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my fair lady
someone with a reputation of lurking/an online urban legend
update: HEY. sorry for any replies that will [most likely] be late.
KABOOM. that's the sound of my brain exploding.
A wave of shock poured over the fair-haired girl as she watched the back of Emery (and the horde of prostitutes) run. She was dumbfounded. Astounded. A bit incredulous, indignant, and further more, she had no idea what just happened. True, she had accused Emery of being a thief - no, the thief - but surely that hadn't been too horrible that she had to be abandoned? His only advice: Run. Those were his last words to Ariel, and they were amazingly cold. She found no comfort in those few words of advice, and she didn't plan on following those words, either.
She could feel darkness climbing the walls of the street, a sense of foreboding that she had not realized before the departure of the pale-haired, foul-tempered male. Ariel's skin tingled, hairs raised on the back of her neck and she involuntary shuddered. The girl wasn't dim, per say - just too closed off from what she didn't want to perceive. If she scored a low mark on a test, but did not want to believe it, then simply - she would assume that she anything but a low mark. It was just an obnoxious quirk of Ariel's that she was only semi-aware of and had no intention to change.
But she was not completely idiotic - there was a reason that Emery was running, she simply had no located the cause - yet. The girl began at a slow pace and picked up speed as she half-walked, half-jogged down the dark cobble-stone road. Answers she would get, but apparently not from Emery.
In the town, there were people that you simply did not trust, and things that you simply followed. They were merely dummies, fake and soulless, stripped of a shadow and of a mind. They were the Colonel and the Librarian, the keeper of the shadows - how ironic. The ones who kept the shadows - ergo, the closest - were the ones who were the farthest from life with shadows themselves. The town's citizens knew the Colonel and the Librarian as leaders, beings they could not survive without - but they all knew the two shadow-keepers could not be trusted for they themselves had no shadows. Thus, Ariel could not turn to them for assistance. She had no reason to involve citizens in matters concerning a thief and shadows, for many of the citizens' shadows were close to dying or already dead - perhaps stolen. And then there were the laws that you simply followed - if there was a problem, you went to the Librarian and the Colonel to talk it over, resolve it, and destroy the problem.
Such was the reason of existence of the beings Librarian and Colonel. The unwritten laws that stated curfew, the unwritten rule of vagueness - were all things that the citizens of the town had followed for the decades and centuries that all seemed to blend together in a faded white mist that was the history of the city. It was just the way things operated. Such was the way all the mindless people of the town lived. Such was the way Ariel tried to follow - but could not - would not.
It was like a paradox, Ariel decided, as the alley opened up into a square. She watched a droplet of water form at the edge of a gutter and then fall with such clarity, as if in slow-motion, with a splash onto the stones that made up the roads. She had always thought that the town was hers, that there was nothing to fear in such a city - and one day, she would escape it with her shadow - but until then, the town was hers, her domain, even if the Librarian and the Colonel were really the "rulers" of the place.
So why did the prickling feeling intensify, as if there were a million and more tiny pinpricks walking on her skin? A bead of coldness slid down the back of her neck. The streetlamps flickered. Ariel turned, slowly, and watched a figure at the end of the cobblestone road she had just come out of glide towards her. It was dark, wearing black, but no light reflected off the material. It was as if it was a 3-d form of shadow.
Ah, Ariel decided. This is something to run from.
Appealing it was to stand idle along the road side, not saying a word but merely breathing in the scent of summer and all its pleasantries - the faint bird chirps sounding from the edge of a rickety fence, the warm sun-kissed smell of weeds and grasses growing taller than a man's height at the edge of a forlorn building. Off in the distance, loud voices, childish - demanding a turn on a makeshift swing made of a tire. He strolled past it all, a few more meters away from the dark wooden door of the mortuary and the dust and dead. Intriguing to walk headlong into the fading summer day when he had been bottled up inside a room of skeletons for ages - brave, he called it.
Ahead of him he could see a deserted playground, where the dandelion ghosts of summer and sunshine still floated about, pushing the swings here and there. The rest of the still warm air paraded around the run-down jungle gym and rattled whatever playthings could be rattled. Even here, in the wood chips that were scattered to prevent errant falling-downs, summer still screamed its presence.
