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The Fate Of Meleager

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Growing up, Agnes Montague loved books. As anyone who knew anything about her could guess, this proved to be a bit of an issue for her. If she wanted to read herself, she would have to don a pair of clunky fireproof gloves which made handling the book and turning the pages a very involved process that often left her fuming and throwing the book down or allowing it to go up in flames in a moment of rage. She always regretted doing the latter. Often she would simply request that the older members of the Cult read to her instead, and the books they chose were never her favorite options, but beggars can’t be choosers in those kinds of situations.

However there was one book they read to her that she never got tired of, one on Greek Mythology. Over and over, tales of heroes, gods, and monsters would be read aloud to her and she would sit in rapt silence. The members of the Cult took to calling her their little Demophon, telling her that as she grew her mortality would be burned away as his was and she would come into her true power as a being of pure scorching light. But she found herself strangely more drawn to the story of Meleager. Perhaps she found kinship in their similarities, both of them having unavoidable destinies that would end in fire. There was also the notable fact that Meleager’s life was literal kindling, much like her own, though hers was in a much more figurative sense. But she always felt sorry for him. How long he refused to fight and as soon as he did he died for it.

She brought up her enjoyment of that story only once. The caregiver she had that day had spat out that Meleager was a coward and his mother, Althaea, was the hero of that story. Her caregiver didn’t say much else after that besides a few tortured screams.

Agnes kept her favorite story to herself after that. She played it over in her head while falling asleep, and never commented on it while it was read through on the off chance the others started skipping it over. Not that it mattered. As she got older the other members of the Cult decided she needed “socializing” and Agnes found herself going a long while without any books.

The older kids at the house on Hilltop Road were too frightened of Agnes to read to her.

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Agnes didn’t know when exactly she stopped aging, but she knew that she did. She was 34 years old, looking in her bathroom mirror and realized she did not look 34. She still looked as though she were in her early twenties. She leaned forward, tilting her head side to side, examining the corners of her eyes and mouth searching where first signs of wrinkles ought to be but found nothing.

Right. That’s weird. She thought to herself. She realized this most likely had to do with her powers. As a flame she would simply continue to burn unless she was no longer fed or actively doused. She contemplated how long it would take for the Scorched Earth to be achieved and if this meant she was functionally immortal until it came to pass, wondered how many people she would outlive.

And then she decided there was no point focusing on it and promptly put it out of her mind.

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Agnes stood in a clearing. No, clearing wasn’t the right work for it. Five acres of decimated forest stretched out around her and a pyre with still-hot embers sat at her feet. On the other side of the pyre, a shrewd looking old woman stood staring at her over half moon glasses with an eyewear chain dangling on each side. She was dressed like a librarian in a button up shirt under a cardigan with a brown plaid skirt that fell mid-calf. Agnes might have laughed if she didn’t know exactly how dangerous this woman was. She wouldn’t do anything to anger her. She did decide to break the silence though.

“So, what have you done to me?” Agnes asked, “Is this a ritual to kill me?”

“Hardly,” Sniffed Gertrude, “I’ve merely bound you to me.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Agnes bit out.

“In simple terms it means,” Gertrude said slowly, as if explaining to a rather dull child, “You are now tied to this world. To your mortality. There will be no Scorched Earth in your future I’m afraid.”

Perhaps she expected Agnes to be angry and lash out. But she wasn’t, she was just… confused. Scared maybe. Gertrude gave a smug smile.

Scratch that, Agnes was definitely angry.

“And what if I just killed you?” Agnes raised her voice slightly, trying to hide the waver of panic that colored her fury, “It would be easy, I’d hardly even blink with the effort.”

“Oh I’m sure of that,” Gertrude laughed, “But you’ll find that you’d be dead as well.”

Agnes was quiet for a moment, letting that sink in and felt a knot of dread forming in the pit of her stomach.

“Well then, why did you call me here?” The panic was now plainly evident in her voice, but Agnes didn’t care, “You could have done this ritual and then left it at that. We wouldn’t have even known until we attempted the Scorched Earth. You didn’t need to call me here.”

“You’re right about that, considering I did this ritual nearly thirty years ago.” Agnes was taken aback by this, but Gertrude continued before she could say anything, “I did bring you here for a reason. I’ll be honest I never intended on informing you of this ritual, I’d have rather let you all figure it out yourselves as your attempt crashed down about your ears.”

“What’s your reason then?” Agnes asked.

