The Cube - Chapter 18 - In the Ruins of Thirbel

“We must go,” Ivy said.

“Where?” Mutt asked

“Do not ask questions.”

Hope was pushing a beetle around with a stick on the dirt floor. Ivy picked her up.

“My sweet child, you are going to have a play date.”

Hope seemed dazed by the swiftness of her mother’s capture. Ivy was carrying her satchel which tended to balance Hope’s weight. Mutt followed her silently to the Ooson tent where she deposited their daughter. She kissed her on the forehead and promised to return soon. She did not announce the play date to Varun’s parents.

“Can I now ask questions?” Mutt asked as they hurried toward the church.

“Please, Mutt, I need you now. Do not ask questions.”

Ivy walked through the mahogany doors of the church into the nave. The father was speaking with parishioners about a personal problem.

“Father, you will take me to the crypt.”

“What is this?” the father asked.

“You will take me to the crypt now.”

“I can do no such thing.”

“Father, I come on orders of the Controller. I have a message for the Order. You will take me to the crypt now, or I will take myself.”

He looked uncertain.

“It is your destiny to comply.”

He walked through a door to the side of the pulpit and down a staircase. Ivy followed on his heels. At the bottom of the stairs he stopped.

“Here, I have taken you to the crypt.”

“The lower crypt,” said Ivy. “Do not play games with me.”

“You are not permitted.”

“You will take me there and you will do so now.”

The father was becoming alarmed.

“What is this message you bring from the Controller?”

“It is the final message. The world will end in three days.”

The father was unnerved by her forcefulness. He pulled a key from his frock, retracted a false wall, and opened the door to the lower crypt. A spiral staircase led to a barrel-vaulted chamber with a massive portal and iron-bolted doors spaced evenly in masonry walls covered in fantastical graffiti.

“Where is your tumbler?”

Mutt had no idea what she was talking about.

The father balked. “I cannot do this. It is against my faith.”

Ivy was growing angry.

“You will open that door. You will show me your tumbler. Or it will be your body I ride down that tunnel.”

The father’s will was being slowly displaced by Ivy’s. In this cramped and dank space irrational fears began to take hold. He retrieved another key and opened an oversized door revealing an oddly shaped bounder consisting of a cockpit suspended within a sphere frame clad with rubber.

“Is it filled for a return trip?”

“Yes. But it is not for you.”

“You must open the portal.”

“I will not.”

Ivy approached as if to strike him. She grabbed him by the collar and forced him into the room with the tumbler and shut the door. Mutt could hear her screaming. “Is this what you serve? Is this your exalted master? There is a new order! You will take your place within it! What has happened before, has happened again!”

The father emerged from the room shaken.

“Kneel,” Ivy commanded, and he knelt.

Mutt thought that he had passed into an alternative universe. He often had this feeling in her company.

“You will now open the portal.”

The father approached and turned the wheel forward and backwards several times until its mechanism unlocked. Ivy pushed the tumbler, balanced for buoyancy, from storage and lifted it to the cylinder. It was bulky and Mutt helped position it within the opening. She climbed into the cockpit and beckoned Mutt to her side, dropping her satchel into a rear compartment.

“Father, you must release the ballast.”

He did so automatically, without independent thought, in violation of his vows, for the old order was no more. The tumbler fell away on a steep diagonal in the direction of Rixjrig, its free fall moderated only by brakes, the cockpit rotated so that the couple faced forward suspended by straps in the seemingly endless shaft. The one-dimensional world of the tunnel was surreal. Mutt did not know what Ivy was doing. He did not know where they were going. He did not understand the desperation of her mission. He wanted to ask questions but had learned not to. Ivy sat motionless, looking ahead as if transfixed by the specter of death. Mutt could not know what was motivating her but she did. It was a mother’s love. This entire wretched universe was going to yield to her. It was designed by a wicked Creator, run by evil people for evil purposes, all so innocents such as Hope could suffer. Where are the forces for good? Are people who love so incapable of action that they are destined to be pawns in the games of psychopaths? She could not talk. She would not talk. She was building toward an epic explosion. For five hours they tumbled down that hellish cylinder before the tunnel curved and a dim light could be discerned around the bend. She pulled on the brake and began discharging the forward tanks. She stopped a hundred yards short of the light and exited the tumbler, lugging her satchel and running ahead. Mutt caught up with her at an iron lattice blocking further progress. She grabbed the lattice and shook. From the wall she took a mallet suspended by a rope and began banging the iron mercilessly. In the distance they saw a figure approaching on the floor of the tunnel with gravity transverse to theirs, a Father of the Order. Ivy continued pounding, creating a ruckus wholly out of place in the atmosphere of the tunnel.

