After the disbanding of the Hallifaxian guilds, an erstwhile Symphonist meets with her family to discuss the even'ts repercussions.
*Disclaimer: Unauthorized impersonation of Divine involved. We needed flavor. Yeah.
A sombre chapel illuminated by stained glass.
Banks of clouds roil about here. A heavy silence blankets this circular chamber, broken only by the soft sighs of candle flames set upon the altars here. Each of the four altars is a simple block of marble, adorned only by the thin lines of quartz veins that spider through the stone. Behind three of the altars is a small banner bearing a divine symbol, one for each member of the Hallifaxian pantheon: the silver disc bisected by jagged energy of the Architect, the bird of paradise and the white falcon of the Aesthete, and the white snowflake of the Frost Queen. The final altar bears no banner; only a small blue flame burns within a glass sphere in memory of the Enigma. Sombre, dusky light filters down though a single circular window of stained glass bearing the image of a beryl aerial encircled by a ring of twilight-hued flame.
A painting of supplicants at the stair is proudly exhibited on a nearby wall.
You see a single exit leading east.
Xeii's eyes are closed, either in prayer or meditation, her presence overtaken by the silence that presides over the chapel. Slowly, your presence registers and she leaps to her feet, two garnet spots high on her cheeks.
Nelras silently enters the chapel and approaches you, wordlessly standing behind you as he waits for you to become aware of his presence.
Attempting to regain her composure, you say, "Ah, Nelras......"
Barely raising his voice above a whisper, Nelras Shevat says, "Xeii. Are you well, my love?"
Xeii glances down at her satchel, seemingly inadvertently. Her expression is a mixture of tension and hidden, embarrassed laughter, but it grows somewhat sombre at the quietness to Nelras's voice.
Walking over to you, you ask Nelras, "I am. Are you, Nelras?"
Nelras Shevat says to you, "I am, yes. I hope I have not disturbed you, here."
Spinning pink cherry blossom petals swirl in from the east, dancing playfully in joyous anticipation as Aramel emerges from their midst.
Xeii shakes her head, smiling softly at her surroundings. "Let us move out, still. Somewhere not as quiet or - "
Eyes softening, you say, "Mother."
You say to Aramel, "Has all been well with you? Well, besides all this chaos that has been sweeping the organizations..."
Nelras turns swiftly as Aramel approaches. With none of his usual composure, he says "H.hello, lady Shevat."
Aramel smiles impishly at you and Nelras, seemingly not at all repentant for her sudden entry. "Hello, dear," she says. "Hello, Nelras. It has been a few long months. But I have brought tea." Eyeing Nelras skeptically over the tea tray in her hands, she raises an eyebrow. "And since when were you so formal?" she asks laughingly.
Quietly, Nelras Shevat says, "These last months have been difficult, the last one more so. I do apologize if I fall back on old habits."
Without glancing at her husband, Xeii smoothly adds, "Well, it is always surprising to have mothers-in-laws walk in chapels."
Aramel regards you with fond amusement. "It doesn't do to make things -too- easy for your spouse, you know," she says. "They become dull and uninteresting if you don't keep them on their toes a bit."
"Oh, that I expect I will be doing rather often, in the coming days, or months," Xeii comments, a smile remaining on her face.
Xeii finally spares a look at Nelras. Her expression is pained.
Nelras turns his attention back to you, smiling rather faintly as he says "So long as it is you making my life less easy, I will have no problems."
Aramel sets the tray down upon the bench, picking up one of the willow-patterned cups instead. Her glance goes from you to Nelras, catching their expressions, a quiet curiosity tinged with familiarity in her gaze. "Always the correct answer," she muses. "But then again, I have not known my daughter to make anyone's life difficult, and do not see her starting now."
Xeii's smile returns, though the faint amber coursing through her skin speaks otherwise. She waits silently for Aramel to set up the tea, gazing upon the altar of the Aesthete as if lost in thought.
Nelras eyes linger on you for a moment longer before he turns back to Aramel. "Not difficult," he says, "but..." His voice trails off. He glances down at the floor and murmurs something under his breath before continuing, "That is not what I meant, either."
Aramel fixes Nelras with a sharp gaze. "You speak in riddles and half-things," she says, "Almost like my nephew Ejderha - and look where it got him." Eyeing your figure critically, she adds, "This does not seem like an occasion to tell me about a future grandchild, either."
Xeii's usual poise seems to have taken on an icier quality during the past few months, but she allows herself a small, warm smile.
