SNAFU: The World According to Schuldig
I'm not worthless.
Sometimes it's the smell of a place that undoes your self-control the quickest. For me, it's that sickly sweet smell of rotting wood. The fire and night and Japan are gone, replaced by shadows and cobwebs, and we hit the floor so hard neither of us can stay on our own two feet. I land ass first and elbows second, and the wood feels too real as it scratches my skin up through my jacket.
I know where we are before my feet even touch the ground and I freak out almost faster than Silvia does. The roof of our apartment in Germany had holes in it and it was always letting in the rain and cold to warp the floorboards. The attic was my domain, my home and cage, the place I spent eighteen of my twenty-two years of life. Every nook and cranny and spider had its place and mine was huddled there among them. I remember it all a little too well.
I didn't mean to bring us here. I don't even know how I did it. I just knew I had to get Silvia away from Farfarello and everyone else on that battlefield, but this is the last place in the world I want to be.
Silvia agrees, judging by the hateful shriek that rips itself from her throat. She's been in and out of people's minds, but not this deep, and she's coming at me in a heartbeat. I'm not ready for her, too shaken by dust and mold and musk. She slams into me before I can even think of getting back to my feet and my head hits the floor hard as her weight crushes me.
I manage to punch her once in the face and then we're scuffling in earnest, fists and teeth and a good deal of kicking. I don't know if we're fighting with bodies or minds or what; it all hurts the same here. I taste blood and cigarette smoke as Silvia does the only thing she can and starts clawing harder at my mind, looking for another trigger to throw me off like she found on the train.
She opens the wrong goddamned door.
I don't know how either of us hear the clicking of a heel against the floor over our snarls and fighting. Maybe it's more our gifts warning us that there's a new presence here. Either way, we both slow to a halt, and I look up from where I'm on top of Silvia. It's hard to see through the hair she's yanking down over my face, but then her fingers go slack. Her hand hits the floorboards with a meaty smack and I give a rough shake of my head to clear my hair out of my eyes.
I don't need to look past those boots to know who it is, and it's a toss up as to which one of us- Silvia or me- is going to hyperventilate first.
Knee-high boots, black leather pants, and an oversized navy blue military jacket. At least, I'd always assumed it was a military jacket before. Now I look at the bold red R embroidered over her left breast and wonder what else it could stand for but Rosenkreuz. The jacket's undone all the way to her navel, showing off a long line of pale skin and curves, and her hair's mussed like she just got out of bed. Burnt red-orange strands are cut short around her skull, barely longer than Farfarello's, and it's amazing just how bed-head short hair can be.
Oh shit oh shit oh shit we woke her up she was always such a rotten bitch fresh out of bed oh shit we're gonna die
No no no no no she's supposed to be dead she's supposed to be—
Silvia gives me a rough shove to throw me off of her. I let her throw me because it means she's between me and my mother. Estet's medium rolls over and pushes herself up on her knees, ready to bolt to her feet in an instant and meet my mother head-on if need be. Her power snaps and crackles around her like electricity, but it sounds damp and weak amid the sudden crushing weight of this room.
My mother isn't impressed, and heavy-lidded blue eyes say so. She has a long cigarette hanging limply from between two fingers and she considers Silvia for just a moment before lifting the stick to her mouth for a drag. She exhales with one long breath, and with it comes a name:
It's a throaty, husky murmur, one hundred percent my mother's voice, and I throw my gift out in every directions. It's an instinctive, panicked attempt to get the fuck out of here, and it fails rather viciously. I hit a power that's not mine somewhere near the ceiling and choke on blood. Neither woman pays attention to my gagging. They're busy staring each other down and Silvia's eyes narrow to mean slits.
"Who the hell are you?" she demands. "You're not with Schwarz."
My mother smiles, a cruel twitching of her lips. She slides her gaze my way and I snag my pants on splinter-ridden wood as I retreat before her. Don't look at me don't look at me don't—
It's too late. One lazy blink and her eyes are open all the way, and I remember that stare too well. That insanity, that intense hatred, that desperation. I'm staring at someone who has completely lost her fucking mind but just hasn't admitted it yet, and I realize in a soul-crushing moment that this isn't my imagination.
