TBOTSG-Chapter 17

July 9, 2024

At ten minutes to ten, when the bustle of preparations began, it was already dark. I was still seated at the table, watching the others double-check that they were fully prepared. Filip asked if they needed help carrying the luggage to the car, and two voices replied that we were going on foot. His hand was in mine, and I could clearly feel his emotions. I don’t think he knew very well what was going to happen that night, but the fear of the unknown, more so, the fear of death, was very strong. I sent him a wave of warm feelings, full of trust and optimism, believing that it would help him. And maybe it did help for a few seconds, after which he returned to his worries as if nothing had happened. It seemed like an interesting phenomenon to me. Then I told him that I wanted him to stay, that I didn’t want him to participate in the ritual. I knew that M and Ofelia didn’t want him there either, but they hadn’t said anything yet. I don’t think they had actually considered him coming with us, ever. But I had toyed with the idea that I would have liked to have him by my side. It amused me… it gave me a sense of well-being even when he had negative emotions. Perhaps because I knew for sure that they were not mine. I hadn’t felt the same way in the hospital, when I was overwhelmed by the anger and confusion of others until I almost lost consciousness. That also seemed interesting to me.

‘Should we go now?’ M asked before Filip could reply to me.

I put my hand on his shoulder when he tried to get up from his chair and just nodded. It was then when I noticed I felt the same fears as he did. This surprised me a little: when was the last time I cared about someone else’s fate, except perhaps of M’s? Even helping Fiiuea was for his sake too.

Filip looked at us as we walked out the gate as if we were abandoning him. And that’s exactly how I felt. Had I really done that? No. It was for his own good. Anything could go wrong at any time. The fear that we might fail was enough for me. What surprised me, however, wasn’t the fact that I felt fear of failure or fear for Filip’s life. No, what surprised me was a small, well-hidden thought whispering to me that maybe it wouldn’t be so bad if we didn’t succeed in breaking the seal now.

‘And if we don’t succeed now, what do we do?’ Andreea, M, and Ofelia seemed to have the same worries, apparently, talking only a few steps ahead of me.

‘There’s no such thing, miss, you’ll see. It’ll work out. I’ve been casting curses since my mother made me. The others too,’ said the lady in the flower pattern skirt, Nica, who knew both the way and the ritual, and apparently had unwavering self-confidence. I felt no doubt whatsoever coming from her. I needed to stay away from the others. So in the end, I began focusing on blocking out everything from the outside and accepting that what remained were my own fears and uncertainties. Fears and uncertainties? Again, I wondered when I had last felt this way…

When M approached me, I realised that, being so focused on my interactions with Filip, I had been ignoring him.

‘Where did you find… the witches? That’s what you call them, I’m not mistaken.’

‘Yes,’ M chuckled a bit, ‘they’re white witches. Seven of them are coming for tonight’s ritual.’

‘Did you meet any of the others, besides Nica?’

‘Just two, right before we came here. They were on their way.’

‘But how did you find them? And so quickly too.’

‘Ah, it’s not my merit. Andreea has been in touch with many of them for years. She seemed convinced they had a connection to our world, so she kept searching for them and then kept in touch. From what she told me, she’s spoken with dozens of witches, both from here and from abroad.’

‘From abroad?’

‘From other countries. But these seven women, they might truly have a connection to our world. At least that’s how it felt to me when I spoke with them. When I met them and touched them, I felt like I sensed something familiar, something from home. Don’t you feel anything?’

‘I didn’t feel anything from her.’

I focused on M, I opened up completely to him, and I felt as if I had truly come home… well, a home where the furniture had been rearranged, walls repainted, but still: home. It was a distinct sensation. It’s like his energy was vibrating in unison with mine. His thoughts felt like old friends too. M seemed uncomfortable, so I stopped. Then, for a few seconds, I focused solely on Nica and nothing else permeated from her, except perhaps an unwavering self-confidence. I tried to dig deeper. To see what she was thinking right then. But her mind was blank. I tried to probe into her memories, but there seemed to be nothing there. I stopped and turned my full attention to her, concentrating all my energy. From my right, she turned her head towards me a bit amused and spoke without stopping or even looking at me.

‘What kind of witch would I be If you could see my thoughts so easily?’

‘That’s true,’ I said, smiling uncertainly, unsure whether to agree or not.

‘What’s true?’ M asked, stopping and looking puzzled at me. Then I realised that Nica had answered me with her thoughts. More precisely, she had allowed me to see that thought and nothing else.

