Secondary Characters Speak Out: Quartz and Opal

A dwarf with graying black beard stands over a crystal coffin, gazing at the hazy figure within it. 

It’s another dwarf with his hands folded on his chest as if he were dead. Or sleeping. 

No such luck. Not that Opal means that. Not really. It’s just something about his older brother makes him scowl. 

He shuffles a little closer to the great hunk of namesake Quartz got himself stuck in, scowling all the more. 

Eyes like slate open to fix upon Opal’s. If a mental voice could scowl back, Quartz’s would. 

Quartz: What’re you looking at?

Opal: A ruddy fool. A ruddy fool who got himself right where he’s at with his own fool choices. 

Quartz: Aye, and who’s the fool now? Call me fool for letting human princesses in the door, only to go and do the same. 

Opal: Just one princess, you and I. We just let one in. 

Quartz: Aye, you let in two, but the other was a witch. The same witch who cursed our Fairest. Right. Well done. 

Opal: Fine. (Opal backs off, starts to pace in front of the coffin.) I’m a ruddy fool. You’re a ruddy fools. Lots of fools in this forest. 

Quartz: Maybe that’s why it’s a Forest of Tears. Too many ruddy fools making each other cry. That witch of yours is the greatest fool of the lot. 

Opal: Maybe she is. (He stops, turns to face the coffin.) Maybe she’s trying to do something about being a fool. Maybe that’s why I let her in.

Quartz: What’re you saying? 

Opal: That witch of a queen. Aye, she’s been a wicked ruddy fool, that one. Our Fairest suffered for it. As did you. We all did. 

Quartz: Not convincing reasons for letting her in the door. 

Opal: If she’s right, our Fairest is becoming a wicked, ruddy fool. (He stops, takes a step closer to stare at the crystal.) You saw it. Right before this happened. 

Quartz: Aye. (groans) Too ruddy weak to stop her. 

Opal: Aye. Most of us were worse. We ran. 

Quartz: Aye. 

Opal: Not this time. 

Quartz: What’re you saying?

Dark eyes like slate silvered with sun meet again. Gazing at each other through a barrier of crystal. 

Opal: Another girl is going to get cursed like our Fairest. This time by our Fairest. The witch knows this. She’s trying to stop her. Maybe we can help. (He squints at his brother’s face.) You see, fool?

Quartz: Right. You let that princess and her witch into our cottage for our Fairest’s sake. 

Opal: That’s right. Besides…(He looks up at the sun, lifting a hand to shade his eyes.)

Quartz: Besides? (He stops, allowing Opal to hear the scowl in his voice.) Shards, I sound like Christopher.

Opal: What’re you yammering about?

Quartz: Never mind.

Opal: Finished? I’m trying to say something here. (Opal looks down at the crystal with a glower.) Not even a cursed sleep can shut you up. 

Quartz: Right. As if you could shut me up, little brother. 

Opal: Never you mind. You didn’t see that girl’s eyes, her face. Pure innocent, that one, yet she’s got something. Something like a stone. 

Quartz: (snorts) A human princess. Humans don’t know the meaning of stone. They’d be dead if one hit them before they guessed. 

Opal: Pebble brain, you didn’t see her. This princess looks a lot like the witch. 

Quartz: Right. Again I’m not seeing the stone. 

Opal: That’s just it. She looks like the witch, but there’s something different about her. A hint of courage like flint. 

Quartz: The witch never had that. Part of why she cursed our Fairest. 

Opal: Our Fairest went and cursed another girl. Not sure how much stone she’s got herself. 

Quartz: You try staying firm as rock after being cursed. It’s wearing even me. 

Opal: Exactly. Our Fairest is going to need all the help, all the courage she can find. 

Quartz: You think this girl can help our Fairest? (He snorts, almost as if to dismiss the hint of hope in his own question.) Why would this princess help someone who cursed her?

Opal: Curiosity. A need to save others as well as herself. Maybe even love.

Quartz: Why should this princess love our Fairest?

Opal: You did. We all did. Takes strength to love. Maybe this girl has it. 

Quartz: Putting a lot of faith in this human princess, aren’t you.

Opal: Not a lot. Just enough. You should try it, Quartz.

He raps his knuckles on the crystal surface of the coffin before striding off into the trees. 

Quartz: This is what I get, urging secondary characters to mouth off. Upstart pebble-brained brothers thinking they’re all that. 

A bird chips almost mockingly from one of the trees.

Quartz: Shut up. 


Conversations with Christopher: Rose

Christopher wanders through a forest, trailing mist after him. Flowers grow from the trees in the shape of red tear drops. 

Christopher: So this is the Forest of Tears. It’s like and unlike the Shadow Forest. 

If he stopped, he might hear the breeze whispering, whispering all his fears, his regrets. 

He doesn’t stop. Not until he comes to a circle of toadstools. 

A cloud of green mist swirls, dwarfing the tiny red caps poking out of the grass. A figure appears within the mists, enclosed within the circle. 

The emerald haze is drawn into the flowing skirts of the girl standing within the circle. She tosses her head, long golden hair swaying around her like a sleeper who has just awakened. 

Christopher: You’ve come back, Your Highness.

Princess Rose opens her blue eyes, gazes at her surroundings. Intelligence and a certain inquisitiveness sparkle within them, taking in the trees, the toadstools, and the boy before her. 

Rose: Perhaps the nature of this place gives me an awareness I shouldn’t have. You’re Christopher, aren’t you? 

Christopher: Yes, to both questions. As I said, you’ve come back. You’re coming back. You and your story. 

Rose closes her eyes for a moment and begins to sing in a sweet, untrained voice:

   Who is the fairest of them all?

     You, me, or her?

     In castle, cottage, or circle small

     What will you endure? 

     Are you fair of face and eye alone?

     Or is your fairness true?

     When under the sleeping curse you lie

     What will you change into?

She opens her eyes, closing her mouth, trembling a little. 

Christopher: (his own voice hushed) Quite a riddle. I can’t say I haven’t experienced elements of that myself in my own way. 

Rose: We have the same scribbler.

Christopher: True. 

Rose: You might say this song is my story, my blurb, but there’s more my story than this. Much more. 

Christopher: Fairest is going to be reborn. 

Rose: Published a third time, yes. Longer than ever and changed, yet hopefully not cursed. 

Christopher: What’s changed?

Rose: Marian and Lord Gerald have greater roles. You’ll see how I won their respect. Lord Gerald’s at least. Marian’s loyalty has always been a bit of a mystery to me. You’ll see my reason for it. 

Christopher: I see. Or maybe I should say we will see?

Rose: You’ll see. You’ll meet a few members of my father’s court. People who were just faces in the last big scene of Fairest will have names, motives for being moved by the moment when I make a stand. 

Christopher: I’m guessing we’d better not say too much about that scene or that stand. 

Rose: No. Not everyone has read previous versions of my story. 

Christopher: How do you feel, reliving Fairest for a third time? 

