Monday, September 29, 2008

The Messenger

“Whatever I've been sensing…is nearby,” she said as she danced slowly to the music. Grrbrool Lykin looked thoughtful, peering under the screens in the KTOX DJ booth, watching her. Faye’Li Vidae continued to dance, her hair twinned back and drifting over her shoulders as she began to speak rhythmically.

“I see…teeth without mouths, blackness enveloping every bit of the air around that gets under the skin, the gnashing…and in a hallow dream state…fire, pain. Not only eaten, devoured as they bear witness to the darkest dreams while they wake. Torture...and every torment of the mind...that is hell….”

“Nice definition,” came a low man’s voice from the stairwell. “It's not as bad as people may think, though.”

I danced in time with Faye’Li, turning toward the direction of the voice where a dark-haired demon stood. “Hell,” I murmured, “Where all one’s desires are fulfilled without a thought and nothing satisfies.”

Faye’Li’s eyes closed slightly.

“It is mind…illusion…and reality. And it's on the doorstep of this City.”

“Always has been, I think, Messenger. It’s what is so very wrong with this place,” Grr said, one paw adjusting controls at the booth. Blaze Wiles stood next to Grr, sorting through music, making requests and listening. She nodded her head as Grr spoke.

The dark haired stranger stepped into the room, looking directly at Grr. “Is it?” he murmured.

“I mean, shit,” Grr said, “We're 300 meters from an active volcano, right fuckin now.” I stopped dancing, thinking of the Pit, and walked around behind the DJ booth, wrapping my arms around Grr’s waist but not saying a word. He reached back and embraced me, holding me to his back, swishing his tail on my knees.

Blaze said dryly, “I bet a geologist could give you quite an exhaustive list of ‘bad’ things just regarding that little fact."

Faye’Li seemed to nod, but began speaking in the singsong voice again.

“They seek not the righteous nor the damned, they come for all…and when the gate grows wide enough….”

She rubbed her head and sat down.

“Yes? Go on…..” the stranger said quietly.

“She's a Seer, mate, sometimes there's more, sometimes that’s it,” Grr said watching Faye’Li through the glass.

I looked around Grr’s shoulders to see Fay’Li’s puzzled look. “It ’appened again?” she asked.

Grr sighed. “Yup… clear as a bell, and just as ringin.”

“She's not aware when that happens?” the stranger asked.

“Ya not so far,” Grr replied. “Messenger’s just dispencin wisdom we can’t quite understand yet.” The stranger nodded, looking at Faye’Li closely.

“You saw the devourer, Faye’Li,” I said after a moment.

Faye’Li looked at me with a question then said softly, “I see a darkness dat wants to eat everyting if dats what you mean. Is like da atmosphere is angry.”

“Well,” the dark-haired demon smirked, “That sounds normal around here.”

I turned to him. “The devourer . . . has no desire but to consume. The soul. The spirit. The mind. The heart. Leaving nothing. It is . . . insatiable.”

Blaze frowned, “That sounds disturbingly familiar.”

The stranger glanced at Blaze, “Yes, it does.”

Friday, September 26, 2008

ίππος πυρρός

Joah tosses and turns on her narrow bed, slowly realizing that she is sitting in the dirt, her dress torn, dust covering her hands. She runs her tongue across her cracked and dry bottom lip, looking around, trying to gain focus in the hot, dry night. The sound of the wind whips past her, a spray of dirt peppering her face, stinging. She hears a noise like rumbling thunder, and turns to see it sounds from the feet of a fiery red horse, flying down the path behind her in a cloud of dust, all of a lather and foam with sweat. On its back, hands gripping a greatsword, sits a blood-streaked rider, dark eyes blazing, and auburn hair streaming behind him like the mane on his mount. The sound of many whispers echoes on the wind as the rider thunders past: ίππος πυρρός.

Read Blue's Dream.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

A more equal exchange

I sat staring out the window from my chair, looking quietly at the rain when I heard GrrBrool’s padding steps. I glanced up at the banister, where he stood giving me a canine smile.

“Hello there, Spirit Gal…quiet night?”

“Quiet?” I replied. “No...not exactly. Abi's still missing.”

Grr nodded thoughtfully. “Locked in a punishment realm…some dream realm…or both.”

“What makes you say a punishment realm?” I asked.

“Cages, chains, no eyeballs…sounds pretty punishmenty ta me,” Grr sighed, walking down the stairs to the drawing room. “That and apparently she said it was punishment.”

My eyes widened with surprise. “You've…talked with her?”

Grr shook his head. “No. Blue of all people. Came in and wanted ta help. How’s that fer screwy?”

I couldn’t help smiling, thinking of Blue and our improbable friendship, formed over a shared bottle of vodka. She’d broken more bones and tortured more people than I cared to count…and her blood had poisoned Grr…yet some indefinable bond drew us together. Grr’s eyes sought mine.

“You like her, dontcha?” Grr smiled.

“I do,” I nodded. Thinking again of Abi, I focused my attention on the lycan. “Grr, Severus is going to take us to Abi. He won't take a price,” I murmured. “Lar would give it freely, but he won't take it. He chooses punishment instead. He won't…let us stand with him in that, either. But he will take us.”

Grr wheeled about at my words. “Really? Fuck.” He began scowling. “Fuck. I should just yank her myself…Fuck tha risk.”

