A/N: There, said I'd do it, didn't I? Here is the 'sequel' to Brick By Brick (though for newcomers, reading the first isn't essential). It will hold a similar format to the first, consisting of short stories – though it will have more of a running plot – the chapters will be longer (something I've been determined to do for a while) and they'll be primarily in Garnet's perspective. The rating will probably go up when the lemon comes out, but until then you know the drill: swearing, lime and fluff ahoy. More info on my profile. Enjoy and review, okaaay? Else I wont continue :smiles:
'Lying, robed in snowy white
That loosely flew to left and right --
The leaves upon her falling light --
Thro' the noises of the night,
She floated down to Camelot:
And as the boat-head wound along
The willowy hills and fields among,
They heard her singing her last song,
The Lady of Shalott.'
(- The Lady of Shalott, Alfred Tennyson)
"You know, I heard the weirdest thing the other day…"
His voice was hushed and bracing; a man ready to divulge a conspiracy not meant to be overheard; yet the whisper was oddly comical. Despite this, his compatriots leaned closer, their flagons almost knocking together. Any gossip was good gossip, afterall.
Thief, actor and passionate handyman Cinna, raked a theatrical gaze across the surrounding empty tables before continuing in a tense whisper: "Have you heard about… the Silver Siren?"
"Silver Siren?" Blank echoed with a note of disdain, already leaning away and sipping his beer. "Sounds like some lame-ass superhero to me."
But the rotund thief was persistent, his bright eyes aglow with atypical flickers of honesty. "Swear it! Swear it on… on… Boss' life!"
"Meaningless," Marcus and Blank snorted in unison, then looked fearfully about for the man in question. Cinna didn't seem bothered though, as he hurriedly pleaded the authenticity of his case. "No, no honest! I heard it from Weimer, y'know? One of the guards at the castle? He says he's seen it with his own two eyes. Says he nearly shit his pants right off and couldn't sleep alone for a week!"
"Gaayyy," Blank drawled, completely losing interest to the much more interesting spectacle of Ruby bending over to clean some lower shelves.
"Yeah okay but… but that's not important, right? He's not the only one that's seen her… there's been like, fifteen other sightings –"
"Wait, 'her'? This Siren is a chick?"
Cinna nodded sombrely, as if departing some great wisdom. "Aye. White as snow, she is, hair down to her waist the colour of moonlight. Transparent as a sheet of ice. You can see straight through her, I swear! She walks by the canals all hours of the night; some've even seen her drifting across the water. Others say she brings with her the morning mists."
"You're full of it," Blank muttered (eyes still glued on Ruby) but Marcus was either less sceptical or not as taken by the scenery, for he lazily pursued the subject.
"Oh yeah? So what's the deal with the canals?"
"Drowned," Cinna informed bluntly. "Weimer says he saw her climb from the water, her skin slimy like seaweed and eyes filmed over like a dead fish's."
"Yah, I know."
"So… why do they call her the Silver Siren? Well, I got the 'silver' part."
Cinna leaned closer, the cabal note in his voice deepening. "It's said that in the dead of night she'll appear before you, shrouded in the mists that roll off the canal like clouds across a summer's sky. She begins to sing; the voice is captivating, melodious. You can't help yourself; her beauty captivates you, and as soon as she smiles you're under her spell. She lures you toward the water with her sweet song, and there you'll meet a watery end, her arms locked around your torso in a final, deathly embrace…"
The boys dropped into reflective silence.
"That's deep," Marcus granted.
"That's bull," Blank scoffed.
Ruby stood up. She tossed the cloth she'd been using aside, turned, then leaned heavily against the bar and cast Cinna a shrewd stare.
"Whut's all this ya spurtin', darlin'? Yer spittin' more crap than a tobacco chewin' cowboy."
Two of three brothers sniggered into their flagons while the third gawped indignantly.
"Ruby! Would I lie to you?"
She quirked a challenging eyebrow and Cinna failed to meet her silent accusation.
"Well, okay, maybe there's been a few harmless white lies… but I'm a thief! What did you expect? Anyways, this is all true, I swear."
"Have you seen her?" Ruby accosted with obvious scepticism.
"Ah… no. But Weimer –"
"Well, then." Ruby snatched their half full flagons from beneath their noses and expertly tossed them in the sink. "Closing time, boys."
