Conversations with Christopher: Peter

Troubled by Paul and Hebe’s words about Peter, Christopher walks into ever-darkening mist, sensing his own desires are guiding him as much as the Cauldron’s next guest’s. 

The darkness doesn’t abate. He finds himself in an enclosed space yet space is all around him, filled with rows of seats and a stage standing before him. 

Lights illuminate the theatre, the single wall of crimson damask which forms the set. Peter paces in front of it, wearing a high-necked yellow shirt, a loose cravat, a red waistcoat, and matching breeches. He pauses next to a marble bust of man wtih a stern, frowning face. 

Christopher stops in the middle of the aisle, looking across the empty theatre. There’s no one here, but Peter and himself. 

Christopher: That’s a new look for you.

Peter: (not looking at him) I was trying to figure out what to say to you. Trying to rehearse the words as if they were lines in a play. Behold! (He spreads his arms wide and does a little spin.) I found myself here, on stage! (He pats the bust upon the head.) Quite the amusing little turn of the surreal, isn’t it, you old rogue?

Christopher gives the bust a wary look. You never know who or what might speak in the Cauldron.

The bust remains silent, all dour frowns. That doesn’t mean it…or he…isn’t listening.

Christopher takes a seat in the front row. 

Christopher: Who’s that? (waving at the bust)

Peter: A liar. Or a historian. (He shrugs.) For Suetonian, they were one and the same. It wasn’t about painting an accurate picture of the past for this particular record-keeper. It was about telling an entertaining tale which would be passed from listener to listener. Embellishments were welcome, especially if they suited his needs. 

Christopher: Why is he here?

Peter: Old Suetonian? (He let out a strained giggle.) Strange to hear myself speak of him thus. How I admired him when I was younger! Paul thought I was mad to do so. Now he’s nothing more than a prop, a reminder of my own compulsion to tell a pleasing tale with only enough truth to make it nourishing. 

Christopher: Is that what you want to tell me, Peter? A pleasing tale?

Peter: Someone has to do it. I’m sure Paul won’t. 

Christopher: He’s worried about you. Worried about what he might do to you, what he might have done. 

Peter: (letting out another strained chuckle) A little late for that. 

Christopher: He’s also worried about what I might do to you.

Peter: What you might do to me? (He throws his head back and laughs.) 

Christopher: (flushing) He’s right. At least he is about me. I have a bad feeling he’s right about himself, too. 

Peter: The shadow and the hunter, oh no! (He raises a hand in a mocking gesture of stage fear and swooning.) 

Christopher: It’s true. 

Peter: Oh, yes, it’s so truthfully one side of the truth! (He paces across the stage and make a turn.) If there’s one thing you and Paul have in common, it’s a tendency to shy away from everyone else out of fear of how scary you are. I’ve never been scared of you. Either of you. 

Christopher: Maybe you should be. 

Peter: And maybe there’s a gentleness, a vulnerability in both of you you’re unaware of. A certain tenderness that puts you in as much danger from me. 

Christopher: Is that what you think?

Peter: I’m the one that lures you into Once Upon a Time’s mouth.

Christopher: I have a bad feeling that was a spoiler. 

Peter: He’s the beginning of all stories so it should be expected. Stories involve conflict, even outright hell. Hell has at times been a mouth. Why shouldn’t Once Upon a Time, everyone’s beginning be a mouth ready to swallow them?

Christopher: It’s a frightening image. I much prefer to think of Once Upon a Time as a Door opening to a path which takes us where we wish to go. Even if it’s the wrong path. 

Peter: That, too. It’s all metaphor, only metaphor, yet metaphor means more than anyone realizes until it’s too late. 

Christopher: (sighs) I’m afraid that’s true.

Peter: (pacing back until he returns to Suetonian) All my lies are true. Unlike this old fellow. (He pats the bust on the head.)

Christopher: (smiles, shaking his head) There you go again. Distracting me from your contradictory words with a joke. 

Peter: My dear Christopher, I’ve never met a more contradictory child than you. (He makes a sweeping bow to his audience of one.) Everything you do is a contradiction. 

Christopher: (frowning) How so?

Peter: You feed on the living, you feed on other shadows. You feed on life, vitality, passion, memory, and thought. All the while you scheme to give those things back. 

Christopher: Scheme?

Peter: Carrying the stone, the egg, giving life to those delectable twins. That was quite the mythological scheme worthy of an old god. Or godling. 

Christopher: (squirming uncomfortably in his seat) Not my scheme alone. 

Peter: No, it was quite collaborative. You helped a lot of half-empty people achieve their own dreams, get at least a piece of them back in the process. Stealing Myself From Shadows, indeed! 

Christopher: (straightening his shoulders) Perhaps I define myself differently than you do. 

Peter: Don’t be so sure of that. We were were both happy in the Navel, giving people what they didn’t even want back. 

Christopher: Are you saying you’re like me?

Peter: Yes and no. I’m not sure if I’d give as generously as you, although I may have to be brave enough to try. 

Christopher: Why?

Peter: For my wish to be granted. Like I said, you were entirely too generous, but I want more. 

Christopher: Generous? I don’t remember giving you what you wanted. 

Peter: Yes, you did. You and Paul are alike in this as well. You’re willing to give away everything you have, everything you are, yet you’re hungry void ready to swallow everything

Christopher: Which is why we’re dangerous to you, no matter how gentle or generous you believe us to be. 

Peter: No matter how gentle, generous, or hungry you might be, you’re no match for me. 

Christopher: What do you mean?

Peter: I was happier than I’ve ever been in my life with Paul. The closest I’ve come to that happiness was with you. At the same time I wasn’t satisfied. 

Christopher: Why not?

Peter: (taking a deep breath, pausing center stage) I want to make everyone happy. I want to make everyone love and worship me. 

Christopher: (sighed) I’ve tried making everyone happy. Or perhaps I’m going to try making everyone happy. I’m not happy with my chances of success. 

Peter: Neither am I, but it’s what I want. No matter how small my chances of success are. 

(To be continued) 

Secondary Characters Speak Out: Quartz and Paul

Quartz stumbles out of the fog, batting away a twig which landed almost directly on his nose. 

Quartz: Ruddy Shadow Forest. Makes me almost miss the Forest of Tears. No matter. Whatever trees loom over me, the twigs are rude. 

Paul: I’m sure the twigs regard you with equal courtesy. As for the trees, they are not part of the Shadow Forest, even if they have a similar nature, due to their shared mercurial creatrix. As you are well aware. 

Quartz starts at the voice, the youth sitting lotus style in the clearing by the river and at the golden dragons crouched on each corner of the temple’s blue roof. 

Quartz: Right. Now there’s ruddy dragons.

Paul: It’s not as if you haven’t made the acquaintance of dragons before. (He takes a sniff of the air without turning to face Quartz.) There’s a trace of brimstone still clinging to you. 

Quartz: Of course there is. (sniffs his own sleeve warily) Can’t say I smell it. What’s your dragons’s story?

For a moment the golden dragons seem to snap playfully at Quartz before settling down upon the roof. 

