Last time we saw MICA… (click for recap)
Mica, Ben, and Aaron await Paul’s return so they can all flee the city, but Paul doesn’t show. Finally, he makes contact, saying he has the doctor and will meet them at the Wall. So Mica, Ben, and Aaron head out. They make their way through the city, hoping to slip through unnoticed, but that was only a thin hope. They are seen and chased by Watchers and soldiers and narrowly escape. After escaping the soldiers, they make their way through the Ruins and finally to the Wall, where they are joined by Paul and the doctor. Ben tries to get them over the Wall using his powers, but something is wrong, and it’s not working. The doctor notices something strange about Ben and goes into hysterics when she realizes that he has abilities. At that moment, Ben yells for them to charge the Wall. In the confusion that follows, Ben holds off the strange beings on the Wall, Mica wrangles the screaming doctor, and Aaron tries to get Paul up the Wall. But Paul will not go with them. He heads back to the city, saying he finally understands Mica. But he has been wounded and won’t make it back without getting caught. Aaron goes to rescue him, but chaos breaks out again. Chaos erupts. Paul sails through the air to safety, the beings on the Wall are defeated, and Mica and the rest are thrown over the Wall to safety. Then they run…
Mica found it strange that in the most chaotic and frenetic time of her life, she felt nothing. She was empty, and not even the panic and fear could fill her up.
She and Ben and Aaron and the hysterical mad doctor ran from the Wall and demons and Windrose City into nothing. Their journey to the Empty Places blurred past in a pale wash of plains and sky, salty rain, and clouds like milk. They walked in silence. They scavenged and stole food and ate quietly. They rode in stolen transports without speaking. It rained constantly.
Ben tried to speak to her, to comfort her, but she would only turn away. Mica refused to be comforted because her sister was no more. She felt nothing but the weight on her chest and grief at her back. Like turning to see what she thought was a phantom, but finding grief behind her, real and solid and weighty. Grief has a voice like whiskey, and she knows every love song ever written.
Aaron was unusually quiet. Not that he was ever very talkative, but during those gray and watery days, Mica would catch him staring at Ben through the little drops of rain on his glasses. He would wipe them away with a damp sleeve, but his sight remained streaked and blurred. And he continued to stare.
Then there was that woman. Emma. Dr. Henderson. The Doctor, as Aaron had called her. Not used to cold and damp and hunger, Dr. Henderson trembled most of the journey. The loose skin on her neck shaking and wiggling as she shivered. And she, too, stared at Ben. She stared with a strange mixture of fascination and horror, like when Mica was small and had found that dead crow out in the woods. The worms had eaten most of it away, but she had never seen the insides of a creature like that and couldn’t stop staring. Something so raw and real demands to be seen. Even when you turn away and shut your eyes, it slips into your mind and belly and makes itself known. Makes itself a part of you.
And Mica watched Aaron and Emma watch Ben, who kept his eyes forward and never acknowledged their gaze. Finally, after two days of cold and damp and the scent of rotting grass, Mica couldn’t take the silence anymore. She had too many questions.
Out in the middle of nowhere, at the edge of a field where trees and shadows met open darkness and the horizon, they sat around a small and smoking fire. Mica sat farthest away, just on the very edge of warmth.
“What are they? Those things on the Wall?” she asked. Although she knew in her gut what they were, she just didn’t have a name for them. Right now, they were only the monsters she saw in her sleep. They were demons. They were Ben.
Emma looked at Aaron and tilted her head. “I thought all of you Unseen knew?”
Aaron adjusted his back against the log. “They are not from the Unseen. They are Novan refugees. Tell them. They need to know.” She shook her head. “Dr. Henderson, Emma,” he added gently. “Please. They’ll need to know. Eventually, you know that.”
“You know I’ve been trying to get away from them. What they’ve done to me. That’s why I’m here with you.”
“Sunshine and air.”
“Sunshine and air,” Aaron repeated. “Those things that seem so big and terrifying in the dark are usually smaller and simpler in the sunshine and air. We don’t have sunshine right now, but give your fears some air.” Emma considered this for a moment, her eyes still on Aaron. “Please,” he said. “For Cassandra.”
“You knew Cassie?” Ben asked, his eyes still on the fire in front of him.