“I'm not sure that you can, Grr,” I sighed. “There is…a Magician…” I looked up from my cushion to see Omega suddenly still before the hearth. Her red hair gleamed in the firelight. She stood regally in blood red corset dress, the bodice overlayed with beadwork, and ribbons cinching up her waist.

“Yer Ladyship.” Grr gave a slight bow. I nodded a greeting, relief washing over me at Omega’s arrival. Grr turned back, speaking to me. “I'd not count on that, Spirit Gal.” Grr walks to the Other place, between the planes and among them. I had no doubt he could go after Abi. Whether he would return whole was another matter.

“Grr,” I explained, “The deal with the Lightbringer has been made. The die cast. Severus will be punished whether he goes or not.”

“Well,” sighed Grr, “I guess it’s too late then.”

Omega looked at both of us, smiling evenly. “Hello GrrBrool, Joah…are we still speaking of Severus?”

“Well, tha Little One, actually,” Grr frowned.

Omega turned to face the fire. “One who won't feed, and one who won't stop….”

Grr nodded. “We should mate ‘em.”

“I am not sure who that would be more cruel to, Grrbrool,” Omega replied.

I looked at Omega. “Nor I. Rago would be heartsick. As would Abi. And when she returns…what then? This feeding…I suspect it’s been going on all along. I need to speak with her Father. He warned her of this. Repeatedly.”

Omega frowned. “And what do you think Lorne can do, now?”

“He can explain to me more of her nature, Lady. Perhaps help me to help her…find a more equal exchange for her magicks.”

“I dunno.” Grr padded over and placed one paw on my shoulder. “Can we trust…Lorne?”

Omega nodded her head. “Perhaps in matters of Abi's welfare. Perhaps. Then again, feeding Nareth to the Shadows was hardly in Abi's best interests, was it?”

I looked at the floor. “I…trust him,” I said quietly.

“Well, Joah,” Omega replied, “Lorne has always been completely act in his own interest.”

Grr smiled grimly. “That we can trust.”

“But Legion…” I trailed of.

“It is another matter entirely,” Grr growled. “I don’t trust It. And I don’t understand it.”

I said nothing for a moment and continued to stare at the floor. “She helped me…with Nareth’s blade, Grr. And She helped me…leave the fear behind.” I sighed. “I don't understand Her either, Grr. But….” I was lost for words.

“Joah,” Omega began, “Legion gave me the Eden Soil. It enabled me to save Nareth, to make her my Childe. Without it, Nareth would have died…but like all of Legion's has come at a price. Legion does not give from kindness. And all her gifts have a price.”

“I didn’t say It wasn't powerful, Spirit Gal,” Grr said gently.

“But if She…or Lorne…are able to help, Abi….” I stammered.

Grr sighed and pinched his muzzle. “Why can’t we ever have nice things?”

His comment confused me. “Nice…things?” I asked.

“Errr, old sayin, Spirit Gal,” Grr replied. “We should do this on our own.”

ίππος λευκός

I was lying on a cushion reading, the fire warm at my back, and drowsing a little when the temperature in the library dropped noticeably and Legion stepped to lean against the pillar supporting the stairs to the attic. I gazed at her impossibly smooth pale skin, drawn to the darkness of Her eyevoids. As I looked, the central pillar of the Library began to twist and spread, leafless branches shooting upward from a gnarled trunk. “Legion?” I whispered, but She said nothing, her head nodding to on side, motioning. I followed the tilt of her head and saw a suit of gleaming armor. It was almost white, the light glinted from it so fiercely. A white horse stood next to it, its eyes red and staring. His head was held up, his mouth closed, and a snorting sound came from his flared nostrils as if checking for danger. As I focused on the armor, the sights in the visor opened, revealing nothing within. A stream of beetles poured out. They swirled, moved by an unseen whirlwind, slowly forming into the shape of a man in white clothing. He wore a bow but carried no arrows. He looked at me, his face impassive, and turned to mount the steed beside him, a pale rider on a pale horse. I heard the words, “ίππος λευκός” uttered in many whispering voices. The wind whipped the rider’s robes and then he was no more, man and horse dissolving in a mist.

Read Blue's Dream.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Delight in Disorder

Joah sits by the fire, legs tucked beneath her on the golden cushion she favors. She tries to concentrate on the book of poems in her lap, but images and scents flood her memory, Grr smiling as he unlaces her mud-spattered boots….

A sweet disorder in the dress
Kindles in clothes a wantonness:
A lawn about the shoulders thrown
Into a fine distraction:
An erring lace, which here and there
Enthralls the crimson stomacher:
A cuff neglectful, and thereby
Ribbands to flow confusedly:
A winning wave (deserving note)
In the tempestuous petticoat:
A careless shoe-string, in whose tie
I see a wild civility:
Do more bewitch me, than when art
Is too precise in every part.

Robert Herrick


I stood in the doorway of the Haven, gazing at the crowd and taking in the smells of smoke and the beer soaked floor. Seeing Grr behind the glass of the DJ booth and Omega dancing, I made my way in their direction toward the circular booth and tables in the back, nodding a greeting but not speaking. I was bone weary and tired of thinking. I could see Grr looking me over carefully from where from where he stood, his head lolling from side to side.

“Dance with me, Joah?” Omega smiled.

I lowered my head for a moment, my hand to my forehead somewhat torn. I knew Omega’s arms could only be, at best, fleeting comfort for the crushing sense of loss that I felt. All I could think of was Nareth and Aunt Beast, Bella’s words echoing in my mind. The ache and the desire for what was lost was physically painful to me.

