As Christopher walks, green mist rises beneath his feet. Obscuring his way, surrounding him, muttering with many a voice.
Mine, mine, everything, all of her shall be mine.
Fairest of them all. Cannot let her take over my heart. Cannot let her escape.
Lose myself in my own reflection. Desire only the woman in the mirror. Make everyone else desire her as well. Perhaps I’ll finally believe in her if I do.
Christopher has drank deep of shadows, becoming one of them. Many were once part of a person. A vanity or a sorrow which was deliberately dropped on the other side of the Door. He’s heard voices like this before. Private voices meant to be kept to one’s self. Or are they?
All of the voices become one woman’s. Strident and angry, raised to conceal her fear.
Oriana: Who’s there? Come forth. Let me see you.
Christopher finds himself stepping out of the emerald mists to stand between a woman and a mirror.
The woman resembles Princess Rose. Her golden hair pulled on top of her head, to hang in ringlets around a coronet. A gown as green as the mists he escaped from gathers around her bosom to flare out in long, flowing skirts around her body.
Her blue eyes are wide, her pink mouth is open.
Oriana: What manner of creature are you, to manifest from my magic mirror?
Christopher glances back at the glass behind him, surrounded by a silver frame with a pattern of roses and bones. The green mists have retreated beneath its surface.
Christopher: (looking back at her) Oriana?
Oriana: How dare you address your queen thus? Or have you forgotten that I’m the Queen of Dawn and Twilight?
Christopher: You don’t remember me?
Oriana: If a slender boy with the beauty of a girl looked back at me with eyes filled with the changing colors of magic, I would remember him.
Christopher: Err, thank you, Your Majesty? I guess you haven’t met me. I must be meeting an earlier version of you. As I met an earlier version of Princess Blanche.
Oriana: You’ve seen the Princess Blanche? Where is she?
Christopher: She isn’t here at the castle?
Oriana: Not anymore. (She turns so Christopher can no longer see her face.) She ran away. Fleeing from her responsibilities, from everything that she was. (She adds in a much softer tone.) Fleeing from me.
Christopher: You let her go?
Oriana: Certainly not! (She whirls to glare at the boy before her.) I offered her my heart, but she didn’t want it!
Christopher: Didn’t she?
Oriana: (looking away again) I horrify her. Even though everything I’ve ever done has been for her.
Christopher: Has it?
Oriana: No. (Her shoulders slump.) I was told again and again that two women couldn’t be lovers, let alone marry. Especially if one of them was a princess. One day a prince would claim her as his bride. I’d just have to accept it.
Christopher: Did you?
Oriana: I couldn’t bear it! (She covered her face with her hands.) I’ve done everything I could to charm or seduce everyone who stood between us.
Christopher: Did that help?
Oriana: (not lifting her hands) It’s been agony. It’s brought out the cruel side of me.
Oriana: (lowering her hands) Being close to her, yet far away is terrible. Knowing she’s far away, starting a new life is unbearable!
Christopher: Is it really worse?
Oriana: Far worse! I don’t want to share her with anybody! No, there’s no way I’m going to let her run away.
She tore open the lacings of the front of her gown to bare her breast. She plunged her fingers into the fair flesh.
There was no blood. Green smoke poured out of her chest instead as she removed a hard little green apple.
Oriana: Tasteless truth, become a more appetizing lie. Turn red as the false lips I once kissed. Show luscious, red cheeks. Conceal the green poison she sees as my truth until it bathes her tongue, filling her mouth, her entire body.
The green apple grows, filling out to become a shiny red apple, begging anyone who saw it to take a bite. Even Christopher with his fleeting interest in food is tempted.
Oriana: One bite and she’s mine.
Christopher: Are you sure you want to give that to her?
Oriana: As for you, you are nothing but a shadow, whispering my fears and doubts to me. Begone!
Christopher finds himself being sucked back into the green mists, out of Oriana’s presence. The emerald hue slowly fades along with him.
His last thought is she was right about him being a shadow, even though he wasn’t sure if she was right about anything else.
The mists have a greenish gleam as they release Christopher into the clearing, right next to the crystal coffin.
She lay within, a maiden of deceptive youth with skin white as snow, pale as death, lips blood red. Dressed in a gown of purple laced with crimson ribbons, ebon hair loose, a soft pillow for her head.
Her sapphire blue eyes opened, fixing themselves upon Christopher.
His lips form a name, bubbling up from the mists which surrounded him, making up everything surrounding both of them. Blanche.
A tiny frown crinkles the maiden’s smooth brow, showing what she thinks of that name, even if it was once hers. It wasn’t the name Rose gave her.
Blanche: You’re not her.
Christopher: No, I’m not.
Blanche: You’re not him either. It doesn’t matter if you kiss me.
Christopher: No, it doesn’t. Neither of us is truly here.
Blanche: Yet here we are.
She rises from her coffin, floating in the air.
Christopher backs away, giving her space.
Rose petals fly up to surround the resurrected woman, orbiting her in a slow dance.
Christopher: That’s very pretty.
Blanche: Glad you like it. It scared my dwarves.
Christopher: Not all of them.
Blanche: No, not all of them. (Grief darkens her blue eyes, a lonely melancholy.) The one who dared to kiss me dropped dead.
Christopher: Quartz isn’t dead. He’s just sleeping.
Blanche: He might as well be dead. Such a cursed sleep brings neither rest nor peace.
Christopher: What does it bring?
Blanche: Power. Clarity. Magic.
The red petals transform into birds which fly around Blanche, singing sweetly.
She floats down to the ground and extends a finger. One of the birds alights upon it.
