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I force silence down the throats of mutes,
down the throats of mating-cries of animals who know they are extinct.
The chameleon's death-soliloquy is your voice's pulse;
your scorched forehead a constellation's suicide-note.

A phonograph needle plunges through long black hair,
and stone drips slowly into our veins.
The earth has been squandered by the meek.
And upsidedown in the earth a dead man walks upon my soles when I walk

- bill knott

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Go Not Gently
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Chapter Five - Not Knowing

 

Seconds turned to hours, hours turned to days, days turned into weeks.

Most of it I spent in hopeless helpless boredom, pacing the floor of my room down, my brain alive with plans to get out. Small catches I spent talking with Rain, who was gentle and good and kind and took me down to the enormous kitchens to have me sitting up on the sideboard to watch like a small child. He used to make cinnamon-sugar-crisps for me, and I ate them piping hot and sticky in my fingers as we talked about life and the weather and chocobos. There were other Black Mages who talked to me, sweet never-naive things with big hats and eyes, and in a fit of originality I called them Cloud, Sun, and Tide. There was another I called Rainbow Moonshine Seaspray, but everyone got muddled trying to remember the name and in the end we called him Shiny.

The mixture of tenderness and violence with which Black Tango treated his Mages, his little ones, frightened me at times. He would just as often stroke their hats and smile endearments than kick them to the side, hardly able to bear looking at them as he stormed past. He was the same with me, a stormy-weathered bastard, though sometimes he sat with me for long silences as if he didn't quite know what to say.

On rainy days he would sit on top of his library tower and I'd watch from my room as he disintergrated the antlions that came up to bathe in the moisture, fireball after fireball flying from his hands. He could level a city without trying. He would level a city without trying. Please not Lindblum, please not Lindblum, please not Lindblum...

I used to go down and repair the boiler for Rain when it broke, and it took hours of begging to Tango to give me tools. After I'd done, slick-palmed from fear and doubt, I slid a spanner down my trousers; it could have been useful for later. When I left the boiler room, he was waiting, and he ripped open the front of them with his bare hands to pull the spanner out. He raised it, and I flinched in preparation for the blow; but then he turned and hit Rain with it so hard that he flew across to smack into the wall. He watched me as I walked away with the small Mage in my arms.

I have you, Linden-bloom, he said. I don't have to hurt you with my hands to hurt you.

"You fucker," I wept later in my room. "You whoreson, you bastard, you monster, yan-sucker - I hate you, I hate you, I hate you, I hate you! Die! Stop! Bleed!"

"It's all right," Rain croaked, on my bed, voice barely a whisper. "It doesn't matter, Eiko."

"He hit you! He hit you with a spanner!" He was so little, so sweet. In my mind, all I could see was him hitting the wall, and then his coat and his hat and his shoes morphed into Vivi's, and he was Vivi -

"I'll heal." He let out a sigh. "He gets angry, Eiko. He - he cannot stop himself. He's sorry later."

"What if he'd killed you?" I raged. "What if you died?"

"He - he would have been sorry later."

"I'll make him sorry now."

"I should not have let you take the spanner."

"Gods." I knelt by his bed, my chin on the mattress, eyes clenching shut in guilt. "Oh, Rain. It's my fault. I shouldn't have tried to take the spanner. I should've known he would have done something to you. If you'd died it would've been on my head. I just want to go home. I can't be here any more."

"I know," he murmured soothingly. "I know. But you've got to be, Princess, 'till he lets you go."

Or until I killed him dead, pumped him full of Holy. I would. I would. I would.

Rain shook his head, seeing the hate in my face. "Be at peace, Eiko. We love you."