She collapsed to the ground exhausted and weeping. She was overcome with the enormity of her charge. She drew her hood over her head and retreated into herself, hot wet tears streaming onto her forearms. The father approached and asked who would dare defile the sacred vault. She stood up, her head still covered, her anger returning.

“Who would defile this vault,” she said, “is your master.”

The father looked at her scornfully.

Her tone abruptly changed. Mutt began to think she was crazy. Crazy in a bad way.

“I am a supplicant performing a rite,” she said. “I come with a message from the Controller.”

“You can tell me your message through the gate.”

“I cannot father. For this message must be inscribed.”

The father was taken aback. He stepped back into the tunnel and pulled a lever opening a latch. He opened the gate without knowing why. It was foolish and a violation of his vows to allow access to anyone outside the Order. But she said she was an emissary of the Controller and he believed her.

“You must assemble,” Ivy said.

“I can call them only for the One.”

“And how do you know who He is.”

“Because it is written.”

Ivy removed her hood. Her hair fell to her shoulders and she posed as she had last posed an eternity ago.

“There is another,” she said. “I am the woman in the picture.”

“My God,” the father said, and retreated backwards.

“You will go now, father, and you will assemble.”

“Dear God,” he repeated, “she lives.”

Ivy and Mutt were left alone in the tunnel. She walked forward a short distance to the opening to the vault. The door was propped open and she stepped inside, with Mutt close behind. Before them lay the mystery of all creation, the Oopsah Fajuyt, the source of all change, the origin of all recursion, the font of free will, the control module. Ivy gazed upon it in wonder. How could their world be so horrifically designed? Why must it be that all destinies were written through this so-called sacred text? But as she gazed upon it she knew it was not a player in the battle of good and evil. It was a tool. For iterations it had been commandeered by a sociopath, a man so crazed with perversion and lust for power he would destroy the world if he could not get his way just to have another chance in a billion years. There were no rules requiring permanent destruction. All one had to do was use the knowledge in the Oopsah to stop Muglair and there would be no further launch. The iterations would end and the planet could live out its natural life. In such a world she could save her daughter, she could save her husband, she could have a bigger family.

She looked at Mutt and realized she wanted him right now.

“Mutt, remember when I said we would know when the time is right?”

“Ivy,” he said. “I never thought I would say this, but now is not a good time.”

“Please hold me. Do you not understand what I am doing?”

Mutt’s head was whirling. Was Ivy propositioning him in the sacred vault of the Oopsah? She removed her coat and sandals and sat before him, stunning to Mutt’s eyes, this small vulnerable woman taking upon her shoulders the fate of the world, and what lovely shoulders they were! Her dress fit snugly revealing her curves and draped around her collarbones in a fold that seemed to cradle her neck and face. She looked at him with the saddest, most pitiable eyes in the history of womankind. Mutt scooted over and took her in his arms, wanting only to comfort her. If there is a sacred duty in this world, he thought, it is to comfort the woman you love. Sacred texts, prophecies, gods, and angels were just distractions from what it meant to be human. It was love, love between people, that should govern the cosmos.

“I never had a home, Mutt,” she said, “until I found one in your arms. I will be eternally grateful.”