"I wasn't finished!"
"We can't have a lock in!?"
"You can't just –"
She cut off their braying with a finger pointed sternly toward the door. The boys thought of pleading a little harder, but none were keen to tempt her wild temper (especially Blank) so they plodded toward the exit with heads cast down like scolded school children. However, Ruby couldn't help but add a cheerful, "G'night, fellas! Don't let the Silver Siren get ya while ya sleepin'!" just before they slipped into the darkness outside.
None of the Tantalus boys slept particularly well that night.
Alexandria Castle was bathed in the gentle hues of dawn. Pearly pinks scrubbed the turrets clean and the new sun trimmed downy clouds with gold. Servants scurried here and there with various luggages in tow and the guards switched shifts and the chef's prepared breakfasts. It was a swift, orderly hive of activity.
No one paid much heed to the woman knocking repeatedly on a door.
And glad the woman was for that inattention, too.
Lingering outside a particularly opulent room whose premises were currently barred, General Beatrix glanced sideways at the servant extinguishing the nightly torches. He bowed slightly as he strode past, and when she was sure he would not peep over her shoulder, she went against her better senses and slipped inside uninvited.
A quick inspection of what lay within confirmed her suspicion. She had knocked numerous times and called softly, but upon receiving no reply Beatrix had taken it upon herself to infiltrate the room and of course, she found Her Majesty sleeping soundly.
Beatrix couldn't help but smile at the sight. She remembered fondly the vivacious little girl who had run amuck around the castle grounds, and though she had grown into an incomparable young woman, it was times like this that brought to mind the child most vividly.
Garnet Til Alexandros XVII was starfished beneath her covers, lips daintily parted and brow free of concern. Her shoulder-length hair was a wild nest around a face so pale it almost merged with the white cotton of her sheets. She looked delicate and girly, yet Beatrix knew the sorrow that smouldered beneath the façade; it burnt her eyes to charcoal and lent an erratic edge to her usually kempt character, and for that reason the general had let the queen sleep late.
But sleep-ins could not last forever. Gingerly, the general approached her. The mattress dipped as she perched on the edge of the bed, and she felt more like a big sister than a general as she leaned across and shook what she thought to be the queen's cover-swathed shoulder. However, when the assumed shoulder wriggled in a sickening manner, detached itself from Garnet's torso and snaked toward the middle of the bed Beatrix cried out in alarm and disgust (and Beatrix never cried out), and unsheathed Save The Queen with a flourish.
"Your Majesty! Wake up! A fiend dwells within your bed!"
The queen did indeed awake with gasping, disorientated swiftness, her hair a tangled halo and eyes unfocussed as a drunks'.
But Beatrix had no time to wait for the queen to gather her wits. With one sure flick of the wrist she tossed the covers aside (instigating a startled shriek from the muddled and suddenly exposed queen) to reveal the trespasser, the monster, the murderer, the –
"Hey! Who turned on the lights, kupo!?"
Beatrix, sword still cocked at a threatening angle and adrenalin beginning to pump about her veins, could do nothing but blink in utter bemusement at the pink, fuzzy creature, who was returning her bewilderment with its own.
Garnet, on the other hand, seemed entirely unperturbed. She stretched and yawned, the nightdress silvery-thin against her willow limbs, and rubbed the bleariness from her eyes. She glanced down at the moogle, who was wrapping himself in the covers in such a way that, with nothing but his pom pom sticking out the top, he looked like dollop of whipped cream capped with a cherry.
"Y-your Majesty? Have I completely lost my wits or… is there a moogle in your bed?"
Garnet waved a hand, the other stifling another yawn. "Yes, yes. Goodness, Beatrix, what's the time? I'm so tired still! Must you wake me so early?"
"It's actually past ten, you were due for breakfast an – wait, wait, that's not the point, the point is what in Ramuh's name is a –"
"Ten!" Garnet chimed in alarm, her eyes suddenly alight with clarity. "But that's so late! I have so much to do today! Quickly, send for my maids, I must dress at once!"
"Yes, Your Majesty. But… the moogle?" Beatrix gestured to the bobbing cherry atop the icing.