Rose: A little more confident than I was since I’ve done it before. 

Christopher: Yes, you have, but you’re also breaking new ground. Even if you’re treading the same path. 

Rose: This makes reliving Fairest all the more exciting. Even if winged fears flap in my stomach, cackling in anticipation. 

Christopher: Anticipation of what?

Rose: My fall and failure. 

Christopher: Surely you don’t think you’ll fall? Not after living this story twice already?

Rose: My story has a happy ending, yes. My fears flap and cackle that I haven’t earned that happiness.

Christopher: Why should you fear this?

Rose: Many of my accomplishments as a princess, what I learned in court, and how to handle people were summarized in the first two versions of Fairest. As was getting Marian and Lord Gerald, my two greatest allies on my side. 

Christopher: And this time?

Rose: This time I have to achieve those things. Learn from and earn those moments. This time the court members I’m helping are people with names. This time I have to earn Marian, Lord Gerald, and my father’s trust. 

Christopher: You worry that you won’t?

Rose: I worry that I’m weak. My fears whisper that I am. They whisper that I’m too much of a dreamer, lost in my own imagination to understand other people’s hearts. Too weak to assume my father’s throne or even lay claim to it. Too weak to be worthy of the woman I love.

Christopher: You’re not. This story, the fact that it has the happy ending it does proves you’re not. 

Rose: (lifting a hand to catch a tear sliding down from one eye) Thank you. My Briar’s fears are far worse than mine. I just hope I can quiet them. I want to be worthy of her, worthy of everyone. Worthy of the ending Fairest has. 

Christopher: Your story gives readers hope. It was the hope of our scribbler as well, the hope that there was a place in the world for her stories and you. That your love could be spoken of openly, boldly, winning many a heart. 

Rose: (smiling a little) I hope so.

Christopher: Your story will be available at Nine Star Press, will it not? They’re the ones publishing it again. 

Rose: Yes, they are. Here’s a link to our scribbler’s other tales available at Nine Star Press…

Secondary Characters Speak Out: Dyvian, Danyel, and Tayel

Dwarves caught in cursed crystal still dream. Especially when they’re not dead. Especially when they’ve got something to say. 

Secondary Characters Speak Out has always been about other characters having something to say. Especially when their scribbler treats them as secondary as far as Quartz is concerned. 

Why was he dreaming of these three? They weren’t secondary characters. Especially not the two tiny, slight boys with shaggy golden hair, distinguised only to be their blue and green silk vests over their white tunic, gray trousers, and boots. 

That and one of them had glittering silver triangles in the violet-blue irises of his eyes. 

Tayel turns to look at Quartz, fixing those glittering eyes upon him. 

Tayel: Other worlds are trickling dreams and curses in. 

Danyel: Don’t they always? (He’s the boy without the triangles, but there’s a faint green glow emitting from his small fingers, one of which is pointed at the elegant white-haired man in front of him.) What I’m wondering is why we’re here with you. 

Dyvian: You share a letter with me. You cannot escape me, my little beauty, even though your beloved twin can leave if he wishes. 

Tayel: Letters and patterns may block my way. Still I remain.

Danyel: (grabbing Tayel with his other hand) You won’t separate us, no matter what you scheme. 

Quartz: (clearing his throat) Hmph. 

Dyvian: (not paying attention, his icy prismatic gaze fixed upon the twins) Ah, but I will. How else will you begin your stories? You cannot escape from your Once Upon a Time. Either of you. 

Quartz: Right. 

Tayel: Our stories begin as one as did we.

Quartz: Now I know you’re ignoring me. 

Danyel: Tayel’s right. Why should we separate? We’ve always been together. Right from the beginning. 

Quartz: Is anyone listening to me?

Dyvian: You were one before you came into being. You may yet become one again yet you have to find out whom you are as two. Your paths are destined to go in different directions. Just as you have different letters beginning your names. 


Everyone is quiet and looks at him. Danyel blinks as if he’s just realized Quartz is here. Dyvian and Tayel raise their noses with an identical offended air. 

Quartz: Right. I’d wonder who’s whose twin with that air. Just as I’m wondering what I’m doing here.

Danyel: I don’t know. What are you doing here?

Quartz: It’s time for Secondary Characters Speak Out. My blog! What are you all doing here? None of you are secondary characters. 

Danyel: Yes, I am. In Stealing Myself From Shadows. That’s Christopher’s story. Not mine. Not Tayel’s. 

Tayel: As lights which trail a shadow do we Christopher. Not that I intend to leave Danyel. Not for any scribbler nor blog. 

Quartz: Right. And what’s your excuse?

Dyvian: Why, we were simply settling ourselves in for Blogging From AZ April Project: Characters Blurbs. Once more we’re together, bound by letters, even if Tayel no longer belongs. 

Tayel: Belonging is far more than a letter and a fragile bond is easily broken. 

Dyvian: I’m quite secondary in Stealing Myself From Shadows. Why I’m less than a shadow. More of a memory ghost. 

Danyel: That doesn’t make you any less manipulative. You’re not taking Tayel from me. 

Dyvian: You sound very sure of that. 

Quartz: Enough! All right, I think I understand. You’re arguing for or against being together in the same blog next month. During Blogging From AZ.

Dyvian: Correct. We shall be together at

Danyel: Not that there won’t be Blogging From AZ April Project: Character Blurbs here. Christopher will be here. 

Quartz: Yes, he will, although I’ll be at Some strange sorcerous type named Questioning will be here. 

Danyel: Why is there a second Cauldron?

Quartz: Blame the scribbler.

Dyvian: Once upon a time our scribbler was told by her publisher she needed a blog. She set up this one. The Cauldron of Eternal Inspiration at

Quartz: Didn’t work for the publisher. They were in on blogger. To be able to share her blogs with them, the scribbler created a Cauldron of Eternal Inspiration at

Danyel: I remember being there. She tried to keep up both blogs, didn’t she?

Quartz: Yes, she did, but it was a lot for readers. Turned out being a lot for the scribbler, too. Once the formatting got hard, she moved over completely to the Cauldron at

Tayel: Once a year she returns and we return. During the Blogging From AZ April Project. We go back to

Quartz: Not everyone. Those of us who’ve always been there.

Danyel: I remember! We’ve Blogged From AZ at

Tayel: We’ve been silenced. Leiwell was blocked for his abusive and dangerous words. 

Danyel: Leiwell isn’t abusive!

Dyvian: He most certainly isn’t. Just who dared to accuse my Leiwell of such things?

Quartz: No one knows. Not sure why Facebook blocked that Cauldron. It may be just the scribbler was sharing too much from two blogs every day. 

Danyel: (shivers) Scary. 

Quartz: Aye, it is. Hard to avoid doing again. Especially if no one says what the abuse was. 

Dyvian says nothing but his shadow looms, becoming colder, more ominous. 

Quartz: Enough of that. Happened years ago. What about now?

Danyel: What about now?

Quartz: If you don’t want to be together, why are you here?

