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Touching him makes me feel alive. There is no better way to put it.
With his arms around me, I am safe even in motion. I am beautiful. I am kinetic. And part of me is eternally his.
But he, I am sure, sees me as nothing more than I am: a fumble-footed dance partner with queer and standoffish ways.

I weigh the task at hand against the desire to press my face against his, and-
Knowing what I know, of how my heart works, I choose the task at hand instead.

Art lives on eternally. Love, I find, does not.
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There is a place in her spine that does not flex or bend like the rest of it, and it is there between the tips of her shoulderblades that she hides her grief. She has held it there so long that it has soaked through to the front, and her whole body curls protectively around it now like stunted flower petals. She closes her eyes against the pain, and shudders.

It has been like the falling of dominoes, followed by a tidal wave. The tiny slights and miscalculations adding up, the small issues multiplying into larger and larger ones, until with sudden and painful clarity she becomes aware of the magnitude of the mistake.

And there is nowhere to run. She must take the damage as it comes, and stand against it; or if she cannot stand against it, she must fall, but persevere and find the strength to crawl brokenly on.

Curled against herself, she braces for the water.

Old Habits

Feb. 10th, 2009 12:21 am
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She has been staring into space for some lengthy period of time when the Mirror Girl clears her throat conspicuously.

"Well?"
"Well what?"
"What did you see?"
The girl is silent a moment, staring down now into nothingness.
"You found the source, didn't you? What was it?"
The girl remains silent, one fingertip tracing a curling spiking pattern against her inner wrist.
"That good, huh?"
"That good."
"So who was it?"
The girl shakes her head.
"My mother always said that... people like me... led lives full of disharmony and imbalance, and that the problem stemmed from-" she makes a choking sound, steadies herself, tries again "-from my evil-"
"From your 'proclivities', hm?"
"Yes."
"Do you believe her?"
A long pause.
"Sometimes."
"Why?"
"Because of things like this."
"Like what?" The Mirror Girl gestures widely. "There's a lot to choose from, you're going to have to be more specific."
The girl takes a deep breath, unclenching her fingers slowly.
"Once upon a time, I threw myself on the mercies of an older woman."
"Oh? You mean aside from this last one?"
"Yes. Although I didn't realize it, and if she did..."
"If she did?"
"If she did, then she is crueler and more selfish than I had ever imagined."
"Hindsight twenty-twenty?"
"Somewhat? I still don't know how- wait, I wasn't finished."
"Go on then. How?"
"When she cast me off, I took it... hard. I determined that I was unworthy, and that was why I had been rejected. I convinced myself that if I had been more circumspect, less in the way, more mature, more responsible, less..."
"...underfoot?"
"Sure. If I'd been all of those things, I convinced myself, she might have loved me, might have given me what I desired."
"Which was?"
She is silent a moment more.
"Love? Sex? Validation? I'm not sure anymore. But I realize now that that was the start. From then on, I was very, very careful never to... to take liberties. Get in the way. Be inconvenient. To assert myself."
"And therein lies the problem, hm? That to be happy you need a partner, but your way of presenting yourself to one leads to you getting walked on."
"Exactly. The furthest thing from partnership."
"And now what?"
"Now I need to clean my house, because this is not going to work if I'm going to tie myself to the Star and the Flame."
The Mirror Girl smiles wickedly. "Oh ARE you..."
The girl shrugs. "Maybe? My impulse is to say that it depends on what they want. That my plans figure next to nothing beside theirs with each other. But the Star had said that it would also-" she breaks off with a sound that is half-laugh, half-sob, "- she said that it would also depend... on what I wanted."
"Sounds... ideal."
"Only if I can figure out what I want."
"And that's a problem?"
"I want it all. I don't think that ever works. So maybe I don't. Or maybe I want part of it. And I'm worried they'll get bored, waiting."
"So it all depends-"
"-On me."

Precipice

Feb. 1st, 2009 09:12 pm
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"You should not push her."

There is an intensity to the Lord Shaper's words that belies his calm exterior. Desire looks sharply up, cigarette in hand forgotten. Nearby, a smudge of black taffeta mars a corner of the Great Hall's marble, and two figures stand attendance a few feet away. Death looks back at her siblings irritatedly, but Despair's lumpy form is intent on the girl, as a terrier with a kill in sight.

"Oh?" Desire's tone is calculatedly light.
"Indeed. I do not think she can take much more of this."
"Oh, but it does make the hours go by so much quicker, don't you think? Lends a little interest and drama to the wait?"
The ever-present furrows on Dream's forehead deepen. "You endanger all of your plans by it. For what? You are not welcome in her domain and yet she suffers you with equanimity. But you could be..."
"Shh-!" Desire turns, pointing.

Behind them, a cowled figure stares with blind eyes at the scene before him, a massive book held against one hip. Destiny pulls a quill from the middle distance, and very carefully notes something in the tome. A long moment passes, and he nods, fading into nothingness.

"Well that was unnecessary." Desire's petulant expression changes to disgust as the cigarette between those long white fingers burns out. "Oh for the love of-"
Loud footsteps interrupt the complaint, and a huge lumberjack of a man strides in, tracking red clay mud across the pale and glistening marble.
"Hullo sibs." He scratches his beard thoughtfully. "What have we here?"
"Oh, one of his projects, you know. She doesn't seem to have much of a sense of humor."
Dream opens his mouth as if to speak but closes it again, a stormy expression on his face.
"Huh. She's lasted this long. I think she's made of sterner stuff than either of you realize."
Desire looks confused, Dream looks thoughtful.
"Besides, we wouldn't want to find out if he was wrong midway through, eh? Have to have a bit of a stress test to find out, first."
"We are endangering a very rare tool indeed."
"Even a broken tool can be repaired and put to use."
"But the stakes-"
"The stakes are only as high as he wants them to be. Couldn't let him get bored now, could we? No, no. This," Destruction gestures grandly, "all of this- you, me, her, them - is according to his plan."
"And if she breaks?"
"Then we delay, find another."
"What if she refuses?" Desire flicks a lighter, irritated.
"She won't refuse."
Dream turns back to look at the girl, curled and rocking in the corner of the grand room, tear-stained face held between hands marked with red crescents, hair limp and disheveled against dull black fabric and clacking beads.
"I pray you are correct, brother."

