Solo [Contest] The Ghosts of Giftday

Celeste is visited by three apparitions (for Webby Winter - NOT for grading!)

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[Contest] The Ghosts of Giftday

Postby Celeste Arumen on December 26th, 2015, 10:29 am

Inspired by a Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens

Chroma stared across the room dejectedly. His gaze moved over every nuance of the shimmering walls, every strand of the sable rug. None of it was enough to to draw him out of his abstraction. He sat, lost in a distant memory of the days when he had a family. When he was a young girl on the streets of Alvadas, or even as an Initiate of the Testing Grounds. There had been people close to him, supporting him. But now he was alone, adrift. He sat back on the bed, resting against his elbows as Illia, the wisp of purple cloud wafted through the air like a little translucent snake.

’You have me, Master!’ she said in the soundless vaults of his mind.

The boy didn’t acknowledge his familiar. It wasn’t the same. There was something in him that ached desperately for people, the people he’d known before. The friends he’d lost. Was Kit Rowan still alive, running the streets of Alvadas? Where was Wrenmae? Did Annalisa Marin yet draw breath? Did Riyanna still oversee the Testing Grounds? These questions whirled around in the sphere of his mind, keeping him awake. They were endless. It was only the inevitable shadow of fatigue that pulled him under, into Nysel’s realm. Chroma pulled the extravagant covers over his head and prayed for sleep until it came, mercifully.

When her eyes opened again, something wasn’t right. It was as if no time at all had passed. The room was dark and she was alone, though for some reason Illia was nowhere to be found. Further, she was Celeste and not her male counterpart. That couldn’t be right. Feeling shaken, she attempted to access her magic but the harder she tried, the more it seemed to evade her. Panic began to flutter in her chest. Wildly, she groped at the covers.

”Oi, calm down,” a familiar voice said. Eyes wide as plates, she looked up to see none other than her childhood friend, Kit Rowan. The sight of her was unchanged from the last day they spent together, holding hands on the dock as she waited for the ship to Sahova. Kit wore a wreath of holly in her molten hair and a white sheath across her delicate frame. Celeste felt tears begin to well in her eyes.

”Oh don’t cry. You spent six months studying on an island with a bunch of grotty undead blighters.” The girl folded her arms and narrowed her eyes, as she was wont to do.

Celeste couldn’t help but chuckle. Kit remained exactly as she once was. Which on second thought, wasn’t right. It’d been nearly three years since they’d seen each other. Which meant --

”Jackpot. None of this is real.” The apparition approached her bedside. ”It’s a dream, don’t you worry. You’re not off your onion. Well, not because of this anyway.”

”That’s not exactly a comfort, coming from a ghost.” Celeste replied with a wry smile.

”Aye, you catch on quick. I always thought that.” Kit fixed her with pale eyes. ”I’m a ghost. At least, call me that for now. It’ll be easier.”

Which led them to the purpose of this encounter. The moment hung there. Celeste looked at the girl expectantly.

”I’m here because today is a very special day. You remember that it’s Winter, right?” Kit asked.

”No, I’d forgotten. Is it really?” She responded dryly.

”Stuff it. I mean, you remember the first holiday we celebrated together?” Which she did. It was Giftday; a festival in which you showed the ones you loved how much you really appreciated them by giving them tokens of your affection. It was a relatively common holiday throughout Mizahar. In Alvadas, especially.

”Petch. Today is Giftday, isn’t it?”

Kit shook her head.

”No, not just yet..” The spectre intoned. ”In two moons time, it will be Giftday. Each night, you’ll be haunted by one of three spirits; the Ghosts of the past, present and future. We’re here to smack some sense into that pretty little head of yours.”

”So you’re the Ghost of the past,” she said. It wasn’t a question. Kit nodded, extending a hand.

”Right. Come with me then. No use cocking about.”

Celeste reached out. The moment their hands touched, it felt as if the entire landscape had been upended and turned inside out. The room dissolved into a thick vortex of fog that seemed to draw both girls through space and time. It felt as if someone had put a hook in her gut and dragged her bodily into the past. She could feel the threads of her own essence, how transient and inconsequential they were, each one laden with meaning and yet no meaning at all.

