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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...
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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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May 2009

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