She isn’t alone.
Harrow missed the splish of a body breaking through the surface of the pool, didn’t hear the splash as they emerged, but the change is palpable. Audible. She listens to the soft drumming pat, pat, pat of water droplets smacking against stone and her fingers press down against the cold steel of Nav’s sword. The feel of it no longer fills her with nauseating distress. Instead, the weight is a grounding comfort against her chest and stomach. It tethers her in place, ensures that she doesn’t float away. She can smell the salt in the air. If she wets her lips, she’ll taste it sharp on her tongue.
Harrow takes a deep breath and opens her eyes. There is no one in her line of sight. To her left, nothing but the dark glass wall of the mausoleum. She expects that. The dripping water is coming from her right. She turns her head.
The Body stands beside her, still as a statue and heartbreaking in her beauty. She looks down at Harrow, her sensual mouth set in a line, her eyes a thick muddy yellow. Water drips from her hair, runs in rivulets down her forehead and falls in drops from the tips of her dark eyelashes.
“You’re back,” Harrow says. Her voice feels thick in her throat, gummy. “I wasn’t sure you’d find me here.”
When the Body does not respond, Harrow removes one hand from the sword--just the one-- and reaches out for her love. She could never touch the Body before, had tried and failed and tried again. The rules are different here. When Harrow holds out her hand, the Body takes it, and for the first time since she was a child, for the first time since her bruised and bloodied fingers touched the frozen hand of the girl entombed, Harrow feels her cold dead skin press to cold dead skin. The Body’s eyes are liquid amber. They grow wider at Harrow’s touch and Harrow has to look away. Those eyes are nearly impossible to behold now without Harrow’s heart shuddering out another name.
In the Tomb, the Body’s eyes were closed, eyelids lined with delicate blue veins, her eyelashes careful black fans against her icy cheeks. When Harrow was young, the Body’s eyes were dark-ringed Drearburh eyes, Ninth eyes. They matched Harrow’s in color and tone and depth. Somehow, in the throes of her suffocating grief, Harrow has rewritten her mind’s code, revised the Body’s features. She understands why she did it. The thought of never seeing those eyes again was too much for Harrow to bear, but this isn’t her cavalier. This isn’t her Gideon Nav. This is Teacher’s Annabel Lee with Nav’s eyes and Nav’s arms, with Nav’s smile and Nav’s sword.
Have they always shared the same smile? When Harrow was young, the Body’s smile reminded her of her mother with the muscular arms of Captain Aiglamene. She looks nothing like Pelleamena Novenarius now, even less like Aiglamene. Harrow has never been able to guess the color of the Body’s hair, but she knows it isn’t red. She remembers how vibrant Gideon’s hair was, even wet with the water of the Canaan House pool.
“You’re a dream,” she concludes.
“Then sleep,” the Body agrees.
I pray that the tomb is shut forever. I pray that the rock is never rolled away. I pray that which was buried remains buried, insensate, in perpetual rest, with closed eye and stilled brain
The Body is gone and Harrow is alone. She sits up in her deathbed, palms propped against glass and stone. Her left hand slips on the shining flimsy of a forgotten magazine and she tosses it away with barely a glance. She’s more careful with the sword. She sets it aside, shivers at the catching scratch of the tip against the stone. It feels lighter here than it ever felt those past months; buoyant. She stands and lifts it, holds it the way that Camilla Hect showed her to hold it. Harrow isn’t a Lyctor here, but the sword feels good in her hands with her fingers tight on the handle, the steel of the crossbars chilly against the curl of her thumb.
She stands like that for a long moment, but she isn’t sure what to do next. There’s nothing here to stab, barely enough room to swing, and in truth, she’s endured nine months of training and she still can’t wield a sword, not really. She can’t wield a rapier and she can’t wield Gideon Nav’s beloved two-hander. It doesn’t matter now. Gideon will teach her body to wield it, likely has done already, and there’s nothing to fight here except revenant glow worms.
Harrow sets the sword down and picks up the magazine instead. Frontline Titties of the Fifth. She expects to open it and find the pages blank, the cover just a front for a lot of nothing inside--it isn’t a real publication, after all. The pages aren’t blank. The woman on the cover looks uncomfortably similar to Marta Dyas. The woman on the back bears a striking resemblance to a more robust Captain Deuterous. So much for the Fifth, though Harrow thanks her subconscious for sparing her a topless Magnus Quinn. Harrow opens the magazine and braces herself for the likeness of Abigail Pent staring back at her with come-hither eyes.
There is no Quinn or Pent to be found here. Instead, every interior page contains the likeness of Gideon Nav. Gideon in a white Cohort shirt, sleeves pushed up to her elbows. Her forearms are beautiful, bronze skin kissed by Dominicus. Her long fingers are wrapped around a steaming mug of coffee or tea.
