You might say I’m a fusion of different characters. Mel of the Sisters of Seraphis who first appeared in a roleplaying game and was later transferred to the Keep. ‘Lyssa, the villain from another roleplaying game is the forbidden ideal I was to be. Mel is the person I’m usually stuck being, but she’s better than Melyssa Ashelocke.
Yes, that’s my true self, the fusion of these characters. Melyssa Ashelocke, disappointing daughter to Duessa Ashelocke. In a way I’m the opposite of my cousin, Damian. He’s everything my mother desires, but he’s a boy blossoming who must be plucked and savored before he can become a man. Being overfond of him was one of the reasons she let him slip away. Was fondness why she let me slip away, too? Doubt it. I wasn’t much of an arachnocrat. Never had a Marriage Feast, for I hungered far more for the ladies waiting for the blossoms to ripen than for the blossoms themselves. I belonged more at the Temple of Seraphix with my Sisters and my master than I ever did in the Gardens of Arachne.
Yes, that’s the Mel part of me carrying on as a Sister. Devoted in a dopey way to her master, only she betrayed me. Actually I betrayed her first. We betrayed each other and I was destroyed as a result, only to be reborn beyond the Door, finding my way to Omphalos. Finding my way to a new family again which I don’t fit in with at all. I think my new mother just wanted a daughter. I’m not sure why I’m with my father or brother. We can’t stand each other. I’m finding my Sisters again in this place. I may even have found my master. Best of all, I’ve found Seraphix. By becoming a Follower of Seraphix, I can truly become one with my god in a way I’ve never been. I can finally express the part of myself I’ve hidden from the world.
All of this is being explored in Tales of the Navel. I’m trying hard to change, to become the me I’ve always wanted to be. Somehow I can’t get away from Melyssa Ashelocke. She’s always waiting for me along with her mother. Freeing myself from her expectations, her disappointments is a challenge I find hard to face. Only I somehow can’t discard my name. Not completely.
I’ve had many conceptions. I’ve been a troll artist for a roleplaying game. Much of my genesis came from the scibbler when reading about Michelangelo; his affinity with stone, his efforts to free the art he saw trapped in the stone. Some of this concept went to Quartz. Some of it stayed with me. Working with stone, feeling Fidessa’s victims trapped within the rock gave me an idea of what she was up in The Players Are the Thing.
I thought this was our story. Mine and Amberwyne’s. Only it turns out to be just a game a group of lonely, bored girls are playing. Why would anyone play our lives? Why would anyone play with our lives? What sort of monster is capable of such a thing? Except I sometimes catch glimpses of my creatrix. She’s no monster. She’s a frustrated woman trying to express things she cannot. I’m that expression. I’m her creativity given life and voice. I cannot say I’m unhappy with the life and voice I have, for all the danger I encounter.
I’m not sure if she is, which is a waste. She should stop and enjoy life more. Enjoy me more. Here’s hoping she listens when I try to tell her or show here. Here’s hoping the scribbler doesn’t forget The Players Are the Thing. We’ve come too far for her to forget.
Once upon a time there was a picture of a composed and elegant woman in a roleplaying game sourebook. Her name was Fiona.
Our scribbler saw this image. It almost cast a spell upon her imagination, mingling with other impressions of portraits she’d seen in castles and manors in Europe. All of these elements bubbled in the cauldron of her imagination, coming together in the Work in Progess A Portrait Is Worth a Thousand Words.
Needless to say it wasn’t my concept. No, my dead mistress and a ghost of an ancestor, Elizabeth Hartford got to be the elegant woman in the portrait on my family estate’s wall, luring other descendents to their doom.
No, I got to be the crazy caretaker of the haunted house. The woman who wears a white labcoat, but is no scientist. Why not? I find them comfortable, white labt coats. Plus I can just bleach them if they get stained. Everyone gets scared when they see me in that coat with my messed-up tangle of red hair, and my mad eyes. All right, almost everybody. They don’t scare my dead mistress, more’s the pity.