Why now? Why this? It should have been over months ago, why bring him back? And why for so short a time? What are you trying to prove? We've known for years that my heart is implacable - impractical, self-destructive. Why drive the lesson home now? Why? Answer me! Please! Please...

Endings

Jan. 15th, 2009 11:23 pm
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The new globe is still warm to the touch as she sets it down, the images inside churning and fluttering in their own maelstrom of nostalgia.

Yellow gingko leaves stick to the wet soles of his boots as he thumps up the wooden stairs...

Clean white sheets, and dappled sunlight on naked skin, a book fallen sideways in sleep...

Copper hair and freckles and a vine that ran just... so...

Tea and bathwater and roses, and the sound of guitars in the sweet June air...

A tiny christmas tree, and tiny lights against frosty air, and lonely tears...

Bitter weeping stretched on the floor in the cold and the dark...


Somewhere in the Palace, a door slams. And then it slams again. And a third time, as if for emphasis, and the girl closes her eyes wearily. Desire smirks over her shoulder into the display.

"I know. I know."
"I still think it's funny."
"That it took so long to realize it was her I was in love with? Or that it's she who plucks the feathers from my wings and sends me tumbling?"
"Both, I imagine."
"Well you needn't look so smug. It's not like I didn't suffer the same for the Elf."
"Ah, but the Elf still gave you hope. This one burns your city and dances on the ashes."
The girl purses her lips. "Yes, she would. It is her way."
"And what will you do?"
"Nothing, for the time being. There are more things depending on me than this ridiculous circus."
"And what of them?"
Her lip curls slightly as she closes the door of the display case. "Let them stew in it. I've said my piece. If they can live with themselves, they are not the people I built them up to be."
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"It changed, didn't it," he said, his voice tinged with a gently hurt wonder. "It changed right before my eyes."
His fingers were gentle on the hollow of her throat, but she jerked away anyway, as if burned.
"Why?" he breathed. "Why did you change it?"
Her lip trembled slightly as she turned from him, as if her expression could not decide between a sneer or a sob.
"How can you ask me that? You of all people." Her expression solidified to one of bitter self-reprimand. "I wanted to love. You told me I should. I did. And now I am here anyway, just the same as always."
She took a deep breath that ended in a sob, then stood a moment, steadying her breathing before continuing. "The black heart should tell you all you need to know. My wish was to love, but there is no place for that wish here. Not now, not with you. Perhaps not even then, though neither of us had eyes to see it."
"But I think..."
"But you think nothing. Your hopes and dreams are plotted out for you like the orbits of the planets; you need only find your way to them to fall into your perfect trajectory."
He reached out a hand toward her shoulder, but she deftly evaded. "I never wanted to hurt you. I never thought..."
"No, you didn't think. I wonder if you've thought much about it at all, beyond the tinsel and the afterglow. What you *want* would mean the effective end of all of my hopes and dreams. I want to love you-" her voice broke "-but I cannot do so at the expense of my self."
"Oh love..." he sighed, but stopped when she cringed as if struck.
She turned brimming eyes upon him then, squeezing them shut as if to block out some horrible sight. And perhaps she was: his face was stricken, both with hurt and regret.
"Please leave me my defenses, at least," she said between clenched teeth, "I think it will be better for both of us this way."

She puts the notebook down then, fingering the pendant at her neck now. The tears come quietly, because she knows that as eloquent as she can be on paper, she will never have this conversation with him. He will never know.

Seduction

Jun. 22nd, 2008 10:52 am
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She is walking by the arbor when she first notices it, and at first it doesn't even quite register. The smell of warm teak reminds her of ships, of the sea, of adventure and wind and the sun that her City never sees. And then she's upon it in her rambles; the tall arched door burnished to a dark gold, its hammered hinges the black of pine tar and the wrought-iron grille of a peephole shuttered loosely with tiny doors. The girl opens the tiny doors curiously, and peers out.

The Woods stare back at her, the same as they always have. It is only then that she realizes which corner of her Garden this door is in. Fog curls around the massive trunks, beckoning flirtatiously, and she can hear the forest's call in the back of her head: Give up, give it all up, come run with us in the moonlight...

She slams the tiny door shut against the sound, her heart hammering in her breast like something small and trapped. But over the smell of teak and pine she can still smell them: wolves. Why did it always have to be wolves?

Her back against the door, she surveys her surroundings with anguish. All she has built, and all she has created - the Palace, the Temple, her gardens, the myriad parlors and conservatories, grottoes and twisting passages filled with wonder, the Vault and the Gallery and the Hall of Faces - what does it mean, to any but herself? These wonders mean so much and yet so little. She heaves herself from the door and runs, petticoats rustling like storm-tossed leaves, back to her apartments in the Palace, to her sanctuary, her place of meditation.

And somewhere inside, the skeletal dancers of the Ballroom dance endlessly on.

Surfacing

Apr. 13th, 2008 11:16 pm
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The feeling is... strange. Like walking underwater, at double speed. There is a revelation in every movement, in every twanging muscle, in every darting glance, and then...