Danyel: (looking sheepish) Well, our scribbler started writing and we started talking…

Dyvian: (folding his arms with dignity) I fear these children forgot we were supposed to express ourselves in blurbs. They made me forget myself as well. 

Quartz: Right. You started arguing. Your blurbs became one angry dialogue. 

Everyone looks a little sheepish at his words.

Quartz: (looking in my direction) And just why did you drag me into this, scribbler? 

Me: Well, I’ve had a lot to write and a lot to catch up on what with the emergency change of computers. I started writing, realizing it was dialogue, not blurbing, and I didn’t want to waste my work-

Quartz: Right. So you wrote me into this mess. Made it my Secondary Characters Speak Out

Me: Er, yes. 

Quartz: Right. I’ll let you off, scribbler. I know you’ve had a lot to cope with of late. 

Me: (breathing a sigh of relief) Thank you.

Quartz: And you all. (glancing at the readers) Conversations with Christopher, Secondary Characters Speak Out, and everything else will taking a rest for Blogging From AZ. 

Danyel: (waving) Christopher will be here, though, at C is for Christopher! Look for Damian, Peter, Melyssa, ‘Lyssa, Gabrielle, Hebe, Juno, Una, and Vanessa as well!

Tayel: Some of us will blurb forth in the bubbles of the Cauldron at Such as the three of us. Such as Map, Leiwell, Jupitre, Oleander, Quartz, Seraphix, and Thomas. (He wrinkles his nose.)

Dyvian: Not to mention other characters from other tales. Finished and unfinished. 

Danyel: See you all there?

Quartz: Right. That’s enough. I’m going to back to my cursed sleep. You work me too hard, scribbler.

Me: I thought I didn’t give you enough attention.

Quartz: That, too. 

Conversations with Christopher: Meggie Part 2

The woman in the cloak and the youth in black stroll along a cobblestone path which is both familiar and unfamilar to her. 

Christopher: What did you mean by saying this was the right place to wish? 

Meggie: I mentioned Mel, didn’t I?

Christopher: Yes, you did. You said she was living with Jupitre and Juno. 

Meggie: She’s their daughter. At least they told her she was. 

Christopher: What? (He stops, stares at her.)

Meggie: (pausing as well) I know, right? She doesn’t believe it either. 

Christopher: What does she believe?

Meggie: She believes my sister and I were once her sisters. At the same temple. We were Sisters of Seraphix until we died. A wish brought us back.

The air gets a little colder. Christopher hugs himself, staring at something far away.

Meggie: Are you all right?

Christopher: I’m never sure. (He does his best to smile, to make a joke of the statement, but it’s fragile twist of lips, unable to hold the expression.) Sisters of Seraphix?

Meggie: Uh huh. I think she’s right. Sometimes I get flashes of memory of a place, a temple. Of living there with other women. Of the life we lived. 

Christopher: Yes. I’ve done that. 

Meggie: Remembered living in a temple? 

Christopher: I’m not sure. I’ve gotten memory flashes. Some I’ve held onto. Some slipped away. 

Meggie: Looks like one came back. I’ve seen Mel go still like that. Right before she remembers something. 

Christopher: I’ve heard the same Seraphix before.

Meggie: Uh huh. Once upon a time They were the God of Balance.

The slight youth shivers again at the words “Once upon a time”. Mel can’t really blame him. To her, it’s just the beginning of a story, but to some, it’s the mouth of a hungry deity who swallows everyone’s story. 

Christopher: Seraphix isn’t the God of Balance any more?

Meggie: (squirming) Look, what I remember, which isn’t very much, was Seraphix was a god people suffering from some sort of imbalance often sought out to, well, realign themselves. Get themselves sorted out so they weren’t giving up too much of themselves to their communities. Or taking so much they were a menace to others. 

Christopher: Seraphix was a god for those who couldn’t fit in?

Meggie: Yes and no. More for people who weren’t quite happy with how they were living their lives and wanted to change. Seraphix only accepted willing worshippers. That’s still true. 

Christopher: What changed?

Meggie: Mel remembers being part of a sisterhood. Everyone at the Temple of Seraphix was female. That’s a little imbalanced, isn’t it?

Christopher: I’m not sure. You said Seraphix attracted those trying to sort themselves out. Maybe your temple needed an all-female clergy to do so. 

Meggie: Well, anyone can be a Follower of Seraphix now if you believe in them. Believe They’re a God and Seraphix will grant your heart’s desire. 

Christopher: Seraphix sounds a lot like the Shadow Forest. Or a path leading through it. 

Meggie: They do, don’t they? What this has to do with balance, I don’t know. Neither does Mel. Nor does Aggie. 

Christopher: You’re not Followers of Seraphix, I take it?

Meggie: Oh, yes, we all are. (She reaches to pull a coin attached to a cord around her neck, a silver coin. There are scratches which might have been a hint of a face or scattered bones.) The Voice of Seraphix called to us all, bringing us back from the shadows and dust. We’re alive again because of the wishes of those believed in Seraphix. 

Christopher: The ones who bring us back have a powerful hold over us. It’s hard not to listen when they call. Even if we have doubts about what they’re saying. (He shivers.)

Meggie: Exactly! I’m a Follower of Seraphix, but I have doubts. Doubts are dangerous. Doubts can weaken a godling. 

Christopher: (looking away) Seraphix is your godling. 

Meggie: They always have been. If They’ve changed, well, should I hold this against Them? I’ve changed, too. Even if I still eat too many custard tarts. (She looks a little guilty.) At least I no longer have to be ashamed of that. 

Christopher: Why?

Meggie: Well, one of the things I remember from the temple is sneaking tarts, far more than my share. We were supposed to share them with the community. I wouldn’t take them if they were in short supply, but if there was a festival, I could eat as many as twenty. (She looks abashed.) I don’t think anyone would miss them, but I wasn’t entirely sure. Overeating like that was considered imbalanced, taking too much from others. Now it doesn’t matter. Not that I’ve been able to eat as much after the Voice called me. Guess it’s a side effect of being lost on the other side of the Door. 

Christopher: I only manage a few bites of anything. At most. 

Meggie: No wonder you’re so slender. I can still eat custard tarts, but only one. I’ve never been slender, never particularly wanted to be. I wonder if I will?

Christopher: I don’t know, Meggie. No one I’ve met like us has been able to eat much. 

Meggie: At the same time, I crave company like never before. Along with stories, poetry, any kind of books. I feel much better after being with someone or a good read. And sex! I’m almost insatiable! Another good thing about Gryluxx is he can keep up with me. 

Christopher: Ah, that’s good. (blushing)

Meggie: You know for a shadow, you’re rather innocent. 

Christopher: (a wistful smile playing about his lips) So I’ve been told. I hope that’s a good thing. 

Meggie: Well, a hope is close to a wish. Again you’re in the right place for such things. Seraphix may well hear your wish and help you if you believe in Them. 

