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Cursed

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You discover your curse at the Carnival. Madame Shoshana offers to cast your horoscope, and you agree. The tent is dark and stuffy, even darker and stuffier than the outside. You sit silently in front of the clairvoyante and wait for her to work her magics.

However, instead of a star sign, you get wide eyes and a gasp of fright.

“You are cursed.” She whispers, “Never, under any circumstances, fall in love. You will turn into a hideous monster the second you cast eyes on your beloved.”

You leave the tent in a hurry, chased by Madame Shoshana’s screeching. You decide to avoid the Carnival for a while, just in case.

“Never, under any circumstances, fall in love.”

The words linger in your mind, filling your dreams with horrifying scenes of a monster with your face, its claws tearing into the flesh of your beloved. Their screams ring in your ears hours after you awaken, screaming, in the dead of the night.

Although rather sceptical of the prophecy, you decide to avoid pursuing romance, explaining to yourself that you simply do not have the time for such frivolities. You are, after all, beginning to become a true master of your trade, and a significant other could only distract you from your increasing fame.

Besides, isn’t the first rule of the Bazaar “do not fall in love?”

Months pass, the Feast of Exceptional Rose comes and goes, and you remain alone. Your career flourishes; people turn their heads as you walk the streets; men, women, and individuals of indistinct gender yearn for your affections. Still, you persevere…

Until you become a Person of Some Importance.

The Ambitious Barrister introduces you to the basics before disappearing from your life for the time being, leaving you to sort out your life on the Bazaar Side-streets. It is there where you meet your employer. Perhaps you bump into it on the street; meet it in its spire during an errand, or exchange greetings after moving into your new lodgings on the Premises at the Bazaar. You do not recall the exact details, only that it persuaded you to work for it.