Emma turned to Ben, but her hooded eyes stayed on Aaron. “Cassandra was a friend. What you saw on the Wall, they’re not… they’re not like us,” she finally said.
Mica leaned in. “Are they Watchers?” she asked, their faces shown clearly in her mind—their eyes glowing that vivid pinky-purple color.
Dr. Henderson shook her head. “No. Not Watchers. They are called Human Elements. And they’re something much worse than Watchers. Something different. Other.”
Mica swallowed back the fear rising in her throat and thought of Ben. “Other?”
“They are not passive and harmless, like the Watchers. They are very powerful.”
“How?” She tried to keep her eyes from wandering to Ben.
Emma squeezed her eyes shut and nestled herself a bit deeper into the tangle of roots she sat against as if their barky arms could keep her safe. “They electrocute,” she said. “They bind. They rip. They manipulate. Deceive. Pain. They cause such great pain. Unlike the Watchers, who are passive observers only, the Human Elements can affect things. Loraine uses them to torture. That was part of my job. I worked in her prison,” she said with a tight voice like something other than words was trying to escape her lips. “And I’ve spent many years trying to escape.”
Mica looked at Aaron. She knew why Aaron and Cassandra had chosen this woman—to complete Aaron’s parents’ work—but did she know that? Mica wondered what his parents’ work really was, what other secrets were buried in the Unseen, and if this woman truly understood her role in everything. But more than that, Mica wanted to know about these Human Elements.
“But… how can they hurt people?” Mica asked, her heart pounded and pounded and pounded against her ribs.
The doctor sighed. Aaron nodded, encouraging her to keep speaking.
Then the words poured out of her like blood. Like a slow, persistent pulse, saying words that cannot be unsaid and conjuring images and ideas that cannot be taken back, Dr. Henderson spoke. As she exposed her own fears and created new and terrifying demons out of thin air, Mica sat breathlessly. She felt as if one breath could blow her away into the darkness towards Windrose City and the Wall, back to those things. All the while, she wondered what these things had to do with Ben.
“Some people are born capable of incredible things,” Dr. Henderson said. “Preternatural abilities. Loraine finds these… unusual people and turns them into Watchers and Human Elements. When babies are born or someone is Burned, they are tested for this ability and, if they have this potential, they are taken. Most with these extraordinary abilities are Watchers. You know what they are. They separate themselves from their physical bodies to move through the world like shadows. When, in this separated shadow state, they connect with another physical being with sense, eyes, and consciousness, their physical body is able to see and feel what that connected being’s physical body sees and feels. In other words, the Watcher’s shadow self transmits the biometrics and the sight of the person they are Watching back to the Watchers physical body. Simply put, Watchers are ghostly transmitters sending back someone else’s physical data to their own physical bodies.
Mica blinked. She knew the Watchers saw what you saw, felt what you felt, but this was too clinical an explanation for the haunting golden-eyed glow of possession. The doctor’s cold tone and glazed eyes failed to communicate the horror Mica had felt knowing someone else was staring out her own eyes.
The doctor continued, “this is how Loraine watches and observes an entire nation: through Watchers, Technicians, and Analysts.”
“What do they do?” Mica asked.
“Technicians collect the data from the Watchers, through Kilns, and the Analysts sift through it and decide who needs an Adjustment.”
“You mean the Re-Incarnate Day Kilns? Aren’t those just for transferring the Eternals?” Mica asked. Colonel Mason had mentioned that the Kilns were connected to the Watchers, and Ben had said their own father had a Kiln with a man inside hidden in their basement. So did that mean the man in the Kiln was a Watcher? Or worse?
“The Kilns,” Dr. Henderson said, “are used for many things. The Watchers are confined, wired to Kilns, which their Technician monitors. The Kilns are the interface the Technicians use to control the Watchers and collect their data. More than that, the Kilns connect everything evil in Nova: the Eternals, the Vessels, the Watchers, and the Human Elements. They all have one thing in common: the Kilns. The Kilns are the beginning of this nightmare we call Nova. A long time ago, hundreds of years ago, someone created the Kilns to transfer consciousness, hoping to gain eternal life. They created shells, vessels, empty beings to transfer into to live forever. Those are the Vessels you see the Eternals transfer into every year on Re-Incarnate Day.”
Out of the corner of her eye, Mica saw Ben tense. He crouched close to the fire, warming his hands and watching the flames send smoke and glowing embers up to the stars like an offering.
