Yennefer’s blunt nails scraped into the marble, desperate to grasp onto anything that could serve as a vestige of stability as Stregobor’s poisonous magic seeped into the fissures of her brain. Searing hot electricity pulsated through her bundle of nerves, spreading like wildfire akin to her Chaos back in Sodden. Her teeth clenched when his eager hands pierced deeper, sifting through every fragment of memories even she has forced herself to forget.
A white flash of pain came like a tidal wave, crashing into her reservations and her restraint to feign composure. She screamed. Stregobor smiled as he continued his sadistic ministrations, feeling the spindles of her muscles clench and unclench in accordance with his magic. It was almost a sickening symphony, guided by his imprudence to seek out the secrets he suspected she held. Her agony was his tune, and he was the orchestrator who dictated her torture and salvation.
“More,” he whispered as he engorged himself within her identity like a parasite.
Another episode of scorching pain radiated through her bones, but she was too exasperated to scream. His satiety was boundless, just like her hunger for power. Maybe they were the same in that regard, she thought. Before she could rebuke such a vile notion, the final piece of her memories was plucked from her.
“That’s more like it.”
Yennefer yielded, knowing that without her source of Chaos, she was his for the taking. No matter how hard her nails pierced through the layers of her skin, no matter how much her teeth clenched together, or how tightly her eyes clamped shut, Stregobor would be able to undo her at the seams.
Little by little. Inch by inch. One by one.
She was losing.
Stregobor’s fingers entrenched themselves further, beyond what she thought was possible. This was no longer for the Brotherhood. This was for him and his twisted conviction against her…. against Tissaia.
Shades of blue metamorphosised in her mind, guiding her to safety like a distant light in a tumultuous sea. She gazed at it curiously, tilting her head to the side slightly as she inquisitively examined it. On the surface level, it stood stagnant in front of her, but that was not the case. It was approaching her – slowly, gradually, surely. Its blue embers dappled over her skin, cooling the searing pain that undulated through her extremities in slow and torturous licks. Just like a sword quenched in oil and dipped into cold water, her entire body sizzled and hissed in agony.
But she smiled, much to Stregobor’s chagrin.
Just as he was about to flex his magic, the blue flame in Yennefer’s mind set ablaze and purged his magic out of her body. Yennefer didn’t need to open her eyes to know who her saviour was. The hues of blue in her mind were all too familiar. She came for her just like before. Her magic delicately threaded through the tresses of her unkempt hair with refined grace, but its potency was laden with irate conviction filled with chaos.
Yennefer’s body fell forward as Stregobor was launched towards the stone-cold wall. But unlike Stregobor, Yennefer’s body was enveloped by a warm presence.
“Tissaia….” she whispered, gripping her arm to ensure she wasn’t a figment of her imagination. She could feel her Rectoress’ heart pounding, her blood curdling, and her Chaos unlaced from their steely confines. She could have smiled if her muscles were not spent.
“Yennefer. It’s going to be alright.”
Tissaia assisted her back up on her feet and kept her close by wrapping her arm around her waist. With a wordless glance at her, Tissaia checked her vitality to ensure she was still conscious. Yennefer vaguely gave her a nod before she nestled against her, but that seemed to satisfy Tissaia because she turned her attention back at her colleague who was still pitifully on his backside.
“You will answer for this,” she snapped, pointedly glaring at him. “I will make sure of it.”
He may have sneered a witty remark back but Yennefer’s consciousness had slipped through her fingers before then, like sand in an hourglass.
By the time she came to, her body was cushioned under lush pillows and a firm mattress. Her gaze was fixated on the unfamiliar high arched ceiling made out of dark-stained oak with a pensively engraved floral pattern. Her eyes then shifted to the high ceiling windows on her right. It took a while, but she soon realised whose quarters she was in.
She sprang up only to hiss through her teeth as jolts of pain radiated through her joints. It served as a grim reminder of what she had narrowly survived – and that it wasn’t a dream. She had come to save her. Again. Yennefer chewed on her lip as she recalled the sensation of Tissaia’s magic enveloping around her, of her hands supporting her, and of the cadence of her voice soothing her anxiety. While her recollection was fragmented, Tissaia’s impression on her skin was still tangible; if she focused hard enough, she could feel where she had touched her when she held her close against her.
This was pathetic. It has barely been a day since she arrived back in Aretuza and she was already pining like a child. She should leave now and thank Tissaia later.
“You shouldn’t move with such urgency lest you faint again from exertion,” a pre-cautionary voice softly warned.
“How long have you been there?” Yennefer asked, acknowledging the Rectoress’ presence in her peripheral.
