Conversations with Christopher: Peter

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

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

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

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

Christopher: That’s a new look for you.

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

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

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

Christopher takes a seat in the front row. 

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

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

Christopher: Why is he here?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christopher: It’s true. 

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

Christopher: Maybe you should be. 

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

Christopher: Is that what you think?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christopher: (frowning) How so?

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

Christopher: Scheme?

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

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

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

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

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

Christopher: Are you saying you’re like me?

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

Christopher: Why?

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

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

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

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

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

Christopher: What do you mean?

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

Christopher: Why not?

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

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

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

(To be continued) 

#QueerBlogWed: A Tale of Tayel

On February 2, 2022, P.T. Wyant offered at ptwyant.com a Wednesday Words prompt involving a shadow, a superstition, a tradition.

I do love it whenever she does a prompt involving shadows and nothing too clearly tied in this particular world. (heart) It’s an excuse to head for Omphalos. Any of the versions of Omphalos which you might find behind a Door. Or a place where an Omphalos was or is going to be.

Like the lonely cottage Tayel lives in, trying to pretend things aren’t going to change. Trying to pretend he can’t sense things in the shadows reaching out for him.

He’s not fooling anyone.

Seeing things in the shadows was just superstition.

“From superstition comes tradition.” Map muttered this between her pipe, puffing on it. A faint scent of rose petals, cloves, and something else rose in the air along with a hint of color only Tayel could see. “Bad tradition.”

“What do you mean?” Danyel had to ask. Had to look closely at Map’s tunic, the grayish-green, high collared garment with its half-silver, half-gold clasp of two dragons circling each other. A tunic she always wore over her homespun skirts. 

“You start seeing things in the shadows, you start chanting things to keep them away.” Map fixed her fathomless dark eyes, gleaming out of her weathered face upon Tayel, not Danyel. “Before you know it, it’ll become a prayer. A ritual you use to keep whatever you fear at bay. That prayer will feed your fear.”

Tayel flushed. Map knew. Somehow she knew about the little chant he’d started saying whenever the shadows started to move in the bedroom. Especially when they crept closer to Danyel and himself. 

“Light of the moon

Keep them at bay

Smile bright and broad

Keep the shadows at bay.”

The crescent moon did look like a smile. A slightly mocking grin which might grace a handsome face very like their brother, Leiwell’s. 

“I thought prayers were meant to summon something which would chase away what we fear?” Danyel crossed his arms, gave Map’s clasp a pointed look. “Even if it’s just our own courage?”

“Hah!” Map snorted, removing her pipe. “Your courage doesn’t need to be summoned. It’s already part of yourself. Anything else you might summon is more trouble than he’s worth.”

Tayel swallowed, dropping his head, allowing his hair to fall forward in a wave to shield his expression from scrutiny. 

He’d revealed too much already. He didn’t want Map or even Danyel to guess his fancies about the man in the moon. 

“He?” Danyel leaned forward, intent on that slip. “Is there someone in particular you’re worried we’ll summon, Map?”

“Just be careful.” The problem with pinning your hair up in an untidy bun was Map couldn’t hide her expression. The way her mouth turned down, her gaze shifted away to avoid Danyel’s. “Words have power. You never know you might be listening.”

“We’d know more if you’d tell us.” Danyel wasn’t about to let go of this. “Who might be listening, Map? Who are you afraid of?”

“There’s nothing or no one to be afraid of. Don’t let your imagination run away with you.” Map got up, moving away from the table, turning her back to the twins. 

“Don’t offer my imagination a carrot, encouraging it to run!” Danyel retorted, standing up from the table.

Tayel couldn’t help but giggle. They’d seen a picture of a horse in book recently, a horse with a carrot. How the horse strained after the fat vegetable dangled in front of it. The idea of Danyel’s imagination being that horse, trying to get to that carrot was only too apt. 

“Here I thought I was offering it a stick.” Tayel heard the smile in Map’s voice, even if she didn’t turn around. “Trust you to see it as a carrot. I’m going to bed.”

She trudged across the floor in the direction of her bedroom, never looking back until she’d opened the door. She offered the twins a tired, almost sad smile before shutting the door behind her.

Danyel gazed at the door with an open mouth. “She didn’t even try to pretend she was hiding something.” 

