Katabasis, Part VIII



Also Featuring:

maes_icon.gif nanaja_icon.gif

Scene Title Katabasis, Part VIII
Synopsis The other side of the coin.

“So that the Universe felt love,
by which, as somebelieve,
the world has many times been turned to chaos.
And at that moment this ancient rock,
here and elsewhere, fell broken into pieces.”
― Dante Alighieri, Inferno


He says, as if it matters here.


Snow falls in slow, heavy flakes. Landing cold on Nathalie’s cheeks where she lay on her back, staring up at the slate gray sky. Kneeling beside her Maes—the Virgil to her Dante—places a gloved hand down on her shoulder. “You were forced out, against your will. Back here.” He smiles apologetically. “It happens.”

But that is when Nathalie hears more than one set of feet in the snow-covered leaves. Where once Eilean stood by the looming obelisk, there now stands an even older face drawn out of the Obelisk by Nathalie’s actions. Nanaja.

Breathing may not matter in the traditional sense, but even here the act of focused, deep breaths has a grounding effect. At least for Nathalie. The cold on her face, the sound of Maes' voice, the hand against her shoulder— it all helps her reorient and realize where she is.

"That's fair," she says, pushing herself to sit up, "I was intruding. They're allowed to push me out." That's her assumption, anyway. That she was expelled as a trespasser. Her gaze falls on the extra set of feet in the snow and she blinks before looking up at Nanaja's face. It takes her a moment to remind herself that it is, indeed, Nanaja's face and not her own. Nor the face of a sister. It's hard to say if Nathalie quite remembers which body, which memories, are actually hers.

But then, that's a familiar struggle for her.

"Nanaja," she says, her tone assuming a connection that very well might be one sided. "«You're here,»" she says in a language they both understand, even if she has no real right to it. That is also a familiar struggle.

Nanaja does not speak at first, merely watches Nathalie and Maes, lidded suspicion in her eyes. Instead, Nanaja offers a hand down and helps Nathalie to her feet. The grip remains as she pulls the young woman up, followed by a hand placed at her elbow.

“«I’ve always been here,»” Nanaja says thoughtfully. “«You remembered me back, let me be seen.»” Even Maes is surprised by her explanation, as if there are facets of how this space works that he still doesn’t fully understand.

Nat holds onto Nanaja's hand as she stands up, and her hand moves to grip onto her arm to steady herself. And perhaps, to make sure Nanaja doesn't disappear. She's not sure how this space works on a good day, let alone when it's broken as it is now. "«You never should have been forgotten. We all were you. Carrying you.»" She once asked Rouen what they were conduits for, a question they could only guess at the answer to. But she knows now. That small family Ninbanda built from lives ruined and then saved. Pieces of herself she felt obligated to let go of, to give away.

"«We have a problem,»" Nathalie says, leaving sentimentality to the side for the moment, "«This place has sustained a wound. I have an idea of how to heal it.»" She looks over at Maes, her head tilting in question. "I'm not sure if we can get Shara here from your side." She remembers Maes mentioning his own path here was not simple or easy. "And Inanna— who even knows how to reach them. Ideally everyone would be here. What do you think?"

Maes’ blue eyes look haunted for a time. Lost in a thought so dark he dare not give it voice. “She’s the expert,” he says with a gesture to Nanaja. “The whole reason I took you on this journey is because I thought you—of all of us—might be able to wake her up so she can show you the secret Kazimir Volken discovered.”

When Kazimir’s name is invoked, Nanaja looks at Maes with steely recognition. “«He did not know what he did.»” Nanaja says to Nathalie, and Maes clearly cannot understand what she’s saying. “«He is asking me to show you the the way back. To open the closed door. Do you have unfinished business?»”

But Nanaja’s brows furrow in thought. Nathalie’s questions. She closes her eyes and sighs. “«Everything is coming undone,»” she agrees. “«Too many holes in the weave, moth-eaten and sparse. What is your idea?»”

Maes receives a long, hard look as Nathalie takes in his reason. Slowly, her brow furrows into confusion, even when Nanaja offers an explanation as to what that secret is.