Tissaia was sat upright on a chair, playing with her pendant as she read her grimoire. Her cold eyes flickered upwards to meet hers when she asked the question. “Long enough.” Her response was simple but vague. She snapped her book shut and abandoned it to the wayside before she stood up from her seat. Her posture was resolute, giving no indication of weakness, and her presence loomed over her decrepit silhouette. All of this seemed eerily familiar. But something was different.
“How are you feeling?
Yennefer smiled mirthlessly. “As if my soul had just been ripped from my body. Although, I suppose I can’t complain since I can still move my limbs. I don’t think I can say the same for Stregobor.”
Tissaia did not humour her with a response though Yennefer could tell from the small quirk on her lips that she agreed with her. Years of studying the older woman have equipped her with enough knowledge of what some of her minute gestures meant. Though she must admit, learning to proficiently decrypt the Rectoress was harder than deciphering and decoding any other scriptures or ciphers. Having mastery over cryptography – transcription ciphers, substitution ciphers, the whole lot that Istredd lectured her with back then – is all for naught when the process of permutating the Rectoress’ emotions into simple plaintext demanded more than algorithms, or mathematical methodologies. Not even magic could help Yennefer prod through Tissaia’s fortitude back then.
So how come she can understand her as if she were the back of her hand now?
She was different. Her eyes betrayed her composure. People often say that a person’s eyes are the window to their souls – Yennefer understood that now.
She also understood that Tissaia was allowing her privy to her emotions without outwardly relinquishing her power in their dynamic. As Tissaia had taught her many, many moons ago: a semblance of emotion was a sign of weakness sorceresses could no longer indulge in after their ascension. Yet here she was doing just that – being weak. As much as vulnerability disgusted Yennefer, she couldn’t conjure the same emotion towards her Rectoress. Her heart ballooned with plenty of conflicting emotions, but disdain was not one of them.
“You should stay here while I deal with matters downstairs.”
“What will happen now?” Yennefer asked, gazing up at her.
“I have called a meeting with the other members to discipline Stregobor’s actions. Although, I already know that Vilgefortz and I will be met with resistance from the other bodies of the table. They have always favoured that pompous man, after all.”
Yennefer’s heart tightened at the mention of his name. His professional relationship with Tissaia was no secret; they are practically adjoined to each other by the hip. However, she couldn’t help but pick up on a hint of fondness in Tissaia’s tone as she uttered his presence. Vilgefortz. The night before the Battle of Sodden, mead was not the only thing partitioned around the fire. Gossip – mostly invaluable – was rationed sparingly as humorous anecdotes to act as a distraction from their impending doom. It was Triss who regaled Yennefer about the speculation that Vilgefortz had grown closer to Tissaia over the years of working beside her. Yennefer did not want to entertain such a ridiculous idea but Triss’ news earlier today – about Vilgefortz holding Tissaia’s hand during the aftermath of Sodden – suggested that they were certainly more than colleagues.
Irritation sizzled behind her purple eyes. “Must you tell Vilgefortz everything?”
“He’s my confidante, Yennefer, of course I do. I need his support during these times – especially during these times. Without him, Stregobor and his underlings would have completely overpowered me at the Conclave.”
“And is that the extent of your relationship with him? A confidante, or is he something more than that?”
Tissaia ensconced herself on the edge of the bed, next to Yennefer. With a small sigh, she replied. “Does it matter?”
It should not. However, the gnawing ire in Yennefer’s chest told her otherwise. Of course, it does. But why? She mulled through all the whys and buts, desperate to grasp at anything substantial to provide a plausible explanation as to why she was feeling the way she was, to no avail. The bitterness on the tip of her tongue lingered when she realised that she did not have a satisfactory answer for the Recoress.
After wallowing in futile contemplation, Yennefer’s eyes rose and followed Tissaia’s movement around the room. Her petite silhouette dipped into the shadows before she stepped closer to the window where the shades of her blue dress caught the shimmer of the moonlight, mimicking the gradient of the night sky. The unending cataract of rain from the anvil clouds drifting under the disc of the full moon pelted onto the asphalt down below and softly thrummed against Tissaia’s windows, blanketing the silence between them. Tissaia stood in front of a window, back turned towards her.
“Stregobor told me that the technique he used was yours,” Yennefer finally spoke, curtailing the topic at hand. “I did not know the Tissaia De Vries had such a primitive technique up her sleeve.”
“The Nilfgaardian prisoner left me no other choice,” she offered simply.
But that doesn't answer why you resorted to an arbitrary decision.
