A hooded figure in black robes stumbles into a clearing in the woods. Sunshine falls upon the crystal coffin in the center of the clearing.
The figure throws back her hood, revealing a weary, wrinkled brown face like the bark of an ancient tree. Wild, graying black hair escapes in strands from the tight knot at the back of her neck.
She moves toward the crystal coffin. A stocky, thick figure can be seen through the opaque barrier of rock, a figure with a graying black beard, dressed in a burgundy waistcoat, a jacket, and trousers, still wearing his boots even though he’s laying down with his thick hands folded on his breast.
She stops right in front of the coffin, close enough to touch it, but she doesn’t. She gazes right down at the sleeping dwarf’s red cheeks, his whiskered face.
His eyes open. They are dark, yet flecked with hints of color like many a stone hiddn in the earth.
Quartz: (lips not moving, but his voice can be heard) You’re not my princess. Not my kobold, neither. Map, wasn’t it?
Map: (for it is she) Hmmph. Looks like I get to be your blog guest again. Lucky me.
Quartz: Hmph yourself. As if you were a secondary character.
Map: I might say the same about you. Lying in a coffin as if you were dead.
Quartz: Not my idea. Blame the scribbler.
Me: (while typing these words on the screen) Hey! (glares at Map’s words)
Map: (gazing from the coffin out, as if she was on TV and I was watching her) Why not call her out on it? Secondary characters don’t stay dead in her worlds.
Quartz: Right. Got something against secondary characters? Dead ones in particular?
Map: I just said. They keep coming back to life.
Quartz: Good for them. Maybe I should have them as guests. Think I might have had one already, but we should talk more. Share ideas for haunting the main characters.
Map: I’m not a main character. Why do you want to haunt them anyway?
Quartz: Don’t you? Especially the ones you’d really like to talk to, but your story arc isn’t giving you a chance to?
Map: Well…(Map squrms a bit.)…I haven’t given up hope I won’t have to haunt them. That they’ll want to talk to me, too.
Quartz: Right. Which is why you’re skulking around my coffin, wearing that face.
Map: What’s wrong with this face? (She touches her own wrinkles as if only becoming aware of them.)
Quartz: Nothing. Sure it’s perfectly fine as human faces go, but it’s not your true one.
Map: How in Seraphix’s madness would you know that?
Quartz: See things since sleeping under this curse. Maybe it’s the crystal. Maybe your disguise is slipping.
Map: (drawing herself up) You think I’m disguising myself?
Quartz: Aren’t you?
Map backs up a step. She draws her hood over her head, crouches down in a huddled dark shape. The shape grows, expanding.
The rough weave of her cloth hood transforms into a velvety membrane. A wing, wings like those of a bat or a raptor. She spreads her wings, revealing a lean dark torso, the body and claws of a lion. The wrinkles have vanished from her face, leaving it a smooth ebon like the surface of an opal. Neat plaits of braided hair fall to her shoulders from a silver circlet around her forehead, as silver as the light shining from eyes as dark and gleaming as a cosmos of stars.
The sphinx leaps forward to pounce upon the coffin. She peers at the dwarf’s face.
Map: (for it is still Map’s voice even if it’s stronger and clearer than before) Tell me, Quartz. Is this my true face? Or just the one you hoped I’d show you?
Quartz: Never guessed you’d look like this, but it’s less of a mask than your other face.
Map: Less of a mask, not my true face. Is that what you’re saying?
Quartz: Maybe asking you to show your true face is too much. Truth may get muddled. Lost in memory. Like a picture you keep on a shelf. You try to dust it, keep it clean, so you can see it, but the dust keeps returning. Maybe truth is like that. You try to keep it clear in your head, but memory and feeling keep getting it dusty.
Map: You compare memory and feeling to dust? Are these things you feel should be cleared away?
Quartz: Never, but they can get the truth dusty. Just like they make it hard to see your true face.
Map: Not a bad answer, Quartz. A good thing because I was getting hungry.
Quartz: So the legends are true. Your kind eats those who won’t answer their riddles. Or their questions.
Map: I cannot speak for my kind, Quartz. I’ve met women who had the potential to become like me, but most of them died before they found their wings or claws.
Quartz: Women, not sphinx?
Map: I was a woman once. Education, knowledge, and a specific sort of angry hunger shaped me, giving me centuries beyond most women’s lives. I’d hoped to encourage others to become like me, but they weren’t stronger than their anger. Or mine.
Quartz: Right. These wouldn’t be those secondary characters haunting you?
Map: (wingtips trembling) I thought I’d killed them when they failed me, turning on me. I thought I’d fed them to another monster. Only he brought them back to life in human form. If they were ever truly dead in the first place.
Quartz: So you never met another sphinx like yourself?
Map: Like myself, no, but I have met another sphinx. She was very different. I thought I’d find her here, sleeping in your coffin in human form.
Quartz: Huh. Another woman has slept in this coffin, though she wasn’t a sphinx.
Map: And now you’re there. Sleeping yet not sleeping.
Quartz: Blame the scribbler. She has yet to get back to me.
Map: Has she, now?
Quartz: Don’t gloat over all the time you’ve gotten with her, woman.
Map: I’m not gloating. She hasn’t spent that much time with me. Secondary character, remember?
Quartz: Right. If you’re a secondary character, I’m a Person of Interest.
Nimmie Not: (voice coming out of nowhere) You are!
Map: (glancing around at the sound) I see. I wonder now if you’re truly cursed rather than simply the subject of…attention.
Quartz: Oh, I’m cursed. Absorbed it, you see, from this poor crystal. It needed cleansing after healing the girl who slept within it.
Map: (peering at the stone) You’ve trapped yourself, trying to cleanse it.
Quartz: Stop trying to riddle spoilers out of me. As you can see, your sister sphinx isn’t here.
Map: She wasn’t my sister. She was my companion, the love of my life. She might have become my wife if I hadn’t let her go.
Quartz: You didn’t curse her, did you? That’s why I put my girl in this coffin to begin with. To have the crystal draw the curse from her.
Map: No, I didn’t curse her, even though I was angry and hurt. She may have cursed herself.
Quartz: Sounds like you’re not sure.
Map: She carried her past like a burden, giving into destructive impulses until she shed her former self.
Quartz: Did that help?
Map: It did and it didn’t. She became a new person, but she discovered a new compulsion.
Quartz: Right. Not sure how much she changed.
Map: She left me before we could find out.
Quartz: Why’d she leave?
Map: To follow her compusion. To open Doors. To discover new worlds, her own power, but I felt compelled to stay as much as she did to go. To take care of what she left behind.
Quartz: What did she leave behind?
Map: Children. At least I thought they were hers. Two of them looked very much like her.
Quartz: Right. Whose were they?
Map: Does it matter? (She extendd her claws.) They’re mine now. Mine and Ashleigh’s.
Quartz: Ashleigh. If that’s the other sphinx, I think I’ve met her. Curious name for a sphinx.
Map: Enough. Answering your questions, correcting your flawed statements is making me hungry. Only being answered satisfies me.
Quartz: Are you often satisfied?