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The Crown of a Gem and the Mask it Meets

Chapter Text

Picture this. Your dream opens up on the scene of a single candle, solitary by nature, wreathed in a deceptively warm glow from the flame at the wick. Think of it, being soothed by the very element that has killed, has burnt people alive, has wrecked housing. Inexplicably, you are. Faintly, you can see smoke rising from the lonely flame, and behind it, there arises the first impressions of aged hoary paper, marked in measured strokes of charcoal with the scene of Paris. A ringing like that of singing bowls fills your ears, so soft that you can’t be sure it’s even there. Perhaps it is just the row of silence. As the dream progresses, filmed in a milky haze, the details on the drawing become clearer and clearer until they are unmistakable. Through the windows, people can be seen gathered in a hall of sorts, a big open room, draped in rich-colored fabrics. You don’t recall the colors being present before. But now… Yes. You feel like you could almost drop right in. You could return to a place on that page glowing in candlelight that feels uncannily like home, like a place you should know like the back of your hand.

The scene changes. There’s the rumble of a carriage, the dull lull of the wheels on cobblestone and the creaking of wood bearing weight punctuated by the sharp prate of horses’ hooves. Distantly, as if drugged, you realize that you, yourself, are occupying the carriage. It stops, and a young man offers you a hand to help you down. You’re caught in the sight of his hand wrapped gingerly around yours, disturbed to see that your skin is wrinkled and spotted, your fingers long and sinewy where once they were strong and precise. You feel mud squish under your shoe, and you can see that you’re dressed in a nice suit and dress shoes. You are delicately deposited into a wheelchair, which squeaks even under your feathery elderly weight. The gentleman primps and adjusts your position to comfort and perfection, giving you the deceiving impression of a man at leisure rather than one whose joints ache with age, one whose thoughts, apparently, cannot outgrow the simplest realizations. You are beginning to find the limits of your cognition as you try to discern where you are.

Wheeled into a palace of a building, you are delighted by intricate designs on the pillars and lining the walls. Cobwebs, too, adorn the dwelling here, and they sap its beauty. You begin to notice the state of disrepair the palace is in; that it probably has not been inhabited in years, if not decades. Somehow, though, to you it is familiar. You cannot remember how. You can hear a middle-aged man’s voice echoing somewhere in the distance, but you cannot bring your tired eyes to chase anything other than pretty pictures and spider’s webs. You can even hear birds flapping their wings rapidly as they make the small journeys from ledge to ledge inside the building. There must be a monstrous hole in a wall somewhere. You are wheeled into a room by a woman wearing a veil -- When did she get here, again? You can’t recall -- and the man’s voice is clear now. He speaks like a street performer, commanding attention. You gather that you’re at an auction of sorts. He will hold an item up or simply gesture to it, he will speak rapidly (your muddled brain cannot follow) and he will tap his gavel with a self-satisfied grin, nodding at the lucky winner of the item. You can see clearly the light filtering through the holes in the roof and the walls now, bringing cloud-dampened grey light into the dark room. It smells like mold. You feel uneasy.

You force your head up with great effort and immediately you see why: Somebody is staring at you. In fact, everybody is staring at you. They’re looking at you because you’ve raised your pallet. You’re not sure when it was even placed in your hand. You’re bidding. On what?

In front of you, the auctioneer is holding an earring, glittering in the dim light. It commands your attention. It is solitary, lacking another that would normally dictate a set of earrings, but no one can bring themselves to mind. It’s beautiful. It is a thumb-sized deep blue sapphire, catching the light just so and throwing its color on the walls around them all. It’s surrounded by smaller, brighter diamonds, but even they can’t take away from the sapphire’s eye-catching refinement. You are not the only one who has bid. Desire fills you, single-minded, so you keep your pallet raised as the price rises steadily with it. Numbers climb, and finally, only one bidding pallet remains. You’ve won; the earring is yours. It brings up memories of a past you’d rather forget, but you can’t resist coveting this reminder of the sweet boy that once was. He is surely dead now, but in this glittering gem, he lives on, all of his beauty and his hubris embodied in the sapphire, sitting prettily and fragile in your hand. It was a collector’s piece, indeed. Every detail was exactly as he remembered. The deep blue of the gem called to mind those soft eyes, watching him with hope until the last moments. You felt like crying as it all came back to you, even your senile mind sharp enough to be wounded by the memories.

This earring had survived its owner’s death, and it would outlive all of them. Those who had bore witness to the boy’s steady doom would be survived by this jewel, watching them perish with its many glittering faces.