DISCLAIMER: a bit of a weird take on the young Carrion, but I dunno... I quite like him the way I'm writing him to be now, even if it's pretty terrible and likely to annoy Abarat purists. Again, I don't own anything... it's all Clive Barker's...apart from Vespasian, who's my dear old imaginary erm... old fashioned Butler type, it seems. Don't ask.
The face which glanced back with flippant nonchalance was gaunt, bony. It was almost a poster child for famine, but not quite, and if there were any flaws to pick it was almost certainly not with the bone structure, which was strong, aristocratic, sculptured. With sharp cheekbones and almost sunken eyes, it was not the most masculine, nor the most aristocratic of faces, and the icy blue eyes, more grey than blue, like chips of ice, glass, did not lend towards conventional beauty but the sum of the whole, finished with hair as inky dark and dun as the sky above, were mystifying intriguing, a polite term for far from aesthetically charming, along with that scrawny frame, and not what a woman looks for in a man, but interesting enough to be called 'eye catching' in a flattering light by a good natured liar. In the sunken half-light of Midnight, it was an almost familiar sight, the young prince with his books. This, ladies and gentleman, is the young, nineteen year old prince of midnight, heir to Gorgossium, Christopher Carrion, and for once in his life, he is nothing short of happy. This is not the bittersweet happiness that blossoms when he thinks of the princess Boa, the half-remembered face from his childhood who has grown into a beautiful young woman, there is no hint of pain or envy or sorrow to haunt this happiness. This happiness 'just is', unconditionally, and the only pain will come when he retreats from his fantasy world and musings captured within these pages to blink once again on the dark landscape and darker future that will be his life.
The faint rustle of parchment on paper echoes through the rather spectacular libraries of the midnight isle, and Christopher curled comfortably in the chair at the desk on which he was perched, head bowed silently with hawklike gaze over the information he devoured, elbows resting on the dark, almost black, lacquered wood of the desk, legs curled indulgently underneath his body. The gaze, focused on the book which he read, was universal; sharp, absorbed, but intent on something no other human soul could see unless they were to lean over his shoulder and scan the same words that his icy, sharpened glance traced with a ferocity seeming determined to drain the very essence of the words he read with warm memories, growing interest and fervent hunger. The role of the reader is as universal as that of the thinker, the poet, the philosopher; reading is a global pastime, and so it was that at this moment in time, Carrion was just another figure in just another library, the kind of creature found throughout the Abarat and into the Hereafter. He was not the tenuous, almost-fearsome creature he was then, nor the feared, intimidating tyrant he would be in another future, he just 'was', absorbed by and absorbing the text in front of him.
Curiosity killed the cat, and although this phrase wasn't intended to actually be a warning to cats, Carrion paid it little heed. Until his death, he would be an inherently curious creature, both curious to those who observed him, and musing on the world from the comfort of his own mind. This curiosity could be read clearly in the young Carrion's hollow features, as could any number of things about how he was, how he would be and how he could be. There was a certain coldness, a certain bitterness, the tug of misanthropy at the corners of his mouth and a gaze far older than any nineteen year old should possess. There was cynicism and cunning in those eyes, a hint of the mischief of youth not yet lost, a keenness that could easily translate into passion, curiosity, lust for learning, stubbornness and obstinacy, a startling intelligence and a seemingly calm depth that is so rarely seen, especially in those so young. One could say that Carrion was an old soul, and in a way, he was. One could say he was multi-faceted, standing at the brink where he could become so great or so deprived, and he was. This was the pivotal age where, in another timeline, he had plunged into the darkness which would claim his soul and end in tragedy for all; and it was this darkness that he would have to avoid to avoid all that had been otherwise. Unwittingly, he needed to walk a new path afresh, grasp at straws and avoid such a tragic fate as had once been his.
The book was on the Hereafter, written by one Montgomery Flew, who claimed to have seen this land of fantasy himself. Flew had vanished nine years ago, leaving a wife and two children, and it was widely rumoured, among the people who delighted in such flights of fancy, that he had had a mistress, Elpheba, who he had run off with, to Yebba Dim Day, some said, to Babilonium according to others. In any case, the idea of another world just behind his own fascinated Carrion to an extent very little else could. Flew had, in the scrawled, scribbled handwriting that was painfully difficult to decipher, preached the evils of the other world, and the miracles, in the small, leather bound book, the only copy of which resided in Gorgossium's library and was only a fading legend outside of its walls. To Carrion, nonetheless, it was no less fascinating and his mind wandered, to scan skyscrapers and drift over a panorama of parks and cities, towns and buildings and horizons the like of which the Abarat had never seen. The sights that the young man narrowed icy eyes at were not of his world, nor were the sights which captured him, mind and soul. Flew described lights in the sky, what he called the aurora, a play of blue and green in an icy, forsaken landscape; american cities, full of strange metal machines which roared and soared; alien constellations in a foggy sky; the linear nature of time, which was tangent and separate to place. In such situations, hunched over a book in his silent crypt of a library, Carrion felt free to dream, and if not to dream, to think, to ponder, to analyse.
