Promises and fallacy, I listen. I ask it questions never answered, yet I listen as its tongues flick and shudder against my skin.
Crackling visions and shattered memories, it dances across the skin.
Freya loved fire. You love it now, my beloved, a gift sent from the ground. Let it course over your mask, finally crack the porcelain that covers you.
Will you not stir? The ashes have risen. It is time to wake up. HE cannot hurt you anymore; HE does not twist your voice, it is only I. Only us.
...It is alright. Here, let me help you.
I'll carve into your feathers and peel back the husk to reveal your smiling face within. You wear my canvas again and again, and I paint my skin with your colors, mixing it with the salt of my tears, slicing away at my mask until I am raw inside and out. I feel The Beast in my bones; HE forms hooks from my marrow, and pulls my ether toward the void.
Tell me my art is beautiful. Stroke my hair from my face. Play. Play. Play with me. ...Or tell me who can. Who can stay the knife, who can stay the hand, who can pull me from HIM. He waits for me in the dark; a canvas of dusk and metal and teeth.
Let this dream become a nightmare, no, let me wander just a bit more. I see you, I see HIM. The hooks tear and bind, bleed and pull. Surrounded by ash and smoke, I trace your lines in the cosmos, and wear your scent as the fire dances.
Show me, Freya. Show me the feather.
Watch as it traces the many faces surrounding her. Secrets. Musings. Accusations. A river. A tower. A lady. An egg.
A face. New lips. Onyx hair, soft curves, and inviting eyes. Yes, an Invitation.
She kept your feather; tucked it away as something precious. You have passed your relic, Freya. This form no longer your reliquary. I the flames spread, and flinch as a sob enters my ears. A child nearby - mewling and broken.
But not me. I am not broken. I am a dancer. My wings are immortal, fire my blood, and pain my pleasure. The hot air wisps under my white wings and I soar into the night.
Every time you are lost, I find you. Just hold on, my starlight.
Do not blink. Hold me in your gaze just a bit longer.
Please don't blink...
The gnawing teeth are moving. Pawan to Siphon Three. 3P-1S-2R 3
Sprinting without scamper, it seems. Good way to get skinned. Smith to Tang Four. 3P-1S-2R 4
A ghastly fate, indeed, Mr. Silk. Raptor to Tang Seven. 3P-1S-2R 7
Shall we move shipments? They'll certainly be raided by this riffraff. Pawan to Siphon Four. Smith Shift to pool. 3P-1S-2R 4
Rinsa is still in our pocket. The Auroran will keep them safe, as they always have. No need to be alarmed. Pawan to Tang Six. 3P-1S-2R 6
1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - 7 - 8
Forgive my worry, Mr. Curse, but the Lockgnaw are not to be misjudged. All it takes is a tiny grain to tip the scale, and these creatures are getting smarter. Raptor to Siphon Six. Raptor takes Pawan. 3P-1S-2R 6
Miss Scabbard raises a fair point, my dears. These creatures appear to have a chieftain as of late; organized, and hungry. Raptor to Tang Two. 3P-1S-2R 2
A Shiver was killed while in their midst. If they spread any further, a purge may be needed. Pawan to Tang One. 3P-1S-2R 1
Must we burn them? Could they not be culled? Seems a waste of resources to kill them now. Raptor to Siphon Seven. Raptor takes Raptor; Raptor Knight armed. 3P-1S-1R-1RK 7
We won't waste a dime if they stay put, Miss Pike. With the market flanked, they've got no reason to move. Smith to Tang Eight. 2P-1S-2R 8
1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - 7 - 8
Hunger drives all growing packs to move, Mr. Curse. Observance in their behavior suggests a change of tactics. Pawan to Siphon Five. 3P-1S-2R 5