Garnet shook her head, bouncing onto the carpet and dashing to the en suite bathroom, looking every part the typical teenager. Her rambling drifted through the open door. "Never mind that! I have an appointment at ten forty; I can't be seen half asleep! Have the chef rustle up some fruit, would you? And maybe some toast. With jam. But not with that sickly one, the nice stuff, you know? I think it was raspberry… or maybe cherry. Oh, it doesn't matter, either will do. Please, Beatrix, you must make haste! I'm terribly late as it is!"
"Ah… Uh, yes. Yes, of course." Defeated (for now), the general saluted and exited the room with a baffled sigh, almost accustomed to Garnet's bizarre changes of character.
Alone yet still frantic, Garnet didn't wait for her maids and pulled a brush through her hair herself. The tangles were easily overwhelmed and she coiffed it with a pearl clasp for the sake aesthetics.
"So eaarrrlllyy…" a voice whined from the main bedroom. "Why is everything so earrrllly…?"
Busy scraping her teeth now, Garnet poked her head round the door and contemplated the white mound dominating her abode. Around the brush she primly scolded, "Really, Mene, how many times have I told you? You can't sleep in my bed!"
The mound grew a pink face and shrewd, beady eyes. He regarded her with mild irritation.
"And I've told you before, kupo. This is the most comfy bed in the castle so I'm sleeping here."
"And what if I order you to leave? I am queen, you know."
"You're not my queen."
"If you live in my kingdom then I am your queen, so you have to do as I say."
Mene poked his little tongue out and retreated back into his cushioned cave. His voice was muffled as he continued, "Yeah, well, it seems a waste to have such a big bed all to yourself, kupo."
Garnet momentarily ceased her frantic scraping, stung by his words. Her eyes glazed as she stared at the pom pom dancing on the tip of the covers. She gathered herself quickly though, willing the dark thoughts away, and amended, "Yes, I suppose it is. And I suppose you do keep me warm. You're like a cuddly toy. Ooh, now there's an idea. Maybe I should have you stuffed?"
The face was unspeakably indignant this time as it reappeared above the white. "You're mean, you are! Not nice at all! I should go back to Chocobo's Forest! Hmph. Kupo."
Garnet hurriedly contemplated herself in the mirror, decided she had done all she could without the assistance of her maids (even if she dressed herself they would probably insist she re-dress in different colours and design anyway), so she returned to her bed and burrowed beneath the covers in search of her furry friend. She found him scowling and pouty, as usual.
"Sorry, Mene. Forgive me?"
"Now who's being mean?" She wriggled in the warm knot of covers and smiled contently. "Mmm, I wish I could go back to sleep. This is cosy. And you smell like… grass and feathers and… kupo nuts."
Mene bared his small but sharp incisors. "You smell like yucky humans, kupo." Garnet feigned hurt, so Mene grumpily added, "And flowers. Happy now?
"Very! Oh, can I buy some Gyshal Greens from you? I almost forgot."
"I guess so, kupo. They'll be sixty gil each."
Garnet frowned, though the smile was evident in her eyes. "Sixty? Huh. I could've sworn they were fifty last time."
"I add ten gil every time you make me mad."
"Goodness, it'll be twenty thousand gil in no time, then!"
"Not if you start being nice, kupo."
"You're sharing a bed with a queen! What more can you ask for?"
"An infinite supply of kupo nuts."
Garnet shook her head. "No deal." She roused herself from the comfy tangle of blankets and stretched again. She strode to the door, intent on searching for her maids, and called lazily over one shoulder, "Just leave them in my bag okay? Thanks, Mene, you're the best!"
Hours later, the maids' expressions twisted into masks of horror as their beloved queen kicked off her dainty slippers and waded into stinking faeces and sticky hay with an air of utter nonchalance. Furthermore, they were forced to witness their mistress' efforts to scrunch her dress above her knees even as the white silk became stained with grisly smears, and watch as her feet became an equal shade of unholy hue.
"Y-your Majesty…" one of them tried, a girl of no more than fourteen, unused, as all of them were, to the 'Dagger' side of their queen.
Their mistress waved a hand dismissively, almost irritably, so much so that the girl thought she might be swatting one of the beastly flies away. But that misunderstanding was quickly amended as the queen reassured, "Never mind your concerns. I'm just checking on him. Now where – ah, here we are. Now be so kind as to leave me."