Christopher: (his smile twitches as if at some joke he hasn’t decided to share) Perhaps They will. 

Meggie wonders what the joke is. Maybe she’s better off not knowing. She doesn’t always like other people’s private jokes. 

It’s not like she doesn’t have plenty of her own. 

Conversations with Christopher: Meggie Part 1

A row of cottages and shops line a cobbestone street, the tips of their roofs daring to touch each other’s, teasing with their curled corners. 

All but the tailor’s shop and home. It squats proudly at the end of the street, the golden gargoyle serving as a knocker leering at anyone who might dare approach the dark green door, let alone enter the wizard, err, tailor’s residence. 

Except the door is opening from the inside. Someone is leaving, not entering. 

A round, rosy-face woman whose untidy russet curls are escaping from under her hood steps outside, tucking her burgundy cloak closer around her. She glances back at the gargoyle for a moment. 

Meggie: (also known as Megan, for that’s whom the woman is) Hullo, Jane. Is it me or are there shops here which aren’t normally?

Jane: (the gargoyle knocker) What is normal? Certainly not naming a gargoyle knocker and talking to it. How should I know what is normal for Omphalos?

Meggie: (considering this) That’s fair. You make a fair point.

Jane: I’m not making anything. I’m not even talking. I’m a knocker. This is all in your head. Quit talking to yourself and find some actual company to have a conversation with. Now. 

Meggie: I’m not sure if anyone else is here, but I’ll try. 

Jane: I’m not anyone, you silly girl!

Meggie ignores the insult. It’s fairly light after all. She’s heard far worse. She starts walking up the street, glancing from side to side. 

She stops at a shop she doesn’t remember seeing before. One with a painted sign of a woman’s stomach and belly button swinging over the door. A chicken statue bares its beak from the window while a skull grins at his side. 

Meggie: Huh, I’m fairly sure I would have recalled this place.

The door opens, revealing a slender youth with coppery-golden hair cropped to curl around his ears, cupping his heart-shaped face. Huge eyes filled with violet, purple, blue, green, red, and gray swimming around like light reflected on water gaze back at her. A faint shimmer of mist clings to his dark gray boots, the black velvet clinging to his legs and chest. 

Meggie: Huh, aren’t you pretty? What’s your name?

Christopher: (for it is he, gazing at her, trying to get his bearings) I think I’m still Christopher. For now. 

Meggie: Planning on changing into someone else?

Christopher: Not planning, no.

Meggie: Huh. If that’s so, I’ll call you Christopher. I’m Meggie, by the way. We are in Omphalos, aren’t we?

Christopher: (looking around) I think so. This looks like it might be the Omphalos I’m from. Not one of the others. 

Meggie: Huh. Guess my Omphalos is one of the others. Except my husband’s shop is here. How did that happen? 

Christopher: I’m not sure. Omphalos is a place where things come and go, depending on whom experiences it. Other versions of Omphalos have come to the one I lived in, even if it’s just to trickle in, bit by bit. A house here. A ruin there.

Meggie: Yes, that explains a lot. 

Christopher: This doesn’t surprise you.

Meggie: Well, I’m slow. At least most people think so. Being slow means I don’t rush to figure things out. I take my time. Surprises don’t pop up as suddenly on me as they do on people who are faster. 

Christopher: That’s an interesting interpretation of slow. One which makes me suspect you’re not slow at all. 

Meggie: Hrm, my husband doesn’t suspect anything. (A smile creeps over her face.) He knows I’m slow. 

Christopher: Your husband?

Meggie: Gryluxx. Sometimes he’s a man. Sometimes he’s a raven, but he’s never particularly pleasant. Not if he can help it. 

Christopher: I’ve noticed. I’ve met your husband in both forms. He tried to command me, bind me against my will. 

Meggie: He does that. He’ll grab and take anything he wants. Even if what he wants objects.

Christopher: I wonder that you married him. 

Meggie: I didn’t object. Not that he gave me time to. Some people might hate this, but I found it…exciting. (Her smile turns sly.) Even alluring. 

Christopher: He’s fortunate to have you. Many wouldn’t find that alluring at all. Including me. 

Meggie: (nods) That’s what my sister says. She thinks Gryluxx forced me to marry him. 

Christopher: Did he?

Meggie: He didn’t give me time to object. I found his lusty impatience…invigorating. (Her smile turned into a grin.) It made me want…need…to meet him halfway. And I did. Again and again. 

Christopher: (flushing) Um, yes. 

Meggie: Guess I’m making you uncomfortable. Talking like this makes a lot of people uncomfortable. Aggie and I love to, but she doesn’t like Gryluxx.

Christopher: Aggie? Is that your sister?

Meggie: (nods) Angharad. She lives in my Omphalos. (She looks down the street.) I don’t see her cottage here. That’s distressing. 

Christopher: You’ll probably go back to your own Omphalos when you’re done talking to me. That’s how it works in the Cauldron. 

Meggie: Oh. We’re in a Cauldron? Are we about to be cooked?

Christopher: In our scribbler’s imagination. 

Meggie: (giggles) That’s funny, but it makes a strange sort of sense. Aggie would laugh, too, but Gryluxx wouldn’t. 

Christopher: From what I’ve seen of him, probably not. 

Meggie: Anyway in my Omphalos, our Omphalos, Aggie comes to visit a lot. These visits are nicer when my husband isn’t there. He and Aggie always fight. Usually about how abusive my husband is. 

Christopher: Towards you?

Meggie: Towards everyone, me included. He’s got a nasty habit of poking at everyone’s sore spots. 

Christopher: You don’t mind?

Meggie: Sometimes I enjoy being poked. Especially by him. (She giggles when he blushes again.) You’re really pretty when you blush. You remind me of Leiwell and the twins. Not to mention Mel.

Christopher: You know Leiwell and the twins?

Meggie: They live in the Old Cottage in my Omphalos. Come to think of it, the Old Cottage is right about where this shop is. What is this place?

Christopher: The Navel. The center of all things bizarre. It’s my mother’s shop. 

Meggie: That’s interesting. Too bad the Navel isn’t in our Omphalos, but I’d miss the Old Cottage if it wasn’t there. 

Christopher: So would I. 

Meggie: Huh, that’s right. You speak as if you know Leiwell and the twins. Not the Old Cottage. 

Christopher: We’ve met on the other side of the door. 

Meggie: You’re a shadow? (She backs up a step.)

Christopher: Yes and no. I was trying to live a life a little more real in my Omphalos. I knew Leiwell and the twins before they came to theirs. 

Meggie: Amazing. I can remember very little of my life before I came to my Omphalos. Mel remembers much more. 

Christopher: (frowning) Mel?

Meggie: She lives in my Omphalos, too. With Juno and Jupitre. 

Christopher: And Hebe?

Meggie: Who’s Hebe?

Christopher: I see. (He lays a hand against his heart.) That’s different here. 

Meggie: She has a little brother, too. Thomas. He may be even more unpleasant than Gryluxx. 

