Oct. 19th, 2006 04:36 pm
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The bathroom is dark but for a single light trained upon her face. The glass is clear and unsteamed as the girl applies dark kohl to her eyes, but there is a moment where her image in the mirror starts as if spooked, and shies away from her. She puts down the stick of kohl, fingers shaking slightly.

“Speak, Nameless. What have you to tell me?”

The mirror girl sighs imperceptibly, giving up all pretense of following the girl’s movements. Her lips twitch with a sudden thought.

“Nineteen. There, I’ve said it.”
The girl nods, impassively.
“But that’s not what you wish to speak about.”
“No.” There is a pause while the mirror-girl arranges her words. “What is she doing?”
The girl sighs deeply, looking down at the washbasin, and on her fingers curled tight about its marble rim.
“I don’t know.” A pause. “Yes I do.”
“She is pushing me away again. I saw it in the back of her eyes that night, that I have gotten too close to her core and now she grows thorns to keep me back.” She looks up from the basin. “It’s not as if I haven’t done the same, when I feel the hunting hound’s teeth at my heels.”
“Does she realize what she’s doing?”
“I should think not. I suspect that she’s adult enough to tell me, if she knew.”
“Does it make it easier to let her go?”
“In a way, yes. It dulls the pleasure of her company, certainly. It makes it easier to…” the girl stares off into infinity for a moment.
She starts back to herself, “To follow other trails on the hillside. There are many creatures that would hunt fox, you know. It helps me to remember that she is not the only one out there.” Her lips quirk with a memory. “And it helps me to focus on those who do want me. The Sunbeam, the Wheel, Orion’s Follower, the Dancing Wolf, and…” she pauses again, searching for a word.
“…And the Mask.” The mirror-girl supplies. The girl grins in acceptance.
“Yes, and the Mask.”
“So what then of the Tigress?”
“She is lovely. But each time I looked into those fey eyes of hers, I saw only lust. And standing back, I saw naught but a vector.” Her brow furrows. “I would not be on the end of that chain, not if I could help it. Even as much fun as we had.”
The mirror-girl nods. “Our gift, and our curse, is Sight.”
The girl nods resignedly. “To see beyond flesh, into the tangled mind’s intent, and beyond. It is a hard thing, to read the pattern on the world’s loom, and have none believe you when you tell the shape of the weaving.”

There eyes lock through the glass, and they share a weary smile. The world shudders slightly, and as one the girl reaches again for the stick of kohl.

In Prayer

Sep. 18th, 2006 10:27 pm
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It is cold in the Temple. Leaves skitter around her ankles in a dance of reds and yellows, burnished coppers and rich browns. The doric columns of the outdoor structure rise up in their circle, like the staves of an unfinished basket reaching towards the dark sky and twinkling stars. The burble of water can be heard softly from within the innermost circle of the Temple's railings, though she knows that soon, as winter settles its blanket over the City, that subtle sound will cease.

The gusting wind pushes against her, throwing her skirts into the bars of the balustrade as if hoping to push her over it and into the chilly springwater flowing below. Her hair, uncoiled for the first time in many months, flies loose about her face. There is a far off look in her eyes, and her fingers are clenched on the railing so that her knuckles are white with the strain.

A short, lumpy figure appears behind her, dark tattered hair and pale tattered skin and a glint of cruel silver at her finger belying the power held in that unpleasant shape. Naturally, her taller, svelte sibling stands nearby, in attendance.

"He does not love you." It is Despair who speaks first.
"I know." Her gaze is calm, somewhere between resigned and uncaring.
"And he never will, not the way he loves her still."
The girl simply gazes on at Despair, silent.

Desire chimes in, a rich velvet to the Despair's scratching burlap.
"You could take her place, you know. Give him something to think about besides her. Fill his head and his heart and make him forget."
"I don't think so."
"But it's what you want. It's what you've wanted since you met him, all those years ago."
She ponders this for a second, head cocked to one side.
"Yes." She pauses again, gathering her words. "Yes, but I have always known that he is a creature of another realm entirely. I have never even aspired to have him as anything more than a simple visitor, a guest in my realm."
Desire is, for once, silent. Despair looks up into her sibling's eyes and they exchange shrugs. The odd pair turn away from the Temple, and fade back into the night.

"That was well done."
The voice at her elbow makes her turn away from the spring again. Moonlight glints on the silver ankh and sends strands of more silver to play in the tousled dark curls that frolic in the wind. Death leans across the railing beside her, hands clasped.
"I have rarely seen someone shrug off Desire before, much less Desire and Despair."

The girl frowns, eyes closed, and pinches the bridge of her nose as if fighting a headache.
"For there to be Despair, there must first be hope. I have no hope of the Sunbeam ever being more than a casual visitor. And as for Desire, well, though he may but visit, and I would wish him back more frequently, our... meetings... are sufficiently torrid to quench any urgency Desire might foist upon us."

"You are concerned about something else."

There is a long pause, in which the girl sighs, and swallows hard.
"I have... I have become the Scared Whore that I once disdained. I feel no different, but I cannot but imagine how those who are now, how I once was must mock at me and scorn me behind my back."

Death raises one eyebrow. "Surely it's not so bad as all that. I know the one you speak of, and you are not alone in your... lack of regard for her." She takes her ankh in hand, musing "The Moving Phoenix has taken her life in her own hands more times than anyone deems sane, and indeed her exploits may well lead her into my realm someday."

"But you are not like her. Remember that. That is not to say that you aren't allowed to enjoy your... ah... worship." Death grins impishly.

The girl sighs again, fiddling with the braid on the edge of her bodice. "I do enjoy it. Very much. But I want a piece of each of them, some small piece to keep. Even the Temple whores are given their tribute - I simply feel used and cast aside. In... many things. Not just this. I am still without a Companion."


Jul. 12th, 2006 12:34 am
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She sits quietly against the wall of the Gallery, as she has for some time. Her skirts are rumpled from where she slid down against the wall, and above her hangs an empty frame of rich oak, one corner graced by a treble clef, the other by a now-wilted leaf. There is a hollowness in the Drummer's absence, but not the sense of utter loss that previous departures brought.