The maids exchanged exasperated glances, wringing their hands and shuffling their feet beneath their heavy skirts. The queen turned upon hearing their hesitation, her face stern and beautiful.
"Nell, Briar. Please. I will return to my chambers at leisure. It's late anyway, you should retire too."
"Yes but… it's not proper for us to leave you like… like…" Briar, the youngest at twelve, gestured to their queen's stained garment and feet.
But apparently this was not a concern for their mistress, either, as she proudly declared, "Oh please. I've walked through much worse. There was this one time when I was forced to trek through a swamp and …" Her eyes clouded, as if spell-stricken, and she shook her head to bid the thunderclouds depart. "But that is past. If it bothers you then you may wait for me at my chamber, though I strongly suggest you get some sleep."
Deciding to leave before inducing the (incredibly rare) wrath of their queen, Briar and Nell offered one last despairing look before curtseying and scuttling out of the rancid stables.
Alone now, Garnet returned her attention to something that had been giving her quite a bit of attention. She turned around and tapped the beak gnawing thoughtfully on a lock of her hair.
"Choco! Kindly desist eating my hair. Apparently I need to grow it long again because a queen sporting short hair is unbecoming, so I really can't have you munching it off or else I'll have to endure another lecture from Beatrix, and what will I say? 'I'm sorry, but Choco was feeling peckish and apparently my hair is quite delectable'. I don't think she'd buy it."
The chocobo, who had ceased its chomping to give the rambling human a politely confused stare, got straight to the point and nuzzled at the bag strung over Garnet's shoulder.
"Oh, yes yes, alright. Sometimes I think it isn't me you're happy to see but the treats I bring on my visits. Here, now you can stop eating my hair." Garnet pulled from her little bag a handful of stinking green foliage, Gyshal Greens, and Choco snatched them greedily from her flat palm.
Garnet grinned and gave her surroundings a quick inspection. There were other chocobo in this vast stable, reared for warfare (so bigger than the average chocobo, and twice as restrained as Choco would ever be) and they were dozing or roused from such slumber by the intoxicating aroma of their favourite snack. The best herdsman in Alexandria tended the birds with more love than they would their own children. The queen strictly disallowed whips of any sort, and only permitted harnesses in particular circumstances. The stables were roomy and while wooden panels and bars separated some chocobo from others (not all chocobo were friendly to their kin) the others nested in sociable flocks amidst bundles of straw and hay.
Choco's stable was unique, however. Unlike the others, the door was always left open. Choco had free reign of the grounds and could come and go as he pleased. If ever she caught the door to his stable closed (whether Choco was home or not) she let her displeasure be known, and after it happened once, it never happened again. She made it clear that Choco was not hers to own, nor any stable masters', and his freedom was never to be restricted. She'd thought some time in the stables might reduce him to a dull-eyed noble-bred beast, but he was still as enigmatic and boisterous as ever, often disappearing for months on end and reaping havoc here, there and everywhere.
So it had almost become legend in the space of a few months, of the chocobo with godly colours roaming like some mythical beast around the gardens of Alexandria Castle. She'd heard the rumours, outrageous as they were. Some said it was a fearful beast, sent by the gods to protect the queen from strife. Others said it was an ancient eidolon summoned to guard her grounds from evildoers. Some said it was a gentler reincarnation of Alexander, forever bound to the castle he perished protecting.
But the truth was far greater. Choco was a friend. More importantly, a friend of friend, and she determined to keep the bird safe from harm. Plus, she loved Choco. She wanted him to be happy, and apparently getting treats of Gyshal Greens everyday (not to mention the various vegetables and exotic plants growing in the gardens – much to the gardener's displeasure) and sleeping on fresh, soft hay was enough to keep the vivacious bird content, for he had stayed almost every day since Garnet had invited him do so.
She almost hadn't recognised him at first. Last she'd seen him the bird had been like Ifrit's mane: all fiery red and dusky copper. Now he was golder than morning sunlight; his beak looked like it had been dipped in liquid ingot. But Choco had recognised her instantly, and there was no mistaking those intelligent, reproachful eyes anyway.
Garnet was brusquely snapped from her thoughts. Without warning, Choco had danced backward. He drew himself straight and cocked his head to one side. Alarmed, Garnet had also reared back, then after a few moments had passed, she raised a hand to the golden beak.
