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."
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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."
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The salty air whips by her, tossing her hair back from her face in purple waves that undulate like the ocean before her. The sunlight beats down on her brow and glitters on the water, reflecting and refracting a thousand tiny suns to beat against the cliffside. The girl is at peace here, with nothing but the roar of the sea and the smell of salt air, the flutter of the sun's reflection and the faint pressure of its warmth on her skin and the black trousers and black sweater she wears. Here she need not think, here she need only be. The rock she perches on is decidedly cold, despite the sun, and she shifts almost imperceptibly.

There are voices. They are the faint rasping ones of her shadow servants, and they intrude into her mind like the sound of dry leaves scratching across pavement.

"Issss Sssssshe in here?"
"Yesss, I think sssso."
"Ssssshould we disssturb her?"
"Sssshe did not leave any insstructionss that Ssshe ssssshould not be bothered."
"Well then...?"

One of the voices grows louder, questioning. "My Lady?"

With a near-audible "pop" the scene disappears, and the girl is left sitting on the cold floor of the Great Seeming, the white marble gleaming blankly up at her almost questioningly. She sighs, and her crinolines rustle around her with the movement as she stands, stretching cold muscles back to life, and tucks wayward strands of auburn-brown hair back behind her ears.

"I am here. What news have you for me, that it cannot wait for my leisure?"

One of the shadows cringes visibly, and she sighs again, making a mental note to skip over that detail in the future. "My Lady, there isss sssomeone here to sssee you."

A tall figure in a black cowl steps slowly though the door, a tall scythe grasped loosely in one bony hand. The shadows retreat in fear, and the girl blinks in a mixture of horror and surprise.

"HELLO."

The word drops like an iron weight, resonating in the cold marble halls like the stroke of a gong. An upwelling of giggles follows it, and from deep within the cowl emerges a head of tousled black hair and a pair of smiling eyes. The girl staggers in relief. "Oh, sweet gods, you gave me a turn." The owner of the eyes giggles again, shedding the cowl and scythe which disappear on the floor, and taking one of the girl's clenched hands in her own pale, cool one. "We should talk," Death says, her silver ankh gleaming as she looks around, "Though, maybe not here, unless you really want to."

The room stills for a moment, and then fills with the pungent smell of eucalyptus, mud, and the fluttering of orange and black striped wings.
"Oh please," the girl gasps from behind the rising lump in her throat and tears in her eyes, "Please, not here. I can't..."

Suddenly they are at the cliff again, and she is perched on her rock as before, with the wind and the sun upon her. Huddled close is the other figure, and they spend a moment like that, black clad arms entwined in companionable silence while the girl calms her racing heart.

"You come here to forget them."
"True. But also to remember. These places... These places become the only things I have left of them."
"That's funny, you know. He does the same thing in a place similar to this."
The girl's smile is bitter. "I hadn't expected you to come. He claimed you, you know, and I hadn't expected you to visit the... warring kingdom, as it were."
Death's face stills for a moment, her expression blank behind her dark sunglasses.
"I am everywhere you know. I come for all but I belong to none."
"Forgive me, I didn't mean..."
Death smiles suddenly. "I know. It just seems like you forget sometimes. Like you forget other things."
The girl looks down at her feet on the rock, and notices that blood trickles from her left ankle. She winces guiltily.
"I know. It's been a long time since I needed to do that. It wasn't the same though. I wasn't angry this time, I was just... despairing. I had to do something to express that great pain, to make its mark on the world so I could convince myself it was real. And to remind me that I was still here, still alive."
"Lest you forget," Death whispers. "And did it work?"
"For a time."
There is a long moment of silence, and then Death sighs. "I won't talk down to you, and I'll say it plainly. You are walking perilously close to something that could lead you to my realm by a shorter path than any of us like. We will not tell you what to do, but for your sake" she gestures at the girl's ankle and the trickle of blood that has begun to crawl down the side of the rock "we do ask that you stop. We didn't save you the first time to lose you so soon."
The girl looks down. "I wasn't planning... I... I hadnt... Thank you. Thank you for the warning. I will do my best so that all of your works are not in vain."
Death musses the girl's purple hair with a smile. "Little sister, you know that's all we ask."

Out on the sea a large bird takes flight as the two watch. From somewhere outside the Great Seeming comes the faint sound of axes.

The Bridge

May. 21st, 2005 01:49 am
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The girl stands, staring out over the City from the balcony of her apartments. The green eyed silent one stands at her elbow, his cheek pressed comfortably against hers. The stars twinkle over the lights of the bustling City, and there is a faint strain of music on the air. And again, the strain grows more insistant, and the green eyed one starts as if pinched, looking wildly off into the dark. The tune fades and swells again, and this time he looks down, then up at the girl, eyes beseeching. She sighs tiredly, and nods, turning away. The man is gone in a blink, but she knows this already and does not bother to confirm it.

Instead, she turns back and walks through her apartment to the back balcony, robed in silence, where the pollution of no other galas can touch her here. She stares out aimlessly at the yard of the Palace, small in the cramped quarters of the City, but indicative of no little force of will in its sprawling size. To one corner, the dim haze that might someday become a stable again shimmers in the faint moonlight, and the faint tracery of a baroque swirl etches where there should be a formal herb garden, should she someday choose to focus on one. But she frowns as her gaze follows the far wall backwards, and loses sight of it in a crowd of trees and some attendant mist. Her fingers clench on the railing.

"Eddie?!" It is less question than command, and the shadow is by her side immediately, a fleck of foam still bedecking one spindly hand that was hitherto immersed in sudsy water.
"Yes, Misstresss?"
"Eddie, where did that come from, and when?" She waves, flustered at the forest now stretching into darkness in her very backyard.
"I cannot tell when it came," he fidgets, wiping the suds away, "But it appeared a handfull of daysss ago, after the Wolf dissssappeared."
"Ah. I see."