The next page shows Gideon with her hair combed back, better tamed than Harrow’s ever seen it in life. She’s buttoned up in a fitted white suit. Her fingers are adorned with more rings than the fingers of the Crown Princess of Ida, her slacks are tighter than those of Naberius Tern. A sharp little crown adorns her head and her hand clutches the hilt of a jeweled rapier. Harrow turns the page.
This spread has Gideon decked out in Ninth robes, wrists wrapped in prayer bones, veils obscuring her red hair. Her face is painted with great care, with extraordinary detail. It is not a sacramental skull design that Harrow recognizes. The black lines of the jaw curl and swirl Gideon’s face to highlight her cheekbones. Next page.
Here is Gideon with that heartbreaker smile, with a sword in her hand and bare arms flexed. The veins are prominent on the backs of her hands. Her shoulders are dusted with constellations of dark freckles. Harrow turns the page, her heart in her throat.
Gideon Nav again, a long stretch of bare back, her trousers hanging low on her hips. Harrow presses a finger to Gideon’s shoulders. Her chest aches. A drop of water falls on the page and she realizes it’s a tear.
She’s not sure how long she’s been crying.
She slaps the book shut, rolls the flimsy in her hand.
The magazine is dangerous. It’s far more dangerous than the sword, than the pool or the coffin. Even the chains, those thick metal cuffs, are less threatening to Harrow’s well-being than this packet of flimsy. The magazine would shatter Harrow, would tear her apart. It would try to put her together again but would shove her pieces into all the wrong places.
Harrow walks down the path, past the pillars to the edge of the pool. Before she can change her mind, she drops the flimsy into the water and watches as it sinks.
By the time Gideon appears in Harrow’s resting place, Harrow’s half expecting her. She’s thought of nothing but her cavalier on those sheets of flimsy since she tossed them into the water. They weren’t even inappropriate pictures, necessarily, and yet. And yet.
She can’t sleep.
She sits in the center of her mausoleum and she tries to feel what Dulcinea Septimus felt. She tries to find Gideon above her, outside the River, alive and well and kept safe within Harrow.
She feels nothing and she curses the Ninth, curses her limited knowledge, the narrow focus of her studies.
She does sleep, eventually, and then Gideon is there.
The Gideon that appears at her side is too quiet. She’s unconvincing. She isn’t right because she isn’t real. She’s a mockery and Harrow closes her eyes to block her out. Harrow has returned to this, her home, because it was the only viable option. This was her only choice.
“Nav,” she breathes. She’s crying again. She can feel the tears hot on her cheeks.
When Gideon touches her face, she startles and opens her eyes. Gideon swipes a thumb across Harrow’s cheek, wipes away her tears. She pulls Harrow toward her with big solid hands and Harrow starts to fight it, knows she won’t win. She gives in, lets herself be pulled until the side of her face is pressed to Gideon’s chest.
Gideon’s too cold.
It isn’t real.
Harrow holds on tight.
This next time she appears, Harrow finds Gideon leaning against the side of the coffin. She examines the edge of her sword, her mouth twisted in concentration. Harrow’s barely touched this sword--any imperfections are not her doing--but she can only imagine what condition she left Nav’s actual sword in. She’ll apologize. Eventually. For now she watches Griddle check it over, watches her run the tips of her fingers over the blade. Gideon has always loved that fucking sword. She obsessed over that sword above all else, gave it all her attention, all of her time for ten whole years.
“Griddle?” Gideon looks up, but her head turns in the wrong direction. She looks out to the entrance of the mausoleum, to the water beyond. Harrow scans the glass walls, the ice and the broken chains. They’re alone here. There’s no sign of the Body, no sound except the tap of Gideon’s fingers against the flat of her blade.
“Hello?” Gideon asks.
Harrow speaks again, but Gideon ignores her, stands and walks to the entrance of the mausoleum, her sword propped back against her shoulder. Harrow remembers how the Sleeper infiltrated the Master Warden’s bubble, and she pushes herself to her feet and follows after her cavalier.
The water is calm, the shore at the other side is empty. Above them, the luminescent worms writhe, slow and lazy. The ceiling of the cave throbs with their light, pulsates in time with their movement.
“There’s no one here.”
Gideon still does not react to her voice. That’s all right. Harrow’s used to quiet women, to the Body at her side, standing in the background of Harrow’s daily life, a silent sentinel.
“Are you her?” Harrow asks. “Are you Annabel?”
She reaches out, pushes the cloak from Gideon’s shoulder and exposes the skin beneath, that universe of dark spots, paint splattered across skin. Gideon shivers and pulls the cloak back. She wraps it tight around herself and leaves the water behind. She walks back through the pillars, back toward the relative comfort of Harrow’s home.
