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Silent Sun, Hidden Moon


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Edit: As it seems to be unclear, I would like to state the following for the record: any of the following posts set in the MD world are based entirely on in-game conversations and role-played 'events'. A few unfortunates who have stumbled in on us know the truth of what I say only too well! :P

There are now posts that pertain to other worlds as well... obviously, those count as 'fiction'. Hopefully the reason for their inclusion will be self-apparent.

He knew her at once.

“A redhead,” one had told him. “Proud and confident, flirtatious and winning. You can’t miss her.”

That made him think of Gret, whom the slaver had called Ceys, and the memory filled him with trepidation. “No place for that kind of feeling here,” Tarquinus had muttered to himself, “…wherever ‘here’ is. If any of these ‘people’…” His suspicious scowl roamed, causing a boy to laugh and a shy woman to back away. “If they are even people at all.”

He was pretty sure they weren’t, as he was nearly certain the sky was not a sky so much as a ceiling, and the light it held was no star. His ruminations to that effect had caught interest. “A girl I met thinks as you do,” a rhapsode had told him. “Penelope, she is called. Penelope LightMoon.”

Thus had his quest begun. Phantom or no, he would find this LightMoon and speak to her, and perhaps together they might unravel the mysteries of the sky in this place.

“It is a sort of hell,” he considered, walking. “Asphodel without all the color and excitement.”

He could not find her. She had come and gone, perhaps never to return. The Celestial Observers seemed to know nothing, which lowered them in his estimation below the ones groveling before the Thing at the Howling Gates. Galleys with neither oars nor sails, mariners who knew not stars: in a word, useless. He’d approached Bootes, thinking to learn something of import. “Have you ever seen the sun move in this place?” he had asked. The astronomer simply said:

“No.”

Tarquinus walked away, his gloomy mood not a whit improved. He decided the question was unanswerable and his quest to find LightMoon futile.

And then, one moment, at Wind’s Crossing, there she was.

She was Ceys! But not Ceys. Her hair was darker than Ceys’, a noble shade of burgundy he’d never before seen. She stood shorter than the northern barbarian girl he remembered, and her figure, though slender, swelled more pleasantly with femininity under an elegant but modest long-sleeved gown of blue. She frowned at a scroll, not seeing him approach. “LightMoon!” he bellowed, his face breaking in an unwonted smile.

Emerald eyes flashed to inspect him. Her face, the color of fresh cream, unmarred by freckles, assumed a guarded expression but softened at seeing his grin. A vermilion eyebrow arched.

“Tarquinus?”

“The same.” He bowed. “I… have searched everywhere for you.”

She returned his smile. “Truly?”

“Yes… milady.” Her bearing seemed regal. So many of these phantoms, or people, or whatever they were, apparently had no inkling of station, an ignorance he’d turned to his advantage many times. Then, too, was the distressing problem of the barber-cultists… but this one was different.

And he knew her. He wondered how to say it.

He explained his doubts about the sky, and she rolled up her scroll and nodded enthusiastically. They fell to talking; she knew no more than he but exuded enthusiasm.

After some moments he could no longer contain himself. “Milady,” he began, and sighed, studying the ground, watching the water play over the river rocks nearby. He spread his hands. “I… know thee.”

Her smile faltered but did not entirely fade. She began to shake her head. “I think not, Sieur,” she said. “We have never met.”

He nodded at nothing, and then met her eyes. “Milady…”

“Penelope.”

“Penelope, I have known you in another life. I have no doubt of it.”

She tilted her face with interest and mild surprise, but let him continue.

He told her many secrets.

“If what you say is true, I cannot think our meeting was coincidence, Sieur,” she said when he’d finished speaking.

“Lucius.”

A look of shock passed over her face but vanished under her smile. “Lucius. Lucius… I would apprentice myself to you!”

He stepped back. “No,” he protested. “It is not appropriate! Do you not know… did you not listen?”