“It’s tiring, holding up a mask when you constantly seek to knock it off.” Tayel shook his head, pushing his hair out of his face. “Map has reasons for not explaining herself.”

“Why did she try to warn us against praying?” Danyel shook his head. “Map was herself part of a religious order. She’s never pretended she wasn’t.”

“Maybe that’s why.” Tayel shifted, glancing at the closed curtains. “Warnings about superstitions becoming traditions soften tragic truths.”

“You know what she meant.” It wasn’t a question. Danyel gazed at him, a troubled frown tugging at his lower lip. “You’re keeping secrets again. From me.”

“Superstitions become traditions. Traditions become a thicket of thorns.” Tayel wouldn’t look at his twin’s pleading face. “We may bleed if we brush our hands against them, but they’ll keep peril out.”

“Or you could stop the superstition from becoming a tradition.” Danyel reached out to take his twin’s hand. “You could tell me what’s making you superstitious. We could face it together.”

Yes. This would be the most direct way to face the problem. Only Tayel was afraid. Not just for himself, but for his brothers. Especially Danyel. 

He didn’t want Danyel to see what lay in the shadows. He didn’t want him to reach out for them, to try to get to know them. 

No, better to keep them away. Even if it meant embracing superstition instead. At least it was just Tayel. 

“Tradition becomes superstition when infused with too much fear.” Tayel shrugged, allowed himself to press his twin’s hands. “Summoning courage may be exactly what I need to do.”

“Do you really need to summon it?” Danyel studied his face intently. “Is there a particular source of courage you need to draw upon? Outside of yourself?”

Tayel cursed himself for being a fool. All this talk of summoning courage had aroused his twin’s curiosity. 

“No.” It wasn’t exactly a lie. “I shouldn’t need to.”

Danyel studied him and nodded slightly. It wasn’t clear if his twin believed him or not. 

Too many things lay unsaid between them. 

Secondary Characters Speak Out: Quartz and Paul

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

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

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

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

Quartz: Right. Now there’s ruddy dragons.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quartz: So which is it?

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

Quartz: Right. And who are you anyway?

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

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

Paul: I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t.

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

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

Quartz: That what you want to talk about?

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

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

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

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

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

Quartz: Aye, from time to time. 

Paul: What does he want with Peter?

Quartz: Why don’t you ask him yourself?

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

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

Paul: Am I wrong?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quartz: Maybe you’re the hopeless dreamer. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paul: I suppose I am. 

Quartz: What are you going to do about it?

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

Quartz: How’re you going to do that?

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

Quartz: Sounds like you’re a shadow yourself. 

Paul doesn’t reply. 

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

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

Quartz: Can’t say it does. 

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

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

Christopher and Peter had better be careful. 

#QueerBlogWed: A Tale of the Navel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hat and bunny disappeared from sight. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paths which Damian could be walking right now. 

Conversations with Christopher: Hebe

Silence falls into the clearing. Shadows gather around Paul’s face, making his eye gleam. He doesn’t bat them away. He parts his lips as if he savors the taste of the darkness as much as it savors him. 

The nearby greenery rustles. Christopher feels eyes watching them, wanting to come closer, to approach the temple and the stream, but whomever is there doesn’t. 

Paul: (closing his eyes and smiling) She cannot enter holy ground. (He swivels his head to look away from Christopher.) Go on. Talk to her. That’s what you do. Isn’t it?

Christopher: (backing away) Yes it is, although I wonder what cannot enter this place while I, whom you’ve called a monster can. 

Paul: You should know the answer to that. If not, go and find out. 

Christopher circles the clearing, giving Paul a wide berth. He plunges into the bushes. 

He is seized by two strong hands, swept within a billowing cloak. 

Hebe: What are you doing, talking to him? Come away at once!

She pulls Christopher through the thicket which is softer than he expected toward a shimmering patch of air. 

He doesn’t resist. He recognizes the rippling the sensation in the air of an opening between worlds, what he calls a Door.

The rippling sensation surrounds them, swallowing them until there are elsewhere. 

Hebe and Christopher stumble into another clearing with a very different temple. Smaller than the green one with the blue roof and golden dragons, yet taller and a completely different design. Open air, supported by four pillars, and a domed roof, a white marble statue graces the center. The statue is of a naked youth who looks very much like Paul.

