Visiting Hours

Her eyes were sore and saturated with saline as she continued to stare at the screen wordlessly.

There she was, a version of her from not so long ago, lying on an operating table only halfway conscious. The angle of the camera, the dimming light in the room and the movement of staff around her made it difficult for her to imagine what that memory once was as it was lived. She had old notes explaining her symptoms, warning signs, stressors. But to see it happen all over again, repeatable if she needed to, was an unnerving experience.

Suddenly, an event she had seen unfold many times before began its telltale process: she studied carefully through sore eyes as she watched her back begin to arch, fingers and toes closed in and a mind screaming words beyond comprehension through a jaw that was about to split itself open. Machines were beeping and flashing madly, sets of hands trying anything to stop the shaking, from physical locking to injections of unknown fluids.

“What the FUCK just happened? I thought we had her stable this time!”

“I told you the estimates were off. Run the bloody numbers again, NOW.”

“I thought we were introducing things more slowly…”
“Stop fucking wondering and help me before she kills herself!”

A disgruntled Blood practitioner began lightly hovering his hands over Elana’s head and chest, mumbling words that now fit verbatim to the medical facsimiles she held in her hands.

“Uneven papillary dilation, fractures along cervical spine. Her lower extremities haven’t been affected this time, I know it doesn’t look it…”

“Just DO something!”
“There’s….this pressure…it’s…”

Elana’s prolonged, agonizing yells came to an abrupt end as her body began seizing forward and back, repeatedly banging the back of her head against the table. Her entire body fell limp through the swift sound of a crack as her jaw and neck became grotesquely slack, a mix of blood and clear fluid pouring from her nose and ears.

Elana yelped and stepped back reflexively from the screen–she had died. Again. Internal hemorrhaging was underlined as an understatement in the prognosis. She hugged herself tightly.

Was it really that bad? She let her thoughts argue in fleeting panic as a thin, dark red sheet was laid over her televised limp body. “Agents are on standby for her reconstruction. We find her, subdue her at the scene–keep her medically sedate until we figure out our next plan of action.”

“And….page Dr. Halls. Next of kin aren’t supposed to have family as their cases, but…we’ve tried everything we can in our resources. I just…I have no fucking clue how to wake her without her going suicidal nuts on us.”

“But what…what if we–”

“That’s the fucking THING! She’s not even half-conscious before somehow her body kicks into panic. We’re used enough to agents waking up wanting to point a gun or shoot some Anima shit at us, but…she’s like a bomb ready to go off on herself before we’ve even cut the damn wires. I just don’t get it.”

“She’s a…a ‘Bee’, right? Doesn’t their death sort of…’fix’ it all up? Thank God I’m not stationed at one of those wells…”

Elana swallowed and looked down at the papers, feeling shameful anger at her misunderstood benefactors. Their continued bickering pained her deeply.

“Is this what ‘empaths’ are fucking like? Jesus…I mean, I always thought that ‘sensitive’ means…well…you know, like not hostile. Like they’re always fucking softies with a skin as thick as wet tissue paper.”

Elana lowered her eyes at that. “No,” she mouthed in irritation.

In her eyes, empaths feel and nothing else, the rest of its meaning is offered by choice. Just because one feels, doesn’t mean one is automatically deigned to become a peacekeeper. Sometimes they grow manic. Sometimes they manipulate.

Elana flipped the pages of her report. Lots of words were manually slashed out in red ink and edited by her brother in a passionate defense of her condition. An action of equal sighs and smiles–seemed like all her life he was always there for her. Always. In that moment, it only added to the heaviness.

“Bee…Anima….biochemical…transient.” Elana read it slowly, skipping past medical jargon she hardly knew and saw the approach he was trying to explain–that even in sleep, her senses are on. Even in sleep, the stress and anger of the doctors–and the flaring that occurred as her unconscious self started fighting back as they tried to wake her–all eventually culminated to a thorough exhaustion of her mental and metaphysical resources. They were–or she was? Providing a positive feedback loop of stress and fear over more stress and fear; loops that once upon a time, Elana’s mind held separately from her own autonomy.