Christopher: That’s a frightening thought. 

Meggie: Yes, it is. There are lots of things about my Omphalos which are frightening. I try not to worry about them. 

Christopher: I wish I didn’t worry about them so much. 

Meggie: Well, you’re in the right place to wish if you’re Omphalos is anything like mine.

(To be continued next Monday…) 

Conversations with Christopher: Gryluxx

Shadows writhe in the dim light, stretching from the trees which strain, reaching out. You can hear them whisper. Whispering temptations to lure you off the path illuminating your way through the forest. 

One of the shadows breaks off, flutters down to the path. It’s a bird, a raven. Strutting prouding across the tiny pebbles as if he owns them. 

The raven spreads his wings, growing larger, larger, until he dissolves into a cloud of feathers. Only a man is left behind, a man dressed in black robes, He crouches upon the ground as if he’s bowing. Bowing and waiting. 

The air shimmers in front of the man. Christopher steps out of a the shimmer, a dreamy-eyed youth dressed in a black tunic, matching trousers, and boots. A stone shimmers around his neck, matching the colors mingling in his eyes. 

Christopher: (blinking at the man before him) I’ve met you before. You were Paul, Peter’s Paul. Or a part of him.

The man puffs out his chest. Around his neck is a half-silver, half gold disc with a demonic face leering out of the lines engraved upon it. 

Gryluxx:  I am Peter’s no longer. Nor do I care to have any part of that fool Paul. I am Gryluxx the Great, Gryluxx the Wise, Gryluxx the Keeper of Secrets. Including those of Seraphix! I am… are you even wearing clothes? 

Christopher looks down at himself. For a moment he’s completely naked. 

Christopher: Sorry about that. 

He closes his eyes. The tunic and trousers reappear. 

Gryluxx: (rolling his eyes) Surely a godling like yourself can do better than that!

Christopher: My godhood has always been debatable. 

Gryluxx: It’s not just debatable. It’s non-existent. You’re a shadow, a sprite, a demon whom a group of greedy fools decided to make their god. You don’t need followers. You need a master. 

Christoper: Do I?

Gryluxx: Exactly! I’m a powerful wizard! I also happen to be a good tailor. You’re in need of both.  To guide you, instruct you, and clothe you. 

Christopher: Is that so?

Gryluxx: Don’t take that tone with me, little shadow. You took on the role of not only Happily Ever After, but Seraphix, God of Balance. That’s too much for slender shoulders which could fade away at any moment. 

Christopher: I didn’t know Seraphix was the God of Balance. 

Gryluxx: See? What were thinking, playing the part of a god you knew nothing about?

Christopher: (rubbing his eyes) I wasn’t playing. I was in a temple. I was caught by Dyvian. He hailed me as Seraphix. As did a lot of other people. 

Gryluxx: Not me.

Christopher: (blinks) No, not you. You and Damian were accused of being unbelievers. Or was it you and Leiwell? It’s like a dream I can barely remember. 

Gryluxx: It’s part of the scribbler’s story she’s written. Your story. 

Christoper: Are we giving away a spoiler? 

Gryluxx: Given how strange our story is, I don’t see how we can spoil anything. (shakes his head) You were carrying a rock which you planned to hatch, like an egg! 

Christopher lifted the stone hanging from his neck and studies it, raising an eyebrow. 

Gryluxx: Not that rock. You claimed Leiwell’s brothers would be born from it. 

Christopher: (frowns) Danyel and Tayel…yes. 

Gryluxx: The mythic shenanigans you godlings get up to in the shadows! Carrying babies in your thigh, inside a stone, it’s beyond bizarre. 

Christopher: I thought how children were born in many worlds was a bit strange.

Gryluxx: Bah! You’re talking nonsense. There’s nothing strange about birth. The only strange thing is that too often women are the ones that give birth and women are plain weird.

Christopher: You think so?

Gryluxx: I know so! They’re always smiling at you in a vacant way, pretending they’re not talking to people who don’t exist.  

Christopher: (blinks) Really? I haven’t noticed that. (considers) Well, maybe our scribbler does.

(I look up from my keyboard, feeling a bit miffed.)

Gryluxx: Not her! I’m talking about my wife! (He turns his glower on Christopher.) Why am I talking about my wife?

Christopher: (bemused) I don’t know. Why?

Gryluxx: You’re a lot like her, you know?  (gives Christopher another fierce glower) Look at the way we’ve wandered off topic. You need a master, little shadow. All you do is wander around. And here you are with yet another stone. 

Christopher: Yes. (He strokes the pendant. Blue, green, purple, and pink glow faintly.) I can see Danyel and Tayel running through the garden. Damian sitting there painting. (He withdraws his fingers.) They’re gone. I guess it’s only when I touch it. 

Gryluxx: Like and unlike the stone you carried before. It may have traces of the twins and Damian within it. Maybe other people as well. Your own former selves. (A greedy glint enters his eyes.) Give it to me. I’ll make proper use of it. 

Gryluxx makes a snatch for the pendant, trying to tear it from Christopher’s neck. 

Christopher steps back, putting a protective hand over the stone. 

Christopher: It was a gift for me. I’m sure of that, even if I’m not sure how I came by it. 

Gryluxx: Let me have it. Let me touch it. I’ll find out. I’ll find out all its secrets. 

Christopher: (backing up another step) Just what are you up to? Why are you so interested in this pendant? 

Gryluxx: It’s connected to people close to you. It’s connected to you, little shadow, the demon who plays godling. That makes it interesting, even if you’re not a god. You’re meant to be controlled. Your possessions are meant to be controlled. 

Christopher: You think you’re the one to do it?

Gryluxx: Paul is a fool. Peter is too intoxicated with passion to wield you properly. Gabrielle is too bound by her own rules. Dyvian is a slave to his obsession, no longer how lordly he pretends to be. Jupitre and Juno are feeble ghosts of what they once were. The other Followers of Seraphix are too weak to count, even that spawn of Duessa’s. 

Christopher: And Duessa herself? What about Damian? You can’t accuse them of being weak. 

Gryluxx: A couple of spiders, spinning their webs. I’m a bird as is Peter. Spiders are our prey, no matter how much he might play the gallant fly. 

Christopher: Is that what you think Peter is doing? Playing?

Gryluxx: Oh, he’s always playing. That’s why he got attached to you.

Christopher: And you. 

Gryluxx: I’m no longer bound by Paul’s heart, even if I stole a feather from his wings. (lifting his chin) I hav my own goals.

Christopher: And what might they be?

Gryluxx: That’s for me to know, little shadow. (He wags a finger reprovingly at Christopher.) Dreamy-eyed demons shouldn’t question their masters.

Christopher: You’re not my master.

Gryluxx: Oh, yes, I am! I’m binding you. You obey me now!

He steps forward, waggling his fingers in a menacing way. There’s a puff of pink smoke around his head. 

Gryluxx: (coughing, waving it away) Bleah! Wrong color! Any way you’re mine! Kneel before me!

