Runic - Sempiternal Solo

Young violinist Lola Pern is starting to realize how far one can go in order to perfect something, in every sense of the world. A song from the past haunts every corner of her life, one that has made for a dramatic turmoil as she gets thrown into a whimsical nightmare of violence and beauty. With only one way out, she revisits a point in time when every mistake was met with travesty in hopes of bringing closure. However, altering such forces is bound to be dangerous, and with a childhood as fragile as hers, the risks can cost dearly.

Novel Website - https://www.crimsos.org/sempiternalsolo

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5. Chapter 5 - A Topaz In Vein

 

 

“Fallen on a needleless spine spun directionless, it’s no wonder machines go mad.”

-Uriel, Heron’s right hand Templar-

...

Lola was gradually lifted from dreamcast by a soft, continuous murmur soaking through her pillow. Lethargically, the girl leaned up and looked over with half open eyes. Her bedroom window revealed the sky drowning in an unforgiving stormfront. It was pouring rain. From afar, gentle booms of thunder chased their lightning counterparts. For a while, she peered through the glass veil while her body thawed away its languid outer coat. A new week had turned, meaning classes would resume in their full swing. Krayble's afternoon block was last on the schedule, but in honesty, it mattered not what course or lecture she was a part of. Almost everyone knew of her sudden downward spiral from slight distress to humiliation.

Then a different noise disturbed the delicate rumble, only this time it rudely fractured her minute in peaceful limbo. Wearing feet weighted by apathy, she walked over and bent her head into the hallway. The door pounded again, splattering its irritating thumps like an angry pair of fist pounding her ears, demanding entry.

“Please, not now,” she mumbled listlessly, as if that alone would make it go away. It didn't. The irritating beats bustled again. She checked her state of attire only to be reminded that it hadn't changed since yesterday, still that orange sundress. Her hair told a different story, but its unruliness could wait for now.

Finally, she jerked harshly on the knob and the door flew open. It wasn’t the girl. It was a riled looking elf woman of much older age, well within prime.

“What is it?”

“What is it?” The woman glare sharpened more in disgust. “It was going on all night!” She snapped a finger at her. “Your little orchestra in a box didn't let me sleep ‘til morning!”

Lola turned back. Her gramophone player was still spinning even though the vinyl disk had long since lost its voice. “Well, why didn't you get me sooner?”

“...I tried, but you were dead to the world. Someone like you might be used to it. Not me, and not most of this building.” She flicked up her watch and grunted. “I don't have time for this, just remember our conversation.”

Lola pulled the door shut with a cold sigh. Her thoughts were submerged in vertigo, each one diverging in euphoria or discord. Mr. Hane’s treatment seemed to be working flawlessly, for she felt rested and focused. However, there wasn’t a medication in existence that could dissolve the upcoming glares Gerenham’s campus would impose. The embarrassment in itself would inevitably pass over time. Her main source of unrest would really come from the fact that others would see her in a different light. They would see this musician who was frightened of crowds, frightened of those who ridiculed failure while clicking their tongues in pity.

“Pity,” she muttered, before spitting it from her mouth like a rotten bit of fruit. “Pity, if only that was the case when my parents were around.”

A young merigold sun burned lambent cracks between the clouds, and where rain fell beneath the rays, they glinted like stardust. Puddles rippled to the downpour, reflecting distorted images of Lola traveling along the sidewalk, along the soaked path of concrete that bent into a curb farther ahead. Although her shoes were immediately waterlogged upon stepping outside, the sky blue umbrella she carried on days like this kept the shower’s touch away from everything else. A pair of gemstones dangled from either ear, short silver chains ending off with teardrop azurites. Wearing earrings or any type of jewelry was an avenue of fashion she seldom took pleasure in, and makeup might has well been a foreign concept. Perhaps if she accessorized a little more this time, others would have their attention swayed towards her outward appearance rather than her inner disarray.

