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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.


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.
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The girl perches on a ledge, high up in a room filled with flashing lights and gyrating, indistinct black shapes. Her normal attire is gone, replaced by black fatigue pants, knee high silver boots, and a black tank top under a long black coat that pools around her like an extended shadow. She sits, arms clasped around one knee drawn to her chest, and watches the dancers with an expression of disappointment and loss. As the dark thumping music crescendos, she shakes her head violently, and lights slowly fade up to reveal her Ballroom, just as it once was, the skeletal dancers peering puzzledly at each other as the strains of a waltz begin again. Clad again in rustling skirts and with eyes streaming, the girl jumps down from the end table and strides out of the Ballroom and to the Grand Stair, and the landing window overlooking the grounds to the rear of the Palace.

Outside, the green eyed one stands, idly juggling orbs filled with fire from hand to hand. He is completely oblivious to her, or her pain.

She makes a gesture, and swathes of heavy black velvet form on either side of the window, and at her command they creep closed, blocking her view of the man and his amusements. The tears come harder now, as she strides to the next window and the next, locking out the starlight and locking in the lights of her own Domain. Finally, she is at the back parlor and the last open door to the palace grounds. She steps outside, and beckons to the green eyed one, who waves merrily, but goes on juggling.

With a sob, she closes the last door.

Retreating to the library, she then piles up a number of books, names of people she knows or once knew emblazoned on each spine in gilt relief. Each one she thumbs through, then places in a crate, which Eddie carries downstairs after her, and places outside of the rear servant's entrance of the Palace.

Finally, she retreats to her apartments, but looking around sees no space to suit her purpose. It only takes a thought. Her footsteps float down the stairs to the cellar, and in the warm darkness near the furnace she finds her oubliette, most unlike those found in other castles and equipped with a thick woolen blanket, a tiny night lamp, and a soft cushioned floor. She curls up, still crying softly, and turns her face to the wall, shutting out the world.

Outside, the green eyed one suddenly notices that the lights from the Palace are all missing, and misses a beat in his juggling pattern. But that is all.

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."


Apr. 6th, 2005 11:34 pm
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The girl stands apart now from the dancers in her ballroom, watching the moon rise above the City from the window of the grand dining room of her palace. The green eyed man sits behind her at the table, playing idly with a single champagne flute left uncleared on the table. He is engrossed in thoughts of some sort which twist his face and beetle his brow, then make him mouth silent, empty words by turns. The girl watches him in the reflection in the glass, and despairs.

She turns to look at him, and he does not notice. She strides up to the table, and he does not cease his fiddling until her fingers are on the arm of his tuxedo jacket. Green eyes, startled, bore into hers. She sighs, inwardly shaking her head. He blinks, but says nothing.

"You have lived in my kingdom for a month now," she begins, but pauses.

"A month and more. Almost two. And yet you behave as a casual visitor. I see less and less of you, though I know you are around. You speak little to me, and littler still of me, and-" A sharp rapping at the window draws her attention, but she snaps it back nearly immediately...
To find the now empty chair in front of her, the champagne flute glistening in the light from the candelabras.
"-and you keep disappearing mid-conversation."

The girl sighs in frustration, and settles into a pile of rustling skirts at the head of her table, planting her head on two fists. She grits her teeth against the tears, but they are inexorable, and eventually she lets them fall, blotching the damask tablecloth and spreading dark trickles under her eyes. The candles splutter out, one by one, and the music from the adjacent ballroom fades to a slow, slow waltz, but still her tears come. Finally, a spindly arm unfolds slowly from beneath the tablecloth, extending a soft linen handkerchief.

"Missstresss..." The girl looks up, tearstains trickling away already like disappearing ink.
"Eddie? What is it?"
"Missstress, you have a vissssitor."

The girl takes the handkerchief and looks up, to find that there is indeed a dark shape inhabiting the chair next to her. He waits patiently, his shape indistinct in an uninvited Sending, and his pinpoint eyes revealing nothing.
"Lord Shaper," she starts, wiping her eyes, "Pray excuse me, I was not expecting..."
"You are... unhappy with him."
She is silent a moment. "I am not... unhappy with him. On the contrary, he makes me very happy sometimes."
She sighs, dredging up her frustration. "He is not... Not what I expected. He is here for a lark, a spree, and he's not here for any devotion to me."
The shadow remains silent, but there is perhaps a flicker of sympathy in those eternal pinpoint eyes.
"He is so... silent. I cannot talk to him, and he will not talk to me. I grow tired of chasing him 'round and 'round trying to ask for what I deserve for my hospitality, and then finding him other times in my bed, beseeching me with those eyes of his."
"His kind are not known for their mastry of speech."
"I have noticed. I was not informed of this at the outset." She grimaces slightly, her gaze turned inward.
"You did not ask."
She ponders this for a moment before replying "I did not. But now I ask your counsel, Lord Shaper, as he is a creature of your realm."
"I will not play messenger between you."
"That is hardly what I would ask for. Imagine, one of the Endless playing... No, no, not that at all." She pauses. "But I would ask how you think it is best I act, given the circumstances."
"You let him in on your own terms," there is a twinkle of humor now about the figure, "Perhaps you should exert your rights as both ruler of this domain and his Sponsor in it. I am quite certain he is enjoying his... vacation here."
The girl smiles softly, but the edges curl slightly into a relieved grin.