Harrow follows. By the time she enters the mausoleum, Gideon is back on the altar, leaning against the coffin with her sword in her hand.
“There you are,” Gideon says. “Where have you been?”
“Nowhere,” Harrow says. “Right here.”
Gideon does not seem to see her and she does not speak again.
The Body is back, watching her again with stolen eyes. Harrow loves the Body with her whole heart and her entire soul, with undying fervent devotion. There are many kinds of love in the universe. Familial, Affectionate, Romantic, Obsessive, Selfless. Harrow always believed that over the years she has felt them all centered around this one woman. The strangeness of the eyes do not matter. The eyes do not change Harrow’s heart or her soul. She should not attempt to compare.
She does it anyway. She can’t help herself.
One blazing look from Gideon Nav is enough to ignite Harrow with frustration and anger, with embarrassing longing that pulls and twists in her gut, with a yearning warmth that Harrow spent years refusing to acknowledge or examine. She wrote it off as jealousy, as a desperation for a freedom that she should not crave and that they did not deserve nor need.
These eyes looking down at her now are the exact same yellow, burning suns, but they’re burning out. Dimmed with death, and compared to eyes that always blazed with life, they lack the energy for ignition.
She tries not to think about the state of her body when she left the Mithraeum, of her rapier poking obscenely from her gut or the corridor crawling with heralds. Gideon was awake and she was the greatest swordswoman Harrow had ever seen. In Harrow’s body, Gideon lacks her usual strength, but Gideon is resourceful in a fight and fast on her feet. And now she’s a Lyctor. A space station full of insanity bees is Gideon Nav’s idea of a good time.
“Did you see my body?” Harrow asks. Her heart knows the answer, but she cannot resist the need for confirmation.
Harrow breathes a sigh of relief. It’ll be a very long time before Harrow sees her again. Gideon Nav is built to endure.
Harrow wakes to the sound of water splashing. She sits up and rubs a hand across her eyes. Outside this room, down the slope and at the edge of her island, Harrow’s cavalier is sitting with her feet dangling in the water. Gideon doesn’t seem to notice the crust of ice on the surface of the pool, doesn’t seem to mind the cold.
“Get away from there,” Harrow warns from the strange nonsensical warmth of her icy bed. “You’ll freeze.”
When Gideon doesn’t answer her, Harrow climbs out of her coffin and moves down the path to stand beside her cavalier. She wraps her arms right around herself and wonders what would happen if she threw herself in. Would Gideon follow her? Would Gideon wrap her up in those strong arms again? She doesn’t jump. She settles on the ground beside Gideon instead.
Gideon pushes at one of her sleeves until the fabric bunches around her elbow and stays. The hair that dusts Gideon’s arm looks pale, bleached, like she’s spent time out on the terraces of Canaan House, basking in the heat of Dominicus. When Gideon’s arm falls back to rest at her side, Harrow carefully slides her fingers into Gideon’s hand. She gasps when Gideon tightens her grip.
They sit like that for a long time, Gideon’s legs swaying in the water, her skin healthy without a hint of hypothermia. Harrow is cold, shivering, but she’s been here long enough to know that the cold will not harm her. She can endure it. It isn’t real. Beside her, Gideon makes a small sound, a decisive little click with her tongue. She turns to Harrow and her face softens. Harrow’s been seen.
She forgets all about the cold, feels nothing but warmth when she looks at Gideon Nav and sees Gideon looking back with a certain intensity, a familiar fire in those yellow eyes. Gideon leans in, slow and careful.
“Nav?” Harrow asks. Her voice shakes, her heart in her throat.
“Do you really have the hots for some chilly weirdo in a coffin?”
Harrow freezes. They lived this moment before and it’s burned into Harrow’s memory, the heat in Gideon’s eyes and the careful smile pulling at the edges of her lips. There’s a split second--there--where Gideon betrays herself. Her eyes shift down to Harrow’s mouth for the briefest moment, a nanosecond, before she catches herself and snaps back, eyes locked to Harrow’s. It’s enough. Harrow understands the question. She understood it well enough then and she understands it even better now.
She does what she should have done that first time. She answers Gideon’s question with a kiss.
She moves in too quickly, pushes her mouth against Gideon’s with too much force. Teeth knock against lips and Harrow gasps. She stills, unsure what comes next, unsure how to correct all of the mistakes she’s already made. Harrow hasn’t learned a damn thing in the last eight months--Don’t think about any of that. She pulls back, just enough to start again and this time the touch of her mouth to Gideon’s is soft and tentative. This time it’s everything she expects it to be. This time Gideon kisses her back.