When the vortex spit them both back out, she was standing in a living memory. They were on the streets of Alvadas.

”This is my house!” Celeste exclaimed.

There it was. The squat little house with the uneven roof and the roaming chimney. She could feel her throat tighten with repressed grief. There was her garden in the front yard, just the way she remembered it. She could even see the dew clinging to the odd assortment of vegetables.

”Come on now. Don’t look that way. Peer into the window instead. Tell me what you see.”

Celeste took a few shaky steps forward and gazed through the window into her own kitchen. There at the stout wooden table sat Kit and Celeste. The tawny-haired, younger version of her own self held up a velvety pouch for the young Kit to marvel at, before she tossed it on to the table in front of them.

”I see us. I’m giving you the present I got for you.”

The ghost smiled faintly. ”Stole for me, you mean. Right. Let’s go inside, then.”

With a shock, Celeste watched Kit move right through the wall. Though honestly, the mere fact they were in a waking dream should have removed the element of surprise altogether.

The two girls walked into the kitchen, set against their younger selves. Young Kit held a heavy locket in her hands. It was obviously the contents of pouch the young Celeste had given her. Though tears didn’t fall, they glistened in her eyes as she passed the necklace from one hand to the next, as if making sure it were real.

”Celeste. You didn’t have to do this.” The past-Kit said.

The young, golden haired Celeste grinned. ”No,” she responded. ”But I wanted to. You’re my friend. I wanted to give you something just as special as you are.”

”You know, no one has ever gotten me a gift before.” The past-Kit said thoughtfully. ”Not a gift like this.” Her cornflower eyes were so full of life. She marveled at it, holding it up to glisten in the light.

”Thank you, Celeste.” Past-Kit set the locket gently against the surface of the table. ”You don’t know how much this means to me.” She bit her trembling lip. ”Its folk like you that make me remember why it’s worth sticking around this place.”

The older version of Celeste smiled broadly, her heart swelling. Theirs was the best friendship she’d ever had. When she turned, the ghostly visage of her Kit was actually crying. There were tears running openly down her cheeks.

”Do you know why I’m showing you this, you twit?” She choked.

The older Celeste shook her head.

”Because,” the ghost said, ”if it weren’t for that gift, I wouldn’t have realized how great you were. The way you treat people as if they mean something, it changes their lives. You changed my life.”

Celeste smiled through the pain. It felt like someone had reached into her chest and taken all the air out.

“You won’t be lonely for very long if you remember that part of who you are.” Kit said. ”Don’t forget. Now, wake up unless you plan to lie in all morning.”

The following day felt as surreal as the night had. Time moved slowly in the caverns of Kalinor. The unrelenting monotony made him question why it was he was even there in the first place. His search for the vague and indescribable was difficult enough to justify, but when combined with his isolation from everything he once knew, he felt empty and sad. Especially since his nightly visitation from Kit. What exactly was the point of rehashing old memories?

When the night came, he was anxious to lay down his head. This time however, almost in a similar fashion in which he’d been drawn into the Heartlands, he was drawn into the sleep. It was as if the God of Dreams had personally called his name. It was very much like free falling into the depths of his own mind. He was suspended in darkness for a brief moment before again, opening his eyes.

”Hey there, cutie.”

The sound of Riyanna’s voice caused her to smack right into the bedframe. In spite of it being a dream, her head throbbed uncomfortably. Standing at the foot of her bed was the Warden of the Prairie, more radiant than she’d ever been. Just like Kit the night previous, she wore the wreath and the white cloth dress. Her hair was a spectrum of ever-changing colors and her skin was like a sunset, a gradient of gold and peach that she’d never even seen before. She even smelled like a field full of wildflowers.

”Yep. This is all based on how you perceive me,” Riyanna replied, answering her unspoken question. ”Though it isn’t a bad look, I’ve gotta say. It’s missing some key elements, but I’ll take it.”

