Title: That Which Descends Into Light
Disclaimer: Not mine
Summary: She's always thought owls were remarkably ugly birds. [Olga character study]
Author's note: Originally written for Yuletide for Sineala. Reposted here for your enjoyment.
That Which Descends Into Light
She used to be a girl. A normal girl preoccupied with boy the next room over and other proper things. She had collection of dolls from old wooden ones with missing eyes to soft cloth dolls with stitched on faces. These dolls are her childhood lined up neatly in rows, smiling faces that she had named after friends and family.
Later Geser will caution her about the tendency to name things for people. He will warn her that symbols posses powers same as words. She enters the gloom first on her tenth birthday and will never forget the way the doll she has named for her mother blinks up at her in confusion.
The first level of the gloom is muted and gray, infested with big buzzing flies that swarm those of flesh and blood. She enters the gloom under the guidance of her mentor who whispers about dangers and the gloom thirsting for life. She can see into him in the gloom and she knows that he does not hold a tenth of her power. She stays in the gloom for ten minutes during her first guided session and when her mentor, starting to pale from the gloom's leeching touch asks her what she feels, she smiles sweetly and says, "There is something deeper."
For the first few years, she has a friend, a fellow light one who can change into an owl at will. A common shapeshifter well beneath Olga's nearly limitless powers. She is one of the few who does not begrudge Olga her gifts; who laughs with her and teases her and extols the virtues of owls and the majesty of flight.
She dies during the war while running surveillance on the dark one's base. She is in her owl form at the time of her death and still in that form when Olga recovers her body--wide golden eyes gazing forever into the gloom. Olga does not permit herself the luxury of tears. They are at war and her friend is dead.
She's always thought owls were remarkably ugly birds.
The second level of the gloom moves with a breakneck speed, like a raging river intent on sweeping everything along with it. Lesser magicians perish in the current, swept into the gloom never to return. The first time she visits, she finds Geser standing in the current with his eyes closed, letting the gloom wash over him like water. She approaches him cautiously, still somewhat in awe of the elder magician. "Geser?" she ventures, unsure of how to phrase the question.
"Olya," he answers, hearing the unspoken query in her voice. "I am here to morn those who have fallen."
She nods and thinks of her friend lying dead in her hideous owl body. "I am-" she starts but does not finish. "I am here."
"The second level of the gloom," Geser says. "What do you think, Olya?"
The gloom tugs at her like a soft breeze instead of a raging river. Olga frowns. "There is something deeper."
She is young and in love when she commits her sin. It is selfish and ruthless and it costs the light others hundreds of lives, power and victory but at least it doesn't cost her Geser. It is the first and only time she attempts to act like a girl rather then a soldier but even that small act is preformed with a deadly military precision.
She knows it is wrong. She knows it will upset the balance. She knows she will have to answer to the inquisition. She knows she will be punished.
She does not care.
The third level of the gloom is complete darkness. She is there with Geser the night before she is given her punishment. He calls her a fool. Calls her a stupid worthless girl even though she knows she is the biggest advantage the light others have to their name. She feels like she is supposed to be a tool, an instrument, unfeeling efficient and deadly. She lets Geser's tirade wash over her, sinking in the darkness of the gloom. She can imagine what he must look like but she cannot see a thing. "They came after me because they want you removed from the field of play."
She doesn't tell him she would have made the same choice even if she had known. She just grabs him by his neck and kisses him as the darkness of the gloom tries to seep in all around her. And even in the passion, Olga can feel there is something deeper.
She is empty when she is an owl. It is part of her punishment. Her powers are bound tight in a forgotten corner of her mind where she cannot access them. The war ends while she is indisposed. The years pass while she is indisposed.
She thinks sometimes that she would rather be dead. That she would have withdrawn into the gloom before condemning herself to this existence. She is half surprised that wasn't her original sentence. They must be waiting for something.
She is allowed into the world once a week for thirty minutes. She uses her precious time to stretch her cramped wings and soar through the sky. She comes to appreciate this small comfort, comes to love the feel of the wind on her wings. It fills the empty space where her powers used to be. She thinks she might have been happy if she was allowed to forget. If she was allowed to give up everything and surrender to the instincts of the owl.
But she doesn't. She waits, half-mad for the inevitable, for the thing that would finally force the light ones to seek the aid of their forgotten comrade. She hears much of the happenings in the Night Watch through the thin walls in Geser's office, but the years stretch so long the words are starting to lose their meaning. She cannot summon either lover or anger from the place that used to house her human heart.
She does not know why they give her body back to her. She does not know why they assign her Anton Gorodetsky. She does not know what use she will have in this upcoming war.
She does not know until she first sees Svetlana Nazarova.
The fourth level of the gloom shines like a million diamonds in the sun. It is seduction and beauty and she is there when Svetlana Nazarova enters it for the first time. "It's beautiful," Svetlana whispers.
"It is dangerous," Olga says. She can feel it tugging at her, can feel the gloom waiting to reclaim her. She should not be here. She should not be this deep into the gloom when her powers are bound. She is like a fading star while Svetlana is a rising one. A grand enchantress. She has seen this before. She has lived this before. "It promises beauty but will take you when you least expect it."
"It doesn't feel like that," Svetlana says.
Olga straightens her spine and turns to look at the other woman. She is beautiful in this light and it's not just her features. It's the sheer, raw, light power radiating from every pore. "Close your eyes, Sveta," Olga says. "And tell me what you feel."
Svetlana obeys, tilting her chin up toward the sky. A smile plays across her lips. "It feels like there is something deeper.
When she watches Sveta walk away with Anton wearing her body, a wave of nostalgia she cannot afford sweeps over her. She knows this story. She knows about love and selfishness and the way this will end.
The dark ones will come after Anton. Just like they had come after Geser.
The fifth level of the gloom is decision. It is clarity and reason and choice and consequence. Olga has only been to the fifth level of the gloom once. Right before she made her choice. Right before she wrote her own destiny by sacrificing a dozen others.
She sees Svetlana sneaking through the different levels of the gloom; through the gray and the river and the darkness and the beauty and knows where this will end.
Svetlana Nazarova used to be a girl. She's not anymore. Olga sees her transcend. Sees her elevated above. Sees what is coming for her. Olga remembers the war even as she sees the next one looming over the horizon and she knows the choice for which Svetlana is destined because she has been down this path.
So Olga watches Geser grooming her for combat and watches the way she fights for Anton even if he has given up the life of an other. She knows the decision and she knows its consequences.
Svetlana will make a beautiful owl.