But soft fingertips over his mouth halted his sputtering. She made a request of him, and made him swear. He knelt beside her and offered his vow.

“Now,” she said, tossing her scarlet locks and smiling, “Will you take my hand and stroll with me?

Of course he would.

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I had been in my scroll for days, reliving the nightmare that first brought me here. My mind was cluttered and foggy; full of ghost girls, cramped wooden boxes, and the most terrible blackness I had ever encountered. Suddenly, I was released from the vision and set loose into the Park and the blazing heat of the Sun.

I had only one intention. I had someone to find. While still in my reverie, I had received a message. Its contents told me there was another in this land that questioned the neverending glare of the Sun. One who dared question even the Gods themselves. I had little to go on but a name: Tarquinus, and a hope that he was one who might help me in my quest to restore the Moon.

I had little enough to go on, the only clue in my search a name. It echoed in my mind: Tarquinus, Tarquinus, Tarquinus. With each step I heard it again. I set straight for the sanctuary, thinking perhaps he might be found there. It took little time to find he was not, and I left hoping to purchase new souls for my army at Wind's Crossing.

My greatest thanks to the most glorious and strange custom of this world: the name tacked to the form of each player. If I had seen only the scruffy black hair and butchered barber's job done on his chin, I confess I would have crossed to the other side of the path and continued on quickly. He stood by the water, a far less pretty sight than my eyes can see now. The glint of the sun caught on a gold earring as he stood gazing out over the river. Hearing my steps he turned. A scar on his face bent as he spoke,

"Penelope LightMoon? I've been looking for you everywhere."

Above all, you must remember I was surprised. I knew few those days, and expected fewer to know of me. While I knew that I sought him, I'd never a moment thought he might be doing the same. It is always a disappointment when the pretty little speeches we prepare in our minds are rendered useless in a line. I was off my footing then and tried not to show it.

"I look for you as well, Tarquinus. I've only just left my scroll a moment ago." We studied each other. His eyes were penetrating, and sought something in my own. His garments were ragged and stiff with the sweat of battle. It was a petty detail in comparison to those eyes, though. I was drawn back to them again, finding them still staring, seeking my own.

There was the customary pause as we perused each other's documentation. The crossing was quiet, and the rustling of our papers did little to enliven it. His words told me little enough of the Sun, less of the Moon, but a bit of the man. A confused bit. Peeking at his face as he read, I recall thinking he had the face of a practiced gambler. It told me little of his thoughts.

"I was told you have interest in the Sun, and find it as unnatural as I do," I said. "I seek to restore the Moon to this land. I seek to make myself your apprentice."

He looked up, finally something of an expression coming to his face. I was pleased to find I could surprise him as well.

"You, Lady Penelope, wish to become my apprentice?" His eyes met mine again, and my heart quickened. They seemed familiar and not only from the moment before. They seemed too deep and far too knowing not to have met mine before that day. They held an understanding I did not comprehend at the time.

"Do you remember me? We have met before," he said. Seeing my confusion he continued, "Not in this place. I think you are one I have known before in other lives. We have seen many worlds together."

There was something in it that felt right. I believed him then, but I could not agree. I could not feel it myself.

"I....I am not sure. I think perhaps....my memory is poor," I stuttered, a poor way for one who might call herself leader to act. I can't fully explain my feelings. I only knew that he spoke the truth, and that surely he knew more of it than me. It was clear there was more I could learn from him than matters of the Moon, alone. My obsession with him was begun in that moment.

"Let us go someplace more quiet, and talk," he said. A quick exchange of notes, and we soon met in the forest. We spoke under the gaze of a strange statue that no doubt marked our words, but kept them quiet just the same. It was the first of our many secret spots, though we gave that particular bust no reason to blush. We spoke there often of secret things, the forms we had inhabited, and the plans we had to make ourselves a place in this new world.