"I thought that the journey was meant to show me how to fix this place," she says, a hand gesturing to the broken sky. Shifting to Nanaja, Nathalie grips her arm tighter. Like she might be worried they'll throw her through that door before she's ready. "«Unfinished business here or there?»" She asks, but doesn't actually wait for clarification. Because the answer to both is the same. "«Before we do anything, we have to put this place back together. You know as well as I do… these two places, these two powers, they aren't good and evil, white and black, angel and demon. They aren't even two sides of the same coin, they are the coin. Broken into pieces and waiting to be put back together. That's my idea. We take in the wound, you and me. And at the same time, Shara's power binds it, heals it, and we sew these shards back together.»"

For all that the way back has been dangled in front of her, Nathalie is setting that issue on the back burner, to be addressed should they be able to fix the graveyard. She glances over to Maes, her head tilting as she regards him. "Eilean described Nanaja's power as a wound eater. I think we can apply that here as well as we could apply it to any other wound. Perhaps our afterlife isn't a living thing— but either are we any longer."

Maes furrows his brows and looks at Nanaja, then Nathalie. “I think we all have the same plan, but are just speaking different languages.” The double-entendre is intentional. “To do heal this place we have to be outside. There’s no repairing this space while confined by it, and you’re the only one who might be able to accomplish that.”

“I understand now,” Nanaja says, and it’s clear Maes can understand her words as well in return. “We are in alignment. What is missing exists outside of here, the life force required to heal this place. The sibling who is not whole.”


The Catalyst.

“You have to get to the other side,” Maes explains, “and I can show you where to find that divide, but only Nanaja can lead you the rest of the way and show you how to get back to yourself.

Nathalie looks up at the sky, then over at the obelisk. The story it tells. The people in it. The ones who are missing. "We need to find the people who hold the conduits and the catalyst. Everyone together might fix this." And she knows, will draw the Entity's attention. A factor that brings a frown to her face. She isn't sure how such a meeting would end up. She knows how it ended for Eileen, though. "Dangerous. And I don't like the idea of… walking away and leaving this situation to deteriorate further."

She rubs at her eyes, less to clear her vision and more as an expression of frustration.

"My self is a pile of ash," she says, a sigh escaping her. They probably know that already. "And I don't want to be like Volken, stealing other people as needed. It's one thing to be a temporary visitor, but what he did, that's something else entirely."

“We need not steal anything.” Nanaja says, offering out a hand to Nathalie. “But we should act quickly.”

Maes looks at Nanaja’s hand, then Nathalie. He says no words of encouragement, says nothing to sway her own decision-making process. He’s shown her what she needs to see, and how she interprets it is up to her. The tension at the corners of his eyes belies his heart. He nods to her, not a farewell, but a promise that one day, they will meet again.

"We're going to do something good," Nathalie says to Maes, reminding him, "you promised." It's a last chance for him to keep her here, as well as a statement of her willingness to do so if that's what's needed. She looks at him for a long moment, her eyes on his. It's clear she recognizes the tension, because she takes a step toward him and pulls him into a hug.

"I'll do everything I can," she says to him in a whisper. Her own promise.

She releases him with a kiss to his cheek and steps away, over to where Nanaja's hand is held out to her. She takes it. "I'll fix this. For you. For her." Their creator.

Their mother.

"Show me the way."


Airlock doors start to shut, orange security lights come to life.

The strobing glow illuminates the interior of the airlock, cast dancing shadows around the interior of the sub. Gerard Gerken stands on the other side of the airlock doors as they slowly descend. A klaxon blares, warning of the airlock’s closure, but it doesn’t stop a desperate group of survivors from running past Gerard.

It is a horrifying sight, watching seven people clamor over the closing doors, stumble down into the airlock and arrive outside the sub. They pound and hammer on the door, palms slapping against windows, fogging up the glass with their breath as they scream to demand entrance onto the already crowded vessel. Edward closes his eyes, then puts an arm around Destiny and pulls her head to his chest to hide her face from what he knows is bound to happen.