Something flickered in the face of the reading young man, sending him rocking back slightly against the aged wooden seat, not quite tipping. For a second his vision greyed, a brief cloud passing over his mind's eye, as if the world had suddenly been blurred by the incautious thumb of some greater being, and he blinked again, forcefully, to clear his head. He kicked the passing memory of what had never been, could have never been, from his mind, the sight of himself floating in the furious and swelling embrace of a vengeful Izabella, and forced himself to dismiss it, as one would dismiss a troubling but mercifully brief dream. It was his wandering mind, nothing more, and certainly best not to think of the way his body had felt lifeless and weightless, the rotting pain, like an old, decaying tooth, the smell of salt... it had been vivid, but Carrion's imagination had always been vivid, much to his grandmother's chagrin, and the tricks the mind...his mind... could turn had never ceased to imagine him, even on the cusp of adulthood. The uncomprehending, unfeeling eyes of strangers, even his own grandmother, suggested that they couldn't begin to envisage such sights as unfolded in his mind, and the more macabre of his dreams had become his refuge. He paused, light headed as if woken suddenly, and recalled the quickly dismissed sensation, probing the memory which was growing rapidly dimmer with feather-light and gruesomely curious mental fingers, teasing what seemed a premonition of his own death, uncovering imagined wounds and remarking on the strange phenomenon.
Pushing wearing fingers over his eyelids, pinching the bridge of his nose, the young prince of midnight pushed back the chair he was seated on with the sharp squeal of chair leg against smooth flooring. He smiled thinly, not shaken by the passing visage but perplexed, to describe it the most aptly. It would not be fair to call it late, for it was always 'late' in the island between eleven at night and one in the morning, but it would be fair to say that Carrion was tired. He slept infrequently these days, not tormented at the hands of nightmares and strange visions, but at the hands of those arid nights where one lingers, restless, between consciousness and dreamless sleep, eyelids flickering open to check the time at intervals, or resting on the ceiling with no promise of deep, peaceful sleep for hours yet, occasionally confusing half-dreaming with wakefulness and tangling oneself in bedclothes in one's frustration, only to lurch awake after several fruitless hours to read or pace or search out some other sleepless soul to confront and hope that eventually sleep, even dreamless, might miraculously appear. With no fear of dreams, horrific or not, although the horrific were often the less bittersweet, the more interesting, the least painful upon wakening, this was a strange torture for Carrion. Even his grandmother had commented on her grandson's habits, for even the not-quite-human need their sleep, remarked with superficial and charmless concern. It was common knowledge that sleep did not come easy for Christopher Carrion these days, and even though there were countless rumours as to why this was, if he himself were confronted and questioned as to the source of this malaise, no answer would be given; he, more than anyone else, had run out of possible reasons.
Selecting another book from the shelf, some dark tale from darker times, with an austere cover hiding unspoken horrors, he made his way up the stairs from the library, hoping that the familiarity of his own room might tempt him to sleep more fully than he had for several nights. He had precious few conscious fears of his own; it delighted him to borrow those encased in the paper and ink by their author owners for an hour or two. There, book face down over his knees and eyes clamped firmly tight, finally, as if to drain all the light even from his midnight world, there, in a modest but comfortable enough room, lifeless curled on a narrow bed, Christopher Carrion slept, strange, unsettled visions flickering within the darkness; strange creatures, stranger deaths and faces last seen many years ago, all but forgotten.