Only a few days later I am sure, we had to move our spot the first time. Our spot had been discovered and taken over by students of battle. Imagine, in those days there was no dojo, and those who wished to learn the arts of fighting were forced to do it secretly in the woods and outlying lands. So naturally, we took to the privy.

Though we rarely meet in that place now (it having been discovered long ago), there is now a fondness for privies in my being that defies description. I think happily on the days we spent closeted there discussing how to make our fortune, plotting to escape the indignities of this prison, and more and more often, gazing on each other with no reason at all. There is a joy I feel now in the sight of cool porcelain and rusted taps; it is the symbol to me of girlhood left behind on the chill tile.

I remember one day most clearly. Lucius and I sat in the privy sneaking glances at each other, and stuck stubbornly to topics that had little to do with what was in mind. Lucius was still the filthy barbarian I had met, but I could see less of that as the days passed. To me he was only what a man should be, and whatever flaws there were I could only see the ideal form before me.

"This damnable place," he spat. "Running water, and nowhere, nowhere have I found a proper bath. What manner of barbarians are these?"

I giggled. While I'd always found Lucius to be a bit on the...well, the dirty side, I'd no idea he known it. I had always seen men as rough creatures, and as a Lady, there was no way I could see to point out his hygiene while remaining polite. He was quite agitated, and I was quite happy. A tiny bathroom is no place to be trapped with a man who sorely needs bathing, and it was a problem solved easily enough.

"There is, silly. Let me take you to it." It was then I showed him Marind's room, a place hard to find but easy enough to access. Her bathroom was quite different from the one we usually hid in, and much more public. No secrets were told there, but I found in the course of that bath that the more of him that was revealed, the less my heart could keep silent.

We chattered; he naturally, I nervously, while he disrobed and ran his bath. I remember him laughing as I turned my back to him, mocking my "modesty". Truly I tell you, I was much less than modest. I still remember the blush that crept into my cheeks as I watched him stand naked a moment before stepping into the tub. I doubt he knows it still, but even as I turned away I kept my eyes glued to the mirror. It was not until I saw the muscled form behind me descend into the steaming water that I could turn back again to speak.

He seemed, despite his manly form, boyish to me then. The happiness he found in that tub! If I live a thousand more lives, I do not think ever again I will find a person who takes such delight in hot water and soap. He was not one to pamper himself, though. He was almost businesslike in his washing. Despite his obvious joy, he soon stood up again and drained the tub.

He, of course, ignored my (feigned) modesty until I offered up a towel. The poor man asked what it was for, thinking it a way to cover his more distracting areas. I had to point out it would also serve to remove the water that dripped from him still. After all the time I had spent as his student, and all the things he had taught me even of myself, I finally felt myself to be the one who held some knowledge. He dressed quickly, and in a flash we were back to our little privy, ready to get to more private business.

There was a strange tension in the air when we returned. I knew that other selves of ours had shared more than talk, but to me, in this place, it was something new. I also knew I was greatly attracted and fascinated with him, his bath only having increased the feeling. I felt a mixture of embarrassment and shame at my own weakness, and throughout everything a persistent flutter of silly girlishness pervaded.

We stared. It was like the first moment we met. It was the first moment we had ever met, anywhere. In his brown eyes was a longing that matched my own, a question, a daring. How scared and silly I was then. Lucius always was proud and bold. Matters of sex and concealment were nothing to him. I was sure he was far more experienced than I. And I? I was a silly little girl, unsure of everything, hoping for anything, panicked and elated...waiting to be kissed.

So it happened. In a moment he leaned in and pressed his lips to mine. I had no idea something so strong and rough could be so soft and sweet. My heart beat so fast and loud in my chest I was sure he would hear it. I closed my eyes and tasted his lips for the first time, with the scent of clean soap in my nose, and the steady (beloved) plop of the leaky tap in my ears.