Paul: You said it yourself. There are mine, a manifestation of part of me. I couldn’t let seductive shadows and doubtful dwarves be the only ones with draconic allies. These may be small, but they’re young and fierce, stirring when I say. 

Quartz: Right. (He gives the dragons on the roof a sharp glance. They don’t respond.)

Paul: Either that or they’re simply part of the achitecture, animated by the strange nature of this Cauldron.

Quartz: So which is it?

Paul: Far be it from me to spoil your fun. I’ll let you decide.

Quartz: Right. And who are you anyway?

Paul: A secondary character. That’s what you do, isn’t it? Talk to secondary characters?

Quartz: Among other things, aye. (He smooths his beard.) Got something to say, do you? 

Paul: I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t.

Quartz: Not very pleasant, are you? Coming from me, that’s saying something?

Paul: I’ve lost my more pleasant half. Peter was the one who wanted to please people. Without him, I grow increasingly unpleasant. 

Quartz: That what you want to talk about?

Paul: Among other things. You know the little shadow quite well, don’t you?

Quartz: There’s more than one little shadow running around in our scribbler’s scrambled imagination. You’ll have to more specific. 

Paul: The one who hosts this Cauldron when you’re not doing it. 

Quartz: Aye, Christopher. We’re from different worlds, he and I. Different stories. We meet here from time to time. Not sure if that’s the same as knowing him well. 

Paul: You have talked to him more than once. And he’s talked to you about the people from his world. 

Quartz: Aye, from time to time. 

Paul: What does he want with Peter?

Quartz: Why don’t you ask him yourself?

Paul: I’m asking you. A shadow’s words are as insubstantial as his memories. 

Quartz: (snorts) Got a low opinion of shadows, eh?

Paul: Am I wrong?

Quartz: Want keeps a shadow lingering beneath the trees in that Forest of theirs. From what I’ve seen, it gives them substance.

Paul: Right. (He turns his head to offer Quartz a humorless smile.) And what does Christopher want?

Quartz: From what I’ve heard? (He gives Paul a vicious grin.) Damian. Or the twins. He’s never mentioned Peter.

Paul: Of course not. (A flicker of sadness softens the beautiful mask of his face for a moment.)

Quartz: (his manner a little gentler) Just what do you want to know?

Paul: Shadows lure dreamers off their chosen paths to devour them. 

Quartz: Aye, if they can catch them. Makes me glad I’m just visiting this weird dreamworld of yours. Or a shadow of it. 

Paul: (nodding his head at the irony of this) Peter is one of the most hopeless dreamers I’ve ever met. (His full lips part in contemplation of a vision of something or someone far away.)

Quartz: Huh. Ever think it might be the other way around?

Paul: (dark eyes sharpening as they fix upon his companion) What do you mean?

Quartz: Maybe you’re the hopeless dreamer. 

Paul stares at him for a long moment and begins to laugh. 

Paul: Maybe you’re right. Peter certainly thought I was. 

Quartz: Here’s another thought. Maybe you should be asking what Peter wants with Christopher. Not what Christopher wants with Peter.

Paul: (turning his head back toward the river) I already know. Peter thinks Christopher is the key to his dreams, to opening a Door to the Shadow Forest.

Quartz: A shadow key to a Shadow Forest, eh? 

Paul: (grimacing) That and Peter always had an eye for a pretty face.

Quartz: Not a great beard. No accounting for taste.

Paul: (almost smiles and stops himself) I’m inclined to agree with you even while I disagree with you, dwarf.

Quartz: So your Peter wants Christopher and you’re worried what Christopher is going to do about it. 

Paul: I suppose I am. 

Quartz: What are you going to do about it?

Paul: Put a stop to whatever hold that little shadow has over my Peter.

Quartz: How’re you going to do that?

Paul: The moment Christopher lures Peter across the threshold of a Door, entering the Shadow Forest, I’ll snatch Peter. 

Quartz: Sounds like you’re a shadow yourself. 

Paul doesn’t reply. 

Quartz: Also sounds like you’re jealous as well as worried. 

Paul: (turning his head again toward Quartz with a bitter smile) Many monsters are jealous. Does this surprise you?

Quartz: Can’t say it does. 

He waits, half-anticipating Nimmie Not to pop out and say something. For once his kobold is silent. 

Something about this particular secondary character makes Nimmie Not uneasy. Too uneasy to make his usual claims to Quartz. This does not reassure Quartz.

Christopher and Peter had better be careful. 

#QueerBlogWed: A Tale of the Navel

On January 26, 2022, P.T. Wyant posted at ptwyant.com a Wednesday Words prompt. This involved a top hat, ribbons, and a rabbit.

This Tale of the Navel, a freebie story for Stealing Myself From Shadows was the result…

A rabbit emerged from the top hat, only to be chased around by the angry chicken who leaped out of a bag with a wicked cackle. 

I scooped up the rabbit in my arms and hid behind a shelf, trembling along with my furry bundle. I didn’t like the hen any more than the rabbit did. 

“Enough!” Gabrielle clapped her hands together and glowered at the chicken. “Stop picking…or pecking…on people. Christopher and the rabbit have as much right to be here as you do.”

The chicken strutted back to the bag she’d come from. She let out a defiant squawk before stepping on it, returning to being an inanimate object. 

“This is why I almost never wear anything tailored.” ‘Brie smoothed the ribbons dangling from the top hat and glanced at me. “Come on out, Christopher. Let’s send the bunny home.”

I carried the rabbit, petting them reassuring before setting them down on the counter where the top hat lay on its side. They sniffed the opening before moving into the hat. 

Hat and bunny disappeared from sight. 

“That’s unusual,” I ventured. “Anything which comes to the Navel usually stays until the right person claims it.”

“The hat and the rabbit were memory ghosts from the past.” Gabrielle smiled, looking a little sad. “Here for a moment, long enough to rouse the chickens, only to disappear.”

“Why?” I glanced over with some unease at the motionless chicken standing on the bag. It was frightening enough when it didn’t move. 

“I’m guessing it has something to do with whomever the chicken and the bunny were once part of.” Gabrielle tapped a finger to her lips. “Everything in the Navel represents a memory, a thought, or an ideal. Something someone lost.”

“Or cast away.” I doubted the chicken’s owner wanted her. She was too mean. The way she glared at everyone with her beady eyes showed an angry temper. 

“Or cast away.” ‘Brie smiled over at the chicken, eyes softening. Yes, she had a soft spot for the feathered menace. I wasn’t sure why. “Those fragments find form and a home here before someone claims them.”

“Why do you do this, ‘Brie?” Damian had asked the same question many times. I didn’t mean it as a challenge. I was truly curious. “Why are you here at the Navel, helping people find those fragments?” 

“Sometimes you lose something before you realize its value.” Gabrielle closed her eyes for one moment. They were very bright when she opened it. “The Navel gives us a second chance to reclaim that something. What we do gives me hope.”

“Did you lose something?” I reached out for her hand. “Something you’re hoping will turn up here?”

“Yes.” She took my hand and squeezed my fingers. “I’m still waiting, but I haven’t given hope. Besides I’ve been surprised by what has turned up or who. Surprised out of my sadness a few times. Like when Damian brought you home.”