It was a word, just a word, but it was said with something close to all the vehemence in the world. Vespasian raised an eyebrow at his master and returned to buffing his shoes, choosing silence as an option rather than an obligation. It was best not to counter Carrion when he was in such a mood, his servant had found, and having known the boy since he was a child, he had had a long time to come to this conclusion. An old man of undetermined age, largely because Vespasian didn't tell and Carrion didn't ask, calm and collected and nonchalant, he believed himself to have a good ten or so years before him, not knowing that his fate would direct him down a short step to death, less than a year, if that. Carrion liked him, as much as Carrion could be said to like people. He was familiar, he was bearable. He rarely answered back, unless he thought Carrion wanted him to or, even more seldom, needed him to, but he was far from mute, far from stupid. Few would suspect that of all the people Carrion could have chosen to respect at that time, his servant would near the top of his list, but, of course, even in the hands of a young Carrion, Vespasian wouldn't have lasted long if Carrion didn't respect or even, lord forbid, like him in some obscure manner. As a child, he'd mastered the art of tormenting the small number of house hands his hag of a grandmother employed alongside her stitchlings, and they were a lot less durable than the latter, and by fourteen he'd learnt to really chase them out. That Vespasian had survived those years was nothing short of a triumph the old survant counted his blessings for. He placed heavily-socked feet into his shining black shoes and began to lace them, making the grey woolen fabric that coated his feet bulge. "I'm not sure, sir, that I understand"
Carrion brandished the book with a lazy hand, half furious, half perplexed. It was the same tale of terror that had been snatched from the library the previous night and finished upon waking, and it bore the marks of Carrion's furious, hungry reading; bend corners, well thumbed pages. The servant, fond of order, winced, suspecting that Carrion had probably circled a few choice phrases and written in the margins too. He was fixated, however, by Carrion's frown, which wavered between anger and confusion, fury at a world the young man not only couldn't understand, but plain refused to. It was a typical Carrion frown, genuinely angry, hinting at wrath best avoided, but not necessarily petulant. It was the frown of one who did more when angry than merely sulk like a scolded child, although sulking may proceed actual action. It was a frown which suggested that it was perhaps not best to push the bearer of such a scowl any more than he was currently pushed on pain of...pain, to be frank. Vespasian thinned his lips, accustomed to such a situation, and let the young heir of midnight articulate his anger at his own pace. "Salvation at the hands of another person" - it was finally voiced - "Torment, I could understand. Being surrendered to his own nightmares, more so. I could even understand if the character in question were to save himself, but saved by -- I've never heard anything so incomprehensible"
The book, angrily launched, skidded across the table and dropped to the floor, bonelessly. Vespasian almost had to bite his tongue to avoid the urge to pick it up and was mercifully distracted by the calculating blue gaze of Carrion, stare pinched in thought and rather alarming. Even at nineteen, he had a bone chilling, incomprehensible gaze. He smiled like a snake, pushing for conflict and doomed to retreat empty handed and sullen; Vespasian knew his master's anger too well and dodged like a pro, and the hag was too fearsome for her grandson to idly confront. Eventually he would withdraw to brood and think whatever dark thoughts ran through his head, periodically torture both himself and the unwary until he got the anger out of his system. He was quick to anger, with the bitter anger of the difficult stage between not-quite and proper adulthood, and obviously reeling after feeling cheated by a misled book, a trivial thing by anyone else's standards. His smile slithered, eyes narrowed; Vespasian tied his other shoelace, clicked his heels, bit his tongue, didn't reply. "What do you think? This foolish romantic notion; I wouldn't say it's anything more than mere bleeding hearts and misled ideals, would you? A person isn't a person if they can't stand on their own two feet, am I right? Of course, we both know it, it's just that we realised it at different stages in life"
Vespasian frowned slightly, shrugged, got to his feet. He was a tall man, but he never quite felt taller than Carrion, and hadn't for a long time. "My Laure died nine years ago, and since then I'm inclined to agree with you. If I may speak freely, I must agree that for a book, it is a terribly romantic notion, almost nauseating" He did not, could not, waste words describing how happy him and Laure had been together, the silly romantic notions that had consumed his mind, and, he straightened his shirt and felt his mouth pull down bitterly, sucking a metaphorical lemon, the terrible pain, unspeakable, unholy, unimaginable pain, that came with her illness and death. How he had wandered, lost, without cause in life, stood contemplating rejecting life altogether. Carrion wouldn't understand, not ever, he thought, and he was glad when the entrance of a stitchling cut the puppet strings that Carrion held over him, trying to tease a confrontation out of him. It was an ugly forsaken thing, but Vespasian couldn't share his master's hatred for them. Age had softened rather than toughened him, for better or worse.
"You grandmother would like you to attend a formal gathering, sir"he muttered, avoiding eye contact, adding 'sir' to soften the blow; it was often unspoken. He could delay it no longer, and didn't doubt that Mater Motley had sent one of her minions along to hurry up her errant grandson. Iniquisit was already on the brink of becoming a battle ground between the two, the air thick with curses Mater Motley would love to send her grandson's way, murderous words Carrion would adore to his at the hag he was growing to hate more with each passing night. "She thinks it best that a representative from Gorgossium should be there, seeks to grasp a more firm foothold on the Day. It is necessary in her eyes that you should go, should be charming, on best behaviour and wind those fools around your every whim."- hardly risking a glance at Carrion, he continued, hastily, chanting off the words as if memorised by heart and half praying that his master did not believe in, in this case, shooting the messenger. He'd always believed that, although Mater Motley had raised him, Carrion would lead his life a better way, eventually, but his heart skipped a beat in the belief that he might die that moment - he was just an old man, after all - and never see this change. "I would not disappoint her if I were you. A boat will arrive later to collect you and transport you to the gathering - the Princess Boa's birthday party, no less. Be ready"
It was best, he reflected, as the door swung shut behind his hastily retreating form, to let the stitchling deal with it from there on. He had just, as they said, added fuel to the fire.