Gertrude hesitated, then-

“I need a favor.”

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Emma Harvey’s house went up fairly quickly, but then cobwebs always did seem to burn easily. Unsurprisingly Agnes had not turned up her nose at this request for a favor, she had never liked the Web and was more than willing to rid the world of one of it’s avatars. As she and Gertrude watched it burn from the sidewalk, she turned to her companion.

“I agreed to do this for you, but you need to know this is a one time deal.” She said, “No more favors. From either of us.”

Gertrude’s eyes never left the flaming windows of Emma’s flat.

“No more favors.” She murmured in agreement.

They were silent for a few more moments before Agnes sighed.

“What am I supposed to do with myself now?” She’d been able to put it off while focusing on the goal of getting rid of Emma, but now that had been completed, it finally hit her how aimless and lost she felt without the promise of the destiny she’d grown up believing in. Gertrude turned and faced her and there was something Agnes might call pity shining in her eyes.

“I suggest,” Gertrude said, “You start living.”

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Agnes didn’t fully know how to carry out Gertrude’s advice, but she did take it to heart. “Living.” What had Gertrude meant by “living”? She began examining what her day to day life looked like. She woke up, ate, put on the tv or an audiobook (a blessed invention in her opinion), and spent her days roaming her flat. Sometimes she’d take a cab to the library for more audiobooks. And if she wasn’t listening to an audiobook or the tv she was staring out her window and daydreaming for hours at a time. Picturing herself as a character in a million different storylines. Sometimes she would try to daydream about the Scorched Earth, what it would look like and the things she would do once it arrived. She didn’t dwell on those imaginings often, they were a bit too bleak for her tastes and often ended with her accidentally setting something alight. The only excitement she had were the occasional meetings with other members of the Cult to find new victims to draw fear from, and even she never delighted in it as much as they did, it was simply a break in the monotony.

To her, that was what “living” had always been. She didn’t exactly have a scope of what “normal life” looked like compared to her own. So she turned to her books. Novels about ordinary people, and what their daily activities were described as.

So she began testing the waters of “normal life”. She started walking wherever she needed to go. She went to the cinema every once in a while and would take occasional walks in the park. Sometimes a stranger would even pause their activities to start a conversation with her! It was surprisingly easy to make small talk with someone, there was no making vague threats or stalking or striking fear into their hearts. It was simply comments on the weather or someone asking for directions or recommendations for good restaurants nearby. This last request had struck her the first time she heard it as she realized she didn’t really know the answer.

She didn’t need food, not it the way humans did. Typically she just needed to occasionally set something or someone on fire and that would sustain her for a couple weeks or so depending on how big the fire was. But that didn’t mean she couldn’t eat. She tried several restaurants but found that nearly everything she tried was bland. She began to be more daring, ordering more and more less frequently purchased items from different menus until she found that she could, in fact, taste spicy food. The spicier it was, the better it tasted. Her favorite food she had found so far was kolhapuri chicken from a nearby Indian restaurant. The waiter who took her order looked amused the first time she ordered it and seemed thoroughly startled when he collected her completely empty plate from her at the end of the meal.

One thing people really seemed to enjoy doing was “going out for coffee.” Personally she didn’t care for coffee. It was bitter and bland and only really ever had a hint of flavor if she brought it up to scalding temperatures. She did, however, enjoy walking into the cafe to the tinkle of the bell over the door, ordering “Just one black coffee for me, but leave a little extra room for milk please,” and sitting in a booth by the window cradling the mug in her hands for an hour or so before getting up and leaving. It became a regular habit, though she never actually drank her coffee. She still couldn’t stand the taste of it. It was more about adding to the ambience. This routine felt cozy, like a scene she would read in one of her books.

Was this what Living felt like?

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But then something began to bother her during her coffee shop visits. While, yes, there were many people there alone, mainly university students with their laptops open and a textbook in their lap, most people came with someone else. Couples, friends, family members coming in talking animatedly with one another and laughing over inside jokes. She noticed recently that something bitter had begun swirling in her chest whenever she saw these people. She thought perhaps it could be jealousy. Or a strange sort of yearning.

She’d never had someone make her laugh like that, carefree and joyful, not since she was a child and even then it was only because her caregivers were trying to keep her mood up in order to avoid a quick and fiery end. All she had was the Cult members reverence and praise. And Agnes… was tired of that. She’d never enjoyed it to begin with but ever since she’d found out her powers would never be fully realized, everytime the members of the Cult would wax poetic about the new world she would bring had been grating on her nerves. She’d never had someone who watched her with pure parental adoration. She’d never had a friend that smiled all while they talked and laughed and shared. She’d never had someone brush their hand against hers or look at her with a tender adoration.