"Indeed, Lord Shaper. Your advice is most...astute."
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The girl stands on her balcony, overlooking the starlit and gaslit bustling of the City. In her hands a piece of parchment flutters, crisp and new, on the evening breeze. The inked terms of a contract line its surface and glisten slightly as if not quite dry yet. The girl smiles, thinking of the cost of zephyr ink these days, and begins carefully to fold the thick paper in thirds, and then in thirds again. The almost-square feels heavy in her palms, like a chunk of glass. She kisses the center of it, leaving a red impression that slowly twists before her eyes into the shape of a dancing fox, her seal and sigil. Her hands clasp around the document, and she bows her head, murmuring. When she opens them again, the paper bursts into flame, and burns merrily on the platter of her open palms for a few moments before guttering out. The folded ashen paper holds its shape in her hands, trembling slightly with her breath. Closing her eyes, she closes her hands again, crushing and grinding the ashes between them until they begin to trickle from between her fingers like fine black sand. When she opens her hands again, a tiny key, the length of the final joint of her little finger, nestles delicately among the ashes. She holds up her hands, letting the remaining ashes drift away across the City on the night air, then turns to the shadowy figure that has been watching her from the balcony door all this time.

"I will not claim him like property. That would defeat the purpose of the arrangement. No," she hesitates, deciding, "And I will not keep him past the time that he wishes to stay. Let it end where it will, of its own accord." The final words are tinged slightly with defiance, like a child resigned to punishment who will not give up her pride.

To her surprise, the figure only nods once, solemnly, and drifts into a mist that disappears as if it never was.

Inside, the green eyed man stands, barechested and with his face quietly downturned. She walks to him, the spreckles of ash on her skirts fading and winking out like stars at every step. She cups his cheek in one hand, and with her thumbs, dabs his eyelids, lips, and heart with the residue of ash from her palm. His eyes dart to hers, bewildered. "Speak," she says softly, "Speak and be heard, for you are a guest in my kingdom." His mouth gapes silently, but no words come. Quickly, the girl puts the tiny key upon his tongue and kisses him, hard. In surprise he swallows, and breaking the kiss, smiles softly back at her. The green of his eyes is drowning, and he is suddenly more solid, more present in her land, more real.

The girl closes her eyes, and whispers softly to him. "Yes, come and go as thou wilt. Leave when thou must, as thou will. Be neither servant nor slave in this kingdom, but lover, companion, and friend."

The Offer

Feb. 25th, 2005 11:33 pm
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The girl paces listlessly in front of the Grand Window at the far end of the ballroom, distractedly watching the skeletal dancers in their whirling finery. She carries a long-stemmed glass in one hand, spinning it restlessly with the other so that the dark green-blue liquid inside it sloshes. Her petticoats rustle beneath her, and her feet move unconsciously in time with the waltz, but it is obvious that she is miles and miles from here.

Desire lounges on an overstuffed fainting couch nearby, watching her with disinterest. As the girl passes by the great swathes of velvet curtain, a long, dark-furred arm reaches out, claws extended towards her. They edge ever closer, closer to her shoulder and finally touch...

She whirls, her eyes somewhat unfocused, then frowns.
"Oh, it's only you Eddie. Couldn't you see I was a little... distracted?"

A voice comes from the shadows inside the folds of curtain, a voice like dry fall leaves skittering over cobbled streets on a blustery night.
"Yesss, mistresss. But we were afraid that mistress would spill on herself and that would not be well." The clawed arm reaches out, with a supplicating gesture.

The girl sighs resignedly, and hands over her glass.
"That was only my third, Eddie, and you all know it."
"Yesss, but not all intoxication comes from food or drink."
"Or smoke." Desire adds helpfully from the corner.

As the dark servant spirits himself away, the girl turns on Desire, her now empty hands clenched beside her.