The girl's eyes are dry. She had expected his leavetaking, but not so soon. She had known there was trouble, but not that it was dire enough to sunder them.

She wonders to herself what went wrong, really. She wonders what the Drummer says about her now, behind his locks and doors. She wonders if she should have been gentler on him, or less so, or if she had chosen her own carriage how it would have fallen out, or how the changing of one of a million tiny details about that night might have altered her present situation. But she sits, and she thinks, and she wonders, and she does not cry.

Mostly though this day, she sits and ponders why she does not feel more, wondering if the half-guilt about her own serenity could count for something for him. Her twisting thoughts leave her sitting there, against the wall. Did she really love him? Did he love her? What was this "love" he thought he knew? What did it all matter, in the end? Slowly her thoughts congeal, and she begins murmuring to herself as she stands, straightens her skirt, and turns her steps towards the Sanctuary.

"I loved him, but I never let him in. I knew in my soul that he would hurt me should I ever do so, even if my head and heart were deaf to it. I was not a partner to him, I was more parent, and that inequality was enough to end it..." She strides into the Sanctuary, and her steps are resolute.

"I seek a partner, not a charge. Perhaps that is why."
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"It was an apt name you gave her, you know."

The girl shuts the tiny wooden box with a loud snap and a gasp, whirling to see Desire's idle form draped over a nearby setee. If it unnerves her at all that the Endless can come and go so easily in her kingdom, she does a good job of hiding it, instead frowning softly to herself and turning back to the box. It is a small thing, lined in stormy blue velvet, a complicated celtic knot burnt into the lid. Inside sits a single, elf-made laurel leaf, so real in its seeming that one might never know it for an artisans work, except that it is made completely of silver.

Unimpeded by her silence, Desire continues. "You know what the myths said about elves, don't you? That mortals who dared taste the Summerlands could never return, else they'd pine forevermore."

"I am... quite... aware of that, thank you" she grits out through clenched teeth. "I am also aware that that one taste was all I'm ever likely to get." She shuts the box again, softly this time, and turns to the door. Desire does not follow, but merely calls after her.

"You're not likely to shake me so easily. What, did your struggles with the Wolf's memory teach you nothing?"

Stung, she turns, eyes flashing. "He was not a wolf. And I can certainly try."

Purposeful steps take her to the Gallery, but her certainty wanes as she approaches a few lines sketched on the wall in place of the frames they represent. Touching their sigils, the ankh, the mask, she murmurs a Calling and stands back.

Death appears first; unsurprising given her ability to be anywhere and everywhere all at once. Dream's arrival is more leisurely, his image appearing as if a fog had seeped into the frame and then reluctantly taken the form of a tall man with wild hair and galaxies for eyes. She turns to Dream first.

"Lord Shaper, to you I give this dream. I fear I have ill-used it, but it has in return given me nothing but heartache. I understand that this is my sole responsibility, and my fault, and I beg your forgiveness for ever harboring it." She hands him the box, which he takes with a grave look. She turns to Death, looking solemnly out at her from her pane of the Gallery.

"Lady Ender, to you I give this struggle. I do not give it lightly, but I beg you take it, as your sister has taken my hope in the matter." The girl shoots a look to the next frame over, where the hooked ring glistens dully in the diffuse light of the long hallway. Death nods, but touches the shape of the box uneasily.

"You know that you've had terrible luck flouting Desire in the past. I hope you know what you're doing this time."

The girl ducks her head in acknowledgment. "Telute, it is the only thing I can do. I cannot stand any more of her half-rejections, no more of Despair's visits to my Realm."

Death nods, slowly. "I wish you peace, then."

As the Endless fade from view within their frames, she whispers her thanks.
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There is a shelf in the Vault of Memories, one of those few small spaces that escapes the constant roil of the icons around it. On this shelf perch a few small baubles: a dessicated spider, a dusty dried rose, and a cluster of small glass globes. Each globe sits on a tiny pedestal, a tiny frozen world contained within a grapefruit sized sphere. The girl stands nearby, quietly contemplating the collection.

One globe is a welter of light and brightly colored rose petals, of soft green grasses and fuzzy blankets – those first few frozen memories of childhood.
Another sits nearby, flurries of snow, ancient German pines, and flashes of summers spent riding and working with horses.
Nearby, a third globe reflects the dusty golden brown of scorched hills in shimmering heat, splashes of color and texture and the shade of venerable old oaks and walnuts.
It is the fourth that holds her attention now. Unlike the other three, there is movement still in this one: a silvery gray fog twists among giant redwoods, and a strand of golden beach sand twinkles against the deep blue of the Pacific.

The girl picks up the still living memory, cupping it protectively against her. Her cheeks are wet as she looks at it, and she is enveloped in a palpable cloud of nostalgia. Nearby, another globe stands twirling, empty, still forming.

"The Land of the Sainted Cross... I will miss it." She addresses nobody in particular, though at her first words Eddie appears preternaturally at her elbow. A cave forms inside the globe, then a twirling circle of fire, then a glimmer of moonlight on ocean waves appears, followed by the sun on hawk's wings, the dappling of bay leaves, spring jasmine and...

Underneath her clenched fingers the glass grows warm, then hot, then begins slightly to glow as the pressure of so many memories heats and tests the glass. A shimmer begins behind the girl, and it is not until Death's cold fingers are on her elbow that she opens her tight-shut eyes. Her hands are burning on the glass as Death looks silently on at her, but she cannot release them.

"Let go" Death whispers, grasping the girl's wrist. "It's over now."

All at once the girls hands unclench, and she drops the still hot globe, collapsing into a pile of sobbing skirts and bleeding hands before the shelf. Death nimbly catches the globe, shakes something gently from it, and sets it back in place on its stand.

Stooping, She places one cool white hand around the girl's reddened burnt ones, and places something inside them.

It is a redwood cone, small and dark and shriveled against her bleeding palm; no bigger than a thimble, but containing all the potential of its giant parent. It swells and greens as she watches it, the redness and burnt flesh of her hands healing underneath it. Death shoots her a significant look and vanishes.

