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Skuld - Cantabile
When the Director of Patient Care summoned Skuld to his office, she nearly panicked. Could it have been the cold compress she made last week where she used three ounces instead of two ounces of mild mint? Or was this about her bumping into a nurse's aide? Running around a corner on the left side of a hallway couldn't have been her worst idea that day; she spilled soup all over herself in the cafeteria just hours later and walked about since morning, ignorant of the bird poop in her hair until evening.
Four days later, Skuld found herself at the high-coasted city of Waxtide. She would have enjoyed her walk from the mail bureau if her rump wasn't so sore, riding from Daylight to Nightfall. That dratted young filly had no consideration for her rider and galloped ahead whenever the road was straight. Skuld and her buttocks couldn't care less if the wench's ma was a prize-winning racehorse. The caravan was slower than courier, but boy, was she happier riding an inglorious mule!
"Hips! Hips! Hips!" the woman shouted, prancing around in circles on the smooth wooden floor. “Your hips are your keys to motion! Your hips are your wings! If you step on straight legs,” the woman demonstrated, “you can't move! Everything's locked! But as soon as you slide your hip side and back,” she said, sliding her hip back, “you free up your range of motion!” She took a gliding, graceful step on her newly freed leg. “Does that make sense?”
Intern Savenia stood outside the door of her mentor, as usual. Checking the time, biting her nails, stuffing her hands in her pockets, standing on her tippy-toes, whatever she could do to pass the time. Goodness, this job was so boring. Everyone always pictured being a Librarian, especially one in the absolutely magical city of Waxtide, as being so exciting and pulse-pounding. It was one of the few jobs around the place where being an intern was a coveted-for apprenticeship - what could be cooler than playing the squire for a grizzled Librarian who fought off demonic monsters of legend? Those type of book mages, too old to be mere organizers but still too young to become Senior Practitioners who don't need interns, were always the rough outdoorsy type who shunned the library for the adventurous outside. And those mages were cute, not to mention intern-mage romances weren't uncommon. It was a young woman's dream job, which was why Savenia used all her possible charm in order to make sure that she got this dream job.
Skuld’s attention followed a splash of burgundy from the far end of the chamber. He couldn't have been that tall, she thought, but as that splash grew bigger, she felt her neck ache with the strain of looking up.
Scarcely an hour later, Sulsaga had finally wrapped up his final errands and was returning to his study to gather his things. By now, most of the library was deserted save for the other few Master Librarians who still lingered, and their interns. Speaking of interns, his was busying herself with various things in her small desk by the door when he entered. He gave her his usual nod as he walked by, but she made no response, so preoccupied was she. A stern Master would have perhaps punished her for it, but Sulsaga gave no care to such rigid social notions.
"...Oh." Her foot stomped back down and Savenia's brow knitted with some form of frustration. Sulsaga tilted his head slightly and Savenia noticed; the blush grew warmer, and she turned around and crossed her arms. "Hmph! Well in that case, Master -" she said his title with a surprising amount of scorn - "I have plans this entire weekend. Have a nice time at the Theater, with your books. Or whatever!" She left the study-way and roughly gathered her things from her desk as she did so. The ticket in question still sat in Sulsaga's outstretched hand, but now had no one to satisfy but its holder, and for the second time that day, Master Sulsaga was speechless in confusion.
"Am I not good enough?" the boy asked.
"Eldren!" the older man scolded. "You will not guilt people like that! Especially your own mother!"
"Then why are you leaving me again?" Eldren whined, tears already sidling down his slightly chubby cheeks. The woman knelt down before the short, slightly chubby boy.
"This is something mommy has to do for the family. I'll be back. You be a big boy now and stop crying." The half-hearted consolation did little to stay the boy's tears. Escalating the volume of his wails even further, he lunged forward and grabbed his mother's leg.
"Don't go!" he shouted.
"Eldren! Get off me, boy!" she yelped, thrashing her leg. His father immediately reached down and yanked him off, the residual flailing of the woman's leg kicking him in the chest and under the chin as he was pulled off, a grunt in the middle of a wail.
"Eldren, look at me. Eldren!" his father spoke, staring directly at him. "Stop crying and look at me." Eldren gulped down his tears and looked up at him in fear, his face still wet. Father or not, the word of Cervantes Sibilus was not to be disregarded.
"You will not disrespect your mother like that. Do you understand me?" Cervantes never raised his voice to anyone - mostly because he never needed to.