But giving and receiving love, having that closeness, that might be something she had the chance to do now. Her powers would never be fully realized, the ritual never completed, and now she had an honest to goodness future to consider. The destiny that had both excited and frightened her was off of her shoulders. That was something she still wasn’t quite sure how to feel about but perhaps now she could think about things like friendship and closeness and love. Perhaps… she let her eyes drift over to the counter where she locked eyes with the man behind the counter. He blushed and his eyes darted away. This wasn’t the first time this had happened, and she’d be lying if she said she hadn’t thought his messy hair and dark eyes to be endearing more than once. Yes. Perhaps.

For the first time in her life Agnes allowed herself the pleasure of a dream for her future, one that was completely and fully her own.

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When Jack stumbled through a very clumsy, very cute request for a date, Agnes was so thrown off that she simply smiled, agreed, and left the coffee shop, not realizing until afterwards that they hadn’t actually made plans on when or where this date would take place. She glanced back through the window and saw that he was still standing by her table, staring confused at her still hot coffee. Was that… Yes it was. A hint of fear. He wasn’t quite terrified, it was more of a nervous intrigue but that was enough. She had planted just a little seed of fear in him and she could use it to find him later. Eventually the fear would leave him so long as she didn’t do anything drastic to expand upon it, and really what was the point of having fear powers if she couldn’t at least use them to her own benefit. So long as she kept the Desolation happy, she could see no harm in using her powers to help push along her love life.

So she found him the next day and they went on their date.

Then they went on several dates over the course of the month.

And Agnes was feeling liberated. They went on walks in the park, he introduced her to some of his favorite movies and shows, they went to get dinner and would spend hours talking to one another about simple mundane things in their daily lives and yet she couldn’t get enough of it. She learned that his favorite color was yellow, his favorite tea was jasmine, and he loved watching any movie or tv show that had to do with anything sci-fi or fantasy. She also learned that he had three older brothers who were all successful in their lines of business (two were lawyers, one an accountant), but he had decided to go into the music industry. So far he hadn’t much luck success-wise but he had a wonderful singing voice in her opinion and she told him, as they were on one of their walks, that she was sure he would take off soon. He smiled so brilliantly at that and thanked her. As he looked at her though, there was something in his gaze. Something gentle and deep that caused Agnes to feel heat rising in her cheeks. This was new.

She knew she couldn’t take his hand, but in that moment she felt she had never wanted anything so desperately. She wanted to hold his hand, to hold him, to kiss him. She held herself back from it though, knowing what the outcome would be. She worried for a moment that he might take offense to her always seeming to keep her distance but Jack had never made her feel pressured to do anything. He never moved to put an arm around her or take her hand in his. He seemed content to just walk with her and talk about anything and everything. All in all he seemed to fit absolutely perfectly into her life and, not for the first time, she began to picture herself living a life completely devoid of the Cult. A life where she got a normal job and lived in a small flat somewhere in a smaller, quieter town with Jack.

So naturally, everything began to fall apart.

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Agnes was returning home from one of her dates with Jack when she spotted Jude’s car parked on the street outside her flat. This wasn’t an unusual sight, Jude visited her often enough. What worried her were the several other cars she recognized that belonged to members of the Lightless Flame. She continued walking into her flat as dread began to settle over her.

She opened her door and Jude flew at her, grabbed her wrists, and dragged her inside, slamming the door behind them.

“Are you okay?” Jude was holding her by the shoulders looking her over, “What did she do to you?”

“What are you on about?” Agnes feigned ignorance, but she had a fairly good idea what this was about, “I’m fine, nothing’s happened.”

Arthur stood from where he had been talking to a very angry looking Diego and approached her.

“We sensed that someone had tampered with your birthplace. Some hiker bumbling about where she didn’t belong. We went to make sure nothing had been too badly disturbed and found a ritual of the Web. Binding you to the Archivist.”

“And I was just saying that I think we should just march up to that creepy fucking building and burn it to the ground. It would save us a whole lot of trouble considering how often that voyeuristic old bitch gets in our way.” Jude said, a manic light in her eyes.