Still sniffling, the girl walks through her palace to the Great Hall. The hall is silent, empty marble breathing softly the slow pace of the deities that reside there, but the tiny cone takes on an urgent golden glow in her hands. Her eyebrows rise, and she hurries out.

Outside in the garden she stoops, Calling a patch of bare red earth up from underneath the marble paving stones. The earth spills out in a wide circle around her then darkens with her call to Air and Water. Gently, she places the tiny cone within the circle's center and pushes both palms down over it in prayer. There is a rumble, and she turns and walks the few paces to the edge of the circle in the stones.

The tree towers above her by the time she reaches the edge of the circle. It is thick as a carriage, and the branches do not begin until fifteen feet up the red, scraggly-barked trunk. A soft sigh of fog appears around the lower branches, as if it was not so much the fog that grew redwoods, but the redwoods that grew fog. And who could really tell in the City anyway? She looks up at the twinkling of stars between the branches.

"You are my promise, you are my sentry, you are my reminder. I have left it, but I will not forget what I learned in your kingdom."

She takes a breath, inhaling the scent of redwood and remembering the forests she once haunted. And then she turns, and softly returns to her Palace.
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A dragon does not love the gold it sits upon, neither then could I have ever loved him.

Similar to the dragon I feared it; feared what my life would be without it, and it is only natural that it betrayed me in such a way as no cold heap of coins could ever manage. I gave him that power over me, and find now that I have little power to break it, only the strength to resist the pull of gleaming riches that would be the death of me.

But only just.

Time heals all, eventually. But how does a dragon cease reminiscing on a lost hoard?
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It was a gray, sullen day, threatening rain and sometimes delivering. After some debate, I left in the drizzly afternoon for Natural Bridges, I with a packet wrapped in silk and again in an old linen handkerchief tucked in one back pocket.

As I walked out to the ocean, I remembered what I'd written earlier:

What is a ring, when all is said and done?
A ring is a promise, but you are a promise broke as oft as made.
A ring is a token of esteem, but no esteem has ever been given with you.
A ring is an item of beauty, but your presence has but stained my hand and blighted my life.
Last, a ring is an item of value, given to symbolize sacrifice for love, but your silver was stolen, no sacrifice and thus no value is your symbol, and so I conclude:
That you are not a ring,
And I have no reason to keep you.

And there I was standing on the tideline with a roil of gray clouds above my head, and a line of white seafoam and black, wet kelp before me on the beach.

The waves foamed and the wind blew, and the water retreated in front of my feet. I took out the square of linen, extracted from it the square of silk, and from that pulled a ring. It was a claddaugh, given to me by the First in the spring of 2001. Every relationship that touched that ring failed, and usually in the same way. In September, I put it on my altar surrounded by silver and iron: in quarentine. The Green-Eyed never touched it, though I know he looked at it in puzzlement a few times. Ever since the first time the Wolf and I broke up for keeps, I'd had thoughts of throwing the cursed thing into the sea but I'd always held back. The Wolf still has the other ring, as far as I know, and to finally rid myself of the taint of the first of the pair would be, in his eyes, to rid myself of all lingering connection with him.

But this is more important. This ring is symbolic of so much more than the death of our relationship, and to let myself be slave to its pull would be worse than to break that connection. Even as I walked towards the water I could feel that evil niggling finger of doubt: it was just a bit of silver with a few bad memories, what could it hurt to save it just a little longer?

No. I took the ring gingerly between thumb and forefinger, looked out to the horizon, and threw. A sudden wave reached up to catch it, and there wasn't even the sound of silver tinkling against rock.

The rain came as I dashed back up the beach - a cleansing, a baptism.

I am free, and untainted once again.

The Curse

Mar. 22nd, 2006 12:10 am
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She lies restively under her counterpane, as she has for some hours now, tossing and turning and watching the dance of the dimmed lights that passes for night in this dayless land of hers. Finally, she sits up in bed with a frown, struck by the sudden realization of the force of her disquiet and paranoia. Something is not right. She closes her eyes, and mentally goes seeking, upstairs and down through hall and passageway, looking for the source of the trouble. When she finally finds it she sighs resignedly, pulling herself out of bed and into a dressing gown to make the long trek to the Vault.

The Vault of Memories itself is a vast room lined with shelves and tables and display stands of every sort and description, with an unending wash of knick-knacks heaped, arranged, and scattered about. It looks as if a Victorian parlor's curio cabinet vomited its contents, and the contents of its relatives, friends, and acquaintances into the room, where they miraculously began sorting themselves. There is a sense of furtive movement to the mass, as new items Become, and shuffle themselves about; indeed, the subtle ebb and flow of items seen from the corner of an eye has unnerved the occasional visitor. Well, that and the constant sursurrus or memory that each thing makes, for each item is an icon, a reduction of a memory frozen in time, and to touch it is to re-live it. It is for this reason that the Vault is well sheilded, but it has happened before that whatever mighty protections exist cannot defeat the slim fingers of memory that reach out to touch their owner.

So it is no surprise to the girl that as she approaches the heavy door she witnesses a sickly yellow finger of evil retreating away from her, running now that it knows it's been found out. The jaundiced tracery slips through a minute crack between doorjamb and heavy rounded metal door, vanishing as if to hide. But as she opens the door, the girl knows exactly what is at the heart of her disquiet.

A mobile swings suspended from the center of the room, its myriad pendulums fashioned of bits of sea glass and river rock, irregular shapes sanded smooth and imbued with a single memory each and hung in a spiraling cone of silver wires. A single ribbon hangs at the center of the mobile, forming a still axis around which the other memories rotate. From this ribbon dangles a small silver ring formed of two hands holding a crowned heart, enveloped in that same sickly yellow glow.

"I knew it." She stamps her foot angrily. "I should have got rid of you ages ago."

From thin air she produces a black silken bag, and a pair of heavy shears. A quick snip, and the ring falls into the waiting insulation of the silk held under it, awaiting its proper doom. With it gone, the mobile loses some of its malevolent glow, but continues to swing and murmur to itself under a thin scum of yellow taint. The girl looks at it thoughtfully for a moment, then reaches out and...