Celeste was ecstatic. She scrambled out of bed and threw her arms around her Master, laughing and crying at the same time. Riyanna merely cradled the girl, allowing the emotions to run their course. She didn’t care that this was an illusion. Having lived in Alvadas all her life, she understood the nature of illusions. It was real enough for her.

”Okay sweetie,” Riyanna said at last. ”I’m supposed to tell you now that I’m the ghost of Giftday present.” Celeste withdrew a few inches, though she kept her arms around the Warden.

”I’m here to show you something important.” With a broad gesture, she swept Celeste’s legs right out from under her, cradling her in both arms. ”Let’s go. It isn’t but a few rooms over.”

With that, together they moved right through the wall. It wasn’t the same sensation as it’d been when she’d gone back into the past. Time did nothing to reorient itself as there was no need. Instead, Riyanna gracefully carried the two of them over the cavernous abyss between rooms. The chasm beneath them was blacker than pitch. Celeste swallowed hard and did her best not to think of what would happen if the ghost decided to drop her.

They moved into a room altogether too similar to the one she was just in. There were two men there, both of which she was quick to identify. Riyanna set her gently on her feet.

”Keene Ward and Thomas Cosa,” she said. The Warden nodded.

”These men are your peers.” Riyanna said. ”Watch how they interact with one another.”

Both of them sat in silence. It appeared Thomas was reading a book, presumably in Nader-canoch. Keene stared numbly at a flickering candle, unmoving. Both merely existed, orbiting around one another without warmth or feeling.

”It’s a real party in here,” Celeste said with suppressed mirth. To that, Riyanna permitted her a chuckle.

”Yes. These boys are already so exciting on their own. Hard to imagine how it could get any wilder.”

Celeste snorted. The Warden leaned in and put her arm around her shoulder.

”Do you know why I chose you as my Apprentice as well as my Initiate?” The spectre asked. That was a good question. Even though it was relatively obvious, they’d never really talked about it.

”I’m not sure. I’ve never really been sure. Why did you?”

”Because,” Riyanna began softly, ”you weren’t afraid to be vulnerable.”

Celeste blinked. What did that have to do with anything? She watched as Thomas struggled with a particularly stubborn page.

”Seeing you morph made me want to take you on as an initiate. But it was watching you fail that made me decide to make you a Wizard. You see Celeste, it’s obvious to everyone that you are a good person when you let them see inside of you.” The Warden kissed the top of her head.

”A lot of things have happened. You keep thinking about them over and over again, but the point is that all of that is over. These men here, they are what you have, right now.” Riyanna grinned and her teeth were suddenly razor sharp, in characteristic fashion. Celeste felt like her cheeks were going to split down the middle, she was smiling so hard.

”Don’t be afraid to show them who you are.” She said softly, squeezing her hand. Celeste looked up at her mentor with her heart in her throat one last time as the memory faded.

With a gasp, Chroma awoke.

The third and final day was the hardest. The visage of the Warden was etched into his brain. There was so much he wanted to ask her, so much he wanted to say. But the vision of Riyanna seemed to be nothing more than a projection of his own longing. Which had him questioning whether or not Kit had been right in saying he wasn’t “off his onion,” after all. This whole experience was getting to be a little bit much.

That evening, as he laid down his head, it happened almost instantaneously. One moment his eyes were closing and the next, he was wide awake.

”Hey kid,” the voice said.

Celeste rolled over to find none other than Annalisa Marin, agent of Rhysol, reimancer and fancy party aficionado. Every inch of her was the same, from the crown of her dark hair to the tips of her toes. The only difference was the outfit and for whatever reason, her right eye was completely bloodless. It appeared to be blind.

”Don’t ask,” she said simply. ”We’re not here to play catch up.” The tall woman folded her arms. It was clear that this was not a social call.

”And here I hoped we’d be going to another masquerade.” Celeste couldn’t resist the sarcasm.

Annalisa’s lips twitched up into a tight smile.

”I’m the ghost of Giftday future.” Her voice grew clinical, devoid of feeling. Whatever lingering attachment she had was cast away. The apparition took a few steps forward. For some reason, this suddenly didn’t feel like a friendly visitation.