We grew closer after that, but let me assure you: Lucius was never less than a gentleman for a moment. Our wanderings took us to further places and our caresses grew more difficult to hide. Some began to remark on us, asking if we might be more than Teacher and adept. We studied the gates of the land for a time, noting their strange artwork and wondering whether the way they were wrought might give us clues on how to enter.

I felt then that I knew Lucius well. He was my protector, my safety, even my memory. The lives I'd lived before were hazy to me, but with his help, I remembered more. I recalled my names, my actions, our love. Whatever anyone whispered about us, he always was my Teacher. I held him in awe, and I knew he could never do me harm.

We met one day in the Hall of the Sun Balcony to discuss its strange design. The room was empty except for the two of us and Bootes, who lay snoring and snorting from time to time in his cot.

"Do you see?" I said, pointing up. "It looks like an eye. I don't think it is to study the Sun. I think it magnifies it. I think it is a way for it to watch us."

Lucius was silent for a time. "I think you are right."

"I've told you," I chattered, excited. I wanted to jump and shout my discovery from the top of my lungs. "The sky is false! The Sun is false! Whatever keeps us here watches through that. I know it stares, but I am not sure. Tell me, Lucius, does it stare at us, or over our heads? I think its eye points back at the town of Marind Bell itself."

"It stares where ever it wishes, Penelope. I have no doubt it can see us here. It can see all it wants. It is the eye of Yog-Sothoth Himself." My Teacher paused, staring up, and gave the window a string of curses I blush to remember.

"Then it is simple. We must slay Yog-Sothoth and he will stare no more. He is nothing but a silly beast," I chittered, knowing little enough of what I said.

"He is no simple beast. He is more. He is everywhere. He is nowhere. He is the clown, and the beast, and the damnable Sun itself." His face was angry, and he shook his fist at the window. I had never seen him that way before. "Tell me, soul, how do you kill something that is everywhere? How can you defeat something that always is, and never was?"

"Anything that lives can die," I replied haughtily. "There is nothing that cannot be killed, nothing. Everything has a weakness, and I can kill it...only tell me where to point the arrow, Lucius."

He took his head in his hands and let out a low moan. I watched him, confused, unable to understand. He seemed to be in pain, and I could not tell why.

"Don't you know it by now, soul?" he whispered.

"No. Tell me." I said.

"You would not want to know. Do not make me say it, soul." He shook his head. A look of haunted anguish was in his eyes, but I could not resist it. I have always been one to bait, to tease, to know more of everything, especially those things that might be hidden. I grew angry and petulant, and stamped my foot like a little girl, hoping a tantrum might provide me the answer.

"Lucius, you have promised always to tell me the truth and never to lie to me. I ask for it now. Tell me what you know."

Lucius looked up, disturbed. "Don't you know by now He is your creation? How would you destroy Him? How?"

"As he is my creation, surely it is easiest that I do it, Lucius. Only tell me the way. Where must I point the arrow?" I pleaded with him. I am torn now, looking back. I am still not sure the answer he gave is one that I wish to have heard.

"Ah, soul," he sighed, shaking his head. He took a breath and looked into my eyes. I was lost in the sadness trapped there. Time held still as, staring, I felt his finger come to rest between my breasts. I shuddered, feeling truly wounded and deeply afraid. I stepped back from his pointing finger and stupidly asked for more.

"Tell me it's not so. It can't be, Lucius." I waited, but found him silently avoiding my gaze.

"Who, then?" I asked. "Only tell me who." He stared at the floor.

"Do not make me, soul. Do not make me speak it." His features crumpled entirely as I watched. His shoulders caved inward, and he became a smaller man in that moment.

"Who?" I insisted, fearing already I knew the answer. I was too brash and to dull to stop myself.

He held his own hand out, and his voice trembled when he spoke again, "Would you have it from another, my love?"

The glare of the Sun seemed to increase. A squeak rose from the cot as Bootes, mumbling, rolled over and commenced his snoring with more vigor. I turned from my love and wept into my hands.