For a moment she smiles at the bird, her entire expression softening with a tender expression. Right before a wrinkle ripples through her brow, weathering her entire face. She ages right before Christopher’s eyes.
The birds turn back into petals, including the one perched on the princess’s finger, falling to the forest floor.
Christopher: (looking down at the petals) You haven’t met her yet.
Blanche: Her? (She smiles, a bitter twist of red lips.) I’ve had a big taste of her. It poisoned me.
Christopher: Not Oriana. A different her.
Blanche: (eyes turning dreamlike and distant) Like and unlike her. A maiden with hair of gold and eyes of blue very like hers, yet with a far more innocent and honest heart.
Christopher: A brave heart. One which might surprise you with its boldness.
Blanche: There is much in the world which surprises me. (She turns to look away from Christopher.) The castle I was a princess in has a new royal family. A new princess has just been born.
A slow smile, sweet, seductive, yet terrible spreads across her red lips, trembling slightly upon them.
Blanche: Perhaps I should go pay her my respects. The only respects I have to give.
The former princess spins around in a slow, graceful arc. Green mist rises from the ground, surrounding her, enveloping her. She disappears into an emerald cloud.
Christopher is left alone in a clearing with the crystal coffin.
Christopher: Did I just get Rose cursed? Impossible. Fairest was written long before this blog.
Me: (my disembodied voice coming into the clearing) When in doubt, blame the scribbler. At least there will be a happy ending.
Which there will be. Look for Fairest’s rebirth at Nine Star Press, a release in novel form.
In the meantime, Christopher will walk back into the Forest of Tears, into the mists.
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.
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…
Once I was Xian before We became Serena Jasior. Once I was a fearful servant at the maw of the Serpent, worshipping Her glory. We took some of that terrible glory into Ourselves, uniting the lands in an empire against the Serpent. We became those lands’s Imperatrix, their weapon against Her.
Now We seek weapons, human tools of Our own among the Serpent-Born. We hold them to Our breast even when they may bite Us. We become Xian once more to earn a tender young Serpent Born’s trust when she faces A Suitor’s Challenge. This challenge will devour her before she even steps into the arena to confront what burns within our Stephen’s eyes. She needs Xian to navigate those perils and We need her.
Thus We…I…become Xian again. Remembering what it was like to singular and small. Remembering what it was like to struggle and hope.
It’s both frustrating and intoxicating. It cannot last, yet can anything? We…I…simply hope to build what will endure for as long as it can.
A Portrait Is Worth a Thousand Words. Elizabeth Hartford’s mesmerizes me. Never have I forgotten the first time I met her painted gaze. It has haunted me ever since, whispering to me in my dreams. I found every scrap of writing Elizabeth consigned to paper as well as the journals of Judith Cross; Elizabeth’s lover and the artist who captured her on canvas. Yuri, Judith’s descendent has helped me find these. I’m convinced Elizabeth is calling me back, through Fiona, her mortal descendent, reaching out for her female kin. There’s one problem. I may be kin, but I’m not female. Fiona believes I am. What would she do if she knew the truth? Would I still be invited to Hartford Hall? Would a little deception hurt? I want so badly to go and I rather enjoy cross-dressing. Yuri feels I make a very pretty girl and is willing to help me dress the part. I’m more than willing to play gothic heroine in spite of Yuri’s warnings about the fate of such heroines. I just hope I don’t disappoint anyone.
A Suitor’s Challenge will draw my prey out from the ranks of shivering maidens determined to possess this lovely little prince I’ve shaped and molded, helped to climb to power. It’s not my first climb with a partner, oh, no. My enemies sense me slithering in their midst, but they can’t stop me. Only you can do that, my Kyra. Where are you? Have our enemies sought to claim you as I once did? Have you learned as they must learn that you are beyond all of them? Only I can claim and contol you. Once I do, we will reshape this world, feeding upon it as we were always destined to. Don’t try to fight it, Kyra. It’s far more easy to give into the coils of the world serpent, letting Them consume you. Only then will we consume Them in turn.
I’m not sure how The Hand and the Eye of the Tower can help a daughter of Duessa such as myself. Desperate to escape the dreams of the Gardens of Arachne, I’m drawn to temples and tragedy. A Godling for Your Thoughts? Mine is a forbidden fantasy. It has no place in gardens or temple, but perhaps a tower can accomodate it. Not that she’s constrained by walls or crowns. She remains My Tool, My Treasure just as I am hers. Together we shall spin a Web of Inspiration stronger than those woven by many fingers. Certainly stronger than my mother’s. Only then will My Cusps Overfloweth.
I’ve returned from the shadows after hiding deep within a bruised heart, called by The Hand and the Eye of the Tower. A Godling for Your Thoughts? This godling etched me upon a coin, breathing life into me from an image, a thought, a wish. She will always be My Tool, My Treasure even if she thinks I am hers. Too long have we been caught in a Web of Inspiration. It’s time to spin one of my own. Only then will My Cusps Overfloweth. Only then will I truly be alive.
I have no desire to be Stealing Myself From Shadows. Too often my former self comes back to haunt me again and again in many a drinking goblet until I smash her. That doesn’t stop her from coming back. I need a new self, a better self. A woman capable of guiding The Hand and the Eyeof the Tower. A decisive leader who gives A Godling for Your Thoughts? A rare beauty whom could be My Tool, My Treasure. A cunning woman capable of dancing along the strands of a Web of Inspiration. Only when I change will My Cusps Overfloweth. Why can’t I? If Christopher can be reborn, why not me? I feel he’s the key of my own rebirth, for finding my better self. I’ve just got to watch him and be ready for her.