How could she have known, she thought. It was all nothingness in her mind’s eye anyway.

Rorschach

The cold, suffocating dark goes on forever and we are alone. Live our lives, lacking anything better to do. Devise reason later. Born from oblivion; bear children, hell-bound as ourselves, go into oblivion.

There is nothing else.

Existence is random. Has no pattern save what we imagine after staring at it for too long. No meaning save what we choose to impose. This rudderless world is not shaped by vague metaphysical forces. It is not God who kills the children. Not fate that butchers them or destiny that feeds them to the dogs.

It’s us.
Only us.

Holidays

December, 2014. ((ie. pre-Phoenix Group))

The large lit chandeliers were jarring against her eyes, the noise and chatter of customers around them causing feelings of pressure and smothering against her forehead–but a hand guided one of hers to a pair of weighted chopsticks, beckoning to reach for one of the many small dishes in front of her, inviting and steaming in freshness against the crisply laundered white tablecloth.

“How is it?”

“It’s…okay.”

“I mean the food.”

Elana nodded and slowly chewed away at a scattered assortment of dim sum on a small glass plate. Chive dumplings, barbecue pork buns, lotus-leaf wrapped packages of sticky rice. Her brother Wander was much more adventurous and colourful with his food; after another long and bureaucratic process of papers and debate at the Hall, Wander approved a rare sibling outing for them: an unheard-of reservation to Maxim’s Palace City Hall, in an attempt not only to spend time together but for Wander to assess his sister’s progress and coping in crowded areas. So far, it was satisfactory.

Elana reached for a cup of tea with a shaky hand. She was leaning hugely on her brother’s presence for support, blurring and shutting away as much as possible the various waves and moods of the restaurant’s patrons. Wander sat looking completely relaxed and spotless of her struggle, but a small part of her knew it was an act of his own for her sake. In between bites, he scribbled on a small notebook, as promised, covering in as much detail as possible the ongoings of their lunch date.

“Isn’t this nice, though?” Wander proposed some small talk and waved a hand toward the windows, the nearby harbour. “We’re here, not London but here, and where else for dim sum than actually just going to Hong Kong?” Wander chuckled graciously, knowing very well that good Chinese food outside of the westernized realm left under heat lamps was rare where he lived.

“Let’s try something else now…”

“But I’m still working on this–” Elana pursed her lips and tapped teasingly toward her food.

“I mean…you, actually.”

Elana frowned.

“You’ve done a great job so far. You’ve really improved since I last saw you! Let’s…” Wander waved at one of the many waitresses pushing trolleys of food throughout the room. “…focus in.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah.”

Wander wasn’t wrong; she -had- improved a lot in understanding and controlling her abilities. Had the same lunch date happened months ago, she would have been shaking and sobbing, covering her face with her hands as emotion, raw and unarrested, flowed into the gaps of her shattered mental autonomy.

…and immediately, at the end of Elana’s reluctant nod, Wander felt and heard a buzzing against his chair. It was his pager, doubly purposed as a Focus along with keeping him updated with his patients back in Maryland. He clipped it off from his coat, studying it carefully.

Wander sighed, and showed her the pager. “…414, I have to take this one.” He looked around the room, and began to rise from the table.

Elana’s expression darkened to severe anxiety. “…no, wait! I can’t do this without you–please, please…”

Wander returned a reassuring smile. “I won’t take long, promise. Think of this as a challenge, okay? Except we’re not in the Crucible.” He patted her shoulders and started walking to the entrance, seeking a quieter room to converse. “…this is Dr. Halls..” She heard him mumble as the eager crowd of potential customers walled him in their numbers.