Up further ahead still was a diner - grimy and dusty, baked in the summer heat and then cooling off in the desert night that still only provided heat and more heat still. Flashing neon lights, arrows pointed at the tiny restaurant. The evening that had forced the sun to set so fast had finally wholly and completely fallen over the town. Tong's eyes met the blinking light bulbs of the sign over the diner and agreed with the rest of him that he deserved a coffee for his troubles - actually, only walking around the area in an effort to get out of the mortuary for once.
The door jangled as he pushed it open with no regard of the rusted hinges, and let the wave of greasy cold air sweep over him as he stepped into the diner. It was small. He was vaguely aware that he was standing in front of a counter, and glanced at the girl manning the cashier. He took pity. "A small coffee, please."
"I'm Ariel," Ariel clarified after being dragged along a little while by the so-called Emery. His responses were still crazily flying around in her head; her brow furrowed in thought: he lost it? Had the shadow been taken forcefully? Ariel had never known a shadow to be taken by force - the owner always had to agree to it. But then again, she had never known a person to ever force his way into the gates of the great city, but yet here Emery was, looking like someone had just ran over his puppy and striding steadily away from the red light district, where the prostitutes were still jeering away and generally being really stupid.
"What do you mean, a voice?" the girl mused as she was being dragged along. The streets and roads were slowly clearing of people - they had gotten over the shock of the shaking ground - and curfew was nearing. Ariel had only been out once or twice after curfew, and she hadn't ever been caught - but now her record would be broken if the guy kept on dragging her about after nightfall and with their obvious tramping around, they would definitely be caught. "Are you implying that I'm - but if you've asked me that - it must be that - you have a voice in your head - are you crazy?" There was only an awkward little silence as Ariel contemplated the thought. "No, it couldn't be."
The sky was steadily growing darker, the light changing into a color that seemed sinister for Ariel - the streetlamps were being lit - it was the second warning of the curfew, casting strange once-shadows on the stone walls of the Town and the cobblestone streets of the city. Ariel stared in wonder at the blank empty spaces behind them as they ran - she had never really gotten used to the fact that her shadow really was not following her anymore. "Where are we going?" asked Ariel bemusedly, wondering why a newcomer to the Town was leading a... citizen around. "Are we running from the scary prostitutes? They're not that scary, you know, they just kind of leer at you and demand money, that's all."
She tugged on her hand, frowning when Emery did not relinquish it - wherever he was going, he must be pretty desperate. The pale-haired girl scowled - she had tried wheedling (somewhat), asking impatiently, and then - "Alright, Emery." She dragged her heels into the cobblestone ground, scraping her shoes against the stone until they made an unpleasant crumbling sound and her feet got friction burn; tugged at her arm again, harder, her efforts slowing Emery down somewhat. They slowly came too a complete stop at a miserable intersection with leaves clogging up the gutter at the edges of the street. Ariel thought she saw a cockroach scatter up the side of a streetlamp as it flashed on to reveal its reddish-orange burning glow as the sky graduated from a purplish bruise color to the hue of blue midnight. The strange color combination caused her exposed skin to change to a orange and shaded mosaic and her fair hair to turn into a hideous ginger hue.
Tugging her hand out of his grip, Ariel put both her hands on his shoulders and shook it a bit. "Hey. Stop. You paranoid or something?" She spoke in a tone one might use when teaching a small child that crying got you no where except for maybe... well, just no where. "Where are you going?" A thought struck her: "You're - " Ariel gasped, her palms suddenly sweaty and her face draining of color. "You're the thief, aren't you?!"
The great Hatsumiyo of the great Tachibana family stood proudly at the entrance of the room, armor already shed, for she wished to appear as a lady - heeding her fiancé's words - although she had been rather disconcerted at the fact that he had not asked her to sit down, or at least offer her a cup of tea. Rude! Hatsumiyo was, after all, his fiancée. And the way he invited the his fiancée and that despicable cat demon in - a weak voice, "come in then"? Unbearable. Her honored parents had chosen this boy to be her husband? The Tachibana heiress contemplated jigai at the mere thought before tweaking her facial expression to appear the picture of gentility.
