Dies irce, dies illa
Solvet saeclum in favilla
It was by far the most breath taking thing she had ever seen.
Fragile petals, snowy white and tinged with the faintest hints of the lightest lilac, shimmering silver and beautiful blue, loosely clung together to form the most elegant flower she had ever laid eyes on. In the caress of the moon that shone down through the great glass dome overhead, the petals appear almost translucent, cold, as if frozen in time underneath their crystal cage; flourished forever in eternal beauty, waiting for the touch of the woman for whom the flower had been intended. She who was pure of heart. The touch of another, an unworthy, would cause those delicate petals to shatter like ice.
It took all of her self control not to murmur out loud the words she had been taught as a child, drummed into her very being so as to be as natural to her as breathing.
May eternus lux lucis fulsi super suus, a sanctus pro totus infinitio
May everlasting light shine upon her, a saint for all eternity.
The golden monkey chittered softly in the young woman's arms as an involuntary shiver skittered down her spine. Hugging her daemon a little tighter, Marisa Coulter reached out with a trembling hand and touched the crystal dome that housed one of the most sacred of relics. A single petal trembled and with a soft sigh, the rose released it from its death grip. Twisting and turning, a delicate dance in an invisible breeze, the petal floated to the table below. From the wound, left by the petal, a silver tear fell.
As though the icy crystal had scalded her, Marisa snatched her hand away, mesmerized as the stricken rose bled before her. The golden monkey, now agitated, clung to his mistress, mewing softly in her ear, begging her to leave this forbidden place, this most sacred shrine that they had violated out of nothing more than a deep curiosity. Another shiver raced through her and this time, she turned and fled from the sanctuary and out into the frigid winter night.
Her ragged breaths hung suspended in frosty clouds in the coldness of the night air, soft snow crunching under foot as she gathered her long cream evening gown in her arms and fled up the path and through the rose garden, quite unwilling to spend another second in the vicinity of the chapel. Voices of those long gone haunted her as she ran, some whispering comfort, some whispering ill thoughts, all of them figments of her imagination, she told herself as she plunged deeper and deeper into the maze, no longer capable of remembering to carefully trace her footsteps back the way she had come.
It wasn't until she could once more see the splendor of the Palace and hear the faint strains of the violins and the hubbub of polite conversation that she allowed herself to slow down and catch her breath. Resting against the stone wall that encircled a fountain, Marisa felt a giggle of girlish delight rise in her throat. She had done it. She had really done it.
"I told you!" She whispered triumphantly to her daemon, who was casting his eye over their surroundings with apprehension. "I told you we would find it!"
"Quite but we're not back where we started!" Her daemon hissed, prowling around the fountain. "If we're caught, it'll be the end of everything."
Frowning, Marisa took stock of their surroundings; her daemon's anxiety was well founded. Had it not been for Edward's recent promotion, she wouldn't even have been allowed within a two mile radius of the Palace never mind inside it. However, on the eve of Martinmas, the crème de la crème of Brytain's upper class danced the night away in the Snow Ballroom of the Palace. In more recent times, it had become habit for the King to invite his most senior advisors and politicians to spend the evening attending a lavish do in the Rose Ballroom. Not nearly as grand as the main event, but nonetheless, a great honor indeed. It was the only time that mere subjects were allowed to set foot in the Palace. It would never do for the wife of a senior politician, a rising star, to be caught trespassing like a common thief. Edward would abandon her in a heartbeat. It simply wouldn't do.
It panicked her, a feeling to which she was quite unaccustomed but her fear of being caught was quickly replaced by the realization that she had somehow managed to take a wrong turn in the gardens and had approached the Palace from the east rather than the west. Which meant, she thought with a flutter of excitement, she was standing mere feet away from Snow Ballroom. Even from here she could see the odd guest or two strolling out of the patio doors, women pulling their furs a little tighter around their shoulders, men indulging in a smoking leaf before heading back inside to the party.
Her daemon was alert, his little black horny hands plucking at her skin as he chattered with a greedy excitement. Everything they had ever dreamed of was so close and yet still tantalisingly out of reach. For no matter how hard Edward worked, no matter how far he got, he would always be hampered by the fact that he was not of noble blood. It was possible, she now knew with a feeling of despair, that Edward had reached the pinnacle and was quite unable of making that last and final leap to the utmost echelon of power. It had occurred to her earlier in the night, when she had stood in line next to her husband, in the Rose Ballroom, still not entirely speaking to him after his cutting remarks as to how much she had spent of his money on her dress, waiting for the briefest glimpse of the King as he did a brief circuit of those most important advisors in the Rose Ballroom before presiding over the Snow Ball. Edward had seemed crushed not to be one of them but rather than stay and comfort her husband, Marisa had snuck off outside, ostensibly for some air. Only then had it occurred to her, in one of her brief and childish flights of fancy, that if she could find the fabled artic rose, she could wish for all the things she could only dream of.