The kiss steals her breath away and she sways, lightheaded and suddenly entirely overwhelmed. Gideon steadies her with a hand against her cheek and Harrow turns into it, presses her mouth to Gideon’s palm. She bites at the soft skin, small nips that make Gideon gasp, make her pull Harrow’s mouth back to hers for another kiss. Harrow is whole again, alive again, a forgotten flower that unfurls with this one single touch. She doesn’t feel the icy water lapping against her toes. She doesn’t feel the cold stone. She feels nothing but Gideon, nothing but Gideon’s hands holding her close, nothing but Gideon’s mouth pressing careful sucking kisses to her lower lip. The next kiss is less gentle, suddenly desperate, absolutely searing. The next kiss is perfect in its need, in its imperfection.
Had Gideon understood then? Had she understood Harrow? It was always this. It was always Gideon asking: Do you have the hots for me? Is there hope for me? It was always Harrow responding in the only way she knew how: with deflection. It was their love language for so long, but a lot has changed in eight months. Harrow’s found a new language now, and a more honest response.
Beside her, Gideon is suddenly still. Unusually still. Still enough that Harrow panics, pulls back and starts to apologize.
Gideon shakes her head, grabs Harrow by the shoulders. Her eyes are wide, pupils big and dark.
“Really?” she asks, and the tone of her voice sounds so real that Harrow has to stop, has to make sure it’s still just a dream. Gideon looks real enough, but Harrow knows Gideon so well that she can reconstruct her perfectly in her mind, down to the two angry zits on her forehead and the dark round freckle just below her left ear.
“Yeah,” Gideon says. “Yeah, it’s me.”
It isn’t really Gideon, it can’t be, but it’s a very good likeness. Excellent quality. Harrow rejected the magazine, threw it away, but she can’t reject this revisionist history. She will break herself into a thousand shards for this. She will take herself apart for this, reassembly be damned. If she’s missing a few pieces afterward, well, she can’t possibly need those that much. She needs this more. She wants this more.
“Really,” she says, and then she kisses Gideon again.
These aren’t her first kisses--God, how she wishes it her first kiss--but they’re the first kisses that mean something. They’re the first ones she wants with her entire body and all of her displaced soul, and Gideon rises to meet her in kind. Harrow kisses Gideon’s crooked mouth, presses her tongue to that bottom lip, and Gideon shudders, big and beautiful beneath Harrow’s hands. Harrow’s knobby fingers press against the firm skin of Gideon’s arms and Harrow understands so much more now. Slow dizzying kisses, and Harrow understands the why of this. She understands the Fifth, understands how someone might want this so fervently and so often that they’d commit it to a marriage. In this moment Harrow knows for certain that she could kiss Gideon Nav every hour of every day for the next fifteen years, for the next thousand years, and never grow bored or tired. Over time they will become so intertwined that, even in a crowded room, she might lean in and kiss Gideon’s mouth without a second thought.
She might lean in for that kiss and her hand will come up, fingers gentle on Gideon’s cheek. “Godspeed, my darling,” she might say. And Gideon would respond: “You too, Sugarlips.”
This kiss fills Harrow with endless possibility, with a future brighter than she has ever managed to conjure for herself before, not even in her most intricate dreams, her most well-planned fantasies. Gideon kisses her and Harrow’s world explodes and remakes itself over and over again. Once again, Gideon is so close and Harrow is irreparably undone.
It’s a long time before they let go. When they do, Gideon lets out a long low whistle as she flings herself back to lie against the stones. She’s laughing and her whole body shakes with it. She presses the palms of her hands over her eyes. This makes the laughing look like crying, like the writhing agony of grief. Harrow waits for her shaking to subside. When it does Gideon’s hands fall out to her sides and she stares, blinking, up at the world of worms above.
“Wow, okay,” Gideon says after another stretched moment. “Yeah, confirmed. You really do want the D.”
Harrow starts. This does not sound like something she’d write into this dream. “The what.”
“The dead girls,” Gideon says, as though the explanation makes it better. Harrow sputters, pulls her feet back away from the icy pool and twists until she’s leaning over Gideon, looking down at her. Gideon’s eyes shine up at Harrow, incredibly alive, but Harrow remembers another time when she hovered like this over the body of her cavalier. She remembers another place where Gideon lay sprawled against stone, her eyes dull and empty with death. She remembers how she wailed, how her fingers trembled and her insides burned as she shut Gideon’s eyes for the last time.
She curled over Gideon’s prone form, her forehead pressed to Gideon’s slack mouth, and her hands stained sticky and red. Her heart is screaming. Harrow fell alongside Gideon on that terrace. She fell in tandem with her cavalier, and only realized what they had and what it meant in those final seconds just before it was all ripped away.