You say, "No news in that quarter yet. Or perhaps our child's future entry into the Portal has already erased our memories."
Continuing nonchalantly, you say, "And we know nothing of what has befallen Cousin Ejderha, by the way."
Aramel smiles faintly. "I shall alert your grandfathers of varying degrees," she says, "Who I am sure will bond over their mutual crestfallenness."
Cheerfully, Aramel says, "As for your cousin - his mysterious and metaphorical ways have caused him to be pursued by a really astounding number of women he did not mean to interest."
Aramel nonchalantly says, "Why, this very month the chief of the Hhuhur tribe tried to marry his daughter to Ejderha."
With a weary smile, Nelras Shevat says, "So long as that is all, still. I had not spoken with him recently, I had worried there that he had found more trouble, the way you were talking about him."
Xeii laughs along and goes on to ask about the details of the women in question, all the while glancing, not too frequently, at Nelras with an unreadable expression.
Aramel says to Nelras, with a pitiless disregard for social niceties, "I perceive that you are changing the subject."
With a faint smile on his lips, Nelras Shevat says to Aramel, "You are perceptive, as ever."
Airily, you say, "So did I, in a way."
Aramel settles back, cupping her tea in her hands. The silence stretches on between all of you, politely quizzical.
Nelras glances uncertainly towards you, an unspoken question held in his gaze.
With an amusement not hers, you say, "Another gathering? Mortals certainly do seem to love those. Time they could use to refine themselves they spend on chatter and idleness."
Xeii's hand flies to her forehead and her eyes close.
Nelras Shevat says, "Xeii..."
Wearily, you say, "Yes, another gathering."
Xeii slowly lowers her hand, balling it without appearing to be aware of her actions.
She seems yet unwilling to explain. Xeii turns away for a moment, murmuring something to herself.
No longer caring for politeness nor appearances, Nelras walks over to stand next to Xeii. His voice gentle, yet with a hint of...something, perhaps insistence, he says "Yes, another gathering, which Xeii is attending." He places his hand around your, giving it a gentle squeeze.
Aramel's eyes widen at the sudden change in your posture and speech, taking in the arch tone of her voice, the distant, almost cold amusement. She stands up swiftly, striding swiftly across the room without her usual poise. Her fingers close around your wrist, and she turns her head towards Nelras. "Explain this," she says to him. "That was not my daughter."
Her lip quirking slightly, you mutter, "My .other, ..rd. And my h....nd. Is it no. . harmonious oc....on?"
Nelras's gaze does not leave you, even as he tries to provide Aramel with the explanation she desires. "She..." He starts, faltering for a moment before he continues. "The Voice, Lord Crys, He was in pain and He...He is within Her. The voice you heard, it was His."
Xeii looks over Nelras and Aramel with a detached gaze, no crystalline tones coming from her lips.
Smiling quietly, you say, "Not just Him. Lady Jilai is here as well."
You say, "We are safe here. No more disruptance. We care for Us. We will remain."
There is a noise of shattering china as Aramel moves, the teacup in her hands dropping to the marble floor and breaking in a spray of shards, the tea staining her white gown. "Crys," she says. "Crys who claimed a mortal woman's fate as his own, who invaded her mind, who subsumed her life? That Crys?" Her voice rises with each phrase, with no regard for the sacred hush of the chapel. Seeing that you is unaware, she rounds on Nelras again. "When did this happen?" she demands.
As if only now aware of her presence once more, Nelras turns to face Aramel. His wings droop down by his sides and he lowers his gaze, weakly murmuring "Last weave, or early this. Hallifax was under attack..."
Softly, you say, "His Song was disrupted."
You say, "For a weave, whatever He sang was tinged with discordance."
One corner of her lip rising once more, though without malice, you say, "And the unresponsive Voice suddenly keened, called out, decried the disorder present."
You say, "He spoke of this 'being the same as the last time.' He declared that He and Lady Jilai had to flee."
You say, "The crystals amplified whatever discordance that was reaching Hallifax...when I went to inspect one..."
You say, "When I placed my hand upon it..."
You say, "I was not thinking of what was said the weave before. We had...Nelras and Maestro Trueflight...spoken of how to contain our Lord. Of what vessel would be needed. Whether a living being would be required. Only after did They enter did I remember. Did I...accept."
Her voice rising still higher, Aramel says to Nelras, "That was -two weeks ago-! Two weeks! You greeted me at the aetherplex as though nothing was wrong, and no one ever thought to say, 'oh, by the way, your daughter is currently being possessed by a controlling, compulsive - " Words seem to fail her at this point, and instead she turns abruptly away from Nelras to stand in front of you once more.