Christopher: There’s always a statue, isn’t there? At least this one is really a statue. 

Hebe: Of course there’s a statue. He is beautiful, that creature you were speaking with, beautiful and terrible. A legendary beauty, although too few see the terror until it’s too late. 

Christopher: You mean Paul?

Hebe: Is that what he calls himself? (She smiles bitterly.) When he seduced my father and took my position, he had a different name. 

Christopher: He seduced your father?

Hebe: (frowns) Well, that’s what my father says. My mother agrees. She feels he betwitched my father into forgetting me, my family, and his obligations. 

Christopher: You don’t sound convinced. 

Hebe: He said he was kidnapped. That my father turned into a beautiful bird that carried him away. 

Christopher: Do you believe him?

Hebe: It wouldn’t be the first time my father has turned into a bird to seduce someone or ravage them. He got to my mother in that form. 

Christopher: Did he?

Hebe: Personally I think the shower of gold form is more seductive. Who’s going to say no to gold? 

Christopher: Yes, but a shower of it? Particularly if it’s melted down into a molten form which sears you when it touches you. Or if it traps you in a mold, turning you into a statue of gold, unable to speak or move. Slowly killing you in a beautiful, motionless form, or cursing you with eternity within the shell. 

Hebe: You and your sinister view of statues! One would think you had a close encounter with a gorgon. 

Christopher: A gorgon? 

Hebe: Hmm. Snakes for hair. Sometimes immortal, but not always. Even the ones that aren’t immortal retain their power after death. Even if you hack off her head, a gorgon can still turn you to stone just by looking at you.

Christopher: Like and unlike an arachnocrat. She has to do a lot more than look at you to turn you to stone. And she’d need your consent. 

Hebe: Sounds like a more convivial relationship for both the arachnocrat and her victim. More convivial than any you’d have with a gorgon, whether the gorgon wished it or not. 

Christopher: You sound like the Lady Duessa herself.

Hebe: Is she an arachnocat? (She rubs her throat. There’s a petal-shaped scar upon it.)

Christopher: Yes. (He gives the scar a pointed look.) I thought you knew.

Hebe: I’m not sure how much I knew or know. I’m not a statue.

Christopher: You weren’t a Marriage Feast.

Hebe: No. I was feasted upon, but marriage wasn’t offered. 

Christopher: I don’t think the Lady Duessa could have. The Marriage Feast is always a boy, selected by an arachnocrat as her Marriage Feast, something my sister, Vanessa never stopped reminding us of. 

Hebe: Us?

Christopher: (straining to recall something, someone who’s become like the faded part of a dream) Damian, myself…and Melyssa. Yes, Melyssa. How could I forgotten her? I think…(his cheeks color)

Hebe: (raising an eyebrow) You think?

Christopher: I think Melyssa might have asked Vanessa to be her Marriage Feast if ladies could take other ladies, but Van was shocked by the idea. 

Hebe: Shocked and unwilling?

Christopher: I’m not sure. Strange, that such a thing would be shocking, but the Gardens were a strange place. 

Hebe: Yes, strange. Almost as strange as the Tower. 

Christopher: What? What do you know of the Tower? 

Hebe: Never you mind. I wasn’t warning you about the Tower or the Gardens. I was warning you about Ganymeades. 

Christopher: Ganymeades?

Hebe: The one you call Paul.

Christopher: Actually it was Peter who called him Paul. They used to be together. 

Map: What? Our Peter? Our sweet, silly flirt at the Navel had a relationship with that creature?

Christopher: One that’s not over, judging from Paul’s attitude. 

Hebe: Well. First my parents, now Ganymeades. Our Peter has a way of enchanting everyone. 

Christopher: Yes, he does.

Hebe: I’m surprised to hear you agree. You were the only one who seemed immune to his charms. 

Christopher: I’m not immune. I’m just less…responsive to his charms. 

Hebe: I suppose we vary in responsiveness. Peter and Paul, eh? Now that I think about it, they would look lovely together. 

Christopher: (looking at his feet) Yes.

Hebe: I wouldn’t trust that one, if I was Peter. He may have been a victim when he lashed out at the gods after being unwillingly turned into one…

Christopher: Unwillingly?

Hebe: Tricked into tasting the ambrosia in my father’s cup, the way the lady of the underworld was tricked into tasting pomegranate. Only the effects of the drink may not be as everlasting as we thought. Given none of us are what we were. 