Tangled in her bedclothes, the girl sits up in the dark with a jerk and a gasp. There is something strange here too, she notes. The soft cotton that should have been under her palms is gone, and the faint starlight through her curtains falls into and is absorbed by something of a deep, dark color. It takes a moment for the slippery rustling beneath her fingers to make any sense, but yes, here it is - she lights the nearby candelabra with a thought - silk. Her bedclothes are silk. She swears softly to herself, rubbing her eyes. Eddie appears a moment later, an anonymous stoppered bottle held gently in one hand.

"No, no. No need" she waves him away, swinging her legs over the side of the bed. "Some things I need to see about. Has there been any word from the Watcher?"
He pauses a moment, looking thoughtful. "No missstressss. No breachesssss reported on any front. Issss sssssomething wrong?"
"Wrong?" it is her turn to look thoughtful. "I don't know. Wrong is perhaps a little strong a word. Something is... different."

Candle in one hand, and the tail of her kimono trailing behind her, she prowls the halls restlessly, searching high and low for the disturbance that rings in her mind like the echo of churchbells. Her steps draw her ever inward, deeper and deeper into the depths of the Palace, until she stands again before the curved door of the Chasm and the Heartstone, the hum of air across the lintel a constant and soothing sound. She opens the door, trembling. The room is bathed in the same pale sourceless light as always, but there is something amiss, something different and unseen here. Taking one step past the wrought-iron railings and out onto the void, she pauses, thoughtfully, and looks back.

She almost falls, almost drops her single candle into that depthless chasm, almost forgets who and where she is in her startlement and falls, herself.

Above the door of the Chasm stands a nook. In that nook, until now, stood a statue of Psyche, blindfolded. Now the statue stands, bare-eyed, with rivulets of golden honey pouring down her cheeks, sword in one hand and lamp in the other. The girl squeezes her eyes shut, taking deep breaths to quell the pressure rising through her.

Later, she sits in the Palace garden, head on palm on knee, staring out into the warm spring darkness and thinking. The wind shifts imperceptibly, bearing on it the faint sounds of the City outside the walls, but also something... She sits up, sniffing the air with surprise, then gets to her feet and strides to the far wall, hands outstretched. The bare, blasted alabaster stones are gone, completely obscured by trellised oranges in bloom, wound with sweet night-flowering jasmine and honeysuckle. Crickets sing in the foliage, and fireflies blink and hover gaily. She sits, for she does not know what else to do, taking deep breaths which explode like a waterfall from her in laughter.

"Am I? Oh goddess, healed? Now? Only when all hope is fled?"
She flings her arms wide into the night, her heart full to bursting. "Then let them come!"
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"I demand nothing." she said quietly. And then she turned her eyes away, lest they betray her. For what shone in them was not a demand, but a plea: "Please, give me permission, please let me love you."

Bust she would not say it.
She would never say it.

She demands nothing, not even her due.


"Why are you so satisfied with your misery?" Desire asked, toying with her sigil absently.
"Because... I could never please my mother," she takes a deep breath, exhales, "so I try to please everyone else."
"Ah. And get walked on. Tell me - do you think it makes them happy?"
She lowers her eyes. "It does not make them upset."
"Not the same thing."
"No."
"Did he scorch every last fiber of romance out of you?"
Her face is full of bitterness, and grief. "I don't know."
"And you won't try to find out."
"How could you know?" Her lip curls, revealing clenched teeth. "Near the end, every gesture, every touch, every thought of him was a short step closer to losing him. How could you understand what it is, to love and yet be ever more silent in your adoration? To love and hold it in? He may not have burnt it out, but he trained it out of me just as effectively."

Later, she stands on the rampart of the Tower, new-Called, and stares out into the vasty roiling emptiness of the City. An obligingly stiff wind springs up, pressing against the folds of her skirt, toying with escaped strands of hair, scraping gently over her outstretched palms. Scraps of paper explode into the air and hang there for a moment, suspended between one element and another. She watches them, a swarm of cream-colored butterflies as they swoop and dart and twirl, and are eventually lost out of sight, past the borders of her domain.
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She does not know how to deal with the pressure in her chest, and so she simply breathes, eyes closed briefly, past the fluttering. In front of her is a new frame of the Gallery, the image inside shifting and roiling with liquified pages of copperplate manuscript as if thumbed through at high speed. The images dance before her eyes and fill her head with beautiful architecture, and in another sudden spell of dizziness she sits, abruptly, against the opposite wall, unseeing eyes still trained towards the frame.

She blinks, slowly, trying to feel out the shape and the contour of the connection, surprised when her talisman stays cold and inert.

"So... sudden. And yet, so deep. Like jigsaw puzzle pieces fitting together after being jostled in seperate boxes for years." She stands then, advancing to brush fingers against the smooth wood of the frame, trying not to let her eyes cross wandering over the blurring pages contained therein. The scar that runs across her left breast throbs, and she steps away, bewildered.

"What do I call him? What other realms will grow in mine from this portal? How am I supposed to-"
"You won't. That's the beauty of it." Desire's high cheekbones accent a slanting smile, and the girl blinks.
"Who let you in? I thought you'd gone when Hope did."
"Who said I didn't? And who said you'd got it all? Hope, I mean. Hope is a dash tricky thing to exterminate."
The girl's hands go to her mouth nervelessly, and Desire laughs, a rich sound like falling honey. As she turns blindly, fully intending to flee the Gallery entire, she is brought up short to find herself standing before a tall figure cloaked in stars, with galaxies for eyes.
"Lord Shaper, pray excuse me, I did not-"
The tall form is silent, the features impassive, but those depthless eyes conveying somehow a hint of kindly amusement. Dream inclines his head, once, then fades quickly from view, like ink spreading into a pool of water, except in reverse.