What was I saying? Ah, yes, my conception. I’m the heir to Hartford House, although I’m really just waiting for the rightful heir. My mistress’s chosen vessel. Don’t ask me what that means. The less I know about what Lady Elizabeth Hartford wants, the happier I am.
I’m relieved to be a disappointment, really. I wouldn’t want to to be worthy of my mistress’s dreams for the future. They make me shudder. You might say I’m a natural outgrowth of A Portrait Is Worth a Thousand Words’s theme of disillusioned dreams, of fallen idols and ideals. They’re part of our ghost story, why the ghost of Elizabeth Harford cannot rest. Why she’s not letting her descendents rest of either. It’s not like this ghost isn’t quite tiresome when she isn’t terrifying with all her demands after death. I’m living proof of this.
Maybe our scribbler is acknowledging the pitfalls awaiting her for attaching such expectations of the name Elizabeth and redheads who remind her in some way of Elizabeth I, along with redheaded matriarchal dynasties. Maybe she’s trying to humanize her ideals through us, the Hartfords. I don’t fully understand the scribbler’s motivations. It’s exhausting enough trying to figure out my mistress’s, let alone my own. You try it sometime.
For my own, the orb will continue where it left off last Saturday in A Symposium in Space…
The orb throbbed in midair, quivering with hungry intensity. “Pausania, I simply must have the two of you at my symposium.” A slight note of menace entered the voice. “Do you truly wish to shun my company? I’m collecting guests exalted enough to impress even one as cynical as yourself.”
“Exalted isn’t how I’d describe your collections.”
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For my own, Pausania will let some of her irritation show in A Symposium in Space. This will go a little over six sentences for clarity’s sake…
“Once again, you’re showing your naiveté, your complete lack of any galactic sensibility.” Pausania glanced upward at the ceiling. Perhaps she was asking the ancient goddesses to give her strength. “There’s only one Agathea. No one else can use her name without incurring a fine as epic as her tragedies.” She smacked her slim hand against her forehead. “Next you’ll be calling life givers women.”
“Huh?” I opened and closed my mouth. “Why would I call women life givers?”
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For my own, Phaedra is about to fan-gasm after hearing the name of Agathea in A Symposium in Space…🙂
I swallowed at hearing her name.
Agathea was one of the wealthiest, most prominent citizens of the Intergalactic Democracy. One who could arrange to have my poems broadcast over the biggest billboards that glowed in major cities on major planets.
“The Agathea?” I asked for clarity. “The third-time winner of the Tragedy award? The one who funds and owns most worlds’ rights to the image of Aphrodite?”
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For mine, Pausania has just made her entrance, irritating Phaedra. Just as Agathea’s orb is irritating her with its presence in A Symposium in Space…
I’d got her that furnishing, saved up my meager pennies from poetry readings and space runs to see that she had something special to adorn her apartment. True, she’d never shown more than a temporary admiration for its beauty, but her casual contempt was like a slap in the face.
“Phaedra has no interest in your shallow attempts to feed on her emotions, Agathea.” Pausania waved a hand at the orb.
“Agathea?” I swallowed at hearing her name.
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Quartz sits on a tree stump in a clearing where the mists of the Cauldron reveal bits and pieces of the Forest of Tears. He’s whitting something, allowing his knife to feel the groves in the wood.
It’s not stone. Still feels good, the knife in his hand. Working with wood. Not sure why.
A tall, thin woman stumbles out of the mists into the clearing. She wears a long gray-green cloak over a gray vest and trousers. Long bangs of short mousy hair fall over her broad forehead. She wrinkles an arched nose, sniffs, trying to keep up an air of unconcerned disdain when she’s clearly uneasy.
Hebe: Who are you? What is this place?
Quartz: (lifting his head from his whittling to look her up and down) Right. You’re from Christopher’s world. Or worlds. Thought this sort of thing would be normal. Guess it’s not.
Hebe: What sort of thing?
