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‘No Creweler ever does,’ she mutters.
‘Oh, I’m not a—’
‘You are a Creweler. You have been since you were eight years old.’
My mouth falls open, and for the life of me, I can’t shut it. I was eight the first time I accidentally caught time while playing in my yard. Mom had made me smooth it out, and then she huddled with Dad at the dinner table, talking in the hushed voices parents use when they’re worried. A scene that became too familiar at supper.
‘Part of my job is to find and train the next Creweler. I found you that day when you slipped.’
‘So you always knew?’ I ask, my voice barely a whisper.
‘For a long time I’ve been worried about my age. I am more capable up here,’ she tells me, tapping her head, ‘than anyone else in this forsaken Coventry, but this body is failing. I needed to find my replacement.’
I remember the nights I spent training to fail the testing, crawling through the holes under my house, the body bag in my dining room, but it was pointless because they were always coming for me.
‘I’ve known it was you for a long time,’ she says sadly. ‘But when your parents tried to teach you to fail, I hoped they would succeed.’
‘Why?’ I feel oddly violated by her admission. She’d watched me for years and yet not stepped in when things went very wrong on the night of my retrieval.
‘I am sorry about your parents and your sister. I could do nothing to save them.’ Loricel pauses. ‘I had to give you every opportunity to escape this, and that meant sacrificing them.’
Tears rise up, threatening to choke me. I try desperately to focus my anger on everyone else and not on the old woman sitting next to me.
‘There are things I need to teach you that the Guild cannot know about, but things are moving more quickly than I expected,’ she admits with a sigh.
I know if I open my mouth to ask her what things, I’ll start sobbing, so I stare ahead instead. Rising from her chair, Loricel walks over to the wall and enters a code on the companel with surprising speed. Almost instantly the gears of the loom begin churning. They float against one another and shimmering strands of light snake around them, weaving together. The threads glide onto the surface of the loom, forming a tapestry of light.
‘It’s a simple piece.’ She runs a finger along the weave in front of us. ‘I’m assured this is a terminal patient being taken care of at home. Her daughter sent us the request.’
Ripping. She’s here to finish what Maela started. And what kind of daughter puts in a removal request? I try to imagine signing a form asking the Guild to rip my mother. But even though I want to back away, I move forward to inspect the piece.
It’s simply woven with long, thick strands. I can almost see it when I touch the weave: a small house in the country, unadorned by a Spinster’s hand, allowed to flourish and evolve by nature’s course. Unlike the last piece I was given to rip, which was intricately woven with thousands of tiny and unique threads, these strands are rich and coarse, woven into a humble piece. The weakened thread is easy enough to find in such an austere piece, but despite its frailty the strand is long and coloured in hints of gold and copper. It’s thick despite wear and even now as it slowly decays, there’s a sense of vibrancy. If Loricel had imagined this would be easier than ripping one of a thousand threads in a complex weave, she’s wrong. Removing this strand feels like a violation – an act against nature. It’s the life force of this piece, and everything this thread touches, regardless of our attempts to repair around it, will be irrevocably damaged once it’s gone.
Taking a silver hook from the small cubby at the edge of the loom, I slide the crook under the large fraying thread and gently pull it loose. It comes out quickly and the threads around the gap look homeless now that I’ve removed their base. The thread hanging on the end of my hook was the starting place for so many of the other threads. Its loss affects them all.
But I feel nothing. I wait for tears or vomit to burn up my throat, but there’s nothing but numbness.
‘Now this can be sent to Repair,’ Loricel says quietly.
I nod, and Loricel enters a new code. The rest of the piece moves slowly off the loom, creeping to the Repair Department, which will bind the piece back together, closing up the hole and tidying the frayed ends caused by ripping out that one thread.
‘You could fix it,’ I say.
‘Yes, I could, but that’s not why I’m here. You must make the hard choice, Adelice, before you can move forward. Decisions must be made. Often between life and death. It is hard to make a decision to save thousands when it compromises one.’ Her voice is a hollow whisper, and ghosts echo in her eyes. ‘It is easier not to be put in that position.
‘As Creweler, you can create new places – oceans, lakes, buildings, fields. It can be rewarding,’ she continues, and as I watch she enters a new code into the companel. A moment later, a new piece of Arras appears on the loom. It’s nearly blank, a hint of green glistening against the bands of gold, and she clicks the zoom wheel to bring it into more detailed focus. It’s a simple piece of land. Maybe a park or a field lying outside metro limits somewhere. There are no trees, no rocks, just a valley of lush, green grass. For the first time I notice the small bag she carries with her as she places it at the foot of the loom and gestures that I should let her sit on the stool.
‘Normally, I work in my own studio, but I brought my supplies with me today,’ she says with a kind smile. ‘You must get a feel for your own loom. I have clearance to call up the weave on any machine. Now if I must show you destruction, I want to balance that with the beauty of what we can do.’