Inside the airlock, view of Gerard and the other survivors diminishes down to a sliver, then a crack, and with a resounding clang they are gone. In the pilot’s seat, Finn flips switches overhead and turns on the submarine’s ignition. The diesel-powered engine rumbles to life, sputtering and groaning. Interior lights come on at the ceiling in a thin band.

Outside, port holes in the airlock ceiling open and explode with a sudden torrent of water. The people trapped outside the sub scream and cry, smashing their bodies against the vehicle, rocking it from side to side. Some are swept away by the downward streams of white water, thrown into a whirlpool forming around the base of the submarine. At the same time air pressure changes to match the underwater conditions and the people trapped in the airlock begin the process of a slow, agonizing death.

Screams for passage onto the submarine turn into screams of terror, dread, and finally agony as they writhe around on the flooding ground, soon consumed by rising water levels that creep up the submarine’s windows. People are crying aboard the sub, openly sobbing and yelling as they watch bodies swirl about in the dark water lit by orange flashes of security lights. When the airlock has filled and pressurized, when everyone outside the sub has died a horrific death, there is a loud buzzer sound as the exterior airlock doors open.

“Please god,” Finn says through his teeth as he throws the submarine into reverse.

«Security Alert. Intrusion Detected. Arcology Environmental Containment Breached.»

Inside the hangar, Gerard stands in the glow of emergency lighting amid the crowd of survivors who did not make the lottery. A security alarm blares, a red light on the panel Gerard had accessed to open the airlock. He had not been able to disengage the security warning.

«Security Alert. Intrusion Detected. Arcology Environmental Containment Breached.»

Distant pops of gunfire fill the air, screams echo through the arcology. Rivulets of water weep through the airlock doors, trickling down onto the floor to fill rusty depressions. They have made their choice, and now they have however long is left to live with it.

«Security Alert. Intrusion Detected. Arcology Environmental Containment Breached.»

Natalie sees herself reflected in the porthole of the submarine window, feels tears welled up in her eyes, a wetness on her cheeks. It is total darkness outside of the submarine, save for faint flashes of light from the surface. Lightning, a storm.

Muffled sobs, agonized crying, and hushed whispers fill the cramped confines. There is barely room to sit, let alone stand. This submersible was meant for short underwater tours, not to be used as a life vessel.

She knows this.


Her hand reaches up to press against the wall of the sub, as if she might somehow be able to hold the vessel together. Her gaze doesn't leave the porthole, watching herself rather than the water beyond. There's no use fighting the tears on her face, no matter how much she might want to bury that emotion. Nat knows the names of each person they all watched drown while making their escape— she's not sure how she knows that, either. But also, despite the press of bodies in this small space, she feels suddenly, profoundly alone.

Forcing herself to breathe in slowly and deliberately, she takes in her reflection. Familiar and yet not exactly right. The subtle differences stand out to her like beacons. It's somehow more unsettling than when she was in the body of a complete stranger. As strange as it is, however, it doesn't take her longer than the space of a blink to realize where she is. When she is.

…And to realize that she's headed away from the door back to her own world.

Her eyes close and she rests her forehead against the porthole. Home is so close and entirely out of reach.


There is a storm here.

Nathalie awakens to find her hand in Nanaja’s much like it had been, but violently pulled from her experiences of another lifetime in another place. It feels unreal to be thrust back into the graveyard, except it’s hard to be sure if that’s where they are anymore.

We must get closer! You’re still too far from the moment!” Nanaja shouts over what sounds like howling wind, even though Nathalie can feel none on her skin. The forest of the graveyard crumbles away, land separating into ambulatory fragments like earthen balloons. Loose trees float away, as though torn from the ground by a low-speed tornado.

But what is beyond the crumbling edge of the graveyard is not a storm of any terrestrial kind. It is a storm of time and space. It is a crimson nebula, like something out of a PBS special about the depths of space. Threads of cosmic gasses twist and stretch up into an infinitely black sky. Crimson lightning crashes at the edges of the storm, but makes no sound. For nearly all sound is drowned out by the howl of unfelt wind.