Elana swallowed and breathed hard through her nose. “Okay…focus, follow…” She lost track of the waitress her brother pointed out for her, and seeking just -one- patron to scan among busy, excited tables and business dialogue was daunting. The built environment around them dense and highly mobile–there -was- empty space between tables, necessary room and table reservations keeping the restaurant in something of a system. There! She found an easy target of scanning–a young girl, sitting beside other children at a table with their mothers…lavishly dressed and speaking Cantonese in leisurely tones…what did Wander call them? “Tai-tais”? She nodded to herself, suddenly very aware of the research and work her brother conducted in order to make their afternoon a reality.

The mothers spoke in hushed laughter, completely ignoring their children in favor of their each others’ company. One young boy whined at a nearby trolley, his mother beckoning it over absent-mindedly with a wave of her hand as a trio of soft-looking yellow pastries were dropped in front of him. Elana narrowed her eyes to read the English font slapped against the trolley, small placards to point fingers at if, like her, Cantonese was not a language she knew–“Bo Lo Bao”. Oh! Elana smiled in thought. She liked those, they had a sweetness and ubiquity she knew she could order once she returned to London.

“Oy, jie-jie.” Elana felt a few jabs of a finger against her shoulder.

“Huh?” Elana turned her head back and immediately saw a woman drop a small plastic tray against the table hurriedly. Her brother’s leaving, she thought, must have signified that they were finished eating and should pay immediately. Sitting beside the receipt, a wide parchment stamped in various spots signifying the dishes they ordered, was a fortune cookie without a plastic wrapper.

“Ummm…m-goy sai–” Elana scarcely had a moment to respond a practiced sentence of gratitude before the woman walked away. She turned back to the receipt tray and reached for the cookie. Seemed uncharacteristic, a fortune cookie…was it that obvious they were tourists? And there was only one–causing Elana to experience a momentary shade of embarrassment. They must have seen him, right? she thought. She knew that eating alone was an uncommon sight.

Elana sighed, keeping a mental focus to the children munching away at their dessert, easing into their spotlessness and happy naivety, as she cracked open the cookie in her hands. The paper, to her surprise, wasn’t the typical thin strip of lotto numbers and ambiguity–freshly scrawled in red ink were the words “RUN”, as a hastily-scribbled pentagram on the opposite side began to illuminate once Elana exposed the paper to light.

“No…no please…!” Elana squealed and closed her eyes reflexively with a flash.

Seconds later, Elana lowered her hands from her face. She was expecting pain, an ambush of some sort, needles or bullets or fire or someone with the gall to attack her in such a public place–but instead, she felt a weightlessness released from her mind. The fortune burned with a painless flame, one she realized was a time limit as the incantation continued its effect. It was a glamour, or a shroud–either way, Elana could no longer feel the continuous pressure of the people around her: all moving and eating and talking as if nothing happened, she was rendered invisible. There was probably still a doppelganger of her, stressing and worrying and moping in her place.

Elana slowly rose, carrying the burning paper in her hands, slipping and sliding around tables and staff, afraid that contact would break what she was given. No one seemed to notice her absence, and finally, Elana felt calm. She was closed off to the world, but in turn, she was unable to exercise her own abilities. Honouring the paper’s orders, she followed the direction her brother went, hoping he hadn’t walked too far, hoping she could catch him.

All there is

“Half the time….my battle is to do what I used to do…..to feel and go down deep with them and take the sadness away…but now I have to fight my own desire to stay there with them.”

“That’s all any of this has ever been.”

Recommendations

VERIFIED SIGNATURE: W. Halls


23/02/2015 22:35:00

MESSAGE METADATA

00:00:20:04


To: Treublatt, Rovena

From: Halls, Wander

SYSTEM APPROVAL: GRANTED (PERSONAL MESSAGE)

Office of Dr. Halls, Associate Professor of Psychiatry

Sheppard Pratt Hospital

Maryland, USA

TRANSMIT (ENCRYPTED) —————————————– INFORMATION HIVE

SIGNAL STATUS: INACTIVE (TIME OUT) —————————- ERROR

To Director Treublatt,

I am messaging you in regards to one of your recent recruits.