Mutt was in tears. This strange world where they found themselves, this sacred vault, was just a tool of control, a mechanism for evil people to thwart their union. Ivy was not going to tolerate it, and he wanted to worship her, right here and now, for defying destiny. He admired her shins emerging from her dress, and her dirty naked feet, and took her soft hands in his, those delicate beauties he had so often clasped in tenderness and in passion, and decided nothing else mattered in the world besides her.

“I think now is a good time,” he said. “Let us defile this place.”

They were seated high on a wall of the vault, oriented at a right angle to the gravity of Arland. He laid their coats along the wall to make a nest then removed his shirt and pants. She lifted off her dress in the most beautiful gesture known to mankind, revealing her naked beauty. He had never wanted her more, not even in the angle. They were doing more than reconsummating their love; they were rededicating the purpose of this awful vault, reconsecrating the Oopsah. She reached down for her panties in a motion Mutt remembered well. He stopped her hand.

“May I have the honor?”

She smiled and lifted up off the floor while he pulled them off. It seemed she was always the first one completely naked but he quickly rectified the situation.

“Are we defying fate?” he asked.

“We are creating a new fate. If our love is not a higher purpose for the Oopsah, then the universe is doomed.”

It was a strange moment, made stranger in hindsight when Mutt learned that the walls were filled with the remains of past versions of Tobor Zranga who had expired in the vault with each iteration. But he did not care. He spat upon all their sacred orders and texts. This woman in his embrace was all that mattered in the world and he took her fully, rapturously. He looked into her eyes and saw Moonflower, Lace, Ivy, Cerise, Posy, all the women who ever mattered to him. Here they were, making love to him in the vault of the Oopsah, not some measly tank room in a salt mine. Reston would be so jealous. Ivy looked into his eyes and saw the man who had taken her so passionately in the angle, but only because she let him. This was the man who had given her Hope, who had given her a family, who had given her something more important than herself, the kindest and gentlest soul she would ever know. His pleasure was her pleasure, his joy her joy. Ivy Morven had found heaven, and she had brought it to where it belonged.

While in flagrante delicto, a figure appeared at the door to the vault.

“Just a few minutes father,” Mutt said.

They had never seen such a look of horror. The father did not know what to do and disappeared swiftly. They could hear the shuffling as the entire Order gathered outside the vault, so disturbed by the sacrilege taking place within they lacked the courage to enter. When they were finished with the sloppy deed so frowned upon by the Order, Mutt held Ivy tenderly in his arms and thanked her for the gift of her love. He looked down on the wall and saw a stain.

“You are leaking.” He laughed, so absurd was the idea of their union dripping in this sacred place.

“It is a mixture of you and me, and it will be here next time.” She thought the Oopsah should be smashed to pieces and only this stain allowed to cross the universe. She squirmed into her dress and called the Order. She arose, a slip of a woman, and spoke to the Assembly, standing laterally on the wall beyond their reach.

“Who among you would not serve a pervert?” she asked.

The lead father stepped forward aggressively.

“The penalty for your action is death.”

“Who writes your rules? Who creates your penalties?” She asked mockingly.

“Have you come merely to defile?”

Ivy’s anger was welling up.

“To defile? Who are you to tell me that an act of love is not sacred? What have you fools done in this vault that is more worthy than what we have just done? Is the union of two people in loving harmony not the highest act of grace? Do you not know who you have been serving? How stupid can you self-selected prophets be?”

“Lady, it is not your place ...”

Ivy cut him off.

“Do not tell me my place! You will kneel before me when I am finished! Have you not seen the picture? Do you not know who I am? Your sacred Controller was a farce! A sick pathetic human being who used your Order for vile purposes, and to him did you kneel? Do you not know what he was doing?”
The lead father stepped forward more forcefully.

“You will now allow me to speak.”

“Yes, father, make your case.”

“This is not a place for your sacrilege. We were sworn to preserve the sacred text for the Controller and to serve his needs at the advent. We have discharged that duty. We will continue to discharge that duty. There can be no change.”