My hesitation did not go unnoticed by Omega. “If you’d rather sit? You look tired, M’dear….” Grr pulled off his headset and chucked it on the counter, then hopped over the booth to pull a chair out for me. Omega grinned. “Sit, and keep an eye on that can never tell when he's up to mischief.” Omega’s hips moved in time to the music as she laughed. “Well…you can…he's usually breathing.”

Grr feigned deafness cupping an ear and mouthing "Huuh?" while he pulled back the chair and gestured me to it. I accepted gratefully, sinking down into the cool dark leather as Grr ran a paw warmly over my shoulder. He then looked at his bare wrist where a watch might sit and rushed back to the DJ desk. I settled in, watching Omega glide across the floor, smooth steps in time with the pulse of the music. At a tapping on the glass of the DJ booth I turned, seeing Grr press a note to the pane: “Is yer brain okay?" I gave him a tired smile with a slight nod of my head.

Through the broad, plate glass window fronting the street I could see Severus and Nerissa, her close and almost touching him in the sheeting rain. He didn’t flinch, standing still, pale eyes locked with hers. My gaze shifted back to Omega, watching her easy movements, head dipping and red hair cascading over her shoulders. Leaning back I rested my hands in my lap, opening one gloved palm to release a small ball of flame, which I began to roll absently between my finger and thumb.

"Lady," I looked up, speaking under the noise, "Bella is not dead." Omega cocked her head toward me to listen. “"Bellatrix. She's not dead," I repeated. I continued to roll the ball of flame, through thumb and index finger, then between each finger of my hand. A tinkling, musical sound could be barely heard as it moved.

“Bella?” she asked. “Well, that is an interesting piece of news.”

I nodded. “Earlier, during the party on the beach…I dislike crowds… I was working in the Library, talking to that little self-hating vampire…and…she just walked in. I had thought she was dead.”

Omega smiled. “The age of miracles has not yet past.” I watched as she moved rhythmically, the motion traveling from feet to hands, head to hip. “And did she mention where she's been all this time?”

Grr hopped onto the desk and leaned over the glass. "I’m real sorry I missed it, Spirit Gal, I'd have liked ta whisk ya away."

“Whisk me away?” I smiled.

Grr nodded sagely. “Crowds…not my favourestest thing ever, neither…and…um…things unfinished.” I gazed at his golden eyes for a moment as he opened his mouth, starting to speak, then closing it again his thought left unsaid. He reached with a toe claw, cuing the next track, and then hopped of the desk, appearing to sort through his music with much concentration. I turned back toward Omega.
“She said she’d been away. We talked of so much…I can't quite remember it all. There was a boat….” I frowned in concentration and focused again on the fiery ball in my hand, pitching it up, catching it as came down. I half closed my hand and blew into it, watching as the little ball flared out. "No more the dancers," I whispered to myself.

As the flame flared out, a swirl of crimson and gold arose in the middle and danced above it. I was dimly aware of Grr padding over to hug me around the middle, giving me a gentle head bump. I turned from the flame to Grr, surprised at the suddenness of his affection, though the flame continued to hover over my hand, a crimson and gold bead forming. Grr watched me, a thoughtful expression on his face.

I breathed deeply as the crimson and gold bead spread out into a date palm tree, red branches dripping clusters of golden dates. I remained focused on the flame, watching Omega dance over the top of its flares, the fire of Her hair and clothing melding with the fiery tree in my palm. The branches of the date palm turned up, spreading into crimson wings that elongated into talons.

Grr watched, fixated by the flickering as only children or the not quite human can be. The crimson and gold fanned out and turned in on itself, the outer whorl forming into three crimson sepals and the inner whorl into three golden petals. A fiery orchid shimmered in the air, pulsing as if alive, the red labellum swelling.

I gazed at Omega over and through flames as her hair swayed, lingering on the white throat and the gentle swell of Her breast.
Grr shuddered slightly and let out a low moan as the orchid pulsed and shimmered, opening slightly before dissolving in a shower of sparks. I began to drift to the music.

Omega stopped dancing, turning to look at me then taking a chair beside me. “Interesting trick.” She leaned an elbow on the table, resting her head on a hand. “Would you like to see one of mine?”

I felt adrift, unfocused. Shaking my head as if awakening from a dream, I turned toward Omega. “Yes, Lady. Of course.”

Omega smiled, looking at me intently. “Are you quite sure?” I met her gaze nodding, but she continued to stare at me, waiting for a response.

“Yes, Lady. Please show me.”

“That's yes, then?” Omega continued to smile, eyes trailing up and down, once again, waiting for a response.

“Yes. Please,” I murmured.

The Lady’s grin turned feral. “There we are, not so hard, little one? Thrice. Give me your wrist.” Omega reached out a hand for my wrist, leaning forward on the table, taking it and gently turning it, palm up. She pulled the seam of my glove back, raising my wrist to her lips, smiled, then sank her fangs in.

I gasped, the shock and pain sudden, and surprising. The Lady had never fed from me before. Grr gasped. “The poison…" I choked out, feeling a warm sensation rush through me.

Omega continued to drink from my wrist, closing her eyes. After a moment, she raised her raised her lips, her eyes bright. “One man's poison…is another's says the Bible….” She released my wrist with a sigh and looked directly at me. “I promised you a trick....”