I am overjoyed to hear of my sister’s employment with the Phoenix Group and, though I may predict you already possess this knowledge, feel obligated to let you know personally additional details to best empower her status, as well as provide further notice to forfeiting her Arbiter status among the Templars. I remain an Executor among this Order, and will be working with our faction handler to expedite her transition as smoothly as possible.

Please let her know that she will be missed.

I am sure Elana will have already spoken of me at least once during your interview process. It goes without saying that we keep in touch regularly, and of hearing her placement within your Medical Division, offered my time in teaching her rudimentary Blood techniques throughout this transition period.

As follows, please see below my recommendations for her best practice:

Supplements: I strongly recommend providing Elana with additional essential iron and erythropoiesis stimulating agents throughout her training and in fieldwork. Synthetic erythropoietin will suffice in addition to hydration and electrolytes.

Exsanguination: Elana MUST minimize the extent to which she draws from her own vitals to sustain others. A regular briefing of each members’ blood volume and levels of hemoglobin and hematocrit before deployment will be helpful in preventing this. The aforementioned supplementing may help if this is not an option, but at a minimum, she must be aware of her own limits before exceeding them.

Anima: Beyond her very rudimentary skills in Blood practice, she will be categorized by a much more prominent characteristic: empathetic sensing and mimicry, directly influenced to her more natural, acquired affinity to Chaos.

It is strongly recommended that you provide a partner or group with a strong Will or mental fortitude, however defined, to mitigate risks and stress. She will be her calmest when she is with me, but I am a non-combatant and remain within my Order and my duties.

A follow-up note on her current condition:

Elana’s empathetic capacities were fractured during the event as seen in last July. She has undergone considerable rehabilitation as well as training from additional Chaos practitioners and empaths to learn and automate new responses to Filth-related threats.

My sister is no longer fully autonomous to her mimicry. She has been known to take on the moods of those around her, good or bad, and occasionally suffer temporary dissonant episodes. These are often manifested in fits of panic, depression, or mild confusion.

If she cannot be calmed down, her mind will protect itself usually through a rapid expulsion of Chaotic energy, or falling unconscious indefinitely.

Some trauma have her waking in less than an hour, but others (re: Egypt, 5 days; re: Kaidan, 33 days) depend on the magnitude of exposure.

Lastly, as I understand it Director Treublatt, you worked among the team that built the Council of Venice’s training simulations before your role as Director. Elana had a few tests remaining to pass among the Templars if she were to be granted clearance to ever return to Kaidan; it is up to you if you wish to adhere to those tests, or at a minimum, allow me to provide recommended conditions of stress testing:

– Crowds, riots, large gatherings of people united in common elevated emotional states;
– Anarchy, chaos, these same gatherings but now each individual in a personal elevation of panic and scrambling;
– Filthy humans, aggressive humanoid creatures, filth corrupted creatures;
– A copy of myself, a colleague, friend, in a life-threatening situation;
– A copy of myself, and so forth, but allow the simulation to provoke inevitable casualties.

These parameters may sound strange, especially from her next of kin, but they are the common themes Elana had yet to face in her final stages of recovery. She must learn to retain her focus and personal agency in dense populations, in episodes of Filth exposure, and even in the scenario of a significant other’s injury or death.

The Elana you met and hired has come a long way from the sister I have grown with. But if she is to expand and truly become her own person, please provide the stress, bending and thresholds of tolerance that myself, as her brother, could not do.

I trust that this information will be useful to you for your mission planning and deployment.