This isn't possible isn't possible no way no no no no
CRAWFORD GET ME OUT OF HERE
Silvia makes the first move because someone needs to. She only gets one try. Silvia's just a medium, and she's too deep in my mind, too far away from her body and her power. My mother is a telepath, and one of Rosenkreuz's strongest to date. It doesn't matter that she's insane; it doesn't matter that she's supposed to be dead. She's here in my mind beneath the ward she smothered my gift and mind with. The shields make a ceiling above that violent power of hers, holding her together when nothing else can. She didn't put them here for me. She put them here for her.
She uses them now as a ceiling and I feel her gift slam up against it. She doesn't have the control to send her power straight at Silvia first, but she doesn't need it. The push is so large that it fills the entire room, and Silvia's only halfway to my mother when the wave roars back down the walls and around at her.
Silvia doesn't even have time to scream; she just explodes in a spray of blood. I get some in my mouth where I'm gaping and my stomach twists in a failed need to get sick. I feel my stomach shudder and twist, but I can't get anything to come back up my throat. There's a puddle on the ground where Silvia just was. She didn't even turn into chunks; she was just completely liquefied.
There's nothing but that puddle between my mother and me. She starts forward, boot sliding against the ground, and I hear the scrape of her heel against the wood. Then I'm on my feet and running, and she lets me go. I don't know why, but she lets me go. Maybe because there's nowhere at all for me to run. That doesn't mean I can't try.
I'm out the door and down the stairs, stumbling on steps that have needed repair work for years. I hit my shoulder against the wall when I turn the corner and I run right into a boot. It crushes the air from my lungs and I crumple forward over her extended leg. My mouth is frozen open as I try to suck my breath back in, but I can't manage it. A few long seconds go by and my mother draws her leg back to let me hit the ground.
"Hallo, baby," she purrs. "Did you miss your mommy?"
Words fail me and escape as just a thready whimper. She catches my hair in her fist and hauls me to my feet, crushing her cigarette out against my cheek. It burns and I yell at the pain, and her nicotine and blood painted lips seal over mine and she exhales smoke directly into my mouth. It burns my throat and eyes and I wrench backwards away from her. I scrabble for my gun, then find it in her hands.
"You're dead," I manage to get out. "You're dead, you stupid bitch, dead dead dead-"
"Dead?" she echoes, neatly cutting me off. "Ohhh. Like this." She slides the gun between her lips and pulls the trigger. I watch her skull paint the wall behind her, choke on the acrid mix of gunpowder and blood, and stand frozen in place to stare at her. She stares back. Eventually she blinks and slides the gun free of her mouth. "No such luck, my precious, precious child."
I go for her throat. She's faster to pull the trigger, and the bullet is shattering my shoulder before I've even heard the gunshot. I hit the ground screaming at the pain, thinking dizzily that it shouldn't hurt this much when this is happening inside my mind. Then my mother's gift hits my shields again, and I have a better reason to scream. I snap nails against the wood as I claw at it and my mother leans over to bury her fingers in my hair. The gun is gone, vanished somewhere, and she forces my head back.
Blood dribbles through her hair and drips down from her forehead to land on my face. "Did you wish I was dead?" she asks me. Her smile is almost dreamy, with just enough edge that I think it looks demonic. I can barely focus on her face through the pain. "I could hear it in here, you know. Every minute of every day." She digs her thumbnails into my temples until they break the skin. I try to pull away, but her gift won't let me. All those years where I could never do anything against her, and I can finally see the chains that always held me down. Her gift is a blackish, poisoned red that wraps itself around my arms, twining through my blood to disappear into the wood beneath me.
"Aren't you happy, baby?" she asks. "You killed me in the end. Or thought you did, anyway."
Something heavier than blood hits my nose and slips down over my lips. My mother leans closer to me and her forehead sticks to mine.
"You blew your skull open," I tell her, as if she forgot, as if she didn't just repeat it this time. "You blew your skull open. Get out of mine. Get out of my head!"
"You put me here," she tells me in a hateful whisper. "Your mind always sucking at mine, your gift eating away at mine. Should have killed you years ago, regardless of who your father was."
"Fuck you," I manage to get out, and she sends another vicious shudder through my mind.
"Fuck you," she snaps back, bitter and furious. "Such a worthless, worthless child."
"I'm not worthless," I tell her.
She smiles at me, that smile I know too well. Bang you're dead, bang you're dead. Cobwebs and bruises and broken bones. The smell of alcohol and cigarettes and drugs and sex, Mom tangling with faceless strangers on the couch. Never the same man twice. With her pressed so close up against me in my mind, I know now that there never could be a second date. My mother's gift was out of control, broken beneath its own strength and then eroding quickly with mine so close, and she was gutting the minds of everyone else around me. Try as she could, she couldn't damp my power down to where it wasn't eating her. But my father…?