Christopher: I see, I think. 

Hebe: I’m not sure how he did it. He had help in stealing my father’s thunder. He might argue he had to do it, to get away from my father and the heavens, but he’s gotten a taste for the hunt. He likes to get close to his victims before he drains them of their power. 

Christopher: I don’t think Paul sees Peter as a victim. You and I, yes. Your parents and the other gods, yes. Not Peter. 

Hebe: I see. We’re monsters, gods and shadows alike. Peter is the fool who just wandered among us. 

Christopher: Is he wrong?

Hebe: No, I fear he’s not. 

Conversations with Christopher: Paul

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christopher: Who are you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paul: You’re saying my Peter needed you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christopher: I might ask you the same thing.

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

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

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

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

Paul: Or a reason he came to you.

Christopher: The same reason he came to you?

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

Christopher: I thought you wouldn’t hurt me. 

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

Christopher: You sound like a monster yourself. 

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

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

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

Christopher: Haven’t you?

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

Paul: Even monsters can care about their victims.

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

Conversations with Christopher: Danyel and Tayel

Two doors appear in the tower wall. One is blue, the other is green.

An eye opens in the first door. It’s violet-blue with green and silver flecks in its iris. 

A hand reaches out of the second door; small, pale, glowing with verdure light. 

Christoper: (shakes his head) Two should become one. You don’t really want to separate.

The doors shimmer, sparkle, and slide together, becoming one large greenish-blue door. The eye winks, fluttering its eyelashes at Christopher. The hand beckons to Christopher.

Christopher leave the bank and wades into the river. He stretches out his arm, offering his own hand.

Christopher: I really shouldn’t be doing this. 

Tayel: (his voice comes through the door) No, you shouldn’t. 

The hand reaches out, becoming an arm covered with a white balloon sleeve. It seizes Christopher, pulling him through the Door (for it is indeed, a Door, a portal to somewhere else), into another place. 

For a brief moment, he feels the cool kiss and touch of shadows, seeing darkness. Light bursts out, shining from a sunlit sky. 

Rose petals are flying, entire flowers are floating. Not just roses. Tulips, carnations, daisies, marigolds. An entire floating garden, rising up as if the air was water and they were sea creatures. 

Christopher looks down to see the small hand holding his, attached to a boy with a heartshaped face framed by tousled silvery-golden waves falling to the shoulders of his green vest. The boy looks at him with large violet-blue eyes almost too big for his face. 

Danyel: (for that’s who the boy is) Should and shouldn’t are overrated, don’t you think?

Another boy who looks exactly like Danyel except for his blue vest and the silvery gleam in his violet-blue eyes scowls.

Tayel: Everything is overrated and underrated when clutched by grasping fingers. 

Christopher: (smiling in spite of Tayel’s scowl) Hello, Danyel. (He presses the fingers entwined with his, reluctant to let go.) Hello, Tayel.

Danyel: Hello, Christopher. We were hoping we’d find you. Or you’d find us. 

Christopher: I’m glad to see you. I’m also curious where we are. 

He breathes in, inhaling the flowers sweet scent. 

Danyel: Beautiful, isn’t it? Like our garden, only the flowers are no longer trapped on the vine. 

Tayel: (looking up) They’ve abandoned the green which nourished them. 

Christopher: Or the flowers have simply let go of the earth. Something they can do in this place. 

Danyel: We’re not sure what this place is. We just found it and brought you here. 

Tayel: Or the flying flowers found us. (He crosses his arms, ducking out of the way of a tulip which comes too close.)

Christopher: (releasing Danyel’s hand with slow reluctance) Want to see something else which can fly?

He moves away from Danyel, gazing at the drifting flowers. He visualizes a serpentine form with rainbow scales, streaking through the air. 

Christopher: Crowne, come out! (He pictures the soft, pearlescent colors, remembering the wonder he felt when he saw the form his power took. How would the twins react?)

Nothing happens. Christopher raises his hands and stars at them. 

Christopher: I guess I have to need Crowne for them to appear. 

Danyel: Who’s Crowne?

Christopher: A rainbow dragon. They manifested when I was with Quartz.

Tayel: (looking curious in spite of himself) Many manifestations are pranks. Especially when jealous kobolds watch. 

