Bat's Blood and Salamander's Song
The dusk-drenched beach was silent, bathed in the sunset, blood spilling prettily into the northern sky. The great, tired eye of the sun sat perched on the rim of the world, but never would it fully close. For these were the Twilit Sands, on the shores of the Ocean of Lights. The sun never set here.
And on the Twilit Sands stood a wilted-looking albino girl, blue and purple veins softly pulsing under her translucent, shining skin, yellow-white hair cropped close to her head in a wild halo, the deranged coils they had been tamed by a haircut. She stood at the edge of the licking tide, the water washing up in ways that did not seem typical of water: long, questing tendrils, fat tentacles burrowing into the banks, as if searching, or broad swaths of water, like the broad side of a hand sweeping the counter clear of crumbs. Out on the ocean proper, the waves themselves rose in odd formation, defying common maritime logic. They rose up higher than a man in a slow, meaningful dance, twirling into spires and towers. They spurted up and bent over into graceful arches, grasped upwards like hands, or bowled over softly in hummocks like turtles' backs. The albino placed one foot on the dancing sea, welcoming the cool, gel-like pressure of the not-really-water folding around her toes.
She walked out into the fantastic, shifting architecture of the Ocean, squinting her red eyes, barely making out the secret sparks held within each rising tower, each twirling coil of almost-liquid architecture. Farther south, where it was truly eternal night, one could behold the Ocean in its true glory, each arch and column in the waves holding sparks like stars, and the fantastic, shining, be-winged mist-beasts would rise to the surface and smile, as if only on the other side of a glass.
The Ocean of Lights made a pathway for this welcome walker, who oft visited its shifting expanse. She walked atop the water, yet the Ocean refused to admit her into its depths, as it did for every creature more substantial than mist. The albino walked a long ways, until the shore disappeared altogether, going south, the northern sun being swallowed just a little more by the world's rim. The sky surrendered more of its light to the sea, the pinpricks of light within the twirling, arching waves growing brighter for it. The lights of the Deep even shown through a little: those distant, unreachable galaxies that no one in the walking world had ever known.
Though it was not true night yet, and would not be for another several miles or so, the albino girl gave rest, and sat upon the water, which bucked a little underneath her, before settling. She brought forth from the pocket of her flimsy yellow dress three coins, shiny brass pennies engraved on one side with the Perpetual Rulers of Calalini: the dual, ever-young princesses named 24 Hours and 100 Degrees, and on the flip side with a delicate, spindly, bulging-eyed frog, the emblem of The Blue Eyed Tree Frog, Goddess of Calalini and all within its borders. Though she was the less-powerful sister of the Blue Woman, Goddess of the Nightsky-land, she was equally well-loved.
The faces of the princesses and the frog met with the surface of the water, which, surprisingly, admitted them without a second thought. They drifted down very slowly, at a much more sedate pace than had they been sinking through normal water. When, many minutes later, they were finally swallowed beyond sight, the lights around the girl intensified. The Ocean grew warm beneath where she sat, and a distant light in the bottomless universe of water began to glow more brightly. The Ocean grew more and more luminous as it grew near, its approach causing the waters about the albino girl to still even further, until all the waters within a thirty-meter radius were still. Finally, after many long moments, the vague glow resolved itself into a form that would whisk the breath from all Earthly lungs, and likewise many Neptunian ones:
The form was a long woman, whose skin and bones were only an illusion, and could be seen through. She was made of light, her soft features and large, colorless eyes staring upward. Her lithe, sexless body bore no clothing, and the long, thin, fantastic wings she spread were gossamer, and semi-transparent, but pulsed with color; this time, it was a soft blue-and red. This, the girl knew, was the language of the denizens of the spark-laden Ocean, who bore no voices. This blue-and-red was the universal greeting, one that the albino had been long in deciphering in her early visits with Butter Sky. The woman's name was this color, that beautiful shade that fringed the edges of the bloody sunset.
Butter Sky raised her hand to the surface of the waves, though never crossed the threshold, and the albino did the same. Her wings flashed a happily glowing white-green, the closest approximation she had for the name Smiling Salamander. Their hands came within centimeters of each other, and indeed, the water-angel could feel the pressure of the albino girl's hand upon the surface of the Ocean. They would never truly touch, however, as the waters would not admit Salamander's hand, and should the water-angel reach up into the air, she would evaporate into the sun. Such was the nature of the Ocean of Lights.
"Hello," Salamander smiled sadly.
Butter Sky's wings flashed pink-blue pink-blue in quick succession. You're leaving. The gray tone of a question was absent.
"Yes," the albino girl said simply, removing her hand from the surface of the water.
The dark blue shade of the distant sky came to the translucent feathers, surrounded in a foggy gray. Where are you going?
"Me and Bat aren't sure yet. I guess we're just going to…go."
Brown-purple-red, they flashed, with a long, drown out streak of gold. You must not travel into the lands of the sun.
"I know, I know," Salamander sighed, rubbing her delicate skin, wincing at the thought of it blistering in the uncontrollable sun. Visions of the desert to the far north, and the city of Tecca, with its 200 degree weather, almost made her shudder. "We will be going south and west, away from the sun. Perhaps we will visit the places where they have day and night. I've always wanted to see the capital."
