A New Day Dawns
He's His Father's Son
A Study in WhiteMdNgt
A Night at the Emporium.
Late Night Delivery
And YOU missed it..
"I know pain."
Roses As A Gift
Crucifixion of a Prophet
from "A Study in Roses"
A stroll around the Estate
The story related...
Can I Get A Witness
A sister remembered.
Ruins. - August, 2003
The time: Two weeks prior to Rose's arrival in Lockheed|
The place: An abandoned road on the outskirts of Rhy'Din
This stretch of road was not so far outside the city - the lights of the Red Dragon Inn and some of the other taverns could be seen clearly, winking like a star field in the distance, until the forest grew so dense that it swallowed up the sight, even blocking out the meager light of the moon.
This byway out of the city was badly scarred. In its heyday, it had enjoyed frequent carriage and foot traffic, and its popularity had led to well-worn ruts in the earth. Long since abandoned to the elements, the scoring had grown grotesquely pronounced. Deep, uneven channels were carved out of the path ... but it hardly mattered. No one came up this way anymore. No one had a reason to - this road lead to just one place, a place that hadn't had a reason to court visitors in years.
Even settled in the cushioned comfort of her chair, Rose could feel the lurching and swaying as her slaves struggled to maintain their balance and bring their steps into harmony.
With a sudden, distinctive tilt, Rose recognized the last slope leading up to a familiar gate. She brought her hand to rest against the litter's curtain and paused there. Habit forced her to draw in a deep breath, to brace herself - some small part of her almost expected to see the venerable estate house intact, perhaps because she could imagine it so clearly in her own mind's eye.
Weaving gloved fingertips between the folds of velvet, she pushed the curtain aside ... and exhaled sharply.
Beyond the spiked silhouette of a wrought-iron fence lay only formless piles of stone - the ruins of a once notorious slaving house, the Morkai Consortium.
"Stop here," she ordered, leaning forward through the curtain. The lush tones of her voice were a little breathless, even a little less potent than she would have expected of herself. But it was enough, and the slaves did indeed come to a stop, evidently relieved that they had managed to navigate the damaged road without incident.
Rose slipped out one leg at a time, emerging into the cool night air. The gloss black of her latex suit dazzled momentarily in the bit of muted starlight that was able to get through the trees - until, that is, the folds of her opera coat spilled out after her, billowing around her ankles as she strode purposefully towards the railing.
One half of the dilapidated gate had long ago been torn from its hinges - it stood upright, but at an angle, one corner buried in the dirt. The other piece swung freely, creaking a welcome as a playful night breeze pushed it to and fro in a lazy rhythm.
Unfettered by the presence of sentient beings, human or otherwise, the trees around the estate had grown inward, and now loomed over the grounds like a protective shroud. The canopy of dense foliage and Spanish moss blocked out most of the moonlight, but to Rose's immortal eyes the outlines at the top of the gate - the scrolling 'M' and 'K' - were as clear as the day she had left Gerald chained there with the thorns from a dozen rose stems digging into his skin.
She paused a moment, reaching up to run gloved fingertips over the letters in what might almost have been a fond caress. Her expression would have been unreadable even without the benefit of the mask of darkness.
When she pushed on, it was with another deep breath and the swift cadence of determination in her footfalls. She stepped around the swinging gate, angling sideways and lifting a foot to navigate the buried piece. The crunch of gravel underfoot followed her up the circular drive, and when she took her first step onto the marble courtyard, her heel landing with a sharp click, what remained of the estate came into sharp focus.
As Rose stood astride at the edge of the marble platform, hands planted at the curve of her hips, a passing breeze caught a stray red curl and sent it teasing over her lips. She made no move to brush it away - even in the darkness, her emerald eyes shone with a fierce mixture of hatred and satisfaction, the kind of look that only arises from a memory of the deepest love.
The courtyard was deeply scarred - a network of wide fissures overgrown with weeds formed a web over the rouged marble surface. The auction block in the center remained largely intact - a few chips softened its granite corners, and scorch marks and the remains of a fire on top testified to the recent presence of squatters.
Of course, if there had been squatters, she didn't imagine they'd have stayed long - the gloom hanging over this once-proud place was palpable. One could almost detect the lingering perfume of stale blood leeched into the stone, hear the moaning of misery on the wind ... feel the aftershock of past betrayals bubbling up from the wounded earth.
As she began to pick her way over the ruined court, she could make out the remains of columns flanking both sides. What had once supported twin shaded catwalks now were sheared in half, or reduced to stubs in the ground, some gone altogether.
The click of her footfalls blunted by the presence of so many weeds, she passed by the auction block and approached the broad front steps. From there, she could see the site of the gardens at the side of the house - once the scene of several memorable weddings, now overgrown with vines, only the occasional flash of white from a buried marble bench to offer testimonial of its formal use.
That she could see the gardens from here was most telling - the gardens had never been visible from the front of the estate.
But the house was simply no longer there.
The broad stone staircase, with its curved railing, was completely intact. Lifting the tails of her coat, Rose took the steps at a dainty pace - she could feel the stone shifting even under her slight weight. When she reached the top, she stopped. She had to, as there was nowhere else to go. Looking out across the building's foundation she saw only a pile of rubble, and far in the distance a gaping black hole in the hillside where Black Ops had once been.
It was clear from the way that the boulders spilled out beyond the original boundaries of the house that the fall of the building had been sudden and catastrophic, not a gradual decay taken place over time. No single piece of stone or brick was larger than, say, an oak barrel or a bale of straw. Most were smaller, and moss had grown over everything, forming the illusion of a layer of soft, green down.