"Hey, hey, what's the matter…?"
Choco's eyes were fixed on some place distant, staring and thoughtful. Garnet turned, thinking he had heard someone walk into the stables, but they were alone aside from the other chocobo, who were entirely unconcerned. She turned a bemused gaze back to Choco, who was now blinking rapidly.
And then the bird lurched past her. Before the queen could even shout the bird had vanished through the open door. Not a moment wasted, she picked up her skirts and dashed after him, almost stumbling in the tangles of straw, and entered the night outside. Here, she witnessed the chocobo dash into a thicket, then raise up like a celestial being, flapping its great wings in a manner that was almost clumsy. Garnet watched as Choco flew up and up, and then the night swallowed him whole.
"Huh," was all she could say of the matter, feeling a bit miffed. "Well, I'll see you later, then."
Trying not to think too hard on an occurrence she couldn't alter, Garnet made her way back to the castle. The night air was chill against her pale skin, so she drew up the hood of her alabaster cloak and wrapped it tight around her dress. Only once she reached the edge of the canals did she realise she was barefoot. Nevermind. Her shoes could sleep beneath the hay for tonight.
She drifted alongside the still water, watching the moonlight play across its dappled surface. She had seen this dance a hundred times, for she found solace in walking these paths. The silence of the castle wreathed in inky blankets stilled her aching thoughts; she could walk for hours on the curb of her singing canals. And often she did, the nights no longer granted her sleep.
There was a kind of veil across her mind, she realised. A veil that segregated her true thoughts from how she knew she must be portrayed in court. It was, in actual fact, a way to separate Dagger from Garnet. The two confused her; she so rarely knew who she was within the castle. Dagger, who rode a golden chocobo in breeches and a cotton shirt. Garnet, who sat on the throne and extended her authority.
But the veil wasn't just there for that. If the veil was not a metaphor, and existed as something one could physically touch, one would find it spongy and absorbent. All the pain and heartache and sorrow that was never far from her fingertips was soaked up by that veil, so she knew she must always wear it to aid her role as Queen Garnet.
Yet the veil's absorbency was not infinite. At night the pent up emotion spilled out drop-by-drop, snatching sleep from grasp, leaving her with the choice to toss and turn in her covers or walk the canals outside. She chose the latter, in hopes that the scenery would draw her away from darker things.
It worked to a point. But the heartache was pounding, tangible; she could drown in it as surely she could drown in the moon-licked waters beside her. She had drowned before after all, the grief stealing her voice, but now she'd lost her heart, something so much more precious and painful.
"He's gone, kupo!"
Garnet nearly toppled into the canal as the trill voice squeaked an alarm in her ear. The queen turned and stared wide eyed at Mene, flapping frantically further along the winding path. Alexandria Castle was a dark silhouette against a bloody moon, beautiful and sinister at once.
"Who?" she instinctively questioned, then realised her mistake. "Oh, yes. He did go. Choco, I mean. But – "
"He never leaves without me, kupo!" Mene cried, clearly distressed. "Never, never! You did this! You drove him away from me! My best buddy! My pal! He needs me, kupo! Don't you understand!? Don't you realise? You drove him away!!"
"I've done nothing of the sort!" Garnet countered hotly. "He just… I don't know… he just went a bit strange… like he was listening… then he just ran off. Flew away."
Mene went quiet, then landed on the ground. "Oh," he said. "Never mind then."
"Never mind?" Garnet repeated. "You were frantic a heartbeat ago! Now you don't care where he's gone?"
"I know where he's gone, kupo," Mene informed tartly. "Where he always goes, I guess."
"What do you mean?"
"I'm tired. I'm going to your bed, kupo."
Garnet shrugged inwardly, suddenly tired and defeated, too muddled to scold the moogle for assuming his place in her bedroom. Yet just before she followed the fuzzy creature back to the palace, she paused and stared up at the sky with a frown, something irking her. A nostalgic sensation. A whiff of Gyshal Greens. A trill whistle and scratch marks on the ground.
Where he always goes.
Something flickered in the tangible pain of her soul, but she quickly extinguished it, knowing that all was lost and she would be a fool to think otherwise. If she was to live, she must accept and move on. There was no alternative.
Where he always goes.
Garnet walked to the castle alone, and could not apprehend the auspicious flutter of her heart.