“You aren’t dead,” she says. She reaches for Gideon, her body curling in toward Griddle, muscle memory guiding the way. Her hands find Gideon’s face, Gideon’s slack, Gideon’s paper-thin eyelids beneath the tips of her fingers. Gideon catches her before Harrow tries to close Gideon’s eyes. With a wail building in her chest, threatening to erupt, Gideon grabs her and pulls her down. Harrow collapses against Gideon’s chest and it is intact and unmarred. Her cavalier holds her close, her big hand a comfort against the back of Harrow’s head. Harrow closes her eyes, lets herself be carried by the rise and fall of Gideon’s chest. She closes her eyes and imagines their bodies floating together, up and down in time with the tidal sway of the saltwater pool.
She wakes up alone, shivering on the stones.
The Body is back, contemplating Harrow with Nav’s eyes and Nav’s mouth, silent.
The Body is there, leaning against the wall of the mausoleum, the dripping magazine in her hand.
She looks up and catches Harrow watching.
“I read them for the articles,” she says in her many-layered voice. Harrow hears her father in the words, Sister Glaurica, and Crux. She feels sick. She turns her back and tries to sleep.
Harrow sits up with a start. It isn’t the voice she expects, nor is it one she’s heard here before. It isn’t Gideon or any of the many voices of the Body. It is, however, familiar. Presumably male.
“Hello?” Harrow asks. “Who is it?”
No response. She stands. The magazine lies on the floor, open and facedown. Harrow glances at the Cohort’s cavalier on the cover, at her Captain on the back. She pushes it over with the tip of her shoe so that the pages close, so she doesn’t have to wonder which version of Gideon Nav is pressed against the cold stones.
Harrow moves to the island’s edge and scans out across the frozen lake. Above her the worm lights dance, a starry revenant sky.
There’s no one there. Harrow is alone.
Gideon returns. Harrow meets her at the edge of the water. She stands a step behind Gideon. She resists the urge to wrap her arms around her cavalier, to press her face to the center of Gideon’s back. This might be a dream, but there are rules, there are limits. Harrow’s broken too many already.
Gideon says, by way of greeting: “So I noted last time--you didn’t disagree that you have it bad for me.”
Harrow pushes Gideon into the water.
She doesn’t surface again.
The Body stands at the entrance to the mausoleum.
“Annabel?” Harrow asks, though the name doesn’t feel right in her mouth. It feels like a lie.
The Body smiles—grins, really—crooked and so fucking familiar. Even her teeth look like Nav’s now, the incisors just a little bit crooked, a little sharp. She’s no longer wearing the tattered and stained Canaanite robe that she wore on the Emperor’s station. She’s back in the Ninth blacks of the Tomb.
The Body has something in her hands.
“What is that?” Harrow asks.
She unfolds her hand. It’s Gideon’s sunglasses. As Harrow watches, the Body unfolds the arms and slides them over her ears. The lenses obscure her eyes, but somehow make her even more reminiscent of Gideon.
Harrow shakes her head. She doesn’t know what this is. She wants nothing to do with this. She shuts her eyes and goes back to sleep.
The next time Gideon appears, Harrow tosses her rulebook aside and pulls Gideon down into a kiss. She intends to keep it quick and casual, Magnus Quinn kissing his wife before battle. It’s still too new and she fails, falling into the kiss, driving them forward with a press of teeth, with the slide of tongue and--
“I’ve got something to show you,” Gideon whispers against her lips. She kisses Harrow’s neck and stays there for a spell, hovering close by Harrow’s ear. “Come on, honey. Come home.”
Harrow feels heat gather in her chest, warm enough to melt the ice.
“I can’t,” she breathes.
“Are you ever coming back to me?”
Gideon shifts away to look at her. Her forehead is furrowed, her swollen mouth tight.
“Why the hell not? Are you lost? You’re the greatest necromancer of your generation--” Whoa, okay, out of character. It’s a sudden and overly harsh reminder that this is all a dream. It’s a bucket of icy water dumped over her head, a skeleton punting her into a pool. “--so why have I been waiting for months?”
Harrow gathers herself up, pulls herself together and shakes her head. “I can’t do that to you.”
Gideon turns away. She walks toward the door of the mausoleum and then she turns back fast, her cloak fanning out behind her. Her body looks tight with every fight they’ve ever had, every frustrating exchange of the last eighteen years. They could teach a master class in tearing each other apart. Her voice returns in a loud, frustrated shout: “God, you’re so fucking stubborn? Why won’t you just eat me already!?”
And then she’s alone, just Harrow and the sound of Gideon’s shout reverberating off ice and stone.
