Surfacing

Apr. 13th, 2008 11:16 pm
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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!"

The Letter

Feb. 28th, 2006 10:31 pm
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They tell me that you think I'm hunting you.

Let me say first and foremost that I am not. I don't seek out your company in the World-That-Is-Not, but I sometimes get it accidentally by looking through the windows of friends. They tell me that you are unhappy with me, but from your last words I also know that one of them, at least, is misleading you. I have never desired to know what goes on in your Tower, and I have never asked what you say or write about me. If ever I have speculated on the subject, it is merely speculation and never a question. I must wonder then, if this same person is the one who has taught you "some things" that you found objectionable about my behaviour. I can only speculate, since I suspect that whoever it is, they pose as my friend as well as yours. I dislike such snakes in the grass.

They tell me too, that you feel that I have burnt our connection, out in the Desert. That is also not true, though I remember you telling me that you'd put me on the steps of the Temple, so I wonder exactly at what slight you feel that you have not also inflicted on me. One burns the past, for it is just that: the past. One burns that which holds one back, as one burns the thatch of old relationships so that new ones may grow. You cannot burn the future, for the future is never formed enough to be flammable. What I left at the Temple was my burden, and you flatter yourself to think that you were even the bulk of it. There was a ghost of a boy that I carried for seven years, and the Temple in the Desert was the perfect place to let him go.

I wish also to say that if the Troll gave you any trouble because of our battle, I am sorry for it. It was never my intention to drag you into it, but as you probably know, I suffered from your lack of support. I hope you didn't suffer for your part in the story as well.

They tell me, lastly, that you are prospering. I am glad of that. You've had far too much not-prospering already this lifetime, and I think it's about time you got your due.


The girl folds the paper in formal threes, then in threes again, tucking the ends neatly into each other. She presses her thumb against the seam of paper on paper, and the seal of the dancing fox springs up beneath it. She walks slowly, contemplatively through the Palace to the back grounds, the letter held in front of her between thumb and forefinger, as a Hari Krishna holds the daisies he hands to passers by. She reaches the garden wall almost with surprise, the silvery granite springing up to greet her and startling her from her musing. She nudges a stone with her toe, and the square brick extends somewhat: the first step in a makeshift stairway. She touches another block, and another, tapping one with a knee, and elbow, then a final one with outstretched fingers. With the jet fringes of her bodice clattering protest she scales the makeshift ladder, shuddering at the smell of ash and scorched pine that greets her nose as her head rises above the top of the wall. Surveying the blasted plain, she is comforted to see that the terrain is quietly healing. The scorched rock of the outside wall shows signs of regaining its silver color, and the blasted ground where the Forest once lapped against her wall has begun to fade into a blankness, a nothingness devoid of meaning, history, or intent.

She sighs softly, and places the folded letter on the wall, weighting it slightly with a small silver coin. As she climbs down the stones of the wall retreat back to their original positions, and she dusts her hands absently together as she walks back to the Palace. Looking back from the Grand Balcony she watches a slight zephyr toying with the folded edges of the paper, and shrugs. If he finds it, he finds it. If it is brought to him by an outside force, well, it wouldn't be ideal, but the result would be, for all intents and purposes, the same.

The girl turns and makes her way back inside the Palace in search of a mug of cocoa.
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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."

The Return

Sep. 13th, 2005 01:19 am
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Somewhere, in the City without day, something changes.

Black velveteen ages at hyper-speed, decaying and tattering until the black curtains around each window of the Palace lie in tatters and piles of dusty grey fiber. The Shadows go silently about their duties, gathering up the remains of each curtain as it falls, dusting the windowsills and wiping the glass. The world turns, the night-days pass in the City, but the Bal des Morts stands still, silent, like a music box left unwound.

In her apartments, she lies quietly, a still tangle of sprawling white limbs and dark twisted bedding. The servants clean around her, attend to her, watch her for any sign, any symptom of awakening, but she stares on sightlessly at the ceiling. Occasionally, there are tears. A tracery of salt lines extends from her head on the black pillowslip, like a halo of crackling electricity in fossilized form. Beside her there is an emptiness, a month-old hollow that once held a human form, but that now holds only the faintest breath of his scent, the faintest glimmer of a memory: green eyes and a slow smile.

Her eyes close as they sometimes do, but this time a tiny breath of a sigh accompanies the small movement. The Shadows pause fearfully in mid-task, each wondering, all waiting to be Unthought if this is truly the end. Instead, there is a loud creaking and a crash from the Ballroom. Music begins anew, and downstairs the cobwebbed skeletal dancers resume their twirling as if they had been but resting. In the corner flanking the musician's nook now stands an ornate calliope, wheezing out a carousel waltz through brass pipes hazed with age... and a thick coating of a white, alkaline dust.

Back in her chambers, the girl extends a frail hand, and is helped to her feet by her staff. Draped in a dark blue silk kimono - another product of this latest disturbance - she totters her way down the Grand Staircase and into the Ballroom to watch the piping, melancholy antique for a moment. Eyes wet once more she turns, heading for the balcony, Eddie following anxiously behind her, a shadow in more than just name.

Outside, the stars are crisp and clear and Autumn announces itself by the rising of Orion over her back wall. But there is something else changed since she last looked out over her domain... The back garden wall, once misty and indistinct with an encroaching forest now stands solid and unbreached. Trees lap against the other side like the tide laps against shore, but not a single sapling dares breach her perimeter.

The girl turns her head to survey her domain, her completely empty house and unbreached garden, and weeps at her kingdom of solitude.

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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