Victoria says "hi". An impish purple speck of sea glass, worn smooth with retelling of that single funny, fateful moment.

You can always hide at my house. You can always eat my food. A light blue stone, the sound of falling rain and the soft embrace of fuzzy blankets. She smiles bitterly.

We don't have to. A palm-sized piece of light blue glass, handblown and full of bubbles. The smell of hot chlorinated water and crushed wet grass on a spring night, the moonlight washing over it all.

You know, I think it will make us stronger. A tiny fragment of the inner curl of a nautilus shell, flesh colored and containing the smell of tent nylon in the fall, the sensation of warm skin against skin.

It's closed... We'll have to stay the night on this side of the border and just keep going in the morning. A black stone, veined and traced with northern mud, filled with bitter misfortune, willing martyrdom, and a crushing anxiety, peppered with a fatalistic defeat. The crisp tang of fresh snow on a mountain pass assaults her and she gasps, remembering the book she finished on that long trip home.

This rose never dies, like my love for you. A tiny pewter pendant imbued with rose oil, long since gone stale and sour. The smile on his face at his "victory".

You can do it. I want you to. A charcoal grey stone, streaked with black and green lines of jealousy. The color under his eyes after he spent all night awake, the sense of being hunted and the subtle scent of laundry detergent and the Sunbeam's riding leathers.

Ticket for one, please. A small cold lump that sat in the pit of her stomach for weeks, condensed loneliness and isolation combined with bitterness and regret, salt tears leaving a faint crust about it.

You may not be ready for this, but I am. It's not working. A single black piece of glass, sharp as a scalpel and crackling with the pain and rage of that night. Her fingers come away bloody.

I only used a condom because I thought of you...

The bright red glass burns her hand as she brushes by it, and she snaps out of her reverie, turning away to resist the temptation to stick her hands back into the swirling, tinkling pieces of the mobile. The red welt quickly growing on the back of her hand reinforces that, and although she looks longingly at a few pieces, her resolve stands firm. Quickly now, before it can fade, she takes a boathook from a wall and remembers a canoe trip as a young girl while she pulls the mobile down from its hook. Thinking for a moment, she conjures a box with a tight lid and handles, and slowly lowers the mobile into it. The pendulums clatter now as if in pain as she sets them down, a desperate screaming as if they know what's coming. The lid goes on. The sickly taint is contained.

Slowly, slolwly, the girl picks up the box, gritting her teeth against the knowledge of what she must do, and quickly leaves the Vault. The stairs down into the Catacombs fly under her feet, and soon she is standing by the water's edge, listening to the gurgle of a mineral spring and the near-imperceptible sound of living rock. Before she can lose her nerve, she sets the box in the water, and gives it a shove, watching it float to the center of the slightly undulating pool. She picks up a rock, hefting it in her hand, and lets it fly, eyes closed. A splash. She may have missed the box entirely, but it sinks obediently out of sight; it is her Kingdom after all. Hardly a ripple is left on the surface of the black waters.

Eddie meets her at the top of the stairs, a sleeping draught offered in one spindly hand and a look of consternation on his pointed features.

"I won't need it. I believe I've found the problem, and taken care of it." Eddie opens his mouth to speak, but she continues. "And don't look at me like that. I don't need them, and if I ever do I know exactly where to find them. We are as strangers now."

She takes the black silk bag from a pocket in her dressing gown, and frowns at it as if to stare down her problems.
"Right now, I have more pressing things to attend to. It seems that the legacy of The First continues, and I will not have this cursed thing about me anymore."

The Letter

Feb. 28th, 2006 10:31 pm
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They tell me that you think I'm hunting you.

Let me say first and foremost that I am not. I don't seek out your company in the World-That-Is-Not, but I sometimes get it accidentally by looking through the windows of friends. They tell me that you are unhappy with me, but from your last words I also know that one of them, at least, is misleading you. I have never desired to know what goes on in your Tower, and I have never asked what you say or write about me. If ever I have speculated on the subject, it is merely speculation and never a question. I must wonder then, if this same person is the one who has taught you "some things" that you found objectionable about my behaviour. I can only speculate, since I suspect that whoever it is, they pose as my friend as well as yours. I dislike such snakes in the grass.

They tell me too, that you feel that I have burnt our connection, out in the Desert. That is also not true, though I remember you telling me that you'd put me on the steps of the Temple, so I wonder exactly at what slight you feel that you have not also inflicted on me. One burns the past, for it is just that: the past. One burns that which holds one back, as one burns the thatch of old relationships so that new ones may grow. You cannot burn the future, for the future is never formed enough to be flammable. What I left at the Temple was my burden, and you flatter yourself to think that you were even the bulk of it. There was a ghost of a boy that I carried for seven years, and the Temple in the Desert was the perfect place to let him go.

I wish also to say that if the Troll gave you any trouble because of our battle, I am sorry for it. It was never my intention to drag you into it, but as you probably know, I suffered from your lack of support. I hope you didn't suffer for your part in the story as well.

They tell me, lastly, that you are prospering. I am glad of that. You've had far too much not-prospering already this lifetime, and I think it's about time you got your due.

The girl folds the paper in formal threes, then in threes again, tucking the ends neatly into each other. She presses her thumb against the seam of paper on paper, and the seal of the dancing fox springs up beneath it. She walks slowly, contemplatively through the Palace to the back grounds, the letter held in front of her between thumb and forefinger, as a Hari Krishna holds the daisies he hands to passers by. She reaches the garden wall almost with surprise, the silvery granite springing up to greet her and startling her from her musing. She nudges a stone with her toe, and the square brick extends somewhat: the first step in a makeshift stairway. She touches another block, and another, tapping one with a knee, and elbow, then a final one with outstretched fingers. With the jet fringes of her bodice clattering protest she scales the makeshift ladder, shuddering at the smell of ash and scorched pine that greets her nose as her head rises above the top of the wall. Surveying the blasted plain, she is comforted to see that the terrain is quietly healing. The scorched rock of the outside wall shows signs of regaining its silver color, and the blasted ground where the Forest once lapped against her wall has begun to fade into a blankness, a nothingness devoid of meaning, history, or intent.

