“Mage, wait!” Alice’s footsteps rang on the marble floor as they hurried after Mage’s storming figure, finally catching up with her in the gardens of the palace’s north wing. The elf stood beside one of the moss-lined pools, her back to Alice, staring into its still depths as she sought to slow her breathing. Alice could tell by the tension in Mage’s narrow shoulders and clenched hands that it wasn’t working. They reached out to touch her arm, then thought better of it and let their hand fall. Instead they said quietly to her rigid back, “It’s upsetting, I know. I feel so guilty; I’m sure you do too.”
“Guilty?” Mage cast a disbelieving sneer over her shoulder. “Of course not. This has nothing to do with us.” Though their time on Liberty had healed many wounds, and Ali had come to recognize the subtle differences in their companion’s many smirks, smiles, and grins, not so much time had passed that they had forgotten what that expression meant. “You’re… angry?” They shook their head in confusion. “Why?”
“Of course I’m angry!” Mage whirled around, green eyes bright and hard, sneer transformed into a snarl. “We fought over that fucking scrap of rock for years – for decades – and where were they? Did the Lost stand beside you to face down my cannon fire? Did they stand beside me once they learned the full breadth of his betrayal? No!” She threw her arms wide. “They fucking left! They didn’t care what happened to the Island or to you, they just went about their petty little lives as if none of it had ever happened. He abandoned everyone, and then they abandoned you, and then in the end it was just you and me.” The snarl flickered out, curled into a sad, tired, bitter thing. “Until they need something from you. Until they need the white knight again. Then they come creeping back. That’s how it’s always been.” Mage speared Ali’s gaze with her own. “Did you not see that? How are you not angry too?”
“That’s…” Ali swallowed, mouth suddenly dry, then tried again. “That’s all in the past. We chose to dissolve the Island. This black hole is our doing, we have to make it right.”
“Tivius created the Island,” Mage spoke the name with a hiss as if it burned her tongue to utter it at all. “He set this in motion with his stolen magic and his web of lies. It’s not our responsibility and it never was. The story’s over; it’s finished. If they cared so much about having a say in the ending then they should have stuck around for it.”
“So we just give up?” Alice couldn’t believe what Mage was insinuating. “Let it slowly consume the universe?”
“They left you, Ali,” The hard anger in the elf’s emerald eyes shifted, turned pleading. “Why do you still want to fight for them? Why do you still feel beholden to them? What will it take for you to choose yourself for once?” Her right hand reached out, the tips of the hook’s long claws almost brushing Alice’s silks before shrinking back. “Or me?”
When Alice didn’t respond right away, too many emotions warring within them, Mage snorted humorlessly and turned away. “That’s what I thought,” she muttered. Before Ali could come up with the right words, or any at all, Mage had disappeared deeper into the gardens, off to wherever she went when she needed to be alone. They knew they wouldn’t find her until she wanted to be found.