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“It is for you,” he whispered, rocking her gently, stroking the curls of her hair. “All for you. Always.”

Someone walked into the public bathroom, saw the couple embracing, and immediately turned around. Lucius Tarquinus Superbus smiled to himself, too happy to issue his habitual challenge.

It was never a question of falling in love with her, he later reflected, staring into the waters at Raven’s Peace. “One might as well ask a stone the way to the ground.” He longed for her to join him there, by far his favorite place in the little world he now grudgingly acknowledged as home.

But she could not; her trials in the scroll had weakened her too greatly. He was sympathetic, as his last encounter with Marind had left him numbed and confused. He’d found, upon awakening, that certain pathways once open to him had become closed, and he grieved for them, even as he grieved for Khalazdad, who might have been his own reflection.

Penelope LightMoon, nominally his apprentice, would not allow him to say certain things in public. He understood the wisdom of her words: better, he supposed, than she understood it herself. She couldn’t remember.

He remembered: too much. Far, far too much. In the two worlds previous to this one, he’d become one of the most accomplished wizards alive… and later, not-alive. He’d cast his mind over the planes; he’d seen realms where stones sang in harmony and wondered aloud which way to fall; he’d battled gods, made love to demons, and stealthily aided the agents of compassion behind his façade of ruthlessness. Here he was simply a big man whose physical strength afforded him even less advantage than it had on Earth, Mars, Tormance, or Bode.

But more than that, he’d been destroyed, many, many times. Lucius Tarquinus Superbus had looked up at the flash of Caliburn in the hands of Ievaris of Lede, believing his end had finally come. But here he was, with a new body… and Ievaris had followed him, and Carrack, and Ghadrûl, though now inhabiting different bodies. Why not? Ievaris was no more Ievaris than Artorius, Roland, Jack, or Hector; Carrack was no more Carrack than Titan or Sekander; Ghadrûl was no more Ghadrûl than Betál, A’chak, or Geryon. They were as brothers to him and more: they shared his soul.

He wanted to speak of that here, and did so whenever he could. He’d met several already who also had the spark. Most of his fellow inmates thought him mad. Well, he considered, one who has gazed upon the realms of probability cannot be wholly sane.

Who would believe him about Penelope… “Penny,” as they called her, always forcing him to wince at the homophone for the insult in the language of his ancient slaves… and Helen Wasp? Who would not laugh at him if he spoke of Penelope and Marind? Even Penelope would not believe him if he spoke about… others… here who shared her innermost nature. Better to be supposed a madman than to remove all doubt.

So he would walk with her and talk of safe things, small things. She liked to touch him, and she was not shy, though she never for an instant gave him cause to doubt her maidenhood. He wanted to touch her, too, in more familiar ways. But he looked a filthy hill-savage, and he could not bear to despoil her.

He’d made the mistake of saying so, and she shamed him by taking him to a place he’d overlooked, though he’d passed it many times. There, finally, was a marvel to match the curiosities of the architecture in this strange little hell: a bath. He’d eagerly disrobed, too excited to consider her prudish aversion to naked flesh, though her furtive glances at his body made him wonder if she shared the fetishistic tonsorial practices he’d observed in other women in this place. “I hope not,” he growled, half to himself.

“What’s that, mine?” she called, pretending to busy herself with her coiffure as he slid into the steaming water.

He did not reply.

Later, after she explained the curiously quilted cloth whose sole purpose was to absorb moisture and he’d had a chance to beat the dust from his filthy clothes, they walked down to the infernal “bathroom” – an inappropriately named space if ever he’d known one – that had become their habitual meeting place. He talked of small things, light things, and she babbled, girlishly unaware of her transparency. He thought of telling her she’d have been better unclothed in all ways, but kissed her instead.