Baffled, the girl looks behind her at the now-empty Gallery, the still-roiling pages framed upon the wall. Her knees give out then, and she collapses into a rustling flower of skirts and petticoats and helpless, joyous laughter.
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Mid-afternoon sun beat on me mercilessly through a layer of grime, and the heartbeat thump of distant bass drew my jingling footsteps into a waltzing rhythm. Above me, the vault of the sky was a vivid blue, and behind me it curved down to touch black mountains and the flat, infinite horizon of blinding white. I had been walking, walking and dancing, dancing and walking, for hours.

The change in the light was what alerted me. I had a mere eight seconds to put my respirator on, to pull goggles into place and the chin strap down from over my hat brim. And then it was upon me, shrieking out of the south like a sandy-colored wall, slamming into me like the impact of a whole store full of feather mattresses. The very earth rose up in its fury and I, walking in contemplation in the vast and trackless expanse, could do nothing. And so I walked: slowly, carefully, keeping an ear out for signs of life and erratic veering vehicles that I knew from experience could loom out of the false-twilight of the storm like drunken banshees.

The storm moderated. Instead of a shriek past my ears, it was now only the sullen whipping noise of fabric in the wind; instead of walking into air grown thick and solid, the whiteout retreated and I was walking in my own personal bubble, white gusts and twisters playing about the edges as I walked on. For several minutes there was nothing to see, nothing to hear but the sound of my own bells, nothing to steer by in the trackless obscured landscape save the sun above me and the angle of my own shadow below.

And into the semi-silence, I heard Her speak.

You are alone, but you are not. You are lost, but you are not.
Trust in yourself, for there is only you to depend on.
You will find your way, and if you must, you will find it alone.
Others may follow you. But do not wait for them.


In that moment I knew the shape my steps would have to take, and the stubborn denial rose in me by force habit. The howling winds returned, buffeting me as if to knock me flat. The padding of my goggles grew soggy, and not from sweat alone. The filter of my mask began to clog, and I began to take great sobbing breaths through its protection, shaking my head and fighting against the wind which had suddenly grown thick and biting again with air-married sand.

I have spent so much effort on it, I cannot give up now. I have poured so much love, so much time...

I have wasted so much time...


In the midst of the maelstrom, I did what I could. I dropped to my knees and muddy runnels formed where tears tracked the outside edges of my mask.

You have to let go, in order to move on.

Yes.

The wind dropped suddenly to a whisper, leaving my ears ringing. Sand began pelting gently down from the air above me as I struggled to my feet and looked around. I must have been a quarter mile from where the storm had overtaken me, and in the gusting wind I had turned away from my previous destination and toward - I squinted into the distance - toward friends.

A clean slate, if sandy.
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And over hours, and days, and weeks, she begins to realize that this must be what it's like. Slowly, slowly and quietly withdrawing from the world, until...

The wind buffets the grass down like a golden pelt across the prairie's trackless, rolling hills. Up one side, down another, over and over again, the breeze flattens and jostles everything in its path until it comes, parting and nearly fizzing, to the tiny shack in the tiny valley between the hills. The clapboards are the dark gray of wood left out to weather in the sun and rain and sun again, roughened by wind and time and quiet neglect. But the roof is sound, and so is the glazing on the draughty windows, at which faded calico curtains flutter, limp and defeated. The kitchen that lies behind these curtains was spotless when it was abandoned, but now has a fine layer of dust over everything. Tiny mouse tracks leave a white trail along the enamel of the ancient stove, and cobwebs bridge the corners with filmy white. Above the stove, just out of the reach of the restive curtains, stand a triple rank of shelves, nailed up crudely but miraculously level.

And on the topmost shelf, perched near the corner on the left, a single jam-sized mason jar.
In it - a mist, a something; something insubstantial and necessary and sickly divorced from where it ought to be. It laps defeatedly against the sides of the jar, halfheartedly trying still to escape.

She squeezes her eyes shut, and pushes the scrying-glass away. It was the last thing in Pandora's box, and the fact that it could ever be captured was what gave her the courage to try. The process was painful - possibly the most painful thing she had ever encountered - and yet she still was not quite certain that she'd got it all. The Banishing she'd called was anonymous, trackless. Though the glass now showed her where it was, she still did not know its location. Better that way, she supposed.

And now, and now, she was always cold, always tired. Actually, she thinks, I have been tired all my life. I always held the thought that there was something coming, just around the bend, to look forward to...

She slumps, collapsing against one marble wall, her petticoats rustling. But the marble is not even cold, does not even feel substantial underneath her fingers these days, just as she has noticed the colors fading around the edges of the Palace. She does not even have the passion left, it seems, to cry. Behind her stands a figure of lumpy white flesh, with a hooked ring of flashing silver.

"What will happen to all of this, when I am gone?" she asked the Mirror-Girl a few weeks ago.
The Mirror-Girl was silent then for a moment. "You know as well as I that it will cease."
"And the rest? The things that give this place life?"
"Others may come, and then they too will go."
"And nothing will stand where I've stood. Nothing will remember."
"No."
"Perhaps that will be enough."

The calico flaps at the windowpane, and a beetle makes its slow progress across one wall.
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Deep within the marble halls of the Palace, where the corridors twist bewitchingly, ouroboros-like and ever changing, ever sliding, there is a short section of curved stone wall that stands still and constant. Embedded in this section of wall is a narrow door made of several heavy planks stood on end and fastened together by three more running horizontally across them at even intervals. The hinges of this door are fanciful swirls of wrought iron, and the matching handle arches, delicately curved yet sturdy, from the surface of the wood. For all the impenetrable look of the door it offers little security; there is no key, no lock, nor even a latch to hold the door closed against draughts.

