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...
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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.

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."
"Yes."

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."
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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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