In the same shattered landscape under the black crescent moon, she hears the sound of water dripping. She follows it.
Her boots make a solid noise each time she leaps from one broken building to another, but they do not echo in the ruins. She passes under crumbled arches and over fallen pillars, past a tattered flag with a familiar cross screened in faded colors. For a moment she lingers, stopping to pull at a loose thread until it unravels more; she ties this around her pinky and then continues following the sound of water.
At the end of the trail is a single building that is weathered, but not broken. There are no windows, and only a single door. Rinali takes the doorknob and hears a clicking sound, like gears shifting, like a lock being turned.
Under her hand the door opens. She walks inside.
What she finds appears to be a single small room, wallpapered in pale blue, with clouds painted along the top of the walls. There’s a canopied bed with a ridiculous amount of lacy ruffles, set with a small mountain of stuffed animals. A little girl’s room, ridiculously bright and cheerful, and Rinali turns to glance over her shoulder, seeing the gray sky and broken landscape she left behind, still looming just beyond the doorway. When she goes back to peer outside, everything beyond seems so much darker than it was before, with a chill that sinks into her bones and seems to hold her immobile. For a moment she thinks *I can see the entire world.*
“Grim, isn’t it?”
Rinali turns and looks at the girl sitting on the bed.
Amidst the pink and frills, the black pleats of Rhode Camelot’s skirts are stark contrast. She sits with her hands folded in her lap and her ankles crossed; her feet are bare. She blinks slowly at Rinali, then tilts her head to one side. “What are you doing here?”
“I …” Rinali looks back to the world. The black crescent moon has sunk almost low enough to touch the waterline. “I don’t know.”
“Ah.” There’s a brief rustle of skirts, but when she looks back, Rhode has just rearranged herself, spreading her skirts around herself. In the pinkness of the room, the ring of scars on her forehead look pink and fresh, as though they could start bleeding at any moment. “You shouldn’t be here.”
“Yes,” Rinali agrees quietly. A breeze eddies in from outside, smelling of salt and decay. “But here I am.”
Rhode looks up as she’s fluffing out her skirt again. “Here you are,” she says. “You can’t stay, either.”
“There’s no one else left out there, right?” She wraps her arms around herself, trying to remember: faces in the water, bodies lying across the wreckage of buildings, and a resounding silence that felt like it could deafen her. “My brother, Allen, Ravi … they’re all gone, aren’t they.”
“Only in a matter of speaking.” Rhode uncrosses and recrosses her ankles. Her dark eyes are opaque in her dusky face, flat and reflecting nothing, not even the light. “But you know that already.”
“Is this what will happen?” Rinali asks, hugging herself tighter. “If we fail? If you and the other Noah win?”
Rhode says nothing. The air outside, against Rinali’s back, grows steadily colder, and she thinks she might be freezing along with it.
When she makes herself look again, Rhode Camelot has not moved, watching her still. Something in the line of her mouth and the arch of her brows suggests pity, but there is nothing like that in her unblinking eyes. Rinali straightens and makes herself move, one foot before the other, shivering as warmth begins to seep back into her. Rhode tugs on her skirts to make room as Rinali sinks to sit on the bed beside her, two pretty little dolls in a row, dressed in matching black.
“This isn’t my world, either,” Rhode says abruptly. She does not look at Rinali as she goes on: “This isn’t anyone’s world, really, there’s no one left for it. Not even us.” Her fingers bunch in her skirts, knuckles slowly turning white. “Even though we’re both right here, it’s not.” Now she turns with tears on her cheeks, and she looks terribly young, though her eyes are old as the ruined stone buildings just outside. “It’s *not*, that’s the problem. This, this is the way the world ends, not even with a whimper — just silence.”
“Oh,” Rinali says. She looks down for a moment at their feet, and the only thing she can say is: “Your family is gone too, then.”
A hand covers hers, small and bony and very warm.
“Yes,” says Rhode Camelot. “They are.”
Rinali dreams: and she knows it’s a dream, but still does nothing as she sits, holding hands with an enemy in a strange little room after the end of the world. Try though she might, she can’t remember where she might wake up, and so she finds herself not particularly eager to rush back. Through the still-open door, she can see that the black moon has sunk completely out of sight, and all that’s left is the bleak horizon, with its jagged teeth of broken buildings. She can see waves of increasing size building upon the water’s surface, but the winds blowing make no sound; all she can hear is the sound of their own breathing.
And then, from very far away, the sound of water dripping: plink – plink – plink. Rinali lifts her head, starts to stand.
Rhode’s hand tightens on hers. She says nothing, though when she looks up, her mouth is a flat line and there is tightness at the corners of her eyes.
“I’m sorry,” Rinali says, and means it. “Like you said — I shouldn’t be here, and neither should you. This isn’t a place for us.”
Still Rhode does not let go, and Rinali doesn’t try to pull away. “You’ll find your way back as well,” she said. “There must be someone else waiting for you, where things are still real, all you need to do is–”
Rhode slips off the edge of the bed and rises onto her toes and kisses Rinali’s mouth. Up close she smells like cinnamon and salt, and her lips are thin and hard, like the hand still tightly clasping Rinali’s own.
Rinali makes a startled noise. She can still hear the sound of water dripping, and around her pinky finger comes a brief, subtle tug.
And then Rhode bites down on her lower lip, hard enough that she tastes blood and startled tears come to her eyes, and pulls away. There is a faint wry smile on the Noah’s face; it makes her look much older — a woman’s face and a woman’s mind and a girl-child’s body. With her free hand she touches Rinali’s cut lip, and her fingers come away wet with blood and spittle, and she uses these to line her own mouth.
“Good bye,” she said. “Exorcist.”
“Eh?” Rinali starts to reach out, and the distance between them has stretched somehow, so even as she stumbles forward, and draws in the breath to say–
Rinali opens her eyes. Water from the showerhead drips steadily on her forehead; water from her hair drips to the ground. Around her the ship creaks and groans faintly; the air smells of salt and old wood and tar. Her lip hurts, and when she touches her tongue to the ache, it stings and tastes faintly of blood.
With a sigh, she turns away to dry herself, and dresses in her new uniform for the first time.