"Eldren. Do you understand me?" Eldren sniffed loudly.
"Answer me, Eldren." The boy looked at him through watery eyes.
"...Am I not... good enough?"
"Oh, for God's sake," his mother snapped, marching down the hall. His father hung his head and sighed heavily.
"I don't have time to put up with this again," she continued, her voice irate. "Help me with my bags."
"Of course," he responded, getting up and heading towards the hallway - but stopping just before, turning back and pointing at Eldren.
"We're not done. We're going to have a talk." He continued down the hallway.
"Don't even bother," came the faint voice of his mother from the foyer. "Not like he'll learn anything anyway."
"I do wish he wasn't such an annoyance to you. He just makes these moments harder." Their conversation continued while Eldren sank to the floor, rubbing his overflowing eyes and sniffing back tears that had drained to his nose. His eyes closed, and the world faded to black--
Eldren opened his eyes. The painted wood ceiling of the Troupe house greeted him, as well as the light breathing of the other male students in small beds around him. It was still dark. He sat up, then quietly got to his feet. Glancing around to make sure he didn't wake anyone up, he walked out to the hallway.
Tonight wasn't the first night these memories resurfaced. It wasn't a frequent happening, but it wasn't as rare as he liked. He continued down the hall a bit when he heard a faint noise coming from one of the rehearsal rooms - the one he had been rehearsing in the past several weeks for the cantade that was to be tomorrow. He walked towards the room, and as he got closer he became aware of a light coming from within.
Eldren stepped inside. A lamp sat in the middle of the room, and on the adjacent side in front of a mirror stood a girl, spinning a full turn in place then stopping, over and over. Her eyes were closed, and the way her head followed her body made her look like a wooden spinning doll.
"You shouldn't close your eyes when you-" Eldren started, but was interrupted by a yelp and a crash as the girl toppled to the ground in shock.
"I- who are y- Eldren?" she asked as she got up to her feet, still spooked by his entrance. Her eyes squinted to see who he was, then her face immediately dropped to a displeased look.
"What are you doing here?" Her sharp stare would have been a glare, had she the guts.
"It's the middle of the night and we have a performance tomorrow. You should be sleeping."
"I'm sorry. That was uncalled for. I shouldn't say things like that." She got to her feet, looking away from him.
"Why are you practicing?"
"Why do you think?" she snapped, then immediately looked down again.
"Not that that's anything YOU would be familiar with," she scowled. Eldren stared.
"...Sorry. Again. I just-"
"Eldren..." she started. "...am I not good enough?"
Eldren's eyes sharply widened. The question hit him like a fist to the face. He stood there, unresponsive for several seconds. Floralie looked up, crestfallen.
"...You don't have to answer that. I'm just being dumb and I need to get over my-"
"You should go to sleep," Eldren said, walking out of the room and down the hallway back to the guy's sleeping quarters. As he walked, he noticed his shadow abruptly vanish - the light from the practice room had been extinguished. He walked quietly back into the shared bedroom, climbed into his bed, and fell back to sleep.
He had caught a glimpse of the crowd - Theatre Verthandi rarely failed to sell out on evenings when The Death of Lysithea played - but saw no familiar faces. One in particular he was searching for had eluded him. He had little time to reflect on this, however, as he, along with the handful of merfolk he was hiding in wait with, heard their cue and felt the platform under their feet jiggle slightly as the massive, invisible hydraulic pump released its safety, ready to propel the merfolk into the light of the stage.
"Get ready," one of the guys muttered. Eldren was already kneeling slightly.
Quickly falling into his routine, Eldren used every opportunity he had facing the audience to scan the sea of faces for the one he was after. The one who Miss Adelaide said didn't return his ticket. The one who, just maybe, hasn't forgotten...?
"Yes yes yes yES YES YES!!!" The frenzied cries of a very close customer swelled like waves as the musical started on the stage. They were thousands of times more excited for the play than Sulsaga was, he reasoned. The yelling continued as Sulsaga rubbed his temples with irritation and irately closed his book. Maybe it was kind of a bad idea to believe he'd get some reading done at this event.