"Why are you still here? We've had our dance, you delivered the Lord Shaper's gift, and yet you're somehow not content to leave. Why?"
Desire laughs: a beautiful, heartbreaking sound. "Then I am not to linger? Surely you don't prefer the company of your silent friends? The skinless ones, I mean, but the green eyed one was..."
The girl turns, huddling in on herself. "Not real. I know. I know."
"I never said that."
"You said they were dreams."
"Yes, but that doesn't make them not real. Especially not in this between-kingdom in which you reside."
"But he is gone."
"Well yes. He has other obligations in the Lord Shaper's realm. Did you expect to get him for keeps?"
"Yes. No. I..."
"He likes you very much you know. He'd like it if you could keep him."
"I didn't know... that that was an option. Would the Lord Shaper be so willing to part with one of his creatures?"
Desire guffaws. "He is hardly the Lord Shaper's sole possession, my dear. Think of him as a contract employee."
The girl is downcast, pondering. "I would like... I would like very much to have him back, if that's possible."
"Permanently?" There is an uncomfortable ring of importance to the word which makes the girl flinch.
"I don't know about permanently. I don't even know about long-term. I don't know if I'm even fit to have him back!"
"But you'd like to. Don't bother lying to me, I can feel it burning inside you like a furnace. What are you afraid of?"
"I'm afraid of losing this!" she flings her arms wide, encompassing the ballroom. "I'm afraid of sharing the realm I've built, that I've sweated, bled and struggled for! I'm afraid to lose myself in another man, afraid that next time, I might not find my way back again!" Her hands clasp and unclasp involuntarily, and she stares out the window. "It was so very comfortable in his oblivion. I'm afraid of how easily I might slip away into one that's similar. It's taken so long to remember who I am."
Desire looks at her over steepled fingers. "A trial period then? Some saftey built in, in case you feel yourself falling again?"
She takes a shuddering breath, eyes downcast.

"Sure. Why not."


Feb. 19th, 2005 09:47 pm
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In her rooms above the Ballroom, our girl sits in front of her vanity, draped in a black dressing gown. Her hands and feet peep ivory at the cuffs and from under the hem, and a shallow V at the neck reveals that she has wrapped it close and belted it snugly around her. She stares in her mirror dazedly, watching the rise and fall of a pair of tanned shoulders that protrude like an alien landscape from under the soft curves of the comforters on a large bed. There is an unfamiliar head upon her pillow, an unfamiliar scent on her skin, and waking to a warm tangle of limbs both alarmed and comforted her.

Her gaze focuses inward, then slowly she raises eyes to her own reflection in the mirror. The girl in the mirror grins impishly, raising eyebrows and glancing backwards at the man in the bed. Slowly, the somber girl in front of the mirror raises a hand to her reflection and brushes fingers against the glass that now ripples like water.

"To thee, Nameless, I give permission to speak. What have you to tell me?"

The mirror girl clears her throat, and the voice that comes from the other side of the glass is the same and yet different, as if heard through a tunnel partly filled with water.

"I like him. I think we should keep him."
The girl sighs, looks away from the mirror girl's gaze. "I know, I like him too."
"I sense a 'but' coming here..."
"...But, I think he's lying to us."
"Lying? What about?"
"About... about all of those things. About how he feels." The girl glares at the other in the mirror, who sticks out her tongue. "You KNOW how men are. You can't blame me for being cautious."
The mirror girl rolls her eyes. "I know what you were taught to believe about men."
"And learned. Life experience counts for something you know."
"Yes, but that was a long time ago. They were young and stupid, and so were you."
"That didn't make it any less painful."
The girl in the mirror grimaces. "Why do you have to take everything so goddamned seriously all the time?"
"You make it sound like it's safe out here. I'd remind you that it's your body too that I'm looking out for."
"Yeah, but it's not like you've got someone watching you and keeping score."
The girl looks down at her hands. "I'm keeping score."
"So? What is it?"
"Fifteen. Fifteen points against me. He'll be sixteen."
The mirror girl guffaws. "You make it sound like a death sentence."
"It could be. There are a lot of things to worry about out here. Diseases and-"
"But did you enjoy yourself?"
Silence from the girl, who is staring at her hands. Seconds tick by.
The answer is whisper soft, spoken through clenched teeth and with eyes shut. "Yes. I did."
"So what's the big deal?"
The girl looks up, eyes furious now. "I can't be so irresponsible with my body! If I let this become a habit..."
"Ooooh, if you let this become a habit, you might actually be in danger of enjoying yourself! Maybe if you spent as much energy on making yourself happy as you do feeling guilty about it, you wouldn't HAVE this problem!"
The girl's mouth drops open for a second, and she gapes like a fish removed from water.
"Admit it! As much as you like torturing yourself with your fall from grace, as it were, you did enjoy it! It was good for you even! So stop looking at me like I hit you with a fish, and cope!"