Quartz: This. The Cauldron. Cauldron of Eternal Inspiration if you want a mouthful. Way too many words for a blog, but what do you expect from the scribbler?
Hebe: This place is the Cauldron…of Eternal Inspiration? (She draws herself up.) We’re being boiled in some sort of inspiration pot?
Quartz: (snorts) Often enough. Place changes, depending on what we want. Right now it looks more like my world. I’d like to think I was in the Forest of Tears, but I know better.
Hebe: I…see. (She reaches up to touch one of the tear-shaped blossoms hanging from the tree above her head.) Why am I here?
Quartz: You’re a secondary character, right? Stuck in someone else’s story while your own gets forgotten?
Hebe: (She lets out a hissing breath, withdrawing her hand from the tree as if scalded.) You are entirely too easy with getting personal, dwarf.
Quartz: It’s all about personal in this place.
Hebe: That doesn’t explain why out of all the secondary characters you could speak to, you chose me.
Quartz: Got something to say, don’t you? Or maybe something to see.
Hebe turns to face the clearing. A crystal coffin lies in the center, its light reflecting in the sun, illuminating the young woman lying within it. A young woman with a shaggy fall of silvery-golden hair spread out around her head, dressed in the same cloak, vest, and trousers as Hebe.
Quartz: She’s not my Fairest, that girl in the coffin. Nor is she my Fairest’s princess. Figure she’s someone from your world. Someone who needed healing.
Hebe creeps closer to the coffin. She gazes at its occupant as if she were the smitten prince in many a story about maidens sleeping in similar coffins (even if there were glass).
Quartz: Yeah, scribbler, you really messed up the detail of the traditional tale.
Me: (My turn to be a disembodied voice in the clearing) Shut up. It worked out well enough for you, becoming a plot device for Of Cuckoo Clocks and Crystals Coffins.
Quartz: Right. (glances back at Hebe) She likes to do that, just interrupt a conversation. Can see it’s not bothering you.
No, it’s not. Hebe hasn’t taken any notice of Quartz or my voice. She keeps her stormy gray eyes fixed upon the sleeping girl.
Hebe: She’s beautiful. Like Gabrielle, yet not. She’s everything I wanted to be.
Quartz: What, blonde? (He snorts.) Too many ruddy blondes running around in stories if you ask me. Worst of all is the scribbler. Least she’s turning gray.
Hebe doesn’t seem to notice our snarky dialogue. She only has eyes for the maiden lying still against the crystal as if waiting to be wakened. Perhaps she is.
Hebe: She’s different. Untouched by the shadow of my parents, my sublings. She hasn’t lost her place at the family table to some pretty plaything of her father’s. She’s not stuck in some village, compelled to visit the Navel again and again to pick up cups. She’s not driven to smash those cups over and over. Only to return to the Navel, continuing the cycle. Choose a cup and destroy it.
Quartz: Know all that just by looking at her, huh?
Hebe: She’d walk away before she could ever be trapped. Her laughter is too large for a single room. (Hebe has reached the side of the coffin.) She was destined to open Doors.
Quartz: Deciding her destiny as well, eh?
Hebe: Yes, because she’s me. She’s the woman I want to be, the woman I should be. She’s not Hebe.
She leans down over the sleeping maiden, pausing when their lips are inches apart.
Hebe: She’s Ashleigh. My beautiful Ashleigh Beyond the Door.
She touches her lips to the sleeping Ashleigh’s.
Ashleigh opens violet-blue eyes flecked with green, opening her mouth to the kiss. She reaches up to embrace Hebe, but Hebe is already disappearing as if she was a ghost. Disappearing into the mists which come to envelop the coffin.
Ashleigh sits up even as she, the coffin, and the clearing around are swallowed by mist. Only her voice remains.
Ashleigh: Where did I go? I have to find me…
Her voice trails off, leaving Quartz sitting on his stump, watching the mists take everything.
Quartz: Quite the mix of self-love with self-hate. Hope she realizes this clearing was in another world she won’t be finding in her own story…
He disappears along with everything else, still muttering.
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