Lola stopped at the curb and waited for the sound of wheels crunching on loose gravel and dirt. In the forenoon dimness, carriages were heard way before they were seen. Few of them made rounds during these early hours, so the wait was longer. That was perfectly fine. She wanted nothing more than to be enveloped within the rain’s mollifying harmony, watching water drops drizzle off her umbrella’s rim and descend. Across the street, a lonely kerosene street lamp casted a gold crusted gloom that fanned over the road, but dwindled out before it could reach her.

That familiar crunching noise echoed. She waved the carriage over. The ride was quiet.

Thankfully, few roamed the campus grounds this early, just a small handful of scholars with books and papers pouched under their arms. Coverlets of fog hovered low above the dew drenched grass, a ghosting cloud that misted her feet as she hurried inside to escape the weather. The high stained glass roofs were starved of light that normally passed through them, so every tenement and hall were doused in a hollow grayscale wash. The white marble columns holding everything up appeared as if stricken by famine, lacking their daily bath of colors soaring across the entire spectrum.

Her first block was an orchestra theory course that was held in one of the lesser auditoriums, a circular room of rows that went back twenty times over. It could still accommodate a large seminar of people, but only a meager dozen sat close up front, waiting for the instructor to take her stand before the podium. Lola entered with only a glance at their faces. A few pairs of eyes widened to expand their beams. She took a deep breath, and dipped under the flow of attachment, sentencing herself to a state of repose where every unwanted sound resonated as static whispers, too far away. Remarkably, maintaining this tunneled level of focus was easy. All it took was one small step back into that little cranny of her brain, watching everything unfold through a distant snowfall.

The hours that droned by were almost unbearable, each one a sheet of steel wool being dragged across glass. More students entered the campus as dawn lended itself to morning, then midday. Between classes, if people stared, they were ignored. If they whispered, it was smothered and drowned out to her distant mindfulness. Not all of them passed glares, though. Some turned a blind eye, or walked on without question, without a second thought. Not everyone had to look, though. If some did, that was too many. If one did, that was too much, because all of this had been derived from one tragic accident without a cause, one slip where everyone could see.

She glanced down. Maybe it was the shallow breaks along her forearm that drew their attention, reddened notches in her skin where the girl had bit down. The bandages had been removed to expose the aching wound, and touching it was always a mistake no matter how brash her curiosity grew. Pain flared and prickled if even a hint of pressure was tested, yet, her streamlined focus could not leave it behind, or even veer its course. Her thoughts were adhesive to the cold. She needed to pay close concentration to whatever the professor had to say, jot down notes, copy down information. Such straightforward tasks were beginning to seem like an impossible effort. Outside, the rain had subsided to bring about arching shafts of light tearing storm clouds apart.

By the time afternoon rolled up, her head was a cauldron, a kalice of swirling throbs with no sign of dispersing. She could no longer venture away from this new form of strain, these thoughts which pulsed like a second heartbeat writhing in her skull. Something was trying to escape, a parasite that was done with its host and wanted a taste of open air.

Lola stood before the veil of thick wooden slabs. Krayble's arena was just beyond these doors where her dignity had died, just a few easy steps from the funeral hall with seats for gravestones. At least, that's what she conjured it up to be. She thought time had slowed to a near motionless drag, but it somehow came from behind, crawled up her spine, and spoke a stale voice of deja vu. Her feet refused to move from their implantment within the marble floor even though they had been commanded to operate. Some parts of her wanted to get it over with, others asked for stillness.

The door opened to release its throng of students dismissed from class. Lola watched them go like watching a stream run past her, a continuous onslaught of bodies bumping and weaving all around. Soon, she would have to do something, anything to avoid being glared at for imitating an ice sculpture. The only reason why her limbs finally budged was a solid tap on the shoulder, and a vaguely familiar voice.

“Someone seems a bit out of it. Everything alright?”

