“As the world sings in the palm of one’s hand,
so too does its echo distort the truth.”
Cold. Isolated. Out of sight, and out of mind. Vahlmore was ever bathed in a mist not unlike its own hubris. It was quiet, empty, and people went about their business as usual. They didn’t know better, didn’t know otherwise, but how could they? They had but one purpose, but one reason for living - for their continued existence. After all, things just didn’t seem to want to stay dead when it came to the City of Mist.
Its streets, while not necessarily bustling, were moving at a brisk pace. People came and went, but never left the city - almost as if the place itself was in a perpetual standstill. Circling around itself, starting from one spot only to return to that very same place moment later. An endless cycle that started only when the lights in the castle turned on again one night.
Before, it was an ominous sight. The manor of the late Balthasar the Mad was a sight to behold. A sight of power, of a time before ruin. Or, perhaps, because of his excellency it was a sight of ruin, of a time before power. No one really knew, but no one dared to ask either. Now, though, after the rise of their new Queen, the castle didn’t look ominous anymore.
Now… now it was much worse. While the castle itself had been renovated, it wasn’t really its aesthetics that made it look that much more uncomfortable. There was something about the way it just existed under her rule that made it so unsettling. No strange noises, no screams, no flickering of the lights or people that went in and never came back. Just an unsettling aura that seemed more akin to the mist surrounding the city than that of an overlord’s abode.
“Lady Rosa.” The words sounded feminine. A little unnatural, but definitely that of a woman.
There was no response as the sound carried itself through the streets of Vahlmore. Footsteps echoed softly against an uneven, unpolished road underneath. Red hair flowed through the wind as a pair of blue eyes darted across the street. Where could she have gone, her lady, her mistress? She felt unsettled by the unknowing of it all.
It was a strange feeling, and one she didn’t quite understand. When she’d been taken in by Aranea, Lady Rosa’s late mother, she’d been ‘transcended’ by her. Stripped of her own free will, of her emotions. From that point forward she’d gotten but a singular directive. Tend to Rosa by any means necessary, until she was ready to be sacrificed.
Of course, her mistress didn’t end up being sacrificed. Instead, it was Aranea who was consumed. It was strange, even back then, how her purpose felt completed even though it wasn’t Rosa who had been sacrificed. Almost as if she had been hoping it would turn out this way. After all, she’d tended to Rosa by any means necessary… and someone did get sacrificed.
“Lady Rosa.” The words sounded feminine, and a little hurried. They were a little unnatural, but definitely that of a woman looking for someone.
“What is it?” a soft, almost melodic voice responded.
Melina came to a halt at the words of her Queen. It took the woman a while to realize where she’d ended up at, but immediately recognized it as she looked upon Rosa. She was sat on a bench close to the execution site of her mother, the place where Arachne was supposed to be resurrected at almost three years ago: the Nether Grave.
Its name didn’t make much sense to her back then, because the place looked closer to that of an outdoor theater than a grave. Nowadays, though, it made even less sense. The large stage upon which Aranea had made her claims was gone, and it had been replaced by a fountain of sorts. Hardly a place for the deceased.
“I…” Melina began, but none of her words really came out right.
“I like this version of you better than the one my mother gave to me,” Rosa chimed in, whistling softly and trashing her legs back in forth as she continued gazing upon the fountain. It was almost as if she was waiting for something.
“You know that, right?”
Though she didn’t want it to, she could feel her face turning red from embarrassment. A feeling she hadn’t felt in a long, long time. What was it now… almost three years ago, right?
“If I may be so impertinent, lady Rosa,” the blue-eyed beauty continued, trying to regain her composure a bit. “Why did you bring me back to life after all this time? Why not immediately after you took everything?
“Or… better yet, why at all?”
She’d only really been ‘awake’ for less than a month now. The last thing she remembered was seeing Rosa off that day and being ‘terminated’ for her services rendered. She’d never dared to ask before what made her Queen breathe life back into her body, but somehow tonight made her feel a little bolder than usual - something in the air, maybe.
“To prove her that I can, I guess,” Rosa responded, her somewhat cheerful demeanor all but gone now. “Not that she can really judge anymore really, since she’s dead and all that.”
Melina’s eyes widened a little, as the sudden response was not quite what she had expected. She’d expected Rosa to have some grand scheme, so great spectacle… a tale so stupendous that she couldn’t comprehend it. Instead, it was just to show her deceased mother that she could?
“Well,” Rosa pressed on, appearing in front of Melina and placing her fingers on the blue-eyed woman’s lips. “That, and I really like you, Melina.
“You were to tend to my every need, by any means necessary if I recall.”
“I… yes, that was what your mother told me all those years ago.”
“I liked that about you. Your face, your body, your features. That voice, the way you comprehended what I was saying, but not being able to show it. It was a slow pain, an agonizing feeling watching you struggle with that inability to feel.
“It was exhilarating, intoxicating.
“But it was incomplete.
“To own someone, both in heart and mind. That is the sort of loyalty I want, the sort of woman I want to tend to my every whim.”
Her words drummed through every fiber of her body, of her being as she listened to Rosa speak of her life as a mere toy. Everything within her body knew that any sane person would be revolted by this, that any normal person would be disgusted upon hearing their lives reduced to such insignificance.
“That is why I brought you back now, and not then, Melina,” Rosa said. “I wanted you not as a doll, not as a mindless slave, but as a vessel capable of thought, emotion and self-governing autonomy.”
Rosa held out her hand, and showed Melina the palm of her hand. In it was a small vial, a phylactery. Her phylactery.
“All in the name of the greatness that is: me.”
Dropping to one knee, Melina bowed her head down and responded with a resounding, “Yes. My all for you, Lady Rosalina.”
As a wicked smile crept on her face, the spurii turned around to face the fountain once again. As a figurehead she’d installed a statue of herself holding a skull in her right hand, and an ancient tome in her left.
“You might not remember it very well,” the red-haired crossbreed voiced as clouds began to form overhead. “But, do you know what day it is today, my dear?”
“...Day, milady?” Melina said, unsure how to really react to that question. “It is a Tuesday today.”
“Not any Tuesday, Melina,” the stormy-eyed Queen responded.
“Tonight is the Nieste fi Terestavf Maiest.”