(This is the post that was promised back in November)
(disclaimer: all Parabolan lore in this post is pure conjecture, or ‘head-canon’)
Reflections, or: The End of the Beginning
That moment between moments, not really a moment at all. Spent in a space between spaces, not really a space at all.
Francis Lightbody, or "Uncle Frank" to many orphans across the city, disappeared in the wee hours of 20 April, 1896. Few people missed him. No one ever missed him enough to investigate. But the children living on the streets of London had one thing less to worry about.
He disappeared after seeing something in his mirror he had never seen there before. Someone wiser in the ways of the Neath would have run away, or smashed the mirror then and there. But Francis Lightbody, who had never heard of "Fingerkings" or "Parabola", looked closer. And was doomed.
Even among its fellow Fingerkings, the Boil of Calamities stands out as an entity of particular unpleasantness. But everything under the sun (no matter [i]which [/i]sun) has its use.
Long since unable to move its bulk around, confined to its lair in the Marches and unable to hunt for itself, the Boil of Calamities relies solely on the Huntsman for prey. And this Huntsman delivers—the predators of London. There, caught in the endless coils of the giant snake, they are slowly devoured, memory for memory, emotion for emotion: every instance of greed, lust and envy, every violent deed, the Boil of Calamities takes into itself, feeding and feeding, growing and growing, like a monstrous tumour.
Luckily, the Boil of Calamities' hunger has no equal. Not even the Orts is as greedy, though in some aspects just as unpleasant. But most Fingerkings work much more slowly, almost considerately: taking on the identity of someone in the Is, living their life for weeks, months, sometimes years. The most fastidious ones choose their hosts for themselves, never relying on the Huntsman at all. She has heard of one, called the Moulting Eidolon, who reputedly dreams Existence through a veritable network of hosts. She wonders if it might not feel drunk on all that Existing by now and if so, how its hangover might turn out. She does care about her employers. A contract is a contract, after all.
But then there is also the sedate, almost constantly asleep, sort. If at all, they only require the Huntsman's services as a storyteller, contented to listen, to fantasize, to experience the Is second-hand, without any desire to actually Exist in it, with all the tedious consequences of such an Existence.
To them, she can relate.
Her work done, she roams the streets of the Fifth City. As always, the cold assails her and she wonders how it can be that Londoners get used to it at all. She still never stays too long on this side of the mirrors, a few hours at best. And all this time she feels the longing for an orange sun and the verdant green of Parabola’s jungles tugging at her.
They never talk to her, the people she meets. They hardly seem to notice her. So she is quite surprised when a voice from a dark alley purrs, "Hello there, fleeting figment." A voice she remembers well.
Cats are now wary of her. But the Midnight Matriarch of the Menagerie of Roses has spent many years away from Court. This has undoubtedly broadened her horizons, made her more accepting of the complications of political issues. Even so, she looks at the slight, frail figure before her for a long time before continuing to speak.
"The Minister of Culture sends his regards. He commends your exploits, and delights in observing the fruits growing from the seeds of inspiration you sewed. Well, in some of them."
Phoenyx nods slowly, a small lopsided smile on her face. "Of course he would. And what of the other Ministers? Do they speak of me?"
"They are, officially, quite unaware of your existence. Which is not surprising, since your Existence is the subject of some debate."
After a pause: "Heard you’ve got yourself a tattoo."
Phoenyx smiles again. "Yes. Do you want to see it?" Not waiting for an answer, as she already knows the answer, she turns around and lifts her shirt over her head.
[i]She remembers the lamps glowing in the crooked caravanserai. Millicent had squinted as if she had trouble seeing her clearly. "I can't put my finger on it but there's something... queer about you. I feel like you're hardly there. Are you sure you're not going to evaporate under my needle?"[/i]
[i]"Quite the opposite. By marking my skin, you'll help me become more real." Millicent had not gainsaid this.[/i]
[i]When Phoenyx layed out the specifications of the work she wished, the Lady in Lilac blew her cheeks. "This is going to take several days. And I hope you know there's no such thing as a magical tattoo."[/i]
[i]"It doesn't matter how long it takes. I have all the time in the world."[/i]
[i]Millicent had raised her eyebrows at this, but again made no comment. Of course, her work turned out beautiful. And say what you want about magical tattoos—she can feel that sun on her back warming her, if she just believes it hard enough.[/i]
"… Quite impressive."