"I love you all back," - and I did already; and I wept into his glove.
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Loving the Black Mages hurt like a knife, and I suppose I did it at first for all the wrong reasons, wanting a Vivi in them and not getting one. Vivi was lost to me for ever, always, dead and gone and I'd never gotten over that. My mother had said that children were resilient, I would be all right, but I wasn't; nobody who knew Vivi ever was again, really, in this tiny place in their hearts. The unfairness of it all, the hurt and the horror and the love all mingled, it bored away until you were forced to shove it into the back of your head and only weep on his birthday night and say to the darkness, "He would have been fourteen - " "He would have been sixteen - " "He would have been eighteen - "

He came to my birthday, my very first birthday with Mama and Papa, with Garnet and Freya and Steiner and the rest. Quina made me a special birthday tea and Amarant even came. (Amarant's gift smacked of last-minute shopping; it was a bag of candy, some gil, an empty inkwell and his old set of Poison Claws. Freya smacked him and hollered, "You cannot give a little girl a present like that, you thickskulled idiot," and they had a fight, which was inordinately entertaining for a person my age. I hung the claws up on my wall, much to Mama's dismay, and waited excitedly for another set next year. He gave me more candy and a couple of Potions, which was both inexplicable and disappointing.)

But Vivi came with a little wrapped parcel and a bunch of wildflowers, hat bobbing and voice blushy and I'd never recieved flowers before, that was very grown-up. His present was simple; it was a bead necklace, cheap and green and pretty, but I never really took that necklace off until I was fifteen. I lost it, then, it was loose when I was working on a turbine and it fell off over the dock and into the city. I was in half-hysterics, frantically crying over my lost bead necklace, my gift from Vivi. I think, big girl I was, I'd crept into my mother's lap and just howled.

It's strange, you know, but I've always been sentimental. I shouldn't have been. Too many years of my life were spent growing up among Mogs wild in the rocklands, and I stole what I needed to live and in winter, I ate some things which make me sick to the stomach to think about now. There shouldn't have been any room for sentimentality. But there was, there always was, and almost obsessively I waited for a handsome white knight to come and take me away and make things perfect again like when my grandfather was alive. But when my white knight came, he was more grey and dirty and grinning. I loved, still love, Zidane - in a primal little-girl way, he'll always be my shining idol. But I don't think he was my knight.

Very few people get knights. I'd rather be like Beatrix or Freya, and be my own knight, than have to rely on somebody else.

Not getting ahead of myself this time; getting behind myself, mapping out my past. Just as bad. Moving on.

Re-learning the spells was like cutting over a tattoo that had faded; it was slow and painstaking and it was agony, bleeding a triumph every time a Cure popped to my fingers. My Eidolons weren't talking to me - though the noise of their rumbling whispers inside my head got louder every day - but magic slowly bloomed again. I set up little obstacle courses inside my room - too afraid to work on living things larger than bugs, the Black Mages would have told Tango in a heartbeat - and practice. It was not a case of relearning how to cast the spells, all of which I knew like the back of my hand; it was a case of pulling the mana out of myself and focusing again. All too often it all ended in tears and frustration and fizzling sparks.

The Summons would come in time. I was past sixteen, so the damn things had been free to fly away from my fingertips - but they hadn't been extracted, so I could reach out to touch them. I used to lie in bed at night and hunger for the look on Tango's face as I Summoned Fenrir's blasting magics, jumping on Phoenix to pip-pip tally-ho out of there with Black Mages riding with me. Then I would come with an airship, and I would bomb the Desert Palace until he was fragments.

Bloodthirsty. I was not my mother's daughter.

My wand had blossomed flowers; tiny, washed-out pink things, just buds, smelling like apples. I kept it besides my pillow at night, under my covers where Tango couldn't see if he came flying through my window like a great black bat. The scent was fragrant and rich and gave me - if not good dreams - blankness, delicious nothingness, no nightmares of half-realized black shapes in the gloaming. My prison was dry and dusty and held a graveyard of palace hangings, and I was used to deserts - Madain Sari was a rocky outcrop with bugger-all in it - but I was yearning for trees and water in a way I never had, even as the city girl in Lindblum. Maybe it was because I couldn't, now, when if I had just dragged myself away from my schematics months ago I could have been grasping pine needles in moments.

"Hey," I whispered to the wand. The leaves rustled in a wind that wasn't there, the wood smooth like silk and alive in my hands. You wouldn't think it had once been part of a chest of drawers. "How're you doing?"

The wand didn't answer. I wasn't far gone enough to expect that it would. Instead, I drew out a kitchen knife - Tango hadn't found that in my supplies, a vegetable-cutter, small and bright - and readied myself for another uncomfortable round of what I had dubbed Body Begging.

Holy. Holy. I wanted to jump all the other steps like a cheating leap in hopscotch, I needed holy. I needed what came after the entire soul screamed out in plea to everything pure and good on the planet, alive and beautiful.

