(This is a continuation of Omelas, which, in turn, is required reading, and available at https://controlc.com/b522f7a0))
There were no mirrors in the shack proper, but the surface of the mountain spring served as one all the same. Fubuki couldn't help by examine her face every time. The signs of aging were getting visible. Slowly yet inevitably, her body was catching up to her soul. Fubuki filled up a second bucket, stood up and started slowly, carefully walking back up along the twisting path. Cold mornings like this were always a good time for metaphorical reflection as well.
It was cold. Not to blame just the nasty, bone-chilling Northwestern wind or it being the cusp of November, or Fubuki's habit of dressing somewhat light — it was a lack of human warmth that was felt particularly sharp, both physically and spiritually. How long has it been? Her appearance could always have been improved with a bit of glamour if she hadn't swore off magic entirely, but frankly that would not even have been necessary. She still maintained enough of her natural charm to have it be fairly easy to pick up a mate for a night, it would just take a short hike to the nearest town that has a bar... but, of course, she already knew meaningless sex would not fill the one hole that she needed filled. Mio... the feeling of her skin was still fresh in her mind. Or any of her other friends. The thought lingered in her mind, and she was struggling to dismiss it. They were gone. All gone.
She cut off all contact a while ago. Should maybe have invented some ridiculous reason, started a big fight, but she did not want to hurt any more people ever again more than necessary, so she simply disappeared. They were worried about her, no doubt, and that was a cause of concern, but they would never find her, she was an expert at Strings Unattached and other anti-tracking wards, had to be, with her previous line of work. Though, funnily enough, she was taught more than one thing by a certain former star of hers from the United States, a self-taught sharp-toothed amateur who got people to not even remember her name correctly, everyone just remembered her as "her". Even her parents, which was the sacrifice. Magic was built on awful trades, like paying a healthy tooth to cure your flu, and you needed a good reason to make most of them.
There was, of course, a reason she was doing all of this in the first place, and not one she would explain willy-nilly, partly because of its absurdity, partly because the explanation might make people empathize with her. And she would need to, because how else would you answer the awful questions that would have been asked sooner or later?
Why weren't you at the hospital? Not once?
Why weren't you at the funeral?
Simply disappearing might have provided some with the obvious false answers to this question, but coming back after would expose its falsehood. More importantly, there was someone that needed the answer to this question the most, and in fact asked it so many times. Three letters and a question mark.
There was a game that she played a while ago. It was a fairly obscure American game, one that didn't have a passable Japanese translation, so she had someone translate it for her live. It featured aliens — horrible, slavedriving, murderous aliens — that ravaged through the galaxy, crushing every army and ignoring all pleas for mercy, except for one. "This is wrong. Why are you doing this?" The words, they called it. There was no particular outward reason for them to do so, other than the fact that the first time the plea was uttered, their feelings for the victim were so strong that they... didn't call off the genocide, exactly, but stopped to rationally explain their actions. She heard the words once, from the same person that helped her play the game many years ago. She didn't bother with an explanation. She really was worse than the evil aliens. Always has been.
The problem, of course, was precisely she couldn't explain. Risky, unstable, horrible little conjuring, so important and load-bearing, and it had two lynchpins. Locus and lamb. There were maybe five or six people in the world that could properly cast it, and most of them knew it by the more modern name, Locus of Joy. Modern and inaccurate, not to mention redundant — the locus becomes the Locus? And the lamb becomes... oh, right, intentionally not mentioned. Have to not be too attached to the sacrificial animals. It doesn't even bring joy either, not as such, it helps take away and redirect negative emotions, that's not the same as meaningfull improving people's lives. Not to mention she couldn't meaningfully fix the underlying conditions. Two major financial crises one after another, worst suicide rates globally in fifty years, someone had to have done something. Anything. Just touch people and take their sorrows away, even for a bit. Take and give.
And the anchor was Beloved.