Chapter Thirty-Seven

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Matta staggered and fell. If she had still possessed lungs to breathe with, she would have been gasping.

Sanna flickered by her side like a candle flame, her eyes bright with concern. The fox hovered nearby, its coal-black nose twitching.

"M'Lady?" Sanna asked. "Are you alright? What happened?"

Matta groaned and pressed her forehead into the soft ground. "I think—I think I just did something—rather foolish," she said.

Sanna placed a gentle hand on the nape of her neck. "We felt something shift, M'lady. And there was a shadow. It shook everything. I think... I think it was angry..."

Matta raised herself up on hands and knees, then settled back into a kneeling position. "It was angry. I think—" She hesitated, not wanting to say the words aloud in this fragile place, yet feeling compelled to utter them all the same. "I think it was the Sorcerer. Or what is left of him. I saw him, Sanna. And I struck him. My brother was there, he was in pain—and that girl, the Reader, she was being pressed into the ground..." Matta covered her face with both hands and made a sound that was half sigh, half sob. "How can he still exist, Sanna? We burned his corpse. We burned it! How can he still have the power to harm those I love, while I cannot even speak to them?"

Sanna leaned forward and hugged Matta's shuddering shoulders. She radiated warmth and worry, but neither was a comfort to Matta. If anything, her dry sobs grew worse.

"M'Lady, I can't say if you did something foolish," Sanna murmured. "But it seems to me you did something brave." She paused, then asked, "Are they safe now? M'Lord and the Reader?"

"They are alive. That is all I know." Matta lowered her hands and turned to gaze at Sanna. "But don't you see? This means the Sorcerer is still out there, trying to manifest his cruelty and his malice on my world—and I'm trapped here. I can't even warn them!" She slammed her fist into the ground. "Why can't I die, Sanna? Why can't I just die!"

"I don't know," Sanna whispered. "By rights, I should have been gone long ago, M'Lady. Yet here I am still."

"And you cannot even recall how you died," Matta said bitterly. She uncurled her fist and folded both hands in her lap. "Nor can I. All I remember is Igren telling me she would bring Kelle, then—then nothing. And after that, this cursed place." She gestured around at the swirling mist. "I would almost prefer the pit to this, Sanna. To stagnate here for all of time, watching my world die... this is far worse than any damnation I can think of."

"Maybe you can help," Sanna offered. "You say you struck the Sorcerer's spirit, that you helped the Reader. Surely you are not as helpless as you think?" She brushed a lock of Matta's hair behind her ear, then stood. "This place, this—this betwixt, that is neither life nor real death—perhaps we are here so we might be close to Ther, so that we may be of use."

"Or perhaps it is simply another symptom of the Fog," Matta said wearily. The fox had crept forward when she wasn't looking, and now began to nuzzle her palm. She stroked it absently as she continued, "There are others here. I can feel them. Thousands of them. They cannot all have some glorious destiny to fulfill. Something is holding back the dead, Sanna. Something is stopping our souls from entering the Myriad..."

The fox crept closer under her caress. It wagged its tail, then slipped softly into Matta's lap, curling itself into a ball of fur that smoldered red against her own pale glow.

"If that's the case, M'Lady, then we must wait, and hope," Sanna said. Her voice held more conviction than Matta felt in her entire being. "Your brother and the Reader will find the book. She will read the story, weave everything back together, as it ought to be. And then, maybe, we will be set free."

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