“Your sacred Controller raped a child,” Ivy said, dripping with contempt. “I know because I was that child. He is using your Order to perpetuate his outrage across the iterations. You are not bound by his will. Do you not recognize that you have a choice? You can serve evil, or you can serve what is right. Look at me father and recall the face of Tobor Zranga. Whom would you rather serve?”

The lead father had not obtained his position by independent thinking.

“I will serve the Controller,” he said.

Ivy exploded.

“Are you no more than a tool of evil? Have you never loved? Have you never sworn to protect a person you adore? Have you no wife, have you no lover, have you no child, to whom do you belong? Because if your answer is Tobor Zranga, you are ill suited to hold the keys to destiny. Even in your degraded state surely you can recognize that you are not a fit repository for the power to change the future.”

“This conversation has ended,” the lead father declared and began walking away.

“It has only begun,” Ivy said menacingly. The father continued walking, the Order following behind.

“I have brought with me your precious Controller!” she screamed. “If you will serve him, serve him now!”

The lead father looked back at the spectacle. Ivy opened her satchel. Mutt was horrified to see human hair protrude from the opening. She grabbed the hair and lifted upward the severed head of Tobor Zranga. She threw it at the lead father with such force that he could not duck. It ricocheted from his forehead and fell back onto the wall, rolling to a stop balanced on the stump of Tobor’s neck, dead eyes opened heavenward with pupils turned back in his cranium.

“Is this your precious Controller? Is this the monster you serve? Then bow to him now. But if you cannot bow to this monstrosity, you will bow to me! Who here will defy me! Who here will defy the eternal change? You know this happens. It is written that the Controller may change. It happened when this sick man wrested control and took power over the Oopsah eons ago. It has happened again! What has passed shall come to pass. Look at me father! You will kneel when I am finished!”

The entire Order was beyond words. They had never witnessed such an outburst. They had never witnessed such a macabre spectacle.

Ivy started to cry. She sat down on the wall and made a startling pronouncement.

“I have been here before. In the last iteration. I bring with me the final translation. Your savior is not the Controller. He could not reveal the final page. He did not know the meaning of pie.”

She stood up, addressing the lead father.

“If you and your stupid Order require proof, I have brought it.” She reached into an outer pocket of the satchel to retrieve something. Mutt half expected the severed penis of Tobor Zranga but it was a handful of papers.

“Here is the meaning of pie, here is what Tobor Zranga could not translate.” She threw it at the lead father.

“It was my own code. A substitution cipher. I took my message, converted it to numbers, displaced each number by the decimals of the constant pi, then displaced them again by the decimals of the constant e. You may go and confirm. But when you return you will kneel before your new master.” She paused. “Or mistress if you prefer.”

There was total silence. The Order filed out of the room carrying her translation of the last inscrutable text. Somewhere in this underground complex they had a room set aside for cryptology, not unlike the clean room in Harmour. But the answer they were going to find had been ordained. Ivy Morven was the Controller.

Mutt looked at her in wonder.

“When will you stop blowing my mind?” he asked.

“In the next life.”

He held her tenderly, not sure if it was appropriate to caress God herself. She turned to him.

“Mutt, I did not choose this role. It was forced upon me. I had to fight for Hope, I had to fight for you. We are going to die in three days. But I pray, if there is a God to listen, that we can live a normal life next time. I want to be your Hutwoman wife.”

He was still in shock.

“How many babies can we have?”

“As many as you want.”

“Well,” he said, “here’s to next time.”

For the first time Mutt noticed on the opposite wall of the vault an array of glass tubes beside which a series of numbers were carved, each marking off the passage of time from prior iterations in increments of a billion years.

