Author's Notes (Neko Kuroban): Neko here! Sightless is a collaboration between Sister Grimm (sistergrimm2) and myself. Originally intended to be a one-shot, it blossomed into a fan novel. Mostly plotted before the release of the final book in the series, it takes the place of The Last Olympian with a number of significant changes. Enjoy!
Author's Notes (Sister Grimm): I want to note that I could not be more pleased to write this fanfiction with my best friend. Sightless has become so much more than we ever dreamed, and we really hope you all like it. Please review!
Sightless by Neko Kuroban and Sister Grimm Erin
Walk this World
At Tara In This Midnight Hour
When principles that run against your deepest convictions begin to win the day, then battle is your calling, and peace has become sin. You must, at the price of dearest peace, lay your convictions bare before friend and enemy with all the fire of your faith.
It was the first time the girl laying on the low cot had recognized her in hours. The hour was long past midnight, and, for Thalia, the afternoon and evening had crawled past with excruciating sloth.
Abigail had spent the bulk of the time in a delirium, convulsing and soaked with sweat, as the poison worked its way through her body. Had the fever broken? Her breathing was sharper, but her eyes were no longer dilated and unfocused.
How was Thalia to feel about this sudden development? Just a few minutes before, the young Hunter had been babbling in her native tongue. Thalia had not been able to comprehend any of the alien language, but she had recognized that the soft, flowing stream of words formed prayers. (She could not explain quite how she knew this, at least not beyond some inherent, intrinsic understanding.) At the moment, however, Abigail seemed to be calm and lucid, once again a part of the real world.
Was it a sign that the worst was over? Would her exhausted body finally begin to fight the poison working its way through her system? Or—perish the thought—was this sudden tranquility only a brief reprieve on her way to death?
Thalia had spent the night burying herself in action. She had smeared wounds with salve once an hour. She replaced the blood-stained bandages with clean ones whenever blood seeped through. She had managed to staunch the bleeding with a tourniquet, but Abigail's coughing fits occasionally managed to reopen the wound in her side.
Prayer required a surrender to a higher power than one's self; it was simply not something she did. Despite this, she lit sticks of incense, which she knew were part of Abigail's nightly ritual. The thick perfume of burning jasmine seemed to comfort the other girl, but, for her, it was merely a convenient way to disguise the smell of blood, sickness, and sweat that hung in the air.
She clasped Abigail's limp right hand within both of her smaller ones. The Hunter's long fingers reminded Thalia of nothing so much as the bones in a bird's wing: light and thin, but so very easily broken. "How are you feeling?"
Abigail tried to smile up at her, but the motion somehow came out wrong. Rather than being the reassuring gesture she had intended it to be, it only seemed to be a cause for alarm.
It had been only half a day since the poisonous arrow had pierced her flesh, but already it had taken its toll. A mortal would have died by now, but Abigail seemed...reduced. Her bronze complexion appeared faded and sallow while her long hair, once lustrous, fell down her back, tangled and matted. More brown than green, her formerly bright hazel eyes were dim.
Her sharp tongue remained unaffected. "You can't imagine how much fun I'm having." A rueful chuckle accompanied the words. It possessed a rasping quality that sickened Thalia and quickly turned into a hacking cough.
Dropping Abigail's hands immediately, Thalia slipped one thin arm behind the girl's bare shoulders and helped her sit up. The light quilt fell away from Abigail's chest, pooling at her waist. She was nude except for the white bandages wrapped around her abdomen. Abigail was a hand's length taller than Thalia, but she seemed smaller with her shoulders hunched and her head turned down. She had been either twelve or thirteen—even she did not know—when she had made the sacred vow that bound her to Artemis's service.
That had been more than two hundred years ago.
Two centuries paled in contrast to the thousands of years Artemis, ancient yet forever young, had seen, but Thalia could not imagine carrying the weight of so much time. She often scrutinized her companions, searching for signs of age or world-weariness. It was often contradictory. Danica had been persecuted for her faith in Emperor Nero's Rome, but she seemed less jaded than Jasmine, who had grown up in Detroit in the 1960s. Camille could be flighty and foolish, a remnant from her time in the Court of Versailles; these qualities would likely never be lost.
In Abigail, Thalia sometimes imagined that she could see the wisdom and burden of her years shining out of those cat-like hazel eyes. Now, however, the girl before her looked frightened and resigned in equal parts, at once lackluster and child-like. Did that expression—that combination of cynicism and innocence—ever appear on her own face?