“But,” Dr. Henderson said, “Loraine discovered that you could use the Kilns to create beings that were more powerful than mere shells. She used the Kilns to create Watchers and Human Elements to use as her own personal spies. But the Watchers and Human Elements are more connected than she had hoped. In order to access and use their preternatural abilities, one must be in a very specific… hmm… state of mind, for lack of a better phrase. This state of mind, of being, is very difficult to achieve and is impossible to do so fully conscious. Neither created nor naturally born Watchers or Human Elements can use their abilities while fully conscious. So Loraine must give them something called the Aid. The Aid helps Watchers and Human Elements reach the state of mind necessary to use their abilities. The Aid heightens their abilities while simultaneously putting them into a highly suggestive state. The dose needed to trigger a Watcher is relatively low, as Watchers are passive observers, and they can be directed and controlled by the Technicians. However, the dose needed to trigger a Human Element is very, very high.
“They are extremely dangerous and difficult to control. Evil,” Dr. Henderson said, her voice like a snapping fire. Mica looked at Ben. He crouched over the sparking fire, his back to her, his hands out to the flames.
Dr. Henderson’s expression shifted, her eyes closed, her forehead crinkled, and her mouth turned to a grimace. Mica recognized her expression as pain, and she almost pitied the woman. “The Human Elements possess abilities like telekinesis, electrokinesis, force-field creation, and various types of telepathy. That is what you saw on the Wall,” Dr. Henderson said. “While the Watchers are easy to manipulate, the Human Elements are much more difficult, impossible, to control without being controlled themselves by a Watcher.”
Mica stared at the old woman in confusion and wonder. “What do you mean, controlled by a Watcher? Aren’t the Watchers controlled by a Technician?”
“Yes. However, the Human Elements require such a high dose of the Aid, that they are no longer conscious enough to be manipulated. They are asleep. Dreamers. A Watcher, however, who can be manipulated, can enter a Human Element in their shadow state and trigger the Human Element’s abilities like a bomb. The Watchers are the remotes to the Human Element bombs, and the Technicians push the button. That is what we experienced on the Wall: Technicians in Windrose City directing and manipulating Watchers, controlling Human Elements. That is what I did for so long, use the Watchers and Human Elements to interrogate and torture people.
The old woman stopped, shivered, and pulled her jacket tighter around her. No one spoke for a long time, letting her collect herself.
She finally spoke in a whisper. Her voice almost lost in the smoke and wind and stars, “it is like a dream where you have no control. Because of their limitations and their need for the Aid, the Watchers and Human Elements are both bound to the Kilns, one in a secret lab, the other on the Wall. Only now….” Emma’s voice trailed off, and she looked at Aaron. Something strange passed between them, something sorrowful and pained and horrified. Emma covered her face with her hands and said no more.
Mica tried to fully comprehend everything that Emma had told her, but despite the knowledge gained, she felt an overwhelming sense of something being lost. The world was so much simpler without Watchers, Human Elements, Kilns, and ancient history. And what did all this mean about Ben? And why would their father have a kiln in their basement? Did that mean Ben was created? A Human Element? And fear wrapped a cold arm around her neck at the thought.
But Ben was so much more than those mindless things on the Wall. He could do incredible things with his waking mind. He was different. Other. And Mica feared the only person who could answer their questions had left them one starry and cold night and would never return.
They spent the rest of their journey to Haven in silence, and Mica tried to comprehend what Emma had told them and wondered what to do next. But mostly, she mourned the final loss of her sister. The search for Anda was at its end, and Mica had failed.
They reached Haven and found themselves greeted by Rebekah and Zeke. Rebekah had been training the rabble well. She had made Zeke her second in command, and he was thriving. He stood taller now, his empty sleeve pinned back so it wouldn’t wave in the wind.
“There are more people waiting to be restored,” Rebekah said, looking down at Ben. A crowd had formed, even in the rain. They had come to see Perseus. Ben looked so tired, so worn and hungry, and Mica wondered if he had anything left to give.
“He should rest,” Mica said.
“No, it’s fine. I can rest later,” Ben said, waving her off. “Let them come,” he said to Rebekah.
And Rebekah led him to a wide-eyed crowd, shuffling and whispering and staring. Inside a little tent, lighted by candles and lanterns, Ben restored them.
