When Cassandra opened her eyes she immediately decided that, on second thought, they were better off closed. She lay flat on her back, half-paralysed and dressed in white, her hair stiff with sea salt and spotted with sand. Attempting to swing herself upright, she realised with a growing sense of panic that she could not move her body. Although her eyes flickered and screamed inside the cage of her skin and bones and lips and limbs, she remained as cold and unmoving as the stark shape of the mountains against the sky.
Apart from the white of a ceiling above her, she couldn't move quite enough to see anything but herself.
She uttered a short, sharp hiss of breath, begging herself to remain calm. If she was calm, maybe she'd be able to drift back along the river of sleep. Hopefully, she'd stay there forever - if she was lucky, she'd do something innovative and drown.
With minor difficulty, her eyes stuttered shut.
Against the blackness of her flesh, she saw the hazy wonderland of a time when nothing mattered more than the sweet poetry of blood, and love, and stolen cupcake kisses iced with death. Lights flashed and danced and sang to the spots of glowing colour that exploded into falling flakes of people and places and memories; her heart yearned and begged to crawl out of her chest and back in time to a better world.
In the better world, there was safety. There was home. There were girls, lots of girls, dressed in a silk that seemed to shift and move like the crashing torrents of the oceans. There was the hunt, and there was no need for words like 'hope' because everyone already had everything they needed. It had been her paradise, her haven, all those years ago.
Now it was her curse.
Cassandra's eyes snapped open.
Gingerly, she fluttered one finger, then another, nearly crying with the effort it took. When Daria had sung to her, it had hurt. It had really, really hurt; each whispered syllable so intricately beautiful, so delicately deadly. If she was human she'd have died within minutes of the very first note, but unfortunately her superior defence system meant she'd only been knocked out. And paralysed, apparently.
Slowly she shifted her head sideways, her hair falling listlessly across her face like a teenager jumping from a viaduct bridge. If her head was tilted just so, and her neck craned at precisely the right angle...
Focusing on her surroundings, Cassandra looked at the bleak, grey room around her with a hungry sense of disappointment. She didn't recognise it. Any of it. It was clear now that she lay on some sort of steel table, though she was not chained or attached to it in any obvious way. Still, she thought bitterly, it's not like there's much chance of me running away, anyway.
She eased her neck back down till her head was resting on the table, barely bothering to notice the soft padding of bare feet beating closer and closer.
"You're awake?" asked a voice, softly. Its owner was not someone Cassandra knew - not someone she knew well, at least. "Hello?" said the voice again. "My name's Paige. Are you awake? Hello?"
If Cassandra could have, she'd have muttered something about stupid ignoramuses who didn't realise when people weren't exactly disposed to talking right now. Although she didn't say it, she thought it, violently and with a lot more cursing.
"Hello?" Paige asked again, like she didn't know how to say anything else. Then she stopped, obviously realising her mistake. "Oh. Sorry." Her hands flitted swiftly through the air, swiping pictures and patterns into the nothingness. She stopped abruptly, self consciously bringing her hands up to rub her ears. "You should be able to move now. The effects of the song should have worn off ages ago, but Marianne sang a binding song while you were unconscious."
Cassandra rolled her eyes. Stiffly she eased her mouth open, her throat dry and rubbed raw as if with sandpaper. "What do you..." She tailed off, her voice cracking and all her stifled emotions pouring out into the silence. Composing herself carefully, she tried again. "What do you mean, binding song? I thought our songs could only allow us to feed on people's memories." With difficulty, she folded a dividing line across her brow, frowning as haughtily as she could. "A binding song. What did you mean?"
"You've been away a long time. The Officials tried different things to see if we could use our songs for things other than...erm... Eating. Some worked - some didn't. Not that it matters, really." She coughed, seeming to realise something she'd been missing. "But...are you...are you alright?" asked Paige nervously, staring fixedly at Cassandra's forehead.
"What? No, of course I'm not alright! She told me she wanted to take me home and then that stupid wench Daria sang to me! No, for some reason I'm not quite in tip-top condition right now - but thank you for asking!" She scowled further, the motions coming more easily now.
Paige's face was pasted the candy-floss colour of the clouds, her hands shaking nervously by her sides. "You... You... What do you remember?"
"I remember being betrayed by a traitorous bitch, that's what I remember." Cassandra pushed her body upright, till she was sitting fairly comfortably on the table. Awkwardly she folded her arms, attempting to clutch back her former airs of dominance. Although she snarled on the outside, inside she was sobbing, decking the halls of her heart with the chiming, ringing bells of misery. She had trusted Marianne. She had loved Marianne.
Now she had no one to trust, no one to love but herself. Marianne had taken her trust and squashed it beneath her calloused manipulation in more ways than one, leaving her hopeless and abandoned like an orphan on a train track. She was alone, sitting in her sorrows on a heartless steel table, in a place she didn't know, with a person she didn't care about.
"No," said Paige slowly, striping Cassandra's skin with the blades of her words, "what I mean is, what do you remember? Everything just before you woke up?"
"The party. Marianne. Daria." She paused, her tongue wetting her lips and soaking up her nervousness. "Kissing. I was-"
"Stop," spoke Paige, her voice urgent and clear. "You shouldn't remember this. You shouldn't. You shouldn't. I-" She broke off, her words shattering as they met the floor. "Daria fed on your memories," she muttered, almost to herself. "Devoured your thoughts like they were foreign delicacies. She said she'd been careful with you - she said you'd still remember things a but... No, you shouldn't remember this, not this." She began to back away, her voice rising, hands in front of her like a shield. "I'm going to go now. I've got to go. I'm sorry - I'm sorry!" There was a grey door behind her, the same colour as the walls. Cassandra hadn't noticed it before.
"Wait!" hollered Cassandra, lurching in her haste to swing her legs from the table and clamour down. "Wait! What do you mean? Am I home? I don't understand! I thought Marianne was sent to take me home!"
Paige shook her head stubbornly, her brown hair flying into her eyes, looping around her ears and nose. "I'm not telling you; I'm not supposed to -"
Cassandra opened her mouth, ready to sing, ready to rip Paige from her consciousness the same way she'd been torn from hers, back at the party. Her lips parted, her breath held, she readied herself for the first note. No sound escaped. She tried again, her eyes widening in panic, shaking unsteadily on her feet.
The silence that followed was more haunting than the star-lit silhouette of the fingers and tendrils of the trees choking the moon.
"They took it away - they took your song away - I'm sorry, I'm so sorry - you can't sing, not anymore, not until you give them what they want and they let you have it back -" Paige gabbled, the words jumbling and merging until it didn't matter what she said anymore because nothing mattered anymore to Cassandra.
She was powerless. Weaponless.
Paige scuttled through the door and locked it, but Cassandra did not notice. She sank under the ocean, under the depths of the black, frothing sea of her despair, and she sat back down on the table and she forgot who she was and she cried and she wailed and she forgot everything in that moment but the crashing, throbbing motion of the waves.