Stretching her hand out towards me, palm up, Omega took a deep, deliberate breath, drawing air in and centering herself. She licked her lips, and smiled, closing her eyes, as her palm trembled slightly and a ball of flame appeared, then and spiraled, taking the form of a phoenix. I felt…pulled…as if connected somehow still to Omega, watching the fiery bird hover above her palm.

Grr muttered, "Tha fire is tha blood, tha blood, tha fire."

"What is it that you know?" I stammered, confused.

Omega opened her eyes. “Thrice given, ought to mind your words….” She smiled as the flame-bird flapped its wings and flew into the ether.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

My Darling Bella

June 25

My Darling Bella,

There is little time now, and I am expected. I would have you know that, in my way, I have cared much for you, though I know I am too poor instrument for the expression of compassion. You know that well enough, as you know that, in all the ages of my life, you are one of the few who has provided me with genuine companionship and in whom I have been able to confide. As the walls of my existence crumble and all my days and faces blur together, I will abide in you one last secret.

I have spoken to you of my games of "tag" plenty enough times, though I know the matter remains largely a mystery to you. I will speak this as plainly as I am able. I have forseen the hour of my undoing, and against that day have I placed a means that I might one day be returned to myself. A means by which the scattered pieces of my being may be reassembled, even when I seem completely beyond recall. When the first of these opportunities presents itself, I believe you will know her, if only by the name we share. She will no doubt speak of her meeting with me, which, of course, was but a meeting with herself.

Many things are hidden to me. But I know that any of those I have touched, any of those displaced in my passing, may serve as the vessel of my rebirth. Only that part of me held by Lorne cannot be easily enough regained. And I may have no true need of that sliver.

Guard the sigil, and the child of Larissa, the phial of blood I have given you, and everything else I have entrusted to you. My Sire may or may not desire my true resurrection. If she does, she and the OI will be a great aid. If not, you must find some other path and not hesitate to follow it.

All is not lost, even knowing the storm that approaches me. I may yet be far more than those who designed me intended, and, also far less. I desire to be no mere gate for the trespass of gods, no machine, and I have seen worlds where I am a mortal woman. From one of these templates might I be rebuilt and my mind restored. She will come to you. I will come to you.

There is no time left to me. The Pit is waiting, and work. I do not regret, for I am not able, but even now I feel your absence.

In Time,

Dearest Sire, My Lady Omega

Bellatrix walks quickly up the stairs from the Library foyer to Omega’s office, each step soundless and urgent. The massive door stands closed before her but she does not hesitate to breach its lock. Placing one hand above it, she takes a breath…and with a pop and click, the workings turn and the door opens. Straight past Omega’s desk she goes, to the mahogany secretary standing flush against the rear wall. She opens the lower desk, studying the arrangement of drawers, doors and slots within it. Her fingers glide over the locked prospect door, she taps…another click and the little door opens revealing two of valanced pigeonholes above a drawer. She slides the drawer open and lifts out a letter that is worn with reading and folded in half.

Dearest Sire, My Lady Omega,

Even now, I will not express sentiments that I do not feel. Not when writing to you of such grave matters. I was born into the Institute, and served it as a Ward, and in all my long years and travels, nowhere else has ever come this close to being home for me. There is much I still do not understand about my Nature, even after all my work with Pontifex. But I do know that I cannot serve you unless I am whole. Just as a weapon must not have free will, neither can it function when deprived of its essential mechanism. Lorne holds that now, and I must have it back. Without my vision, I am raveling, the paths of all my pasts and presents bleeding one into the other. I am in each instant now Nareth, Erzebet, Jack, Labyrinth, La Bête de Gevaudan, and a hundred other identities assumed or stolen in my former travels. Only by the greatest force of will can I focus to write this. For the second time, I go down to the Pit. I believe I shall not return, that I go to my final death, or something far worse. But I am helpless to do otherwise. I will be whole, or there is no reason for me to be. Perhaps there were other routes open to me in this pursuit, but it is my failing that has brought me here, so it must be my quest. If I fall, please be kind to Bellatrix, as she has served me well, and take care of young Abigel. I know you will remember me, so long as you exist, and, for that reason alone, I wish now I could feel simple regret, that my creators had so endowed me. I have left my armband on the table upstairs. I must close this now. I am expected.


Friday, September 19, 2008


Bella coughed quietly into her hand. I looked up from my writing, surprised to see the dark-haired woman. Rainwater dripped from her clothing and pooled on the floor. She’d been gone for a while. I had thought, perhaps, she was dead or had left the City for good. “Good evening, Praetor. Things have changed while I was away.”

“Bella,” I smiled in greeting. “Yes, much has changed.” I gestured broadly around the room, my hand sweeping the circle of the Library’s recent renovations.

I watched as she took a deep breath. “She is…gone. We are alone.” Bella lowered her eyes. “I felt her...pass.”

“It is almost as though she never was,” I sighed, closing my tablet and laying down my pen. “There is no mention of her. No discussion. Pontifex has disappeared. Cerdwin is gone. Artemisia. As though they’d never existed.”

“All the dancers, I should think,” Bella murmured. “I almost didn't come back here myself. I suspected I was thought dead.”

I nodded. “I had thought you so, Bella. I didn't think your body could endure.”

Bella turned, walking to the windows, and gazing out into the night rain. “I awoke…on a boat. I suppose she left me there. I was very ill.
Maybe she thought I was dead. Maybe not.” She paused, breathing deeply and wrapping her arms around her chest. “You feel the absence of her, too?”

“You know I swore i would send her back, Bella. But…I never thought she would really go.”

