I don’t remember a time when I was truly sane. Perhaps when I was very small.
I woke up on that Brunsday at eleven in the morning in one of Vulane’s many opium palaces, merely four blocks from Veilwinter Temple.
My turban was full of wine so, of course - not wanting to be rude - I drank it. I then touched the huge paw of the creature beside me.
“Spar,” I said. “Spar, you awake?”
Spar, a huge black bear in armor, lolled his head to the side - a little trickle of spittle coming out of his maw. I looked around me at the other myriad creatures splayed around the beautifully decorated room.
The yellow candles gave a strange ambience to the scene that made me feel... crazy. As though the room was full of bodies of curdled cheese.
I blinked and it was the afternoon. I could tell because I heard the drumbeats outside of the march of Selthia to the ‘House of the Moon’. I laughed at the absurdity of existence, then finished my turban and put it on my fluffy head, tucking my ear tufts underneath.
Suddenly I was outside, puking on the sidewalk while onlookers laughed. I looked up and saw a violet cloud pass overhead.
“You okay, boss?” Spar said.
I looked up at him and - although he didn’t have a face anymore - I smiled. I smiled and laughed. For a moment, Spar had a face again. I reached out and talked to it.
“Don’t worry Spar, get ready for your next battle. I’ve cooked up a great introduction for you.”
“Who am I fighting, Boss?” He asked. I handed him a piece of paper. “Wh-seriously boss? A reptilian?”
That’s when I looked across the street and saw a moment from... some other time. I heard heavy bows across violins slowly screeching as I gazed upon the midnight scene of the body on the bed, and the curtains slowly waving as though the breath of the murderer was right next to me. I heard a scream as I clutched my muzzle and giggled again.
“Heh, you’re funny boss,” Spar said with a half grin.
Life was hilarious. I slapped Spar’s belly to get the oaf’s attention and pointed the way to Selthia’s. It took a few moments and I read the paw of a pretty weasel tourist on the way. I saw my minx informant who signaled that Selthia was ready to receive me... She had the song of a summer festival populated with masked faces.
The House of the Moon was huge. There was that purple cloud again... Anyway, Selthia’s palace was second only to the Temple of Veilwinter in grandeur. I wondered what Selthia’s soulsong would sound like: she was never close enough for me to detect it.
I’m an auramancer, in case you were wondering. Yes, I was trained when I was a little kitten by my venerated grandmother and her master. Don’t tell anyone: Someone is following me from continent to continent and I’d rather he didn’t catch on.
The stairs up to see the Witch Queen of Vulane were long and... somehow sweaty. The House of the Moon, as the name suggests, was enchanted with moonlight. Even in the middle of the day, it was night: kind of like Vulane itself.
I could hear the soulsongs of dozens of creatures all around me: some damaged, some swirling in a dance, some happy, some bombastic. I could also hear the soulsongs of other creatures billowing from the underworld like a torrent.
Suddenly I was pulled into the present moment.
“You are a happy one,” the dusk-colored vixen with bright purple eyes said. She was sitting on a huge throne of ebony and gold. The music was pounding: enhanced by spells that floated through the manor like dizzy lovers.
“I, heh, I try to be my lady,” I said smiling a little. Not too much - just enough.
“This is the first time...” She looked at a note handed to her by an armed and masked vixen next to her. “...Spar will be in the fighting ring at the House of the Moon.”
“Indeed!” I chirped.
I wanted her life. I wanted so much gold I could drown. My eyes flitted around the room from one jewel-adorned servant to another. Selthia went over a few other details and I nodded to each one.
Spar, bar, car, jar, mar, par, scar, tar, spar, scar, scar scar scar scar.
I found myself in the underdungeons, where the gladiators chose their weapons. Somehow I already knew his opponent, though I don’t remember how. Somehow I was on flippers already: I wish my memory was intact enough to remember the dealer.
Spar was gibbering about worries he had while I oiled up my paws and gave him a little backrub. I opened my claws to give him a deeper tissue massage as the crowd cheered overhead. It was not a huge colosseum, just large enough for a few hundred fabulously wealthy guests.
Bar, car, jar, jar, car, scar.
A tall figure with violet eyes was in the corner of the little room and I stopped.
“Wha-what is it boss?” Spar asked, a little tear in his voice. Spar’s soulsong had changed over the years. When I first met him it was a happy march: something that a little army would play as they stepped through wooded hills to meet the enemy. It reminded me of a hare’s or squirrel’s song: they were always happy and untroubled.
Now his song was offkey. I was glad: he was finally becoming something new. Time with me was opening windows in his mind.
The figure in the corner of the room - my own master - slowly faded. Was he real? Did I ever truly know him? I hadn’t noticed it was a mirror, before.
I tried to not look in mirrors anymore.
“Mushroom tea?” A pleasant voice said. It was a feline girl in a sari with a platter of tea.
“Special mushrooms?” I asked as I took a sip.
“Yes: flippers as requested my lady,” she said back to me as she turned and left. I, myself, turned to Spar.
“Take a swig of this,” I said to him. Slowly his soulsong began to beat heavily.