Her senses caught up as the voice reached her. It was quite a surprise. Axel’s stylized attire was that of a garnet silk suit and top hat, clothes which normally found their homes on wealthy entertainers, not of the musical type. His eyes passed on a cloudy overcast that greyed her attention towards them, until they blinked.

“Oh, you again. Where, where did you come from?”

He paused in question. “Fresh out of chorus class like everyone else. You didn't see me walk up to you?”

“No...no I suppose I didn't.” Her forearm was clamped tight, as if letting go would let loose avalanche.

“So everything's not okay.”

Lola began walking away.

“I wanted to apologize for yesterday.”

Those words tied knots in her ears, and the once smooth lapis stones of her eyes sharpened. “That’s a really strange thing to say. Believe me, I’m the one with problems here.”

“Oh? Then I’m at a loss.” He closed their distance so that their voices could lower. “To my memory, it was me who first brought up your predicament yesterday at the diner. You just seemed troubled when I asked about it.” Axel flipped off his hat, held it centered, and did a slight bow. “And to that, my apologies.”

After regarding him carefully for a moment, she simply nodded. “Well if that’s all, my next class starts any time now. You know Mr. Krayble doesn’t believe in excused absences.”

“But miss, if I may be observant, you don’t seem to have a violin.”

She recognized a hollow absence of weight in her hand, an emptiness that had been buried under the day’s panic. It was true, it had been left to collect more dust back home. By this time her head was throbbing, below zero.

“Miss, are you certain everything's okay? You look pale.” Axel reached out slowly.

“Fine. Just fine! The girl pulled back and started rushing inside. “Krayble has spare instruments around back, and you don't have time to be fussing over me.” She bustled into the arena, teeth clattering from strain. Even if Mr. Krayble had wanted to look her way she wouldn’t return the favor. Her arm and head pounded endlessly. The storage room was a sallow white outcrop with enough shelves to store more than twice its content. She stopped just before the entrance. Another pair of footsteps had been trailing close behind.

“I said cut it out.”

Axel leaned forward. “You need a nurse.”

“I told you I’m alright!”

“You're shivering like crazy.”

Lola winced hard pulling a plastic case from the top shelf. “Fine, since you won't leave I’ll just prove it. How about some stupid kid’s song just to show you that all is well? Dizziness filled her head. She could hardly hold her bow at a proper angle, gripping it so tight her fingers turned white.

“Just let me finish...and, and, then you can leave…”

A loud snap broke the air in two, a large branch broken by unrelenting weight. She looked at her hand slowly. It was soaked in bright red trails, with the bow splintered apart like a fractured bone.

There was a flatline in the atmosphere where her tide of consciousness receded, allowing something much more obscure to sweep in. She looked up expecting Axel. There was no Axel, just a pixelated tapestry where all had blurred. The world was an indistinct mess of watercolor blots and specs. Everything had vanished. Everyone was gone.

“Axel!” She called. “Hey! What’s going on!”

A mellow whirl of air rustled her clothes. Like a velvet serpent it coiled around Lola’s quivering body to know its shape, its damage. If her nose were more attentive, she would have caught the scent of brackish winds. From below, a cold wash had eased over her feet, embracing them carefully. She dared to look down. There was water, water with white salty crests swirling around like clouds. Another soft breeze combed through her hair as she looked back up. An endless expanse of flat ocean fanned out towards a boundless horizon, every direction taken up by a liquified sheet of glass, and she was stuck right in the middle of it.

“Someone there!” Her screams were absorbed by the vastness. The next breeze was a violent gale. She fell back with her red blotched hand stinging as salt water bathed the open wound. It pulsed with agony. She held it tight, teeth clamped shut.

“Help!”

