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Chapter 46

Chapter 46: Limbo

Strands convey Bianca into the hectic antechambers of Elysium. Discouraged, humiliated, she is desperate to climb into her cell and escape into dream. She heads straight for the inner core, searching the shuffling, jostling column of cells for her own.

But none of these wriggling corpuscles are hers. For the first time since her Ascension, her cell fails to meet her. It feels like returning home after a hard day at work to find that the landlord has changed the locks.

Bianca fears the worst. Her little chamber was more than a home. It was family—healing, soothing, nurturing, loving her. Its absence means that it has likely been assimilated and exists no more.

She scowls at every passing Guide who tries to express condolences. She storms away, scraping her nails against the villous walls, furious at her failure to help Daniel Ascend. He was so close!

She can’t abide loitering and making a spectacle, so she passes down into the Warren, the labyrinthine casbah at the base of Elysium, lair of the rootless, branchless masses of unaffiliated souls; deposed clans and the half-Fallen.

Bianca had once pitied those who dwelled here, but now she is one of their number. She can’t blame the Powers for casting her out. Daniel posed a challenge, certainly, but how often does a Guide receive direct assistance from a Primentor? It had been Bianca’s job to bring the boy home and she has failed.

She passes along the very bottom of Elysium. Transparent blotches on the basement membrane reveal Lethe spinning miles below, edges smudged with mist.

She reaches the Ocelli, the bright domains of the soul tenders, surrounding the Orb. Here, bundles of spectral fiber, invisible outside, shimmer into perception within the body of Elysium.

Bianca wends her way to the work chamber of Eisling, her cousin, twice removed. Eisling hails from Greystones and Bray, along the coast south of Dublin. Bianca never knew her in life, even though they were contemporaries, living at times only miles apart. In death, she had become Bianca’s dearest contact in an Elysium disturbingly devoid of close kin.

Bianca finds Eisling stroking and twisting the glowing strings, their colors displaying the status and strivings of Lethe’s unfinished souls. Her hands flutter like caged songbirds over the spectral loom. She slides a finger down a strand deep within a skein, plunging it down the spectrum from ultraviolet to blue, plinking it to gauge its tone. She unsnarls tangles, brings together disparate threads and weaves together that call to be woven.

With thumb and forefinger, Eisling dampens the dark fibers contaminating her sheaths of light and slashes them free with her nails. They fall away and disintegrate, Squatters all.

Bianca hovers, reluctant to disturb her cousin’s delicate work. Eisling’s fingers continue to dance on the strands as her gaze shifts softly to Bianca. Eisling wears the dreamy, drugged expression of someone only half-engaged. Her smile is tempered with a knowing sadness.

“Eisling, I—”

“I heard,” says Eisling.

“Have they given you my string?”

“Not yet,” says Eisling, reaching, plinking, damping.

“You’ll let me know—”

“Of course.”

Bianca knows she can’t linger. The fate of too many souls depends on Eisling’s focus. One mistake can turn an Ascendant to a Squatter.

She backs out of Eisling’s chamber, and strides off to find some vacant cubicle in the Warren’s depths where she can curl up as she awaits her fate.

Bianca collides with a tiny figure standing in the corridor. She tries to pass but a petite soul latches onto her wrists. Recognition snatches her out of her trance.

“Mother Ebbani!” says Bianca. “What are you doing down here?

“You couldn’t very well come to see me, could you?”

“No,” says Bianca. Her head dips and then whips back up. “What happened down there … I didn’t … I thought … I am so sorry.

“Me too,” says Ebbani.

“I … tried.”

“I know you did, child.”

“I am pathetically hopeless.”

“Hush, child. You’re not the first to lose a charge at the Table of Accession. You won’t be the last.” Ebbani sighs. “Though, few arrive pumped full of the Primentor’s essence.”

Bianca studies her Mentor’s face for clues. She finds little to guide her, apart from sympathy.

“What’s to become of me?” says Bianca.

“That’s not yet clear,” says Mother Ebbani. “There will be deliberations. For now you will stay in the Warren.”

“Is there something I can do to restore my status?” Bianca trembles like an opium addict in the early throes of withdrawal. “My cell, I miss it.”

“It’s out of our hands,” says Mother Ebbani. “I’m sorry you were caught up in this. It was a terrible choice on my part to assign you to Daniel. But I never expected the Unfettered One to become entangled.”

“But I’ll do anything to fix what happened. Just tell me what.”

“There’s nothing we can do, child. What’s done is done. I want you to know that … in the worst case … if you Fall … I’ll be looking out for you. If there are second chances to be gotten, I’ll make sure you get one.”

“Daniel … and Marco?” says Bianca. “What’s to become of them?”

“They’re lost, child,” says Ebbani. “The Primentor has surrendered claim on Daniel. Marco’s days are numbered. The Facilitators are cracking down.”

A clamp tightens around Bianca’s heart.

Ebbani narrows her eyes. “I sense what you’re thinking, child. If you do Fall, do not seek him out. Understand? If you do, I will lose all patience and sympathy for you. Do you understand?”

“I intend not to Fall,” says Bianca, gazing through the membrane at her feet to the island far below, its black beaches fringed with breakers, its heights bulging with bony arêtes and muscular buttresses. “I worked too hard to get here. I hope … I don’t Fall.”

“As do I, child,” says Ebbani. “As do I.”
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