She sighs softly, and places the folded letter on the wall, weighting it slightly with a small silver coin. As she climbs down the stones of the wall retreat back to their original positions, and she dusts her hands absently together as she walks back to the Palace. Looking back from the Grand Balcony she watches a slight zephyr toying with the folded edges of the paper, and shrugs. If he finds it, he finds it. If it is brought to him by an outside force, well, it wouldn't be ideal, but the result would be, for all intents and purposes, the same.

The girl turns and makes her way back inside the Palace in search of a mug of cocoa.
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Beneath the Palace, beneath even the darkest and lowest of the dank and forgotten wine cellars, lies a system of caverns, catacombs, and grottoes older than even the City itself. A mineral spring bubbles in the center of an otherwise still pool, and there is the very faint murmur of an underground river as it moves its sluggish, cold way through the caverns like the icy blood in a dead body; nowhere important to be, and in no hurry to get there. For all the darkness of the caverns though, the water is sweet and pure, untouched here by the taint and pollution of the City above. Once upon a time, when someone else lived here, the caverns and pools were heated by vented steam from the world's core, but no more. The girl has not yet learned such control over her Element to replicate the steaming soaking pools that the ancient City still murmurs of, and so as she treks to this furthest reach of her Domain, she carries a torch, and wears a warm woolen wrap about her.

The door that she stops in front of is massive and oaken, studded and guarded with iron. A giant ring stands in service as a handle, but only those who know its secret could ever budge the door. The girl sighs resignedly, and spins the ring in its stanchion until she hears a subtle click, at which point she pulls the ring to stand out perpendicular to the door, and rotates the entire ring assembly. The door swings open on silent, greased hinges. Even so far away from her main hallways, the Shadows are attentive to every detail.

The air inside her Armory is softly redolent with leather and polish, and the tang of well oiled steel. She places her torch on a sconce and surveys the room, crammed floor to ceiling with armor and weapons of every make and description - some ancient, some fantastic, some subtle, some wildly futuristic. It will be a difficult decision.

What would a modern day Amazon wear? she wonders lightly to herself. But she is not an Amazon, and so she passses the rack of bows and quivers, and of hardened leather armor. The kevlar vest she selects makes the jet beading on her bodice tinkle discordantly, and with a thought she replaces her gown with black fatigue pants and a black, long sleeved shirt. She looks thoughtfully then around her, shaking her head. Very little of this armament would do; what she was engaged in was a battle of defenses, not offenses. A pair of knee high boots comes next, metal heels gleaming and the wickedly pointed toes hiding a toe cap of forged steel. Her long silver knife, a ceremonial piece for luck more than defense, slides easily home inside her boot top. Next come a pair of hardened leather gauntlets, a fox afire carved and painted on them, and a subtle knife sheathed in each. The last thing she takes, incongruous as it would seem to an onlooker, is a book.

The book's smooth-grained leather binding is stamped in gold letters that twist before her sight. Logos, Veritas, Iustus it reads, glowing softly with a weight and power all it's own. It is the book of the Law, and the girl hopes that she will be able to use it to her advantage in the coming struggle. The Law is friend to some, enemy to others, and a tricky, twisted thing to invoke in any battle. But she will try.

There is one last thing she remembers as her hand reaches for her torch. Turning back into the room, she strides to the very center, crouches, and taps softly on a single tile laid into the living rock. It rises slightly, and she pries it up with her fingernails, quickly reaching below it for the black velvet bag it contains. Replacing the tile, she stands, sliding the softness of velvet over something black and hard and shiny. It is almost rounded, this thing she holds in her hands, and transparent like smoked glass. It is the size and shape of a human heart; hers. Taking a deep breath, she holds the slick, unpleasant looking thing to her chest and pushes, settling her last, and most important, piece of armor into place.

Without a backward glance she takes up her torch and strides out of the Armory and back up the the Palace, ready finally to face her enemy.
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"He burns with his own ego, you know."

The girl is standing quietly in front of a floor-to-ceiling mirror tucked away in part of the Palace that few know of and fewer visit. The girl's black gown rustles restively, but the girl in the mirror is lit oddly with the greenish cast of fluorescent lighting, and wears black jeans, a black sweater, and a long trench coat. Her hair is ragged, her fingernails bitten to nubs and her face is tired, and she blinks into the mirror, peering in as if looking through a poorly lit display case. It is the same girl, but it is not. Nearby on the Palace-side of the mirror, a standing candelabra casts a golden light that glints on the jet beads of her skirt, but that also casts a raking light across the gilt whorls of the mirror's frame. In the shadows cast by the flickering candles, one can see the word "VERITAS".

Death looks up at the girl from her crosslegged seat on a nearby fainting couch, and cocks her head questioningly. The girl continues.

"I stood here with him in my arms and in my heart, and you know what I saw in the mirror?" She pauses momentarily, brooding at the memory. "I saw a man aflame, awash in his own self centered pursuit of pleasure. It was a death's head, a grim reaper, with hair of fire. And..." she chokes, "... and with my arms around him, I saw... Beside me, I saw..."

"Me." Death nods, comfortingly. "It's a good thing you aren't still chasing the Flame then, isn't it?"

The girl nods, unhappily, reaching for a tasseled cord by the side of the mirror, by which she lowers a long swath of golden velvet over it, as if to shut out a draught from the other side. The greenish light is smothered behind the fabric's thick pile. She stands, fidgeting restlessly with the tassel, a frown creasing her brow.

"But, that's not what's bothering you, is it?" Death prompts quietly. "You'd let him find his own way into my realm, because it's not your way to interfere with his karmic debt. Good girl. So..."

"It's his conquests! His girlfriends, his playtoys!" she blurts. The force of her words takes something out of her, and she sinks to the floor beside the fainting couch, head in hands. "I'm one of them. I was one of them. But the more I see the women he keeps company with, the worse I feel about it - his choices of partners reflect poorly on my own worth." The girl lets out a shuddering sigh, one hand dropping from her face to clench and unclench convulsively on her knee. "I even... felt sorry for her, for this last one. They seemed so damn happy at first, but he's just a total headcase, and no girl deserves that." She grimaces. "Well, almost no girl."