“Was it you who did?”

“Yes,” I nodded. “As did Pontifex. And Omega. Others.”

Bella sighed quietly. “I did not know. I only felt her leave.” Bella turned to me, eyes full of sadness mixed with anger. “Who was that wreck of a vampire that was just here?”

“Truthfully, I don’t know, Bella. She sought refuge from the Lady Omega, and appears impossibly to be pregnant. She was going on and on about refusing to feed, filled with self-loathing of her own nature before she became frightened and fled.”

“The little coward.” A bitter smile crossed Bella’s face. “Nareth wouldn't give it to me. I asked...I asked repeatedly. Now...I'm not even a doll anymore.”

I looked at the floor, unable to meet her eyes, remembering the taste of Nareth’s blood in my own mouth. “Do you feel the desire still?”

Bella gave a harsh laugh and looked at her hands. “Perhaps we shouldn't discuss my desires.” I watched settle into one of the armchairs near the window and reach into her pocket, drawing out a straight razor. “I know that it has changed me, but I wanted that change. I wanted much more.”

I focused on the razor, my face impassive. Bella caught my eye. “Oh, it's not her razor. I have no idea what became of that.” Bella folded the razor open, staring at the blade.

“I…Labyrinth gave it to me,” I began. “It was hungry…it called to me...Nareth’s sigil. I…gave it to Pontifex the night we sent her back, to open the way.”

Bella nodded. “So, he took it when he left?”

“Yes,” I replied. “He took it. And he cut all the bindings from his hands and his arms. When he freed himself of Omega, he left.” I frowned, remembering. “But he gave the blade to Denenthorn who tries to master it, thus it bends him. I have told him he is a fool if he thinks he can.”

“I see,” Bella laughed, folding the razor closed. “So, it's still here. She put a great deal of herself into that blade.”

“And what have you put into yours, Bella?”

“Do you ask me that as my Praetor? Or as...someone who has tasted Nareth?”

I sighed. “I ask as someone who has walked through the void.”

Bellatrix nodded slowly. “I try to follow her example. Part of me can't accept that we lost them both. A god and...Nareth....”

“The stars were not…right, Bella. Perhaps not for Aunt Beast, nor Nareth. And yet…” I trailed off, unable to find the words to express the greatness of the loss and the problem of the brown girl from the beach. I could feel Bella watching me closely.

“And yet?”

It was my turn to stare blankly through the rain drizzled glass. “I went walking by the sea the other night,” I began. “I stopped at a small fire to warm my hands. There were two people there. One, a blondish man in some sort of religious garb. He said he had a boat not far from the shore. The other was a small, dark girl, drenched and shivering. She said she had walked from the sea.”

Bella shifted in her chair. “Walked...from…the sea?”

I nodded. “She was disoriented…she kept asking when she would awaken from the dream.”

“What was her name, Praetor?” Bella began biting at her lower lip.

“Her name is Nareth,” I replied.

I reached into my pocket and pulled out what appeared to be a green button and a small plastic card. “This button…she said is a state identity card.” I held it up between thumb and forefinger, rubbing it a little. It began to flash and Bella sat up straighter. “It didn't work at first. But I was able to start it functioning again…the sea water, you see.”

“Praetor,” Bella turned to me. “What year? Past, or future? Future, I'm guessing.”

“Future,” I replied. “Perhaps…future. At least that's what the identification card said.”

“Tag,” Bella murmured. “That's what Nareth called it. Playing tag.” Bella frowned slightly, looking at the objects in my hand. “Yes. She told me, when we were at sea with Abigail. For a while, she amused herself…by tracking herself down. Before she was Omega's Chylde...she did it...I can't recall…ten or twenty times, she said.”

Bella stopped talking and began staring at me as I pinched the button into temporary lifelessness. “She…met herself in time?” I asked with wonder, but there was no disbelief in my voice. I dropped the button and the card back in my pocket.

“Repeatedly,” Bella replied. “She thought it was a sort of game.

“A doppelganger game of chase,” I mused. “But to what end?”

Bella slumped in her chair. “She said it caused the...other hers…to become unstuck…unstuck in time. She just…liked the game.”

I nodded. “It was always the game for her, wasn't it?”

“Praetor,” Bella interrupted, “Are you telling me that one of them has come here?”

“Yes, Bella. I think…I think yes.”

Bella cursed silently under her breath. “Where is she?”

“She . . . I don't know,” I sighed. “I left her resting upstairs. She was tired. Grr fixed food for her, but she didn’t eat. I took her upstairs to the cot by the window where Aunt Beast often rested…but…she’s gone now.” I stared out the window, my jaw clenched.

“She left?” Bella asked, incredulous. “She was… leave? Jesus...” Bella placed a hand on the pocket with the razor. “The machine...Nareth said...the machine the favor of her,” Bella trailed off.

“The machine?” I wondered aloud.

“Well…she said it wasn't a real machine, only a metaphor.” Bella jammed her hand into her pocket. “The machine was here to cover her tracks. Whoever created her, created the machine. People tended…to look the other way.”

I held my face in my hands and began rubbing my temples. “Because people prefer not to see.”

“Something like that,” Bella nodded. “I never understood it very clearly. She just rambled...I listened. Sometimes I thought she was insane. Like…Azathoth.”

“What is she, Bella?” I asked. “What is at the core of her?”