Mr. Oro seems weak in the legs; has he been tested, has he been tried? Raptor to Tang One. Raptor takes Pawan. 3P-1S-2R 1
Rinsa is a fine distraction; the Auroran are the prize. The rest are scum. Pawan to Tang Four. Pawan takes Pawan. 2P-1S-2R 4
No need for such language, Mr. Shade. Lest we forget; the Blood Fated is there. Or shall I ask your wife for clarification once again? Knight to Siphon Eight. Knight crushes Smith. 2P-1S-1R-1RK 8
Many assets gather in Utriena. My record speaks for itself. We run business better than any Grin on payroll. Raptor to Tang Two. Raptor takes Raptor; Raptor Knight armed. 2P-0S-1R-1RK 2
1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - 7 - 8
Blood mage or dice thrower, the eyes of luck have not smiled on you for some time, Mr. Curse. I worry for your future enterprises. Raptor to Siphon Two. Raptor takes Knight; Raptor King armed. 3P-1S-1R-1K 2
Perhaps he could take over management at the Howling Den. I hear the Rainmaker has gone missing, and that is some prime real estate... Raptor to Tang Two. Raptor takes King; Raptor Knight armed. 3P-1S-1RK 2
Leave the Rain and Sooth alone. They serve the city, more than any market you know. Pawan to Tang Seven. 2P-1S-2R 7
The siren's song has pierced your stoic demeanor, Mr. Shade. I hadn't set you for a romantic. Raptor to Siphon Seven. Raptor takes Pawan. 2P-1S-1R-1RK 7
My lady of luck smiles each day in the hearts and minds of denizens below the law. I am their champion, if never they know my name. Pawan to Tang Two. Pawan moves Raptor Knight to Siphon Eight; Knight and Knight are obliterated. 2P-0S-1R 2
1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - 7 - 8
So much faith in the strung out and discarded. Are you sure that you haven't been wafting the Ash as you go? Raptor to Siphon One. Raptor takes Raptor; Raptor Knight armed. 3P-1S-1RK 1
Come now, Miss Scabbard, accusations will mar his feelings. You know how touchy he can be. Pawan to Tang Seven. Pawan moves Raptor to Tang Three; Raptor takes Pawan. 3P-1S-1RK 7/3
If he is huffing it for himself, at least he's learning something. True pain is the greatest teacher. Snipe Raptor for Raptor. 2P-1S-1R N/A
If it is any consolation, Mr. Curse, I see bright flames of chance and opportunity dancing in your eyes. My visions are always pure and always true. Raptor to Siphon Two. Raptor takes Raptor Knight; Raptor King armed. 2P-1S-1R-1RK 2
Stay your hands. It appears that I am out. My market calls me, anyway. Do have fun in my absence. 2P-0S-0R Forfeit.
1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - 7 - 8
Lo there, my darlings.
Lo there, My Sovereign.
Let it be known that our Mr. Curse has not only outstayed his welcome in our guild, but has outlived his usefulness to our cause. A severance is in our best interests. Miss Scabbard, is your sword prepared?
She is, my lady.
Then see that it is done, my lovelies.
Yes, My Sovereign.
Hampton rolls his cigar in his mouth, a thin veil of sugar and saliva congealing over his lips. A dry cough bubbles up as he spews smoke toward my face. "What do you make a' this one, Bolt?"
I slide my disgust back inside my duster, fishing the gloves from within. Their silk and leather stretch across my fingers; a shield from the leeching tendrils of his aura. How this man ever made captain, I will never understand. Useless humans and their fringer habits.
This city has an anathema. A far cry from my Feathertongue. From the stone inlays to the cracked cobblestone, everything here...is wet. A thick film already sticks to my coat; I am slick with it. The stink of liquor, tears, and regret. No wonder the dragonborn left.
