OH, this is pandemonium; this is that old apocalypse rag. Not the ordinary chaos of a busy mind fractured since five years old and held together, these last few months, with baling wire and old string and pure, plain spite; or even the blood and thunder and stupidity of a mental battle, cut and thrust and deflect and block and absorb and strike. This is a war, and with a gunslinger, war is always total.
No prisoners. (Oh yes?)
This is the mind of Susannah Toren, not just one woman, now coming apart at the seams, now a swarm, delah, and she swarms now to the defense, over ancient and crumbling fortifications that guard the central dogan where Susannah-Mio pulls the switches and calls the shots.
(And yet the trouble and the fear is this: that that throne may now be empty.)
And here are the invaders (the trespassers, the interlopers, the vandal hordes, the -- peacekeepers?), who are also many, and most of them as mad as her. Yet they are a wheel, and they roll as they do. There is an awful and inexplicable unity of purpose in their maneuvering, and impossible coordination in their strategems; that and a strange mercy. They do not fight to kill, but to subdue; to hold the ground, and break the spell.
Here is the (rose) sun, that good and shining beacon, that promise of a tomorrow that will be, if not better, actually existent. And here is the moon (which is all dark, really, and of course we knew that), and this is the eclipse; and before the gates of the castle all the witches and vampires of Susannah-Mio's worse nature are coming out, and the serpents from their pits, all the Dettas and the things even Detta fears in herself, the relentless, loveless, lifeless killing machine under everything. They fight not for love or for power but for the joy of war, and where they strike they sow hatred.
(Against them, the invaders are led by a boy who has faced the loveless and lifeless before; he knows how deadly that hate can be, with the very cells of his body he knows, and he calls on the strength of the massed mind as on all heaven with its power.)
And here on the ramparts are the soldiers, disciplined and cold and hidden behind their armor and shields, all the Odettas, thrust and parry; the world of the mind is theirs, and if they should meet anyone quoting poetry up here, they shall not sheathe their swords for lack of argument. No. They will fight.
Do I contradict myself? Very well, then, I contradict myself. I am large; I contain multitudes.
And they shall not (shall not shall not shall not) they shall not be moved.
(Against them, the leaders are a young man with a sword of his own -- a gentleman's weapon, they call it where he comes from -- and a boy who remembers a story that begins once upon a time there was a kingdom by the sea.)
And high in their towers all the mothers, all the Mias, all the lovers and seducers and weepers; they poison their arrows with their tears. For who among their enemies has known a mother's touch in these many years, and who among them can stand before her grief, terrible and naked?
(Well, some. Some of them can. Here is a girl whose ingrained reaction to anything is impatient irritation, and pity holds no place in her heart; here is a man with the mind of a child, who is sad and sorry for the gunslinger-lady, to be sure, but is shielded by his inability to grasp the depths of her pain.)
The man in the moon looks down on the mayhem it has sown -- not a-purpose but because it does that, it draws the blood-dimmed tide, it is a made thing and made for that reason and it is worse, now, since the red light of unsanity began to spill through the crack made at great price; at the cost of a way of life and the illusion of safety.
The battle rages; unending, perhaps unable to end. She divides and subdivides, splintering and shattering; they withdraw and recover and return, the goodmind itself absorbing the blows and sparing their lives. The battle will rage until the structure on either side collapses; all or nothing. Until ruin or some hope unlooked for.
And fighting in the center, high on the battlements, on the edge of a cliff, are two queens, the lady of fire and the lady of shadows, Susannah-Mio herself, the sum of all her glammers come forth to do battle, and they give no quarter, and neither do they ask it. The lash of responsibility; the burning blade of her terrible purpose.
If these were words, they would be hard ones --
(if you had ever been a mother and not just a babysitter you would understand)
-- but they are blows, and at last still locked in combat, they tumble from the precipice, into the pits where the snakes of sorrow and loathing and bitter recrimination bite freely and without prejudice. Into the pits and then beneath them; into the earth and under the earth.
Under the mountain, where the path was once all shards but is now smoothed stone. Where the bleeding light of the dark moon is held away from them, blocked by earth and flame and the fierce joined will of the invading army.
-- Please, says the lady of fire. -- Here there is no shadow but you.
The lady of shadows holds her arms to her chest, clutched around a sphere that isn't there. -- My daughter, she says.
-- You know this won't help her.
-- There's nothing else I can do, says the lady of shadows, quite calmly.
-- If you do this it will destroy the world. You have to stop.
-- What does it profit a woman to save the world, if she lose her own child?
The realization is slow and awful, and makes the stone walls tremble: cutting off the moon may not be enough.