There's An Echo In the Air

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Strawberry
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There's An Echo In the Air

Post by Strawberry » Fri Nov 20, 2020 4:42 pm

(Crossposted to Stardust.)

There's a humming in the restless summer air
And we're slipping off the course that we prepared
But in all chaos there is calculation
Dropping glasses just to hear them break

-Lorde, Glory & Gore

"Wait! Wait, come back!” Karma yelled after the retreating elementals as they zipped away, down a hall and through one of the numerous walls of the Tower of Air, leaving her alone once more. This had been the trend since becoming Keeper less than a week ago. Some of the elementals seemed a little apprehensive about her presence there, but others were outright frightened of her, as if they saw something in her that terrified them so thoroughly that they could not stand the sight of her.

The Tower of Air was a labyrinthine thing, carrying bits and pieces of all who had come before her. She could feel them vaguely, tiniest wisps of influence. The most recent keepers were the most prominent and the essence of keepers like Ellie and Morgan, Michelle and Xanth, Claire, and Matt were all very much an echo within the Tower. With over a thousand days in the Tower, Karma was sure that Matt would be the most heavily imprinted and in some aspects, she was right. But there was something beneath even that, calling to her, tickling at the periphery of her attention. It called her further into the Tower, away from the soft sanctity of the libraries and the sweeping Isle-wide views.

It was there, in the very center room of the Tower of Air, that she found not answers but rather more questions. There was no hint of elemental essence and the air elementals that floated about the tower to help the present Keeper all refused to come anywhere near this room.

“What… happened…” She murmured, toeing the very center of the circular room and lifting onto her tip-toes for a ballerina pirouette in a slow fashion survey of the room at large. It was a regular room for all intents and purposes, featuring priceless art and curved windows at the cardinal directions with smaller stained glass panes facing the intercardinal directions. It washed the room with smoky twilight filtered by the shimmer and sheen of the tower itself and filtered through the pale orange gas light lamps that dotted the walls and hung overhead at the apex of a curved dome ceiling. An odd touch, considering the room was in the center of the tower rather than the peak.

But as with so many things on Twilight Isle and within the domain of arcana, it did not have to make sense. It simply was.

Karma’s slow turn came to a stop as she dropped to a flat foot with a frown and a sigh, her hands settling on her hips. It was a pose reflected in a nearby mirror, a glossy antique thing with a thick, ornate bevel etched with clouds.

“What am I missing here, Nem?” She asked her reflection and much to her pleasure, her reflection answered.

I am not the Keeper here, I cannot tell you.” The curl of a coy smile that contrasted her actual frown served only to deepen the lines of the latter.

“This is me inviting you in, you smartass. Are you going to take it or not?” She asked herself once more. The reflection shifted to match its real world pair and a moment later, a heavy haze settled over Karma’s mind.

Hmm…

With the guidance of another, she felt her eyes close and her body sink slowly toward the floor, first to her knees and then upon her backside. Further, further still, until she was laying upon the floor with her eyes closed and her fingertips just barely touching the marble beneath her like a pianist poised to play the opening notes of a sonata.

“Listen. What do you hear?”

I hear… nothing.

“Precisely. Not so much the whisper of wind or the breath of word. This sound has a name.”

I… I do not know it.

“Then push further. Feel. What do you feel?”

Residue…

“Of?”

Struggle. Magic used for ill intent. It hurts to breathe.

“As Keeper of Air does this not concern you? Think, Karma. Think. What happened here?”

It was a conclusion that came at precisely the same time as her counter-presence. Her eyes snapped open wide, fixed but unfocused upon the highest point of the dome above. The aura hung over her like a storm cloud, brewing with latent power. An omen.

Death.

“Death.”

It pressed against her chest like a crushing weight, stealing her very breath. She let herself sink into the feeling, aligning with it on a molecular level in a bid to try and gleen something, anything from it. Everything within her told her to fight it, to push back against it, but she caved, little by little until the edges of her vision began to darken. Her hands slid to press flat to the floor, connecting fully with the residual energy lingering there.

A man, a woman. A ritual?

“Yes… yes, go on…”

A storm… a… a… failed ward? I don’t know…

“Close… keep going. Push through it. What do you see?”

There is another there… within him…

“You are familiar with this.”

Don’t sound so smug, Nem.

“What else do you feel? Open your mind.”

He… she… I…

Whether it was rising panic or a simple lack of oxygen to her brain, Karma felt her head swimming and jerked reflexively out of her hypnotic reverie, bolting upright. Sweat stuck her shirt to her back and matted her hair to her forehead. She panted, catching her breath slowly but surely. The darkness over and around her faded with the return of sweet oxygen to her brain and extremities.

