Chapter 19: Mercy
HORIZON’S CROWN, CASTLE 1
Marlijn knew she’d come to her last tomorrow.
She’d waited for it. Day by day. Hour by hour, even, and she'd expected it to come much sooner than this. But now it was clear. There’d be no more tomorrows for Marlijn Boerhof.
She pressed her forehead to the hard wall, her searing hot skin desperate for the cool touch of concrete.
It had taken two days for the fever to hit. Another for the tremors to follow. If she’d not been the one shivering and seizing on the cot, she’d have been fascinated by the delay. Ecstatic. Those who fought Deimos for that long were rare; if only some good could come from her clinging on so tight.
Marlijn’s fingers twitched.
No. No good would come from her fighting.
Her stomach cramped.
Her leg muscles spasmed. Her joints, her bones, her spine, her tendons; they sang with agony and there was a constant thudding against her ears. With it, came a faint, high pitched wavering tone that would not let up. And the air— the air, it tasted like barbed wire: metallic, sharp, painful.
Marlijn wished to weep.
But He would not let her.
Marlijn knew she’d come to her last tomorrow not only because her body had begun to change, but how He had come to be a constant in her thoughts. He crowded them. Him and his Endless murmurs and whispers.
Mercy, she heard.
The word bared itself like a bleached bone being broken in half. Mercy that she lived. Mercy that He allowed her thought. Mercy for everyone He'd lead to ruin.
She couldn't shut him out, and ever since she’d heard Him for the first time— ever since she’d begun to change —Marlijn had wanted to end.
He had refused her. And continued to. Over and over again, He gripped her spine with cold-clawed fingers and made her watch— her eyes wide open —as her body failed to do as she told it to. He stopped her from slamming her head against the wall. From tearing open her arms. He held her prisoner in the failing, tattered shell of her body as much as Dr. Kobvik Eli held her prisoner in his pens.
Marlijn pressed herself tighter to the wall. A mewling sound wormed its way up her throat.
Oh, what she would give for tears. But He did not allow her those, either.
The voice was familiar, and, at first, she flinched. He called her name sometimes. Whispered it inside her head as he pulled the name apart; stretched it, distorted it, mangled it until there was only white noise left.
“Marlijn, come to the port.”
Kobvik. The words were spoken, and she wondered if they’d be the last she’d ever hear. If Kobvik, the man who’d killed her, would be the last to ever speak to her. Not her friends (those who'd lived) or family she'd never truly given up on hearing from again.
“Maaarlijn,” Kobvik mocked. “I know you can hear me.”
Marlijn had no intention of coming to the port.
Her feet moved anyway. They lurched at first. Clumsy. Staggering. Eventually, they caught their stride and she crossed the short distance between her concrete corner and the glass port.
Kobvik stood on the other side. He wore his glasses and a small, friendly smile.
Marlijn felt deafening fury well from her soul.
Once, she’d known of it existing only because Aesten science proved it to be so. Souls were real and not Earther fiction, or a figment, or a religious farce. Her own soul was what gave power to her veil and her Aesten-gear, but it had never been tangible. Never been more than an abstract, because she couldn't quite fathom what a soul was.
Now, she felt it; a living thing that threaded through every fibre of her.
A dying thing.
Souls were meant to be undying, she'd been told.
While Marlijn contemplated the mortality of what ought to have been immortal, Kobvik lifted a WreadSheet into view. Her eyes ached as she looked at it. Not because of the strain of focusing on it, but simply because they did. They grew ever hotter and hotter as He burnt through her. She stared blankly.
And staring back at her from the WreadSheet was a woman.
Marlijn hadn’t ever met her. Hadn’t ever even seen her. Not in person anyway. All Marlijn had seen had been a few seconds of stolen security footage; a glimpse of an ordinary woman with a plain face, a plain body, but with a terrible fate. Back then, Marlijn hadn't quite understood. Back then, all she'd known was that this woman could not live. That she couldn't make it to Castle One. That Kobvik couldn't have her. And so Marlijn had condemned this plain and ordinary woman to death by leaking her arrival to those friends who'd promised her, promised her, she was nearly done spying and this would all be over soon.
Today she knew better. Not only had she found out her friends had been wrong about this being over soon (or been unintentionally right, depending on what angle you looked at it from), but she'd grown to know more about that plain and ordinary woman was not so plain and ordinary after all. She was, instead, an extraordinary pawn in some old Thing's dreadful greed for freedom.
Now more than ever, Marlijn knew that condemning her to death had been the right thing to do.
The only thing.
“Your friends failed,” Kobvik said, his smile blossoming into genuine joy. “She's alive.”
Marlijn parted her mouth. She intended to scream. To howl. To screech. Instead, her lips contorted into a mockery of a smile; twisted and unwanted.
Joy rolled through her.
He was delighted.
Soon, the last of the Soulwrights— and the Folly Child she carried —would be His.