Basal 71st, 1042

“Cursed? Free her? What?” Clover asked, looking around. One moment, she’d been asleep, albeit uncomfortably, but still. The next moment, here. “Did you carry me here while I was asleep or something?” They laughed at that, and she had no idea what was so funny. Actually… “You don’t look so good. You should’ve rested more before doing that.”

“It’s this place. Remedy can’t control it, but I think her gift is…uh, working in reverse. Making anyone who comes by sick. And possibly…killing them?” they winced. Clover stared.

“So you brought me here?!” She’d heard that people got sick here, while talking to Kuiper about it. This place was rumored to house some sort of miraculous cure that could fix any illness in its center, but was guarded by a curse that killed anyone who dared try and get it. Some sort of chemical leak left over from the Dark Age when people used toxins with no regard to the environment, the people of Glassview had theorized. Still, it didn’t stop people from trying, risking their lives for the sake of exploration, or getting some priceless cure-all.

“No! You brought yourself! I mean, Remedy was calling to you, and you just started walking here! Ask her what she expects you to do, because I’m stumped, personally!” They crossed their arms. “And she’s mad at me, though I’m not sure how she expected me to prevent this. I was the youngest God. I was comparable to a child when she got stuck here…”

“Well…okay. Um, Remedy? Can you hear me?” She yelled down the entrance of the maze. She’d heard about this place and been curious, but she’d have preferred to visit under different circumstances. Like, maybe with shoes or something. It was freezing cold; she could see her breath coming out in puffs of steam. If it had been her choice, her visit would have been from a greater distance, too. This was far too close for comfort.

It had been as if she’d been having a vivid dream on the walk here. Of her mother, strangely enough. That week when Juniper had gone missing, she’d been a mess, blaming herself, and Clover had desperately wanted to solve all of her mother’s problems, to hug her and assure her he was alright. It was as if something had shifted in their dynamic from that day onwards. Clover had done her best to take care of her mother. Had done her best to tell herself this trip to find Juniper was for her mother’s sake, too.

“I wasn’t sure, at first. I sensed you nearby, along with that boy,” A voice started, smooth as sand and equally as whispery, sending a chill down Clover’s spine. “And I thought we would figure it out once you arrived.”

It was the woman she’d been hearing screaming from the healer’s center. She and Aspen had thought it was someone in the building. No one else had tended to her or had seemed bothered.

A feeling of dread sat heavy in the pit of Clover’s stomach. Why had she been able to hear her from so far away? Maybe Aspen made sense, since he was the Quasar, he could probably do all sorts of things. But she was just a regular person.

She started down the maze without even thinking about it. The stone underfoot was cool, but the wind from outside was blocked, so it felt less bitingly cold inside.

“You sensed me? I have amber Thauma with me,” she said, holding up her Wonderworking Wand, “Which is your gift, right? My mother is a healer. We’ve been using your gift for a very long time in my family to help others. If I can do the same for you, I will.”

“We can’t use Thauma!” Alouette snapped at Remedy from beside Clover. “It doesn’t really affect me, so I don’t see how it would help you at all.”

They really didn’t look good. Their nose was bleeding, and they were using the wall to support themself. Weren’t they a God? Why were they getting sick?

Clover should have been alarmed, but then, she never really had gotten sick very often as a child. And her wounds, minor scrapes and bruises here and there, they had always healed quickly.

“Just because you’ve trapped yourself in that thing doesn’t mean the rest of us can’t use our own…” Remedy trailed off. “Ah. I see now. Clever, clever little bird. If you’re sincere about wanting to help, Ash, you will use your gift for me, too.”

“What is it you want them to do?” Clover asked. She made a sharp turn in the maze, feeling for Remedy, following her voice. It was hardly a maze when she instinctively knew where to go to get to the center. She was being guided by the God of Salubrity.

“Lifting the curse of illness isn’t enough. If I return to the Upper Realm alone, I will immediately face the wrath of the Sol and Lunar Gods. Much as I’d love to make them fall ill, my power doesn’t affect them as they are there. But Ash, you put yourself in some sort of vessel. A decaying one, but functional enough one, I suppose. Until the time comes that we’re all unsealed, we will need vessels in this world to inhibit. If I leave this maze now, in my pure elemental form, every human I come in contact with will die. And only you, Ash, have the power to transform a vessel to be able to contain us, just as you’ve done to that one.”

“I made this baby custom!” They patted their chest, and Clover couldn’t help but laugh at their phrasing. “I– I can’t do what you’re asking of some random person. No one in their right mind would want that–” Remedy cut Alouette off with harsh laughter of her own.