“He took someone precious to me,” Tissaia continued, turning around to lock eyes with her, “he took you. I was forced to resort to a barbaric method of interrogation against my own behest. However, I do not regret my actions despite the hypocritical nature of it, if that’s what you truly wanted to ask.”
A sudden flash of light followed by a caterwauling sound filled the night sky as lightning scarred into the skin of the earth. The windows began to clatter as churlish howls of the wind swept across the building. The two sorceresses remained outwardly placid despite experiencing plight that superseded the cataclysm of the storm outside. She remembered Tissaia taming the most potent form of electricity as if she were synonymous with the nature of lightning. And Yennefer realised her wrong in failing to affiliate such a destructive attribute to her mentor. Albeit she lacked the thunderous impact as lightning, Tissaia’s presence was revered and demanded genuflection even by those who deplored her, just like how intermittent lighting and thunder commanded attention. She was the true embodiment of a quiet storm.
Jealousy streamed into her blood vessels. Even after attaining Chaos, she couldn’t siphon an ounce of Tissaia’s propensity. Now, that she was without it, what could she do to nurse her inferiority complex? Although thunders were impressive – impactful – tumult displays of power, it was the silent lightning that smites. But in the absence of one failing to complement the other, the gravity of their presence is lost. So, what was she without her lightning but a loud nuisance?
Another silver streak of lightning appeared, triggering one of Yennefer’s memories from when she was a student. Shards of broken glass. The smell of sizzling skin. The feeling of unbridled chaos and false sense of power. The Tower of the Gull. Her memories were now jaded, fleeting, and grey – remnants of the past she did not want to acknowledge. But memories of Tissaia afterwards were distinctly brandished in a melody of blues from the shades of their gowns, the lightning-streaked sky, to Tissaia’s pellucid eyes.
“….Like us,” Yennefer quietly quoted as she ran her fingertip over the grooves of her scars on her wrist. However, unlike her mentor, the consequences of her Chaos were marred into the fibre of her being as a cruel reminder of what breaking the glass bottle would entail.
“Precisely,” said Tissaia, too quiet that she was almost silenced by the thunderous storm outside. Then she turned on her heel and locked eyes with Yennefer again. “As I have told you long ago, mages like us are consumed by emotions. And the thought of losing you, Yennefer…..” Her hands clenched together in restraint.
The raven-haired sorceress leaned forward, eager to hear the end of the sentence. “What?” she implored.
Tissaia’s jaw clenched together indignantly, unmoving to her desire, but the fortress she protected her emotions with came crumbling down as another bolt of lightning struck. Her lips quivered as she tried to contain herself, but they both knew she was malleable to the heat of her own emotions.
“I abandoned all the rules – I broke the glass bottle – for you, my dear, just as you had for me. The thought of losing you frightened me more than losing my own life at Sodden. You, Yennefer – ” Her words evaporated into the cool air when her face was gently tipped up. The glint of surprise in her eyes suggested that she did not even realise that Yennefer had gotten up from her bed.
“Don’t say anything else,” she interrupted, cradling the side of her face. In the past, Yennefer would have traded anything to witness Tissaia like this – conflicted in her own despair, dishevelled in appearance, and a contrasting image to her usual authoritarian figure. Now that the opportunity of gloating presented itself, she did not feel any satisfaction in it. The only sentiment that curdled in her breastbone was self-hatred for wishing such a juvenile desire.
She half-expected Tissaia to pull away, to reinstate the distance between them, but she did neither of those things. Instead, she placed her hand on top of hers and relished her comfort, sighing as she leaned forward. Their gaze met in stalemate, neither wanting to disrupt the silence that deceptively concealed the pandemonium that ensued in their hearts. Yennefer’s hand swept away the rebellious lock of hair that obscured her from appreciating the softened expression on Tissaia’s face. If only she could immortalise this moment on a canvas.
Was that a plea? Or a warning?
Whichever it was, hearing the way Tissaia enunciate her name enlightened her.
Despite the glaring truth that she was a powerless mage – her wings plucked at the height of her prime – she has never felt more empowered than before. For the first time in 60 years of knowing Tissaia, she could finally decipher her thoughts unlike any other. Her proclivity of saying something caustic bubbled up in her mind, out of habit, but she quickly dismissed it since she knew it stemmed from her innate defence mechanism. If she wanted to nurture this moment, she needed to remain vulnerable.
“The thought of losing you was the catalyst of my power back in Sodden. The whole world can burn if all I care, but I am not letting you burn along with it. I refuse to let you become a martyr for a cause that doesn’t even deserve a drop of your blood.”