Gideon was very in character there by the end.
Her world shakes, side to side. Harrow holds on to the sides of the coffin, listens to the falling worms, the broken sound of stone hitting stone.
Gideon is speaking, but there is no sound. Gideon’s hands are moving, emphatic with explanation. Gideon is looking hard at Harrow with eyebrows raised. Harrow can’t hear a thing. It looks like Gideon’s just saying ‘God’ over and over again. “God, Harrow. God!”
“I don’t understand,” Harrow says. “Speak up, Griddle.”
Gideon stomps her foot against the stones, her fists clenched at her sides. She stares up at the ceiling and growls at the worms.
She says something else, something that Harrow can neither hear nor understand.
When Gideon gives up, she does it with a kiss, her body pressed up against Harrow’s, her hands tight to Harrow’s arms.
Harrow gasps at the intrusion. It’s the same voice as before, foreign and familiar. She waits, sure it’s in her head, but after a prolonged and pregnant pause, full-term, the voice returns:
“Harrow, are you here?”
She recognizes it. “Sextus?”
“Yes,” he confirms. His voice sounds far away. “Where are you?”
She rushes to the edge of the island and finds him there, standing in his grey Sixth robe on the opposite shore.
“Ah, there you are.” His body deflates and his back curls and Harrow recognizes this as relief.
“Did I call you in?” she asks, confused.
The Master Warden shakes his head. “No. I wish you had. We’ve been searching, knew you must have missed a thread somewhere, but it’s taken some time. You left a lot of dead ends. How many empty bubbles are you maintaining?”
“I don’t know,” Harrow admits. This is news to her.
He laughs at that. He looks up at the worms and does not seem impressed. Finally, he gestures to the water. “Is this the only way?”
“I’m afraid so.”
He sighs heavily and removes his robe. He drops it on the shore and dives into the icy pool, disappearing beneath the surface.
Harrow waits. She does not expect to see him again. Gideon disappeared into this pool and didn’t return for quite some time. Does he even know how to swim?
He emerges at the center of the pool, sputtering and swearing at the cold. When he makes it, finally, to her shore, she reaches for him, helps him up onto the chilly stones. He stands and shakes himself off, like a stray dog, all skin and bones.
This time she anticipates his hug, braces for it before it arrives, but lets it happen nonetheless. He’s soaked and he stinks of salt and dust. She lets him hug her anyway, carefully pats his back and feels ridiculous and awkward for it. He does not comment. This time, thankfully, he leaves both her feet on the ground.
She wipes salt water from her cheek and adjusts her clothes.
“This bubble is heavy. You’re very deep. I kept looking too close to the shore,” Sextus says. He looks around, at the glass and the ice of the mausoleum, at the altar and the coffin and the sword. “Why are you hiding here? Are you unable to return?”
“Would you return?” she asks, offended. He was, after all, the one who once sniffed at her with disdain at the mere thought of siphoning.
“Of course I’d return,” he says. He follows her into the mausoleum, looks around for a place to sit. There is nothing here but the coffin. He props himself against it, pushes the chains aside with a foot. “I did, in fact.”
She starts at this. “How?”
There are drops of water staining his glasses and he takes them off and shakes them. “I walked Camilla through it.”
“You’re a Lyctor?”
“Well,” he shrugs. “I’m not sure Lyctor is the right word in this instance.”
She watches him wipe the lenses against his sleeve. The sleeve is soaked and only makes them worse. She holds out her hand. “I don’t understand.”
“Our souls share the body of my cavalier. It’s a bit imperfect and backward, but it’s far better than trying to communicate with a single skeletal hand.” He passes her the glasses and she dries them against the fabric of her shirt.
“You absorbed her soul?”
“No, no, nothing like that,” Sextus says. He slides the glasses back onto his face. “Thank you for that. I thought perhaps you’d--no, Camilla’s still with us.”
Harrow freezes, her entire world slows to a stop. Even the worms above her head stop moving mid-dance. “How?”
“The same way that Gideon’s still with you. By slowing down the process. If not for the explosion, I’m sure we could have finished it--” he pauses and looks up at her. “Well, that’s why I’m here.”
He finds Gideon’s magazine pressed against the edge of her bed. She doesn’t remember placing it there. He flips through it, eyebrows high.
“And here I thought The Necromancer’s Marriage Season was bad.”
“Sextus,” Harrow warns. She grabs the magazine from him and tosses it back into the coffin. She does not flush, does not think of the many Gideons within those pages, does not flinch at the sound of marriage echoing back off the glass.
He nods to the sword. “She wanted to be the one to come for you,” he says. “It would have required soul siphoning--it was too risky to leave your body empty for even a brief amount of time, especially after what’s already happened.”