Death strokes her hair gently. "So what's the problem?"

Her eyes are closed now, as if to shut out the painful truth. "I'm starting to dislike him, as a person. It has the potential to fester into something like we had going all those years. I'm just about ready to chop off that limb now, to save myself the pain of having to watch him burning in the bed he buttered all by himself." Her face is pained as she looks up at Death, beseeching.

"I don't think I want to be his friend anymore."
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He is lying on my freshly made bed as I return, his strawberry blonde hair spread out down his back in a cascade that makes me want to run my fingers through it. Instead, I hang up my shower-damp bathrobe, and glance over his shoulder at my laptop. He's checking his email. Okay. I nuzzle up against the back of his neck, breathing in the smell of him, and that silly, spicy hippy conditioner he buys in bulk. But my bed is made, and this is weird for me on some deep but impossibly unimportant level.

"So, what, were the sheets too dirty to lie on?"

He grins up at me, and it takes all the self-control I can muster not to strip him out of those fatigues and make the morning's count six. We have shit to do today I remind myself.
"Oh no, I just decided to make the bed."
"But I never make the bed."
"Well I'm just well-trained like that."

Suddenly I am completely lost, somewhere leagues and leagues from him, my neatly made bed, my dangling towel. There is an invisible cavern yawning beneath him in my mind, waiting to swallow him up in some delightful dungeon. I'm seeing him suddenly with new vision, and what I see is very, very stirring. He blinks those hazel eyes at me, and I guiltily snap back to the real world. Guilty, yes, that's the word for it, because I know he knows absolutely nothing of where my mind just went, and with what fervor I could wish him there too. I know in my heart that the "training" he spoke of has nothing at all to do with the sort that I imagine.

"It's a paradigm shift," he said to me as we rode in my bumpersticker-bedecked car. "Now that I'm with you, all of your stickers apply to me too. It's interesting to think about."
And untrue, I silently add, thinking of the black and blue and black and blue and white sticker with the heart. Just because others think things about you, doesn't make them true. At the same time though, his broaching of the subject gives me hope, and here is that tiny evil hope that someday, perhaps, I could see him through the training that goes on behind locked doors in the deepest, darkest dungeons of my mind.
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She wakes to the smell of smoke. The acrid scent pushes away a very pleasant dream, and she wakes in the dark to the soft sounds of the Drummer's breathing, and the crackle of pine. She closes her eyes with a sigh, then pushes away coverlet and silken sheets, wincing at the temperature change. Inside her apartments a ghostly orange light, at the same time similar and different from the light of the City, dances through her windows and flickers along the gilt ceiling ornaments.

Outside the Shadows have gathered in a throng on the back balcony to watch, but she pushes through them. The air is thick with smoke and flying ash, and there is a solemn funeral air to the scene. It is a funeral; a cremation.

On the other side of the Palace's walls, the stumps of still-living pine burn like smudgepots, some sending up jets of bright flame as their sap ignites. Tiny sapling pines, no more than a few fingers thick disappear and reappear in the smoke like doomed dancers in skirts of flame. The forest burns, even where it's been chopped back from the walls, and the walls themselves creak and groan with the heat. Above the flames the Tower still rises, a burning light at its apex glimmering like a malevolent eye.

The sense of waste overwhelms her. Even as the Forest burns, she can see it's no use; the Tower and Palace are too closely bound in the World to ever fully sunder in the City. The pines shriek and wail in a voice that only she can hear, and she turns her back on the sight, clutching her kimono tightly about her as if to close out the entire awful thing. Eddie is by her side now, and the rest of the Shadows turn to look at her, expressions of fear and sadness written on their faces. She shakes her head.

"There is nothing I can do. The Wolf thinks that I'm hunting him, and anything I say to the contrary will sound like a false denial. This," she gestures to the burning trees, "should at least make him feel better."


Jan. 3rd, 2006 03:14 am
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She is perched on the balcony railing overlooking the foyer of the Palace, one arm wrapped casually around a marble sylph-shaped column when Eddie finds her. Her hands are idly but busily engaged with a knife and apple, and tiny tendrils of apple skin fall into a small pile on her lap. She seems pensive, meditative, as she looks out over the space towards the heavy brazen doors with their sculpted trees and vines. Her mouth twitches, quirks experimentally, then she smiles, shaking her head.

"Nothing turns out the way you expect." The sound startles Eddie, who jumps, twig-like limbs flying.
"Yesss, I mean... No! - no indeed Missstresss," he answers, regaining his composure.

No answer is required, however, and the girl stares dreamily at the door, turning the naked apple in her hand. With an absentminded gesture, she places the knife to the right of her at about chest-height, as if she were setting it on a table and not on thin air over a goodly amount of empty, open space. The knife hovers in space obligingly, and disappears. Eddie sighs inwardly, making a mental note to check the kitchen countertops to see where the thing ended up. The girl stares out at the doors, the true Gateway to her kingdom, for a moment longer. The sculpted leaves seem almost to sigh in a passing wind, the vines flicker and sway as if real and not locked in cold, solid metal. She starts gently, then pivots on her perch on the railing, absently patting the sylph's marble knee as she dismounts onto the balcony.

With a handful of apple peel, she strides through the back parlor and drawing room, out to the patio and down the steps into the formal garden. Her feet crunch on blue-grey gravel as she walks to the center of the space, pausing to let the ripples on the new-Called reflecting pond subside. She sinks to her knees on the pond's smooth granite margin, the jet fringe on her skirts clinking softly against the stone. A snap of her fingers calls two candles to her, one for each side, and they shed a warm steady light across the still, still water. Taking a deep breath, she casts the peels onto the surface of the pond. "Tell!" she gasps.