Xeii stands calm before Aramel, her cool composure at complete odds with the maelstrom of colours beneath her skin.
Nelras says to Aramel "I would have told you, I would. But it seemed you were gone, I would not tell you of this so...distantly." He lowers his voice, adding, "I wish I could have told you, but...I lack the words. How could I tell you...even though I needed to, so clearly, how could I?"
Coldly, you say, "My Song is safe. My Instrument is safe."
Glancing about as if checking for some unseen presence, you say, "My Heart I will not touch."
Aramel takes a ragged breath. Her hand is clenched on the handle of her athame rather than on her lute, long years of sheer spinal reflex overriding conscious thought. "Get out of my daughter," she whispers. "Her mind is her own. I have seen what it is, and it is not. Yours."
Smirking, you say, "I have chosen her. She is My Instrument, and she I will keep safe. As I have promised."
You say, "Think you can harm Us, mortal?"
Quietly, you say, "Lady Czixi has bade Him promise not to overtake my soul, Mother."
Nelras steps to stand between you and Aramel, exclaiming "Aramel! He is within her, but it is still her. Her body."
You say, "The Welkin He cannot refuse."
"Your definition of safe is highly variable," Aramel says coldly to the presence within you. "As for harm - I do not know. Surely you have heard of the healing of the red moon in the sky, and the sealing of Kethuru... and Zenos before him. That is a familiar name to you, I think. We mortals can be resourceful."
Seeing you and Nelras arrayed defensively against her, Aramel gives a long, tired blink, and her fingers slowly loosen from the hilt of her weapon. Far gentler, she reaches out slowly to tilt your face towards her. Her next question is quiet, almost conversational. "Did your father know of this?"
With a small sigh, you say, "Yes, he knows. Not the details. Not yet."
Aramel simply says, "Hm." The sound is not at all promising, but she does not say any more on that subject. She withdraws her hand, which is shaking visibly with the aftermath of fear and anger, before she clenches it decisively in her cloak to steady it. She glances down, as if just noticing the mess of pottery at her feet.
Xeii bends down wordlessly to pick up the larger pieces and carefully places them back onto the tray.
Simply, you say, "I will be safe. Mother."
You say, "I trust in Lady Isune and Czixi - the Lord Conductor will not consume me, and I will not disappoint."
Aramel seems floored by your equanimity under the circumstances. Tentatively, she reaches out her arms to wind them around you, hesitant as though expecting to be shrugged off under the influence of the new, colder presence within you. Almost unwillingly, she asks, "Does it hurt?"
Xeii smiles gently at Aramel, her answering embrace cool only to the touch. "No longer. The threat has passed, and now that harmony is here - that war is gone - there is no more pain."
Aramel takes a deep breath. "Remember," she says, her voice soft. "Whatever your duty - whatever is demanded of you. You are not a vessel, nor a tool. You are you, and my child."
Lifting a hand to her heart, you say, "Whoever may speak through me, I am still here."
To Aramel, and then to Nelras, Xeii says, "Your daughter. Your wife. Nothing short of Fate will change this, and I highly doubt They would wish to change it."
In ritual words foreign to the marble halls of this place, though in a way that makes it clear the words bring her comfort, Aramel murmurs half to herself, "So mote it be."
"She is strong, she will be strong," Nelras whispers, half to Aramel and half to reassure himself. Turning his attention fully to you once more, he echoes those same words. "You are strong, you will be strong, Xeii. You are no tool, no instrument that you can only play the song He demands. You are yourself. Please, be strong."
Xeii leaves Aramel's embrace with a parting smile. Facing Nelras, she speaks once more, taking his hands in hers. Her voice is deep and rich as ever - no ringing coldness or the rare, lilting soprano of the beings within her. "For eternity."
You whisper to Nelras, "I am myself. I am yours."
Xeii steps backward, closing her eyes before Crys's presence can reach her once more.
Nelras Shevat whispers to you, "And I am yours, no matter what may happen."
You grow still and begin to pray silently for preservation of your soul while you are out of the land.
Aramel smiles at the couple, and bends to gather up the tea tray in her arms again. Quietly, with an unwonted discretion, she leaves them to their moment.
EDIT: Line stuff. Hopefully there aren't any typos.
"May this be the first of many new experiences for you, Heart of the Crescendo," Czixi says, smile quirking. "The future is an exciting place."