"Do you know, sister, I believe he begins to feel us." Ileana plucked carefully at a string and listened to the harmonic tones in the air for a moment before stilling it again with the same finger. "I had been wondering if ever he would."
Alophia pressed against her glass with all ten fingertips. "He seems so disturbed. Each frame, each corner--destiny hems him in."
"Of course it does. Who would choose to be our pawn?" Ileana ran two fingers down the high F. "He should want to break free, but his path is not his to name." No, the F was all wrong for the moment, and she lifted her hand away. Perhaps E. Perhaps the shape would change. Perhaps the dimensions would shift. She would know when the time came.
"His dreams are vivid--it is as though he hears us but cannot see.Alophia leaned forward, pressing harder as though the crystal might dent if only she could find the right pressure. "Are you going to let him?" Ileana smiled quietly; for all the morbid things Alophia's crystal showed her, she remained such a hopeful child in many ways. One day, surely, she would learn better. One day, but not today.
"If he needs me to," Ileana said mildly. "If release is his best course." She didn't clarify what she meant by release, and if they thought she meant free will, that was hardly her fault. "But I am not yet certain of the next step. Eluria, what have you to contribute to our working?"
Eluria stepped down from her platform and came over to look at the crooked board. "He is winning," she said, her words sullen and swollen in Ileana's ears, their shape demonstrating the throb in her wrists from their bindings. She paused, then added, "The squares no longer hem him in, and he moves from side to side, as though he paces and waits. He will break free soon on his own."
Ileana caressed the high F again, considering her timing carefully. He was winning, but the board shifted at intervals, players returning to the field from beyond, others tumbling into the abyss. She could still control him; all she needed was to wait for the change. She dropped her chin slightly and traced idly along E. The next note would be critical. "Perhaps." She lifted her face to Eluria. "Do you wish to abandon your part, my dear?"
"Oh, may I?" Eluria was angry, furious, at the question and, Ileana was certain, at herself for wishing this were a thing she could have.
"Of course," Ileana said, choosing delay rather than command. "I know the task pains you." She nodded toward Alophia. "Sister, would you see to Eluria?"
Alophia pulled away from the crystal, fingers cracking with the strain of disengagement, and grasped Eluria's wrist loosely. Eluria hissed sharply, but stood her ground, and Ileana shook her head. "You need not make your struggle so physical, sister. He needs only to learn that one can get free, not from what."
Eluria bared her teeth. "Would you tell me, then, my part in your play, as though I cannot divine it for myself?"
Ileana thought that perhaps that was the case, if Eluria would scar herself over one man, but she kept the thought to herself. "You know it is no play," was all she said.
"It is to you." Alophia drew in a breath as Eluria went on. "Everything is but a role, and you with your shapes and your rhythms, you see everything and nothing." She reached suddenly and plucked the high F Ileana's fingers had dropped away from, a sharp echoing note bouncing off every surface of their rocky home. "There, I've moved him for you." She turned to Alophia as Ileana slapped her hand onto the strings to dull the ringing sound with the muffled echoes of others. "What will he do now?"
Alophia set her palms on the glass, laying down each finger separately, one for each sense and one for each dimension as Ileana hurriedly searched her strings for the next move. "His shape has changed."
"Of course it has," Ileana snapped. "His preoccupation has been holding him back, but now he sees the shape of the harp."
"Almost," Alophia agreed. "If we took out grace and sweep and focused only on the most basic of forms." She looked at Eluria, halfway to her platform. "If you were to show him once again, it might be that he would see."
"No!" Ileana plucked a hurried quiet arpeggio as the pieces on the board quivered. The queen, tall and proud, shuddered and fell as the floor quaked, and Eluria, making her way to the forked remains of the tree, fell to her knees. "You would rewrite the ending," Ileana grumbled toward her. "This is not what your sister has seen. This is not the way of this life."
"Ah, but I see only the possibilities, sister," Alophia said, her eyes gone dark and unfocused. "You have the gift of certainty. I have the curse of doubt."
Ileana reset her hands and thumbed over the F that had caused such trouble. "I have the gift of determination," she corrected. "I see nothing, but determine all." She paused to steady the panic from her voice. "Your curse is also your gift. You see all, and because there are many paths, you see nothing."
Eluria ignored both of them as she placed herself against the dried-out trunk and raised her arms to the branches. The shackles sealed themselves, and she took a moment to savor the familiarity of pain , then looked at Alophia. "Is he at last ready?"
Ileana stretched six strings, a cacophanous wild chord of chaos and disintegration, and glared at Alophia, but Alophia nodded. "Now."
Eluria pulled hard, breaking one band and then the other. The strings under Ileana's fingers popped, slicing her fingertips, and in the crystal, Joe's triangle let him go.
Ileana cursed and dropped her hands to her knees, kicking at her harp as the blood dripped onto the fabric of her skirt. It fell, slowly, the strings melting away as they touched the board, and Alophia arched, hands bound now into her melting glass.
"Fools," Ileana muttered. "We've no time to start again." Drops hit the floor, their edges spiky and strange like tongues of flame, and Eluria stepped down off her platform.
"No," she said. "He was ready."
"You know nothing," Ileana said. The drops smoked and twisted, running in against her feet and tracing their edges.
"But he does," Alophia argued. Her eyes remained dark, her fingers flexing painfully, and as the harp's frame encompassed her, she vanished into the plane.
Ileana stepped toward Eluria, her foot moving more heavily with each footfall, and the blood outline followed, the drops smoking and burning to white ash.
"You should have shared," Eluria said, sitting on the stairs as the platform burned. "We only wanted what was best."
"Did you?" Ileana tried to come closed and dropped forward onto her hands. The blood welled around her fingers and pulled her down.
"We did." Eluria watched until the ash cooled, until Ileana lay still in the outline, then picked up the harp and started the long process of restringing it.
"You don't have the sight," Ileana said, her face pressed against the floor. "You'll never be able..."
Eluria shrugged. "I'll learn. My way will be different from yours, but I'll learn."