‘Interesting,’ I said aloud, completely ignoring M, along with his irritation. I used to do this to him frequently. I smiled, but I sensed a change within me. I wasn’t indifferent anymore about responding to him or not. I realised that I cared about M. That I held him dear. I turned my head towards him abruptly, surprised by my realisation, and I knew I had felt this way all along. That’s why I had helped him. That’s why I had sent him here instead of allowing him to be killed by a gang of spoiled princelings. That’s why I had given him my pendant and had followed his presence in the universe for so long. And that’s why my energy found him so easily. But… was it possible? I felt nothing since Roah’al. That’s what I kept telling myself. But was it true? Fiiuea… had I saved her just for M’s sake? Would she have been lynched too if I hadn’t intervened? Maybe they didn’t do that revolution entirely unjustly. If my only servants went through that sort of experiences, what was the world really like? Perhaps I shouldn’t have focused only on the natural world,  on the resources, or on the planet itself… perhaps I should have done more. Maybe that’s what the people expected from me when they came to the temple. Maybe that’s what they wanted from me when they sent that delegation.

‘Have I made a mistake?’

‘Excuse me?’ M looked at me with puzzled eyes. ‘About what?’

‘About everything. About people… I always thought everyone should do as they please. That this is the ultimate freedom and that my role and the role of the other gods was to keep the world safe. To protect it from calamities and provide suitable resources for life. But I completely forgot that the short lives of humans don’t give them much chance for great wisdom… that they always make the same mistakes and need someone who can see the big picture. Maybe I was supposed to be that someone…?’

I looked at M full of hope. What did I hope for? To contradict me. To tell me that I hadn’t made a mistake. That people wanted autonomy, independence, and that they could govern their world and life on their own. But M just shrugged.

‘Yes. I think everyone expected something different from you than neutrality. Everyone revered you not because you didn’t meddle in their affairs… but because of the ancient legends.’


‘Yes… don’t you remember anymore? Legends from the beginning of the world when you were like a judge… not exactly a judge, but rather like a teacher who took care of her students, who taught them things, but also punished them severely when they erred.’

‘It’s been a long time since then.’

‘But we haven’t forgotten. That’s because we’ve never lost the need for a higher being to guide us. That’s what I’ve learned here. There are so many religions… so many paths… And people always seek for something more because they can’t find the path to inner peace as individuals, and apparently, not as a species either.’

‘I wanted to go back to punish them.’ I said, knowing it was true. I hadn’t voiced these thoughts, but I knew I had them deep inside my being, without fail.

‘Do you still?’

‘I do,’ I said, and M chuckled softly. ‘But now I feel something else too. I feel like I want to show them that the old ways… need to perish. My brothers… won’t be there to help me anymore. On the contrary, those who survive will be furious, just as I was. Maybe worse. And then I don’t even know if I’ll be able to save the Second House. Yet I want to try. That’s what I feel. I want to punish them and save them at the same time. How bizarre…’

‘It’s not bizarre at all,’ said M. ‘It seems perfectly normal to me. I would feel the same way if I were in your shoes. I would even dare say that anyone would have these mixed feelings. In fact, that’s how we feel about the gods.’

I looked at him and couldn’t believe he was one to have mixed feelings. I literally plunged into him to search for evidence that what he said was true. As I uncovered all his experiences—some good ones involving me, others terrifying with Fiiuea, with himself… then with people I didn’t remember but who seemed close to him, challenging him as a priest, contesting the gods, seeking audiences with the goddess who hadn’t been seen for so long and perhaps didn’t exist anymore… Clear memories laden with emotion, with fervour—M seemed so outraged whenever someone was saying something against me. His loyalty, his faith seemed so beautiful, and they stirred up feelings in me that I couldn’t understand, warm feelings. Then I felt pulled into a stronger memory. I felt a force pushing me through something that seemed incomprehensible, something that terrified me terribly. I felt my heart beating violently not only in my chest but throughout my whole body. As I approached this bizarre place above ground, I understood that I was no longer dying. That the bleeding had stopped, that the pendant I now wore around my neck had healed my wounds, that the blood on my chest had begun to dry. I felt the power from the pendant and when I reached the portal, I passed through it without knowing what it was. I saw the world through M’s eyes this time, and for the first time, I felt sorry for him. Something I didn’t feel when he was a child who had to leave his family to serve me, nor when his family died, and not even when he died. Now, seeing the fear he felt when I sent him here, I felt sorry. The passage through the portal lasted less than a fraction of a second. When it ended, he was alone in a forest, in the dead of night. He looked back where the portal had been, and there was nothing there anymore. He felt so many things, but above all, there was fear and there was hatred. He hated that I had saved him and that I had sent him here.