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PART ONE FISSAREX - Prologue

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When I was younger and more susceptible to liars, my mother let me in on a little secret that took me years to outgrow. If I really wanted something, she told me, all I had to do was think about it, and hope for it, and my requests would always be heard.

"Thoughts are powerful," she said. "Good or bad, they have their way of coming true."

Poor advice to give to a child, much less one as vulnerable as I was. I took her wisdom as fact and accepted no other opinions. As children do, I thought only of ways to make my singular life easier. I thought about acing my tests instead of studying for them. I thought about making good and lasting friends instead of being one in kind. I thought about standing up to Westin van Horne one day instead of ever becoming brave enough to actually do it.

But thoughts without action, as I'd later learn, are meaningless. My grades, my loneliness, and my torment persisted, because I didn't do a thing to change them. Yet, as I walked home, I kept my mother's promise in mind. I thought new thoughts of a better life, sure that these would be the ones to come true. And when I came home crying, she was there to wipe the tears from my eyes and feed me more honey-tasting lies. She'd tell me how my differences weren't flaws, and that I wasn't worth anything less than Westin or the other kids. She'd tell me I was beautiful, that unique was good, and a whole menagerie of other little myths long since proven untrue. I'm sure even then I knew they were lies, but oh, were they wonderful lies to live. I grew to depend on them—on knowing that no matter how bad the day was, my mother would always be there to comfort me with tall tales of a better future.

Which turned out to be yet another lie.

The morning in question wasn't inherently different than any before it. She insisted I wear her jacket to school, a blue corduroy thing lined with fleece, since mine was getting small in the arms. She told me as always to think positive thoughts that day while she fastened the buttons. I was fourteen at the time, so the sentiment was met with rolling eyes, a swat at her hands, and an assertion I could fasten a coat just fine on my own, thank you. At school, Westin and his group gave me their worst, and I fought tears the whole way home. It was the usual routine. It was expected. So when I creaked open the door and sulked inside with my usual, miserable flair, the last thing I expected was to find the house empty.

Sure, the furniture was still in place. The cabinets in the kitchen were still stocked. But the smell of peonies in her perfume was faint, as if she'd been out of the house all day. I didn't think much of it until I went to her closet to return the jacket and discovered her things were gone.

A thought tried to enter my head at that moment, but I wouldn't let it. Thoughts had power, after all, and this was one I couldn't bear to let come true. But as I checked her empty drawers and noted the missing duffle bags in the hall closet, I realized it already had.

My mother was gone. She had run away.

I was the only one in the house for a long time that day. I tried calling all three of my other family members, but none answered. Too busy with their own things. My older brother was probably out stirring up trouble with his friends. My sister, the eldest of us three, was likely in the library, studying relentlessly in the hope of getting a good job after graduation—one over the ocean in Betnedoor, where things ran smoother and better than here in Eldae. My father was still at work, in that desk with the spinning chair I'd loved so much that day I got to visit. He'd been working overtime lately anticipating a promotion, so I knew he wouldn't be home until much later. None of them would.

But this was expected. My mother and I often had the afternoons to ourselves, and we'd spend them either talking on the patio or exploring the old-world ruins around the city. Eldae never cleaned up the rubble from the End, instead building cheap structures around it, which meant the neighborhood next to ours was full of ancient, decrepit houses that had somehow survived the bombs. Her favorite was this old yellow one with no roof, which I found to be quite frightening, but she loved it. I thought about checking it, to see if maybe she'd run there, but I knew there was no use. That house wasn't livable, and if she'd wanted to take her things and run, she wouldn't have moved practically next door. I stood by the phone, frozen, for hours and hours until the door clicking open prompted me to move.

It was Dalton. He wouldn't let me finish my sentence before he trailed off to his room, claiming I was being dramatic—that she was out running errands. Brandyce followed in a similar fashion, but I showed her the drawers and the missing duffle bags, and her denial grew louder and louder until she finally fell to her knees and shrieked. By the time our father came home, I was petrified to tell him.

But it turns out, he would do nothing. My father is a talkative man, the life of most dinner parties, but he had nothing to say as Brandyce and I presented the evidence. A blank stare deepened in the creases of his face, and slowly, he shrank at least three inches into himself, losing strength right before my eyes.

My parents once had a strong relationship, but years of bickering had frayed most of the cords that held them together. They tried not to argue when we were around, but thanks to my classmates who never included me, I knew well how to eavesdrop. I could hear their hushed voices down in the living room after we'd gone up to bed. They argued about me. Their most troublesome child, always coming home from school in tears. My father thought they should send me away to a school in Notness, where my differences wouldn't matter as much, and I'd have a fresh start. My mother found this insulting.

"You push things away when they get difficult," she told him. "You'd just love it if all of us left, wouldn't you?"

These arguments had to have been on his mind as he drove us to the local police station. Streaked with regret, my father told the authorities that his wife must've been kidnapped, because there was no way she'd leave us willingly. He insisted they file a missing person's report and send the search parties at once. But all they could do was apologize, because this didn't look like a kidnapping. Her belongings were gone, and it was well within her own free will to go if she pleased. Even if we knew where she was, we couldn't force her to come back.

On our way out of the station, one of the officers patted my father's shoulder and told him that the best thing we could do was think positively. Keep her in our thoughts. Maybe she'd turn up. It reminded me of what my mother used to tell me about thoughts having power. It felt like a sign. And so, for the whole first year of her disappearance, her return was all I thought about. It was a constant daydream in class, an ever-present prayer before bed. I thought about her so much, I barely slept a wink.

It was a long time before I realized my mother was lying about a thought holding weight in the world. After all, she had also once told me that no matter what, she'd be there for me, and I knew now just how untrue that was. Perhaps lying was well within her wheelhouse, more than I'd ever known.

It's been two years since then, and yet, things have barely changed. The scabs haven't healed yet; we have let them become scars. We keep picking at our wounds, willing them to bleed again and become scabs once more. It's never-ending.

We have vanished quite swiftly into a new routine. Our father, once a colossus we both feared and admired, lost his job at the civil service in the weeks following the disappearance after he'd had a breakdown in the office. The guilt became too much for him to properly function. He spends most of his days in his bedroom, staring at the ceiling and calling out for the wife that left him, as if she'll pick up the phone and answer. Without an income to support us and a will to pick up the pieces, it was Brandyce who was forced to forgo all her exceptional offers abroad and take care of Dalton and me, since we are still too young in Eldae's standards to fend for ourselves. Now, it's too late for her. Opportunities to leave Eldae for Betnedoor are few and far between, and if you don't seize one when it first arrives, another is seldom on the way. Brandyce resents us for this. Me, especially, as the youngest. She now works several simple jobs in town to make ends meet, and I do my best to stay out of her way.

Dalton is currently in his final year of schooling, and he will no doubt abandon us for better places the second he gets the chance. We don't blame him. When I'm out of school, Brandyce will do the same, finally free of the burden of taking care of me. She won't be able to go to Betnedoor like Dalton might, but she'll move far away to the other side of Eldae and never come back. And I will be left to take care of our father, the man who once thought of shipping me off and forgetting me. I'll do whatever small jobs downtown will take me, keep the house tidy, then lie on my bed just as he does, seeking the smell of her peony perfume and always coming up short.

We will dissolve this way. And since I know now that thinking won't change a thing, it is better not to think anything of it.

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