Again, silence answered the cries. As she stumbled up a fleck of dust landed in her eye. However, it provoked nothing, not pain or agitation, and it moved aside when she looked elsewhere. A pin sized grain protruded the skyline, a black dot that could hardly be justified as a real phenomenon. Perhaps it didn’t exist a second ago, or maybe overwhelming panic had made her blind to such tiny details. Either way, something was there, and within this esoteric dreamland where time and space twined inwards, it was the only sign of direction.

The flush sea of glass wrinkled as Lola traveled wayward in caution. Eerie billowing whispers told her ears that something ought to be familiar. The black dot gradually expanded while her sandy footprints caved in from behind. More whispers paid their visits, uttering exotic drifts of deja vu, but she was still at a loss for what they were trying to say. Her hand and arm throbbed with heavy rolls of grief. Schools of angelfish sailed beneath the ocean face. Close by, a baby seahorse paused to watch her feet stir up plumes of sediment.

When the black shape came close enough, however, her thin layer of joy chipped away. It looked like a house, an structure made from ramshackled wood rotted smooth by endless surf.

“My house,” murmured Lola. The front door was on verge of collapsing when she went to open it. Inside, shambled rooms awaited with torn curtains and picture frames long since cracked by age. She walked with a hand trailing the hallway wall, looking into these empty bodies left to be forgotten by the eons. Each one she peered in brought a strange sense of remembrance. Another whisper eased in through a window and over her cheeks. One room had a dresser with cavities where there used to be drawers, and a rocking chair sitting idly in a corner. Her eyes were drawn back to the dresser. On top of it were photos trapped in silver frames, except these were undamaged.

She held one up against the sunlight and wiped off its dusty grime, squinting at two fuzzy shapes sitting close together. Her eyes widened in shock.

“My parents.” Her voice was drenched in question. “My hosue.”

The world flickered and tore back history. The sky suddenly changed from topaz to a nighttime dusk, the dream world descending to an earlier point in time. Apparitions morphed into existence, and like ghosts their figures were translucently dull. Now, a woman swayed the rocking chair with her narrow gaze peered down at a stack of music. Elsewhere, a scrawny man wearing a flannel jacket blew another puff of smoke from his pipe, regarding her absentely through his glass eye piece.

“Ma...Pa?” When Lola managed out her initial state of trauma and called them by name, it went to deaf ears.

A gramophone player sung next to a candlelit nightstand. The man’s bony hand threw off the needle to usher in a heavy silence. “Wilma, our little girl has already played through those singles countless times. It’s time that we introduce harder material.”

“Not quite yet, Calvin” Wilma answered in her own time. “I still see where the tutor marked on her faltering etude assignments. There’s no excuse for skipped notes and off tunes, especially at her level.”

Lola knew they were talking about her, yet neither of them could even see that she was standing in plain view. She tried touching them to no avail. Their clothes were intangible.

But where am I? she thought, after a quick pan around the room.

“Maybe it’s best to cancel her playdate with Yercy tomorrow,” Wilma added, holding up a paper that said “needs more work” striped in red ink. “Still has trouble transitioning the high partials between measures.” Her delicate white fingers brushed invisible dust off the sheets and promptly sat them down. “Calvin, stop smoking and write a note to the tutor requesting an extra visit. Her methods have been doing wonders lately.”

Lola watched as Calvin’s feather quill penned a message on the etude, sentencing her to another four hours of unbearable discipline, another grueling exercise session where every mistake was met with punishment. A distant anger began its journey up into her lungs, as if they were filling up with acid.

Before it could overflow, someone’s fluid string of notes echoed downstairs.

Calvin’s feather died and his brows furrowed. “That song again?”

“Unfortunately.” Wilma’s voice chilled sharp. “She thinks playing it off and on will make us not notice.”

“I thought she had a scale sheet to practice -must’ve already mastered it with free time to spare.”

Wilma gave her husband a cold hard glare.

“Yes dear, when there’s room for improvement, free time is a trivial virtue. I’ll fetch the collar and head downstairs.”