“He was trying to make you happy.” Something tightened in my chest. “He was planning to leave, but he didn’t want you to be alone.”

“No one can replace someone else.” She smiled with some sadness. “This doesn’t mean I’m not happy you’re here. Or that you’ve helped fill the void left by Damian’s absence.”

“Me, too.” I squeezed her hand again. “Thank you, ‘Brie. Thank you for welcoming me into the Navel.”

“You’re more than welcome.” She released my hand. “You’ll always have a home here, Christopher, until you tire of this place. Or its rules grow too restrictive.”

“What makes you think I’m tired?” I studied the wrinkles on her forehead, around her mouth. “I’ve never been happier anywhere than I’ve been here.”

Except Damian wasn’t here. He’d left both of us, taking some of the happiness with him.

Gabrielle nodded as if she knew exactly what I was thinking. “Happiness tends to be fleeting. You may find yourself chasing yours outside the door and far from here.”

“I won’t,” I protested, but something stuck in my throat, making it hard to get the words out. 

Wouldn’t I? The truth was, I didn’t know. 

I was waiting for Damian to come back. What if he didn’t come back? 

There might come a time when I’d stop waiting. When I’d try to find out wherever he’d gone. 

I glanced up at Waiting for the Rebirth, its riot of color streaked with white. Those streaks might be paths, paths leading through the shadows in a forest. 

Paths which Damian could be walking right now. 

#QueerBlogWed: Omphalos Neighbors

On November 24, 2021, P.T. Wyant posted a Wednesday Words prompt involving a brown feather, a family gathering, and bones.

This freebie Tale of Omphalos was the result…

The feather falling from the sky wasn’t white or black. It was brown.

Danyel caught it, gazing it with wonder. 

“Muddy with ambition, he cannot even manage to be a raven,” Tayel muttered under his breath, refusing to explain himself. 

“It’s still a proud feather,” Danyel murmured, extending his arm along with the feather. “It might have been a quill or a wand.”

“Don’t let my brother-in-law hear you say that,” Aggie muttered under her breath. “It will go straight to his head.”

“Exactly what will go straight to my head?” 

Gryluxx sashayed out, wearing a cloak of brown feathers over red robes. Something rattled in his robes. 

The effect was striking, Danyel had to admit. The tailor knew what suited him. 

Aggie didn’t look at all impressed. She rolled her eyes as if the display was too tedious for words.

“Something bothering you, sister-in-law?” Gryluxx asked with the sweetest of malice. He chose the seat one over from Aggie. The empty space was probably meant for Meggie.

“The usual, brother-in-law.” She didn’t smile back. “You.”

“Ah, the lack of fraternal affection between us wounds me. Especially when it’s mingled with ingratitude.” Gryluxx snapped his fingers. “Do bring out those custard tarts you’re so fond of, wench. Sweets for the sweet and all that.”

“Hmm, just a moment,” Meggie called from the open door of the cottage, utterly oblivious to her husband’s sharp tone. 

Aggie wasn’t. She leaned forward, cracking her knuckles. “Don’t call my sister a wench. She’s your wife. At least pretend you have some consideration.”

“Oh, I have the utmost consideration for my wife, but a wench is a wench.” Gryluxx grinned at Aggie. “You ought to know.”

“What was that?” Aggie growled. 

“Stop that!” 

Danyel didn’t realize he’d leaped out of his chair. He felt the anger,  the violence prickling in the air. He reached out with the feather, waving at it, trying to get it disperse. 

Aggie settled down in her chair, some of the anger leaving her furrowed brow. Gryluxx sniffed at the air, at the feather in an almost disappointed fashion. 

“You don’t seem to understand how things work around here, little one.” He snatched the feather out of Danyel’s hand. “You serve me. I’m the one who gives the orders.”

“Why?” Danyel looked straight up in those hairy nostrils, the whiskered lips twitching. “Why do you goad Aggie, taunting her, enjoying her anger so much? Did you invite her here just to torment her?”

Gryluxx took a step back, opened his mouth and closed it, flushing. “How dare you accuse me of such things? Angharad may only be family be marriage, yet she’s still family.”

“Is that what family does?” An image of Leiwell pale and sweating rose from his memories. “Torments each other? Or do they try to protect each from being tormented?”

“You cannot sound the depths in the shallows,” Tayel murmured under his breath. 

“Now, now, not everyone can be deep.” Meggie emerged, carrying a tray of custard tarts. “My raven is a fragile creature, boys. The reason he flies at others, trying to peck at them is because he’s fragile.”

Aggie chuckled. “Maybe, but he takes advantage of that far too often.”

“I can see these twins are as bad an influence on the both of you as their mothers and their brother.” Gryluxx wrinkled his nose and mouth as if he’d breathed in something which disagreed of him. “Do not let yourself be beguiled by the residents of the Old Cottage for all their beauty.”

“Hm, funny coming from you, dear.” Meggie smiled blandly at her husband and took a seat next to her sister. “You talk about them more than any of us.”

“Nor can you blame them for my attitude. Not about you.” Angharad placed a protective hand over her sister’s, baring her teeth in a parody of a smile at her brother-in-law. “I detested you the moment I met you.”

“And I was the one who rescued your sister from the abyss these boys’s mother cast you into.” Gryluxx regained some of his smugness, lifting a custard tart to his lips. He devoured it in three bites. “I did something you couldn’t after your precious master destroyed you. Again.”

“What are you talking about?” Danyel felt his brother shake his head slightly, but he couldn’t help asking the question. “What did Ashleigh do to Meggie?”

“Hmm, it wasn’t Ashleigh.” Meggie picked up a tart with utter unconcern as if they were talking about the weather. “It was Map. Not that I’d expect to remember. It took me a long time to do so.”

Flash of fire from torches, a night of fire. Fleeing, feeling a heavy unfamiliar body settle around him. Screams of anger became screams of anguish. 

Danyel raised his hands to his face. Much of what happened beyond the Door was like a dream, but he’d been Map for a brief nightmare. 

Tayel leaned closer, not touching him, but gazing at him with concern. 

This is how he felt all the time. Tayel saw things he doesn’t want to, learned things he’d rather not know, yet his greatest concern was whether any of it would hurt his twin.

Danyel reached out to touch his brother’s shoulder, sending the silent assurance that he was all right. Even though he wasn’t sure if he was. 

“It was another lifetime ago.” Aggie gazed down at her folded hands, not looking directly at either of the twins. “Back when Meggie, Mel and I were all Sisters of Seraphix, terrified of anything which might disturb our isolated idyll.”

The Sisters of Seraphix. Seraphix. 

Danyel shivered at the name, feeling the hairs on the back of his neck quiver. 

“Isolated idylls are raised from pits of darkness by sacrifices of others.” Tayel gazed at one of the tarts, not touching it. “Sometimes you catch a glimpse of their ghost in the sunlight.”

“Our ghost was something we’d learned to fear.” Aggie lifted her head to fix an angry green eye upon Gryluxx. “Just what do you know? What do you want?”

“I was curious to see how you’d react around the twins, given their closeness to your former master.” Gryluxx rubbed his hands in anticipation. “We are all neighbors again, in spite of all which transpired between us.”