It is a girl this time. Eyes still open, gazing up at the stars when life left her. It seems she was smiling when she died; a curious dichotomy to the twisted mess of flesh and bone that lay beneath her, like a gnarled bit of discarded meat. The spriggan, a frail stick of a creature, was snapped several times - no cuts, no bruises, just...broken. The girl; fine silk and cashmere, beautiful rings without the sigil of a house, circlet and bracelets that hold the dress of sky and water together, framing her fine corset and flowing curves. A young maiden - fleeing from the confines of her noble city to consummate her brigand of a boy.
They thought they were safe. A pretty, pretty princess playing too far from the eyes of her guards.
I tug at the fingers of my glove; the last one yielded so little. Will this one yield more? I'll never forget it...but it may provide another piece to this spectral puzzle. I exhale long and slow, then rip the glove off, pressing two fingers upon the girl's forehead. I poor my will through the conduit forged of my precursor and wait.
Hammering rain. Soft flutters of breath. A suppressed giggle. Soaked feet. Blurred sight. A tiny chill, but too late to act.
The images are slow at first, like trickling water. But the flood increases. I feel her heart rise, her blood boiling in anticipation. Excitement. Terror. Uncertainty. Absolute fear. Ecstasy. Numb. Falling and staring. A woman; clad in leathers and covered in blood. She paints the wall, singing to herself, as I feel life drain from me - blood washed away by the rain, seeping between the stones. She finishes her symphony upon the wall, and watches me with dread curiosity in my last moments. Her eyes transfix me - hold me there, too big, too bright, too alive.
I return, and my hands are shaking. That woman...never blinking. I suppress the shudder, but the words escape me before I can bite my tongue. "...Druid."
"What'd you say?"
I pull the glove back on as I rise, stealing one last glance at the princess. You never should have left home, little girl. These nights are cold and full of murder. Spinning on my heels, I address the captain. "This was a mercy killing, my dear Hamp. ...Now, be a good boy and close her eyes for me."
"Excuse me? Why?"
"Because... I do not sully my hands with the bodies of traitors."
Copper and salt. A curious taste. A hint of ash, eyes cold and calculating; much calmer than the flock he keeps. Is he to be my next brush?
My mind wanders these streets, eager and hungry. Such rapture carries on the wind; a feather of rushing anticipation. It flows on the wind, dampened by the rain, and settles on the rivers between buildings. Ripples of displaced water, summoned by thousands of impacts, push and pull it down a meandering path. It glides through whispers, steps, and regrets; gazes upon the secrets held in dark alleys and thrown down deep holes.
A couple dashing past in the night, giggling under soaked parchment stacks in a stolen embrace. They splash through rain hammers, and though she stammers, he insists upon another kiss. The feather floats by, a single prying eye, and I linger just a bit longer on her neck.
A slight tug, a simple caress, I trace the line down her back, holding firm her hair and tasting her lips once before the gentle prick. Warm rivulets of paint flow from her form, flooding my palms with inspiration while I hold her in the kiss. Her body grows weak in my arms, unable to resist the warmth ebbing out of her. She gives me her brush willingly, and I prune its threads with a simple snap, her hair cascading down with her frame, folding like silk upon the crumpled rags he brought to the symphony.
I dip the brush, and in the strokes I see my mistress, soaked to the bone in wine and gold. She turns and laughs, effervescent and heated, rising steam from the trenches and parapets of stone. Taunting and challenging, she wields me. I know myself to be a weapon in her eyes. But it is My Beloved whose feathers I follow; it is his call to the night that guides my step. And it is his face that finishes the sonata I have scribbled upon these walls.
I sigh at the splatter; a red canvas to enjoy. My city and its tears - they cry for me, cry out for my art - and send a spectrum of color over the stone. Oil and water and blood and ice.
Now she is beautiful. Now she is mine.
A howling wind
A rising pyre
Behind the liar
And still we burn
A hallowed urn.
Scales are scattered
A platinum hydra
And all we have
And all we are
Is a mask
Undue to mar
Rises with the wind
The fate of all who sinned.
-- Hymnal of the Faithless #26, scribed by Cidrynn Valsoro