One Feather

Here's the Day You Hoped Would Never Come…

An answer to the beautifully haunting challenge:

http://pika-la-cynique. found it after reading CoffeeWench's lovely response. I couldn't get it out of my head and woke up at night with a plot. Even though I swore I wouldn't start anything until after Persephone was finished, and probably not even then…well…

Prologue

Without precedent, or pop, or pomp, or circumstance, one cream-white feather floated serenely from the smooth glass to her desk. Sarah barely caught the soft caress of a landing in her peripheral vision. A crystal sphere, undoubtedly his, followed smoothly, gliding out of the glass and dropping to her desk. It glowed, illuminating her Biology homework, the pictures of her family, and Ticonderoga pencils, all newly pearlescent in the dim dorm. Unable to ignore the offering, Sarah turned sharply over her shoulder, staring first at the silky feather, then into the fathomless depths of the crystal, then at the mirror.

Her own wide eyes stared back at her, newly mismatched, or perhaps merely aglow with crystal light. His uneven eyes blinked behind the green ones reflected in the glass. For a second, she blamed the aberration on some sudden movement in her roommate's half of the little chamber, before remembering her privileged, single-housed, third year status. Living alone thrilled and terrified her, but oh, so much less than he did.

She blinked once, found she couldn't blink again. Her eyes no longer obeyed her commands. Transfixed, her irises stung with foreboding beauty. An involuntary shiver ran down her spine. They were never voluntary anymore.

As she stared, the glass rippled, bending, and doubling in the light. An alien, golden reflection merged with the slim college girl's. She hadn't seen him in five years; now, she saw them blended together. Sarah tried to turn around, to glance behind her, but she couldn't tear her eyes away from her pale doppelganger. Their lips parted, inhaling with chillingly deliberate elegance. Her own lips rounded to form the words.

"Sarah…" Her name, even on her own tongue, sounded as it always had when he spoke: sibilant, royal, uncannily uncommon, and far better than she deserved. "If you hear us, speaking now, together at last for one fleeting instant, then know that I am dead. If my sad, somewhat pathetic mortality comes as a shock to you, well," an indistinguishable eyebrow arched in his sweetest, most ironic way, "it hardly did to me."

Sarah couldn't gasp. She couldn't breathe.

"And if you are hearing my message tonight, for my death must have come as shadows fell, then know that I died without a more substantial will or last testament then this. Otherwise, I would never deign to ask your favor," they shook their head. The image wobbled, sending the eerie glow bouncing around the room. Faint light fell on a toy bear, striped collegiate sheets, the to-do list, Toby's forehead taped to the wall, and the eyes of Broadway's indefatigable Cats. Caught in the kaleidoscope, Sarah saw the exposed curve of her neck separate from the king, dark in the dip of her collarbone, lavender bra strap. The image resolved. She had hoped the vestige of herself would stay. As one, they set their mouth in a thin line before continuing in his words, half threatening now even in a tickling whisper. "You left my realm quite equal to my favorite game, not to me, mind, but to the one of the many games I run. You established your own power, my sweet Sarah. I envy you that.

"Now, my throne lies vacant. My kingdom will fall without a strong and capable leader. I only wish I could guide you, but wishes are for fools," their soft, nearly plaintive voice hardened. "As you have come closest to besting me in any form, you are my natural, indeed only possible, successor. I marked you for my queen long ago. I have no children," she could hear their shrug, "another wasted wish. You could not have run had I gotten the chance to seek you. It matters little now. The Labyrinth needs a Goblin Queen, with or without her King." They could feel her fighting against the shock, against the responsibility and the disbelief. Blended, they laughed, low in their throats. "Set aside your doubts Principessa. My final crystal, your first creation, will show the way, allow you to travel freely, and show you once and for all, that you have no choice should your friends and my kingdom not follow in my untimely fate. I am sorry, on so many counts, but life is never fair, regardless of realm." They bit out a masculine laugh. "I congratulate you on my death." Together for one more fleeting instant, they nodded, unbelieving and unsympathetic, yet united.

But his image floated away, sifting through hers like wet sand in a sieve. Her neck and face returned to themselves, but their reappearance gave Sarah less pleasure, less comfort, than she expected. A high hovering sigh escaped her reclaimed lips. As the last of their souls separated, a ghost hand caressed her chin, thumb to the curve, in delicately masculine tenderness she never dreamed of feeling. His breath fluttered against her forehead before his presence dissipated. His crystal burst. The pieces swept from the room on his breeze.

Without any forethought or beaconing, the air in her fingers melted into mist, into magic. It swirled and formed matter of its own accord, ignorant of Newton and old philosophers, suddenly solid and heavy in her palm. Gasping, Sarah dropped the orb on her desk. Like his, the glass sphere merely clinked, rolling to stop next to the feather just as if nothing had happened at all. It illuminated her room just like it's predecessor, utterly indistinguishable.

She merely stared, hands loose at her sides. The tears that wanted to congeal in her eyes wouldn't form. His eyes had left the glass. Only her dorm room, the guiding gifts, and her wide, troubled pupils reflected back in the inky stillness.

x x x x

Sarah wasn't sure when she'd fallen asleep, another mixed-blessings of her new single room. She only remembered staring into the dinged mirror, waiting for an answer to appear on the reflective surface behind the glass. Perhaps she dreamed of watching too. Of course, no answer came to her waking or dreaming mind.

Instead, she awoke in a crumpled heap, tangled in the four-pronged swivel desk chair. The crystal still shone on the desk, but sunlight illuminated the rest of her room through gaps in the pealing blinds. The orb looked like a child's toy sitting with the books and papers on her desk, thoroughly mundane by morning light. For a moment, Sarah convinced herself that she'd imagined the whole ordeal. She could never have conjured such a thing. Feeling silly, she extended her palm, focusing her mind. Nothing happened. But the initial crystal remained, undeniably present, undeniably aglow.

She tried to imagine the Labyrinth, locked away in her nightmares. She saw the worm, the hands, Hoggle, Ludo, Didymus, the fireys, the bog, the ball and the king. The king was dead.

Sarah glanced at the clock. Seven AM. An ungodly hour by college standards, but inherently one that was safe for magic. Summoning all her will, Sarah stood, stretched, and rubbed at her sore spots. She traced the hollow of her collar bone, glanced briefly around her room, and steadied her eyes on the mirror. Gingerly, she picked up the crystal.