And they would walk, and talk, and sometimes train each other in the use of the spirit-shapes used for energy duels in this world. And sometimes they would stop to share an embrace, though a very chaste one by his standards. Some began to notice: “Get a room,” a Dimensional Shifter had called. Tarquinus did not reply, though he thought sourly that no room could keep out the Ferryman anyway. The razor fetishes and bodily prudery of the majority of the other inmates explained much, he thought.

So he and Penelope would talk, often about the sky. One moment she suggested a walk to the Balcony of the Hall of the Sun.

“It reminds me of an eye,” she said, squinting upward, her scarlet and blue accents shining in the light. “It’s as though the window means to magnify it. Do you think it stares at us, mine, or beyond us at Marind’s Bell?”

“Some say it is an angien,” he responded, stroking the stubble on his scarred face. “The one credited with retrieving this world from the earth, perhaps.”

She smiled at him. “Do you believe that?”

He sighed. “Does it matter?”

“It matters to me. Everything you say matters to me.”

“If it is an eye, it is nothing less than the Eye of Ash-Shuthath. And it is that even if it is not.”

“Ash…?”

“The Thing at the Howling Gates, soul. The Abnormal One.”

“Ah…” The smile receded from her face.

“As such, It can look anywhere It damn well chooses. The Abnormal One is everywhere and nowhere; He is all things.”

“Your enemy.”

“I hate Him,” Tarquinus seethed. “I will destroy Him, mark my words.”

She looked so small, so frail, but his rage overwhelmed him. He could not protect her from this truth. She gazed up with huge eyes and asked, “But how can you destroy a thing that is everywhere?”

He scowled. Damn her lack of memory!

You made Him,” he accused.

“If I did, then he is an errant beast in need of punishment. And I shall punish him.” Her chin jutted in defiance. “Only tell me where to point the arrow.”

This was too much. He retreated, shaking his head.

“Tell me!”

He would not. He looked away.

“Damn it, Lucius! You swore to tell me everything, to keep nothing from me. Tell me! Where?”

Not meeting her gaze, he rested his thick, callused finger on her breastbone.

She gave a small, half-choked sob. “What?” she gasped. “Lucius – mine – who? Who will do it? Look at me!”

He owed her that much. Meeting her eyes, he asked, “Soul, would you have it from another?”

Tears welled in her eyes, and her tiny frame shook. She whirled away from him, her face buried in her hands, and wept for the breaking of her heart.

As she had done so many times before, in so many other worlds, through so many faces.

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In another life...

"Make haste, little one, we must hurry to fetch our water before the sun goes down," said the tall woman as she hurried, pulling a reluctant girl. In her other hand a rough-hewn bucket bounced off the plain dark material that covered her from neck to ankle, accented only by a splash of red below the collar.

The well was just in sight steps ahead, when in her haste the little girl tripped on the cobbled street. Swiftly, her mother gathered the child before she could fall, and swinging her to her hip turned back to her goal. She did not notice the figure before her her until it was too late, and collided with the man.

"I beg your pardon, Goodman," she said, and tucked a stray bit of hair into her cap. The man turned round from the well to face her, and her cheeks turned pink as her eyes lit with recognition. The child tugged at her mother's hand, eliciting little more than a "shh, child."

"Good day," he said softly, "I hope this day finds thee well." His eyes did not stray from her face. Behind him, the setting sun started a slow descent, silhouetting him. As her hand rose to clutch her breast, the tips of her fingers felt red embroidery beneath, and she drew them abruptly away as if burned.

Days seemed to pass as they gazed as each other, until at last she lowered her eyes and spoke. "Aye, well." She made a hurry with her bucket, and still pulling the child stepped closer to the well. As she neared, she felt the minister's shoulder brush against her. His grasp overlapped hers on the handle. The breeze was cool but the touch was firm and warm, lingering a moment before taking the bucket.

