The forest was silent save for the occasional sob escaping Lily’s lips. She clutched the cold body in her arms tightly, tasting the salt of her tears as they ran down her cheeks unabated. The amber glow from the core of her wife was beginning to dim, and fade. Prei knelt down next to her, regarding the lifeless shell through her own tear-blurred eyes. Lily grit her teeth and watched the amber light. She would stay until it was completely extinguished. That was her promise.

“… Fuck… we were supposed to live together… we were supposed to be happy… after all of this was over… we were supposed to return to our peaceful lives… How could you, Iris? How could you just… just leave me? Alone? How could you… just go first? That’s not fair. That’s not what we promised! That’s not what we said! We’re one, right? You’re a part of me, right? So how can you just up and leave without my permission?! How could you just… leave me… behind…”

Prei wordlessly placed a hand on Lily’s shoulder, wishing to be her mother’s strength. But she had no words for this situation. This was not something which words could address. As they watched, the light continued to fade, growing dimmer every second. Lily placed one hand over the palm that was resting on her face. She grasped it tightly and pushed it closer to her cheek. Her ring, the one Tate had made for her, touched the ring that was on Iris’ cold hand. The sight of the rings brought the memories of her wedding rushing back, prompting a new surge of tears.

She recalled vividly the day when she had finally taken ownership of the love she had felt for Iris. She recalled their individual stubbornness, she recalled Iris’ refusal to obey her orders – Iris’ proof that she was as human as Lily was, that her love was genuine, that her love was real. She recalled their passionate lovemaking on the lake. She recalled Tate’s gift, and their vows to be together forever – they were not just a married pair of lovers, they were two halves of a whole. Iris was a part of her, and she was a part of Iris. And now that Iris was gone, she was left empty. That part of her had been stripped away. That whole which they had formed had been rent asunder.

“We are one…”

Lily whispered her vows while caressing the ring, as if affirming this fact could somehow make it true again.

“We are… one…?”

Another repetition of the thought brought forth an idea to Lily’s mind. A crazy thought. An impossible thought. Her eyes slowly dried. She glanced at the amber light, which had been almost completely extinguished. There was no time for consideration, for rationalisation. If she were to do it, she would have to do it now.

She plunged her hand – the one bearing the ring – into the depths of Iris’ chest, grabbing hold of the weakly pulsing core. Then she Extended into it. Prei glanced up, alarmed.

“Mother?! What are you-”

Prei’s sentence was interrupted by a violent burst of magic, born of two magical energies coming into direct opposition. She was thrown backward, into the forest. However, her flight went unnoticed by Lily, who was focusing on Iris’ core, probing it, coaxing it, trying to forcefully assimilate it.

Extension could not be performed on another sentient being. The sense of identity was too strong, the self too powerful to overwhelm. No amount of magic could bypass an individual’s sense of self. Past recorded attempts at Extending into another sentient being – even one as unintelligent as an animal – invariably resulted in magical backlash that left the user either insane or dead. Two selves could not coexist. It was unnatural. There was no reason to even consider that what Lily was attempting might succeed.

She did not care. If she was to be rendered insane, then so be it – there was no point to living a life without Iris in it. Better to die, or if not die, then to at least be incapable of thinking about this pain, of feeling this pain. Better to lose her mind than to have to face the prospect of a life without Iris. If her attempt succeeded, they would be truly together, forever. If her attempt failed, her self-destruction would be achieved all the same.

Her first attempt at intrusion and assimilation was violent, forceful. She buffeted the core with the Extensions of her self, trying to force her way in, trying to subjugate the core beneath her illusory fingers. She found herself flatly repelled. The magic that surrounded the core formed a hard shell, denying her access, forcing her out. A strange, phantom pain racked her body, causing her to grit her teeth – the feedback from the rejection. The light began to grow even dimmer. She cursed. She had no time. Why wouldn’t Iris let her in?

She took a deep breath and composed herself. Then she initiated her second attempt at ingress. This time, rather than attempting to force her way in, rather than pushing against, the core, she sent her Extensions along the surface, tracing their way across the husk of the core, gently touching and massaging it. The core of her lover deserved to be treated with tenderness and love.

Come on, Iris. We’re one, aren’t we? So let’s really become one and the same. Let me in. Invite me in. Don’t reject me, Iris. Please. Don’t reject me. I don’t think I could handle it. Please let me in.

Under her coaxing, the protective barrier slowly began to loosen. The threads of magic that formed the core began to touch and wrap around her tendrils, weaving together with them, inviting them in, giving themselves up to her. Lily remained focused, forming and strengthening these connections, but she allowed herself a little smile. Gentle was the way to go. She should have known. Iris was such a sensitive girl, after all.

As she continued to form the connections and Extend into Iris’ core, the light that pulsed from Iris’ chest continued to fade – but its progress was slowed. Lily felt herself grow significantly weaker as the core began to drain mana from her, trying to reform the missing segment of the core. At the same time, she began to feel her awareness changing. She could see the mana in the air around her. She could see the many threads of magic that peppered the world. She felt the sensation of her own hand, against her own self. She felt herself in two bodies at once, both her own and the metallic one under her fingers. Then an array of thoughts and memories and sights and sensations and emotions flooded her mind, a wave of foreign thoughts, thoughts not her own, crashing against her consciousness. Then light burst forth from her two bodies, engulfing them and illuminating the darkness of night, then Lily couldn’t see or feel anything.

She found herself engulfed in blackness. She did not see the blackness, she did not recognise it as blackness. She felt the blackness around her, the same way one feels the blackness of an unlit room with the candle blown out. Faint slivers of amber pulsed in the space around her – if there was, indeed a space.

“I’m actually kind of annoyed that you tried to break in the first time.”

Lily turned around – or rather, she had the intention to turn around, and presumed she did, for notions of space and direction and temporality had no place in the blackness. She found herself in the presence of Iris. It would not be accurate to describe Iris as being “in front of” her, for she was everywhere just as Lily was everywhere. She felt the presence of Iris, and she felt a strange warmth. She felt Iris smile.

“Welcome to me. I was hoping we would be able to make it.”