Visitors, if any were to breach the ever-twisting labyrinth to stand before it, would be somewhat shocked to hear the faintest hum of a breeze across the threshold. Indeed, the door twitches and shudders to itself, creaking slightly in and out on gusts of wind. Opening the door would reveal a sight that on first viewing induces a sort of nauseating vertigo: beyond the threshold is a giant chasm; a vertical shaft stretching up and down into infinity with a softly lit stone pillar standing in its distant center.

Of course, once the initial pangs of panic pass, one notices the tiny viewing platform and spindly safety railing strung between the doorway and an eternity of falling. The braver of these hypothetical visitors might find themselves drawn inexplicably towards the edge. Those who are perhaps downright foolhardy might clutch the railing tightly, and peer over it and down. We shall not meditate on the fate of those unfortunates. To the Shadows who staff the Palace though, this is just another room like all the others; another part of their mistress, another whimsy, another something to be tended to or ignored as per her will.

It is unsurprising then, that when Eddie answers Her call he neither is struck dumb by the vast size of the Axis or the soft glowing beauty of the Heartstone, nor does he flinch and cower away from the edge of the chasm. She is standing by the railing, her face pointed towards the great silvery mass of the pillar, but her thoughts turned quite obviously inward. Without turning from her contemplation she extends one net-gloved hand for the implement Eddie has brought, and he silently places across her palm a glittering silver knife.

With a deep breath and a gesture like the parting of a curtain, she is through the railing and standing now upon open air above an unending drop. Except that she does not fall. A sliver of stone is visible at the edge of her foot, and another hands in midair nearby. One slow, bizarrely floating step at a time, the girl makes her way across the protective nothingness to the Heartstone's side. As she approaches the stone seems to liquefy for a moment, extruding a semicircle of ledge and an alcove for her to stand on, and in. Where she steps from the floating stones to the softly glowing marble, tiny cracks of bright golden light appear, and she gives a soft sigh. With a thought she Calls the very last thing, the thing she had not the power for, to complete her errand.

The lead casket drops to her feet with a hollow thud. The arched lid is decorated with a relief of bodies, stacked like cordwood, arms protectively outstretched so that the effect is of a woven basket of humans. The sides of the casket depict a quiver of arrows and a sickle moon, and the handles that grace the ends are a spidery tracework of something that might be twigs, or possibly veins. There is a moment of silence, broken only by the soft, slippery sound of flesh parting around silver, of leaden hinges creaking, the thud of something soft against scarlet velvet, and the hinges again. There is blood on the knife, blood on her hands, blood on the alabaster of her chest, and a tiny line of angry red traces its way from the hollow of her collarbone and then lower, down beneath the jet-fringed edge of her bodice.

Without pausing she plunges the knife hilt-deep into the side of the pillar, the blood drying instantly and flaking off in a coarse black dust against the glowing marble. Hilt-deep still, she draws the blade downward, then to the right, then up, and to the left. The hole that opens shows a window of brilliance that makes the soft glow around it pale and dim by comparison. But she does not stop to marvel. Instead she drops the knife and hefts the casket to her shoulder, sliding the leaden mass into the fiery square. Having accomplished this she stands back, as much as her short ledge will allow. The marble of the pillar curls at the edges of the cut square, then rolls inward like the living flesh of a tree in fast forward. There is a soft rumble as the last of the brilliant swirling light fades, and she bows her head, picking up the knife again.

"It's of no use to me right now. More a burden. Please keep it safe."
I cannot keep it forever.
"I know. When the time comes, I will return."
How will you know?
She is silent for a long moment.
"I will know, or I will be dead. Either way, it won't be forever."
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She stares down at it in disbelief, one hand clenched about the railing of the Temple's portal.

In the palm of her hand lies a short bar of gleaming metal, simple spheres adorning each end. This in and of itself is not unusual, particularly given the peculiar tastes of some of the visitors to her realm. What is unusual is that it is warm, and it generates a tendril of warmth that puddles in her hand and swings down to wrap gently around her outstretched gloved arm. It is almost a living, breathing thing, and it puts her to mind of the warm stone fetishes of certain native tribes.

She closes her eyes, drawing in a deep breath. The bar glitters once more in her hand, and winks out of existence. The girl lets out her breath sharply; a half-yelp, half-whoosh, as if someone had kicked her not unexpectedly, but unexpectedly hard. Dots dance behind her closed eyelids like sparkling painful fairies. Her right ear throbs. And then the thread of warmth returns, stronger this time, wrapping itself again about her like a protective blanket.

She sighs, and opens her eyes, turning her face up to the half moon. Eddie hovers nearby, a goblet of seawater held at the ready.
As she turns in the moonlight to accept the goblet of salty water, a fine tracery of silver like the paths of ants can be seen spreading among the jet fringes of her bodice. She raises the dark blue glass heavenward.

"May I never forget what I have learned. May you give me the strength to do what must needs be done, and not buckle to the calls of mere flesh. May I find comfort and solace in your presence."

Tossed

Jun. 27th, 2007 11:04 pm
arsenicwaltz: (Default)
Light pours from under the white marble lintel of the Great Seeming, stretching bands of rare daylight down the hallway. The Shadows wince and squint, muttering among themselves.

What isssss it?
Don't know?
Issss Sssshe insssside?
Think sssso. Yesssss.
Did Ssssshe sssssay anything?
Nothing, Ssssshe jussssst vanissssshed.
The door isssss open...
Sssssshe left it that way.
On purposssse?
Don't know.
Look! There Ssshe isss! Yessss?