Ivy began to fathom the full import of what she had done. The world was run by evil people whose designs for power and conflict thwarted everything she cared about. All she wanted was the love of her family, she wanted to live with Mutt and Hope without fear of the interference of great men, she wanted to visit Gulet and eat peppermints from her grandmother’s bowl, she wanted to sit around a table in the Ogga household bragging about Hope’s latest milestone, she wanted to give Hope brothers and sisters, she wanted to pour her energy into the joys and sorrows of rambunctious children with never a thought for the bigger picture, she wanted to regain the love she lost as a toddler with her mother’s violent death, she wanted to belong to a family and not to a nation. She wanted to blame only the leaders for their malignancy but they would never obtain power without support of the very people they come to persecute. For reasons mysterious to her the same folk whose lives would be destroyed willed people such as Muglair into power, foolishly placing above the lives of their loved ones the abstractions of causes and movements and great ideas. It was as if the world collectively tired of the humdrum of daily existence and periodically demanded its violent disruption. It was as if the need for historical drama trumped the need for love, as if the desire for small advantage in factional conflict outweighed the harms of war. But what father did not regret his pugilism when his own son was run through by bayonet? What mother did not regret her self-righteousness when her own daughter was tied to a daisy chain and launched into space? Only by the time of such regrets it was too late to revert to the peace that allows love to flourish. Were people so blind that they could not conceive what was done to others could be done to themselves? The Mothers had the right idea. They understood that the nurture of children was the highest calling in life and could be achieved only when all people forswore violent solutions to allow mutual flourishing. The social compact worked only when people accepted that their ability to love required allowing others to love. But even that was not enough because the impulse to destruction ran too deep in humanity. People who lived common lives as bakers and cobblers in times of peace served as Bogin’s executioners in times of war. People who treated their neighbor’s children to sweets in one era rounded up those same children for slaughter in another. Perhaps the evil of Muglair lay dormant in all people waiting to be released in the right circumstances, the malignancy of great men made possible by the collective animus of the common people. Perhaps the fate that awaited the planet from the Flume was just desserts, and the Creator of this awful order, the programmer of the code that gave life to the iterations, did give humanity the power of choice, and they chose to exercise this power murderously.

She was not without hope for the next iteration. She had a plan for stopping the planet’s destruction, for ending the awful cycle and the launching of the Oopsah, but even if she prevailed how long would it last? Would not some future Muglair come to power and destroy the world anyway? Maybe all she could do was buy time for her immediate family but some future generation, including her descendants, would face the same doom. Whose fault was the current conflict anyway? Surely it was Muglair’s for rigging the planet for destruction. But was it not also Arland’s for supporting the hated Inta regime and generating the resentments that found full blossom in Muglair? Or was it Arland’s fault for abandoning the Skavian Inta in the great repression and allowing the Hutmen to come to power. Perhaps the Hutmen were always going to destroy the planet given the chance and the fault lay in giving them that chance. Maybe no matter how many twists in the course of history all paths led to the same destination. Not everyone in the world placed aggression above harmony. For most of the planet’s existence people had not engaged in widespread open conflict, these episodes being the short but violent culmination of tensions building during peace. But even in peace the need to oppress and gain advantage over fellow humans seemed the driving force of history, and without such exercises of raw power the impulses that give birth to war would not gain traction. Perhaps the need to use would always trump the need to love. Perhaps self-interest would always be a stronger force than empathy. Perhaps continuous bloodshed for tribal advantage was the price of society. Perhaps it was rational that people organize to gain advantage through force, to augment wealth and prevent others from reversing the arrow of power. It occurred to her that the greatest bulwark against destruction should be the people who do not care about great ideas, the ones naturally focused on home and community without regard to the advantages they can glean from subjugation of others. But how can such people be expected to restrain abuses of power when by nature they are disinterested in power? This was the central paradox, that those who might live in peace lack facility for making it so.