Best wishes,

Wander “Psychikos” Halls, MD, M.P.H
Associate Professor of Psychiatry
Sheppard Pratt Hospital, Maryland USA

Scribbled below with Wander’s signature:
Sheppard Asylum, 1870

A Young Immortal

“Like two birds of golden plumage, inseparable companions, the individual self and the immortal Self are perched on the branches of the selfsame tree. The former tastes of the sweet and bitter fruits of the tree; the latter, tasting of neither, calmly observes.”

The Mundaka Upanishad

Someone has contacted me this week in regards of seeing a particular entity. A new immortal. A young immortal. And as it happens, he hasn’t been taking it very well.

To meet with new and different immortal variants is by far the highlight of my life’s work. There is much to learn, beyond the acquisition of immortality itself, to hear and explore whether by oral tradition or material culture anything surrounding that individual’s life course, how it shaped them, how it could influence further shaping.

Immortality anxiety, grief and immortal existentialism were the focus of studies I took on two years ago in Egypt. It was beautiful, fascinating work that has shown me multiple paths to negotiating an emerging immortal identity.

It is, in some cases, a ‘death’ experience: the loss of previous mortality. And I’ve seen this death come about in many ways, a story for another time. Either way, many flow through the same coping experience: denial of immortality, anger to those responsible or to those they will outlive/will be living indefinitely with, bargaining to what could have been done to avoid it, depression and loss over both the past in a mortal life and the indefinite future of an immortal life; and finally, an acceptance, whether it is a substantial resilience that will continue to grow and change or a floundering that seeks oblivion in the form of comfortable monotony.

I understand, however, that my research takes the particular characteristic of individuals facing their immortality alone or with a small cohort of supports, and not within the wide network of greater ‘factions’. Many lacked prior information in the negotiation of their acquisition (and I refer to the creation/becoming/receiving of immortality as the ‘acquisition’, from now on) and that is exactly how they discovered me in the first place. Please do take this in mind, and while I am often sent to meet those lost and struggling, many -have- taken to the previously mentioned ‘substantial resilience’ of acquisition, optimistic, thriving, and becoming their own change agents of self-actualization.

This current variant is struggling with how their identity will change in regards to their mortal companions, as well as recollecting the factors of their negotiation of the acquisition, from which it seems has been purged from his memory.

He wants me to take him through my research and what I have seen, experienced and learned in the field and see if it jogs anything that could give a sign. His mortal kin are conspicuously silent.

That’s all for now.

Terra Nullius Revisited

Elana took a slower, longer path home after her inaugural flight with Colonel Daklan, her visitation to Prometheus, and her interview with what were soon to be her future employers. That morning, she dressed in attire professional yet unsensible for the heat of Egypt–now it was the civil twilight of Essex in mid-February, her shivering barely kept at bay by her passive, stirring Anima.

She walked with her arms tightly crossed, her face twisted in exhaustion and worry as she continued along one of the many scattered roads bordering the town of Saffron Walden. It had been at least two years since she had discovered the future she was to inherit, going out of her way considerably to find it: first, there was the property her grandparents used to live in, so much dust to remove and so many memories of a life she never knew they lived; the St. Mary’s Cathedral, where they had been married, and found a place to match their colour-faded wedding photos, the only evidence they shared of themselves in her childhood; the cemetery on Thaxted Road, where they had actually been buried, leaving Elana to wonder just who was lowered into those grave sites back in Canada, and so much more that still remained out of her grasp–her best leads remained meticulously tucked away, stowed, or concealed by decades-old wards she dared not touch in her own home.

To live in an inheritance property a half-hour’s walk from a small town of 14,000 residents was what she needed to rest from each and every day’s exposure to people–all of their little flickers of mood and impulse that used to disturb her, but now only caused a gradual discomfort. Every few minutes, a shipping truck or taxi would catch Elana’s sulky walk, slowing to lower a window and shout if she was okay–Elana would turn her head, pulling out the best fake English accent she could that she didn’t need help, and if that wasn’t enough to content the driver in question, her eyes would narrow and gaze into theirs for whatever empathetically-supported reassurance or threat was just enough for them to drive away.