Through the door comes the sound of the sea; not the calming sound of the heartbeat of the World, but the roar of the beast enraged, of storm tossed breakers and whitecaps beating themselves furiously against cliffs. And beyond the blinding light of the Seeming is ragged rock, black and jagged, strips of black fabric caught in every other crevasse. A figure in tattered black stands at the cliff's edge, staring out into the dark clouds that the storm tossed sea rises to meet. And tracing from the door of the Seeming to the figure, a line of imprints on the rock like a line of distorted capital Cs, sans serif; the print of the left arch of a foot, outlined in blood. The wind rises, and the salt spray rises with it, casting flecks of sand and foam and sea torn kelp through the door of the Seeming to puddle at the feet of the uneasy Shadows. The figure stands before it, impassive, self-flagellatory. Where the red trickles from her ankle and touches water it turns hard and black, droplets of corroded silver clinging to the cliff face. She raises her bared arms above her head, and outside the Seeming the Shadows cringe.

And then there is nothing.

The dazzle fades from the doorway, and the Seeming is but a room again, a plain room of pure white marble. Seaweed and sand fleck the threshold, along with tiny droplets of blood.

When he finds her, she is unsurprisingly abed. Eddie sets the mug of tea on the nightstand, next to an uncorked and now quarter-full bottle of clear liquid swimming with glimmering blue lights. Her pillow is wet and she does not turn, one hand trembling drunkenly over her eyes.

"The Sea has no remorse, no emotion; She would not take me. For-" she trembles, curling tiredly around herself as the tears start afresh, "we all know that I have far too much of both."

Miscast

Jun. 23rd, 2007 12:38 am
arsenicwaltz: (Default)
"Torturing yourself over it isn't going to make it stop, you know."

Desire flicks cigarette ash over the balcony railing with pale, languid fingers.

The girl looks up, startled, her jet fringes clicking in the moonlight. Then with a frown she turns back to surveying the booming City in the warm dark before her. Her knuckles are white on white against the smooth stone of the balustrade.

"Put that out. You may be Endless, but you're in my Realm. It's no less disgusting when you do it."

Desire laughs then, a silken sound like cord being drawn across the backs of one's knees. The cigarette disappears obligingly.

"Dietrich you ain't" the girl mutters with ill-grace, prompting another laugh from her slender companion. The Endless's garments shudder for a moment, then resolve into a graceful approximation of Chanel's Le Garçon. The girl looks the new ensemble up and down with a jaundiced eye, and sniffs.

"You're about a century and a half too late to fit in with the decor here. But thank you for the consideration." She turns back to watching the circle of her driveway; the traffic of the City blurrs to an impression of great speed and giant carriage wheels beyond her elaborate wrought iron gates. But slightly inside them is a tiny roil of shadows, the impression of scurrying feet and bright eyes, and conversations whispered guiltily but perhaps just a little too loud for the purposes of actual secrecy, or even tact. She snorts derisively and turns.

Desire's hair has changed color thrice in the intervening moment, first calling to mind the straw colored braid of The First, then the strawberry-blonde of the Flame and the Gypsy, then a liquid black like ink spilled over glass. She sighs.

"You miss your mark by that last one. He was never mine." Desire's hair changes suddenly black to it's accustomed vertical red shock, a petulant expression appearing beneath it. At this, she loses her patience entirely.

"Obviously, you are baiting me. Why." It is not a question, but a demand on her lips. "Have you something to tell me, or have you simply run out of Vestal virgins to torment?"

Desire smiles slyly, and bows acknowledgement. "La, but you do take all the fun out of it. Not a care in the world for my sport!" An immaculately pressed handkerchief appears from a breast pocket, and Desire toys with it maddenningly, shooting her a sidelong glance. "You want him. Do not deny it. I can feel the fire of it burning in your bones."

The girl rolls her eyes imperceptibly. "The irony of you of all creatures misinterpreting the seat of my heart's true wishes... is... incomprehensibly great. No, I do want him, you are correct thus far. But you mistake the who for the what."

Desire looks at her thoughtfully a moment. "But he burns bright on your stage anyway."
She grimaces. "Despite my best efforts to remain detached, yes."
"Then it is not he specifically, but what he could be..."
"You mistake me for a lesser example of my sex."
"Forgive me. But then it is still a role he could fill-"
"-but declines to-"
"-that you desire so much. I see." There is a pregnant pause. "And what title do you give this rôle in your particular dramatis personae?"
The girl turns back to the rail, her eyes on a clock tower that rises now in the distance, a yellow face above the City's jagged skyline. The hands twirl and blur, like everything else outside her gates.
"Come now," Desire chides, "Such a strong example of your sex should be able to say it and know what it is she truly desires."
She clenches her jaw, but answers in short, clipped words. "Companion. Beloved companion."
"And?"
She exhales, closing her eyes tiredly. "And I think I must re-cast."
arsenicwaltz: (Default)
She has been standing in the Gallery for some time now, standing as far away from the newly formed frame as possible and yet giving it all of her attention. Despite herself. Her back is turned, but she in her mind's eye she can still see the frame: dull ebony, a torch ablaze, and a single jester's bell. Her heart quails at it.

Eddie appears at her elbow, looking first in confusion at the blank frame she stands purposefully afore, then furtively over his shoulder at the real object of her worried contemplation. "Missstressss?"

She turns, slightly, and sighs.
"I'm alright. Just worried." Her eyes grow distant for a moment. "So many miles, so many lifetimes I have traveled to escape it, to escape them, and yet just as easy as that I am back in their midst again."