“Nem?”

Nem was gone, leaving Karma alone with her confusion in the otherwise empty room. She eased herself to her feet and looked down at the floor. The marble was pristine, having been cleaned many a time since whatever had taken place here. Save for the echo of aetheric energy, there was no other sign that anything was even amiss.

Karma frowned and looked up.

The Tower of Air darkened around her, spreading outward from the room in which she stood. Out and up until the entire structure had filled with an ominous hue. Normally, it would be near transparent or invisible to those outside but now… now a storm was brewing in the east and centered on the spire of the tower. The eye centered perfectly over the peak of the tower, leaving a last lingering glimmer of twilight sky as the storm clouds spread out from there. Thunder rumbled overhead and periodically the dark clouds lit with lightning not quite ready to arc to the ground. Karma took a deep breath and set her jaw.

“Always a calamity brewing, isn’t it?”

You told someone once you do not get out of bed for anything less, right?

“That was a joke. But what is this?”

This… this is step one.

“Of?”

Getting answers. Hopefully.

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Re: There's An Echo In the Air

Post by Strawberry » Sun Nov 22, 2020 6:38 pm

“I was looking for a breath of a life
For a little touch of heavenly light
But all the choirs in my head sang, no, oh oh oh
To get a dream of life again
A little vision of the start and the end
But all the choirs in my head sang, no, oh oh oh”

-Florence + the Machine, Breath of Life

“Hey Nem, you there?” It was an odd thing. The Tower of Air was the one place that Karma had trouble reaching out to the Paragon essence within her. Like static on a phone line, if that phone line were in a 90’s phone booth at the bottom of the ocean. Though she had not yet returned to the center room of the Tower, she most definitely had not stopped thinking about the energy there and the way drawing from it had impacted the tower both in and out.

“Nem? Do you believe in souls?” She asked the otherwise empty room. Only by happenstance had she stumbled upon the suite and after a single night there, she already liked it better than her suite in the New Haven hotel she had called “home” for months now. Streamlined and pure white, the only touches of color came from the twilight sifting through crystal glass window panes. The centerpiece of the whole room was a tall, four post bed from which hung gauzy draped fabric panels that managed to block out the light but only when pulled shut completely. Otherwise, light passed freely through the panels which seemed to sway with a breeze that was not actually there.

The pillows were plush and the down comforter was simultaneously warm without being stifling. Carved nightstands and an ornate desk were both stained pure white. A comfortable leather chaise lounge angled its way out of the corner of the room and bumped against the edge of a fluffy rug in front of a white marble fireplace. In truth, she could spend all day there. She probably would, in fact. At least so long as she held the tower. Even the dark skies and looming storm over the tower did little to sway her from her time there.

What is a soul, really? Nem answered at last, a sibilant hum in the depths of her mind.

“You know… like… a soul. What makes us different from animals or plants.” Karma wriggled down into the cloud-like comfort of the bed, frowning up at the canopy of the bed, which was enchanted with images of a pale blue sky dotted with cotton candy wisp clouds in shades of white and grey.

Are we so different though? Animals have sentience. Plants feel pain. We all seek growth and survival and love. But if you speak of the essence that makes you human, then yes. For without it, I would not be here with you.

Karma quieted, considering Nem’s answer rather than arguing it or questioning it, at least temporarily.

Do you believe? After a long silence, Nem poked at her psyche to see if she would talk again.

“I do not know... Do made things have souls? If they do… how? But if they do not… then… then what?” She asked softly. Just a week in to her keepership and the elementals were already used to her talking to herself. Those that didn’t flee her presence at least.

Then what? Souls come from different sources, I think. My soul... would come from a drastically different source than say someone born of this land.

“Born. What about those that are… created? Wished into existence?” Or in Karma’s case, invoked out of spite. Wrought of bitter malice and resentment, she had never experienced birth in a conventional sense and it was a contentious fact that she had tried to work through frequently over her twenty years. Who brings a kid into the world just to punish someone?

Have you an unquenched emptiness in you, Karma? Nem asked, her curiosity piqued. Do you believe yourself to be something less than human for want of a soul?

“I don’t know… not less. Just… different. Always different. When I die, I do not stay that way, so I have never really had to think about it. But… what happens when the day comes that I do stay dead… what happens then? To me? To what was me?” Her fingers picked at the seam on the comforter, pinching at the calamus stem of a small downy feather that had poked out of the edge. Pulling it free, she rubbed it between her fingers until it frayed and bent in her grasp.