The fit finally subsided, and Abigail dared to speak. "Thank you," she whispered, rough and hoarse.
Thalia tried to summon a smile. "No problem."
"I need..." She trailed off, but the corners of her eyes compressed as if in pain. The light in the tent was very faint, but Thalia found herself wondering whether it was too intense. Could the poison (and the fever it brought) heighten Abigail's sensitivity? "Dizzy," she admitted.
"Here." Thalia pulled her bag into her lap, rifling through. She removed the cap on a fresh bottle of water and held the drink out. There was a half-hearted proftest from the other Hunter, but Thalia overruled her. "Drink," she instructed firmly, her tone leaving no room for protest. "You're dehydrated. This will help."
Abigail relented with a weak nod. Thalia brought the bottle to her lips, lifting it just enough to permit a narrow trickle to enter her mouth. Abigail winced as she swallowed the first sip, but she obligingly took two more mouthfuls before pulling her head away.
Thalia was not the type to lavish praise. It was a reward she did not believe in giving unless earned and, even then, her compliments were usually brusque and minimal. However, it was difficult for Abigail to accept help, and that was a concept she was more than familiar with. The clean white bandages around Abigail's abdomen darkened, and Thalia averted her gaze.
Was this repetition only respect or was it an actual lapse in memory? Once again, Thalia took the other girl's hand, this time lacing her small, fine-boned fingers through Abigail's. "You already said that," she reminded.
The majority of communication was non-verbal, and Thalia had always held herself with confidence. Even when she kept her eyes averted and her body language closed, she was told that she projected an aura of self-possession. Her rank as lieutenant had taught her to be even more cautious of subtle inflections. She knew when to keep her face carefully blank, when to turn a stern glare upon one of her subordinates, when to let her voice become harsh. At the moment, she kept her tone light and gentle—the way she would speak to a very young child, the same tenderness she had once reserved solely for addressing Annabeth.
"I know I did."
A burden lifted from Thalia's shoulders. It was not the words so much as it was the calm maturity in Abigail's voice, not the sentiment so much as the way she did not falter when she spoke.
Maybe we're going to be all right, she allowed herself the luxury of thinking.
"I just thought that I ought to say it again," Abigail clarified as she tried to lay back down. Without comment, Thalia assisted her. "For...for everything." She hesitated. "For staying. For holding my hand while I die. There are not many people who would be willing to do that."
It is my duty, Thalia wanted to say. Somehow, though, she understood that obligation and responsibility was not what was needed here.
"Don't talk like that, Abi." She reached out to brush a wisp of sweat-soaked hair off of Abigail's face. Her skin was no long flushed with fever; it felt cool and damp under Thalia's touch. "You're going to be fine."
I hope, she added to herself.
Abigail's heavy eyelids fell closed—as if keeping her eyes opfen demanded too much of an effort. "Do not argue with Death, Thalia. My papa taught me that. Denial, bargaining, anger... all that does is encourage Death. It only tells Him that here is someone who will be missed. That is what Death wants. If my name is in His books, my name is in His books."
Thalia tightened her grip on the other Hunter's hand once more. Careful as she was, there was very little force behind the gesture, but it was ostensibly a defiant one, a childish act of protest.
"Don't," she repeated. She was firm yet gentle, the voice used by an adult trying to get a child to heed instructions. "Artemis will return soon, I promise. Gemma and Hope went to meet her; I'm sure they're already on their way back."
Although there had been no word from the pair, nothing to indicate either success or failure, some part of her was convinced that she could sense their party returning. Even if it was an illusion brought on by exhaustion, the reassurance was nothing less than what Zoë would have done in her place.
"I managed to stop the bleeding, but I'm hoping that Artemis can stop the poison. By sunrise, tonight will seem like nothing more than a nightmare."
Abigail reached out with trembling fingertips. Almost too soft to register, her touch on Thalia's face was as cold as ice, even though the lit brazier kept the room uncomfortably warm. She ran her fingers down Thalia's warm cheek, the caress no stronger than a butterfly's fluttering wing.
This isn't a good sign, Thalia recognized. Cold extremities indicated that Abigail's heart was no longer sending blood to her feet and hands as her body tried to conserve its own energy.
