We had been separated. A great sandstorm swept us apart as soon as we entered the Dragon's Heart. I had insisted on Holly traveling with Duck in case of this. Many traveler tales told of the legendary storms. Still it felt strange to be once again alone. The past few days had been so full of life and a part of me missed the constant presence of Holly. Another part embraced the familiar emptiness of this void. Here in roaring winds and blinding shifting madness I found a strange kind of peace.
I wonder if this is what it feels like to embrace Death as the wind buffets my body throwing it carelessly, like fate playing with puppet strings. What used to register as pain has dulled to a detached numbness. And the occasional dull ache scares me more than anything.
Death no longer worries me. I know this because Death came for me once a long time ago. He was a rider dressed in black with a red face mask. The mask was contorted into an ever present smile with a faint blush from its love affair with secrets. The eyes were slanted down in sorrow from the inability to speak confessions until the right time came. He rode to me through my delusions from a fever during a hot summer.
He stole away the pain first. He stole away pain so I could witness his presence more clearly. He wore a golden helmet with golden plumes contrasted with a dark cloak lined in silver. His tassels brushed away agony and replaced it with dull darkness. It is the same detached numbness in an empty space, peaceful but so very much alone.
Death showed me a sky full of diamond dust streaked with neon lights clothed in skeletal grasps of steel. And he told me that this is what a city looks like. The neon red from a gaudy sign matched the red from his mask and both were branded in a hot flash to the back of my skull. I wondered if this was the beginning of madness, but the image faded into black water reflections and dissipated with ripples. I did not understand the image.
I saw Death beyond the veil again. His visage stands unmoved by the ripping forces of sand. He is both haunting and familiar. I wonder if he would show me a city again. But when I moved to meet him he moved out of range. And so it went, a slow and torturous dance; it melted the reason of why I was so intent on following the rider away into dust. I prayed that there was a reason, so if I were to vanish into the void following a Siren's call it would mean something.
It's nothing much, but I hope it would be enough to buy a furtive smile from a lost memory.
I stood again in the fragile neon district of the past. So many people, letters, objects, and animals streaked past in blurs and waves. They swept by in silence, stealing away the sun and happy smiles. Faces full of leers, grimaces, and stone-faced sadness crept up through shadows and ventilating smog. Death stood waiting for me, and I wondered how far into this darkness I could go before succumbing to despair.
Behind each alleyway in this dismal maze is an image of what once was. I saw a distant uncle first. He told me once that he would be happy if he could live by the ocean and build sand castles. That was his simple dream and simple paradise. The sand castles would remind him of the temporary nature of things. And even something as popular as happiness could vanish without a trace.
The storm took away the beach and his house. Still he builds sand castles even if the waves washed them away and after water had become sand.
The image of the ocean that death shows me is beautiful and fearsome. The waves pull me deeper into a numbing embrace and I welcome the darkness. The monster wants to swallow me whole and spit me out. It wants to freeze my heart into solid stone. There is no joy without sorrow, no light without dark. Who would choose to believe in such temporary states of flux? Death has offered something else. So my vision goes dim sucked away of its once vibrant colors. Death is all too easy, and I am too empty of reason to make my own.
However, he does not offer me my final ride. Instead He offers a mad tea party where the guests are all plastic. They all pretended to give praise and listen to opinion. They asked for my name but gave me a fake in return. And when the conversation was over they asked for payment for their time. I became a machine to be manipulated where coins meant nothing to me.
I don't understand and the world goes dark, dark, dark.
An unfamiliar presence embraces my body and I throw it away out of instinct. The contact hurts of a memory tucked away in a far corner. Someone is speaking to me, but I am too lost in my own world. My heart has frozen over and I find that I am made of stone. I count the number of unfamiliar faces and fake smiles until I lose count. And I find myself unwilling to care enough to start counting again.
A familiar figure stumbles across the sand. His eyes are dark like the shadows and hard as obsidian. His hair is tangled dark too, swallowing flecks of light glinting off of grains of sand. He screams nothing even as he strains with one hand supporting a camel and the other a girl. The cold impassive expression frightens me because we are one and the same. It frightens me enough that I dare not ask how we managed to find each other again.