And indeed she does. As the moon comes out from behind a cloud, she sees the faint outlines of a tower rising up above the forest, far, far in the distance. The forest is a bridge, a promise. Thinking this, she listens as a wolf's howl carries faintly to her on the night breeze. She shudders a little, goosebumps briefly marring her skin. Let it be a bridge. There was no crossing it, just now.
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The shadow-servant, Eddie, darts into the kitchen, vigilantly searching for his mistress. The vast room is cool now in the early morning, partly for the chill of its semi-subterranean location beneath the halls of the palace, and partly because She threw them all out last night before locking herself in. A few brave members of the staff managed to open the doors in the early hours of dawn, and now brave her displeasure by going about their daily chores - as silently as is possible. Eddie, on the other hand still searches, certain that he'll find Her behind the next butcher block, the next cooling rack, the next row of cabinetry, so that when he does, it takes a moment for him to take in what he finds. A swirl of crusted red trickles down between the tiles towards the center drain in this area, its source a pristine, ivory wrist fallen limp among pink petticoats. The hand is pale, paler than he remembers, and he suppresses a shriek by remembering that if She were truly gone, the Palace would have ceased to exist. Looking closer, he sees Her crumpled body moving slightly with each breath, and sees a bloodstained handle protruding from where She discarded it among Her skirts some time the night before. Gingerly he takes the object, and replaces it in the nearby butcher's block, hoping She will not mind.

She does not stir.

He hovers about, silently wringing long spindly hands until he can take no more. "Missstresss?" The girl groans softly from within her nest of petticoats, pulling herself hand-over-fist towards consciousness. Eddie extends a mug of hot tea in her direction, fragrant, sweetened to within an inch of its life, and nearly white with cream. She sits up, propping herself against the nearby cabinets, and curls her fingers gratefully around the mug, drinking deeply. When she notices Eddie still hovering, she puts the mug down with a sigh. "You want to know what happened, don't you?" A nod from the shadow, and the clatter of all industry in other parts of the kitchen ceasing, but the girl's thoughts have turned inwards already.

"They fought last night, here with me. The Wolf, and the Green-Eyed one. They could not abide each others' presence in my kingdom. In MY kingdom!" She scrubs at her face wearily. "Green-Eyes had right of Contract, and so he drove the Wolf out, against my wishes. And when he had done that, he presented me with a new contract. He will be leaving me when the leaves begin to brown. First he forced out the Wolf, then he tells me he, too, will leave! I could not bear it... I couldn't stand it anymore." She curls her arms tightly around her knees and their padding of skirts. "The rest you know," she glances significantly at the trail of dried blood on the floor, and the self-animated mop that has slowly been inching towards it while she spoke, "Or have guessed." She stands, shakily, and makes her way to the Kitchen door, tears already beginning down the invisible tracks from the night before.

"There is nothing I can do now, but wait the Contract out, and see if the Wolf will return."

Breached

May. 1st, 2005 11:42 pm
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In the long Hall of Faces the girl walks quietly in the dark. Splinters of moonlight break upon the mirrors that intersperse the tall and solemn portraits hung here, reflecting bits of night sky back out through the floor-to-ceiling paned glass doors. The portraits themselves murmur softly to no one in particular, telling stories of loves and fears, hatreds and mundanities long past, interspersed with the occasional burst of static and flickering pixellation. The smell of freshly waxed floors and newly aired linens comforts her here, in her favorite of the Great Rooms of her palace, with the subtle promise of Spring's round of balls and fĂȘtes, intrigues, flirtations and chases. But the thought is at the same time hollow, knowing that her bed is currently occupied with a most emphatically singular tenant.

She pauses for a moment at the Hall's center, gazing somberly at the rather large painting of the Palace itself, showing the flickering of pennants over the Gothic tower she added one spring in a fit of pique, the rich yellow light emanating from the Great Window of the Ballroom, the faint green flickers of her shadowy servants moving from room to room setting things to rights, and a faint rose-colored glow from the window of her apartments, where the silent one no doubt sat up, reading. The moonlight in the painting silvers the roof tiles prettily, but there is something odd about... Ah. A puddle of moonlight off to the right-hand side of the painting reveals a particular color of brown fur so familiar to her. But for the seriousness of the situation, she would laugh to see the wolf peeking warily into the windows of the lower floor of her estate.

She closes her eyes and silently lets him in.

A brown shape forms behind her, indistinct with distance from his own territory. She does not turn, but bows her head, speaking with eyes still closed.

"You know that I would never intentionally shut you out." It is a statement, a preamble.

"You are welcome here, after a fashion. If ever I wished to deny you access to my halls, it is for your own good as well as mine." She is silent a moment, while the hazy shape behind her looks around, to the pictures murmuring in their heavy gilt frames, to the shining parquet tiles, to the heavy draperies pulled back from the many-paned windows.
"I have always been a private person, and I think you knew that. Even when I lived within your realm, there were things you simply didn't know about me. I never volunteered them, but you never asked, either. But I prided myself in the fact that I never hid anything from you when you did ask, and I never lied to you."

"The fact that you are here, now, is testament to my gate being open to you." The shape behind her tenses as if to speak, but in its current state remains silent.

"What you do with this knowledge is your own affair. Simply know that I will not restrict my activities in my own kingdom to shield you from them. I have been..." a wry smile "remarkably tactful in my communications to you thus far. But if you choose to look in on me, do not be surprised to see me doing things that may not be... comfortable for you to witness. It is your own choice, as you and I are both adults."

And with that, she turns and wanders out of the Hall, leaving the shape still standing in front of the painting with pennants flapping.

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