That is hard to say. For some, they return to the earth and become one with the soil. For others, they return to the aether from whence they came. You… I like to think you will transcend mortal understanding and become what you are meant to be.

“What does that even mean, what I’m meant to be?” She wrinkled her nose and tossed from one side to the other, burying her face into the pillow.

Time will tell, won’t it? Until then, worry not about what will happen to you at your life’s end and worry more about getting there first.
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Re: There's An Echo In the Air

Post by Strawberry » Wed Nov 25, 2020 6:12 pm

"Shame, blame
Words like these fester and I pray
For no change in seasons I hate rain
Don't let me drown in this room"

-Badflower, Move Me

Distractions were simultaneously a beautiful and terrible thing. In the wake of Caleb’s win for the Barony of Old Market, thoughts of the center room, the tower, all of it fell to the wayside in favor of basking in his victory. While she had liked Jaycy well enough, she was thrilled to see the assassin succeed where she had not in her own bid for Battlefield Park. What was a sporting title but another distraction on a list of many at the end of the day?

The Barony itself had meant a walk down memory lane, a revisitation of her time there as Squire, short as it had been. Sixty-nine days Harris D’Artainian had brought chaos and disorder to the district with no small amount of help from herself. Some days she was ashamed of her dealings there. Usually when she had clandestine meetings with the remnants of the Deadmen who were still operating on a contractual basis, bringing in residual income for Harris and Karma both. More the former than the latter, but money was money and she actually kind of liked a few of the guys in the squad. They were less… brutish than the rest of the Blackguard had been. Not quite refined, but definitely not pure muscle.

Those days, yeah, those days the guilt clung to her like a second skin, making her feel unclean and impossible to redeem. It was just supposed to be about the money. The yacht. The cash flow. People weren’t supposed to get hurt. They definitely weren’t supposed to die. But people had… a lot of innocent people for that matter. Some not so innocent ones too, but she cared a little less about that expenditure. Some of those that had lived to tell the tale still popped up from time to time. On the street, in the dueling venues, in her dreams.

How do you say sorry when you have done something heinous?

Nem had no answers for that one. Save for something about trusting in yourself to do the right thing no matter the cost. Which was by no means helpful and left Karma even more annoyed than usual.

So she let herself take the distraction and rolled with it for several days over, helping acquaint the newly minted Baron with his new digs. While they didn’t have the baronial cars anymore, the Cardinal Inn was still a nice place to lay your head. A warm great room and a kitchen with an old and wily but phenomenal cook, two floors above that, each sporting six quaint and comfortable rooms. At the height of the Blackguard’s terror reign over Old Market, she had spent most of her nights there if only because leaving was a hazard to her own health unless she brought along armed muscle.

It felt a lifetime away, like it was barely even her own memories that revisited her on the nights she could not sleep.

People ‘round here seldom forgive and even more rarely forget. Yet… nobody held her transgressions against her.

Redemption was a fickle, funny thing.

It gave her a lot to think about when she finally returned to her proverbial tower in the sky, the darkened storm plagued monolith that looked over the rest of the Isle. Only the Celestial Citadel had a better view. When at last she made her less than triumphant return to the Tower of Air, she climbed its stairs alone and went up, up, up until she reached the final hatch to the roof. This high up, the wind was a wicked thing, static charged and frigid cold on the cusp of a winter that would never come.

“How do you say sorry when you have done something heinous?” She repeated an often thought of question out loud.

“We’ve been over this, have we not?” Seldom did the Paragon take a corporeal form with her own voice instead of an echo in Karma’s head, but there she stood as Karma turned around, lovely in robes of white and purple. Robes that Karma herself wore often behind the closed doors of the Convocation. The patrician cut of her bone structure spoke to exceptional genetics, she was pretty with or without makeup with her high cheekbones, delicate but defined jawline, and pert nose. White haired, golden eyed, she was the mirror of the influence that had exerted its control over her the past… how long had it been?

Too long. Karma had lost count.

“No… I mean… here. Something bad happened here, in this very tower. I don’t know what per say, but I vaguely know who. And now I am right back to wondering… how do you seek redemption when what you have done is irredeemable?” She asked the woman who was staring at her like she was only slightly unhinged. Then again, she was standing at the top of a magical tower in the middle of an electrical storm talking to a woman who wasn’t actually there. So maybe she was a little off her rocker.

Either way.

“I suppose that depends. Do you think anyone is truly irredeemable?” Nem countered, canting her head. The slip of pure white strands over the slope of a shoulder caught Karma’s eye for a brief moment, stark white against the hazy grey and black that surrounded them.

“I… I don’t have an answer to that.”

But she was set on finding out.
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