Christopher just looks at him, looking like he’s caught between amusement and annoyance. 

Gryluxx: Why aren’t you kneeling?

Christopher: I don’t wish to. I’m not yours, Gryluxx. If you ask something of me, I might do it, but trying to bind me and force me to obey you is just rude.

Gryluxx: It. is. not. rude! (chest puffs up in outrage) This is how wizards have bound demons for ages!

Christopher: Maybe I’m not a demon. 

Gryluxx: Oh, yes, you are! (He stabs a finger at Christopher.)

Christopher: Maybe you’re not a wizard.

Gryluxx: How dare you! I told you, I’m a great and powerful wizard!

Christopher: Maybe the spell just doesn’t work on me. (He starts to fade.)

Gryluxx: Wait, where are you going? (He brandishes his medallion.) I’m a Follower of Seraphix! If you’re truly the god Seraphix, you have to do what I wish or I won’t believe in you!

Christopher: (right before vanishing completely) I didn’t think you did.

Gryluxx: Oh, I see. This is a test of faith, isn’t it? You’re testing me. You’re punishing me for not believing in you. Well, you won’t get away with this, godling!  I’ll find you! I’ll catch you! If not you, I’ll get your so-called Eyes and Hand! Not to mention your Voice!

Nobody in the Forest answers. The path remains empty. 

Gryluxx: Maybe I believe in you a little. Come on, that has to count for something if you’re a godling. Right? Come back. Talk to me. I’ll even let you fondle my medallion. Come on, don’t be so uptight! Forgive your wayward follower and return to me. Please?

Nothing but the faint snicker of the shadows whispering in the breeze answers. 

Secondary Characters Speak Out: Quartz and Vanessa

Quartz dreams, dreams of slipping out of his body to toddle off into the mists waiting for him in the Forest of Tears. The shadowy haze swallows everything, including himself.

Quartz: Huh. Guess this what it’s like for Christopher.

He reaches out, only to feel tendrils of silken thread wrapping around his arms and legs. He’s lifted off his feet. 

Quartz: Oi! Let go!

Vanessa: What ugly male voice dares to invade the Gardens of Arachne?

Quartz blinks, sees the haze clear to reveal a woman wearing a loose lavender gown, her raven hair ripping down her black, caught in twists of silver, falling around her four…arms? 

Yes. She has four arms. One points a finger at him, another gestures in what might be arcane symbols. The third and fourth are clenched in fists. 

Quartz: Quartz, if we haven’t met before. We may have, even if we don’t remember. 

Vanessa: Your wits may be fuddled, but mine are not. You have the uninvited honor of looking upon an arachnocrat. The Lady Vanessa Ashelocke. 

Quartz: You’re the one that caught me in your web…lady.

Vanesss fixed angry rose-purple eyes upon him while a fold of flesh under each opens, revealing that a third and fourth eye, filled with blazing white light. 

Quartz: (swallows and mutters) Not good.

Vanessa: No, it’s not, you hideous little man. Any of your kind caught in the Gardens are devoured and destroyed. 

Quartz: Hope by my kind, you mean men. Because I’m not.

Vanessa: (scowling, looking him up and down) Not a man? You look far too much like one. The sight of you brings back bad memories. 

Quartz: Erm, sorry about that. The bad memories, that is. Not my looks. Not sure why you think I’m similar to a man. Got a better beard than any ruddy man. I’m a dwarf.

Vanessa: A dwarf?

Quartz: That’s right. We’re not human, no matter what any human might think.

Vanessa: Human? Are you suggesting that I’m a human? How dare you!

Quartz: Not trying to be daring. Just being honest.

Vanessa: I already told you I was an arachnocrat! These are my…our…gardens you’re trespassing in!

Quartz: How many times do I have to say sorry? (He tries to move, but the webs hold him fast.) Right. I’ll say it again. Didn’t mean to trespass. I was dreaming.

Vanessa: (sniffing) These are the Gardens of Arachne, not the Shadow Forest. Dreamers have no business here. You shouldn’t be here. Unless…

She pauses for a moment, looking down at her four hands, the hedge before her where Quartz hangs in an opening. Some of the flowers are floating in the air. 

Quartz: Unless? 

Vanessa: Unless I’m the one dreaming. (She groans, dropping all four of her hands.) Unless I somehow summoned you the way I summoned Christopher. 

Quartz: Christopher was here? 

He looks beyond Vanessa at the floating flowers, the rose petals drifting in the air, the faint sound of boyish laughter, high and sweet. One of those voices could have been Christopher’s. 

Quartz: Right. Course he was. Grew up here, didn’t he?

Vanessa: You know Christopher. That hardly seems possible. 

Quartz: You know him. Spends lots of time in the Shadow Forest. Hardly possible happens there, to hear him talk. He and I share a Cauldron. Or a blog. Same thing, really. 

Vanessa: Blog? Cauldron? Sounds like a load of nonsense.

Quartz: Right. We’re in the Cauldron now. Didn’t you know?

Vanessa: (sniffs) If I was in a cauldron, I’d know it. 

Quartz: Maybe not. 

Vanessa: And just what you implying?

Quartz: Nothing. Look, according to you, I’m a dream. You’re dreaming. You brought me here. This means you wanted to talk to me. 

Vanessa: Why would I want to talk to you?

Quartz: You tell me. 

Vanessa: I seem to recall having a similar dream about Christopher. (Her cheeks color.) What would I possibly wish to say to you that I couldn’t say to my own brother?

Quartz: Your brother, huh? Wouldn’t have guessed. 

Vanessa: We’re not related by blood, but yes, he was raised as my brother. Quit avoiding my question. 

Quartz: Not avoiding it, but you’re the one who needs to answer.

Vanessa: Impudent little dream. You claim you’re not a man, but you have a man’s arrogance. Especially in claiming I brought you.

Quartz: Not sure how else I could come if this is my dream.

Vanessa: You could be an imp, a hobgoblin sent to vex me. Did Damian send you? (She sounds almost hopeful.)

Quartz: If he did, he didn’t tell me.

Vanessa: He wouldn’t. (She smiles a bit sadly.) I suppose there things I can’t talk to Christopher about. I called him my brother, but he wasn’t really mine. Any more than Damian. She took him away from me just as she took Stefan. 

Quartz: She?

Vanessa: Duessa. She takes everything from me.

Quartz: Beginning to remember you. Think we’ve talked about Duessa unless I’m mixing you up with someone else. 

Vanessa: (frowning) Anyway this isn’t what I wanted to talk about. 

Quartz: Right.

Vanessa: There’s nothing right about this. Not these gardens, nor your presence in them. It’s supposd to be perfect.

Quartz: Perfect, huh? There’s a short supply of that going around. If any. 

Vanessa: I’ve strived for perfection my entire life and I’ve failed to find it. All I’ve found is what’s wrong. 

Quartz: Stands out, what’s wrong. Particularly if you want perfection. 