"Thalia, Thalia, Thalia." Her girlish voice was as chiding as a schoolteacher's. "Naïveté is cute, but it doesn't work for you. You and I both know that's not going to happen."
Murmured conversation drifted from just beyond the tent's entrance.
Thalia recognized the rolling timbre of Phoebe's alto. It was accompanied by Mary's high, childlike voice, every syllable of which was characterized by a British accent. (It had once been the Queen's English but had faded to something resembling Received Pronunciation, and Thalia privately suspected that half of it was affected. Centuries after her actual birth, sheer determination was the only reason Mary had kept the accent of her homeland from being replaced with an American inflection.)
The actual words they exchanged were impossible to decipher. Demigods possessed much sharper senses than ordinary mortals, but the privacy and seclusion provided by the enchanted silver silk tents worked both ways.
Thalia looked down at Abigail. "Do you want to see them?" Once the other girl had consented, she twisted around to glance at the entrance over her shoulder, calling, "You can come in!"
Phoebe crossed the threshold. Thalia's second-in-command looked exhausted in a way that was impossible to hide. The older girl still wore the battle-ruined attire she had worn earlier, her shoulder-length hair skinned away from her face into a high ponytail. A streak of dirt ran along the side of her face. Phoebe had been a sixteen-year-old colonist when she had first encountered the goddess to whom they had sworn eternity to. In this moment, she looked so much older and so much younger.
Thalia knew she was as tired as she looked. Together, they had kept watch the night before, a task they usually did in pairs. Four hour shifts were typical, but Thalia and Phoebe's had stretched into six hours, fueled by tension and nerves. Jasmine and Meiran had finally relieved them of their post at daybreak, but Thalia had not slept much afterwards—and she suspected that Phoebe had not either. The day had been battle after battle until Abigail had been wounded, which had forced them to stop and to make camp when the sun was still at its highest point.
"You look like hell warmed over," Thalia said by way of greeting.
Her second-in-command smiled as if this flippant comment amused her. "No more than you do."
The raven-haired girl looked down at her own ruined clothing and shrugged, her narrow shoulders rising and falling. "I reject your reality and substitute my own," she replied with a lilting, singsong intonation that made her voice sound much more carefree than she actually felt. She removed her hand from Abigail's. "What s up?" She asked as she got to her feet.
Phoebe approached her, reluctance evident in every step she took. "Mary is distraught and wants to see Abigail," Phoebe explained quietly, her dark eyes cutting over to Abigail. "I think it might be the only thing that could calm her down. Is this a bad idea?"
Phoebe laid her hand on Thalia's shoulder, which she shrugged off with as much dignity as she could muster. She leaned to smooth the rumpled sheets and summer-weight blanket, wanting to give herself something to do as well as to make it look as if she had simply moved away rather than flinched.
Physical contact was not necessarily something she shied away from, but she preferred to be the giver of affection rather than its recipient. It was easier to accept it if it was from someone whom she knew and cared for, but she liked to be the one to initiate contact. She supposed small gestures were included in this: even Phoebe's touch on her shoulder made her wonder about the tall brunette's motives.
She liked Phoebe, but her every instinct balked at the idea of trusting her—and that made her feel like she was somehow at fault.
She looked up and forced a small, apologetic smile as an offering. "I'm no medic, but I think it should be fine if Mary comes in for a few minutes. Abi's lucid." If resigned to the idea of dying, Thalia thought grimly, so she probably won't make for the best company. It was solely for Phoebe's benefit that she added, "I'm hoping this means that the worst is over." She turned away to address Abigail. "What d'you think? Feeling up to it?"
A feeble nod. The gesture made it appear as if Abigail's head were weighted were lead, her eyelids lowering halfway, and the effect of it was disconcerting, reminding Thalia of nothing so much as a ball-jointed doll. One of those creepy ones that close their eyes when you tilt their heads, she decided.
"I want to see Mary," Abigail said.
"Are you sure?"
"I want..." Abigail broke off suddenly, and whatever desire she harbored was lost in the outbreak of coughing that followed. Movements almost too swift to register, Thalia seized the water bottle again. She helped the other girl to sit up and to drink once more. "I want to see Mary," Abigail repeated when her fit had passed, no less suddenly than it had begun. "There's something important I need to tell her."