The peels scatter, then as if guided by many unseen hands, begin to twirl and turn in the water, forming circles and lines and eventually a pattern that she recognizes. It is a bodhran, the image strangely outlined in bits of fruit skin. With a laugh, the girl plunges her hands into the water, sending droplets flying. When she pulls them out there is a drum in them, dry as a bone with a pattern of celtic knotwork worked on the head. She stares at it for a moment, a smile on her face, then stands to go. With an absent thought, she Calls fish into the pond where they eat the apple peels, then just as quickly unthinks them when the surface of the pond is empty. The candles she leaves, two flickering points against the dark, still night.

Back in the Gallery, she strides down the row of frames until she finds the one that suits: a rich dark oak, carved with a treble clef at one corner, and a green, green leaf at the other. The drum nearly leaps from her hands to hang within it, and she laughs again. Following behind her, Eddie marvels at the sound. As she leaves, he notices that the frame of red wood, with the tartan scrap inside, has fallen back from its former position near the heart of the Gallery, and the drum has taken its place. With a shrug he turns to leave. The ordering of Her gallery was not his concern.


Dec. 26th, 2005 01:31 am
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She is walking across a desert, parched skin cracking in a dry furnace wind, her bandaged feet leaving bloody footprints behind her as she trudges ever onward through the infernal gale towards some unseen point on the horizon. Her clothing flutters from her in torn, colorless rags, leaving bare skin at the mercy of wind-driven sand. Eyelids lowered, she squints into the storm, hands wrapped and bound, and clutched protectively to her chest around an empty golden chalice. The metal weighs her down and burns her flesh, and in the golden curve of the vessel one can see flames dancing. Stretched in front of her ad infinitum is a sentry line of silver chalices, each similar and yet different from the one she holds, each containing cool water in a tiny pocket of storm-free calm. But the girl's gaze does not wander from the horizon, her blistered hands cannot stand to unclench from her burdensome treasure, and she stumbles on, unseeing. Finally, she sinks exhausted and weeping into the sand, her broken hands automatically releasing the golden chalice, which rolls quickly down the dune she has just climbed. Empty now her hands, nay, her whole body yearns towards the cup which glints merrily, far from her grasp. As the sand piles at her back, sticking in her clothes and hair, she throws out her hand in one last desperate grab, and comes back without the golden chalice, but not empty. A silver chalice, light as air and encrusted with sapphires, now lies beside her, spilling an endless stream of cool, clear water through her hands and into the pocket of calm that has reached out to envelop her.

Inside the Palace the girl turns away from the image on the page, her face troubled. The bindings on her hands shed bloodied sand onto the hearth as she stands to lean against the ornately carved fireplace. She drops her head into one hand, trying to make sense of the image and failing.


Dec. 20th, 2005 07:30 pm
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Once upon a time, there was a little girl with wide brown eyes and lank brown hair, and an imagination full of hopes and dreams. As the little girl grew up, she was taught that nobody would value her corporeal self, and that she should focus on improving her mind. Craving attention, the little girl did so, spending hours and hours with her imagination and her eyes buried in books, completely neglecting her body. The little girl grew into a big girl, with dark eyes and a body made all of soft, unfinished curves, and the big girl was sad because she found that while her mind was by far her best feature, it was rarely noticed much less appreciated because of her outward appearance. So the big girl continued to live her life solely in her head, punishing her body when her inner turmoil was too great to bear.

Slowly, the big girl grew into a young woman, her curves hardening and diminishing under the onslaught of her unhappiness, until one day she caught the eye of a young man. Now this young man was very much unlike the girl, in that he lived most of his life in his body, and did not understand how vulnerable the girl was to him. His attentions startled and confused her, awakening parts of her she'd never learned to deal with, and when he left her, he left her wounded in more ways than one. While the girl had lived in her head for most of her life, she now craved the touch of bodies in ways she had no mechanism for coping with, and so, living in her mind and punishing her body, she learned to hide them, to squash them, to keep her shamefully uncontrolled desires secret from the world around her.

Unfortunately, she learned this trick a little too well.

Living in near-seclusion for nearly four years almost broke her entirely. Her weekends were spent trying to forget her isolation, and the loneliness that no number of casual touches could erase. Once, she found someone who awakened her imagination, her intellect, and her dreams as well as her body, only to find that he was only interested in the last part of the bargain. They parted on very poor terms. The girl went from relationship to relationship, never finding the full complement of what she needed, until one day...

The girl's pen stops here, as she struggles to find the words to ease the ache in her heart. There are none, nor does she expect that there ever will be. Regretfully, she puts down the pen, and pushes back from the desk she sits at, the brass casters of her chair sliding silently across the floor. She goes to the window of her study, pressing chilled fingers to even colder glass as she stares out into the night.

The glass fogs slightly with her breath. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry I couldn't keep hiding it."
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"I am tired of being alone here." It is a pronouncement, slow and tired, delivered to nobody in particular, though Eddie stands silently behind her on spindly limbs.

Our girl is standing on the front balcony in the chill of winter, watching the carriages pass in the street that borders the long front grounds of the Palace. The sounds of horses' hooves are indistinct, perhaps a little hollow, as if created by some budget Hollywood foley studio during a late night mental breakdown. There is also a faint sound of a dog yapping coming from the front gate that encloses the circular gravel drive, but she pays it no heed as it foams and growls, its color flickering in the gaslight from bright yellow to an eye-searing teal to an ugly paisley. Obviously, somewhere, someone's dream is short-circuiting.

Eddie blinks slowly at the dog, but says nothing, allowing that if his mistress will not acknowledge it, he must not either. "Missstressss," he begins instead, "did you not notice the greetingssss sssssent to you by the Ssssunbeam?"

The girl starts out of her reverie, glancing away from the quietly teeming street in front of her. "I did not. The message must have come while I was writing the last of... Yes. That must be it."

