Victor, Vanquished, Son
“What are you?” she asked. “I saw the sorcerers above, and you aren’t like them, and you aren’t like the memories either, because those are just images.”
“We’re something… else,” the woman said. “I am Lin, and this is Alteus.”
Ceres noted how close the two stood to one another; the way Lin’s hand lingered on Alteus’s shoulder. The two had the look of a couple very much in love. Would she and Thanos ever end up like that? Presumably not that transparent, though.
“The battle raged,” Alteus said, “and we couldn’t stop it. What the sorcerers planned was evil.”
“Some of your kind were no better,” Lin said with a faint smile, as if they’d had that conversation many times. “It happened so fast. The Ancient Ones imprisoned the sorcerers as they were, their magic blended past and future together, and Alteus and I…”
“You became something else,” Ceres finished. Sentient memories. Ghosts of the past who could touch one another if nothing else.
“I get the feeling you didn’t fight your way through everything above just to find out about us,” Alteus said.
Ceres swallowed. She hadn’t expected this. She’d expected an object, perhaps something like the point of connection holding the spells above together. Still, the Ancient One in front of her was right: she had come there for a reason.
“I have the blood of the Ancient Ones,” she said.
She saw Alteus nod. “I can see that.”
“But something is restricting her,” Lin said. “Limiting her.”
“Someone poisoned me,” Ceres said. “She took away my powers. My mother was able to restore them for a little while, but it didn’t last.”
“Daskalos’s poison,” Lin said, with a note of disgust.
“An evil thing,” Alteus said.
“But a thing that can be undone,” Lin added. She looked at Ceres. “If she is worthy of it. I’m sorry, but that is a lot of power for someone to have. We have seen what it can do.”
“And given what we are, it would take a lot to undo it,” Alteus said.
Lin reached out to touch his arm. “Maybe it’s time to see new things. We’ve been here hundreds of years. Even given the things we can create, maybe it’s time to see what is next.”
Ceres paused as she heard that, the implications of it sinking in.
“Wait, healing me would kill you?” She shook her head, but then thoughts of Thanos, and all the others on Haylon, interrupted. If she didn’t do this, they would die too. “I don’t know what to say,” she admitted. “I don’t want someone to die for me, but a lot of people will die if I don’t do this.”
She saw the two spirits look at one another.
“That’s a good start,” Alteus said. “It means that there is a reason for this. Tell us the rest. Tell us everything that led up to this.”
Ceres did her best. She explained all about the rebellion, and the war. About the invasion that had followed and her inability to stop it. About the attack on Haylon that was, even then, putting everyone she loved at risk.
“I understand,” Lin said, reaching out to touch Ceres. To Ceres’s surprise, there was a sensation of pressure there. “It reminds me a little of our war.”
“The past proceeds in echoes of itself,” Alteus said. “But there are some echoes that can’t be repeated. We need to know if she understands.”
Ceres saw Lin nod.
“That’s true,” the ghost said. “So, a question for you, Ceres. Let’s see if you understand. Why is this still here? Why are the sorcerers trapped like this? Why didn’t the Ancient Ones destroy them?”
The question had the feel of a test, and Ceres got the feeling that if she couldn’t give a good answer to it, she wouldn’t receive help from these two. Given what they’d said it might cost them, Ceres was astonished that they were considering it at all.
“Could the Ancient Ones have destroyed them?” Ceres asked.
Alteus paused for a moment, and then nodded. “It wasn’t that. Think about the world.”
Ceres thought. She thought about the effects of the war. About the blasted wastes of Felldust and the wreckage of the island above her. About how few of the Ancient Ones were left in the world. About the invasions, and the people who had died fighting the Empire.
“I think you didn’t destroy them because of what it would take to do it,” Ceres said. “What’s the point of winning if there’s nothing left after you do it?” She guessed that it was more than that, though. “I was part of a rebellion. We fought against something that was large, and evil, and made people’s lives worse, but how many people have died now? You can’t solve something by just slaughtering everyone.”
She saw Lin and Alteus look at one another then. They nodded.
“We allowed the sorcerers’ rebellion at first,” Alteus said. “We thought it would amount to nothing. Then it grew, and we fought, but in fighting it, we did as much damage as they did. We had the power to wreck whole landscapes, and we used it. Oh, how we used it.”
“You have seen the things done to this island,” Lin said. When I heal you, if I heal you, you will have that kind of power. What will you do with it, Ceres?”
There was a time when the answer would have been simple. She would have brought down the Empire. She would have destroyed the nobles. Now, she just wanted people to be able to live their lives safely and happily; it didn’t seem like too much to ask.
“I just want to save the people I love,” she said. “I don’t want to destroy anyone. I just… I think I might have to. I hate that, I just want peace.”
Even Ceres was a little surprised by that. She didn’t want more violence. She simply had to do it to prevent innocent people being slaughtered. That earned her another nod.
“A good answer,” Lin said. “Come here.”
The former sorcerer went among the glass vials and the alchemical equipment that seemed to exist in illusory form. She moved among it, blending things and shifting things. Alteus went with her, and the two of them appeared to work in the kind of harmony that could only come over many years. They poured solutions into new containers, added ingredients, consulted books.
Ceres stood there to watch them, and she had to admit that she didn’t understand half of what they were doing. When they stood in front of her with a glass vial, it almost didn’t seem enough.
“Drink this,” Lin said. She held it out to Ceres, and although it all seemed insubstantial, when Ceres took it, her hand met solid glass. She held it up, seeing the sparkle of golden liquid that matched the hue of the dome around her.
Ceres drank it, and it tasted like drinking starlight.
It seemed to wash through her then, and she could feel its progress in the relaxation of her muscles, and the easing of pains she hadn’t known were there. She could feel something growing inside her too, spreading out like a system of roots running through her body as the channels along which her power had run regrew.
When it was done, Ceres felt better than she had since before the invasion. It felt like a deep sense of peace spreading through her.
“Is it done?” Ceres asked.
Alteus and Lin took one another’s hands.
“Not quite,” Alteus said.
The dome around Ceres seemed to collapse inward, the contents disappearing as they turned into pure light. That light gathered on the spot where the Ancient One and the Sorceress stood, until Ceres couldn’t make them out in it.
“It will be interesting to see what happens next,” Lin said. “Goodbye, Ceres.”