“Just what did transpire between us?” Danyel leaned forward, gazing at the neighbor he’d much rather not have. “Just who are you, Gryluxx?”

“This lump called me a raven.” Gryluxx sniffed at his wife. “It’s true. I’ve been one. I caught a glimpse of you before you were an egg, a mere stone Christopher decided to carry.”

“Christopher?!” Danyel stood up, nearly dropping his chair. “You know Christopher?”

“Child, I know everything.” Gryluxx sniffed in Danyel’s direction. “Christopher was a creature of the Shadow Forest. Like everyone here.” 

Silence fell around the table. Aggie dropped her head. Meggie began moving her lips rapidly. 

Danyel reached for Tayel’s hand, gripping it. “Including yourself?”

“Of course!” Gryluxx pouted a bit. “Why should I deny it? The Shadow Forest is a place of power and potential. As is anything which slips out of its Doors.” 

“And you can never get enough of power,” Aggie said with utter dryness. “Watch yourself. The price may be too high.”

“Only for those too cowardly to pay it.” Gryluxx bared his teeth at his sister-in-law. “Are you such a coward, Angharad? I’m not surprised.”

“Is there some purpose to this conversation?” Aggie rolled her eyes. “Or do you just want to insult us?”

“He does enjoy insulting everyone.” Meggie smiled at her husband indulgently. “Don’t pay it any mind.”

“Don’t speak for me, you addle-brained wench.” Gryluxx glowered at his wife. “Think I’m just this amusing little man, don’t you? Of no consequence at all?”

“Why, yes.” Meggie’s smile widened, showing no malice whatsoever. “I don’t mind. I love you anyway. Not everyone can be great.”

Danyel started to giggle, nearly choked turning it into a cough. Tayel raised a hand to cover a grin. 

Aggie chuckled, not bothering to hide her amusement. “Guess you’re lucky, Gryluxx, to find someone who loves you, no matter how small you are.”

“Small?” Gryluxx glowered at his sister-in-law and the twins. “I’ll show you just how small I am. When Seraphix grants my wish, you’ll see.”

He stalked away from the table, muttering to himself, robes rattling more than ever when he entered his cottage, slamming the door behind him.

“Bones,” Meggie answered Danyel’s unspoken question about the noise. “He sometimes carries bones around with him. A way to ground himself to reality, for he is telling the truth.”

Aggie wrapped her arms around herself. “No. I am real. I feel real. No matter what happened in the past, I am real.”

“Aggie, we died.” Her younger sister fixed round hazel eyes upon her, shining. “Our master killed us all, yet somehow we’re back. Gryluxx brought me back.”

“How?” Aggie dropped her arms to clasp her hands together in entreaty. “I begged that man to help me bring you back, yet Gryluxx somehow succeeded where I failed.”

That man. It took a moment for Danyel to realize Aggie wasn’t talking about Gryluxx. 

“Oh.” A faint blush colored Meggie’s cheeks. “You might say bringing me back was our marriage ceremony. One we often renew. Together.”

“Oh.” Aggie echoed her words. 

Tayel flushed as well. 

Danyel looked at their faces, unsure what they were talking about. 

“I suppose that’s one way to ground yourself,” Aggie murmured, shaking her head with a bemused little smile. 

“Well, you have Jupitre, even if he’s Juno’s husband.” Meggie tapped a finger to her temples, gazing in speculation at the sky. “If he’s not enough for you, you could try Gryluxx.” 

“What?” Aggie spluttered and started coughing. 

Tayel turned even redder. 

“Just what are you talking about?” Danyel was unable to bear it anymore. 

“Never you mind!” Aggie growled before turning on her sister. “That’s your husband you’re offering!”

“Well, yes, which is why I thought it would be best to offer.” Meggie nodded, considering her words. “He is my husband, but you’re my sister. If you’re worried about not being grounded in reality, you could try him out.”

“No, thank you!” Aggie growled. “The way your mind works, sometimes I think I’ll never understand.”

“Thank you.” Meggie smiled with utter sweetness. “It’s good not to be too predictable.”

Tayel let out a strangled giggle, still blushing. 

Danyel glowered at his twin. “I wish you’d let me know what was going on.”

“Really?” Meggie gave Danyel a surprised look. “For all his insults, I know he thinks you’re one of the most beautiful creatures he’s even seen. If you’d like to try Gryluxx for yourself, you can.”

“Meggie!” Aggie snapped, sounding scandalized. “He’s a child!”

“Is he, really? He looks small and slight, but we’re not sure how old the twins are.” Meggie gazed contemplatively at Danyel and Tayel. “They might be older than any of us.”

“No.” Tayel said before Danyel could ask again what they were talking about, why Aggie was so upset. He took Danyel’s hand firmly in his own. “Thank you.”

“Don’t be jealous.” Meggie smiled at Tayel as well. “You’re welcome to try Gryluxx, too. He might be nicer if you do.”

“Niceness happens only if a creature wishes to cultivate it.” Tayel, cheeks still very red, looked Meggie straight in the eye. “Your husband has no taste for niceness.”

“I’m not quite sure what you’re offering,” Danyel ventured, “but if Gryluxx isn’t nice to you, his wife, why would he be nice to anyone else? Especially considering everything you do for him?” 

“Yes, I was nice to him when you first came to visit us, wasn’t I? To try to put him in a better mood.” Meggie tapped her temple again, eyeing the door thoughtfully. “Guess that doesn’t work.”

The squeals and grunts from behind the closed door returned to Danyel, bringing a hot flush to his cheeks. 

Oh. That’s what they were talking about. 

“Well, I offered.” Meggie smiled in utter pleasantness. “Here I was hoping if I offered you my husband, you might offer me your handsome brother.”

“Meggie!” Aggie shot her sister a scandalized look. 

“I don’t offer my brother to anyone. Either of my brothers.” Danyel tried to keep his voice even. “Even if you and your husband regard us as creatures of shadow, we’re people now. People with our own will. If you want something of Leiwell or Tayel, you ask them.”

Tayel squeezed his fingers in response, shooting him a private smile.

“Well said,” Aggie nodded in approval. “Gryluxx has been a bad influence on you, Meggie. I know you mean well, but you shouldn’t go offering people to other people as if they were a comb or a book.”

“Shouldn’t I?” Meggie widened her eyes. “Our lord offered me to my husband. I seem to remember an elegant lady with many arms asking for a beautiful youth, a youth a lot like Leiwell. Oh, what was his name?”

Tayel let out a hissing sound. Danyel shivered again, unsure why. 

“Just because someone is a lord or elegant doesn’t mean their ways are right.” Aggie sighed, shoulders slumping. “Young Danyel here is right. We’re trying to be people. Let’s treat each other as people.”

“Of course. I’m sorry.” Meggie turned to Danyel. “I didn’t mean to insult you or your brothers. You’re very beautiful. I’d like us to be friends.”

“So would I,” Danyel let out another sigh. “Meggie, I don’t understand why you let your husband treat you the way you do.”

“Don’t you?” Meggie looked puzzled. “Guess it doesn’t bother me. I don’t listen to his insults. He’s very good at certain things.” She winked at everyone present. “Guess I didn’t want to be greedy, even if I am his wife. I wanted to share.”

