Surfacing

Apr. 13th, 2008 11:16 pm
arsenicwaltz: (Default)
The feeling is... strange. Like walking underwater, at double speed. There is a revelation in every movement, in every twanging muscle, in every darting glance, and then...

Tangled in her bedclothes, the girl sits up in the dark with a jerk and a gasp. There is something strange here too, she notes. The soft cotton that should have been under her palms is gone, and the faint starlight through her curtains falls into and is absorbed by something of a deep, dark color. It takes a moment for the slippery rustling beneath her fingers to make any sense, but yes, here it is - she lights the nearby candelabra with a thought - silk. Her bedclothes are silk. She swears softly to herself, rubbing her eyes. Eddie appears a moment later, an anonymous stoppered bottle held gently in one hand.

"No, no. No need" she waves him away, swinging her legs over the side of the bed. "Some things I need to see about. Has there been any word from the Watcher?"
He pauses a moment, looking thoughtful. "No missstressss. No breachesssss reported on any front. Issss sssssomething wrong?"
"Wrong?" it is her turn to look thoughtful. "I don't know. Wrong is perhaps a little strong a word. Something is... different."

Candle in one hand, and the tail of her kimono trailing behind her, she prowls the halls restlessly, searching high and low for the disturbance that rings in her mind like the echo of churchbells. Her steps draw her ever inward, deeper and deeper into the depths of the Palace, until she stands again before the curved door of the Chasm and the Heartstone, the hum of air across the lintel a constant and soothing sound. She opens the door, trembling. The room is bathed in the same pale sourceless light as always, but there is something amiss, something different and unseen here. Taking one step past the wrought-iron railings and out onto the void, she pauses, thoughtfully, and looks back.

She almost falls, almost drops her single candle into that depthless chasm, almost forgets who and where she is in her startlement and falls, herself.

Above the door of the Chasm stands a nook. In that nook, until now, stood a statue of Psyche, blindfolded. Now the statue stands, bare-eyed, with rivulets of golden honey pouring down her cheeks, sword in one hand and lamp in the other. The girl squeezes her eyes shut, taking deep breaths to quell the pressure rising through her.

Later, she sits in the Palace garden, head on palm on knee, staring out into the warm spring darkness and thinking. The wind shifts imperceptibly, bearing on it the faint sounds of the City outside the walls, but also something... She sits up, sniffing the air with surprise, then gets to her feet and strides to the far wall, hands outstretched. The bare, blasted alabaster stones are gone, completely obscured by trellised oranges in bloom, wound with sweet night-flowering jasmine and honeysuckle. Crickets sing in the foliage, and fireflies blink and hover gaily. She sits, for she does not know what else to do, taking deep breaths which explode like a waterfall from her in laughter.

"Am I? Oh goddess, healed? Now? Only when all hope is fled?"
She flings her arms wide into the night, her heart full to bursting. "Then let them come!"
arsenicwaltz: (Default)
Deep within the marble halls of the Palace, where the corridors twist bewitchingly, ouroboros-like and ever changing, ever sliding, there is a short section of curved stone wall that stands still and constant. Embedded in this section of wall is a narrow door made of several heavy planks stood on end and fastened together by three more running horizontally across them at even intervals. The hinges of this door are fanciful swirls of wrought iron, and the matching handle arches, delicately curved yet sturdy, from the surface of the wood. For all the impenetrable look of the door it offers little security; there is no key, no lock, nor even a latch to hold the door closed against draughts.

Visitors, if any were to breach the ever-twisting labyrinth to stand before it, would be somewhat shocked to hear the faintest hum of a breeze across the threshold. Indeed, the door twitches and shudders to itself, creaking slightly in and out on gusts of wind. Opening the door would reveal a sight that on first viewing induces a sort of nauseating vertigo: beyond the threshold is a giant chasm; a vertical shaft stretching up and down into infinity with a softly lit stone pillar standing in its distant center.

Of course, once the initial pangs of panic pass, one notices the tiny viewing platform and spindly safety railing strung between the doorway and an eternity of falling. The braver of these hypothetical visitors might find themselves drawn inexplicably towards the edge. Those who are perhaps downright foolhardy might clutch the railing tightly, and peer over it and down. We shall not meditate on the fate of those unfortunates. To the Shadows who staff the Palace though, this is just another room like all the others; another part of their mistress, another whimsy, another something to be tended to or ignored as per her will.

It is unsurprising then, that when Eddie answers Her call he neither is struck dumb by the vast size of the Axis or the soft glowing beauty of the Heartstone, nor does he flinch and cower away from the edge of the chasm. She is standing by the railing, her face pointed towards the great silvery mass of the pillar, but her thoughts turned quite obviously inward. Without turning from her contemplation she extends one net-gloved hand for the implement Eddie has brought, and he silently places across her palm a glittering silver knife.

With a deep breath and a gesture like the parting of a curtain, she is through the railing and standing now upon open air above an unending drop. Except that she does not fall. A sliver of stone is visible at the edge of her foot, and another hands in midair nearby. One slow, bizarrely floating step at a time, the girl makes her way across the protective nothingness to the Heartstone's side. As she approaches the stone seems to liquefy for a moment, extruding a semicircle of ledge and an alcove for her to stand on, and in. Where she steps from the floating stones to the softly glowing marble, tiny cracks of bright golden light appear, and she gives a soft sigh. With a thought she Calls the very last thing, the thing she had not the power for, to complete her errand.

The lead casket drops to her feet with a hollow thud. The arched lid is decorated with a relief of bodies, stacked like cordwood, arms protectively outstretched so that the effect is of a woven basket of humans. The sides of the casket depict a quiver of arrows and a sickle moon, and the handles that grace the ends are a spidery tracework of something that might be twigs, or possibly veins. There is a moment of silence, broken only by the soft, slippery sound of flesh parting around silver, of leaden hinges creaking, the thud of something soft against scarlet velvet, and the hinges again. There is blood on the knife, blood on her hands, blood on the alabaster of her chest, and a tiny line of angry red traces its way from the hollow of her collarbone and then lower, down beneath the jet-fringed edge of her bodice.

Without pausing she plunges the knife hilt-deep into the side of the pillar, the blood drying instantly and flaking off in a coarse black dust against the glowing marble. Hilt-deep still, she draws the blade downward, then to the right, then up, and to the left. The hole that opens shows a window of brilliance that makes the soft glow around it pale and dim by comparison. But she does not stop to marvel. Instead she drops the knife and hefts the casket to her shoulder, sliding the leaden mass into the fiery square. Having accomplished this she stands back, as much as her short ledge will allow. The marble of the pillar curls at the edges of the cut square, then rolls inward like the living flesh of a tree in fast forward. There is a soft rumble as the last of the brilliant swirling light fades, and she bows her head, picking up the knife again.

"It's of no use to me right now. More a burden. Please keep it safe."
I cannot keep it forever.
"I know. When the time comes, I will return."
How will you know?
She is silent for a long moment.
"I will know, or I will be dead. Either way, it won't be forever."

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arsenicwaltz

May 2009

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