“Nareth?” Bella laughed. “I was only her lover...her blood doll. I can tell you what she wanted me to believe. But...I know it's a lie. That she was...a sort of….” Bella stopped and looked at me evenly. “Let's say an archetype. She would have said that she was the archetypal murderer. But I know it's vastly more complicated than that. She had no intention of ever letting me see the whole.” Bella sighed. “I was only...well…her doll.

“But...think about this, Praetor...she once said...when I asked her about playing tag....She once said, ‘Back up copies,’ and I had no idea what she meant, not then. Do you see? I thought it was a joke.”

I smoothed my skirt, worrying a thread as though it would help me understand. “Apparently, Bella, it was not in the slightest a joke.”

“Praetor, what if...this woman you saw is start it...again?"

“I don't know, Bella. She is human…or appears to be.”

“Does that matter?” Bella’s voice was rising. “I mean...she is Nareth. As much as Nareth was. Just...from another world line.” Bella shook her head.

“Worldline?” I asked.

“I should not even say these things,” Bella shrugged, then went on to explain. “Each part of the multiverse, she said, has its own worldline…and timeline, how things may progress. Each timeline is in constant flux, and holds infinite possibility.” Bella sighed. “I've never been much for physics...she talked about this stuff a lot.”

I nodded. “I suspected this to be a possibility.”

“But…what she said....” Bella trailed off, suddenly looking very tired. “ are investigating this woman? The…new Nareth?”

“I sent out a request to the Institute,” I sighed. “But I have yet to stir the interest I had hoped.”

Bella took a deep breath. “I had not planned to stay here. I've even written out a letter of resignation, but...I could be of assistance. I know things....”

“Bella, you seem to be the only one who has a fuller understanding of the implications. All of them.”

“And if...if we could get her back, Praetor....” Bella began nodding to herself, her expression a little over eager. “I mean…if we could get Nareth back…we would, wouldn't we?”

“We would. I would. But there is one thing you should know, Bella. The night we sent Aunt Beast back…she left…another aspect of Nareth here.”

Bella looked at me, confused. “Excuse me?”

“I created a golem, Bella. One borne of iron. And it lives. It has…her memories…or at least some of them.”

Bella began nodding very slowly and laughing. “Fuck. Tag...another copy. Unless...Lorne released her soul?”

“Lorne…did not help, Bella.” He had promised to and yet when I called to Him, silence was my only reply.

Bella’s eyes widened. “Then...this can't truly be Nareth. It was…a trick…Labyrinth....” Bella smiled and covered her mouth.

“But, Bella,” I stammered, “It has . . . it thinks it is . . . Nareth. It went immediately to where she stored her clothing and dressed in Nareth's own clothes.”

“It would...yes,” Bella nodded. “Praetor...I need to rest, and see what I can remember...try to start putting this all together.”

“Yes…yes, alright, Bella,” I replied and watched as she headed up the stairs.

The Marketplace


I walked quietly into the Library, stopping at the banister, hearing the soft low voice of the Lady below, seeing Grr kneeling at her feet. The noble outline of his head was silhouetted in the firelight, red and gold light dancing off his fur. The Lady stood still and smooth as stone, draped in red, a tableaux vivant, the queen and her knight.

Grr lifted the dog tags from his neck and placed them in Omega’s hand, setting his paw on them gently, before withdrawing. The Lady’s clear blue eyes widened as she opened her hand, looking at the tags. “GrrBrool…why are you giving me these?”

“These, are…my first possessions, Lady. They are…me.” Grr spoke quietly, his words thick with meaning. I felt a wave of sadness wash over me, thinking of his time in the kennels, in the military, trained to be a thing of only tooth and claw.

“Then you should not part with them, my love,” Omega replied.

“I…just, it…” Grr trailed off.

The Lady held the tags up in one hand, looking at them and smiling gently. “I accept your gift, GrrBrool. Thank you. I can do what I wish with these?”

Grr nodded in silence.

“Display them how I please?” Omega continued.

“They are me,” Grr said simply, seeking her gaze. “Once together, always together. A thing like a thing, is a thing.”

I watched as Omega nodded and repeated her question. “I can display them how I please?”

“Yes, Lady. They are yers now.”

“Then, GrrBrool, I choose, to display them in their only proper setting. Which is, my love, with you, around your neck.” Omega reached out, stroking the ruff of cheek. “You'll do this for me?”

Grr nodded as the Lady leaned down and fastened the tags around his neck once more. I stepped back into the street, feeling much as though I had glimpsed a private thing of beauty never meant to be seen, a pledge to the Lady’s rule in the realm of love.

While the brown girl lay sleeping

I lifted my skirt slightly with a palm to my thigh and headed back down the stairs, to the drawing room of the Library. “I think she's resting now, Grr. What was all that ruckus about?”

Denenthorn stood talking with Grr, wings stiff yet slightly unfurled. “Have I ever told you how hard it is for me to remember songs?” he jokingly asked me. I frowned, confused and turned back to Grr.

“The tosser hothead bolt-faces wanted ta whine that their playhouse went bang after Her Ladyship pulled their asses outta tha fire and gave them tha kiss of life...typical.” The Continuum. The Lady had managed to save them all from dying as the result of a hack, but collateral damage had left their headquarters in ruins.

Denenthorn shrugged. “Don't fret. I'll talk to Fareabell and smooth it all over.”

“That’s good,” Grr replied, then gestured upstairs where the sleeping Nareth lay. “Tha was a real shock, I wondered, maybe, if tha Nareth-Bot got Pinochio'd.”

