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In the House of Scarlet

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There are those in the land of the forgotten who dance when the sun sleeps, who fly and hunt in the night. They wait with bated breath for the coming of the moon in red and white. They hide from the light, and are paid their toll in fear, in awe, in faces that vanish one night and are never once seen again.

There are those, too, who walk in the day, whose lot is the field and the workshop, streets and farms, hearth and home. They set with the sun, and never dare trade more than whispers past dusk. They have little in their village, in the home of all they had once forgotten, but for words they do not want, and words they will weave together gladly.

There are tales, and there are stories, and there are legends. A few scattered words become a tale, told in passing as an idle rumour, or murmured on a street. Once they are known, familiar to all, they become stories, to be told around the light of a firepit late at night, time after time. A story that ages well - that is not overtaken by the years, and survives past its time, gathering a mantle of dust - might even be called a legend.

Some are flights of fancy, others dire warnings. Some would argue them, but rarely are they wrong. Many would swear by them, but so few, too, are as true as they are thought to be. Among these stories - or perhaps they are legends, now - is a short, simple one, which spreads its roots on the far side of Misty Lake. A word of caution, and a moment's thought to a cruel injustice.

"In the house of Scarlet lurks a monster. In the house of Scarlet lies a prisoner."

- - -

There are those who would say she is more than human. There are those who would say she is less. Even the strangest of youkai will smile, or laugh, or weep, or snap in anger. Who is she, with her strange, constant stillness, this stone-faced apparition? Would she not be less human still than those who surround her?

The devil's own servant, stranger still than the Scarlets themselves. Does she not stop? Surely she must. Even the dead sleep in this mansion, but she alone continues without so much as a second's rest. Some days, she might allow herself to flicker ever so briefly, as time stands still on her behalf. Who is she, that would leave time at her beck and call, leave her as the lifeless living serving the living dead?

Who could bear to bring those silvered knives down time and again, carrying bodies away under the cover of night, brought under the blood-red roof, one meal after another? Who would carry out the every whim of a vampire, no matter how senseless or malicious, and pledge their allegiance to a crown that would keep them in servitude even beyond the grave if it could? Who is she, who can tolerate this state, who follows the scarlet moon without question, without a thought of ever leaving this life of servitude?

But as she would say, who she is means less than nothing: She is only the retainer to the house of Scarlet. All have their vices, from mild indulgences to the grave and unspeakable. Hers is loyalty, guiding her hand and staying her feet.

In the house of Scarlet lurks a monster. In the house of Scarlet lies a prisoner.

- - -

Deep in a cave of paper, wood and dust, there is a hoarder of secrets too numerous to count. Lit only by candles and waited on by a demon, wrapped in violet silk and velvety gloom, there is a keeper of knowledge too terrible to know. She makes the unthinkable her home, and the unknowable her plaything.

Speak softly in the library; here is a magician whose patience and power stand unequal. Tread lightly in the library; here is a scholar who calls a devil friend. Rarely does she deign to talk, weak in spite of her power. Has she traded every breath in her body to these strange forces that dance beyond the world's veil?

Fires dance at her fingertips, even amidst shelves of ancient wood. Her mind is as sharp as carved steel, her thoughts as quick as a river, and her heart of stone bars both sun and moon from her world. In her library, she commands all that makes up the world, but past the mansion's doors, even her own body betrays her, and she crumbles sooner still than a vampire might.

With only a few words, she did the bidding of the dead, blotted out the sun and left the world to wither; what should she care for the world that lives and dies by its light, far from her kingdom of yellowing paper, as brittle as she herself had become? When the universe stops to lend its ear to her commands, why should she speak any more than she must?

In the house of Scarlet lurks a monster. In the house of Scarlet lies a prisoner.

- - -

Why would anyone protect this house, and from what? Plainly it does not need to be defended from, but against. The keeper of the mansion stands tall at its gate, not with a blade, not with tooth and claw, but with a smile. What place does she have here? She trades the bluster and threat of every youkai, but not one has seen her follow through, nor heard of it.