And so he watched the musical with opaque eyes that picked apart every miniscule error that the actors and dancers made. Admittedly, they were very few, and they took a serious eye to pick apart. From what he could hear, it was a very beautiful show, one that pleasantly surprised him. But try as he might, Sulsaga couldn't shake the feeling that somebody was watching him, and he couldn't even feel from where. Little snippets of the orchestra's symphony clued him in that some climax in the play, possibly the finale, was fast approaching. He gripped the arm-cushions of his chair in tense anticipation. The faster this was over, the faster he could get back to Vistaelus and his knights-round of bastards. This ought to be good.
"Still you say you long for me?"
The roar died like a flame doused with water. The audience fell to absolute silence. "Seven days you've lied to me...?"
A cantadress sang the prelude to Lysithea's dying solo, pitiful in the puddle of her overturned barrel. Jewel-like sequin scales glittered with prismatic colors while the once rainbow fish tail she wore showed only worn, silky silver. The mermaid had little time to live.
"What makes you man must be the blood tempted to sin, from the womb where you begin... as I was given life by the sea!"
The strings and flutes began an elegy to the mournful throbbing of drums. While it was a new take on the traditional funeral marches of Granea, the melody was anything but somber. Fisherman Orbal charged from the left. His wide gestures and thunder-like voice sent a shaking through the halls. The choir became their army in this crucial scene.
"Don't come near me, leave me be."
"The heart that you've captured from me, I have lived,"
"You wretched scum! Go, begone!"
"I'll earn riches, so please, wait and see!"
"A single wave of the ocean is worth more than you'll ever receive."
"Lysithea, come back to me."
"Give it back to me!"
The orchestra modulated to the next key and began a heated war with the choral staff. Powerful instrumental hits battled for dominance against wordless, vocalized chords. A cavalcade of dancers dressed as dark butterflies entered from stage left in a thin stream but poured out into a fan-like shape. They whirled in their acrobatics, filling the stage with the presence of death's servants. Lysithea and Orbal mouthed their exchange soundlessly in convincing mime, allowing the chorus and the rest of the stage to take the spectacle until their turn came around once more. But... it never did.
A crack resounded through the whole of Theater Verthandi, so loud that it culled the circus-like atmosphere like a machete on a sickly calf's neck. The performers seemed hardly to notice. Miss Adelaide would sharpen an already razor-edged tongue on their faces if they stopped for just a sound. Did a stage effect mage falter somewhere? Or was it one of the giant fans up above that had gotten stuck and broken? It came from the very center of the stage, child-height fingers bursting through the wooden platform where a poor apprentice had been twirling moments ago. It tore apart the boards in a single thrust as if struggling to pull the rest of itself onto deck... whatever the rest of itself consisted of.
The youngest butterfly dancers at seven to ten years of age screamed first. Then the audience followed suit and fled the stands in droves. Someone quick-witted took up a stage prop and slit Lysithea's mermaid tail costume so she could escape with everyone else. The only people not yet in panic were the orchestra and the choir who, facing the audience, couldn't see any of the chaos that was happening except reflected on the conductor's horrified face. He was an old, stubborn war veteran and continued to conduct, albeit at a rapidly increasing tempo, until the frantic song finally ended at four times the original speed. Only then did the musicians make a dash for the side doors in the orchestral pit.
Already his human torso was visible as a finely-sculpted shield. Scarlet skin veined with glowing cerulean bloodstreams patterned his body like a tattoo. Medina's Kraken finally destroyed the last of the emptied stage. His shoulders rose and rose, pushing against the stone half-dome that cupped sound from the performance to the audience. Theater Verthandi was known for its deep, sturdy foundations. In but a handful of moments, he uprooted the entirety of the dome, its famous arch of fans still spinning, and threw its corpse onto the grass.
Medina's Kraken groped at the sides of the theater. A strong set of nearly 20 squid-like tentacles propelled him forward on the walkway from stage to stands. It wasn't nearly large enough for him, he who could use the whole of Theater Verthandi as a large seat cushion. Each one of his tentacles ended in the eye-less head of a red-blue striped sea serpent with milky-white mouths and fangs as long as swords. With one bite, one snakehead took two men swallowed them whole . Medina's Kraken raised his eyes to the sky where the bright planet of Venetia shone gold in the East. Not all the howls of all of Granea's wolves could rival that single word he uttered.
The tracks of his seasnakes dug deep ditches through the theater. What bodies had failed to best divine selection lay crushed in those long, meandering graves.
Sulsaga was perhaps the only calm person in attendance, still.
