A long strip of black silk dangles from his fingertips.
“Hide the stains. Stains of chains. Chains of souls, weeping bowls of tears. Hide the fears. Hide the stains.”
He shakes his head. The world spins topsy and turvy, chiming madly like an orchestra in an earthquake.
“YOU ARE SANE! You are THE HONOURABLE Drake Albrecht. You are a SCHOLAR. You are a STATESMAN. You are PUBLISHED in REPUTABLE JOURNALS. You are a PUBLISHER of ELUSIVE TRUTHS. You… are… SANE!”
His arms are wrapped in black silk. He doesn’t remember twining the fabric around his wrists. He doesn’t remember tying the elaborate knot behind each elbow. Quite the trick it must have been, casting such graceful loops with a single hand. The silk betrays no sign of claw or fang. The cat didn’t help. The cat wouldn’t help. Madness to even suggest.
Black silk shows no stain. He still sees every mark. Some seep through the midnight cloth. Some hover above, glowing in traces about his fingertips. Were they brighter, he could see by them. Were they dimmer, he could see beyond. Even the most honest men he had approached, and this was admittedly a low bar in Fallen London, had assured him that they saw naught but black silk.
The wounds are a distant memory now. The burning sigils before his sight are like the afterimage of staring too long at gaslamps. Once they were all he saw. Once his thoughts molded to them. He will never mold them to his thoughts. He knows this now, but there has been something of a compromise.
He has compromised all that he ever was. A simple question. One answer. Many worlds. One answer per world.
He chokes back his own voice. His wife will hear. His third wife. Beauties and monsters alike have fled in fear of even the echoes of his obsession. Now a woman beyond reproach slumbers in the gilded room, high in the Bazaar’s looming towers. “Beyond,” he said to the air, “is a different direction than above.” He knows why she stays. They each carry a burden, similar in magnitude if not in nature. She must hide what she is. He must hide what he knows. Each lives through the day pretending they hide from the other. Each knows better.
“But I don’t! I don’t know. I don’t know if knowing can even be…”
He has faced his failure, accepted it, and grown at peace. He has not surrendered to it. The choice was never there, really. Surrender always seemed the best option, and yet never an option at all. The cost of surrender was too dear, for it would have cost nothing at all.
Persistence, however, nearly cost him everything. He laughs. “Nearly? Everything! Over and over. Everything, seven times seven times seven times.”
He holds his shaking hand before the hat-rack. One of his hats is nearly alive, and yet they all are. His hands shake as they reach for the hat. The hat has never mattered. It is an ornament. Without it, he is everything he has ever been.
He holds his hand before the hat-rack, and its shaking ceases. He looks at the hand. The hand looks back. An abyss yawns between them.
“Perhaps I’ll never be all that I once was. Perhaps I’m more now. Perhaps that’s all I’ve ever needed to admit.”
He grasps the hat in a steady hand, and calmly places it over his head. He strides up the stairs, where his wife has stopped pretending to sleep. She seems startled by the clarity in his eyes.
“My dear, I suggest dinner in Tyrant Gardens this evening, if your duties leave you free,” he says.
“Tyrant Gardens? The memories won’t haunt you?” she asks, trying to seem distant. She is as shaken by his past as he is by her body’s demands.
He smiles. “Revelations come at the most unexpected times. My shame is but an ornament, hung upon my person. Like my hat, it is seen by all, noted by none. I would look out of place were it absent.”
She matches his happy grin, the false dusk reflecting from her teeth. “Then let me don my dress and my shame, and I shall away with you to any place you choose.”
((OOC: I’ve finally caught up with the steadily advancing limits on my qualities, after the damage caused by the (currently) final step in The Name story))
edited by Drake Albrecht on 1/3/2012