“Please, no.” Lola’s whisper hardly retained shape, for it was aimed at not only her father, but also, the one who was sure to be downstairs. Not a sound came when she hurried past him towards the door farthest down the hallway. Her hand slipped past the knob when she tried grabbing it, like some intangible phantom. With growing marvel at this bizarre state of being, she leaned in and watched as the doorway phazed through her body.

The room was a crucible of cold sewn bodies, a small circular space shelved with dolls everywhere leaving no walls, just rows upon rows of moppets and marinates. Only a small window broke up this haphazard clutter by letting in its twilight glow. Cold, bitter appallment stiffened her bones, but not because the dolls were looking at her directly. No, all of their plastic eyes were tilted down at the little girl sitting alone with her violin.

Lola paused in doubt before coming any closer, but decided it was best to make sure. “Can you hear me?”

Immediately the little girl whipped around. It was obvious fear had held this child tight for some time now. Her panicked eyes were painful to watch as she placed a hand to her neck, as if expecting swift punishment to come with unnatural absurdity.

“You again!” Her small bare feet locked in place. “Go away! Pa’s gonna see you and punish me. Or worse, Ma will come and do it herself!”

Lola knelt, putting both arms out as if to calm a wild animal, or perhaps to manifest a magic spell that could free her younger counterpart from this entrapment. “You, you remember, don't you?” She looked her over, at the bruise stained hands and the tired circles rimming her eyes like dark crescent moons. It told a painful history.

Still, the girl gave no response.

“Please answer me. You have to remember what happened that day. You must remember me.” Her voice climbed desperately. “You gave me the pepper spray and sai-”

“I don't know what happened alright!” The girl backed away. “I was at Yercy’s house playing when I blacked out. Next thing I know, I’m in a big apartment with no one there except you.” She looked to her music stand. “You really wanted me to hand over that song for some reason.”

Sure enough, Hummingbird's Verse was perched on its stand, peering down at them with condescending eyes. Lola presumed the paper had been ripped to shreds when they first met, yet here the paper sat with all its feathers intact. “That song.” She leaned in, softly placing both hands on the girl's shoulders. “Tell me, were you playing it just now before I came in? I heard you from upstairs.”

At first the girl nodded no, but then changed to yes.

“Then, you.”

Another quiet yes.

“I’m so, so sorry.”

The door creaked open. A wooden smoking pipe hung from Calvin’s mouth, ash filled plumes rising to coat the ceiling. “Who were you talking to? The tutor left practice sheets that need to be mastered by tonight.”

“Look pa it's the lady from my dream! The one I met, remember?”

“This is no time for conjuring imaginary friends and putting the blame on them. You know how everyone feels about you wasting time.” He took one gander at the hummingbird and sighed. “And you know how your mother feels about playing this song.”

“...what about what I want,” she muttered.

“Don't talk back to me.” Calvin’s eyepiece gleamed pale. “You’ve misbehaved. You know that song serves only as a distraction.”

Lola’s rising anger turned to despair as she tried stopping this punishment from freezing over. She could do nothing but watch this performance enter its climax. After her father puffed to life another tar cloud, he reached for a device tucked between two dolls, previously hidden by their folded limbs. It was a toy sized contraption almost comically made, a patchworked mess of wires and wood, with a long metal rod jutting out from its rectangular base.

“You know the procedure,” Calvin said. “Now be still..”

Lola stepped back,  now underneath a shadow’s umbra.

Calvin plunged the device’s cold nose against the girl’s shoulder. Instantly, a stream of volts channeled through her, pouring into her bones. Every puppet and figurine watched silently down from their shelves, making it impossible to focus or even hope to get through this cabled circus of ringing buzz. The unrelenting pang rose into longer and heavier proportions. Everything coalesced into a cyclone of mechanical hum and clamor. She stayed submissive despite the affliction. Resisting would only result in another dose. The dolls seemed to cry out with her through their sewn shut mouths, spouting off voiceless echoes of punishments yet to come.