“We’ll keep that in mind, if Gryluxx ever, ah, says anything to us about this,” Aggie said, waving her hand as if to will this entire conversation to disappear. “Given how we feel about him, it’s not something we’re interested in. At all.”

“All right.” Meggie reached out for a custard tart and began eating it with no discomfort whatsoever. “He does like you. That feather wouldn’t fall into your hands if he didn’t.”

“Does he?” Danyel looked down at the feather he was holding. “It’s more likely he wants something of me.”

“That, too,” Meggie said with her mouth full of tart. “Who wouldn’t?”

Danyel felt himself flushing again. 

Conversations with Christopher: Paul

Tayel turns to run through the flowers. Danyel with a backward glance, follows him.

Christopher wishes he could chase after the twins, but the mist rises beneath his feet, swallowing the floating flowers, cutting him off from the way Danyel and Tayel have taken. There’s a bite and a sting to this haze. 

Christopher closes his eyes and walks forward. He opens them, seeing a little green clearing with a stream trickling over rocks. A small green temple with a curved blue roof sits amidst the grass. Four golden dragons poke their snouths out of the four corners of the cerulean tiles. Small and silent, they spy out the land below. 

Christopher presses his hand to his breast, feeling more than hearing Crowne hiss within. 

Paul: (not that Christopher knows who he is, not yet) Calm yourself, little shadow. I have no intention of hurting you. 

A young man sits, shapely calves curved in the lotus position, a position Christopher recalls in a memory flash he doesn’t remember. The young man’s curly russet hair reminds him of Peter, only it’s darker, less red, and curls of his ears and the nape of his neck, rather than falling to his shoulders. 

The young man looks at him with soulful dark eyes which again make Christopher think of Peter. Only there’s a flash of gold in those eyes akin to the silver triangles which glitter within Tayel’s.

Christopher: Who are you?

Paul: (without looking at him, smiling without mirth) I’m certain Peter mentioned me at some point. 

Christopher: (recalling Peter’s rare moments of seriousness when he mentioned the lover who left him) You’re not Paul?

Paul: Peter might question that, but I am. I wasn’t sure if he’d remember me, considering the reckless way he wandered off into the mists, only to seek shelter at the Navel of all places. 

Christopher: Why wouldn’t he seek shelter with us? You broke his heart, didn’t you?

Paul: And you’ve stolen at least one of the fragments of that broken heart, haven’t you? For all I’ve tried to keep the pieces safe. 

Christopher: Just how have you tried to keep any part of Peter safe?!

Paul: By breaking his heart rather than getting him involved in my dangerous existence. By sending him away. Only he’s willingly walked into greater peril than he would have faced at my side, I fear. 

Christopher: If you feared this, you shouldn’t have sent Peter away. You should have protected Peter. Every part of him. 

Paul: A far more difficult task than you realize, little shadow. Peter is drawn to dangerous objects of desire. Like me. Like you. Like the spider lady you once worshipped. 

Christopher: You mean the Lady Duessa Ashelocke? I didn’t want Peter to go with her. I tried to warn him.

Paul: You needed to do more than warn him. If I had an arachnocrat in my Place of Power, I would not permit an arachnocrat to walk in. Let alone walk out with anything or anyone I deemed precious. 

Christopher: The Navel isn’t that sort of Place of Power. Anyone can walk in if they need to. 

Paul: You’re saying my Peter needed you?

Christopher: He needed the Navel. As for he knew, he wasn’t yours anymore. 

Paul: He’ll always be mine. I can feel his pain, even from afar. His longing to be loved by everyone. (He wrinkles his nose.) An impossible thing to do unless he shatters himself into many pieces. 

Christopher: (shivers) Impossible is possible in some places.

Paul: Yes, you’ve done is, haven’t you? This is why Peter is so drawn to you. You’re the embodiment of his wish. 

Christopher: No, I’m not. No matter what he thinks.

Paul: So you say. So you draw away from Peter. Driving him to seek a Door to the Shadow Forest.

Christopher: That’s not my intention. The last thing I want is for Peter to be lost the way Damian was.

Paul: If you mean that, stop him. Is it too much to give him what he wants? To be who he needs you to be?

Christopher: I might ask you the same thing.

Paul: So that’s your answer, little shadow. (He smiles grimly.) Neither of us can give him what he wants. We have both failed him.

Christopher: Just because we’ve failed him doesn’t mean he has to fail himself. 

Paul: Oh? You’re saying we cannot help him. Or we shouldn’t. 

Christopher: I’m saying that Peter found the Navel. There’s a reason he came to Omphalos.

Paul: Or a reason he came to you.

Christopher: The same reason he came to you?

Paul: Don’t speak as if we’re alike, little shadow. One night I’ll come for you as I come for every monster.

Christopher: I thought you wouldn’t hurt me. 

Paul: Here and now, no. Not during this conversation, but you are still a shadow. A creature that hungers for the memories, dreams, and desires of your victims. Just as I hunger for you and other predators. 

Christopher: You sound like a monster yourself. 

Paul: Perhaps it takes a monster to hunt other monsters. Peter, however, is not a monster. 

Christopher: And yet he’s drawn to monsters if he’s drawn to both of us. 

Paul: That makes him a fool and an innocent. It would be only too easy for you to hurt him. You will hurt him, little shadow, if you haven’t already.

Christopher: Haven’t you?

Paul turns his head to look at Christopher for the first time. For a long moment, they just gaze at each other. 

Paul: Even monsters can care about their victims.

Christopher: Funny. I was just about to say the same thing. 

Secondary Characters Speak Out: Quartz and Christopher

Quartz finds himself standing under a dark sky. Growling, grumbling with suppressed light. 

Quartz: Aww, shaddup. (Not expecting the sky to listen. It’s not like anyone else does.)

The sky gives one last rumble and is silent. The darkness begins to break, showing patches on sunlight. 

Quartz: Huh. It’s not like I expected you to listen. 

Makes him feel a bit guilty that the sky did. Being called out on his grumbling never made Quartz stop. Maybe this storm wasn’t as stubborn as an old dwarf.

The old dwarf in question takes a look around the river bank, noticing the slender youth in a high  necked black tunic and trousers, coppery-golden hair gleaming the growing light, curling around his ears and the neck of his collar. 

Quartz: Hmph. You again. As if you’re a secondary character. No matter what you say. 

Christopher: (not looking at him) You’re the one who keeps showing up in the worlds where I walk. 

Quartz: Scribbler’s got her mind on your worlds these days. (He looks out at the stream, seeing the tower.) What’s that?

Fused of darkness and light with rivulets of greenish color running through it like vines or veins, the dwarf couldn’t say this thing was stone. It lacked the low, pleasant, grounded buzz coming from the rock. No, this tower was louder, moaning in a low ghostly tone, as persistent as a kobold’s chatter. 

Quartz: (backing up a step) Saddest excuse for a rock I’ve ever heard. If one can call that rock.

Christopher: I doubt you would. Let’s see if I can improve it. 

The boy raised his hands. Light appears between them, dancing between his palms before it swirls into the air.