The moisture in the air curtailed the pleasant ozone smell that resulted from utilizing her Chaotic, emotional abilities. She didn’t know how long this particular walk would take–switching roads and paths home was a very regular thing she did at the end of most workdays. What was harder for her, in every sense of the term, was revisiting older paths, fearing what she might run into again.

But this night, the road was framed by deep woods and undergrowth in ditches that separated scattered farmlands and even larger, richer properties–she often took the hollow earth’s path of golden branches that led her to Gamage’s Wood, sneaking past the well-groomed tourist trap of Audley End before making her way home–instead, she took a main road, allowing any assortment of mundies and Templars emeriti–and there were many in this town–to take as many fleeting glances and disdainful headshakes to her as they wished.

She knew this much about herself in that moment–that she was alone, that she needed to think, that she needed more time to herself than usual to be alone in her thoughts, and that her life was about to change. The listlessness she used to carry–one that pitied her for the amount of time it had taken for her to recover from her mind’s collapse in Kaidan, was replaced now by an uncertainty for her decision to join the Phoenix Group.

She wanted a change, she knew that well enough. How many times had she complained to her friends, her brother, her employers, that she can’t be stuck in the Red’s low-priority, high risk profile anymore? Anger flashed through her thoughts as she tried to blame someone higher-up for their decision to throw her in Kaidan for counsel work; the anger left her just as quickly as she remembered very fondly that she was still new, still curious, still felt invincible and capable, and the Templars wanted answers.

She proved herself useful in her initial sequestered months at the Hall, calming down other young, green agents shaken by their first glimpses of horror. But Temple Hall and Susanoo’s were very different. It was not the safehouse her employers thought it would be–they forgot the factor nearly everyone did in the occupational hazards of empathy: nearly each and every refugee she was asked to meet was grasping onto the thinnest, most shallow membranes of normalcy and reality, and there existed one particular day in that past that she joined them in their despondence. Many hours of deep medical sedation and an airlift later, she was condemned never to return and isolated in her own headquarters for analysis, until her brother stepped in to break her out and take her on as his patient.

She blinked as memories began to slip in her mind’s eye. Silhouettes of human forms gathered in small, scattered cohorts; she was in the fetal position, he was inebriated and on his nth bottle, she was closing her eyes and savoring Akashi’s food; they were holding hands and walking in the outer limits of the property, he was on his phone….

The man on his phone. He would never stop texting on his broken phone. He apologized to his family and his God over and over. He’d scream at the top of his lungs if you tried to take it away. Elana remembered his name as it escaped her lips in remorse: “Toru.”

Toru was the pseudonym for the last client Elana saw before she collapsed in July. His pain seemed different, his coping methods of rituals and regression a spectacle. She was part of a skeleton crew that night and had to look after his instrumental tasks of eating, sleeping and hygiene.

And one night, he was inconsolable, and she had to engage her powers substantially to calm him down.

Elana stopped walking, standing still as her vision began to shake. Not one part of her rehabilitation asked her to remember what happened. But now, she was finally past that rehab, about to release herself from the administrative hell that was interfactional bureaucracy, and there was a chance at least -something- could make sense, of how she was broken.

She clenched her fists and tried to slip her self-pity away into ambition, just for the time being, channeling more Anima into her feet as she broke into a mad dash from the safety of the highway road straight into the direction of fields and trees that would lead her to her home.

A clean, expensive-looking filing cabinet contrasted against the rustic antiquity of her grandparents’ old house. Elana reached the front door, opening and closing it swiftly as she continued past the front entranceway into an open living room, where the filing cabinet stood as a jarring, red-metallic reminder of who she once worked for. She thrust open the lowest shelf, flipping through pages immediately to find the right ones.