“What’s already happened?”
“I blame myself,” Palamedes says. “I should have seen it sooner, but with the body revived, we all thought you’d worked out how to bring her back. They had never recovered a cavalier’s corpse before and they thought, well--you were already far closer to getting it right than you realized.”
“Stop speaking in riddles before I drop you back in the River.”
“Something has taken control of Gideon Nav’s body,” Palamedes says. “Gideon believes it to be your--pardon me, these are her words--dead girlfriend from the Locked Tomb?” He clears his throat and looks vaguely embarrassed.
“Gideon’s body was not viable,” Harrow says. “I was there. I saw what was left of her.”
“Yes, I know,” Sextus agrees. “Camilla documented the state of the cavalier at the time of your ascension. I’ve read her report. There are other factors at play, but it’s a story that isn’t mine to tell. I’m simply the messenger sent to convince you that it’s time to return.”
“I can't risk it,” Harrow says.
“It’s perfectly safe,” he assures her. “The compartmentalization was completed months ago.”
“Compartmentalization?” Harrow asks.
“You both occupy the same vessel. When you are manning the body, your cavalier goes dormant—sometimes she’ll sleep, other times she’ll see and hear you, but intervention will be difficult.”
“But her soul will—“
Palamedes shakes his head.
“It won’t. Camilla’s hasn’t and nor has mine. In fact, to support our case, your cavalier claims to have met the cavalier of the Emperor’s Saint of Duty. The cavalier was conscious and present alongside her necromancer for ten thousand years, ultimately outlasting him.”
Harrow feels lightheaded at the thought. Harrowhark-and-Gideon inextricably intertwined for ten thousand years. It still isn’t enough. She sets a hand on the edge of the coffin to steady herself. He continues: “This is sustainable, but you, Reverend Daughter, would not have to sustain it forever.”--he says this as though it’s a blessing. If he only knew!--”If we can recover Nav’s body, there is a good chance you can still finish what you started on the First. You can finish it correctly and achieve His perfect Lyctorhood.”
Her head is spinning. How has she been so blind to this? She was so resolute in her grief that she turned her back to the possibility of anything except more devastating loss. “If I’m understanding you, then by correctly, you mean to say two layered souls spread across two separate bodies. An enhanced necromancer and an enhanced cavalier in tandem. Two Lyctors for less than the untenable price of one.”
Palemedes leans toward her, can’t seem to stop himself from smiling. “Precisely,” he says with a satisfied hiss. “The price of one is cruel, perverse. To choose to go down that road willingly is unconscionable. There are superior methods, and they are plain to see for anyone who takes the time to look.” He falls silent beside her, begins wringing water from his clothes. A small puddle forms on the stone at his feet.
“How long has it been?” she asks.
“One full year, measured by the rotation of the First.”
A year. Gideon has been out there, navigating Harrow’s body for a full year. By now Gideon must know her so well. She much be familiar with every inch. The thought is horrific, disastrous, but it doesn’t churn in her gut. Instead it settles within her like a blanket, a strange warm comfort, a calming weight. There is nothing left for her to hide. There is no longer a single reason to hold back. Gideon Nav has her, inside and out, body and soul.
Harrow takes one last look at her safehouse, at the glass and the ice, the sword and the altar, the comfort of her deathbed.
“She’s ready for me now?” Harrow asks.
She wakes back in her body, sprawled across an unfamiliar rumpled bed in an unfamiliar room, across from a very familiar face.
“Harrow?” Camilla asks. She’s leaning toward Harrow, elbows propped on knees, forehead furrowed. She reaches out to set a hand on Harrow’s knee.
“I’m here,” Harrow confirms. She pushes herself up and looks around the room. The windows are covered, but the noise beyond is loud, a cacophony of low growls punctuated by siren blasts and the occasional pop of what she can only assume is gun fire. She presses her hands to her ears and closes her eyes. “Where are we?”
“The Camael System,” Camilla says, loud enough to be heard through the press of Harrow’s hands. The name means nothing to Harrow, but before she can ask, Camilla stills. “He’s on his way back. Good to have you here, by the way. Okay, hold on.”
Harrow holds. The room is hot, sweltering. Her arms are damp and sticky with sweat. It’s then that she realizes she’s decked out in a sleeveless shirt and baggy shorts, that her pale legs are poking out from the openings like the flimsy bones of an amateur construct. There are thongs between her toes, and she kicks them off, draws her legs onto the bed beneath her. She grabs the rumpled blanket and wraps it around herself, but the increased heat is immediate and she feels like she might pass out. She pushes the blanket away.
Griddle’s sword is carefully propped beside the bed. There are several black weights in the corner that give Harrow pause. She reconsiders her bare arms, the slight bulge of muscle that definitely was not there when she left.