The girl starts at some thought, blinks, turns. Exits the Gallery, and makes her way to the Vault of Memories, Eddie flickering by her side. There is a certain basket there in the corner, one mouldering and falling slowly apart but containing a thousand scraps of memory like polished stones that roll about her fingers. She selects one, holds it up to the light.

It is a deep blue, the color of new denim, and the light glances off crystal planes within. If you were willing, we would very much like...
She puts it aside. The next is a deep red, but not what she seeks. Neither is the next. The fourth, a dark gray like wet concrete, is. We'd love to stay, if you'll let us... She sets it aside, near the first.
The next is clear as glass, the one after a dull silver, then greens and blues and oranges, pinks and yellows and purples all follow in their turn, some put aside, some rejected onto a growing pile.

Finally, a small mound growing around her feet, she finds the one she has been looking for. It is an awkward shape, smoothed by time but still lopsided as all the rest she's set aside, and of a bright color like flame against darkness. You should come out and play with us some time...

She winces a little at the weight of it in her palm, the memory growing warm as she studies it. Petticoats rustling, she stands finally, stretching cold limbs and sleeping toes to wakefulness. With a thoughtful backward glance, she Calls a small casket for the memories she's set aside. There are not nearly as many as the mouldering basket contained, but enough to fill the box to the very lid. Into it go all of the lopsided offers, awkward and tentative, direct and subtle. But the last one she holds on to, staring. He was not then who he is now, and they are not now what they then were. The offer is, the girl assumes, null and void. So quickly, quickly, she places the last stone upon the heap in the casket, and closes the lid.

"What do I do?" she asks the Mirror-girl, later.
"Twen-"
"No, no he's not. Not by any way I've counted them before."
"Well then, what are you worried about?"
"I've tried to skirt that group and its... connections for so long. And now that an internal one is broken, I don't want to fall into it and tangle things more."
"He is an adult, you know."
"Yes, and yet, no I don't."
"You cannot take responsibility for his actions for him."
"No, but I can blame myself for my part in them-"
"-if, and you're assuming this, IF summat ill comes of them in the first place."
The girl chews her lip thoughtfully. The Mirror-girl coughs.
"You know, your grandmother used to do this too. We had a term for it then as well."
"Oh?"
"Yes. We called it 'borrowing trouble' then. Nowadays we call it 'investing in Bedlam' because it's what you all do with it these days."
The girl's mouth twists wryly. "If only all of my problems had such a simple root. But I still don't know what to do with this."
"Well then, use discretion."
"Discretion?"
"Keep it a secret, dummy."
She bristles at this, then wilts. "But what of my heart? I am afraid that the same thing will happen as last time, and people will see it blazing out my eyes like some damned beacon."
The Mirror-girl looks troubled, and lowers her eyes. "That, I cannot answer you. You know it as well as I, and we both know how impossible it is to bridle."
The girl sighs, rubbing tired eyes. "I sometimes wonder if it would be better to do without."
"Now just a minute here. Last week you were pining for someone, anyone to lay a hand on you..."
"Yes, but I suppose I didn't specify-"
"So just enjoy it," the mirror-girl snaps, "for what it is, and turn off the brain and just don't do anything stupid."
"Like fall in love with him."
"Hmph. Yes, exactly."
arsenicwaltz: (Default)
"What's that face mean?"

I am sitting at the table of the ice cream parlor, as I have been for the past half hour or so, poking at my empty ice cream cup with my spoon. As ever when we're together, the conversation has been lively and unstilted - that is until now. Because now, he has announced, he's going to tell me his plan to propose to his girlfriend, and I am absolutely unable to muster as much excitement for him as he deserves. I temporize.

"I'm trying to squelch my inner stage manager. I'm sure you've got the details handled...?"

He smiles at me, and he reaches forward and touches my arm. It's like being stung, almost, like a jolt of electricity, almost, but tempered with the sinking knowledge that either he never felt it as I do, or he has taken me too well at my word. I may never know. I paste what I hope is an impish smile onto my face and look up at him, secretly searching his face for some sign of emotion aside from that happy anticipation he gets when hatching a plan. If there was any there, I cannot see it. "Go on," I tell him.

He rambles at length about his grand plan, and I ask event-plannerly detail questions, prompt him about logistics, and eventually declare it a sound plan. All the while I am dying a little inside, and I hope he will never know.

My tragedy, I think, is that I was brought up not to believe in fairy tales, but to secretly yearn for one of my own.

"That's silly," we always said.
"The princess should rescue the prince," we said.
"I am not a princess," I said, and I always held back a tear because I wished it wasn't true.

I was brought up not to believe that happiness was possible for people like me. And what I find instead is that you must make your own fairy tales in this world. Twice, I have stared the prince in the face and told him my mantra "I am not a princess", unknowingly rejected him as I rejected myself.

In that long, stimulating discussion we'd had, perhaps a year and change ago, I never realized what he might have been really asking.

"I don't believe in marriage," I told him, and my bitter, broken heart poured out a lot of nonsense because some part of me truly believed right then, that if the previous one couldn't love me enough to marry me, no other man could. My sickly heart believed it, and I let it convince my brain of the same. The brain controlled the fingers that typed out these bitter thoughts and sent them to him. And woe betide me, I believe he took my words to heart.

It is self-centered, I tell myself, to believe that he took it as a rejection. It is silly to believe that anything would have changed had you not objected so strenuously to the ideal of marriage. But sitting across from him and watching his fairy tale unfold before me, I am both happy for him, and sick at heart and I wonder: Had I asked him, that night on the dance floor, would it be me now instead?

