It was a question of faith.

The wind’s heavy hands pushed Monica back and away from the edge. It stole the heat from her body, pushed her hair in front of her eyes, doing what it could to draw her away from the crumbling grey rock and onto the grass.

Few things in existence were deserving of faith. If your loyalty was rewarded, it was a matter of luck, not anything divine, not anything sacred or enduring. The circumstances were simply ones that did not warrant betrayal.

Below her, pine trees populated the hills and valleys, spiky green against the cold northern sky. The sun shone like a distant parent, yellow and bright but offering little warmth. These mountains never asked for trust. If anything, they discouraged it, each root and rock warning you of its danger.

The being they called the Softness wanted faith and it wanted worship, but those were things that Monica could not give. Would not give. Monica remained a dedicate to the alter of Lynn. Any other gods were simply ones that failed to save her.

It was confident that it could take things that Monica did not have. Monica wanted to rip it apart from the inside, but hope for success was not what drove her here.

“Don’t do it.”

Ronnie had the nerve to sound afraid, and Monica didn’t bother to look back.

This cliff, this wind, this sky— it was all Ronnie’s world. They all bent to her will, because Ronnie had sacrificed a piece of herself to the Softness.

Monica had done the same, but in this body, in this world, she could not hold the power from the plane of Light. She could trade slice after slice of her soul, and the magic would slip from her fingers, fading almost too quickly to use.

It was no surprise. Things pull away from Monica. They drift. They leave.

You need power to fight power, and Monica was weak. But when did the craving stop being utilitarian? When does it become addiction?

Was she here as a hail Mary— a final, desperate attempt at faith? Or was she here because this thing had consumed what she loved, and the only meaning that remained was for it to consume her too?

“Do you remember the first time we hiked here?” Monica mused. “Lynn had calves like steel and we were these weak little nerds trying to pretend we weren’t out of breath. She was like, we can stop. We can rest. Over and over, but we were stubborn bitches.”

“I had an asthma attack,” Ronnie said, now only a few feet back.

“And Lynn yelled at us for an hour for being idiots,” Monica said. “Told us we might as well be men.”

“She wouldn’t want this for you,” Ronnie said. “She would want you to keep fighting.”

“Don’t use a dead woman to add weight to your platitudes,” Monica replied. “I’m not Lynn, babe. I never was.”

The wind stole the moisture from her eyes. The chasm of grief inside of her only ever widened.

She stepped forward.

A hand circled her wrist.

Monica moved without thought, twisting, grabbing Ronnie’s elbow, and pinning her arm behind her back.

Monica’s vision shuttered, light then black then light then black—

Then something else. Something too fragmented to be called sight, too detailed for her brain to process.

“What did you do?” Ronnie asked, struggling against Monica’s inhumanely strengthened grip.

The world was shattering in front of her— nothing was whole. Every thing was atomized, divided, individual. It felt like thorns in her eyes.

“The Softness and I are playing chicken,” Monica said. “It gave me what I needed to do that.”

“You’re letting it control you,” Ronnie said.

“Nah. It’s a game, like we used to play back when we were pretty little straight girls,” Monica said. “Gay chicken, remember? My hand up your thigh, your mouth on my neck— who would freak out first? You were always the coward.”

“You can’t win,” Ronnie said.

“I could bring you with me,” Monica replied, her voice scratchier than she remembered. “Is that what you want?”

“I want you to stay. I want you to live.”

But Monica could smell the indecision inside of Ronnie— the resentment, the fear, the anger.

The fondness, too. The nostalgia. The longing. Each feeling its own shard, scraping against the others.

She pushed forward, Ronnie’s struggle barely registering as her body became forfeit to the being beyond.

One of Ronnie’s feet slipped off the edge, and she tried to scramble backwards, but Monica held her there, teetering over the forest.

With her lips brushing against Ronnie’s ear, she said, “I should, shouldn’t I? There’s enough of it inside of you that it could take us both.”

Tears ran down Ronnie’s face, and Monica could see every molecule of water, ever aspect of salt, like a window into an infinitely more minuscule reality.

“Best friends forever, right?” Monica said. “This would be forever. Or did you never really mean that?”

So much existed around her. The world had become a kaleidoscope inside a kaleidoscope, inside an kaleidoscope. But somehow, through all that, Monica couldn’t help but focus on Ronnie. On the thoughts skittering through her brain.

And there it was. For a moment… just a moment… Ronnie let herself imagine it: the two of them falling into oblivion, enveloped by pure power.

The thought was wrapped in relief.

Monica wasn’t one for faith, but had she mustered up even a seed of it, she would have found it again inside Ronnie’s mind. The enduring love that weaved her thoughts together was, for a moment… just a moment… the strongest, most complete phenomenon in existence.

“On the other hand, we’ve spent enough time fighting for attention, haven’t we?” Monica asked. “Maybe this time I’d like to be number one.”

“I need you,” Ronnie said. “I need you to stay.”

“There’s a first time for everything, isn’t there?” Monica said.

“I’ve always needed you,” Ronnie said, voice faint. Her throat had begun to ever-so-slightly close. The asthma, once again.

“You didn’t. You don’t. This war was always yours to wage, baby. Anyway, it’s too late. I can’t turn back now. I’m too far gone.”

Is it faith, if you have no other choice? Is it faith, when you’re cornered and you give in and pray?

Or is it, at least, close enough?

Monica kissed Ronnie’s cheek, and swallowed the panic that rose inside of her.

Then she turned around and pushed Ronnie back to safety.

Monica the fracturing of reality climb up her arm. She smiled as the power seeped between her atoms. She looked at Ronnie and said, “I love you. As much as I ever loved her.”

Then she fell backwards, arms out, over the cliff.

Is it faith, to give in to the inevitable?

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