The band of light streaks toward the tower; flashing blue, green, red, golden, silver, purple, violet, rose. 

It circles the edifice, swirling around it, embracing it. The colors take on the shape of a rainbow dragon. The dragon raises their fuzzy muzzle, letting out a musical roar. 

Quartz: (blinks) Hello to you, too. Christopher, just what are you calling this dragon you’ve created?

Christopher: (gazing at the rainbow being in wonder) Is this the manifestation of my power, my will? I didn’t expect it to become a dragon. 

Quartz: Didn’t you?

The dragon fixes their crystalline gaze upon Christopher. They let out another musical roar and continue to climb to the tower’s crown. 

When they reach the spires, they start weaving it and out of the skeletal fingers. Delicate filaments of light are left behind, an intricate web connecting the spires. 

The dragon let out a final roar before vanishing. The web remains, becoming solid, gleaming. Imprisoning the bony spokes of the crown. 

Quartz: Think that’s an improvement, eh? 

Christopher frowns. Silver triangles appear in his eyes, flashing. 

Briars appear, growing upon the web, wrapping themselves around the strands and spires. Roses open, flowering in pinkish white, red, and bloody purple all over the vines. 

Christopher: Perhaps? 

The roses only bloom for a few moments before withering and turning black. 

Christopher: Or not. (He drops his hands, shoulders slumping.)

Quartz: (heaving a sigh) Aye, well, maybe it wasn’t meant to improve, lad. At least not for very long. 

Christopher: (looking from the crown to his own hands) Power shouldn’t be like this. I keep hoping to rejuvenate mine. Give it new life. 

Quartz: How?

Christopher: By sharing it. Giving it form and voice. A chance to reason with me. Even stop me from abusing it. 

Quartz: Haven’t you done that already?

Christopher looks down at the stream which still flows. He sees Tayel’s face, eyes alight with the same silver which flashed in his own. He sees Danyel, reaching out with a hand glowing with green light. 

Christopher: (raising his head) Yes, I have. I’m not sure if it’s enough. Or if I’m not expecting too much of the twins. 

Quartz: Maybe there’s a lot left in you, waiting to be let loose. Like that dragon. 

Christopher’s somber expression becomes thoughtful. A half-smile tugs at his lips. 

Christopher: You may be right.

Quartz: You’re as blessed and cursed as you want to be. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. 

Christopher: Were you listening to my conversation with Dyvian?

Quartz: Heh, I’m always listening, even when I’m not there. Something the scribbler should keep in mind. 

(As I type this conversation up at my laptop, imagine a sweatdrop appearing on my brow. :))

Quartz: Not that it matters if I listen or if what I say is right. Not if you don’t hear what I’m saying. Really saying. 

Christopher: I think I do. 

Quartz: Right. While you’re doing that, consider this. Just what are you going to name that dragon? 

Christopher: Huh?

Quartz: That dragon which growls so pretty. The one that did their best to fix your tower, even if you’re not happy with the results. 

Christopher: I’m not sure if that dragon will ever appear again. They may have been a one-time manifestation. 

Quartz: Right. Just going to give up on the poor creature, eh? Not even giving them a name or a chance to appear again?

Christopher: (frowning) I didn’t say that.

Quartz: Seems like shadows could use a rainbow dragon to brighten their darkness. Especially you. 

Christopher: A name for a rainbow dragon. A rainbow dragon which became part of the tower’s crown or created part of it. (He raises a hand to stroke his chin, considering.) Names have power. Maybe Crownweaver? Since they wove a connection between each finger in the tower’s crown? 

Quartz: Not much of a name, that. More of a title or function. 

Christopher: How about Crowne? In the hopes that this little rainbow dragon may create a better crown than the tower has ever worn before? One that can disappear and reform, becoming stronger and more flexible? Even after the heavens vent their wrath against them?

Quartz: That’s a lot. Getting ambitious, aren’t you? Not to mention pitting your poor dragon against the heavens. Maybe all Crowne wants is to live, come out, and be named. 

Christopher: Why can’t they do all of those things while standing up to the heavens? Or at least picking themselves up and reforming after they’ve been struck down?

Quartz: There you go again, getting ambitious. At least you’re more cheerful than when Dyvian left you. Maybe Crowne put you in a better mood, eh?

Christopher: Or you did. Thank you, Quartz. (He smiles, a shy sweet smile very like Danyel’s or Tayel’s.)

Quartz: (waving his hands while his nose turns red) Now, now! Don’t you go smiling at me like that! I’ve got a jealous kobold, remember? 

Nimmie Not: (who doesn’t appear, but Quartz can hear him, speaking right into his ear) And don’t you forget it!

Quartz: Gah! (He disappears in a cloud of yellow smoke.)

A disembodied long-fingered hand, clearly not Quartz’s, waves at Christopher before disappearing as well.

Christopher’s smile turns into a grin. For a long moment he chuckles, looking up at the crown of briars. 

Roses are beginning to bud upon the vines again. They’re not flowering, but they’re beginning to bud. 

It’s something. 

Conversations with Christopher: Dyvian Part 2

Dyvian raises his booted foot, gazing down at the grass as if it could see a tiny life quivering in every single blade. 

He smiles tenderly with a mother’s protectiveness and a father’s devotion. He brings his boot down. 

Christopher tries not to flinch at the sound of the foot crushing the green, the faint cries which are too soft for anyone to hear, let alone acknowledge as being real. 

Dyvian fixes his eyes upon Christopher’s. His are filled with color, but the colors don’t swirl and swift. They’re paler, frozen blues, pinks, lavender, green, and silvery gray; a reflection of hues from a glacier. They grow just a little warmer, as the dark pupils grow larger. 

Dyvian: A curious creature, indeed. Do you pity those we must trample in order to walk our paths.

Christopher shuts his eyes and stands his ground. 

Christopher: I’m not judging you. How can I? I stand here in this place, made up of memories I’m not sure are mine. It just saddens me that we have to trample. 

Dyvian: What point is sadness if you can do nothing about it? You’re not sure your memories are yours. You’re not sure if they aren’t either. As an avatar of Happily Ever After, you’re bound to many a fate.

Christopher: (opening his eyes to gaze at the two towers and the waterfall between) Deciding to be such an avatar was arrogant. 

Dyvian: Anyone who opens a Door and walks a path through through the Shadow Forest is arrogant. Arrogant enough to think their wish is more important than anything else. Arrogant enough to think they can stick to their path. Arrogant enough to believe themselves to be stronger than the shadows’s desperation. 

Christopher: Too often it’s what opened a Door and a path which lures us off the path. We think we know what our heart’s desire is, but we’re easily deceived. Especially by ourselves.

Dyvian: Shadows feed upon desire. They make themselves desirable to dreamers. What could be more desirable than something straight from the heart? Perhaps the dreamer is lead off the path by what they desire. Perhaps they create new paths.

Christopher: Is that what you told Damian? Is that how you lured him off his path? Convincing him he could create a new one? Or did you play the part of his heart’s desire?

Dyvian: Christopher, you knew Damian better than almost everyone, although you’ve always been oblivious to his faults. Damian wishes to create his own path, his own power. Leaving the path was the price for his heart’s desire. 