Why would she stand at the gates, only to greet its visitors with a wave and a kind word? If the doors of the mansion concern her, then they matter less than the gardens she tends - a strange spot of bright, cheerful life against the red backdrop - but perhaps she knows well enough that those inside can fend for themselves.

Why would one choose to care day after day for the people of this mansion, the objects of nightmare and legend, whispers in the night and fearful murmurs? Surely she cannot be counted among them, the wicked host of this house. Is she held here, then? If so, she certainly seems pleased with her predicament. When asked, she only shrugs, finding the question itself strange.

After all, they were something like family; who could leave them behind?

In the house of Scarlet lurks a monster. In the house of Scarlet lies a prisoner. The gates and their keeper, then, must not be of this house.

- - -

The elder Scarlet, the mistress of the house, takes the name of the devil for her own. She hides claws that would tear a human limb from limb. They are not to be feared. She bares fangs sharp enough to draw blood from stone. They, too, are not to be feared. She moves with the speed of the advancing night, strikes with the crushing weight of certainty, but the same could be said of any number of the night's terrors. Why, then, is she to be dreaded above them?

She is the maker of chains, and she is the weaver of fate. At her thought, the world strains to grant her whims. By her idle demands, many are shackled to her. It was their choice, of course. They chose to remain, as was fated; how could it be otherwise? What of the mansion? Are they prisoners too, unknown both to her and to them? She raises her hand, and destiny bows. Who would cross her?

Yet by the sun, she is made weak. She cowers from something as simple as rain. Is this what traps her? Surely not. She calls herself the queen of the night, the unconquered moon, who feasts while the sun sleeps, and orders fate about as easily as clicking her fingers. In this land, she is unequaled. Some might say this is what keeps her trapped, keeping the waking world free of a bloodthirsty tyrant.

Within her own walls, she can believe what she wishes; all she says will be repeated to her. Why trouble herself with anything beyond the mansion's gates, then, and leave this comforting echo chamber? But then, those are only rumours, and they do not hold the weight of myth and legend. Who could know her well enough to say?

In the house of Scarlet lurks a monster. In the house of Scarlet lies a prisoner.

- - -

Far below the mansion lies a prisoner, under ancient stone. Darkness and the faintest glow of her own wings keep her company, where not even the rats of this house dare to descend. In her solitude, she casts her eyes to a mirror and finds nothing, finds even the company of a familiar madwoman denied to her. She spends her days in idle conversation with the echoing stone and the slow drip of water from the ceiling. Sometimes, when she is fortunate, a sound drifts down from the floors above, where there is still life of sorts.

And this is well.

Far below the mansion lies a monster, held in a granite coffin. Her mind is long since warped; so she was told, and so it shall be. With but a thought from it, as easily as snapping her fingers, she can destroy all that she sets her mind to, leave anything that might claim her anger or even her incautious notice as nothing more than ashes and dust. She is a danger, this she knows, as she was warned so many times. She is to be held here.

And this too is well.

Far below the mansion lies a prisoner, under ancient stone. The stone is not her prison. The stone cannot be her prison. If she only thinks it, she would break free of her would-be cage, and at times it takes all her will to stop this. Her prison is of her own making. She knows she must remain - so she was told - and when all the librarian's wards, all the mansion's locks cannot contain her, the burden falls on her shoulders. There is only one warden this far below the house, and the prisoner has rarely escaped her.

This is as it should be.

Far below the mansion lies a monster, held in a granite coffin. It wears her face, speaks with her voice, but does not hold her thoughts. It has never harmed a soul; even its prey are cut down with silvered knives long before they enter this place. But what of its power, the menace this maddened thing could cause? It must be a monster, surely: There are voices in her life that have told her only the truth, that were never proven wrong in her centuries of life, and they have told her as much. She can only trust them.

This too is as it should be.

In the house of Scarlet lurks a monster. In the house of Scarlet lies a prisoner. In the house of the living dead and the lifeless living, of youkai made all too human, and humanity locked behind silvery eyes, the free bind themselves, and the bound revel in their freedom.

Legends are rarely true, and scarcely ever wrong in whole.