Unfortunately, he knew as little of what had just transpired as anyone else. Calm was his stride as he walked away from the now-ruined theater, unlike every other customer running and screaming from the area. Well, I was anticipating a climax. I suppose this was worth the trip, after all. The giant creature thing looked to be in the same aesthetic theme as the rest of the aquatic cast members, but he was quite sure this was not just another anticipated part of the show, considering the deaths and destruction. In fact, it interested him so that he made a point to remember to investigate and research the raider once it was detained.
That is, it if was detained. Its gigantic appearance defied logic entirely and he entertained a small thought that the local police and disturbance investigators wouldn't be able to defeat this thing. Would a Librarian's talents be needed at that point? A hypothesis I'll have to assume is true for the moment... Instead of following the rushing crowd, Sulsaga turned and stood on the hill he now stood on. People continued to rush past him, rustling his long coat around his legs. For now, I think I'll just watch the show. It's much more explosive than I anticipated.The monster let out another scream for Lucifer. I'll have to look that up, as well; it's a name I recognize.
Skuld - Cantabile
Pieces of the ceiling collapsed. The tremors shook Skuld off her bench and she tumbled under the long, wooden tables of the cafeteria beneath Theater Verthandi. A book inside her satchel hit her ribs on a corner, making yelp. She hit her head on table's underside sitting up to rub it. Darkness and noise hit like an explosion.
It was just as well that she fell. When she opened her eyes again, a large ceiling panel lay in a cloud of dust, clattering where her body had been moments ago. Some screams echoed down the hall and from the kitchen where the concession staff worked. While the show was happening, no one else would be down here but the staff... and her.
Skuld peeked her head out warily, listening for anything else falling before she snatched her book and notes off the tabletop, stuffing it into her back satchel. The fine debris made her cough a little so she covered her nose and mouth with a handkerchief. Several of the magelights were out. When she stood, each shadow she cast meandered longer and more distinctively than the next. The pillars around her echoed with a scream that jarred her sore ribs with pain.
"Hello?" Nothing answered. Skuld coughed a little more and cupped her hands to try again, a little louder this time.
Far in the distance near the entrance hall, she heard a stampede of shoes. The seating rumbled above her, a sky that thundered, a harbinger of storms. Pieces of the ceiling and the walls were knocked to the floor by the panic, even as she stood there. A beautiful painting of a nude foreign woman hit the ground where its frame cracked and broke. But that wasn't like the first imact she felt, Skuld thought. This was no explosion. Even if everyone stood up and jumped up and down, if something didn't weaken the Theater first, not a single magelight would flicker. Perhaps the structural maintenance mages were slacking...
"Outta the way!"
Someone pulled her aside. Skuld tottered and fell. A graying-haired man in the blue lindweave uniform of a custodian panted. He was bent double with his hands braced on bent knees. Where Skuld had been standing, a shattered glass orb trembled from its fall from above. The hallway seemed dimmer again.
"Th... thank y--"
"Sharpen up! You wanna die?!" He grabbed her by the arm and pulled her to her feet, only to half-lead-half-drag her behind a stone pillar. "C'mere and sit tight a sec."
"Shush your sweetness." He put both hands around a massive picture frame and heaved. The portrait of Grecko Adelaide resplendent in green came away. He tossed it aside with less reverance than socially acceptable. Underneath was a single, rusty looking door.
Skuld leaned in to get a better look but only earned another shove from him.
"Git outta the light. Hard enough to see without you standing innit. Here'zit, the bastard." Triumphantly, he held up a dirty copper key and stuck it into the door's keyhole, wiggling it a few times. "Just gotta... hah!"
The door swung open. Behind it a set of stone steps, just barely lit by the evening sky, rang with the noise of chaos. The city was a-roar.
"Well? Git going!" He shoved her forward and Skuld stumbled up the first few stairs. She just about crawled up all the way on all fours but he tugged on her ankle before she could poke her head out the top. The custodian crawled up beside her. Like soldiers from a bunker, they slowly ventured their eyes out for a peek...
"Holy Horses of Venetia..." No breath would go into his lungs. It caught in his neck and could go no further but out. "What IS that thing?!"
Skuld gulped. "Th-the collection at the Library of Waxtide is amazing, y-y-you know? I'm sure they'd have s-something on it. Fair certain."
Medina's Kraken plowed his way through the upper walls. Throwing back his head, he split the sky once more. "LUUUUUCIIIIFEEEEEEEEEER!" Skuld cringed as the ground quivered again.
"Girl, git running."
