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the stars move for no one

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The stars do not move for her.

She fixed them in the sky long ago, as she fixed all things, and the City.

There: upon the knife's-edge of the end of the world, she looked upon all the had wrought, and the spectre of their dying Sun, and saw it was good. And so she fixed it so that it would remain so: the City she wrest from her sister's blooded hands, full and shining at the height of her power.

There: she took her throne, the last Queen, and with a Word, all fell still, a rose beneath a bell-jar, as a clarion peal rang out over the world that was Charn.

There: all fell still. All--

--but him.

*

There was a beat.

He was a singer in the City, a good one, but young; he barded at the taverns near the quay many nights a week, enough for his room and meals and a fine black surcoat. His name was spoken of with pleasure, and he plied it from the lips of women and girls alike.

Always, there was a beat before the first breath of song, a beat that carried his voice, that carried his story of love and war and all therein. It was a beat that thudded through him, heavy with his heart's-blood. Perhaps it was this that saved him.

Perhaps it was not. For as the bell pealed, hailing the zenith of the people of the City, so too did a beat in perfect counterpoint. He took to seat as all the people of the City did, in perfect halted form, mouth softly closing amid the lament of the Queen's Sister. Yet as the eyes of the people of the City became fixed as did the stars above the City itself, his gaze was halted; and the beat shuddered; and all was silent.

*

It began with a finger.

A finger of the left hand, caught mid-air as the Queen's witching suffused the city. The finger was up; the finger came down.

His nail tapped the smoothed wood of the trestle table, and the beat of it was great enough to wake his eyes from their blinded gaze. It was a beat of no sound, but he heard it nonetheless.

It took time for his mind to return to him, longer still for his body to obey him. He did not know how long he sat there, seeing the barmaid fixed in place, her tray in hand; the old farmer, come to the City with his meagre harvest, slumped agelessly against the far wall. He did not know how long they had all sat there, fixed in place, the last pulse-beat of the City.

When he could finally move, he did so slower still; he did not ache, but it felt as though the air itself leadened his limbs.

In time, he moved across the floor.

In time, he walked, soundlessly, across the City.

In time, he came to the great golden doors of the castle keep.

He had planned one day to enter these doors, invited to sing before the Queen, impress her court and win his place amongst its courtiers. With effort, he raised his hand, and pushed; the left door moved, enough that he could slip in and see.

There was the court, of the Queen's favored, of the Queen's enemies, kept close. There was the Chancellor of the Exchequer; there, the Vicereine of the Open Seas. Step by step he looked into their faces, cruel and kind and despairing and bemused, and wondered.

There was she, Jadis, Queen of Charn and all unto its keepings.

It hurt to look at her, a blade among roses. It was not that she was not beautiful, for she was; it was not that she was not fearsome, for she was; it was not that she was not hallowed, for here she was in an enspellment of her own making, and the glow of her rancor filled the room with its veracity.

It was only that she was fixed in place; still; and that she had never been before.

He could not bring himself to attend any closer--even unheard and unseen amongst the people of the City, he knew himself for what he was. Instead, he crept closer to the small table amidst the hall of the court and read:

Make your choice, adventurous Stranger;
Strike the bell and bide the danger,
Or wonder, til it drives you mad,
What would have followed if you had.

The urge to laugh beat within him, and it was a mad, manic laughter: o, this was their Queen's work. But he was no Stranger, nor did he thirst for danger, and now the only bell he wished to hear was one anywhere but here, the ghost of the City of Charn.

He did not strike the bell. He did not go mad. He turned from the lost court of the Sororicidal Queen, and slowly walked from whence he came. He did not notice the door was left slightly ajar.

He had no heart for danger, but he did for adventure: he knew he must escape the City, somehow, or he'd go mad.

Looking upwards, at the angry bruise of the Sun, he felt the beat, the same beat that had pulled him from that endless rest, the same beat that had called his tongue to song so many times before. And so he did, there in the courtyard, to the dead flowers and the soundless garden and the cracking spindles of leafless trees.

He sang every song that he knew, and then he sang them again, and again, listening well for any thought of what to do. His stomach knew no hunger; his mouth knew no thirst.

As his eyes roamed the courtyward for the hundredths' hundredth time, he saw something wink beneath the dying light of the day. Humming the remains of his song, he slowly walked over; he slowly bent; and slowly, his long fingers plucked two small rings from beneath a dead holly tree.

Or not quite dead: there was a clutch of pointed leaves there at its base, and they pricked him as pulled back. There in his palm were two leaves: one yellow, and one green.

It was the last the City had to offer its people, and with it he stepped from this world, into the next.