She strides through the back rooms of the Palace, Eddie flickering obediently at her heels, to the ornate dish that sits upon a stand draped in sky blue velvet. The dish is of fine porcelain, too thin to be tableware, but perfectly suited to its current use. It glows softly from within, faintly outlining in silver the edges of the few calling cards it contains. One stands out, glowing a soft golden brown, like rich wild honey. The script on the card is reminiscent of driftwood, the texture of the cardstock is that of fine beach sand, warm to the touch, and as she picks it up, the girl can smell salt air, rich potters clay, and new leather. She sets the card in the divot in the center of the dish, and the air above it shimmers, congeals. Suddenly, she is staring into the tanned face of a man she knows, his eyes fixed on her with a startling intensity tempered by unwavering good humor and an abiding calm. Her knees turn inexplicably to jelly.

"We must write to him. I would like very much for him to visit while I am... unengaged as I presently find myself."

There is a slight quaver of hope in her voice as she turns dreamily to stare back down the foyer towards her apartments. "Perhaps this time..."
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The unwritten part of the final Book of Duties has dwindled under her fingers and her industrious pen. Now, only seven pages remain unmarked, awaiting her touch so that the volume may be closed. But the girl hesitates, pen in hand, mind brimming with the words to fill it, but also with fear and dread.

What happens when the Duties are complete? Part of her holds on to that terror of the unknown, and she pauses indecisvely, savoring those last few moments when there is a certain direction, a definite focus to her world. Seven pages. She trembles at her desk, fighting with herself, willing her hand to move, the pen to write.

Inside the Gallery, the various sigils begin one by one to glow, sending their support and love in a palpable golden wave that swells through the halls and bleeds under the door of her Study. It is as if a high, clear note had sounded, shattering that indecision. Her pen drops to the page, and with relief and abandon she begins writing the final chapter of her story in the Land of the Sainted Cross.

(Author's Note: Yes folks, I'm graduating. Very. Soon. Now.)
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The frame in front of her is of a bright red wood, polished to a dull natural gleam. Inside it hangs a small scrap of plaid fabric wrapped into a cylinder by a tiny black leather strap. The girl leans agains the wall opposite, her eyes fixed on the interior of the frame, but obviously seeing further and far more than the simple symbol it contains. The black taffeta rustles softly as she sighs, closing her eyes. The Gallery is filled with a great sense of vacancy as she vanishes.

Elsewhere in the Palace, life and unlife continue as normal. The Shadows go about their business, the City bustles nonspecifically outside the walls. But inside the Parlor there is a stale, heavy gloom. On the hearthstone are scattered a pen, ink and the blank pages of a book, though it is obvious that there are many more missing. Beside the coals of a now-dying fire rests a single page, one corner eaten and blackened where it barely escaped the kiss of the fire. The page itself is filled with line after line of a black scrawl, the same phrases repeated over, and over again.

He is not interested. It would not work. Give it up.
He is not interested. It would not work. Give it up.
He is not interested. It would not work. Give it up...
arsenicwaltz: (Default)
The Grand Parlor of the Palace is a quiet space, crowded with the ephemera and rickety souvenirs of a thousand dusty memories. From the ornately swirling William Morris wallpaper, to the crystal fringes on the ornate cream and burgundy lampshades, to the claret velvet of the overstuffed horsehair couches, the Parlor exudes an air of quiet luxury and repose. Framed pictures hang from the picture-rail on ornately tasseled cords, small wing tables stand at attention at the ends of the furnishings, and a large curio cabinet filled with indistinctly glimmering objects stands next to the sea of shining bottles that is the sideboard. One wall is graced with an ornate fireplace, silvery marble nymphs supporting a matching mantlepiece bedecked with carved laurel wreathes. A pair of brass andirons in the shape of pair of dancing ponies hold a number of blazing logs before a fender of polished pierced brass. A large brushed sheepskin rug in a shocking shade of plum purple sits before the fire, and upon this we find our girl, her black skirts spread like a halo about her.

She lies quietly before the fire, staring into its depths, watching the interplay of blonde and red tongues of flame on the sturdy oak logs. A hazy presence forms in one of the tall, wingbacked chairs to her right, and she looks up quizzically to find a pair of pinpoint eyes upon her again.

"Welcome, Lord Shaper." The figure nods acknowledgment as the girl rolls over onto her back, staring contemplatively up at the ornate copper ceiling. There is a long pause, while she gathers her thoughts.

"Dancing with him is just as good as I remember. Better, perhaps. Or maybe I'm just better at it now than I was then." Her mouth quirks in a self-deprecating smile. "Yes, probably that." She takes a deep breath, wrapping pale arms around herself, the glimmering jet fringe of her bodice lost behind them.
"Knowing there is another that hunts him... That hurt me more than I can say. It is not," she sighs in frustration, "that I begrudge her the opportunity. Far be it from me to infringe on the hunting rights of any of my kind. But she is not... I have not... the respect for her that I perhaps once did. It would hurt me more than I can say if she caught him." She pauses again, fighting the lump in her throat.

"I have not hunted him but in my heart, because he told me several months ago that it wasn't what he was looking for. I've held myself back, chained my heart, done my best not to let it slip. But the heart is a wayward creature, and my regard for him as grown over the past several months until I cannot be in his presence without feeling it tremble. To know that I might have had a chance, had I but taken it, would be nearly unbearable."
The girl throws one arm across her eyes and lies still a moment, basking in the heat of the fire.

"It was good for me to tell the Letter about it. It was such a relief to have someone finally know all of what's been going on inside my head. I mean, he was there for most of it, so he had a better understanding of why it hurt so much. It was like piercing my heart, and letting it all drain out, and then salving it by spending some small time with him and the Lamb." She rolls up to a sitting position, clutching her knees tight to her chest and staring back into the fire, which has dimmed somewhat.

"I told another that to hunt the Flame outright would endanger our friendship, and ruin that perfect fantasy of him that I have cached away in my imagination. He said that it makes me a coward, that I'd rather have the friendship and the fantasy than to act on my feelings." She glances up at the hazy figure in the wingback chair. "But you of all beings would understand how a Dream can be so much more fulfilling than the reality. I would rather live in your world than to have to do without him in mine."

The girl looks down now, speaking to the flames, to her black satin dancing slippers, to nobody in particular. "I am resigned to it. Perhaps I can hold my heart in check until she catches him, and then perhaps... Perhaps this feeling will die."


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