“If Agnes' life is tied to the Archivist’s,” Diego interjected, speaking slowly as if considering something, “Killing her would most likely kill Agnes as well. I don’t think we ought to risk it.”

“So what, we just let her get away with it?” Jude spat, rounding on Diego, the fire in her eyes now zeroed in on him “How often has she spoiled our fun, snuffed out our flames, ruined perfectly delicious doses of fear we were harvesting? And now she ruins the Scorched Earth, the ultimate plan for our perfect world, and you just want us to leave her alone?”

“That’s not what I’m saying, Jude, don’t put words into my mouth!” Diego stood, matching her heat with his own.

“Well then what are you saying, oh great genius?” Jude sneered, “Actually, why am I even listening to you, you’re not in charge. Arthur-”

“Diego has a point Jude, the Scorched Earth may be ruined, but Agnes is too useful to be risked in such a way, no matter how damaging the Archivist’s actions were.” Arthur interrupted.

The other few members who were there had been watching this exchange silently back and forth, but now a few looked ready to speak out with their own ideas. Jude looked ready to combust, opening her mouth, no doubt to begin spewing profanities.

“It doesn’t have to ruin the Scorched Earth.” Agnes didn’t know where she found her voice, or how it came out so clear when her mouth felt incredibly dry, “I- When I was younger, at Hill Top House, I began a sort of ritual of my own.”

What was she saying? What was she saying? She didn’t want to do this, she didn’t want to tell them about the backup plan she’d made in her adolescence. She had resolved never to say anything about it to anyone. But now she had ruined it. She had spoken up and everyone in the room was staring at her. So she told them.

Raymond Fielding was a manipulative ass who got what he deserved, his death was as much a personal vendetta as it had been a failsafe. But still it hadn’t been pretty. And Agnes never liked reliving the grisly details of what she’d done. But she told them. She told them all that she had done and how it could salvage their plan. By the end the room hummed with vicious excitement.

And everything came tumbling down around Agnes’ ears.

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Hill Top House was being remodeled. Agnes knew with that, the dead tree would most likely be cut down. So the plan was to finish the ritual by the end of the week. It had been a busy past few days getting everything together, with little free time. But Agnes needed to do something. So one day she made an excuse to the others, telling them she’d only be gone an hour or so, and slipped off to meet Jack.

They went on their typical walk through the park, though this time was different. Agnes was more subdued. Jack began to look concerned.

“Hey,” He said tilting his head to catch her eye, “We don’t have to talk if you don’t want. We can just walk together.”

She smiled gratefully and nodded. She wanted then and there to tell him everything. Maybe leaving out details about fire powers and fear gods, but telling him she was in over her head, that a cult was going to kill her, and that she wanted to run away. Run away with him specifically. She wanted that quiet, secluded life she’d been dreaming about. A life where she was happy and free and the only responsibilities she had on her shoulders was making rent. Looking at Jack, his concern, his gentleness, she could feel that life was so close she could almost touch it, she was nearly ready to tell Jack her plan, pack her bags, and get away from all of this. She nearly felt giddy with relief and excitement as she opened her mouth to speak and then- pain. She’d never felt pain before, and this deep in her chest, sharp and aching. She wondered if this is what burning felt like and felt a new sympathy wash over her for all the victims she’d had over the years.

The tree was down, she knew that was what was causing this. For a second she considered not telling the Cult, after all she had just been planning on running off. But she knew they had people watching the house and that they most likely would be finding out the tree was down in the next few minutes. They would come looking for her, and if they found her trying to run they would also find Jack. Even if they wouldn’t blame him for the tree falling, they would certainly blame him for her deciding to run away. So she stumbled her way to the payphone on the corner and leaned on it heavily while she dialed.

“Agnes, what is going on? Are you okay? Do you need me to drive you somewhere?” Jack stood near her, his hands hovering over her, still never touching as she waved him off.

She called Jude, as hers was the only number she remembered off the top of her head. She told her the tree was down and they needed to get everyone together to discuss what to do next. The beginnings of a plan were forming in her head. A plan she did not like one bit.

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Jack walked her home. She’d told him she’d be fine, but apparently saying that through gritted teeth while nearly doubled over clutching your stomach was not a good way of convincing someone you’re in good health. The pain had eased as they walked back to her flat, by the time they were there it had lightened enough that she straightened out and was able to let her arms swing loosely at her side. She saw their cars outside. She told Jack she could see herself in but he wasn’t buying it. For the first time since she’d met him he was insisting on something. Of course he picked the worst possible time to do so. She wanted so desperately not to let the others know about him. To know that she was leaving at least one good thing in the world. But she allowed it. She reasoned with herself that the others would most likely be too preoccupied to care about his presence. They would most likely forget about it by the end of the night.