“That’s good, boss!” Spar said.
“Good boy,” I said. “You stay here. I’m going to explore.”
“The fight’s in three hours, boss!”
I slipped out the doorway. Right next to the door was one of the vixens I had seen protecting Selthia: still in her kimono and holding her glowing-blue katana. She merely winked at me as I skittered away.
It was less fun that they expected me to do this. It was still fun, mind you, but less so.
Scarscarbarscarscabscarscabarscab and I was in front of the cell holding the great, scaled creature due - doomed - to fight my poor little pawn. He was blindfolded and arms tied to great posts at the back of his cell, but his soulsong was still proud.
It wasn’t soaring, but it was true. There was a little fire burning in his heart that I wanted to quench.
“Is that you?!” The great beast roared, his huge fangs barred.
The huge reptile was held back with huge, enchanted shackles, hanging from the ceiling of his cell. They burned violet with his every exertion.
“Yes,” I said smoothly. His anger subsided, and I could sense confusion taking its place.
“No it isn’t,” he said. “A vixen. She needed help. Some kind of tea. I can’t remember. Do not lie to me again.”
“Psilocybin tea,” I said.
“WHAT?” He roared.
“Psi-lo-cy-bin,” I repeated, clicking my tongue. “Now listen carefully: throw the match and there shall be some gold in it for you.”
The reptilian recoiled. “Sacrifice my honor for some coin?”
He spat the word ‘coin’ as though it wasn’t the only thing in the world. I huffed in astonishment. “Sacrifice something worth nothing for something worth everything?”
“You mammals have fallen far,” he said, shaking his huge head. “Far. Very far.”
Pride has a particular sound to it. Drums: Meaningless drums.
“In what way?”
“You are supposed to be the ones who are ‘emotional’,” he said, his huge fangs bared. “Not I!”
I laughed. “And I am supposed to be the one who is soft, not you.”
He paused in his shackles. “Someone has been in your mind. Someone has...”
“There is no purpose in speaking with you anymore,” I said. I had to get back to Spar and help him... ‘train’. I turned and I couldn’t help chuckling. There were lights coming up from the floor - I couldn’t tell if they were real.
“Margot!” Spar said as I re-entered. “Where’d you go?”
“Do you remember...” I began, climbing up his back and putting my little muzzle up to his ear. “...when we found your mother?”
He paused. Spar rarely paused. “Y-yes?”
“More tea in here!” I yelled to the door. I heard pads running on stone. I petted Spar’s head and felt the music of his soul. His mind. His soulsong skipped a beat again. It was different. Even more, now. There are instruments in the back of his mind now, playing in a different room.
The feline girl came back with more ‘tea’. I paid her as I dumped the contents into Spar’s trusting maw. He gulped it down and closed his eyes. I tossed a few coins her way and she bowed.
Spar’s eyes are big and brown, and when I looked into them - sometimes I saw my shadow.
“...And when the short term memories were stopped, what did you hear?”
‘Blue eyes.’ Sometimes I can remember ‘Blue Eyes’: a... ‘friend’ of my master’s. But no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t remember where I had met him.
“...I see,” blue eyes said, tilting his head delicately, his voice echoing through my mind even now. “And the subject: for two weeks, he was unable to create long term memories? Was that because of the serum we created? What was his soulsong at the time? Did you give him the photocentric flower?”
I couldn’t hear my response properly: it was muffled. Blue Eyes was an enchanter of some kind, and he had an apothecary or arborist to help him - a witch or something.
Suddenly, I was in a cage with an enraged black bear, holding me up to the wall.
“HE DID WHAT TO MY MOTHER?” Spar screamed. Spar’s eyes were darting around the cell. What did I say to him? What happened? I petted his face fur.
“It’s all right Spar,” I cooed. “It’s alright.”
He heaved rage. Rage sounded like an extremely loud concert, in my mind: Creatures being tossed and attacked - screaming. I gulped.
“He - your nemesis: He’s going to be fighting you in the arena.”
Spar stood up with renewed vigor: his eyes wet and showing lights twice across the sclera.
He punched the bag hanging from the cell a few more times and then disappeared in a blink. I looked around with a mysterious glass in my hand, the wine all drunk. A roar of a crowd and the crunch of a punch. I was missing the fight.
I wobbled to my feet as the room came into view. The noises built as the world swirled. I followed the cheers until I ran up to the bars of the opening gate. There was Selthia on her throne in the upper balcony, watching my bear and the reptile tear each other to pieces.
Spar had a flail on the end of a flanged staff. The reptile had a longsword: they must have favored him - a very disadvantaged weapon.
It’s all right. I could find a new fighter.
I was watching an empty stadium. The bars were up, and I ran into the sand, almost slipping on the blood. There was a battle here. I felt myself panic a little, but I wasn’t sure why. Bricks scattered in the dust and a great hole in the wall suggested that something had... occurred.
I heard screams and explosions in the distance, and then a couple of roars. I lifted myself to my feet and listened carefully for the delicious soulsongs of terrified civilians.