Christopher: Just what did you persuade him to do back in the Gardens of Arachne?

Dyvian: It wasn’t in the Gardens. (Dyvian raises a hand to encompass the falling water.) It was here. 

For a moment Christopher gets a vision of something black forming in the pool below the waterfall. No, not black, but an extremely dark green. An egg, rising to the surface. Damian staring at the egg, sweat beading his brow. Hands reaching out. Dyvian’s eyes bright with greed, smiling. 

Christopher: You took something in this very place. 

Dyvian: Something I desired with all my heart. Something I wanted more than eternal beauty as a statue in my bride’s garden after Van drank my life. I needed you and Damian far more than I needed her. 

Christopher: What? What did you need?

Dyvian: Now, now. You wouldn’t want me to spoil your story. Would you?

To be continued next Monday….

Conversations with Christopher: Dyvian Part 1

Mist surrounds Christopher, cold and damp. He hears the roar of the waterfall, crashing down in the stream before he sees the cascading white spray. 

He catches a flash of color here and there, sparkling in defiance before disappearing. 

Dyvian stands on the bank of the stream, damp silvery hair streaked back from his face. His black tunic is unlaced, clinging to his skin. He plants one booted foot in the ground as if he’s rooted in place, unable to take a step further, yet determined not to be moved. 

Dyvian: (his attention fixed upon the waterfall) Is this what you wanted? Is this purity?

Christopher: (hanging back, not wanting to get closer to Dyvian or the spring) What do you mean? 

Dyvian: (turning his head, not moving his body) Don’t be afraid. (His voice carries in spite of its softness. Is he even moving his lips.)

Christopher: (also speaking without moving his lips) Is that what you said to Damian?

Dyvian: There was no need. He was fearless. 

Christopher: He shouldn’t have been. 

Dyvian: Yes. There are times when fearlessness is folly. You just called your Damian a fool.

Christopher: Are you here to gloat, Dyvian?

Dyvian: I’m here to ask you to listen. Can you hear them? The cries of the lost souls?

Yes, he could. Wails filled the air, swallowed and crushed by the fall of the water.

Christopher looked up to see a black tower to one side of the cascade. The screams were more audible from that direction. On the other side was a white tower, silent and glistening. 

Dyvian: What is the difference between the white tower and the black tower, my beauty?

Christopher: One is dead, merely bleached bone. The other is still alive, even if it screams with stolen color. 

Dyvian: Poetic. Here I thought one was filled with light and harmony, the other with darkness and discord.

Christopher: How can there be harmony in the light? Nothing can survive its searing heat. 

Dyvian: Shadows cannot exist without light. You and Damian lived in the shelter of being a light, a Heavenly Direction. You even called her Mother. 

Christopher: She welcomed us under her roof. Perhaps she turned away from the light enough that she could do so.

Dyvian: Becoming a fallen angel, losing her direction by taking you in?

Christopher: Taking people in isn’t the same as losing your direction. 

Dyvian: Isn’t it? Especially if they confuse you about what your direction should be?

Christopher: We didn’t confuse her. She confused us. 

Dyvian: Oh, did she redeem you with her welcome?

Christopher: Maybe she didn’t turn from the light so much as turn it down. Enough so Damian and I could live with her. 

Dyvian: Becoming an empty, sparkling vessel like that white tower. 

Christopher: No. Becoming like this waterfall. Overwhelming, still capable of crushing us, yet we can stand on its bank and enjoy its spray. 

Dyvian: Ah, so you believe Gabrielle is like the waterfall. Not the white tower.

Christopher: You are much more like the white tower, Dyvian. 

Dyvian: (smiling) Think I’m a sparkling, empty vessel, do you?

Christopher: You’re waiting to be filled by something. You’ll use the black tower to quicken yourself. 

Dyvian: And just who is the black tower? You? Damian?

Christopher: Yes. Anyone who’s still hungry.

Dyvian: I’m far hungrier than you, beautiful child. I’m hungry all the time. I’m far more like the black tower. To me, you and Damian are the white.

Christopher: Why?

Dyvian: Because you’ve achieved a state of grace. You’ve discovered a joy I have yet to savour. 

Christopher: Maybe you’re looking joy in the wrong places.

Dyvian: Or I’m looking for it in the right places, but the state eludes me. When I find joy, it’s as fleeting as a dream.

Christopher: Maybe you confused happiness with joy. 

Dyvian: Aren’t they the same?

Christopher: One is intense and fleeting as a dream. The other is fulfilling. 

Dyvian: A curious comparison for a creature of dream to make. 

Christopher: I’m a curious creature. And I’m more than just a dream. 

(To be continued next Monday) 

Conversations with Christopher: Quartz

Christopher marched across the empty field, mist rising beneath his feet. Ahead he could see the garden, his garden and Damian’s. Only the gate was gone. Nothing but the tall foxglove formed any kind of barrier between him and the flowers ahead. 

Christopher: Not that the gate ever was a barrier. It opened easily. 

Quartz: Wait up!

There is a stomp of heavy boots behind Christopher, following by a dwarf muttering in his beard. 

Quartz: Nasty look in the darkling glass, that woman. 

Christopher: You mean Map?

Quartz: Right. Thought I was suspicious of the outside world. Maybe even buried my head in the rocks from time to time. Got nothing on that Map of yours. 

Christopher: Why is she my Map?

Quartz: Mighty defensive of you, she is. Even if she’s pretending she’s not. 

Christopher: She threw me out of the cottage. 

Quartz: Aye, as she did me when I said something she didn’t like. Get the feeling she does that to a lot of people. 

Christopher: I’m not sure how that led you to believe she was fond of me. 

Quartz: Maybe she threw you out of her home for your own good?

Christopher: Or for her own good and her family’s.

Quartz: Aye, her family. (snorts) Not too impressed with her ways of protecting them. 

Christopher: What do you mean?

Quartz: She’s letting this lord who’s not really a lord have his way with one of her boys. Says the lad is willing. Hmph! She could do better than that. 

Christopher: I’m guessing the lord is Dyvian and the lad is Leiwell. 

Quartz: Didn’t mention the lord’s name, but yes, the lad was Leiwell. Know them, do you?

Christopher: (bares his teeth in what might have ben a smile) Oh, yes. I’ve had that pleasure. I’m having it the draft of Stealing Myself From Shadows our scribbler is writing. 

Quartz: Sounds like it’s anything but a pleasure.

Christopher: It was for Dyvian and Leiwell. Less so for Damian and myself. No, I can’t say it’s been all that pleasurable for them. Even so, I find it hard to forgive them.

Quartz: Right. You’re as fond of them as I am of Oriana in Fairest and Of Cuckoo Clocks and Crystal Coffins

Christopher: I understand why they did what they did. You get hungry in the Shadow Forest, especially if you’ve lost yourself. Or if you’ve just come into being. 

Quartz: Like you did. 

Christopher: Yes, like I did. Someone reaches out to you, offering you warmth, affection, a place, maybe even a person. It’s hard not to latch onto them, draining every drop of what they offer. Maybe even going beyond that. 

Quartz: Like you did?