"Here is the blood from my knucklebone." I cut the back of my hand, waiting impatiently for the crimson line to ooze, rubbing it over the wood and watching it stain. "Here is the blood from my throat..."

Here is the blood from my eye and mouth; here the blood from thigh and skull. Here is the blood of my heart. Here are my tears, sweeter than blood...

They say you shouldn't touch another mage's wand or racquet or staff; it's polluting to the magic and the vibes. In reality, if everyone knew the purifying practises, you wouldn't want to touch them anyway - those things are spat on, sneezed on, bled on, wept on, and much worse. All the icky sanctifying magic cooties a wand could hope for go into a good one. Forget Ice Rods and Fire Rods - we're talking about universal Magic Rods Of Flu.

Imbue me with something better than all this, cleaner than water and hotter than fire, going blacker than black magic to the pure dark velvet of the night sky. Bleach me green, bleach me white. I'd offer pearls, but I have none -

He thought the scarlines at throat and wrist and shoulder were something different. He touched them and laughed; "Oh, Princess, don't. Such a messy, messy way to die. If you want it quick and painless, touch me here - " and he reached into the darkness of his face. I'd shoved him away, feeling nauseated, and wondered later what kind of devouring death he held next to his eyes.

The first virgin fall of snow; the first rose on the first rosebush on the first day Gaia bloomed. The first breath...

One of the pink blossoms opened in a silence that was perfectly, icy-cold still. Something like frost crept up the petals, bleaching it white; it puffed stardust into the air and shivered. The blood and the wetness and the spit disappeared into the wood.

I hesitated, then kissed the wand with trembling lips and set it down. I wanted to immediately dance around hollering, "Hurray for me! Hurray for me! Who's the queen of the world? EIKO'S the queen of the world!" but that invited curiosity. Besides, I wasn't six any more.

... well...

"Who's the queen of the world?! Me!"

I was always so triumphant about the littlest things, in those days. I suppose I just needed something to cling to.
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"What's in the room down the west wing at the back, Sunny?"

My legs were dangling over the kitchen counter, bare and free with my thighs tucked into things that were a bit like wide, skimpy, violet culottes. I was still into raiding Kuja's wardrobe. There was a feather boa in one of his drawers, and I strung it over the back of my bedpost. It seemed to worry Tango.

Sun stopped and looked at me, golden eyes wide, greyleather hat absently adjusted with his hands. He was busy kneading dough; the Black Mages were adorably hungry little beggars. I'd seen Rain earlier, creating flour, and watching it trickle out of his hands was more wondrous to me than the first Summoning of Alexander. What they could do, to feed the hungry -

"West wing at the back?" the little mage echoed me. "Oh."

"At the back," Shiny agreed, slipping something into the oven. "It's... Don't worry about it, Princess."

"Don't worry."

"Better not to worry."

"At all." Sun passed some dough to me; I jumped down and began rolling it out so I could make a crisp. I turned to look at them, though; their faces were worried, tense.

"Do you think he'll hurt me if I go?" I suddenly asked, translating the hesitation in their faces. "Kill me?"

There was half a sigh. Shiny came to the fore, shaking flour off his gloves, every movement slow. "The Master... does things, Eiko. And you make him angry."

"Worried."

"Sick."

"So sad." Sun shook his head, hat bobbing. "He goes around with it inside his stomach, and vomits it out."

"He's crazy," I muttered, rubbing sugar into the dough. "He needs help. Lots and lots of help. Preferably accompanied by electric shocks."

"When everything's done," Shiny said dreamily, "he'll be okay again. He'll build us houses out where it's all green and foresty, and he won't wear black any more, and he'll dance and sing. And he won't get angry, and he won't get sad, and there'll be nobody to hurt him or for him to hurt."

"When everything's done." The other beamed at me, golden eyes glowing. "We'll all be together, Eiko."

Something in the sunshine of their words made something in me ill. They tugged, hot and heavy, and I moved away from my unfinished dough. "I, I need to go to the bathroom," I apologized, and then I hurried off.