“Gideon?” she asks, just as Camilla shifts in her seat. Camilla lifts her a leg, crosses it at her knee.
“Right,” she says. She clears her throat. “You’re here already. Good. How does it feel?”
“Exposed,” Harrow admits. Camilla--Sextus--chuckles at that. He sits back in the chair and presses a finger to the bridge of his cavalier’s nose. He seems surprised to find she isn’t wearing his glasses and Harrow wonders how long it’s been for them. “And Gideon?”
Something within her shifts, a presence both foreign and familiar. Harrow’s heart rate spikes in response. “She’s here.”
“Good.” He pulls out a pad of real paper and a nub of a pencil. “I’ll give you two time to get settled, but I do have a few questions I’d like to ask first so that we can start our preparations.”
She wants to question what he means by preparations, but she’s distracted by this noisy world, the whirling knives spinning in a cage beside the bed. They push warm air toward her and it tickles at the hairs on her forearms.
“When you entered the Locked Tomb as a child, did you touch the woman buried within?”
“How do you—”Gideon”—Yes, I--I kissed her forehead and I touched her hand.” She says it fast, her voice clipped. She would not choose to discuss this with the Sixth.
“You touched the body’s hand with your fingers?”
“Yes, of course.”
“Did you touch her chains? I noted that in your mausoleum scene, the chains were broken and discarded on the floor”
“No,” Harrow says. “What does this—“
Sextus nods, lets out a breath as though he’s been holding it. “Then her body is still confined on the Ninth. That’s where she’ll go and it’s where we must follow.”
Harrow translates this. “Annabel Lee stole the body of my cavalier so that she can break into the Tomb and retrieve her own?”
“Annabel Lee is a pseudonym stolen from ancient poetry,” Palemedes says. Harrow manages not to groan. Why was it always poetry? “Her name, as I understand it, is Alecto the First.”
“Gideon is not a necromancer,” Harrow points out. “Her body can’t navigate the Tomb.”
Something within her shakes and Harrow stills, tries to understand it.
Sextus clears his throat again. “Yes, well. That’s where she’ll go, nevertheless, and we have reason to believe she will succeed. The Emperor and his remaining Lyctors will not be far behind.”
She wants to ask why they aren’t with Him, but more than anything she desperately wants to speak with her cavalier.
Was this what it was like? Gideon at Harrow’s helm in this claustrophobic room with its oppressive heat on this planet of hideous apparel and deafening noise? Harrow’s body with Gideon’s eyes and mannerisms, with Gideon’s expressions, subjected to Gideon’s horrendous fashion choices? There was a strange twist in her chest at the thought. This was how it would continue for Sextus and his cavalier. This was how it would continue for Harrow and Gideon, unless they can retrieve Gideon’s body, stolen by Harrow’s other heart, her beloved from the Tomb.
She stretches within herself, tries to touch the edges of her other soul. She needs to test, to understand how Gideon is situated within her. She wishes more than anything to be alone alone with her cavalier. It must be plain on her face, because Sextus coughs and Camilla’s body stands.
“We’ll leave you to it,” he says with Camilla Hect’s voice.
He shuts the door on his way out.
Harrow sits on the edge of the bed, her heart hammering in her chest, skipping and racing. She feels it in her fingers and her throat. She feels it sparking low in her gut.
“Gideon?” she asks again. There’s a pressure at the base of her skull and her hand slides toward the pocket of the oversized shorts. Harrow slips her hand within. There’s something there, a folded bit of paper. She pulls it out and turns it in her fingers. A note scrawled in Gideon’s hand. The outside is addressed: Mine Host, Proprietress of our Bod and below that The Girl of Your Dreams.
Harrow bites her lip to rein in her smile. She opens the letter.
Welcome back, my heart. My tiny home. Please tell me you’re planning to kiss me like that again after we wrestle my body back--” here Gideon has scribbled something out. Harrow’s pretty sure it reads --
from your thieving dead girlfriend.
It’s a bit presumptuous.
Harrow suspects that she doesn’t need to say anything in response. Gideon must be able to feel the heat rising up her neck and coloring her cheeks, her heart beating impossibly fast. If they weren’t a Lyctor, she might be concerned about that. Gideon is there in the back of her mind, their souls entwined, Gideon fitted right up against Harrow. Was there anything more intimate than this? Was there anything more intimate than sharing the same shell, two souls twisted, knotted together and tied? What was it but a marriage of minds, a marriage of souls, an unbreakable bond? Gideon fuels her, but she is not her furnace. She is her reason, her lifeline.
“If you’re lucky,” Harrow says aloud to the empty room. She feels Gideon’s soul shiver with anticipation.