Yennefer dipped down and leaned her forehead against hers as her spare hand wrapped around her delicate neck, feeling her pulsing arteries voice her apprehension. Words that were not filled with animosity were rarely exchanged between them, and so they ventured this unchartered territory in the company of silence.
The droplets of rain were now incessant and unforgiving. The zephyr grew violent as it clamoured against the windows, demanding access into her chambers. But Yennefer’s focus on the other woman rendered the storm silent, as if Tissaia were the eye, as if she were the source of comfort within the chaos. They revelled in nothingness in each other’s arms, content that they have each other.
At least for now.
Until Tissaia walks out of her chambers and hides behind the façade of Rectoress.
When will she see this side of hers again?
“Always the audacious child,” Tissaia softly chided. “My blood is mine to spill. I am prepared to take such drastic measures if it means protecting my students.”
“Is that all I am?” she asked, lips twisted at the thought of being lumped with the common. “Your student?”
“Oh, my dear, do you still need to ask?” she whispered as her hand glided down the curvature of Yennefer’s reinforced back before it settled on her hipbone. After seeing grief in her purple eyes, the Rectoress shook her head. “No, Yennefer, you are much more than that.”
Yennefer smiled, satisfied. However, the thought of him set her childish imprudence ablaze. Has he also seen her like this? She couldn’t help but ponder at the possibility of Vilgefortz knowing Tissaia more than she did. The thought of them together flitted in her mind. Images of his hands tracing every speck of her skin, learning what makes her come undone, and of his mouth claiming the sounds men in power could only dream of eliciting out of the Rectoress’ mouth, taunted her. The searing pain weltering into her heart as she entertained her paranoia made Stregobor’s torture laughable in comparison. It only deepened when the idea of them continued to gambol in her mind like a tragic play that has yet to conclude its first act.
She didn’t want to be in the audience of this insanity. She wanted to play a part. She wanted Tissaia.
Yennefer stepped closer and dipped down, knowing that the damage accompanying this reckless act of hers would change everything forever. No amount of magic can reverse this flesh wound, then again, maybe that’s what Yennefer wanted. Even if this were to blow up in her face, she would have something raw to remember this moment by. Her fingers slid over the nape of her neck, gently pulling her close and giving her ample time to turn away if she wished.
Tissaia did not. As expected, she challenged her taunt.
They were now breadths apart yet Yennefer did not seal the distance between them. Uncertainty plagued her. What if –
“You can’t hear my thoughts, can you?” Tissaia finally asked. Although it was an observation disguised as a question with the purpose of allowing Yennefer to explain herself.
No, I can’t. She didn’t know if she should divulge further, especially since dire consequences were tethered to the revelation she had yet to reveal.
The older woman nodded understandably, saying nothing more. Yennefer observed as Tissaia’s discerning gaze fell onto the imperfections on her skin – taut patches that haven’t yet healed – which told her about her struggles in the month she journeyed back to Aretuza. The presence of her scars begged for questions Yennefer knew Tissaia was contemplating on asking despite thinning her lips.
“Ask,” the raven-haired said. “Silence was never your strong suit. So, ask.”
“I don’t need to. I knew from the beginning, Yennefer.” She held her face in the palm of her hand and smiled mirthlessly, almost solemnly.
Her eyes widened and she took a step back. “…What?”
Tissaia pulled her back and held her calloused hands, squeezing them to reassure herself that Yennefer was not a hallucination nurtured by her grief. “You forget how much I understand you. I know you to your core. Your pain is my pain, Yennefer.”
She blinked the impending tears away and sniffed. “How did you know?”
“That night in Sodden when you harnessed the power of fire, when you exceeded the Laws of Chaos, I….” Tissaia’s teeth grinded together in contention, and her glassy eyes cracked under the pressure of her emotions. “….I felt you leave,” she whispered, hushed, as if she were afraid that materialising these words would make it true. “And then you came back…. but you still felt lost to me. That's when I knew...."
That her connection with Tissaia as a conduit of Chaos was severed.
Yennefer closed her eyes as streaks of tears ambled down her cheeks. “I can no longer conjure magic, Tissaia…” she confessed, lips trembling. “And without magic at my disposal, I am no better than how I was as a hunchback cursed with Elven blood. I am helpless without it.”
“Vulnerable, perhaps. But never helpless,” Tissaia corrected as she wiped her tears for her. “Know that you are so much more than your vessel, my dear. So much more.”