Skuld yelped. The custodian had just smacked her on the butt.
"What about you?" She asked.
"Might be other people below, stupid kitchen boys or whoever." His voice cracked when he chuckled. "I served too, ten-eleven-year-ago. No falling anything's a-breakin' me."
Skuld shook her head. "I'm... I'm a-a medic, I can help you, I--"
"You small thing? You'd just be inna way."
"At least let me thank you properly." She protested.
The custodian laughed outright. It was so perverse, that laughter in the face of certain demise, that it was a challenge to death itself. He held up a hand and wriggled his fingers obscenely. "Y'already did. Inn't everyday a geezer like me touches the bum of some pretty young thing."
"Now git! While that thing's busy terrorizing other folk. Hmph. Mayhaps he'll eat on'ov'em tax-collecting wax-moustaches."
Skuld tumbled onto the grassy fields as he shoved her. She ran a few steps and looked back into the pit of the stairwell, hidden behind a couple of shrubs. The custodian was already gone.
Her stamina was low from the day's worth of travel yet she somehow found the strength to run down the path. People scattered like ants on a heated plate. Cold sweat washed her temples and forehead, prickling the hairs on her arms and legs. Her bared stomach felt cold in the tropical air.
Turning her head around, she tried to get a better look at the Kraken itself. Its snakeheads threw themselves into the ground like a man pounding ricecakes with a wooden mallet. Each time a new victim or two were snatched up. The scales they wore gleamed scarlet in the twilight. Someone ran alone along the topmost seats of the theater. She saw him on the edge of the wall, calling attention to himself. His life ended in an instant in an explosion of red splatters.
Her palms felt too wet with sweat. It didn't feel right to run. If she ran now, she would never be able to face herself later... not as a medic, not as her father's daughter... and not as herself. The years that she told herself that she would succeed her father and the years that she spent training herself for the field would mean nothing. Everything she had worked for up until now, she thought, could have been meant for this day alone.
So she ran, faster than she thought she had the strength for. Her thighs strained, cramped, burned, but she ran as a body fell to the ground by the gate, ignoring the panic of everyone who ran in the opposite direction, staring right past the terror in their eyes. Those were not the people who needed her.
She dragged a man off the ground and to the side. Despite the teeth marks in him, he still breathed raggedly. To survive a snake's head must have been the luck of the Lunar Tidings. If he couldn't be saved, then...
"So you've come for me, Farelle..."
"Sir, you must not speak. I'll get you fixed up in just a moment." Skuld tried not to sound scared. Her numb, clammy hands got the clasp on her belt satchel open. She had to stop his bleeding. Dainesilk compress clotted blood naturally. If she could just apply pressure to his wound...
"Ah... you're not Farelle. A valkyrie? Come to gather my soul?"
"I'm a medic, I'm here to--"
"I fought hard as a soldier, but all my brothers have died. My sweetheart is dead. If you've come to take me as a warrior..."
"Sir!" Skuld had gotten his shirt off and wadded it up into a ball, pressing his wound. Yet blood soaked into the fabric too quickly. It crept into the dry cloth until the whole thing was contaminated by the red of lost life. Her hands were sticky.
"If you've come to take me as a warrior fallen in battle... please take me as a hero so that I may see them... Surely, they are surely heroes..."
"No! Please, stay alive! Sir, please, I... I can save you."
"You have already saved me, Valkyrie."
Like a ferret escaping into the shadows, she felt his life slip out of her hand and into the next realm. Skuld was dry. Dryer than parchment on a winter day. She wished to cry and no tears would come. She wished to swallow but her tongue was but sand. Dumbly she stared at the half-open eyes of the Kraken's kill...
Skuld leaned in to take a closer look. Popped veins on his eyeballs, a purple rash, symmetrical on his face... a faint foam from his saliva, a milky-white tongue...
"Venom...!"Defying her feeble body, she pushed herself to her feet again and ran toward the thick of the crowd. The snakeheads had venom. She suspected a poison that shut down the humors of the blood or something that altered the state of the mind. Anyone who got grazed wouldn't have long to live, and who knows if the venom could penetrate skin? If it splashed, then...? And there were victims of trampling, those who could not escape fast enough, fell, and became stepped on by others in the desperation to live. The front gate of Theater Verthandi was a deathtrap but it invited her with a beckoning hand. Her job had only begun.
It was over before it even began.
Eldren rolled over, slowly.