Growing up in the Gardens of Arachnia, I was known as Dyvian Ashelocke. That name predated the rose arbours and mazes decorated by statues of past Marriage Feasts. I recalled the man with eyes the very hue of the blooms on the vines around me, smiling, stretching out a living hand to me, even if he was stone now.
All Marriage Feasts turn into stone once their brides have drained them of their essence, leaving them still and beautiful to stand at the center of mazes, crowned with flowers and given offerings by the Feasts of the future. Quite cozy, isn’t it?
Only I got flashes of the darkness, sometimes felt the spray of the waterfalls from what existed before. Back when Mystere was Stefan Ashelocke’s Place of Power before his bride made him the very first Marriage Feast.
I harbour no ill will to my sister, Duessa for her little coup, which created the arachnocracy with herself as the reigning queen of it all. Even if she herself will claim it’s the Spider who is the true Queen of these gardens and webbed halls. Indeed, I admire Duessa for her boldness in embracing a new vision, putting into action her ambition, and being willing to pay the price to make it all happen.
This doesn’t mean such a scheme can’t be imporved upon. Making a pact with the Spider, a greedy deity with such inflexible demands is one way to carve your own realm out of the rock of reality amidst the shifting shadows of dreams. Yet why not shape your deity out of your very dreams?
It’s a bold thought, yes. I doubt such a notion ever would have occurred to me, even with the memory of Stefan’s ambition living in my memories. Not if Christopher and Damian hadn’t given me a taste of what was possible in a vision they shared with me, a dream which wasn’t a dream.
Do they have any idea how much they may have shaken the very groves of the Shadow Forest with their childish games? Life could be created and awakened by will, a shadow life which could be breathed into something tangible. Such precious, tender life. It changed everything for me, the very nature of my ambitions, my very nature itself.
I doubt I would have gone as far as I did if I hadn’t accepted my bride, Vanessa’s offer, becoming her Marriage Feast. She, the arachnocrats, and the Spider herself drained me of all essence, reducing to me to silent stone, yet I was able to drift as a shadow beyond the Door. After being a Feast myself, I learned how to stalk and savour lost dreams, stray thoughts, discarded memories, and unwanted emotions, making them part of myself.
I grew much stronger beyond the Door, stronger than any other Shadow. For Christopher gave me a gift before my Marriage Feast, a title which clung to me and found me beyond the Door.
I became Once Upon a Time while he became Happily Ever After. These may be the beginning and the ending of many a legend and fairytale, but they have a special meaning for boys in the Gardens of Arachnia. They’ve become our deities, the entities we pray to. Once Upon a Time is our beginning, everyone’s beginning while Happily Ever After is the magical limbo we exist in after we’re feasted upon.
Only what if there was more to it than that? What if we could create more to the legend beyond the Door?
This was one of the many paths I discovered in the Shadow Forest. Drinking deep of everyone’s beginnings, I was able to renew myself. I continue to renew myself with each soul I touch in dreams.
This makes me stronger, yet it makes me vulnerable as well. The more I draw from a particular soul, the more vulnerable I am to it.
I’ve learned this particular lesson with an all too painful clarity.