryness in her throat, “Everything I thought I understood, makes no sense. I can no longer bluff, I cannot pretend I know what I do not. I am a child, everything is strange… I do not know how much longer I can do this.”
She hung her head, to hide her tears, wiping them away as they rolled down her cheeks, “I can’t do this.”
She fought down her sobbing, brushed away her tear again, snorted, “Help me, please… a memory, a thought, something… I just need guidance.”
A hand placed upon her shoulder startled her, nearly made her squeal, “Anna.”
She glanced up to see Emilia standing over her.
“Hey, sorry. We’re leaving town, and we want you to come with us.”
She looked away and made sure there were no tears left in her eyes, “Okay.”
She wondered if maybe Emilia would have advice for her, “I am, but I do not know what to do with my life… it is a long story, perhaps we should save it for later once we have left.”
“I’ll hold you to that,” they offered her a hand, and pulled her to her feet, “as long as you’re sure it can wait a few days.”
“I believe so,” she suffered a smile, just glad that Emilia struggled to look people in the eyes, “is there anything you need help with?”
“I suppose we should start looking for Victorie. Rach is out here somewhere at the moment.”
“She is coming with us?”
“Yeah, I think it’d be best for her. I don’t think there is much keeping her here.”
The crowds were beginning to murmur, disjointed and upset by something along the peripheries. She had a terrible, ominous feeling once again, and she had come to trust in that feeling.
“I think we should leave.”
Emilia looked through the crowd, people had started to leave, run, scream. Emilia grabbed her by the arm and pulled her towards the door of the town hall. They were not alone, people pushed in behind them, panicked and scared. A woman accidently shoved her aside in their rush only stopped by the sudden appearance of Karis in their full armour and hawk face-plate.
Karis’ voice filled the hall. Other guards swept in from the hallways, Karis turned and below the murmur of the crowd, the panicked voices of scared townspeople, spoke to the nearest guard who rushed down the stairs and towards the kitchens.
“What’s going on?” a woman in the crowd cried out as Karis ventured down the stairs, no-one in the crowd seemed to know.
“Calm yourselves friends, we will find out soon and resolve any problems.”
Karis passed right by them, glared at Emilia as they did, “Come.”
Emilia didn’t argue, and Anna followed them both as they made their way through the crowd.
“I want you to see the evil we fight.”
Anna understood exactly what the captain intended to mean, but there was a feeling in her that knew they would be wrong. She was sure that it had to do with her sister, it was the same feeling of void against her skin.
Karis threw open the doors and stepped out into the square. Anna paused at the precipice with Emilia. Marching towards them down the street, crossing the square… it was impossible to not realise what they were. Men made of metal, draped in the white and black of the church, armoured like knights from centuries ago with large metal crests, banners fluttering behind them as they approached. Two dozen, maybe three dozen. In their hands were strange weapons that she vaguely recognized from a lifetime ago.
Emilia grabbed her by the shoulder, “Those are not purifiers.”
Karis turned on her, the realisation in her eyes, “How do you know that? What is this?”
“Crusaders,” Anna brushed off their hand and stepped forward, “They are here for me.”
It was suddenly clear, what she needed to do.
Karis grabbed Emilia by the front of their jumpsuit, “You know more than you’re letting on. What is a crusader?”
“You’re right, I know more than I’m letting on but I don’t give a shit about telling you.”
Emilia pushed Karis aside and stepped before Anna, “Don’t. Whatever you aren’t telling me, I don’t care. We just need to leave town now.”
“You’re just leaving?” Karis’ indignance was lost as Emilia crouched to look her in the eyes.
“The best thing we can do is lead them away.”
Emilia’s hand slipped into their pocket and pulled out a small metal disc no bigger than their fingertip, she knew exactly what it was.
She looked away, “No, I am sorry. I must see this through.”
She stepped around Emilia and began the long walk towards her fate. She only hoped her sister could be reasoned with.