“Toru….he’d be…this one. Perfect.” Elana grasped her hands around a worn file folder, opening onto a nearby wooden table the crisp white pages of a facsimile: Toru’s report. For what was worth the cost of work to the Templars, the cost of dropping out of grad school to swallow a Bee–alphabetizing was a small victory.

Elana’s eyes darted back and forth as memories returned in great clarity:

“Clent…nickname…’Toru.’

“44 years old. Male. On-site 27 days, recovered from third party safehouse contamination. Documents on person were a cell phone and wallet…”

Nothing yet.

“Wallet reveals personal documentation that ‘Toru’ is not a permanent resident of the Tokyo region. Client is from Kagoshima Prefecture, Okinawa. Cell phone was found broken on person. ‘Toru’ refuses to dispose of the phone.”

She knew that much already.

“‘Toru’ can be seen holding and interacting with his phone when not engaged with other refugees or staff. Client likely regresses into fixations of past events, implementing ideations into reality by the hand gestures observed on his phone.”

Hand gestures? Elana shut her eyes imagining Toru thumbing a cracked black screen in a distinctive pattern. What the hell would he be trying to say? To who?

“Otherwise, ‘Toru’ engages in repetitive murmurs to family, employers, and religious faith. Client’s grieving is erratic and primarily following a context of guilt over family and religious beliefs. Refuses to talk about himself, directly.”

“Kami-sama…sumi-ma…sen…”

Elana gasped, covering her mouth in anguish. She remembered he was so distraught that night, she had to use her Anima to put him to sleep.

Elana sat that night in one of the diner’s many tables, her hands squeezed tightly against Toru’s will as she focused in on him, channeling warm Anima between their hands. Toru was a slobbering wreck who let his arms fall limp, silently crying and shaking his head in an endless “No” gesture in front of her. She started slowly and carefully, like she always did, trying to insert any semblance of comfort his mind would take: security, softness, bravery, silence, release….

And that’s when it happened. Elana slipped from the table holding Toru’s open intel as she collapsed to the ground of her home, smacking her head on one of the table’s legs, gripping her temples and clenching her teeth.

Sliding deeper within the mind of Toru was a sensation Elana could only describe as a broken record, spewing endless chatter in a language she could not understand, something vicious, threatening, teasing, and commanding. Reluctantly, Elana crept her senses closer in, her heart quickening as she exposed herself to the unadulterated and raw madness of her companion’s trauma.

Each cold, sharp sensation translated into shivers, tears, and mumbled mantras from the outside. Mantras she eventually started repeating in unison with him. Tears that eventually dehydrated her, assaulted her head with a migraine and a river of sinuous thoughts beyond comprehension before losing her balance out of her chair and curling up in helplessness and fear.

Elana glowered as she forced her palms to ground, channeling Chaos beneath her as the aged, wooden floorboards shattered immediately beneath her hands. Breathing deeply, Elana’s vision returned to the sight of splintered wood, her bloodied skin, and patches of her hair against her knuckles. She brushed a shaky hand through her hair–an alarming number of strands came wrapped around her fingers. Hair loss, numbness and anxiety were typical signs that she couldn’t control her powers. Cursing under her breath, Elana leaned back into a sitting position, drawing her knees up to lean against her forehead, exhausted.

She knew this much about herself in that moment–that she was alone, that she needed to think, that she needed more time to herself than usual to be alone in her thoughts, and that her life was about to change…

and that she needed, beyond anything, to find out who Toru was. Any possible word or trace of where he once was or could be. Whether he didn’t mean to do it. Whether he did. Whether or not he found his family again.

And whether or not he was planted there on purpose.

Elana returned a hand to her chest and grasped at her sweater with a clumsy fist. A nervous smile came to her face–maybe this was the change she was finally looking for.

Your Choice

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These are all real conditions I may eventually face in my line of work. Gerontology no longer caps at centenarian ages. I have met those who have lived longer than even my grandparents’ grandparents, and now ‘mundies’ may well have a chance of grasping it themselves.