Christopher: No, this wasn’t Nimmie Not. This was me. This was part of my power, of myself. Only they’re not coming. 

Danyel walks up to Christopher, closing the distance Christopher put between himself and the twins. He rests a hand upon Christopher’s chest where his heart should be. 

Tayel: Danyel! (He blushes, makes a little movement as if unsure whether or not to stop his twin.)

Danyel pays no attention to his protest. He leans his head closer to Christopher and his hand, listening for something. 

Danyel: Crowne? Are you there? I’ve never met a rainbow dragon. Neither has Tayel.

In spite of himself, Tayel takes several steps closer to Christopher. 

Tayel: I’m sure you’re beautiful. Bringing hope to everyone who sees you. Christopher is too often without hope. He’s probably not sure if you’re real or not. If you’ve ever come out again. 

Danyel: Won’t you come out and meet us? All of us?

Christopher gasps, breathless, feeling a strange shiver of pleasure spasm in his chest, running through his entire body. 

A dragon’s head pokes out of his chest, golden-green with silver whiskers. They butt the boy’s hand, playfully encouraging a scritch. 

Danyel grins and obliges. Tayel lets out a low laugh and claps his hands, eyes shining. 

Christopher: (stares down at the dragon’s head) Like a memory ghost passing through me! Only you can touch it!

Tayel: Them. You’re full of surprises, Christopher, so many, they’re no longer surprising. 

Crowne lets out a purring chuckle like a cat, tinkling wind chimes, and a breeze all at once. They slither out of Christopher’s chest to glide around him. 

Christopher feels that strange, shivery delight again. It makes his eyelids flutter and his lips tremble while he sways on his feet. 

The dragon does a slow, teasing spiral in the air, very close to Christopher and Danyel before streaking over to where Tayel stands. 

Tayel: (who cannot stop smiling for once) Yes, you’re quite the charmer, Crowne. 

The dragon does the same spiral glide around Tayel before flicking out their forked tongue to kiss the boy’s nose. It’s Tayel’s turn to blush. 

Danyel: (it’s his turn to clap his hands) First time I’ve seen you at a loss for words or riddles!

Tayel shrugs, his face still flushed, and bows his head. 

Danyel: Thank you for coming out, Crowne! I’m Danyel and that’s Tayel. (He gestures to his twin.) I’m guessing you already know Christopher quite well. Or are you getting to know him?

Crowne angles through the floating flowers away from Tayel to glide around Danyel once more, flecking his forked tongue out to touch Danyel’s cheek.

Danyel: (it’s his turn to blush) Yes, you are beautiful. I can almost hear music when you move. Wind chimes and Christopher singing in a very low voice. 

Crowne twists, turns, and goes flying back to Christopher, sliding back into his chest, disappearing as if they never were. 

Christopher: Well. (a little breathless) That was Crowne. I hoped they’d come out to meet you.

Danyel: I’m glad you did. Thank you. 

Tayel: Seeing Crowne, seing that part of you gives me hope. 

Christopher finds himself blushing as well, but he nods, raising a hand to press it against his chest. 

Christopher: Me, too. 

Secondary Characters Speak Out: Quartz and Christopher

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quartz: Didn’t you?

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

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

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

Quartz: Think that’s an improvement, eh? 

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

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

Christopher: Perhaps? 

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

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

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

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

Quartz: How?

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

Quartz: Haven’t you done that already?

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

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

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

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

Christopher: You may be right.

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

Christopher: Were you listening to my conversation with Dyvian?

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

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

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

Christopher: I think I do. 

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

Christopher: Huh?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s something. 

Conversations with Christopher: Dyvian Part 4

Doomed. Blessed. Grow. Change. Dyvian’s words linger in the air, echoed by other voices lost in the spray. Christopher can hear Danyel and Tayel’s among them. Damian, too. 

If he listens hard enough, he can hear any voice he wishes to. 

Dyvian rips a foot free of the earth. Spectral briars writhe around his foot, only to vanish. 

Dyvian: Yes, I, too, am both doomed and blessed. (He smiles a savage smile.) I, too, have been forced to change and grow. 

He raises a finger to point it at the waterfall. 

A heavy chill fills the air, gripping everything, but it’s aimed at the cascade. The rush of water slows, stills, grows silent. It sparkles with a pale blue light. A luminscent green spreads across the stillness. The frozen fall becomes opaque as stone. 