”I have something to show you, about what it means to have power. I want to show you what your future will be if you continue on as you are.”

Annalisa reached out and Celeste instinctively withdrew. There was something unpleasant coming, she could feel it in her gut. With grim determination, the Wizard advanced on her all at once, grabbing Celeste by the wrist. Just as it had with Kit, at the moment their flesh made contact, both parties were drawn into some sort of void.

The fog of time was dizzying. There was no concept of forward or backward so much as there was simply momentum. She had sense of self on the most elemental level and nothing more. Then suddenly they were being spat out into corporeal existence, assembled in the correct order on presumably, another plane of existence.

Celeste stood on an empty field. Annalisa was not with her. There was no one and nothing around except fog, though it could be defined more accurately as mist. She took a few steps forward and as she did, her eyes were able to decipher the vague outline of what appeared to be a figure in the distance.

As she drew closer, a sense of dread began to mount. The mist was eerie and the barren earth beneath her heels was cold and sharp. Celeste felt her pulse quicken. As the figure drew nearer, she could tell it was not Annalisa. While it appeared sort of female, it wasn’t tall enough to be the Chaon. Slowly she moved toward the person, until they were within fifty feet or so, with their back turned.

”Hello?” She called.

The figure turned. It was her.

Celeste was frozen, staring at perfect replica of her own person. The only difference was, it wasn’t her at all. There was something wrong in her gaze. Blood stained her from head to foot. Scars marked her young flesh even more prominently than ever. This pseudo-Celeste stared coolly back into her own eyes.

It was only then that she noticed the bodies strewn about. It wasn't that she recognized them, but it was the carnage that turned her stomach. She hadn’t just killed these people; she’d brutalized them. There were glyphs drawn in blood all over the ground. Some looked as if she’d torn them limb from limb, but others looked half eaten. Celeste felt her rage mounting.

”Why?” She asked. ”Why would you do this?”

The dark Celeste smiled and it was a chilling sight. Her teeth were daggers.

”Because I enjoyed it.” The apparition replied, turning to meet her accuser head on.

”What happened to making the Citadel a better place?” Even though Celeste was angry, a part of her felt sickened. Betrayed. Was this truly her fate? Had she embarked on this path only to turn into that which she sought to overcome?

”What does it matter?” The dark Celeste asked. ”Nothing matters. Everything ends.” Her mouth was a grim line. ”I’ve lost everything. I have nothing now.”

The images flashed into her mind, of the boys and their sterile silence. She thought back to dusty days spent happily with her friends, patrolling the Prairie. Celeste could even almost taste the nights spent over cups of gingerbeer with Kit and her crew, back in the summer evenings of Alvadas.

”No. You have nothing because that’s what you chose." There it was. It all made sense all of the sudden. All this time, she'd been wallowing in what was lacking. What she'd lost. But what about all that she had? Even halfway across the world, she had managed to find others she could relate to. Perhaps not in terms of interests, but maybe in terms of spirit.

"I may have lost everything, but I’m not going to lose any more time feeling sorry for myself.” Even though her voice shook, she spoke with conviction.

”You’re just a ghost. You’re the ghost of the future,” the light Celeste said. The anger faded. Her lips bowed up into a smile.

With that, the illusion came apart.

It was Giftday, even down in the caverns of Kalinor. Given all that she’d learned, Chroma was eager to celebrate in good company. He snuck down to the Aconitum in the early morning and by the light of the opalgloams, bought whatever he could afford with what little money he had. The gifts in particular were chosen carefully and with thought: a clear quartz point wrapped in delicate silver and inscribed in arumenic for Keene and a fresh set of tools as well as a new pair of gloves for Thomas. He paid for both to be wrapped. Once was all told he made his way back up to the second floor of the Meadows Public House, carrying the gifts, the meal and all the decorations.

He hummed as he walked, full of hope.

It was time to start over again. They say Giftday is a day of ghosts but also, of new beginnings.
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Celeste Arumen
let us forever change.
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