Vanessa: True. And you know what’s wrong? Christopher. 

Quartz: How so?

Vanessa: He appeared as a ghost, a shadow of his former self. If he’d attacked me, draining my memories or strength, it would have made sense. 

Quartz: Guessing he didn’t. 

Vanessa: He was kind, compassionate.

Quartz: Often is. It can get a bit annoying. 

Vanessa: It’s worse than annoying. How can be like that? When Stefan gave me to his friend, I wanted to rip them both apart! How can he forgive me for giving him to Duessa? For letting her take him as her Marriage Feast? 

Quartz: This Stefan owned you? And you owned Christopher?

Vanessa: Stefan was my older brother and lord of the tower. He could give me to whomever he wished. No matter how much I hated it. Now I’m an arachnocrat. No one can give me to anyone. 

Quartz: You could give Christopher to Duessa. If I’m following right. 

Vanessa: He was a boy. I was his older sister, an Ashelocke, and an arachnocrat. Not that I could refuse Duessa anything. She’s the guardian of the Gardens, the first arachnocat of Arachne. What she wants, she gets. 

Quartz: What about what you want? 

Vanessa: Second to what she wants. Always has been. 

Quartz: Sounds like a secondary character. (He scowls.) You feel like forgiving these fools?

Vanessa: What fools?

Quartz: Duessa. This Stefan, your brother. His friend. 

Vanessa: No! I’ll never forgive any of them! I’m a monster because of them! 

Quartz: How so?

Vanessa: The only way to escape Stefan and Redcrysse was to become a monster with Duessa. To help the Gardens grow. They were supposed to keep us safe. 

Quartz winces, thinking of the mountain kingdom he and his brothers fled from. That was supposed to be safe, but the other dwarves were dragging everyone into their fights over treasure. They’d escaped to another mountain, only to find it occupied by a dragon. They’d taken refuge in a cottage in the Forest of Tears. The cottage was supposed to be safe, but Quartz had been forced to bargain with a kobold to get it. 

Quartz: Any place safe is hard to find, even harder to keep. Too often you have to give something up to get it.

Vanessa: (swallowing and raising her chin) Don’t think I regret my choice, for all my…misgivings. Arachnocrats may be monsters, but we’re kinder to the boys we feed on than men ever were to us. We treat our victims, no, Marrage Feasts better than we were treated. 

Quartz: Maybe that’s why. 

Vanessa: Why what?

Quartz: Why Christopher can forgive you. If you treated him better than you were treated, maybe there’s less to forgive. 

Vanessa: Christoper was devoured. I’m still here. 

Quartz: Aye. (He thinks of a girl, sleeping in the crystal coffin he now occupies. How lost, how lonely he felt, trying to waken her, until he finally succeeded.) Sometimes the worst thing you can do is hurt someone, forcing them to carry on. 

Vanessa: No. I don’t believe that.

Quartz: No?

Vanessa opens her third and fourth eyes, revealing the brilliant whites, shining like tiny stars without iris or pupil.

Vanessa: I’m alive. Where there’s life, there’s power. Power to work change in the world, even if it’s a tiny change. No matter how long it takes. 

Imprisoned dwarf and arachnocrat gaze at each other. Quartz blinks slowly. 

Quartz: Aye. Aye, that’s true. (He gazes at Vanessa.) Thank’ee, Lady Van. Seems I needed to listen as much as you needed to talk. 

Vanessa: Don’t call me Lady Van. I don’t know why you’re thanking me. You’re still caught in our webs. 

Quartz: Am I?

He grins, feeling himself fade away, slipping out of the strands. Slipping into another dream. 

Vanessa watches him disappear, leaving an empty space in the hedge. 

Vanessa: I’ve been having such odd dreams of late. Too odd. Maybe it’s something in the air. 

She turns to stride in the opposite direction, oblivious to the Gardens or her own body fading away, vanishing into the rising mist. 

Conversations with Christopher: Vanessa Part 2

For a moment Christoper just gazes at the arachnocrat who was his sister. A breeze shakes the roses, making the petals take flight, escaping on the wind. 

Some of them circle him only to wither and fall from the air at his feet. 

Christopher: I thought I was your brother.

Vanessa smiles at this, gazing at the fallen petals at his feet. 

Vanessa: How alike you are, the brother of my blood and the brother of my heart. Why must you crush the flowers with your passion? Even when we raise you to be a flower yourself, delicate and gentle? Why do you come back to haunt us, cast your shadow over everything we grow?

Christopher: Is that what he did? Stefan Ashelocke?

Vanessa: He’s the reason our garden grows. To creep up the walls of the tower. To soften and give beauty to the hard, unfeeling stone. 

Christopher: You’re speaking in riddles. I thought you preferred less ambiguous words. 

Vanessa: How is this for clarity? You, Christopher, were someone I could love and cherish without an arachnocrat’s hunger or a woman’s fear. 

Christopher: As opposed to Lord Stefan?

Vanessa: That’s right. He was always Lord Stefan. Never just Stefan. Even to Duessa and Dyvian, he was always the lord. The darkness creeping in and claiming them.

Christopher: And you? What was Lord Stefan, I mean Stefan Ashelocke to you?

Vanessa: Oh, he already owned me, heart and soul. I was just a young female extension of him. To both Stefan and his crude friends. 

Christopher: Friends? 

Vanessa: Sir Redcrysse and Una. They were the ones who brought Dyvian to Stefan as a gift. 

Christopher: A gift?

Vanessa: It’s what men outside the Gardens do. Own people, give them to others. It’s what women like Una accept and watch. Laughing, looking down their long noses, certain it will never happen to them. 

Christopher: What?

Vanessa: Being given away. Being treated as an object. Being laughed at as if your pain was nothing. 

Christopher shivers. Memories, a thousand memories lapped up in the Shadow Forest burst into bitter sharpness upon his tongue, accompanied by the sound of laughter. Sometimes rough and coarse. Sometimes high-pitched, a dismissive sneer in each syllable. Always cruel. 

No wonder so many wished to let go of those particular memories, leave them for the shadows. He wishes he could get the taste of them off his tongue. 

Vanessa: Redcrysse and Una loved to laugh at other people. They encouraged Stefan to do the same. 

Christopher: Did he?

Vanessa: Sometimes. He often smiled. Or smirked. (She balled her hands into fists.) How long I longed to wipe that smirk off their faces!

Christopher: Did you?

Vanessa: Duessa did. For that reason if nothing else, I admire her. She felled the tower and raised the gardens. She clipped Una’s wings and drained Redcrysse of his brutality. 

Christopher: And made Stefan the first Marriage Feast. 

Vanessa: If Duessa hadn’t taken him, he would have taken her. She was far more gentle with him than she should have been. Gentler with all of them. 

Christopher: I’ve seen Una, a starved faerie with shredded wings. She mutters constantly about how cruel Duessa was and is. 