The luminescence spreads with tiny hands to the black and white tower on either side. Becoming a bridge that connects them. Forming a wall which invades them. The searing green spreads through the darkness, silencing the screams caught in the ebon rock. It sullies the white stone, stealing its sparkle, replacing it with its own light. 

Christopher: Why did you do that?

Dyvian: Do you really think this was my doing entirely? Just because I pointed a finger?

The opaque light glows, changing the shape of the towers, of what was a waterfall. Light and mist pulse in a cocoon of creation. 

Dyvian lowers his hand. The cocoon falls in glowing strands which take on spider forms and disappear. 

One great tower stands where there were two. Bony fingers reach out of the top, forming a spiky crown, clawing for the sky. 

Christopher: Why must it always have a crown?

Dyvian: It’s a tower’s nature to reach for the heavens. Just as it’s the heavens’s nature to strike the tower down.

The sky overhead darkens in response to Dyvian’s words. 

Christopher: For reaching too high? Or for getting too close?

Dyvian: Yes.

The sky rumbles. 

Christopher: (looking up) Just who are you challenging? Map? Or Jupitre?

Dyvian: Why would I challenge the fallen king of the heavens? The power above was never his.

Christopher: Who’s making the sky rumble? 

Dyvian: Whomever ever feels threatened. Anyone can call down the wrath of the heavens. It’s a lot harder to rebuild than to destory. 

A tear gleams in the corner of Dyvian’s eye as he gazes at the light flashing in the sky. 

Christopher: You know who it is, but you don’t want to say. 

Dyvian: Towers are traps. They lure us into a state fo security, satisfy our craving for stability, especially the foundations. It’s never enough, just to feel secure. We have to keep going up, see how far we can go. 

Christopher: Does this tower satisfy your craving for stability? Or does it represent someone else’s?

Dyvian: (glancing over at Christopher) Spoilers, my dear. 

Mist rises around the man on the bank of the river, a river which stands between him and the tower. Dyvian gathers the mist around himself, throwing it over his shoulders as if it was a cloak. When he does, he disappears. 

Christopher remains on the bank, gazing at the space where Dyvian was before returning his attention to the tower. 

It continues to gleam under a growling sky. 

Conversations with Christopher: Dyvian Part 3

Christopher and Dyvian gaze at each other. Colors drift between them in a misty haze against the backdrop of a fall of water. 

Christopher: You weren’t part of Stealing Myself From Shadows. Not the original draft. 

Dyvian: I came into your world with my entourage, my precious adversaries, my family. You haven’t objected to all of them. You’ve embraced Danyel and Tayel, claiming them as your own, much to my poor Leiwell’s distress. 

Christopher: The twins aren’t your family or your entourage, no matter what you call them. They’re your victims.

Dyvian: They’re less and less my victims with each draft the scribbler writes. 

Christopher: I disagree. Even if they aren’t your victims, Damian is. 

Dyvian: (rolling his eyes) When will you ever learn? Damian Ashelocke is nobody’s victim. He walked willingly into a waiting trap in order to gain his heart’s desire. 

Christopher: It was a trap you set for him to feed your creation in his hungry innocence. 

Dyvian: Interesting. You see Leiwell as innocent. I do as well. To me, Leiwell is as innocent as Danyel and Tayel are. 

Christopher: To me, Leiwell is as innocent as I am. Your trap never would have worked if you hadn’t kept Leiwell hidden, hungry, and waiting to take on the shape you desired. 

Dyvian: You drift too close to spoilers, my dear. 

Christopher: Your trap never would have worked if you hadn’t used Leiwell’s hunger and Damian’s desire. I can see why Danyel regards you as his brother’s personal devil. 

Dyvian: Danyel blames me for everything Leiwell has chosen to do. Much as you blame me for everything Damian has chosen to do. You’re alike in this. As you are in many things.

Christopher: (looking away) Danyel is more innocent than I’ll ever be. I wish for him to stay that way.

Dyvian: You and Leiwell, both. Alas, it’s a wish which can only be granted if Danyel doesn’t grow and change. As all who take on corporeal form are doomed to. 

Christopher: Doomed? Or blessed?

Dyvian: Both. 

(To be continued next Monday)