Illumination: 7.9: Flexibility

Ajax stood in a storeroom near the curtain wall. Once, he’d waited here in darkness for monsters to attack, and Natalie had come to him instead. Although the damage from that nightfall had been repaired, when he closed his eyes, he could smell her hair in the still air.

He’d wasted what little chance he had to be close to her, get to know her, wasted it with his own self-centered idiocy. But it didn’t seem to matter; when he closed his eyes, he felt her close to him. He saw the curve of her mouth as she smiled, the fall of her pale hair, her long, slender hand as she held a weapon. Her warmth, her vulnerability. He’d been able to hurt her, and he could never make up for that.

He wanted very much to look at her again.

Seth was convinced she was broken, beyond hope. Ajax couldn’t understand it. It was, he thought, the only gift he could give to Natalie now: the faith brought on by his outsider status. He knew he could bring her home again.

If only he could find her.

If only he was right.

As if summoned by his thoughts, Seth peeked through the door into the storeroom. “There you are.”

“Oh for fuck’s sake— Elian!”

“I didn’t tell him,” said Elian defensively.

Seth said, “Trying to have a moment, are we?”

“Go away,” Ajax snapped.

Seth gave him a thoughtful look. “I’d say ‘make me’ but you’d just run away again. What are you doing here?”

“Trying to do something useful.”

“What a good boy!” When Ajax gave him a flat, cold look, Seth said, “Sorry. Is it dangerous, this useful thing?”

Ajax sighed. “I don’t know. Probably just frustrating. Did Natalie tell you about the stuff in these crates?”

Seth shook his head. “They’re full of the goop Kentigern used to repair some of the Tower with, though. Elian now, I assume.”

“Our own animas can shape it too,” said Ajax. “Natalie didn’t know that and it made it harder for her, but it was definitely possible.”

“Weird.” Seth opened up a box and poked his finger into the contents. “It’s like bread dough. Wasn’t it bricks before?”

“Yes,” said Elian crossly. “But we had to use a lot to repair the Tower.”

“What exactly is it?”

“I’m not exactly sure.”

Startled, Ajax said, “What?”

“I’m still new to this! If you cut yourself open and something yellow comes oozing out, do you know exactly what’s going on?”

Seth quickly pulled his hand out of the box and wiped it on his jeans.

“But you can use it,” said Ajax stubbornly. “You use it now and you used it before you were Elian.”

“Ugh, I hate that phrasing. And my memories of that time are especially fragmented. Once I get everything filed, I should be able to access most of the knowledge of the time before the… change. But even then, stuff’s missing. When I— Kentigern— when the Tower spirit first reformed itself, it did so partially by rewriting some of its broken memories with human things. That’s why I don’t know as much about the Antecessors as I theoretically should. They were corrupted and repaired with a human overlay. Anyhow, I know how to use it and I know how to get more but some of the details are… missing.”

“Well, how do you use it?”

A cloud of motes drifted from the walls and settled on a lump of the stuff. It vanished, like the motes were devouring it, leaving a crater behind. Then the motes flew back to the walls. “And then I use it to build foundational things like the walls and the chassis and casings and more motes. And the motes make the stuff from natural materials gathered from outside, and… and dust and things.”

“Are we supposed to be able to use it?” Ajax demanded. Seth was staring at the dough, his gaze faraway.

“That’s one of those details I mentioned. This place isn’t like Earth. Things that are good for Nightlights are easier, things that are bad for Nightlights are harder. I think it— here— was custom-built to host Guardians. If so, maybe you’re supposed to be able to use it. But I don’t know!”

“What’s it called?” asked Seth.

“Agilica, but it’s actually a mixture of three substances: korlathi material, tashin substrate and quisting agent.”

Elian sounded so proud of himself for spooling off that gibberish that Ajax couldn’t help saying, “Good job.”

“Yeah. Agilica, huh?” said Seth. He put his hand on the dough again and concentrated. It bubbled under his hand and then he pulled one of his knives from the dough.

He held it out to Ajax. “Take it.”

Ajax stared at him, then took the knife. It stayed solid and real in his hand.

“Wow,” said Seth.

“Yeah,” said Ajax. “Wow.”

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