Ivy Morven saw two futures for the world, the Notches and Dunder, the one with people so occupied by daily living and relationships and marriage and children and vocations and avocations and petty distractions and harmless passions that tribal identities were irrelevant, the other the logical conclusion of a world that conditions tribal fulfillment on elimination of rivals, the one founded on personal love, the other on group hate, the diametric poles of loving the familiar and crushing the other, an antithesis of love and power, empathy and sociopathy, that magical day in the angle versus the sleeping potion in Harmour, the joy of the birthing board versus the daisy chains of Dunder. Both worldviews claimed similar ultimate aims of prosperity and common welfare, only one embraced these goals with the world in its existing state with all its imperfections as a reasonable compromise for mutual happiness, and the other sought monumental slaughter on the false promise of achieving the same state without imperfections. Ivy had a plan for undoing the awful climax of the current iteration and she prayed that the next life could be governed by people capable of love who would not destroy the planet. She could not will this to happen but she could will its potential. She was giving to humanity the opportunity to end the cycle of destruction, for the future of Hope and all children, and she could do no more.

She fell asleep in Mutt’s arms for how long she did not know. They awoke as the Order filed back into the vault, their drab robes swishing solemnly, comically self-important to Ivy’s eyes. Who were these people who had appropriated for themselves the power over future iterations? Could any group be less qualified to control destiny? They had taken this cosmic power and lent it to the service of an eternal sociopath. What sickness lay in the process of selection that would lead to an Order such as this? It was the same problem of disinterest that doomed all of humanity’s endeavors. Only people who care about power gain power, and they seldom care for anything else. The lead father began to speak but Ivy cut him off, regaining her focus and remembering who she was.

“Silence,” she said. “I need no words. Step before me and kneel.”

The lead father, knowing now he was witness to the eternal change, stepped forward and kneeled.

“We will do as you bid, my lady.”

“Yes, you will,” said Ivy. “We have work to do.”

It was time to rewrite the code.

***
The inscription took over a day. Ivy had one final task for the Order before departing. She called the lead father to the wall where she was standing and handed him her panties, which she had kept off after her coupling with Mutt.

“Place these in the coffin.”

This was startling to the father but he accepted that it could not be sacrilege for her word was now sacred. With the help of his fellows he unclasped the lid of the coffin, stirring dust that had lain undisturbed for eons, and tossed the panties onto the bones and tattered cloth remaining from the last iteration of Tobor Zranga. The glint of a dagger shone amid bones as the fathers closed the lid shut.

There, she thought. He may sniff them for eternity.

Mutt was silent on the ride back. Her capacity to stun him was unlimited. He finally spoke up.

“So Tobor thought he was God?”

“He thought he was the Controller.”

“But you are the Controller.”

“Yes.”

“Does that make you God?”

“No, I’m just a random woman. I didn’t ask for this role. I want to end it. I don’t want this ever to happen again.”

“Then who is God?”

“I don’t know but I do know something about Him. He is not a deity. He is an author. He doesn’t care about our lives. He only wants an interesting story. He concocted this living hell because it amuses him to watch us try to escape. It’s like a maze with endless loops. But I am trying to break through the wall. All I want is a full life. I want to watch our daughter grow up. I want to cry at her wedding. I want to give her all the siblings you want whether you regret it later or not. I want to grow old with you. You are the only person who ever loved me, and the only person I will ever love, in this life, or the next, or any other. And when we do break through, I want to die a natural death, with our children at my side, and their children too, and pass into oblivion never to return. And I will slice off that man’s head and stuff it in a bag as many times as I must to make this happen.”

Mutt decided she was crazy after all. But it was a good kind of crazy. He leaned over and rested his head on her shoulder while she steered. He felt almost like he was the girl seeking comfort in the other’s strength. Ivy was protecting him, and he wanted to be protected. “I do not believe I ever found you more attractive,” he said, “than when you pulled the head of Tobor Zranga from your satchel and threw it at the lead father of the Order of Fajuyt.” He had never been more sincere.

After another hour in the tunnel he asked, “What happened the last time you were here?”

“I don’t know. Somehow I managed to get into the vault and inscribe the final sheet even without the proof of pie. It must have been quite a scene.”

Mutt laughed. Ivy Morven was a force of nature. No order of self-important men in robes could defy her.