“But how can I know something unfathomable when the reality is that my purpose in this world has been taken away from me?!” Yennefer vociferated, pushing her comfort away. Her blood curdled as she tried to flex her magic through her extremities to wield them on her fingertips – nothing. As she envisioned lightning at her disposal, another ominous crack of thunder thrummed in the wake of darkness. She turned to the window, drinking in the unapologetic carnage that the rumbling wrought outside, wishing she had the capacity to elaborate her ire right now.
“Catch lightning in a bottle.”
It seemed impossible at first. Then it became child’s play for decades. But she was reminded as to why it was so difficult.
Because lightning never did strike twice.
Her time in the skies was over. With a flash of heat in the cool air, she vanished, never to be heard again.
“Do you not feel contempt for me?”
“What?” asked Yennefer, bewildered. “Why would I?”
“Oh, don’t protect me by feigning ignorance. We both know that if I hadn’t tended to the flames in your heart, you wouldn’t be in this predicament right now. You have every right to channel your hatred, frustration, and animosity against me. Why won’t you?”
“Why would I forsake you now when I couldn’t before?” Yennefer offered simply. “My ability to choose was taken from me from the very beginning, and I have been wanting it back ever since. It was my choice to relinquish my everything for you. Chaos, magic, progress – everything started with you. Maybe it’s poetic that they ended with you, too.”
Tissaia’s pursed her lips tightly as she listened.
Yennefer took hold of her hand and guided her to every single scar she gained since the Battle of Sodden. Tissaia’s fingertips felt cool on her flushed skin, acting as a calming balm on her injuries. Yennefer hummed in response as they started to wander according to the Rectoress’ desire. One by one, her injuries were healed by her soothing touch. Slowly, Yennefer stopped her and entangled her fingers with hers. For a while they just stood there, staring into each other’s eyes, but then she felt Tissaia begin to pull away.
Yennefer could no longer stand the gaping chasm between them. She damned herself to hell by capturing her Rectoress lips in a languorous kiss. The last time she felt the urgent want to share intimacies with another often elapsed her mind yet they consumed her tonight. How she missed the sensation of another’s skin melding against hers into a convoluted mess fuelled solely by amorous desire. Tissaia reciprocated and kissed her back as her deft hands grazed the feminine curvature of her waist and her dainty neck.
A clap of thunder boomed before a silver shimmer of lightning raced upwards to the storm cloud. It was immediately followed by a consecutive fearsome force, scathing the earth’s crevice once more, striking at the same place twice.
“Your story is not yet complete, my dear,” Tissaia slowly spoke, pulling away to draw breath. “But it is time to conclude this chapter and start anew.”
Yennefer kissed the palm of her hands that lovingly cradled her face. She nodded, lips curled into a smile. It was pitiful but a smile, nonetheless.
“Whatever they decide tonight, don’t let it dictate your fate. Run far away from this place….”
She may not have said it out loud and Yennefer may no longer be able to hear her thoughts, but her heart understood the cadence of her own. Before she could rebel against the idea, a gentle knock on the door resonated throughout the room. Her head turned to the door, already knowing who it was behind it.
Tissaia softly grabbed her by her chin and redirected her focus back onto her. “He doesn’t matter. In the presence of you and I, he doesn’t exist.” She kissed her once more, soft and fleeting, before she turned towards the door. “Come in,” she called to their intruder.
“Tiss, the meeting is about to start,” said Vilgefortz as he nonchalantly stepped into the room.
“I see...” Tissaia sighed, clasping her hands together, before she looked back at her. This time, her eyes did not betray her. Yennefer could see nothing but the façade she often wore as her armour. “I will summon you after the meeting so we can discuss your fate here in Aretuza.”
Yennefer dipped her head slightly, quietly acknowledging her orders.
Vilgefortz was quick to evaluate the scene as he shared glances with both women, disdain plaguing his eyes. He cleared his throat and opened the door for Tissaia, gesturing for her to exit first. She obliged and brushed past him, only to stop momentarily to look over her shoulder.
No need for words. Nor for magic.
They both understood that this may have been the last time they were able to speak from the heart.
Yennefer softly smiled back and continued to gaze at the slope of her back until she was too far away to be admired. With a sigh, she looked back out into the dark night and touched her lips. The warm sensation of Tissaia’s lips was slowly dwindling away like embers in the winter night. She should be disappointed, but she understood that the luxury of opportunity of being able to cast their political roles to the wayside is down to a conjunction of circumstances by which they were not blessed with.
She will have to leave again tomorrow. And Tissaia will have to watch her shadows slip through the crevices again.
Just like thunder and lightning, their fates will always be intertwined but their timing will never be perfect.