A feather-light blue striped with bright green, alternating three times with a robust mauve, colors fading slowly into each other. Those places are far, and full of danger. Even we of the Ocean of Lights know of the angry beings employed by the princesses.
"Alright. Perhaps just straight to the Nightsky-land then, and we can cross into the Blue Woman's Wilde. They call it the Raining Gardens, also, did you know?" Salamander asked excitedly.
Butter Sky just shook her head in a light chastisement, and let her wings fade into a strong shade of orange. You have told me this many times. Who knows what you will see?
"I don't know," Salamander grinned dreamily, answering the rhetorical question. "Bat hasn't Heard anything, either from the Night or from his cousins."
A sadly shade of bluish-white blinked twice quickly, and then three times slowly. You must be going. Soon they will find that you plan to go, and many things will stop you. Don't tarry, now.
"Goodbye, Butter Sky. I don't know if I'll ever be back."
The water-angel raised her hand in a silent farewell, wings flashing a hazy, indeterminate color. Seek good paths, child! With that, she faded back into the sea of sparks, silently adding, to herself, And walk them well and long, for they will not carry you back to where you now stand.
The Ocean around Salamander grew still and eerily silent, ceasing its whirling ballet, as if mourning the loss of a friend. When she reached the shore once more, she shouldered the satchel she had set there, and headed for the base of the place that had never really been home.
The great castle jutted out of the pink stone, a floating castle never fully cut from the rock, home to the Lord of Diamonds and the Lady of Spades. Oh, mother, Salamander thought, what would our stretch of the Twilit Sands be like if you had not brought us this man? Salamander walked until she came to the place where the cliff met the shore, and set on up, making for the broad, low cave entrance one third of the way up the face.
The Lord of Diamonds and his countless, endless stream of daughters, brought on by his endless promiscuity with endless streams of lesser noblewomen. Those countless cheery daughters that had gleefully broken into the quiet, thoughtful gloom that she, Bat, and Mother had all carefully constructed. Cutely named Nine Diamond or Seven Heart, or Ace Club, they ran quickly, they yelled joyfully, they broke things. It was only a matter of time before they abducted Salamander—then Joker—to coo over her fair skin, her beautiful hair, and "tidy her up" into lung-crushing dresses. In rebellion she and her brother—then Jack—had abandoned their Suite and retreated to the only place where they could sit in silence as they used to: the jagged cave system underneath the Spade Towers.
Small, agile shadows darted in and out of the cave mouth, winging up into the sky with many a swoop and circle in between. Bartholomew Bat, as he had renamed himself, was waiting in the cave proper, well away from the odiferous mound of guano fermenting near the entrance. He was almost as pale as her, but his hair was a downy brown that curled close to his head, failing to hide his eerily large, twitchy ears: they were tall, thin, pointed things, expressive in their own way even when their owner wished them not to be. Glaringly red veins throbbed inside of them, and they were folded back in impatience. Eyes met: two pairs of red irises resting on each other in understanding. Three bats were currently hanging from his baggy black sweater, careful not to leave guano-gifts on their compatriot.
Bartholomew whispered something, but it was snatched away by the wind. "What?" Salamander called up to him, still walking.
Louder, and folding his ears back away from the echo, he repeated, "Are you almost ready?"
"Just about," she called up. "Just a little more time."
"We don't have very much more time." Soon the upper door that led from the lower reaches of the Towers into the upper reaches of the cave would be discovered, and both wanted to be on the out before their haven was desecrated.
"I know," she muttered somberly to herself, though she knew 'Thol would hear it. "I know."
She wound down a craggy byway through the elaborate edifice, skirting the guano mound and sparing herself its reek. Salamander forged her way into the living cave, where water dripped and the stone still grew, the moss on the walls lending a small bit of phosphorescence, a soft green light that dappled the floors, ceilings, and walls.
Finally she came to the small stream that hugged the wall, and followed it through the gray-and-black stone tunnels until she came to the grotto. This was her secret place, and even 'Thol didn't know precisely how to get here: water seeped from the walls into a large, shallow bowl that was coated in soft blue moss. Lichens covered the walls with hair, the drip-drip of stone's water soothed her itching skin. And as she came close, the creatures from which she took her name emerged from the moss: the softly greenish-white salamanders emitting their soft glow, raising their delicate necks in greeting, mouths framing into soft Os. A sweet, delicate note rose up into the air, and the moist stone grew warm under her feet.
The feeling of farewell in the song was as final as it was sorrowful. Picking one up in her hand, the salamander crooned at its Smiling cousin, just the right size to nestle into the palm of her hand, long, fat tail draped over her splayed fingers. The girl crooned back at the little form, and the moss glowed even more brightly. She knew that if she Sang, the salamanders would hear her.
She set the sad-looking amphibian down, and it scuttled back into the moss. As if on signal, the lights phosphorescent plants faded back to their normal glow. Meeting back up with 'Thol at the cave entrance, they set on their way, each having made their last communion with the surreal denizens of the cave. "Where shall we be off to, then, fair maiden?" her brother asked gallantly.
"Why, good sir," his sister stated in a rare moment of good cheer, "why should we not set off into the Night, and walk whatever path we find fancy of?"
"Excellent plan, I must say," 'Thol rambled in a thick accent that was not really from anywhere at all. And so, arm in arm, the albino siblings set off due West, walking a perpendicular course to the northern setting sun.