She was the wax doll, her limbs and face belonging to the sorcerer who lived beneath the city's feat, down in the world where the shadows were alive and the ghosts ran free. Her golden hair and crimson eyes belonged to him, the man with the shining name and the amber eyes. Wax didn't feel, wax didn't betray—wax was wax, like a candle dripping away into nothingness.
She was Icarus' bright wings, sturdy and strong, carrying him upwards towards the sunlight. She was grateful not to be human; humans laughed and cried, lived and died, hungered and strived. She didn't have to feel anything—she didn't need to. Wax didn't think, wax didn't feel. Wax was a puppet, dangling on a string, Kira's string beneath the city, her feet hitting the pavement.
She served the man whose faces shifted in intervals, whose face was never the same twice, but whose eyes were like the sunlight and whose smile was like death. His power rested in the magic humans had forgotten, in the memories and faces of things that had once been—so many faces, so many names. Wax didn't ask questions, wax didn't ask why his eyes were so old, wax didn't ask why his nightmares were so cold. Wax could never be so bold.
(But there were times when she remembered the look in his eye as he stared out at the river that rushed by them, and she almost forgot that she was made of wax altogether. He was a powerful magician; sometimes, he even managed to trick himself.)
Slowly the humans turned to him, and he smiled at them (the smile he gave to all things, light and dark, warm and cold, life and death all stretched upon his grim youthful face), for he cared nothing for politics. That was the human's gamble; he lived beyond humanity and its bitter squabbles.
So he sent them their death in red-velvet boxes, he sent them their poison in crystal vials; he sent them both beauty and death, for he was a great magician and he knew his art well. To his waxling he entrusted the smallest of tasks, for only he could see how the puzzle truly fit. (Black connects to white, the angel to the demon, the heart to the pawn.)
But one day he gave her a golden heart, fluttering softly between her fingers, wrapped in a handkerchief made of silk. And for one brief moment, she hoped that it was his heart entrusted in her fingers, but even through the handkerchief she knew it was a lie. He was a great illusionist; even wax, who thought of nothing, could sense the power in his eyes. A delivery for a human—not for her, not to keep.
(And she wondered just whose heart she was giving away, and what hid behind its painted surface…)
But wax didn't laugh, didn't cry, didn't feel, didn't die. Wax was immobile; wax was the flickering candle, but it was not the flame. The waxling swallowed the heart (by accident, she insisted, by accident, she lied), the golden heart beating in her throat and her brown (stolen crimson) eyes growing wide in fear.
(He wasn't angry; even when he looked at her with those amber eyes he wasn't angry. He didn't move to strike her, even as the room spun and the lights winked in and out like stars. But as he looked at her she felt something strike out at her heart—a knife, a pen, a name, a face… And then the moment was gone and she managed to forget. Wax is good at forgetting things it never wanted to remember.)
The man with the black hair scuttled about like a spider, spindly limbs hanging at his sides, his back hunched forward as if he were looking down from the building near the docks, where the bad things happened at night. Sitting across from Kira, his eyes looked darker than the world outside, lit only by the dim lamps. Kira's youthful face said nothing (it was a strange face to wear—the delicate features appeared far too innocent for his eyes) and what words he did speak offered little.
(The sorcerer didn't care for politics, for the dead kings and the fallen figureheads. He toiled above the flames, he made the potions and the spell— but in the end it was always the human who walked away this golden heart beating in his hand.)
The man followed the ghosts, chasing one after the other, asking questions, his black eyes alight with possibility, unaware of their state of fragility, and of the magician's versatility. Off he ran into the dark, losing himself to the labyrinth of the shadow city; the waxling watched as he hopped from one image to the next, unaware of how they disappeared behind his back.
("Should we stop him?" she asked the master, whose hands folded in front of him the incense of charcoal and death hanging in the air. He turned slowly, his auburn hair obscuring his eyes; he gave a ragged smile and shook his head.
"I think he's quite happy where he is now," he said, his soft voice sounding for all the world like the dripping of the liquid shadows in the alley way, or the tinkle of sapphire rings as they fell to the dark pavement, to be stolen by thieves and murderers. His eyes closed and he leaned back in his chair.
"He asked me for a phantom, a ghost, an apparition, an illusion. I gave him every ghost I know—tell me, who wouldn't be happy with a gift like that?" His smile never faded from his face, and the waxling thought that for a moment he looked as if he hoped the man were anything but happy. But then, waxlings didn't think, and they didn't ask questions, so she nodded.
But she could have sworn she heard him ask for the truth.)
And when he returned, with glazed eyes and shaking hands, he stared at Kira as if he were a demon watching as all the sickness in the world poured back into Pandora's golden box. And the sorcerer simply smiled and bowed, wishing the black-haired man well on his way to the surface. (And she knew, as she watched, though she didn't know how, that even from all the ghosts of Kira's past he had not heard a single word of truth.)
But he came again, like a shadow he was always on the fringes, looking in, closing in, closer to the find. Because he didn't see a sorcerer with a thousand and one faces, he didn't see a magician and an illusionist—he saw a boy playing with matches in the streets above. Relentless, he pursued and pestered; like a wound he sat and festered, with all the hatred he could muster.
At first Kira smiled, but then the smile faded and he became grim. The faces changed less often and instead he was the boy, the golden-eyed boy who owned the wild magic like a man who owned a tempest. Soon he was no more than a child in oversized robes, loathing trapped in those ancient eyes.
He made death in the form of charcoal, stealing the breath of a toad, the juice of an apple, and the soot of a fire. He placed it in the red velvet box, he lined the edges in gold—and in the dark room it looked almost like the sun.
(She couldn't say she saw pity in his eyes as he closed the box shut—or anger, or sorrow, or even madness. Just a curious emptiness that hadn't been there before, and she wondered if he had swallowed a golden heart as well and felt it beating in his throat.)
"An artist deserves to draw his own death…" was all he said as he tucked the box under his arm and made his way into the darkness, out of the sight of the river and the lanterns. She watched him go with her crimson eyes, watched the swaying of his cloak and his rhythmic steps away from her. It was like watching the northern star fade out of view. She no longer knew the way to freedom.
(And when he returned the next morning they could both hear the great bells in the distance tolling, back and forth rolling, the bell ringer pulling. And there was no smile, there was no small laugh, as he looked out the window and said, "So the figurehead is dead at last."
She didn't need to ask who the figurehead was.)
So they sat together and listened to the funeral bells, sorcerer and the waxling, so far removed from humanity. One of them had to ask—even wax had to ask one question. He never gave her an answer.
("What do you think he drew?")