Again they stared at one another as he fixed the bucket and lowered it down. His arm turned the handle slowly, making no haste, his eyes fixed on her all the while. He glanced down a moment at the child and smiled. Giving the bucket back to her mother, he studied her face. There was a deepness in his look as he tried to fix her in his mind: drinking in the look of her face, her lips, her star-filled eyes. She did the same: noting the tiny marks of his razor that morning, the tips of his ears, the deepness of his pupils.

Hearing footsteps approaching, she took the bucket closer to her, and blushing lowered her gaze. "Goodday, Sir Priest. Many thanks to thee," she said, and child in tow walked deliberately back the way she had come.

"Farewell, Goody Prynne," he offered whispering, as she walked with their daughter into the rising moon.

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In another life, on another world...

"What did you call me?"

Something is wrong. She is pushing him away. Half-awake, unexpectedly rebuffed, he suddenly realizes what he has said.

He rolls over and sits up, propping his head on his knuckles. She sits, arms folded, eyes glistening, seething with the cold fury he knows only too well. He closes his eyes.

"Ellen," he sighs.

"So that is her name. I knew it. I knew there was someone."

He glances sidelong at her, beautiful even in the dim light of their little room, her long, black hair unfurling from delicate tangles. He laughs, bitterly.

She cracks the side of his face with an open palm.

"Hijo de puta," she hisses. "Mentiroso cabron."

"You said it was Craig," he accuses, a feeble riposte and he knows it. "Craig! Of all the ridiculous…"

Another blow slaps him, and another. He does not resist. He stares at the floor, eyes dead.

"No! No! It was this…Ellen! Ellen you said you loved so much."

"Chiqui..."

"I'm not your chiqui." She twists out of the sheets, pulling her clothes on with violence.

"I was dreaming. Ellen was…a color." He almost believes it. Maybe it's true, but it doesn't matter. "So this is it." He tries to look at her but cannot. She ignores him, yanking drawers open, throwing her possessions into a bag. A sense of doom descends on him. "Now you leave. After everything. I don't even know an Ellen." He flicks his eyes to watch her, and she pauses, repressing a sob. Then she straightens, turning, her face rigid and sullen, slowly shaking her head, a tear ebbing from an eye. She mouths a word he doesn't recognize, opens the door, and slams it loudly enough to wake the whole house.

He sighs, putting his feet on the floor, and reaches for his boxers. In a moment he is rolling a cigarette, the filter in his mouth as his fingers work. Then he slips the filter in, licks the paper, and wraps it shut.

"Damnit," he says, grabbing a lighter. The flame billows as he inhales. He stands and walks to the window, which he pulls open so he can lean on the sill.

The moon is out, golden and gorgeous. Her moon. Margarita liked to hint about her little rose-petal ceremonies, her final rejection of Catholicism, the brujería that would have appalled her mother.

A voice whispers, "Simon… I need you. Please hurry. I'm so scared." He looks around, alarmed, but there is no one. He grabs his jeans, shirt, boots, stumbles out the door of the room half-dressed.

"Who's there?" he calls. Silence.

He pulls up his boot before hopping down the stairs.

"Who's there?" No response, but a voice speaks crisply and rapidly in the darkness: the TV room. He collides with the wall, changing direction mid-step, and curses as he peels a "COFFEE & BEER-FLIES NIGHT" flyer from his heel.

He paces quickly across the ballroom. Kate snores on the couch of the TV room, cradling an unopened copy of Differential Mathematics. He barely registers the remote dangling from her left hand.

Local news is on:

Police are still searching for a young woman last seen with a male Caucasian driving a dark blue sedan. If you have any information, please call the number at the bottom of your screen.

The cigarette falls from Keith's mouth. The girl on the screen, blonde, freckled, pale, smiling shyly for a school photographer, is a girl he's never met, and somehow the girl he'd thought he was kissing not five minutes ago.

"Ellen," he whispers. "Oh, hell."

Fifty miles away, a girl on the cusp of womanhood struggles with her bonds and kicks at the lid of a car trunk, choking and whimpering behind the gag in her mouth.

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