“Remember, misbehavior means three days locked in the closet,” said Calvin, blowing another ash cloud. “It also means an empty dinner plate, and no light of day for a week.”

Every stone thrown wasn’t an empty threat, for they had all come to provision many times prior. Everyday wrong doings were dealt with by her mother's needle-like insults, and every incomplete ledger or musical phrase resulted in hard, swift reprimands ranging from containment to starvation. Errors were not welcomed, ever.

Lola turned away.

The little girl yelped in pain as another electrical pulse tightened her skin, stinging her muscles, going through them like hot pins. It was over instantly, but an instant gave more than enough time for the scourge to linger minutes after. The unshapely tool glinted like a monster’s wink in her father’s hand, light traces of smoke emitting from the rod. Every sequential shot was worse than the last as the rod got hotter.

Lola watched as the sequence repeated like an unsympathetic metronome, noticing the girl’s eyes were glossing over with water yet to release. The robotic shrieks came again.

“Please, no,” Lola whispered.

“Please, no.” whimpered the girl.

Calvin plunged the device once more. A small white light flashed at contact. Cries filled the room. He backed away and watched like he watched everything, an apathetic observer indifferent to his helpless daughter. If the house were to spontaneously drop below sea level, he would stand there, a rocky outcrop unmoving to the stream.

“Now assume correct playing posture,” he said in a tuneless mutter, puffing another cloud. “Start with your high scales and work your way down. You’ll be done by nightfall.”

Her tears ran down her little face as everything stopped to become a brittle scene crackling away. Lola was horrifically awestruck, for the world had been suddenly thrown into a state of comatose, nothing moving except her own shivering body. She was left to stare at this mortifying act of reprimand caught in still frame.

Her eyes squeezed shut until they hurt. When light flooded back in, she was back inside the abandoned house of rotting walls and rooms, in that same room except with no dolls, no nothing, just a dampened chamber, an arctic pole. This was all history fabricated for a reason, that much she could say, but putting thought to it left more questions and confusion than anything. That was frightening, frightening to be swallowed somewhere far away and forced to be reminded of what life was like back then, without any explanation as to how it all started.

“Just get me out of here,” Lola repeated, each time more wavering than the last. She stumbled through the vacant maze of rooms that moved around in disorienting paths like a jigsaw puzzle. Walls were bending. Windows crackled on their own. This world was breaking apart.

Her face doubled over in terror when she finally located the front door and swung it open. The once sun bathed ocean was a red bloody expanse with dead fish floating on top. Then it all caved in leaving a universe yet to be born, perfectly velvet black.

Bright light scalded her eyes when consciousness returned, but through the white wall, voices ringed. Axel held her head stable as she laid there on the cold tiled bed. Among the small audience looking down at her. Krayble’s spotlight by far blared higher. They asked questions. Each one was a different noise that filled her ears leaving only to be replaced by another. Some who were not probing bickered among themselves.

“Everyone back in their seats!” Krayble waved the audience away, before kneeling to Lola, adopting a softer tone. “I already requested a nurse who will escort you to her office. Please, won’t you tell me what’s happening?”

“A nurse…” Her head still spun like a broken carousel. “Oh. Oh no, I’m already getting treatment from Dr. Hane. I-I have to go. I can’t...I can’t go yet, but...”

“You’re still out of it. Try and lay back down until help arrives.” The elf’s eyes narrowed as if examining a puzzle, as if he could fix the girl just by looking hard enough.

How do I explain something like this? Lola abandoned any elaborate response. “I’m sorry,” was all that came out. She sat up, hands wrapped tightly around her head as it hung in incoherent dissension. At least this way light couldn’t penetrate this  temporary dark world. She could still see Axcel between her fingers, slowly backing away. It seemed hard for him to do. Almost everyone else was gone by now. A calmness started to return.

 

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