“Joah,” Denenthorn frowned, “Does that thing upstairs resemble my granddaughter any?”

I sighed. “She’s not a thing, Denenthorn. She’s a woman.”

“You are sure?” Denenthorn met my eyes with a deep question in his.

“Am I sure that she is a woman? Yes. Am I sure that she’s human? Not entirely. But she appears to be…and I'm very tired.”

Denenthorn nodded. “May I meet her when she awakens?”

“I am sure that you can, Denenthorn,” I replied. “Just be careful of the blade.”

“The blade will not come near her,” Denenthorn muttered. “I shall place it off my body.”

Grr sighed, “Both of you…just in case.”

Chasing NicoleA

She came slyly to Omega, offering supposed information of an Omegan traitor, a leak. But her parting words? “Tell Lyra I know where she can find her tail, if she wants it.” The murdering bitch.

NicoleA. I swore I’d find her. I took the Messenger, Faye’Li, with me and headed to Kindred headquarters. A tall, red-haired vampire woman watched as we entered. “May we help you ladies?”

“We're looking for one of your sisters, NicoleA,” I replied. “She has something that belongs to a friend of mine.”

The woman nodded solemnly. “She is no longer of this family. I am afraid to disappoint you, but if I may inquire, what does she have of yours that you seek at this moment?”

Faye'Li glanced between us and the vampires with an unreadable expression. “She took something…very personal…belonging to an Omegan under my charge,” I began.

“I have seen her in the Haven as of late, but I am afraid I can not be of further assistance,” the vampire shrugged.

“If I may ask, how is it that she came to leave your family?”

The vampire shook her head calmly. "That is not something I am privileged to reveal.”

“I see.” I could feel my temper rising. “It seems we both have information we're . . . not privileged to reveal, then. I will tell you this: NicoleA did not act alone.”
“I don’t believe you would have revealed any information in any case...or is this an offer for an exchange perhaps?” the vampire chuckled.

I spoke softly. “The only exchange I'm interested is NicoleA’s and her sisters' heads on a plate. My name is Joah. I will keep looking.”

The vampire nodded. “I am my left is my brother Rees and behind me is my brother Gage...wait...please. You mention another sister...of whom do you speak?”

Gage met my eyes. “Do you mean a member of our family…or a blood relation?”

“At present...I don't know,” I frowned. “But I will find out.”

Cordelia furrowed her brows. “And...these two have done your family wrong you say?”

“Three,” I said plainly.

A small gasp escaped Cordelia, then a look of remembrance crossed her face, quickly replaced by an expression of false concern. “Oh, I see...and this object you was important to your family. Well, I certainly hope you find what you seek ladies, but we can offer you no further assistance here I'm afraid.”

Rees spoke up. He behaved as if we’d never met. “A few weeks ago I promised the Lady Omega my full support. I would be happy to help in this instance.”

“And yes, NicoleA is no longer a member of this family. I assure you,” Gage said in an even voice.

Cordelia Cuttita nodded toward Rees. “We have no ill feelings toward your family, as far as we are aware.”

“Nor, I am sure, does the Lady Omega have any toward yours,” I replied. “She is most gracious. More so than I.”

A slow grin crossed Cordelia’s face. “Perhaps, then, your information is incorrect.”

“I think not. But…since NicoleA is…no longer of your family, perhaps I should search elsewhere.” Faye’Li and I turned to head for the door.

Cordelia said politely, “Yes...I am afraid we can not assist you in that respect.”

I turned. “Cannot. Not will not, I suppose. Well, thank you for your time. Please excuse me and my companion, Faye'Li.”

Rees raised a brow then looked across to his brother and sister, as his sister said, “We bid you both well.”

“ well,” Gage murmured.

“Hmm,” Faye’Li whispered as we walked away. “Definitely 'iding someting.”

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Je veux rentrer

I sat on one of the gold cushions by the fire, next to Nareth, and took a length of string from my pocket, holding it straight between my hands. “Nareth…the Nareth we knew...was many women. She traveled in many times.’

Nareth turned her head, watching me. “ time?”

"I went with her once,” I nodded. “Imagine time running a long this string.” I held up my left hand, then the right. "The past…the future." I could see Omega watching, Brit listening, her eyes unnaturally bright.

“It's a string, just a string,” Nareth said. “And…I do not believe this.”

“Imagine an ant crawling along the string, moving from the past to the future.” I brought my hands together and the string fell beneath them in a loop. “But there can be a wrinkle.”

“A wrinkle?” asked Nareth.

“If the ant were on my left hand, it could walk straight to the right hand. Over the wrinkle. Through time to the future. Or step back into the past.” I took the string and tied it, forming a circle.

Nareth laughed nervously. “And you are saying I am an ant?”

“I am saying you are a traveler,” I replied. “An unconventional one. Now suppose, there were many threads of time." I looped the circle over my hands and wove it around my fingers, making a web. “Each thread, running its own course. Some parallel. Some not. But when I bring my fingers together…there is the wrinkle.”

Nareth furrowed her brow, not quite understanding.

“A traveler might move from one world’s time to another over such a wrinkle. It is called a tesseract.”

Nareth whispered, "Tesseract….The the market today... She...”

“She may have tessered you when she touched you,” I replied.

Nareth continued, “She said something. I had...forgotten. It makes no sense...Joah. What she said...I mean. Maybe…poetry. I do not know.”

“Will you tell us?” I asked.