Vanessa: Ungrateful wretch. I would have been far more cruel. Una forgets her own past cruelties in her self-pity. 

Christopher: Like laughing at people. 

Vanessa: Like stripping them of their dignity and encouraging others to do so. Like Dyvian. Like me. 

Christopher: You said Stefan gave you to Una? Or Redcrysse?

Vanessa: (closing all four eyelids) I’ll never forgive him. Or Duessa.

Christopher: Duessa? I thought you were defending what she did to Stefan, Una, and Redcrysse. Whatever that was. 

Vanessa: Redcyrsse became one of her valentines, danging from Duessa’s web, drained of his vitality without gaining the gift of eternal beauty. His torment is eternal, yet she was far too merciful. 

Christopher: What would you have done?

Vanessa: Made him suffer as he made me suffer. As he made Dyvian suffer. Draining him is a gentle punishment, but Duessa always tried to be gentler than her enemies. 

Christopher: Gentler?

Vanessa: You’ve experienced the delight of being Feasted upon. By her. It’s more than Redcrysse deserves. 

Christopher: What did he deserve?

Vanessa: To feel like he’s nothing but an object. A forgettable object to be used and discarded. To wish he was anywhere but in the web. A blissful swoon is too good for him. 

Christopher: You want him to suffer.

Vanessa: I suffer still every time I think of him. Remembering his eyes, his touch, his laughter. Why shouldn’t he do the same? Why should a monster like him escape from fear?

Christopher: Perhaps he hasn’t.

Vanessa: Oh, but he has. He’s in the web. He’s been drained. He’s too weak to suffer.

Christopher: Would you want him to be strong again? Strong enough to hurt someone else?

Vanessa opens her hands. She moves her fingers, allowing them to dance in an intricate pattern, a gesture of warning. A spell of words. 

Christopher can read the spell, the message. It’s one everyone in the Gardens learn.

Protect us from the cruelty of men. May we rise above their dominance. May we rise above their shadows. 

Vanessa: I have two extra hands to cast spells with. They should be twice as strong, my spells. Why can’t I ward the monsters away? Why are the roses dying?

A few black spots appear on the petals of the flowers nearby. Just a few, but Christopher recognizes the withering. 

Christopher: Perhaps you can’t escape from the shadow of your past self. Perhaps she’s here, haunting you now. 

Vanessa: Haunting me with her helplessness. How I hate her. 

Christopher: Why?

Vanessa: She wasn’t monster enough to eat the monster who hurt her. 

Christopher: Would that help? Would eating the monster make him go away? Make them all go away?

Vanessa: It should. (She begins to cry.) It should. Why doesn’t it work?

Christopher doesn’t answer. He just takes a step closer to her, a hesitant step. 

She doesn’t react, doesn’t even seem to see him. She just continues to cry.

Gently, very gently he puts his arms around her. 

For a moment she stiffens. Right before all four of her arms enfold him, holding him tight. 

They don’t say anything. They just stand there as if the wind picks up, sending the petals flying around them as everything dissolves.

After all they were just shadows. 

Secondary Characters Speak Out: Map

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.

Map: Often. 

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? 

Map: No. 

#QueerBlogWed: Just a Dream

On June 8, P.T. Wyant posted at a Wednesday Words prompt involving beans, a gate falling of its hinges and a star.

This Tale of the Navel, Tale of Omphalos, a freebie story for The Hand and the Eye of the Tower was the result…

The beans had climed over a gate falling off its hinges. 

As long as I’d been in Omphalos, that gate had been in a state in disrepair. Never more so now. 

“Does anyone ever harvest those beans?” I didn’t look at my companion. Instead I stared at the star in the sky. 

It shone with a reproachful brightness which reminded me of Tayel’s eyes. How aggrieved he’d be if he knew I was sneaking around with his precious twin. Even if it was just in a dream. 

“Map gathers them. She makes a soup or a stew with these beans.” I could hear the slight hitch in Danyel’s breath, feel his shy gaze. “She doesn’t like to use meat.”

“No, she doesn’t.” I let out a sigh, imagining Map’s furrowed brow at the notion of any living creature having to die to feed another. “She will, though.”

Just because she didn’t like to eat meat didn’t mean she wouldn’t eat it. Or try to feed it to others. 

“Christopher.” Danyel’s small hand tugged at mine. “I’m dreaming of you, aren’t I? Why do I always dream of you, but I can never remember you when I wake up?”

I turned, allowing myself to look at his upturned button nose, the curl of silvery golden hair falling over his forehead. Luminous violet-blue eyes too big for his face gleamed with reflected starlight, mixing with the heartfelt question shining back at me. 

In an unguard moment, I told him the truth. 

“Because I’m selfish. I shouldn’t be talking to you, but I can’t stay away.” I tried to smile. “I’m lonely. I’m only like my former self when I’m with you in a dream.”

“Why?” He tugged at my hand again. “Why can’t you come see me…us…when you’re awake? Why do you hide in a dream?”

“Your brother doesn’t want me anywhere near you.” I pressed his hand with my fingers, delighting in being a physical person again. The price, however, was too high to do this anywhere than in a dream. “He’s right to be protective of you. He’s right to be worried.”

“Why?” He repeated his favorite word, the one he pestered all of his loved ones with in the manner of determined innocents. “Why should he worry about you? You wouldn’t hurt me. Would you?”

I turned away, allowing myself to dissolve into the mists, leaving him to gaze at a damaged gate covered with beans. 

Soon Danyel would be waking up. Soon he’d find himself lying next to Tayel, wondering what happened. 

Tayel would guess exactly what happened. He’d be hurt, worried, and upset with me. Sensing the danger, the truth of me, yet unwilling to name it. 

I was always with them, watching over them, even if it wasn’t as a living person. I was waiting for Danyel and Tayel, even though I hoped they’d keep away. 

I was getting too hungry and lonely to be careful. I’d given up too much of myself to bring Danyel and Tayel into the existence. To let them go, beyond the Door, to find a life as real as the one Damian had given me.

Part of me would always want them back. Part of me counted on them returning to me. 

The other part of me dreaded that reunion. Dreaded what might happen, what I might do when I met the twins in the waking world. 

Danyel was getting more and more persistent about seeking me out in his dreams. He seemed to want to find me as much as I wanted to be found. 

Tayel was afraid of me. Afraid of what I’d do to him, to both of the twins, but particularly to Danyel. Afraid I could take away everything he held dear. 

Alas, I could. This was part of the reason I dreaded meeting the twins in the flesh. Why I contented myself with glimpses in dreams and visions. Watching them through walls of stone. 

They were curious. They couldn’t help but wonder. Not even Tayel, no matter how hard he tried not to. 

Peter had once accused me of being entirely too irresistible. Of invoking a passion to get closer to me which bordered on madness. 

I hadn’t believed him. To accept such a thing was both vanity and undeserved. 

Seeing Danyel’s eyes shine at me made me worry. Just what had I kindled in this innocent life I’d created?

I feared we were both going to find out. 

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