I remember Tot's friends saying that one of the higher-ups in Rosenkreuz loved her. For a flickering, fleeting moment I wonder if he's still alive. Then I wonder if I care. I've had enough family to last me lifetimes.
"I'm not worthless," I tell her again. Her lips twist in a sneer and I have to fight to not flinch. "Rosenkreuz says I'm not worthless," I insist, and the reaction that name brings is viciously satisfying. I have to say it again. "Rosenkreuz's strongest precognitive says I'm the strongest telepath he's seen. Stronger than you, you crazy bitch."
She screams as she comes at me, and she hits me so hard I hit the far wall. The chains that tied me to the floor have snapped, but they're still wrapped across my back and arms. She's still coming for me and I go the only way I can: back up to the attic. I hit my shin on the stairs and only much later will I wonder how ridiculous we look, me with my shoulder in pieces and running from a woman who's missing the back of her skull. For now, terror and hatred sort of drown out that heads-up.
Her gift beats me to the top of the stairs. It hits me in a hot wave that rips the skin off my back and arms. I'm melting underneath it and the wood beneath me ignites under the sheer heat rolling off of me. Water, I think desperately, and in the next instant, the attic is filled with it.
It takes me just half a second to make the connection that, while I can't get past those shields as long as she's still here, I can still effect what goes on in here. I feel her gift pulse through the water as lightning and the room is cleared in an instant. My skin patches itself up as quickly as I can dream it whole again, but my shoulder aches as the bone chips grind back into place and fit together. For several seconds my mother and I just stare at each other.
"Hey, Mom," I tell her hoarsely. "You just told me I'm strong enough to kill you."
She stares me down for a few seconds more before she smiles again, and another cigarette is between her fingers. She takes a long drag off of it. I extinguish it with a thought. It's lit again in a heartbeat, but she drops it to the ground and crushes it beneath her boot.
When she comes for me, I'm as ready as I can be.
Our minds collide with nothing there to brace them from each other. It's all raw power and brute strength and eternal hatred. I'm untrained but she's insane, and her madness is the only chance I have of me getting out of here. I let our minds mesh and feel her start tearing away at me, and I choke on everything I never had as I return the favor. I can taste her bitterness and pain and her utter loathing for me and for the first time, I think I deserve it. There are things in my mother's mind I just don't want to see, but I look anyway, and then promptly tear everything to shreds. It's like going through a box of a deceased person's photos: spare a moment to consider the captured moment, then toss it into the flames to pass on.
I pull my mother into pieces and she does the same to me, and I try not to be afraid, try not to wonder if Farfarello will be enough to put the shreds back together. That flicker of fear gives her the edge and I feel myself start to slip.
Then she touches Crawford.
Her reaction to that revelation is violent; mine is more so.
"That's not for you," I snarl at her. "That's not for you!"
I'm not worthless I'm not worthless I'm not worthless
The first touch of fear in her mind just feeds my anger, and the last of my uncertainty gives way. Her madness starts to bleed into panic and I just pick up speed, erasing her from the ground up. I wonder if I can go so far as to erase her from my memories. She starts crying, starts clutching at me. My baby my baby my baby why do you hate your Mommy so why do you love to hurt your Mommy so much no no no no
Lucille of Rosenkreuz dies twice. Both of her deaths are years after she should have died. Rosenkreuz's Cabinet hid her out of a selfish, pained love, and it was the cruelest thing they could have done to her. She had twenty-one years to go mad and another four with her mind trapped deep inside her son's shields.
Hey Mom, what's going to happen to me in a few years?
I'm left sitting alone in the attic, covered in blood. The tangy smell is so thick it drowns out the dust and the rot and the mold, and I stare blankly at the walls. The water and fire burned away the spiders and spider webs. Now it's just me in a house that's finally empty, in memories I'm never going to be rid of. I look down at my blood soaked fingers and watch them when they start to shake.
I'm twenty-two years old. I'm Schwarz's Mastermind.
That doesn't mean it's any easier to stop myself from completely breaking down.
I'm sorry I'm sorry I'm sorry
I tangle my fingers in my hair and just rock back and forth, tasting nothing but blood and my mother's tears. A million miles away Schwarz and Schreient and Weiß are fighting the rest of Estet, and I have no clue how much time has passed. It doesn't matter. They can wait. I'm not going anywhere anytime soon.
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