But the patterns in the weed growth were distinct. With her eyes, Rose traced the paths of labrynthine halls, followed the lines to familiar chambers ... and a maudlin violin symphony swelled where her soul ought to have been.
The serpentine marble of the foyer was completely covered, but she measured in her head the precise number of steps to the door of the office - her office. Slave chambers to one side, Sonder's lab, the storehouse at the end that had once lodged her beloved Angels ... a handful of steps to one side that had led up to the Lair ... another set opposite, leading down to a pit in the ground that had been her own chambers ... and the hollow at the end where Traevyn's bassinet had once stood.
In that moment, the clouds chose to part and the moon made an appearance, bathing the pile of rocks in an eerie glow, as if to underscore the completeness of all this devastation. At the same time, a strong breeze whistled across the grounds. There was a paper flutter, and Rose looked down to discover what appeared to be a playing card flattened against the side of her shoe.
She bent to scoop it up and held it flat in her open palm. It was a tarot card, slightly yellowed, creased at the edges, but the image on its face was still clear - that of a tower struck by lightning.
The Tower - unstoppable cataclysm and destruction.
Choking back a startled cry, Rose narrowed her eyes and peered around her in the near darkness. It had just occurred to her that there was absolutely no trace of Traevyn's tower to be seen, anywhere. Nor, for that matter, could she remember precisely where it had stood - it was as if the earth had opened to swallow it whole.
Her lips tightened into a skeptical line, and she slipped the card into the pocket of her coat for safekeeping. There seemed little point in continuing to dwell on what had happened here all those years ago.
Turning her back on the ruins was not an easy thing. Rose knew that once she did she would never look upon them again. With one more deep, cleansing breath, she closed her eyes and turned on one heel. As she spun, her coat tails furled out behind her, providing a brief glimpse of black latex before they settled around her legs.
Opening her eyes once more, she cast her gaze well beyond the courtyard and settled on the happy sight of her sedan chair, her attendants posed diligently beside it.
She began to descend the stairs, but the moon was still bright, and in spite of her attempt at focus, a flash of clean metal caught her attention as she neared the bottom.
It was the end cap of a time capsule, the one they had buried before laying the foundation for the marble courtyard. It was on its side, sticking halfway out of a crevice but otherwise undisturbed, unmarked. Perhaps it had been forced out of the ground by seismic activity ... or some activity more spiritual in nature.
She hurried to sit with all the delight of a child at Christmas - but something venomous darkened her smile, and lurid madness was rising in her eyes.
As her coat tails settled around her, she pulled the cylinder onto her lap. Its brushed metal hull squealed over the latex surface of her legs and clattered against her coat buckle, sending a ripple of disturbance through what had otherwise been a quiet night.
Gloved fingertips danced over the lock on the lid - she remembered the combination numbers as though she had only set them yesterday.
With a gasp, the vacuum seal gave way, the lid swiveled to one side, and a tumult of memories spilled out, some flitting like so many black spirits, some escaping into the night as wisps of memory are often wont to do ... some lingering, tumbling to the ground before her and rolling to a stop in the grass. Everything shone, dazzling in the moonlight with reflective sparks like pinpricks to her consciousness.
Upending the canister to shake loose every last piece, she then pushed it away across the ground, so that it too rolled to a stop, against the side of a stone.
Greedy fingers pawed through the bits of buried memories ... dried flowers (useless), cards and papers (meaningless), pieces of discarded collars (blasphemous!) ...
Gloved fingertips curled over a string of pearls, or what remained of them - the broken strand had been tied off at the end to prevent any more escaping, but was clearly short a few. December's pearls, of course - a wedding gift she herself had given, defiled on a sacred night.
With a wry grin and a toss of her curls, she cursed Kain Locke under her breath - and for one wistful moment wondered what had ever become of him - then forced the thought out of her mind and shoved the pearls into her pocket, alongside the tarot card.
Another shining morsel caught her eye - a leash, this one coiled on the ground in a tangle of dried leaves and what appeared to be yellow flower petals. Its interlocking leather and silver links sparked some shock of recognition in her, and she reached as if to pick it up ... but no, it was of no consequence, and at the last moment she drew her hand away.
Instead, she continued to dig through the pile of baubles, her eyes seeking - and finding - a small velvet-covered box. Stretching forward, she flicked open the lid, then clamped it shut again immediately. She could tell at a glance that its content was not hers.
A second velvet box beckoned from just inches away, and she knew as soon as she laid eyes on it that it must be the one. She reached for it slowly - her hand, fingers splayed, hovered above it for a long moment, hesitating as though it might sting to the touch. And well it might.
When she finally closed her hand around it and snatched it up, a single swift movement brought it before her eyes and twisted the lid back on its hinges.
There, on a satin cushion, lay a single sparkling ring, an ornate wedding band of roses woven in gold, their delicate petals dotted with blood rubies. The gold was slightly discolored - it had once been rescued from her office fireplace, after all - but the shine of the rubies had not diminished with time. As she turned the box from side to side, the stones reflected small red dots that danced over her alabaster cheeks.
It was her wedding ring, of course - the ring Church had commissioned for her. It was not a scene from the night of the ceremony, but from a dank tattoo parlor downwind of the city, that flashed in her mind at that moment.
With another start, she reached to her own throat, albeit for something that she knew no longer existed.
At the same time, she snapped the jewel box shut. The sound was loud, like a whip crack. Somewhere in the nearby trees, a bird disturbed from its nocturnal rest clattered through the leaves and screeched a complaint as it swooped away.
As the rustling settled and the squawking faded, Rose simply slid the ring box into her pocket.
It was the last of the memories she cared to take from this place.