Off Thalia's look, Phoebe sighed and went to the entrance of the tent to summon Mary. She fell silent as a blur of motion (chin-length corkscrew curls the color of ginger; rosy cheeks; skinny, shapeless body, eternally that of an eleven-year-old; usually restrained demeanor replaced by a frenzied intensity) surged past her.
Mary made straight for the cot, ignoring Thalia entirely in her haste to throw her arms around Abigail's waist. She immediately buried her cheek in the quilt that covered her friend's uninjured side.
Thalia stole a sidelong glance at her and noted with a strange, scientific detachment that Mary's brown eyes were puffy and red-rimmed. As she watched, tears began to well there. Visible evidence of unhappiness discomforted Thalia more than anything, but she so rarely succumbed to tears (in herself, such an action was only a weakness) that she found it strangely compelling when she saw others cry.
Mary had always seemed withdrawn and reserved, but her emotions flowed swift and fast now, a river rushing as it coursed around a bend. It was as if she was afraid that she would not have enough time to unburden herself.
"Oh, Abi!" The girl's soprano never failed to remind Thalia of a mockingbird, so small and so high. Wavering as it struggled to hold the weight of her sorrow, the resemblance seemed even greater. "I'm so, so, so sorry! It was my arrow. The tip was poisoned. You know that, don t you? I couldn't see, but I was so worried that you would be hurt; I was just trying to help you—I just care for you so greatly, and..." She nearly choked on the force of the sob that welled up from within her, her body visibly shuddering at its might. "Could you possibly ever, ever be able to forgive me?"
It was a long moment before Abigail spoke, but, when she finally did, the words were quiet and contemplative. "There is nothing to forgive." She laid her hand atop her best friend's hair. "You are the sister of my soul. I love you without end."
The sentiment was enough to make the dam crumble and fall to pieces. Still hiding her face in the quilt, Mary began to weep in earnest as if this was a loss from which her heart could never begin to heal.
It was possible that this rent was one that could never be mended.
Mary and Abigail had a strange, curious bond. They came from wildly different times and cultures. Mary hailed from England under Cromwell's oppressive regime in the name of morality. Meanwhile, Abigail had been born and lived in North America at the turn of the eighteenth century. Mary, a born follower, usually aligned her opinions to agree with Abigail's, but at heart their values differed. Despite this, they were more than the best of friends, even closer than sisters, often acting as if in sync with one another, even when separated by circumstances. The impression Thalia had gotten from the other Hunters indicated that the pair had been that way since their first meeting.
Thalia wondered what it would be like to lose someone you cared for like that—and she instantaneously regretted it.
She knew exactly how it felt, and she sorely wished that she did not.
The least I can do is give them some time alone, she thought as she got to her feet. "You two have fifteen minutes," Thalia cautioned.
Neither responded to her or even broke their steady conversation, which they were conducting in the language Abigail had reverted to while hallucinating. In all honesty, Thalia had not expected any reply. Mary and Abigail were so caught up in one another that it was likely they had not even registered her words. Grabbing her jacket, an unlined black trench coat, she threw it on over her shoulders and reached for her messenger bag.
She sauntered to Phoebe, who was watching the two girls, her usual thousand-yard stare much softer. Her face was carefully schooled so as not to betray her emotions, but it was easy to see through the mask if one knew how to look. To get her attention—and to perhaps atone for rejecting her touch earlier—Thalia reached out to put her hand on her second-in-command's upper arm.
"I think we should give them some privacy."
Phoebe raised her eyebrows and looked down at her. "Why?"
Through the fabric of a cotton sleeve long worn thin, Thalia could feel the definition of Phoebe's biceps and triceps. The other girl was by no means bulky, but her height and her tanned, toned frame made her appear much more substantial and robust than Thalia herself did. Slowly, she slid her hand down Phoebe's arm until the fabric of her sleeve ended and warm, vital flesh was beneath Thalia's palm.
"This might be the last chance they ever get to talk," she said quietly. "They need this." Without leaving time to respond, Thalia threaded her arm through Phoebe's elbow and met her gaze. Her second-in-command was left with little choice in the matter. "Come on."
Author's Notes (Neko Kuroban): Please leave feedback! Replies are provided to every review — and I always try to return the favor by leaving at least a few reviews for any author who takes the time to provide any sort of comment.
The next installment (Part II - "Like a Night Without Starlight") should be up shortly. Thank you for reading!