The light was blasting through the stained-glass windows as I ran, colouring my skin ruby and topaz and emerald as I darted past. The halter top I'd stolen from the wardrobe tried to slip off my skin, too big, not meant for the cut of my body; I was far less powerfully built than the delicate-strong Kuja. I held it to myself, moving, past the gloomy corridors, past the windows where I could hear the whistle of the wind and the antlions calling, and into the end of the west wing.

When I reached the end, the simple little door in the darkness wasn't locked. I pushed it open, silently and easily.

Inside was a garden.

The ceiling was clear glass; the room felt hot to my skin, warm and humid. The floor abruptly ended to a vast expanse of grass, blazing green, soft and satiny to my bare feet. Little purple and red and blue wildflowers dotted the lawn, with bright flowerbeds over at the side, and at the end was trees.

I thought there were Black Mages hanging there, for a moment, stuck fast between the branches like corpses. But it was just hats, and their clothes, and their shoes; and beneath the bright leaves there was shining clear fruit with something blue in them.

Tango, like a crow, was sitting in the grass just before the trees started. His wings were tucked up on his back like a bird's, and he looked big and black and unnatural as he sat and fidgeted with the blades of grass. Dreamily, half-blinded by it all, I walked up to him.

He didn't turn to look. He just kept on as I stood behind him, rolling a blade of grass between his fingers until it was pulp. "Linden-bloom," he said eventually.

I stared, at him, at the trees, at the fruit and at the clothing. "... This is a cemetary, isn't it?"

"Pretty pretty place, for death," he agreed. "I used to think death was pretty."

A powerful wave of pity swept over me. Damn, damn, damn my heart. "Tango..."

"I saw him, once." His voice was a queer husk. "Hungry. Silent. Emptiness is black, you think? It's blue, all blue, all... blue." Tango ducked his head down. "I'll meet with him again."

My throat was silent. The silence that came over me when Tango was near was too often like a spell; the chords in my throat felt swollen and clumsy, not able to give proper words.

"Have him down on one knee, this time," he said, voice a terrible smile. "Down on one knee. Gaia my altar, all running with blood. Then I'll strangle him with promises, and he won't walk among us again, all my little little ones. No more blue. Just black and gold and green."

Mute, I watched as he stretched back, black-leather gloves flat on the grass as he pulled his head back and howled. It was a long, mournful, alien note, and he beat palms on the grass as he wailed his dirge.

I dropped to my knees by his side. Tango was shaped wrongly for a Black Mage. He wasn't short and stout like the proverbial teapot; he was long and thin and he bent wrong, folding down like a twig as he sat. He smelt like decay and leather and old burnt-out fires, but woodsmoke, a clean sharp smell. "Tango," I whispered, as the note died.

"Better to Stop," he said thickly, head shaking almost spastically. "Whywhywhy? Better. Why can't I Stop?"

Sickened, I reached out to touch his shoulder, light and gentle and hesitant. Despite the heat and the leather it felt cold to the touch. Looking up at my face, Tango's expression changed and he reached out to grab my wrist until the bones felt like they were crunching.

"Don't touch me, Eiko Carol," he snapped. "You don't know, you never-knew. You still don't understand."

"You never tell me!" My voice was a raised, frightened thing, tight and taut with pain. "Let go of me, damn you! All you ever do is hurt!"

He dropped my wrist abruptly, letting it slip from the smooth leather. I immediately cradled it to my breast; it was sore as all hell but I didn't think it was broken. Just a bit sprained. That was a relief.

Tango raised his hand and I flinched, expecting death; but he traced fingers over my shoulders, over the drooping silky material of my too-loose shirt, down my sternum until I flinched away again. Then he took my cringing wrist and pressed it to the darkness of his face to kiss it, and it burnt.

"Go away, linden-bloom," he said, with detached finality. "Go away."

I pulled myself to my feet, swaying, not knowing what to say; the only thing that could usually be on my tongue to him were bitter insults, which was all he expected.

"I hate you," I managed, emptily; and then I walked back to the kitchen with one wrist limply dangling - it'd be all bruises later - to silently eat my finished crisp. Sun and Shiny said nothing, as they bandaged my hurt hand; and were kind enough to talk of other things, as I ate, and cried big fat tears that rolled down my cheeks.

"He'll be sorry, later," Shiny eventually whispered to me; and that just made me weep harder, and I didn't know why.