Nareth nodded. “She me…before she touched me...there's always a siren...and she said...there is another shore you know, upon..the other...side. And then….” Nareth glanced at the fire. “And then I was on the beach...well...almost.”

Grr had come bounding back into the Library, with food he had prepared, offering two bowls to Nareth, one slightly larger than the other. There were spoons in each, a laksa of some sort, noodles and green things bobbing its redness. The scent of ginger filled the room.

Nareth looked at Grr then gazed back into the fire. “I do not think…I am hungry…after all. Joah, if you are do I…go home? Back...across the string?”

I sat in silence for a moment, tracing the arc of the flames in the hearth with my fingertip. “First, you have to decide where home is. Then you must learn to tesser.”

“I know…where home is...or…I know when,” Nareth frowned.

I nodded. “The Nareth I knew…simply opened a vortex. And went.”

Nareth lowered her head and stared at the floor.

Days of future past

The brown girl stood next to the hearth, holding her gloves, murmuring that nothing looked familiar, no face, no part of the Library itself. Frank disbelief clouded her face as she gazed on all gathered, eyes lighting on the apparent non-humans: Grr and Lyra. The monk wheedled in a high-pitched worried voice, an adoring sycophant. The girl rubbed her head, saying again and again in heavily accented English, I am dreaming.

“Your holiness, our whole existence is because of you,” the monk Yoshua continued, his voice growing louder, his speech becoming more rapid. “Each generation passing down tales about you, and your coming. I was sent to locate you, and protect you. When you are ready, our journey begins.”

“Do you remember your name?” I interrupted, turning toward the brown girl.

“Yes…I remember my name. Nareth....”

Omega stopped cold, staring at the girl, open-mouthed.

“Nareth's place has always been here,” Grr said to the monk. “Now, more than ever. This is Home, this is…Family.”

“No!” Yoshua nearly shouted. “She belongs with us, the prophesied one.”

Omega’s voice rasped, each word agony. “Nareth?”

Nareth shook her head. “My family…such as it is…is in Cambodia. I have my state identicard.” She reached in a pocket to pull out something that looked like a faintly blinking green plastic button, and then offered it to me.

I took the button in the palm of my hand, rolling it around, looking at it. She said it wasn’t working, it had gotten wet. I extended my fingers, thinking thoughts of flame and heat, and the button rose an inch or so above my palm, a faint glow beneath it. The button began beeping, a light flashed, and then the image of Nareth appeared above my hand. A woman’s voice said

Nareth Nishi, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Issued August 3, 2021
ID Number 4251A-09-2314
Restriction, Zone 5-F
Conviction file 876-d-2

The image flickered, and then winked out. “Hey...I can explain that,” Nareth began as the monk ran out the door having been threatened by Omega. “The conviction...there was...a mistake. I mean…never mind.” Nareth looked utterly exhausted and confused.

Grr looked Nareth over, then looked softly from me to Omega. “I think our guest needs a lay down fer a bit.”

The Marketplace

Swim to me, swim to me, let me enfold you

I walked along the night beach, trying to clear my head. I’d been exposed to some sort of substance at the Garage that made me rather not myself, just too focused on the wrong things. My shoulder ached from GrrBrool’s steady bite. The rain fell in a sea blown mist and the wind was brisk. My calfskin boots were wet with sand, my clothing damp to the skin. I could see a campfire in the distance, impossibly blazing, and thought to warm myself before it. As I approached, I noticed two people sitting with backs to logs, facing the fire: a small, brown girl dressed in black, and a blondish man wearing the robes of some religious order.

They looked at me with suspicion, apparent strangers to the City. The girl was shivering and wet and confused; she kept saying she had been at the market then walked in from the sea, asking when she would wake up from the dream. The man seemed edgy and oddly possessive though he disclaimed knowing her. I didn’t know what to think. I know of only one woman who has walked in the sea: Nareth. But this dark-skinned girl appeared to be human, and looked nothing like Nareth, either the Nareth of iron or the Chylde of Omega.

Because she seemed disoriented and the night promised only more wet and cold, I invited her and the man to the Library for warmth and shelter. As we walked, he grew more and more agitated, begging the girl to come with him to his ship. We could hear explosions in the distance from the Continuum headquarters; the monk’s urgent entreaties, the far off booming and the sirens wailing made the night unnerving. Finally, the monk stopped sharp in the street trying to bar our way, even drawing a sword, trying to coerce the girl to go with him. She merely she walked away in disdain. The monk’s countenance fell as the sword dropped to his side. He seemed to see her as some sort of messiah or goddess and he was clearly failing her in some way that only he understood.

The Marketplace

Don't go far off, not even for a day

She sits quietly before the fire, legs tucked beneath her, watching him as he tends to Blue, comforts a stranger, watches the Lady and waits, heart bending to serve. His golden eyes take in everything; he moves with elegance, his harvest colored fur shining in the firelight. Her craving for him fairly takes her breath away.

"Don't go far off, not even for a day, because —
because — I don't know how to say it: a day is long
and I will be waiting for you, as in an empty station
when the trains are parked off somewhere else, asleep.

Don't leave me, even for an hour, because
then the little drops of anguish will all run together,
the smoke that roams looking for a home will drift
into me, choking my lost heart.

Oh, may your silhouette never dissolve on the beach;
may your eyelids never flutter into the empty distance.
Don't leave me for a second, my dearest,

because in that moment you'll have gone so far
I'll wander mazily over all the earth, asking,
Will you come back? Will you leave me here, dying?"

Pablo Neruda