Letting her shirt drop again, Phoenyx turns back around. "So. Is this an official visit? Are you a diplomatic envoy? Or just… and old friend come to visit me? That’d be nice, you know. I don’t really have any… old friends."
"Unsurprising." The Matriarch’s eyes sparkle. "Since you’re almost brand-new."
"I’ll take that as a compliment."
Another pause, then: "Most of my brothers and sisters prefer to see things black-and-white. And can I blame them? After all, that’s how it’s always been so far. There’s never been a double agent before. Which makes me, at least, very curious. And the pattern of your work is certainly… interesting."
"Who’s the glovemaker and who’s the glove?" Phoenyx muses, distracted for a moment. "That’s what you would like to know, isn’t it?"
The Matriarch shakes her head. "Not me. I’ve seen your friend board a ship home, to the Khanate. I know of your motivations, both the selfless and not so selfless ones. And my voice still counts for something. The Minister of State Affairs and the Minister of War are not convinced. But the Minister of Enigmas thinks you’re… very interesting."
"A stalemate then. Perfect. I like stalemates. Parabola, in some way, is one big stalemate. Of course," she quickly placates the bristling cat, "you wouldn’t see it that way. But at least you should know perfectly well that the Cats’ claim on all of Parabola is just as contentious as the Snakes’. It was made for neither of you."
The Matriarch hisses—or is it a soft laugh? "I should probably tell you to go to Hell, but I know you’ve been there already. So I’ll say… Until next time, old friend. Don’t fade away."
This time, the smile on the Huntsman’s face is wicked. "Tell the Duchess her sister sends her regards." With this, she quickly turns away. It’s not often you get to have the last word in a conversation with a cat.
Afterwards, she feels elated. She had dreaded a meeting like this, then been surprised by it, and navigated it on gut feeling alone. She hadn't really had an idea what she was doing throughout the conversation, but it had worked out well enough in the end. [i]And wasn't that how Phryne had done most things in life?[/i]
She climbs up to the highest point of the Flit, shivering in the cold wind. It is time to leave, but right now she feels like lingering, marveling at the view of this unlikely city sprawled beneath her.
Once again, she thinks about the notes she had found in the abandoned townhouse. (Already the neighbours refer to it as 'haunted'.) She had burned them all in the fireplace after reading. There was no need to keep them, she would never forget one word.
[i]'The soul is not the complete memory of a life. It is like a piece of modelling clay, and on it are many imprints, some almost impossible to make out, others unmistakable... the most important events in a life leave indelible traces on a soul, giving it its shape. Thus a soul is always both more and less than the person it once was... the distillation, the essence of a person... A soul without a body is as useless as a body without a soul. A curiosity, a collector's item. Of course, the devils would disagree with this, and the Judgements would annihilate me for these thoughts...'[/i]
The notes had been unfinished, of course, abandoned mid-sentence, almost mid-thought. This had been a trademark of everything Phryne Amarantyne had written—maybe everything she had [i]done[/i]—in her life. She had been quite aware of this, had even acknowledged it:
[i]'I think it is one of the most audacious things to do for mortals to finish something. I confess, the thought of finishing, of ending anything, even the most mundane tasks, often scares me. It certainly feels safer to me to avoid ever truly finishing anything.'[/i]
"But isn't every ending also a beginning? Then, by avoiding endings, we would also avoid new beginnings, which would be a pity, wouldn't it? Look at me: at this moment, I am nobody. But: I am, too, the soul who has stolen a reflection, to fashion a body for itself. I am unheard-of. And no one knows what I might still become."
These might be your reflections while you Are Here, the mist of London slowly drenching your clothes high on the rooftops, the mist all around you, a million tiny reflections around you, and you only need to focus to find one, any one, in a perfect little water molecule, and you're gone, in that moment between moments that isn't quite a moment at all, to that space between spaces that isn't quite a space at all.
But you'll call that non-space 'home' for now. It'll do. For now.
[b][i]An Achievement! You have fulfilled your Destiny. [/i][/b]
[b][i]You are now The Memory:[/i][/b]
[b][i]You have changed beyond all understanding, but something of you has remained.[/i][/b]
[i]edited by phryne on 4/21/2018[/i]