I walked onward toward to horizon with my burdens on one shoulder and my demons on the other. How many more horizons until we can find rest? How many, can you count them? And I feel the only way to keep some semblance of sanity is to tell stranger tales.
In a land of frozen vespers and tumbling stars there are whispers of a kind soul named Adrian. That was a long time ago. She is only known as the Ice Queen now. She is too proud to realize her transformation, and a broken feeling lies uncared for in a secret hidden away in a box. They say that she is a demon, a demon of the worst kind.
I hear that a demon is formed when someone has lost their heart and replaced it with an empty box. It is a fate worse than a heart frozen in stone. For the demon must constantly consume other hearts to fill the empty space. This is why it is rumored that a demon can never fall in love. For without a heart, how can something like love be understood? But then again not many creatures with a heart understand love either.
This is why, in a cruel twist of fate, the cure for the demon form is to fall in love with a mortal. Many demons were driven to rage when presented with this impossible feat. Yet a few hurried rumors coax a tiny flicker of hope. Adrian used to be hopeful. But she was a kind soul and even in her demon form, she could not bear to consume hearts.
So she locked herself away in an icy prison of hazy shadow mountains embedded in the clouds. She stands like all princesses do in the highest tower, in the highest room. Her frozen form looks longingly out the window, waiting for a gentle touch the caress her back to life. But the age of knights, quests, and chivalry has passed. And with each passing day, a little more of Adrian dies quietly.
Sometimes it gets too painful, and she would have to go a little crazy just to keep herself in check. The anguished shrieks and objects thrown from the window have faded into legend. Now, it is deathly quiet in the haunted space. A thousand eyes have gazed upon the flawless cool beauty, and a thousand more quietly leave such a crazed soul in lonely peace.
It wasn't always like this. Adrian used to be human. Then again, all demons used to be something else before they lost their hearts.
She began as all children do in innocent bliss. But unfortunately, innocence could only shelter her from a terrible fate temporarily. There are only a lucky few who do not experience heart-break. Adrian had her first at the age of thirteen. Her gentle soul mended with time and she moved on. It was not the first or the second relationship that turned her. The darkness began with Jack.
Adrian used to be bubbly, bright-blue eyed, strawberry red lips, and honey haired. She used to paint the world because sometimes it was so beautiful that it hurt just to look at it. She took up dancing like all ladies at the time should but was never spoiled by politics. And after her first two gentle scars, she guarded her heart more carefully than before.
But then there was Jack. He was bald, tattooed, and thrown out of the loop. Jack was the kind of man that sneered at social graces but could be nothing more than harmless. He hid behind a facade of tough skin and knitted eyebrows. And it is said that Adrian actually considered the option to flee on first sight. But she was too kind and he was too proud.
There was only a tiny shard of darkness in the shell of a man. And I can only guess at the reasons a sunny Adrian would be attracted to a dark and brooding Jack. But it seemed like when the two were together, lightning struck at the same spot over and over in glee. Of course, they were blind to it at first. The best kinds of love are always the ones that take us by surprise.
Their love unfolded in the way things should have, a gentle companionship of two wary souls with no promises no demands. But the realization of the dramatic was only pushed away in the madness. Jack was taken away into white noise on a day not much unlike today. Death was merciful.
Adrian got swept away too by grief. She began to meddle in potions and ancient script in an attempt to freeze herself in crystalline time. She wanted things to be exactly the same when Jack returned fearing that change would be the undoing of a budding love. They say she grieved so much that her salty tears formed the Black Bay on the western shores that dumped their waters into the empty expanse of the ocean.
And then one day a mysterious stranger came with an offer, eternal youth in exchange for her heart.
It was an unfair trade, but she made it anyways. Her fear vanished only to be replaced with cold. Her joy vanished too and a sunny girl caught up in delusions began to paint herself in coats of pale blue. One day through whirlwinds of stolen color an Ice Queen announced her presence. Few knew the name Adrian anymore, and those who did fled.
She carries Pandora's Box now, but it is missing one key ingredient. Hope. And it is only this reminder that forces me to pull myself back, hanging from a thread on a simple wooden staff. The fate of the demon is one so terrible I would not wish it on the greatest of enemies.
There are things in life that are much harder to come to terms with than things in death.
Author's Note: Suggested song for this chapter is Take Me to the Riot by Stars