"We're sending invitations to everyone who brought us together. You're getting one, you know."
I must have looked startled. I only ever got what I took to be glares from the lady in question, so I wonder aloud "Did I have some part in the two of you meeting?"
He smiles then, dazzlingly. "Why yes. If I hadn't been there to see you, I would never have met her."
My heart twists a little in my chest, the invisible knife turning and turning. I can practically feel the paste on my smile slipping as he tells the story of my involvement in the meeting, so I affect a melancholy air.
"I was newly single then," I murmur, thinking of the boy who tore at my heart.
"Yes, I remember. There was some confusion about it, if I recall." He looks at me awkwardly.
We sit in silence for a moment or more.
"It's getting late," I say, giving the empty ice cream cup one final poke with my spoon. "You have classes in the morning, I'm sure."

He gives me a gentlemanly elbow as we leave the place. And as we're hugging goodbyes when he drops me at my car, the hug goes on, and on, and on, until I grow awkward and unsure in his arms. As I pull back a little he twists slightly, and kisses me on the cheek. I could cry, but I give him a brave smile. "Good luck. You'll have to tell me how it goes."

In the absence of my ability to love, I am determined to be happy for him in his.
I can only pray that, should another prince come along, I will have the self-awareness to know him for who, and what, he truly is.

Solitary

Apr. 17th, 2007 03:25 am
arsenicwaltz: (Default)
There is, of all things, dust on her eyelashes. Forcing them apart is a struggle, but she fights them.

Her feet are cold. That is the only part of herself she can currently feel, and although it is uncomfortable, the tingle at the end of her limbs is a reassuring reminder that her body is still alive. She flexes one leg, experimentally.

Inside the Great Hall, the Shadows start from their reverie. For four months they have sat in patient watch in the cold marble room, ever since the night of the Massacre. The Gallery had flickered, sigils and frames fading in and out, and some only out - not to return. There had been a great weeping, and then only silence as the girl disappeared. In the following night-day, they had scoured the Palace, only to find their mistress in the Great Hall, folded into half-lotus and wrapped in kimono, her back to one of the living marble pillars. And there she sat, silent, unmoving, for months. As the night-days passed in the City, welts appeared across her body, cuts across her hands, bruises across her face, as she weathered whatever events came from within. And then they stopped suddenly one day, the browns and purples trickling away under the onslaught of time, the red lash marks fading to a dull raised lattice across her arms and back.

But now her eyes open, and she topples forward, weakened by her struggles and the passing of time. Eddie is there almost immediately, a soft cushion held out before him to catch her fall. The girl swallows past her dry throat and coughs, arms twitching limply against the softness of silk damask. There is a mug of something warm near her face now, and she drinks like an invalid, like a man grasping at the last rope that could break his fall. She sighs, and collapses deeper into the pillow, eyes fluttering shut. With a thought, she is back in her own bed in her apartments above the Ballroom. The tinny waltz that plays below comforts her as she reaches for Eddie's spindly arm.

"I shall... be well," she croaks. "Only... give me... time."
She rolls over, burrowing deep into the coverlet.
"The battle was long," she gasps, "I did not succeed. I fought alone. My foe was armed with trickery. I could not... prevail."

As Eddie creeps from the room she whispers into the dark.

"I am alone, all alone..."
arsenicwaltz: (Default)
The waltz is languidly slow, and she moves in the circle of his arms like the sweep of the waves across the beach. Their bodies move in a perfect time, neither pulling nor pushing against the other. She wonders vaguely behind the dazzling ballroom's crushing impression on her brain, if the two of them would move this same way were they yards apart instead of merely inches. She imagines that the answer would be yes.

It is not her own Ballroom she dances in now, but somewhere else entirely; a sort of bridge between many worlds, where dreamers come to consort with others of their ilk, dancing nights away with joyous grace. The man who's arms hold her now is the same one whose bushes she once crouched in several years ago, yearning after his blinding brightness. His glow warms her now as the waltz slows, and he swings her into a slow turn and into a dip. For a heart pounding second their lips are but a thought's breadth apart, and she blinks up into his startled eyes. Fear.

The girl wakes, heart pounding from the nightmare. No, no nightmare, for these were events that truly transpired. The Glimmer's eyes had been lanced with fear, though she'd felt through him the urge she too had had, to close that infinitesimal distance in a kiss. He had backpedaled then, explaining awkwardly of his duties, of the Lady with whom he shared his realms. She had stood back quietly, safely outside his bewitching presence, and nodded and smiled in agreement with him to try to hide the hammering of her heart.

She pulls the covers around her, sliding deeper into her bed. One arm reaches out for the bell-pull by the headboard, but Eddie is at her bedside before her fingers touch the silken cord.
"Misssssstressssss?"
"Some cocoa Eddie, please. And put a little warmth into it."

The Shadow is gone from her bedside before she can blink, and she stares up at the moving lights of the City on her ceiling. Their twirling does nothing to soothe her, and with a sigh she pulls at the coverlet and gropes for her kimono, toes smarting at the chill of the floor beneath them. After a moment's thought, she heads towards the Presence Room, her footsteps quiet over the marble threshold. Torches burn on either side of the throne, and although the place looks somber in the half-light, there is a sense of warmth to it as well.

She kneels before the throne, hands clasped before her in the expectant silence.

"I refuse to dirty him." The words are broken when they come; a self-reassurance torn from the lips of one who despairs.

"The saints of the path he follows were hallowed for driving out the likes of me, centuries ago. I will not see him cast him down in the eyes of his fellows for my sake."

Her hands clench in her lap. "I will pull back. I don't know if you can hear me, but I could use a little help. I know that his god and my gods don't always get along, but..." She shakes her head miserably, then looks up at the empty throne.

"Please, please send solid distractions my way. I could use the help."

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