“Look upon it, child!”
Hands that had wiped tears from my eyes now tightly gripped my own, tearing them away. I squeezed my eyes even more tightly shut.
I shook my head. I tried to turn away, but the hands were on my shoulders, forcing me to face the other way ‘round.
“Rowena Argentia ap Andahar, open your eyes.”
I could no longer disobey. Even though I carried only half the blood of her people, Mother’s invocation of my True Names was not something against which I could fight.
I opened my eyes, and looked upon a vast, empty sky: not a glimmer of starlight, no pale moons, no trace of Sollux. I looked up not at the eternal blue-black haze, gray dawnlight in the East and luminescent echoes of sunsets in the West. This was not the twilit sky of Mother’s realm.
This was the Sky Beyond.
Unbidden, the tears began to sting. My eyes burned, and the blackness wavered.
“See, my daughter.”
“Please…. Do not make me.”
“You are of age. I was even younger than you, when my mother bid me to do this very thing. I can protect you from it no longer.”
I felt Mother’s arms around me, unfold, one cold and pale and beautiful wrist held before my eyes. In her other hand was the dark blade that reeked of dead earth and fire. The wrist of that arm, I saw, was marred by an ugly greenish-purple welt, shot through with veins of writing, inky blackness.
I swallowed. Mother spoke the truth, of course. She had even let Leah See before me. I reached up for the knife.
“Careful, my sweet,” Mother whispered in my ear. “Take it only by the hilt, do not touch the pommel.”
Mother held it as if a butter knife, but it was heavy, as all the things of dead earth and fire made by Men.
I hesitated, but Mother closed her hand over the edges of the knife. She made not the slightest of sounds, but I felt her go tense. Pale, reddish pink blood sizzled and blackened along the edge of the knife. Mother let one bead collect along her thumb, wiping it across my right eye, and then another across my left.
The sting of tears left, replaced by the deep, tingling chill.
“See, my daughter.”
I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and met Mother’s magic with my own.
Her hands tightened on my shoulders as I opened my eyes again.
They tightened further as I stared into the Empty Night, laid bare and eternal before my Sight.
I could not weep, but I could scream.
The Sky Beyond did not seem to care. If anything, it seemed pleased.