She could hear shouting inside. Jack heard it too and looked at her for an explanation.

“Jack… There’s a lot in my life I haven’t told you about. Honestly I’m in a bit over my head, but I can’t tell you any of it, it’s too…” She trailed off, having no idea how to finish that sentence. She started again “I really like you. I love our walks and our dinners, but this was never meant to last, I only fooled myself into thinking it could. So...this is goodbye. I’m sorry.”

Before Jack could respond, the door behind them opened. It was Arthur. He looked relieved to see Agnes, then confused to see Jack. Diego was giving everyone instructions further into the flat, telling everyone to keep calm. Jude was staring at her, Agnes did not meet her eyes as she started to walk forward.

“Wait.” Jack said, a determined light in his eyes, Agnes had to admit that boldness was a good look on him, “If this is goodbye, could I- Can I kiss you?”

So much for the others forgetting he ever existed. She could hear the room behind her fall deadly silent. She could only hope that by her marking him, they would leave him be when this was over. She leaned in, taking his face in her hands.

The age old comparison of passion to fire was wrong. Agnes knew fire. It was woven into her bones, it stitched her soul together. When her lips met Jack’s she was dropped into an ocean of swirling cold currents that spun her about leaving her breathless and giddy. But it didn’t last.

She didn’t know what she expected when she kissed him. She knew she would be marking him and she knew it would burn him but there was a small part of her that still held some little flicker of hope for that life she’d built in her head. Hope that like in a fairytale Jack wouldn’t be nearly as affected by her powers as she’d expected, perhaps not even at all, love would win out over fear.

It didn’t.

When she surfaced from those waters she realized fully what Gertrude Robinson had done to her. Agnes had gotten too comfortable in her humanity, she’d lived in it too long, she’d embraced it too fully. No more could she feel the usual always present heat in her chest, the flicker that had moved in time with the thrum of her heart all her life was gone. This had been the final straw, her flames were doused. She knew for a fact that this was the end for her. One final scalding tear fell from her chin onto Jack’s hand. Jack was distracted, having half your face burnt off will do that to you, so she put her hand on his arm to help lower him to the ground as his legs went out from under him. No burns showed up where her hands touched him. Jack no longer seemed to notice she was there. She stared at his twisting, screaming form for only a moment until the panic rose like bile in the back of her throat and despair won out over her guilt. She turned and fled into her flat, leaving Jack alone on the floor of the hall and closed the door behind her as she fully realized the true meaning of the word Desolation.

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The kiss was a distraction to everyone for maybe a few more seconds when the shouting started back up. Accusations were being hurled left and right. Arthur berated the two members who were supposed to have been watching the house to make sure the tree stayed standing. They blamed another member who had told them he would take their shift but apparently hadn’t shown up. He defended himself saying he had left a message on their answering machine to tell them he couldn’t make it and that they should have been staying near a phone. Diego turned on Arthur telling him that if Arthur had set up a watch shift around Agnes’ birthplace back when she was still an infant like he’d suggested then none of this would have happened at all. Jude stayed uncharacteristically quiet.

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Meleager’s soldiers and generals began fighting. Each claiming the larger share, each accusing the other of not showing proper courage in battle, accusing each other of fleeing or holding back. Chaos was erupting. Althaea smiled.

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This time, though, the story is different. This Meleager is filled with righteous indignation. This Meleager is furious and determined. This Meleager seizes the firewood in his own hand. This is his fate. He will carry it out. He is not a puppet for the Fates, no one will do this for him, least of all the bitter woman who raised him.

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Agnes felt a fury unlike anything she’d ever felt before stirring in her chest as she stared at the people she’d looked up to all her life. Turning on each other, ready to place the blame on anyone but themselves. Had she really just a few months previously been willing to let them control every aspect of her fate? These vicious, selfish, destructive creatures who turn on one another the minute something doesn’t go their way? No.

She. Was. Done.

“The ritual is not yet lost.” Agnes steps forward. Her doubts had faded as she’d watched Jack writhe on the floor. There was no way out but this. She tells them a plan that she knows will fail. They will not use her. She was not theirs to control.