Of course, working for a Master of the Bazaar carries with it certain risks, but you take them in stride, dealing with them almost effortlessly. You serve your Master well and loyally, disposing of any anarchists and similar problems quietly and without much of a complaint. You fare well under their patronage; better than ever, actually. Your life is comfortable, interesting, and you discover that you would not give anything to return to how things were before the fateful meeting. The curse, dismissed as nothing more than babble of a superstitious madwoman, fades from your memory.

~~~

It starts off innocently enough. A simple chat over a bottle of Greyfields 1868 about strictly professional matters. The Master seems more talkative and relaxed than usual, though, and you find your tongue loosening as well. You end up staying up well past midnight talking, even laughing, about matters you previously barely paid attention to but which suddenly become complex and interesting. That night, you retire reluctantly but sleep well, somehow waking up more rested and in better spirits than ever before.

As weeks go by, these little talks become more common, soon beginning to encompass other, not so formal topics. You find that you are beginning to enjoy the presence of your enigmatic employer, and everything seems to point to the sentiment being mutual. The two of you even begin to joke around! After all, what more could the box of sugared rose petals that you have received during the Feast of the Exceptional Rose be? Equally jokingly, you send back a Decanter of Lachrymose Chartreuse along with several Touching Love Stories you’ve jokingly written yourself for the occasion. Nothing more than a joke, right?

Perhaps you are too naïve to notice the signs at first, or perhaps you deliberately choose to ignore them in fear of what they could bring, but you and it begin to inadvertently grow closer. There are times when the two of you spend the entire day in its lodgings, chatting or laughing or simply working in comfortable silence, just enjoying being in each other’s company.

Realisation hits you like a proverbial ton of bricks on the day when it insists that you stop calling it “Master.”

Drop the Mr., my friend, you recall its words, I do believe that we are well past that stage.

You lock yourself in your lodgings for days afterwards, clutching your heart and desperately wishing to erase these irrational emotions. How did this happen? How did you manage to fall for a Master of the Bazaar? For God’s sake, you’re not even sure if it is human! Then again, you don’t particularly care that mu-ARGH! This is terrible. The first rule of the Bazaar is “do not fall in love,” and there’s also the case of your…

Madame Shoshana’s words return to you like a horrible echo.

“Never, under any circumstances, fall in love. You will turn into a hideous monster the second you cast eyes on your beloved.”

What if it's true? But you have cast your eyes on it many times. Maybe it is not your true beloved, or maybe the curse works only on humans. Perhaps it would have to remove the hood in order for the curse to work? Or does it only count after you have realised your feelings?

So many questions you want to ask, so many answers you do not want to receive.

You barely sleep as the previously forgotten nightmares have returned to haunt you. Except that now you see it in place of the figure representing your beloved. You see yourself, horrid and disfigured, standing over a pitiful heap of blood-drenched robes. You wake up screaming.

You cannot go on like this, you realise one night. Perhaps you should jump on the nearest ship from London and become a zailor, or take up permanent residence in the Royal Bethlehem Hotel. You even consider gouging out your eyes and seeking employment at the observatory in Watchmaker’s Hill. However, you dismiss all these possibilities, knowing that the nightmares would sooner or later catch up with you. Besides, how could you leave it without saying goodbye?

Resignedly, you bathe, don your finest clothes, and make your way to its spire.

It is perhaps the longest journey you have ever undertaken. And if it isn’t, it certainly feels like one. With each step you feel as if your legs are made of lead and your heart is a rapidly beating sledgehammer, threatening to tear itself out of your chest and fall lifeless on the floor. This alternative seems much more preferable than confessing your affections and becoming a monster.

You don’t even know if it loves you back, d__nit! All those hours spent in its spire, laughing about the most trivial of matters could have been its way of showing platonic affection! The numerous gifts you have received could have been rewards for loyal servitude! How stupid were you to believe that it could possibly love you back?! If you’re lucky, it will kill you or send on an indefinite exile to the Tomb Colonies.

Then again, you sigh, those are much better fates than what awaits you if the curse is real.

At last, you stand in front of the doors to its lodgings. You raise your hand to knock but hesitate. If the curse is real, you will become a monster. If it is not real, you will be killed, exiled or worse. Great odds, you think bitterly before knocking three times.

The double doors swing open and you enter.

It stands with its back to you, thankfully, watching London through the window. You can sense that it is awaiting an explanation of your continuous absence.

The speech which you have prepared promptly vanishes from your memory and you stutter and stumble through your explanation. You have been absent because you fear for its safety. Because you are cursed and being close to you could only bring misfortune. Because you do not want it to suffer from your hands. Because you do not want to become a monster. Because you are afraid. Because it is more important to you than anything else in your entire life. Because you…

Words refuse to leave your mouth. You clear your throat, speak a quick prayer to whoever is listening, and say as loudly and clearly as you can.

“Because I love you.”

It freezes, and you think that you hear a quiet gasp. Then it turns around. Its hood falls back, revealing its face.

And you scream.

Your skin burns as thousands of Correspondence sigils appear all over your body as if cut out by a knife. Your back arches as you throw your head back, your mouth suddenly filling with too many teeth; blood from your split gums dripping down your throat, choking you. Your scream turns into a shriek, rising in pitch to ring inside your suddenly very sensitive ears, then fading abruptly into painful, helpless silence.

You cannot see or feel it, but your beloved rushes up to you and takes you in its arms; long, trembling fingers caressing your face and a panicked voice begging you not to forsake it. Something drips on your face, and if you were more aware of your surroundings you would recognise it as tears.

Your eyes burn like red-hot coal, blood streaming down your cheeks like corrupted tears. You can feel your entire facial structure changing, the sensation akin to having worms crawling under your skin. Your joints crack as your bones shift and expand and make space for new ones. It hurts. It burns. Your flesh and clothes are ripped open. Your spine twists and grows before suddenly jerking backward as a pair of gigantic wings bursts from your back in a shower of blood and bone shards, making your beloved jump back in surprise and fright.

Your skin grows back, thicker and darker. Your ears grow longer and your eyes more sensitive, more suited to seeing in the darkness. Your fingers twist into claws and the Correspondence sigils begin to fade away as the pain gradually, mercifully, recedes.

Slowly, you return to your senses.

You hear your name being spoken and glance at your beloved. It is standing several feet away, looking at you with what appears to be wonder.

You stand up, and up, and up. Were you always this tall? You look down at yourself and see that the remains of your clothes have somehow transformed into a long, stylish (if you say so yourself) robe. You feel something protruding from your back and move it experimentally. Your wings move slightly underneath your robes.

“What happened to me?” You ask, and your hand flies up to cover your mouth. Your voice is different, more high-pitched, not dissimilar to bat shrieks. As your hand moves to explore your face, you realise that your features actually resemble more those of a bat than a human being. How strange.

Suddenly something collides with you, and you feel a pair of arms wrap around you and hear a familiar voice sputtering out incomprehensible nothings between sobs and sniffles.

Between these nothings, there is a crucial phrase, one that you have never thought you will ever hear said to you.

“I love you too.”

It… It loves you back? You pull away gently to look at your beloved. You didn’t have time to properly see what it looks like underneath the hood, but the more you look at its tear-streaked face, the more you realise that it somewhat resembles… your own.

Then everything becomes clear.

“You will turn into a hideous monster the second you cast eyes on your beloved.”

Hideous indeed! Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and you do not consider your new visage particularly repulsive (especially when the object of your affections is staring at it with unspeakable adoration.) You laugh, pressing your forehead to your beloved’s, your fingers intertwining as tears rush to spill from your eyes. You feel dizzy with relief, shock, joy, love… you don’t even know what you’re dizzy with but it feels nice, so you don’t complain.

“I love you.” You repeat over and over, cherishing the sheer sound of the phrase and the feeling you’ve been afraid of for so long. You slowly begin to understand why people have a weakness for love stories, especially when your beloved pulls you into a deep, passionate kiss.

A funny thought occurs to you as you pull away. “I wasn’t aware that bats can kiss.”

“Oh shush, my love.”

~~~

The news of a new Master of the Bazaar spreads like wildfire. You pick a trade related to the profession you had before your ascension. The other Masters regard you with a mixture of curiosity and suspicion, but you shrug them off. As long as the Bazaar is content, they have no choice but to adapt whether they like it or not.

You find that you adapt quickly to your new role, splitting your time between work, overseeing the reconstruction of your lodgings, and spending time with your beloved.

Despite your initial doubts, every single thing in your life is, at long last, well.