That way!” Nanaja shouts over the howling storm, pointing to a rocky precipice—a cliff face that winds around the shattered edge of the graveyard, a narrow cliff to follow into the unknown. Nanaja’s grip on Nathalie’s hand tightens, reminding her that she’s there. That Nathalie can do this. But she must be the one to take the first step into the unknown.

Nathalie struggles to find her footing when she's thrown back out of the world again, physically as well as metaphorically. Nanaja's hand is the only anchor she has and she clings onto her. She feels very much like she'll tumble into the void without that hand in hers. The storm takes her attention, as well as the ruins of the graveyard cracked and crumbling around them.

She has to swallow against the fear that she's fucking this up.

Only Nanaja's voice keeps her from the catastrophizing her mind is so gifted at, only the narrowing cliff edge sharpens her focus. A target, a goal, that's what she needs to be able to push everything else out and move.

She doesn't simply step into the unknown, she races toward it at full tilt.

And, for the wind, I drew myself behind

Nanaja shields her eyes with one hand as Nathalie leads her ahead, squinting against a sensation of being pushed not by wind but by the torrential force of a great river.

My Guide, because there was no other shelter.

In the rocks of the graveyard, Nathalie sees them. Petrified humanoid figures pressed in the rock, as if every stone underfoot is made from so many rocky human remains jigsawed together like a puzzle. They are interlocked, twisted and blasted together like bodies heaped on a pyre and burned together, but faceless and forgotten.

Now was I, and with fear in verse I put it,

As she sprints along the ledge, it threatens to give way underfoot. Edges of the stone crack and crumble, and Nanaja is left to leap where Nathalie walked to avoid a plunge into the crimson maelstrom below.

There where the shades were wholly covered up,

Stone figures drift weightlessly through the air, moving with the slow cyclonic motion of this cosmic nebula, this starless void of red light swirling around a yet unseen central point.

Some prone are lying, others stand erect,

As Nathalie rounds the edge of the cliff face, toward where Nanaja had urged her, the words of Dante Aleghri’s Inferno are at the fore of her mind.

This with the head, and that one with the soles;

Overhead, Nathalie can see another graveyard upside down from her orientation, being pulled apart into its constituent components as well. Matter is drawn toward the nexus of this cosmic storm, from which lancing bolts of red lightning leap forth and vanish into the infinite darkness beyond.

Another, bow-like, face to feet inverts.

But there, around the corner of this great cliff, Nathalie sees what lay at the heart of this maelstrom, the wound she wishes to heal. Dante Alighieri wept.


How frozen I became and powerless then,

There is a shape at the center of the nebula, unfathomably tall. Its true size is incalculable as distance holds little meaning beyond the cliff. But the stone figures drifting toward it feels somehow like toys by comparison. Tiny specks of matter against a tempest of red and pink light wreathed in lightning.

Ask it not, Reader, for I write it not,

It is a human figure, a torso and arms, a vague shape of a head made of swirling matter from the dawn of time itself. More than half of it is plunged into and dissolving from the maelstrom of cosmic matter. Red lightning leaps around and embers dance in the unfelt wind. Nanaja stares in wide-eyed wonder and horror at the sight. She assumed, but she had never seen.

Because all language would be insufficient.

Ninbanda?” Nanaja whispers, staring at the silhouette forged from the protomatter that stars would one day be born from. The name is ripped from her lips by the howl of wind and crackle of electricity.

The Emperor of the kingdom dolorous

This thing stretches out into the infinite, with graveyards extending into it, bristling with headstones that seem like tiny dots from here.

From his mid-breast forth issued from the ice

We must keep going!” Nanaja urges, pointing toward where this path continues to spiral downward to the underside of the graveyard. Though even she can barely pull her eyes away from this spectacle.

Nathalie slows when she sees the figure, the infinite graveyards, the infinite. She's aware enough not to let herself stop, but it is difficult to watch where they're going when there's something so horrible and so… beautiful taking her attention. She can barely hear the name Nanaja says over the roar of the storm, but she doesn't need to. The same name rings through her mind. Heartbreak and fear mix behind her ribs, weighing down her chest as they go. She squeezes Nanaja's hand, both to give and get comfort and support.

