I blink twice. That's all it takes for me to realize I am lying on my back. Above me a night sky glitters with stars unlike any night sky I have ever seen. Hues of cobalt and lavender intertwine, as though placed by the gentle strokes of an artist's brush, while stars shimmer and blink, like jewels kissed fleetingly by the light.
And I gaze up at this masterpiece through thin branches, speckled with leaves that shake as the boughs sway to and fro.
For a moment, I don't move. But then, I hear the music. It drifts through the dark on a gentle breeze that raises goosebumps along my arms. This tune… do I know it? It seems so familiar, yet so strange. Like a memory that had all but faded from my recall, only to bring itself forward in a last moment of rebellion, refusing to be forgotten.
The breeze moves over me again, and I shiver. Why am I cold? I know I grabbed my favorite cardigan from the closet before I left home.
But I'm not wearing my cardigan. In fact... I'm not wearing my clothes at all. I should be looking at my legs and seeing a faded pair of jeans, leading up to one of the random t-shirts I own and pulled just as randomly from the closet.
But I'm looking down at a red silk skirt, tiered and trimmed with gold. It's so beautiful, I'm almost frightened to touch it, but I do. The fabric is softer than anything I've ever brought into my sewing room. I muse to myself it might even be the coveted Mulberry Silk I've dreamed of getting my hands on.
I slide up the full skirt to a tightly laced bodice that accentuates the curve of my hip, resting itself just atop the bones. It's beading is surrounded with the same gold accents as the skirt, and the princess neckline makes my breasts look surprisingly... well...
Only when I stand can I truly appreciate its beauty.
But then, the music calls me again, almost so clearly that I can hear my name on the strings of the violin that seems to carry the melody. It pulls me from the bower where I awoke and leads along a flowered path. I pause to gently stroke petals of pink, and white, and lilac that blush at me along my way.
My breath catches as I remember flowers don’t bloom at night.
Closer, and closer, louder and louder, til I am in the full height of the haunting tune that has drawn me to itself. Before me is a garden, so fragrant its perfumes almost overwhelm me. Pillars encircle a polished marble floor, where men and women dance in gowns and garments more astounding than I’ve ever seen. All manner of silks and satins and velvets, lavishly embellished.
And all of them black, and white, and gray.
My red gown seems like a rose amid the ashes as I slowly begin to move among them. Yet I wander through them as if unseen. Each couple has eyes only for the one in their arms, their gazes fixated on each other with a fascination I’ve never experienced.
No one has ever looked at me like that.
Then, I see him. He stands in the center of the revelry, his eyes drifting over the waves of fabric that swirl about him. Feathers, pearl, and lace adorn the edges of his collar and sleeves. Black curls flow down his back and over his shoulders, framing his pale, entrancing face. His eyes are so amber, I almost believe they could be golden, like the strokes that line his eyes and highlight the length of his dark lashes.
He smiles at me with a playful, almost boyish grin, then extends his hand.
“Dance with me, Valyrie,” he whispers.
I don’t remember moving towards him. When he speaks my name, it’s as if the music fades, and everything around me vanishes, only returning once I find myself in his arms.
His hands take command of me. One gently pressing against my own palm, the other gripping firmly across my back and pulling me till all I can see are his golden eyes. We move together like we have done so our whole lives. I’m not even truly aware of my feet touching the floor.
“Who… are you?” I finally ask.
He laughs, softly. “I don’t expect you would know me. But I know you.”
In that moment, my eyes leave him, and take in the grandeur once more. “Who are you?” I ask again. “Where is this place?”
“Shhh,” he chides me, releasing my hand to grip my chin and turn my face back to him. “So many questions. You’ll have your answers, after we dance.”
This time, I can’t look away. Instead, I find myself searching those amber eyes. Looking into them as if gazing down into a well. I drop a pebble, and it splashes in the center, sending ripples out to the edges, and I watch those ripples with childish fascination.
“Speak to me,” he says. “Tell me what thoughts I must compete with for your attention.”
My lips seem suddenly parched, and my words catch in my throat. “You’re…”
“Yes?” he prods, that smile still teasing across his lips.
“You’re so… beautiful. Everything here is… beautiful,” I manage.
“I surround myself with beauty,” he replies. “I love beautiful things, and I must have them.”
His words are pointed, and I feel my cheeks flushing. This seems to please him. “The beautiful things I find, I keep in my gardens.”
“How many gardens do you have?”
“Many. Enough to hold all the beautiful things in the world,” he assures me.
I bite my lip, uncertain of myself. “And… the ugly things?”
A coldness comes to his eyes. An almost cruel delight that frightens me. His iris widens til the golden band of color all but vanishes. “The ugly things, I burn.”
My breath quickens, and I allow the music to fill the silence between us a moment.
“H-how did I get here? Did you,” I’m scared to say it, but I do anyway. “Did you take me?”
“No, my sweet. I did not take you. You came to me.”
I came? How? How could I come here when I don’t even know where HERE is?
“Ah, ah, ah,” he shakes his head, bringing his face close to mine. “You’re letting the questions take away your attention again. And I won’t have that.”
He brings his lips to my ear, and nibbles on the lobe. When I gasp, he laughs again, a pleased, low growl. His lips move along my neck, and across my chest, teeth teasing my skin with sensations I’ve never felt. I hold my breath as he lifts his face to look at me.
“That’s better,” he remarks. “There is nothing else, right now. Only the dance, do you understand?”
I nod, and feel his hands tightening as we glide across the floor. Everything around me begins to blur, so that only his face remains.
His beautiful, cruel face.
When the bells begin to ring, I realize I have lost track of everything. Of time. Of place. Of myself. Perhaps it’s been minutes, perhaps it's been years. I don’t know. But the bells break the music so that their deep, empty chime echoes through the night.
“The bells toll the end,” he tells me. “Now… you will remember.”
I was in my car. Driving to work? No… to the park. We were planting rose bushes today.
The road was wet. It had rained overnight.
Car. Next to me. Swerved. I went through the guardrail.
Lights. Sirens. The ambulance came.
But it was too late. I was… I was…
He pulls me closer, til my chest is against his. “That’s right, Valyrie. You’re mine now.”
I look at him with a new understanding. A new fear. “You’re…” I can’t force myself to say it.
“Don’t be afraid. You weren’t meant to be burned.”
His lips press to mine. Gently. Carefully. And I feel my breath being pulled from me.
My lovely red dress.
It’s changing. The color is fading as though washed with days, no, with years of sunlight. Paler and paler, till no trace of its vibrant hue is left. Only shades of black. And white. And gray.
He is changing, too. His skin begins to melt away, like wax from a candle, evaporating with each chime. His perfect lips, and golden eyes, and raven locks, all fading away, till I find myself staring into empty sockets and white bone.
And his smile.