Rebekah brought food and water, and Mica ate, but Aaron and Dr. Henderson only watched Ben restore these strangers in fascination.
“See,” Mica said to Dr. Henderson, her mouth full of bread. “He’s not so bad. You don’t have to be afraid of him.” She and the doctor sat watching Ben’s eyes glow deep-water blue as he restored a young man’s memories.
“He does seem… kind,” Emma said. “But that doesn’t mean he’s not foolish or that there’s nothing to fear. He has much to fear.”
Before Mica could ask what she meant, the young man Ben had been healing began screaming. Ben recoiled. The glow extinguished from his eyes and was replaced by horror.
“What have you done?” the young man screamed. “What have you done?”
Ben turned white. “I’m sorry—I didn’t know.”
The man, his body thin and hungry, lunged at Ben with wide open hands and a feral screech, but Zeke was on him in a moment. Despite his one arm, Zeke wrestled the man to the ground with powerful legs. Rebekah burst into the tent with a gust of frozen wind and took hold of the young man, maneuvering his arms behind his back and slamming him face down into the dirt. Emma cowered in the corner, but Aaron did not move.
“What have you done?” the man continued to scream as Rebekah hauled him away.
Mica’s heart raced, giving her a headache, but she stood. “Ben?” she said and approached, her hand out to him, but he flinched. “What happened?”
He shook, hiding his face with his hands. “He… he had Burned himself.”
“But he was here. He wanted you to restore him.”
“Yes, but… but he didn’t know.”
“He Burned himself to forget something,” Mica said, understanding.
“You experience it yourself, don’t you?” Dr. Henderson asked, uncoiling herself from where she had retreated in fear. “When you restore them, you experience their lost memories.”
“And I carry them with me after. That man… his life… Forgetting might be a blessing sometimes.” Ben hung his head between his knees and breathed deeply and raggedly, distressed.
Mica didn’t know what to do. She’d never seen Ben so undone before. She looked from Dr. Henderson to Aaron for help, but Aaron only stared at Ben from behind glasses glimmering in the lantern light. She feared the look across his face. That cold and calculating thing peeped out, although his eyes were hidden behind glass.
“You have much to fear,” Dr. Henderson said. She was kneeling next to Ben and looking up at his face. “Be very careful. This will not end how you think it does.” She rose quickly and left the tent, heading out into the rain.
Mica stood wondering what the doctor had meant and what to do. Ben wouldn’t look at her. “Hey. You all right?” she finally asked.
The only sound was the rain and the wind.
“It’s not better to forget,” she said, but she knew her voice sounded small and unsure and scared, but then again, that was how she felt.
“Maybe it is,” Ben said, still staring at the ground.
“No, it can’t be.”
“You didn’t see what I saw.”
She shook her head. “But we have to remember, to… to heal and move on.”
“Sometimes that’s not possible. How to do you move on from….” he trailed off and left the horror a mystery.
“Mica, you don’t know,” he said, raising his head and glaring at her, his face pulled with pain. “You didn’t see what I saw. You don’t know anything. It’s not that simple. It’s never that simple.”
“Fine,” she said and walked out into the rain.
While Rebekah remained behind and trained farmers and children into Haven soldiers, Aaron led them to the Unseen City so that Ben could fulfill his part of the bargain. They stole a transport and drove. The mountains appeared beneath a veil of blue-gray clouds, which threatened more rain and snow and thunder. Aaron did not bother with blindfolds this time, saying speed was more necessary, but Mica didn’t care much for the scenery.
She did not react when the Seers surrounded her. Snow blew down from the trees and caught in her hair. Ben, Aaron, and Emma, surrounded by their own circles of blinded Seers, stood scattered through the forest, apart, separated, and alone.
Mica looked up into the mask obscuring the eyes of the Seer who sensed her. He was not Stephen. He was an old man with a long, white beard and skin browned by the sun, but she knew the skin around his eyes would be pale. The man’s mouth turned down as if sad. Mica wondered why. This man didn’t know her, why should he be sad for her? Living here safe and fed in the mountains, he didn’t know anything of sadness or fear. A weight settled in Mica’s belly like a cold stone, and she knew it would be there forever.
The Seer behind her dropped a black hood over her head, and she saw no more.