Nothing more than folklore and rumour, oh, she knew but anything was better than staying a moment longer in the stuffy ballroom with people who, whilst powerful in their own small circle, lacked any real kind of authority.
"What the hell do you think you're doing?"
For a dizzying moment, her heart stopped beating and the world grew dark as she felt those rough hands seize hold of her, a snarling wolf daemon pinning down the golden monkey. In that sickening moment, Marisa realized that the Palace Guards had snuck up on her from behind, which could only mean that there was a chance that they knew she had dared to set foot in the King's private chapel, a sanctuary to a Great Queen who never was. She, who upon her death as a young woman had become a Saint in the eyes of the Church; only those of royal blood were permitted to enter with the King's permission, To enter otherwise was more than simply breaking and entering; it was blasphemy, a crime still punishable by death.
"I'm terribly sorry," the silky words slipped from her mouth in a perfectly formed lie as she lowered her lashed bashfully. Her mind was racing, weaving the fabric of her story for she could only rely on herself. Edward's name wouldn't save her this time. "I was simply getting a breath of air and perhaps I've wandered a little far from the Ball…" she waved a hand behind her.
"If you're attending, you won't object to showing us your invitation," one of the guards barked, holding out his hand as the other looked pointedly at the ground underfoot and her footsteps, carved out in the snow like a blood trail.
"I didn't realize harassing guests was part of your job description, Rex."
The hands seizing her arms dropped her instantly at the sound of the deep, harsh voice. It was basic instinct more than anything else when she turned, stumbling slightly towards her savior. Warm hands, strong hands, steadied her, gripping her wrist. The two guard stood pale, both staring at the ground, their daemons submissive as they bowed awkwardly.
"She was sneaking around, My Lord," the man who had grabbed her stammered. "We think she's been…"
"I doubt either of you capable of thought. The Lady is here at my invitation. Away with you. Now."
A snarl from his snow leopard daemon sent the guards scurrying back into the darkness of the night. Waiting until they had gone, the warm hand dropped her wrist, the man taking a step back. He was tall, taller than Edward with broad shoulders. His strong chiseled features made everything around him seem so small and weak in comparison. Next to him the stone statues perched on the fountain seemed to wither. Tawny blond hair framed a handsome face that was dominated by dark, deep, unfathomable eyes. She swooned, slightly, feeling as though she was drowning in their dark and dangerous depths and forced herself to tear her gaze away, her cheeks blushing. For his part, he cocked his head slightly to the side, a lion assessing his prey.
A man, oh yes, a powerful man but a mere man nonetheless, the golden monkey reminded her with a furtive glance, amenable to their will.
"Thank you," Marisa smiled sweetly, her confidence returning. "How embarrassing! I'm afraid I have left my invitation lying on the dressing table in the powder room."
"Liar." He replied, watching her with the faintest trace of sardonic amusement. "I saw you earlier on in the Rose Ballroom."
"Then why did you defend me just now?" Marisa asked, glaring fiercely at him, for she had never before met a man who had not melted at the sound of her melodic voice and succumbed to her will. "I don't know you."
"If it would please you, I shall fetch the guards and tell them to remove you," he offered, with a casual shrug.
"No," she replied hastily. "Please, I mean no harm. I just wanted to see what all the fuss was about, that's all. My name is Marisa."
The snow-leopard daemon gave a soft growl, her tail swishing behind her. The man placed a hand on her snow-white head to placate her, smiling charmingly at Marisa, those dark eyes melting slightly.
"Well then, since you've gone to all this effort to come and visit us Marisa, I should at least introduce you to the King," he told her with an amused chuckle.
"I don't even know who you are, though," Marisa whispered softly, accepting his offer of his arm, "let alone the king."
"Asriel," he told her, leading her towards the gold gilded doors of the Palace. "Asriel Belacqua."
In the Chapel, as it lay dying on the table, drowning in the silver tears from above, the petal shifted and shimmered in the moonlight, its colours melting and merging together until it glowed the deepest crimson, lighting the rose up above so it appeared as though the Aurora itself was painted onto the Rose.
The last act, its swan song.
For on this cold winter's eve, the eve of the day of the Saint to whom the Rose had belonged, it had been touched by a stained soul.
To be capable of the greatest evil, one must first experience the deepest of love.