The girl laughs suddenly, and the mirror girl joins in after a moment. The laughs blend and then merge, and the girl wipes a hand across the lips of the figure in the glass. Suddenly, there is nobody but her, and she turns to watch the twitching of tanned shoulders among the comforters. A head of touseled brown hair emerges from the nest of blankets, and the face below it blinks groggy green eyes in her direction. Focusing on her, they light with a smile that makes her breath quicken.

With a last glance back at the mirror, the girl stands and goes to join the joyous faced man beneath her covers.

The Gift

Feb. 13th, 2005 11:28 pm
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There is a bright corner of the City too, one populated with creatures of such blazing beauty and perfection that they sear the eyes of our young lady. It is in this corner of the City that we find her, crouching in stained skirts in a hedge. She is peering into a blazing window at couples inside who dance on, oblivious. Desire stands over her left shoulder, idly amused, if somewhat annoyed.

Inside, the dancers twirl in perfectly matched couples, bodies moving as one inside richly gliterring gowns and expensive tailcoats. These are creatures who have never known hunger, have never known poverty, never known what it was to want something unattainable. They are so young and strange to her, so used to the stiff creaking of the skinless dancers of her own ballroom. She watches them, fascinated, wincing all the while from the light and dazzle that stabs at her dark-accustomed eyes.

It is Desire who speaks first, impatient at the girl who crouches still in the bushes, content to watch the dancers through slitted eyes.

"You know you can't have him, my pet. You do know that."

It is not jealousy that motivates Desire's words of course, but contempt for time so wasted. Desire is never jealous, no, but often sadistic.

"You know he is not for you. He has an entire world inside that ballroom, built and sculpted just for him. And you aren't in it."

Stung, or possibly annoyed, the girl finally turns, the crinoline under her dishevelled skirts rustling restlessly.

"I know that. Will you be quiet? They might hear you."

Desire laughs, a loud, racous sound that fills the night and wraps around the girl like a seducer's arm.

"They can't hear me. You know that, my pet."

The girl turns back to the window, silent.

"And yet you still watch him. You gaze at him like he was a raft and you were drowning in a sea of blood. You watch every finger her puts on her and imagine it was you he was dancing with. You imagine that it was you he gazes at in the turns, you that brings that smile to his lips and that light to his eyes." Desire leans closer, crouching over the girl's shoulder so that the hair by her ear flutters with the next words. "You love him, don't you."

The girl jumps back, swatting at her ear as if stung. Desire takes on a smug aspect, arms folded. The girl's face holds first horror, then shame, guilt, and finally sadness. She looks back at the ballroom, and then down at her hands, eyes welling up with tears unshed. She stands, and pushes her way through the hedge. Desire follows.

Back at the Bal des Morts she sits on a sidechair, sighing. Her skirts are once more pristine, her arms unscathed by the hedge's thorns. A tear trails down her cheek as Desire sits beside her.

"I do not love him. I do not know how to love anymore."

From somewhere, Desire pulls a handkerchief and offers it for the girl's overflowing eyes.

"He is so perfect. He stands for everything I wanted in life, everything unattained. But I am not... I would be lost in his dazzle like stars are hidden by the moon. I mean... nothing to him, and I know it."

She looks up, angry now, and returns the handkerchief to Desire, who placidly folds it and tucks it away in some hidden pocket.

"That's why you're here, right? To break me of it? Well congratulations, you've done it. I know I never will be good enough, smart enough, pretty enough, rich enough, alive enough..." her voice catches "to ever..."

Desire shushes her with a single finger held close to her trembling lips. "But that doesn't change how you feel about him. You'll continue to beat your heart against the windowpane like a canary against the bars, until it drops dead from the effort. That's why he sent me. You're no good to him if you become a permanent resident of our somber sister's realm."

Desire gestures, and suddenly a line of handsomely tuxedoed gentlemen appear, standing at attention with hands clasped behind their backs. They are all different of hair, eye and skin color, of varying heights and builds, but somehow alike, as handpainted porcelain miniatures are all strikingly different but still alike.

"I was sent, my pet, to try and bring you comfort. The Lord Shaper sends you a present in your time of confusion."

Desire stands, walks to the nearest man and passes a hand through his shoulder and torso. The girl starts as the man walks forward, picks up her hand in his all-too-real one, and kisses it.

"They are but dreams, but even dreams have substance. You have but to say which..." Desire waggles both eyebrows lasciviously "...or how many of them you wish, and they are yours. No strings attached."

The girl gulps, eyes fastened to the smiling man still bent over her hand.

"I think... Yes, I think... Thank you. This should help."


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