“The pie sheet was staggered. I wrote out the code in such a way I could not read it all at once. I was trying to guide the future in steps. We were never a couple in the last iteration but we did meet at the Edge when I took your prints. My prior self had an intuition about you, and so I sent myself back to the Edge. But I have to tell you something.”

He perked up apprehensively.

“In the last iteration I was trying to save Celeste. It was love for that child that drove me into the vault. My prior self had accepted Tobor’s rape and by the time I took action she was the light of my life. I had to protect her from Muglair’s destruction and I had to protect her from Tobor, for I knew what he would do to her. So my plan for this iteration was to escape Tobor while letting him stop Muglair. I did not understand in that world how I would react in this world when so much information was laid before me. I do not believe my prior self ever suspected the revulsion I would feel. Celeste was real to her, a living breathing child who had suckled at her breast, but she was to me an abstraction, a symbol of my enslavement to evil in Harmour. Mutt, I’m not sure how I can ever live with myself in this or any future world. I murdered the person I cared most about in my prior life. I would like to erase from the future my knowledge of Celeste but I cannot. The Oopsah must stay as written so that Tobor is stripped of the power of change, and that includes the family photograph, God how it stabs my heart, the monster and the angel, the driving forces in my life, side by side whipsawing me for eternity. I cannot change this brutal image. As soon as anything changes I can no longer control Tobor, and I have to delay that moment as long as possible.”

Mutt did not know how to comfort her.

“Ivy, our life together was built upon your choice. I have always found strength in your strength, and we must preserve the life we have created for next time. You should never have been put in that situation. There was no way out without agony. But you have always had the ability to accept the choices foisted upon you by fate, to make a decision, and to move forward. You cannot look back and blame yourself.”

Ivy was sinking into despondency. “You yourself said I was a monster.”

“I took it back. I said it only because my ego was wounded. Celeste is not of this world. Hope is real, she is the child you suckled in our life, the child born of our love, and you cannot mourn Celeste without wishing Hope away. Your choice has been made and you cannot destroy new life by regretting the old. When I decided in the Notches to commit to you forever, I knew I was giving up Shivaree, but to give you up was worse. Now you have to accept that losing Celeste was the price of having Hope, and to lose Hope would be worse.”

Ivy could not speak. She so appreciated his kindness. He was trying to buck her up in a moment of despair, to give her the fortitude she had so often given him. But she could not purge her mind of that awful image, the face of perfect innocence asking “why mommy? why?”, the child into which she had poured her whole being in a prior life and snuffed so unnaturally in this life, and she wanted to die. She so longed to take Hope in her arms and forget that face, but she would carry the image in her heart forever, her love for Hope haunted by a lost child in a lost world.

They rode silently up the tunnel for another hour, Ivy lost in ruminations of her wickedness, Mutt not knowing how to comfort her. She wondered if what Tobor did to her even was rape. It was not recognized as such in Skava where husbands had complete dominion over their wives’ bodies. Was it fair that Celeste pay the price for the exercise of his lawful right? She could feel nothing but blackness toward that man but perhaps that was a measure of her own iniquity. She had accepted her fate in past lives and could have done so in this one. The irony was that her violent reaction to learning of her pregnancy in Harmour had been prompted by a prior self who was only trying to save Celeste. But if the new Ivy had chosen Hope over Celeste, if she had so desperately wanted a child born of love, could she have done a poorer job of protecting that child? The world was spinning toward destruction and she was the only person who could have stopped it. Why had she not realized that Tobor would let the world go if Celeste was lost in this life? Why had she not seen that preserving his seed was more important to him than toppling Muglair? She wondered if the awful experiences since the Notches had been a divine test of her new love, if the reason she had to wait another iteration for a normal life was to prove in this life that she was worthy of the next. Was it possible the deepening of their love in Irla would carry over to the next life? She did not think it fair that fate would impose such obstacles to something as natural as a woman’s love for a man. Mutt decided to break the silence.


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