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Everyone had left, agreeing they would carry this plan out sometime in the next few days. Agnes’ flat was empty. A neighbor had called an ambulance for Jack. After what had happened there wasn’t any way that Jack would ever want to see her again, let alone run off with her. She was back to being alone, but this time there was no contentedness in the solitude. She knew what true companionship felt like now, and without it she was lonely. She had nobody left, nobody that mattered at least.

No. No that wasn’t quite true, there was Jude. There was always Jude. But that was different. Jude was everything about the Cult she was starting to feel disconnected from. She didn’t look at Agnes as an equal, could never see her as a partner, she would only ever see her as something to worship and revere like every other member of the Cult. Perhaps it was more intense and perhaps there were romantic undertones, but it wasn’t simple like it was with Jack. Jude was so much more ferocious in her love, Agnes was sure she wouldn’t be able to keep up. Jude was a raging inferno, all encompassing, and Agnes felt that if she were to allow herself to love Jude back, she would be swallowed whole, completely losing her sense of self to the Desolation.

As if on cue, there was a knock on her door, and then Jude was letting herself back into the flat.

“I sat in my car for a while. Couldn’t bring myself to leave, I just…” For the first time since Agnes had known her, Jude was lost for words, “We both know this isn’t going to work.”

Agnes didn’t respond.

“Agnes, why the fuck are you doing this?” Jude exploded, it never took her long to do so, “What the fuck’s going on in your brain, huh? You’ve been acting off these past few months, don’t pretend you haven’t! Your head has been somewhere else completely and then everything starts going to shit… It’s that boy isn’t it?”

Agnes remained silent.

“Oh my god,” Jude scoffed, “I can’t believe this. That worm works in a goddamn coffee shop, he’s the very picture of the world’s most boring person alive. He isn’t worthy to even look at you let alone speak to you or take you out, how on earth could you-”

“Lay off, Jude, this has nothing to do with him!”

“Like hell it doesn’t! Agnes you barely knew him, he was just the idiot who brought you your coffee and all of the sudden you want to go gallivanting off with him?”

“I don’t exactly have friends, Jude. So what if I wanted to hang around him? He was the first person who ever offered my any sort of interaction like that, who else could I have-”

“Me, you dumbass! I’m here, I’ve always been right here! Can’t you fucking see I’m in love with you?”

“Well I’m sorry!” She shouted. Jude was staring at her, frustration and grief swimming in her eyes. Agnes suddenly deflated, “I’m sorry, Jude, but I just…”

And then Jude slumped to the couch, looking defeated. Agnes gently took a seat next to her. They sat in silence together for several moments. Contemplating. Then Jude turned to Agnes, and Agnes knew exactly what she was about to do.

Jude placed a finger under Agnes’ chin and then their lips were crashing together. This kiss was very different from the one she’d had just an hour ago. This kiss was everything Jude. It was fast paced, angry, and desperate. Agnes pulled away first, a little breathless and not at all surprised. Jude smiled.

I can’t be burned by you,” She said it gently, but with a gleam of triumph in her eyes, “You won’t hurt me.”

Agnes wanted to scream that that wasn’t the point. She just sighed and looked away, deciding then and there not to tell Jude or anyone else that the Desolation had stripped her powers from her.

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Agnes tried to see Jack in the hospital the next day. They were only allowing family members in his room. However the receptionist did explain to her that Jack would survive, but he was unconscious and probably would be for the next few days. Agnes thanked the woman and left. She decided then that she would be gone before he woke up. She had caused too much damage allowing herself to dream for this long.

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The kind woman behind the front desk of the Magnus Institute had promised to relay her message to Gertrude. A simple one.
“I know I said no more favors, but technically you do owe me one. It should be easy enough. Protect Jack Barnabas from the Lightless Flame.”

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The next night everyone had returned to her flat. All believing what she was doing would bring their ritual to fruition. Arthur began reading from a book of the Desolation, stolen from some old man’s library years ago. The others stood around her. Candles covered every square inch of her living room. Jude stood towards the back nearest to the front door. She was still angry but she didn’t intervene. She just stared at Agnes, looking betrayed, furious, and grieved. Agnes couldn’t hold eye contact with her. She stared straight ahead as Arthur finally reached the passage that was her cue.

She stepped up onto the chair.

Arthur’s voice crescendoed to a shout.

The candles all flared up, nearly touching the ceiling.

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Meleager casts the wood into the flames and all goes blissfully dark.