Alma watched, numb. She hung suspended, held supine as though she were a corpse laid on a slab or a banquet table. It was hard to muster any concern for what she could see through the mask’s eyes. She was drained dry, desiccated of anything that felt like emotion or even much like rational thought. She could see everything, see her family fighting against the fiend that controlled her body. As Jowd raised his fists against her, as Kamila wailed in despair while still fighting without mercy, as Cabanela faced her down with lightning blazing from everywhere and nowhere, Alma accepted the fury of their attacks with resigned equanimity. None of these visions were real. All of this was orchestrated, calculated to make her attempt to save them, to eke the last valiant residue from her soul, and she wasn’t going to give the demon the satisfaction.
None of her heroics had been of any use. The demon who possessed her body had manipulated her through an incredible number of cycles of memory and dream. It had granted her the memory of how many times she had gone through the same sequence or something similar, and indeed, she had saved her family in every conceivable situation and every possible configuration.
What was the point in continuing this game? It was time to let this go. Maybe wherever she went, she would finally be somewhere she could be happy once again. Or maybe her soul would be devoured, with not a scrap left for any sort of afterlife. Alma couldn’t, at this point, bring herself to care. She had one single choice left to her: end it now or let the demon end it for her.
Now, how was she to do this? She needed to surprise the demon and destroy her own body so that it had nothing to possess. Alma spared a thought to hope that no one else would come to Doma, leaving the demon alone in the wastes. Surely the survivors of the ruined world, if any there were, would be wary of such a place? To be certain, it would be best to destroy the mask. But, again, how? Would destroying it in her dreamscape even be possible? It needed magic. Could she call upon the spells she knew without alerting her possessor?
Alma jerked as a cut appeared on her cheek, her attention drawn back to the fight. Something had hurt her physical body. Maybe… maybe someone was out there fighting her after all? It wouldn’t be her family, no, of course not, lost as they were, but if there was someone out there truly fighting maybe she could use their movements to help her accomplish her own goal.
She started watching the one that the demon had made look like Cabanela. Although the seeming of Jowd fought with greater outward ferocity, and the one that looked like Kamila with greater precision, he fought with a single-minded purpose that said that he would do what he had to to finish the fight. The real Cabanela had been that way too, Alma thought. This unknown fighter might be counted on to finish her without too much fuss.
Alma tried to reassert control over her body, working to find even the smallest opening that would give her the chance to do what must be done. She managed to twitch her eyes first, then a finger. The demon didn’t appear to react, preoccupied as it was with whomever it was fighting. She drifted closer, tiny movements geared to stay unnoticed. It seemed to take an eternity, but she was managing something. She couldn’t afford hope or determination at this point, nor any other emotion that would give the game away. She had to drift, apparently meaningless oscillations in the air.
She spared one final glance for Jowd and Kamila. She had failed them so many times in dream and life. They hadn’t deserved what they had gotten from her. She didn’t have much emotional wherewithal for regrets anymore, but a faint pang of loss stilled her for one aching instant.
Finally, finally, she was close enough. She could see the Cabanela-seeming’s eyes. They looked like the ones she remembered, although she supposed since they were taken from her memory, that was only to be expected. It was only right and fair for her to die this way. She had left him when he needed her the most. She had not believed Cabanela when he had pled that he was not the Empire’s wretched jester. She had let him suffer that mental torment alone. She hoped, somehow, that the real one would find some peace, somewhere in that hypothetical afterlife.
She gazed at his face, one last time, and exhausted all her remaining energy in a great leap forward just as he cast a wave of magic towards the dream children. Petrification magic, she had time to think. She had expected lightning. She felt the stone taking hold, crackling up through her bones in a sweeping chill from feet to head. The last thing she felt was the hard crack of her body hitting the floor.