“Clover, the God before you is a hypocrite and a liar. And the Sol and Lunar Gods will seal me again in a heartbeat if they get the chance. I don’t ask forgiveness for all the lives my power has taken. I ask you for a chance. You were called here for a reason. Open yourself to me.”

Down the maze corridor, Clover saw the center, saw her. She was made of sand, barely keeping her form humanoid, eyes glowing amber like her Thauma. She was equal parts beautiful and terrifying. Snakes swarmed around her, as though they were the only creatures unaffected by her curse.

Along with Clover, apparently.

Clover’s hand ached. She clasped her right hand over her left, clenching her teeth.

“That pain you feel is because of Ash’s power,” Remedy whispered. “I can purge that off of you. Goodness, it’s been affecting you for some years…”

“The only time she’s ever used my power on herself was to dye her hair. Why are you so intent on smearing my name?” Alouette asked. “I came to help you. And…and I prefer Alouette here. It’s the name they gave me. The humans.”

“Of course you do. You restarted the cycle, didn’t you? I always hated when you did that. …Perhaps someone else used your power on her. Look again. To me, the origin of her pain is clear as day.”

Clover thought they must be talking about something only Gods were privy to, but Alouette looked just as confused as she did.

“Clover, may I see your hand?” They asked. Clover offered her hand, pain shooting up her arm when she moved it too quickly. They closed their eyes, the same way they’d done the first night they'd met and they’d read everyone’s history with their gold Thauma. Their eyes snapped open, sharp and gold and very alarmed.

“What? What is it?”

“Juniper. Juniper used it on you to– to transform the appearance of your hand. He must have used enough to last years; it was such a part of you I couldn’t even tell– it’s way more than your kind should use at once. It should have killed you.”

“Why did he do that? He would never hurt me!” Clover protested. She held her hand up, turning it over. It was just her hand, nothing strange or different from when she was young! Yet, she had a horrible, horrible feeling clawing its way up her throat. She was going to be sick.

“No, I know. He knew it wouldn’t hurt you, because you can’t die. That night I felt the two Quasar being marked, it did come from your house. But you are the Quasar marked by the Sol God, Clover.”

“What?! That’s impossible, I can’t be–”

“Let Remedy burn away the remnants of my Thauma in you. Your Cachet will show.” They said, voice detached. “My gift hurt you. You’ve been in pain because of it.”

“I will try to fix it, once my curse is gone. Come to me.” Remedy said.

Clover’s legs gave out from under her. She couldn’t even begin to understand this. Why would Juniper lie?

“No.” Alouette said. “No. You don’t get to have her, Rem. Not like this. We don’t know if this insane idea will even work. Clover, I can take you back to town. Give you time to digest this.” They offered.

“It will work. You’ve already done it.” Remedy said. Clover looked between them, crestfallen.

“Everyone who’s come here has died. But not me. I’m not even a little sick. So it has to be me, or Aspen. And freeing all of them might stop the Quasar Ceremony, right? We have to try. Because I’m not killing Aspen, that’s for damn sure.” She whispered, balling her fists up against the cool stone. “And I still need to find Juniper. I guess his intentions were to protect me, but I can’t even try to think about what he was thinking right now.”

“But you could get hurt–”

“But it won’t kill me. You said it yourself, Quasars can’t die.” Clover tilted her chin up towards Alouette. “In fact, you look worse than I do right now. We might not have much more time to do this. So do it. You can, right?”

“I was a child. I don’t remember making this vessel. I don’t– I can try to transform you into some kind of vessel, but you’re sure you’re fine with that?” they knelt down to her level, softening their voice. “Are you in your right mind to be making that decision?”

Clover let out a laugh. No, she was really upset and probably shouldn’t let this be an impulsive choice, but…but she’d heard Remedy. The God was in so much pain here, pain over killing people with a power that was gentle, meant to heal. Then she faltered, looking towards Remedy. “If I host you, will I still be myself? Will I be in control of myself?”

“This is the first time I’ll be doing anything like this as well; I can’t say. But if I have a say in it, I will be a silent presence, as unobtrusive to you as possible.” Remedy said.

“Well then, no point in hesitating. I said I’d help if I could. I can. Do it.” She said to Alouette, leaving no room for argument. They took her hand tenderly in theirs, and offered their other hand to Remedy. Her sandy hand sat on theirs, grains sifting and slipping through the spaces between their long fingers.

Alouette took a breath, their eyes flooding with golden light.

Clover’s world went amber.

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