Christopher: I controlled myself like I never have with Damian. They didn’t. Dyvian and Lewiell were waiting for us in the Shadow Forest. 

Quartz: Meaning you and Damian?

Christopher: And Peter. You should have him visit you for Secondary Characters Speak Out. 

Quartz: Not sure if he’s a secondary character. 

Christopher: I’m not sure if he is either. I’m not sure what Peter is. I’m not sure where he is.

Quartz: He was at the Navel, right?

Christopher: As was I. As was Damian. Until Doors opened for us into the Shadow Forest where Dyvian and Leiwell were waiting. 

Quartz: Sounds sinister. This is what the scribbler is working on right now, right?

Christopher: In Stealing Myself From Shadows. Right. I fear if I say any more it will be a spoiler. 

Quartz: Aye, the scribbler can be careless if we don’t stop her. Best let her get back to your story, so she can get back to my story.

Christopher: I was wondering when you were going to bring that up. 

Secondary Characters Speak Out: Quartz and Map, Part 3

It’s the same table with the same morning sunlight pouring through the window while Map and Quartz face each other. 

Who are Map and Quartz? A stocky woman with a weathered brown face lined as a tree trunk and an even stockier dwarf with a silvery black beard. 

Map: Strange how we can be at the same time and place while outside this Cauldron three weeks have passed. 

Quartz: Aye, strange. I blame the scribbler. Want to talk about strange things? Or one particular strange thing?

Map: I’m not sure how strange a thing he is. He’s not any stranger than my children are.

Quartz: He’s not, eh? 

Map: (slumping a bit in her seat) I suppose we’re all strange things if you put it that way. 

Quartz: Aye, we are. What bothers you about this particular strange thing? 

Map: He’s everything I’m not. Many things I find quite attractive. Only he appeared at one of my worst moments. 

Quartz: One of those destructive and stupid moments?

Map: Yes, those. He has a way of appearing whenever they happen. The first time he was quite young, but his eyes were filled with frozen color, reflecting back what I’d done. He’d captured it forever, making it part of himself.

Quartz: What did you do? 

Map: Brought down fire and lightning upon a crown of bone and gold, driving its lord out. 

Quartz: Why?

Map: He was luring people into his walls, promising to grant their wishes, to give them whatever they wanted if they worshipped him, giving him everything they had. Some of his victims were dear to me. 

Quartz: Can see why you were upset.

Map: Only I’m not sure if there was anyone left in the tower when the lightning came. The only one left was the boy. He appeared when I released my anger. As if he’d somehow been born from it. I’d never seen eyes like his. Pale lavender, ice blue, pink, silver, with a hint of green which swam with images. Things I didn’t want to see. 

Quartz: Sounds like Christopher’s eyes. 

Map: (standing up) He is nothing like Christopher! Nothing!

Quartz: (holding up a hand) Calm yourself, woman. Not saying he is. Just that eyes filled with different colors which reflect you back, or something you’ve lost? Something you didn’t even know you were missing? That sounds like Christopher.

Map: He claims to be like Christopher, but I don’t believe him. (sits back down)

Quartz: Why?

Map: I didn’t want to remember what had happened. He forced me to see, to remember. It’s why I turned away and ran from him. 

Quartz: Only he won’t let you.

Map: He’s followed me. I took shelter in a temple of women when they saw my true face. It frightened them. They turned on me. I got angry.

Quartz: Did something destructive and stupid again, did you?

Map: It’s why I live alone in this cottage, avoiding people. Most people. 

Quartz: Only you can’t avoid him. 

Map: Somehow he’s become the lord of the land this cottage is upon. Can’t help wonder if becoming a lord is his way of reminding me of what I’ve done. Not that he doesn’t enjoy luxury and power. Not to mention beauty. This is why he has his eye on my boys. 

Quartz: Fancies them, does he?

Map: The twins fear him, but my Leiwell is only too smitten with him. I fear this being may have given him a taste for power, wealth, and beauty. 

Quartz: Did you want those things? Once upon a time?

Map: Don’t say that name! (shudders) Why do you ask?

Quartz: What name? 

Map: I won’t say it.

Quartz: Didn’t realize I’d said a name. 

Map: Good. Keep it that way. 

Quartz: Confound it, woman, talking to you as maddening!

Map: Nobody is forcing you to.

Quartz: Aye, someone is. The scribbler. 

Map: (sighs) I suppose there’s no stopping her. To answer your question, this being took on life by feeding on memories I’d once had. The part of me I’d discarded. 

Quartz: How does that answer my question?

Map: I may have wanted those things. Power, luxury, and beauty. Once. 

Quartz: You’re not sure?

Map: I don’t remember. I’m not sure if I want to. I didn’t do good things with the power I had. Luxury had a price. Beauty, I’m still fond of beauty, but it can be found in many places. 

Quartz: Sounds like you were dangerous. Probably still are. 

Map: Why do you think I keep to myself?  She shudders.) Sometimes I worry about even having a family, but my boys ground me, make me better than I would be if I were completely alone. 

Quartz: Except you wouldn’t be completely alone. This lord is still watching you. You and your family. 

Map: He’s already reaching out for Leiwell, claiming Leiwell. 

Quartz: How?

Map: Leiwell decided to serve him of his own free will. He goes to this lord every night.

Quartz: (glances out the window) Does this lord live in the ruin? I don’t see much else your boy could go to other than that.

Map: There’s the garden. And the waiting woods. Many things linger there. Doors to leading elsewhere have been known to open in this area. 

Quartz: Like being mysterious, don’t you?

Map: No.

Quartz: Right. If you don’t want your Leiwell to serve this creature, why don’t you stop him?

Map: It’s hard to stop Leiwell when it’s his choice. He wants the little luxuries; fine clothing, books which his lord can provide. He wants his brothers to have them. He wants me to have them. 

Quartz: You don’t.

Map: Not if Leiwell returns looking like a ghost with his strength sapped away. 

Quartz: Tell him that. 

Map: You don’t think I’ve tried? He wants to serve his lord. I fear Leiwell loves this creature. 

Quartz: Here I thought my Fairest had terrible taste. Why don’t you just move? Or call the lightning down on this lord? 

Map: It’s hard doing that to him. He’s got powers of his own. He’s been gathering power from others, including Leiwell. Power by granting people’s wishes like the lord before him. 

Quartz: Shards, woman, he’s feeding on your boy. You could try. 

Map: You think I haven’t?! Bad things happen when I call the lightning. (She points out the window.) There’s a reason that’s a ruin and mine is the only cottage around. 

Quartz: So you’re just going to hide in this cottage and hope this lord goes away? Even if he may be in that very ruin?

Map: The less attention I give him, the weaker he gets. 

Quartz: Right. Only others are feeding him, you said. Including your Leiwell. 

Map: (scowls) Get out. 

Quartz: Right. (He gets up and goes to the door, stops before opening it.) Can’t say I don’t understand your attitude. Hide in a cottage or a mine. Keep your head down, try to cause no trouble, not attracting any trouble. Problem is trouble still finds you. Sooner or later. 

He opens the door and leaves, stomping away. 

Map just sits at the table, her head bowed.