"How did this happen?" Nathalie asks, but knows there's no answer to be had. Not for this. The woman they knew and loved becoming this being beyond space and time. For all that she's seen, all the memories and all the metaphysics, she can't put words to this.

So she moves, she pushes forward, faster, if only to keep beneath her notice.

Running along a spider’s web, down, down, down—



He has a beard.

Richard Ray stands in front of Nathalie, grizzled and tired. Hiding his discomfort behind sunglasses. He draws in a breath, then, and glances aside. “I did. We— she found her family. Her father, at least, her mother was dead. I knew her— Sarisa, I mean. We realized she was my cousin— well, roughly. Not like you are.”

Dark eyes look back to her, guilt hidden by dark sunglasses, “If anything, she had an embarrassment of family.”

Past tense.

He has a beard. He's alive, even if he is tired and overwhelmed. Nathalie works to keep her expression befitting the conversation, once she picks up on what the conversation actually is. The long pause hopefully won't be too out of place, while she's replaying the last few moments in her mind.

"I'm glad," she says, but her voice catches in her throat and she has to stop again and clear it. She hears herself carrying on the thought that's shared between two Nathalies. "It's not good to feel alone in the world." He's not supposed to be here, it occurs to her as she looks at her own image in his glasses. This is a different time than last time she sat in this particular body. A time after her. Which, obviously, was the point of saving him. But it's still a strange realization, one that leaves her feeling out of step with the body she inhabits. Her hands rub against her jeans and she reaches out, trying to feel if Nanaja is still here with her, still holding her hand.

Is this the moment?

Her hand feels empty, the space between feels empty, and yet it feels as though there is something—someone—

“Yeah.” Richard replies, and a silence hangs between the two for a moment, “We're uh," he scrubs the back of his neck, brows furrowed like he forgot something. "We're gonna be leaving, once the storm clears. Probably taking boats to the mainland, after that…” he brings one shoulder up in a shrug, “…kinda playing it by ear. I’m told that some of the people here were already talking about moving up towards Anchorage, so—" He grins a bit, “Maybe we’ll have help.”

The grin doesn’t last long, though, and he shakes his head, “Can’t be worse than the Dead Zones out there. Or Antarctica.”

"I guess you'll find out if it's worse," Nathalie says, perhaps a little distracted as she reaches, focusing on that scrap of something she can feel. She looks over at Richard, or not at him exactly, but to them. Nanaja and Shara may be far away for him, but she knows there are others with him who are aware of what she's trying to do, aware that she needs to find them all— all the scattered children— to heal the wound at the heart of the graveyards. At the heart of everything.

While her mind lingers on the sight of a powerful, and powerfully broken goddess, Nathalie continues on, desperate for a goal, for a target. For a focus for her own scattered life. "You'll need protection," is a distant voice for Nathalie, but keeps her in the world while her spirit leans over the proverbial edge, holding her hand out for anyone who will take it.

And then anyone does so appear.

“You should take ‘er,” lilts an unfamiliar voice over Richard’s shoulder. Nathalie hears it too. A thick gaelic accent. But then the woman speaking to Richard steps to stand at his side, red hair wild and tossed over her shoulders, blue eyes familiar in a way that all the old ghosts’ are. Her clothes look centuries out of place, feet bare and dirty. She turns and looks at Richard, putting a hand on his shoulder.


“It’ll all come back around,” the red-haired phantom says. But then she’s gone and the moment of reverie passed.


It is snowing.

Nathalie LeRoux is staring up at a slate gray sky, laying flat on her back in thick, powdery snow. Headstones rise up around her, a different shade of gray, like skeletal fingers reaching for heaven. A statue of an angel looks down on her, wings mottled with lichen and weathering.

Eilean crouches down over Nathalie’s form, her head tilted to the side and one brow raised. “What a curious creature you are,” she says of her, without recognition. But they’d met. Spoken, even.

But then it dawns on Nathalie. This isn’t her Eilean.

This is the other side of the coin.

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