The morning had started off fine - the Tachibana Heiress painted her face to a superbly fine degree of elegance and beauty (pointless once she donned her mask, really) and had gone out in pursuit of the disgusting cat demon who had a problem with the might of the Tachibana house. It made Hatsumiyo's blood boil just thinking of the little cretin -
And the morning steadily progressed into afternoon and then evening as Hatsumiyo tracked down the demon and launched her attack. Sure, it was a one-person attack, but she was of the great Tachibana family and what did she have to fear? The cat demon - no, the pathetically mewling creature - would be eliminated and she would be the one to do that.
But of course, her plans all went down the drain the minute her long-lost fiancé revealed himself. Plan foiled. It put a damper on her brilliance, but Hatsumiyo would find a way around that. After all, she was a Tachibana and the Tachibana would never admit defeat without honor! Thus she seated herself primly at the table and shed her mask, revealing her visage - which, really, looked like another mask, although the paleness of her painted face was slightly marred by the dewdrops of perspiration that beaded at her temples. That cat-cretin was definitely going to be eliminated someday, Hatsumiyo vowed. To appear in her state like this in front of her future husband was unforgivable! The first impression was ruined. She resisted the urge to lunge at the cat demon and behead the thing.
"Akechi-sama," Hatsumiyo murmured, practiced demureness hiding the impatience and irritation that was threaded heavily in her voice. She bowed formally, tips of her fingers together, arms only slightly bent, neck perfectly straight - sleeves of her kimono so long that they only showed the ends of her fingers - and then returned to her original position. She hoped her fiancé was satisfied - it was a perfect bow: beautiful and only worthy of the highest ranked. It took a while for her to process her fiancé's words (and twist it to her understanding). What strange dialect. "There is no need to pay any sum of money, my lord, for it is the Tachibana family that will produce the dowry for our union." Hatsumiyo's gaze rose to meet Akechi's evenly, with a hint of threat. "I'm sure you know that our marriage agreement has been settled between our families for more than a decade, Akechi-sama."
"The dead have never bothered me. It's the living that I fear."
The mortuary walls were covered in a thin film of dust; cobwebs hung limply from the corners of the small crowded room that smelled vaguely of old leather and rotting peaches. Tong sunk lower in his seat in the front of the funeral parlor, the corner of his mouth pulling down as he marked his page in the book he was picking away at each listless day in the slowly dying place (literally) and set the book (The Rudiments of Genteel Behavior
) on the counter, where it made a dusty thudding sound and a gentle poof of dust that rose slowly in a transparent cloud above the book.
He supposed he should be glad that there hadn't been anyone calling in to arrange a funeral - no deaths, that was all good and well - but Tong had not requested this job for nothing. It was the still silence that the dead offered that enticed him to choose such a profession. Even the job he had acquired some years ago as a crime scene cleaner was more interesting than what he was doing now - sitting in a dusty mortuary without a single dead body in the neatly aligned coffins that were stored in the back of the funeral parlor, each giving off a sense of dread with every heartbeat of the only living creature in the place: Tong.
The early evening light had already faded to a thin bruise-like color when Tong found himself with his cheek against the hard surface of the book and letters etched into his flesh from the pressure exerted while he had dozed off. While the mortuary officially closed at 8:00 sharp every day save Sundays when the mortuary didn't open at all, the manager who was always somewhere in the Bahamas, or Hawaii, or some luxurious tropical place, had no objections with his employees staying past midnight - because really, who wanted to spend the night in a mortuary with all the coffins and the dead? Tong had once slept over at the mortuary carving intricate designs on a coffin and stayed a full 24 hours at the funeral parlor without breaking a sweat. But it was one of those days
, Tong decided. It was one of those days when he was the prince of the mortuary, a sardonic knife only cutting through the grubby air and into the unresponsive dead - but tonight, it would be cutting into the tender hearts of the living, for even a prince needed to tend to the affairs of his principality.
Tong picked up the book of etiquette and opened the door of the mortuary, the rusted bell jingling ominously as he locked up for the day, only allowing a brief draft of freedom, of careless abandon, of summer
- to pass swirl the stalemate inside the mortuary.
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