Retrograde

Rayner stepped into Sentire with trepidation and came out into a frostbitten world, with power at her fingertips and the word Goddess on everyone else's lips.
Anthony stepped into Sentire with purpose and came out into a war-torn world, with horns on his head and the word God on his tongue.

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Author's note

My entry for Round Two of the Movellas Talent Show, and the sort of sequel to Coloured Errors (can be read as a stand-alone though).
AA

5. Where Somnia welcomes them home

 

Act 3, Scene 1

 

(The runaways become the ones running towards paradise and all they have to do is accept the true weight of the word.)

The world silences for one exact breath and then bursts into a cacophony of sounds by the second breath.

Two people awake to mint green leaves above them surrounded entirely by dirt and the scents of summer in the air. There’s a heat around them that is comforting like a lovers kiss, and eyes blink, finally, open.

Rayner misses the bitterness of winter and Anthony finds pleasure in the green blooms. Together they forget their old lives and the pair do not know who they currently lie next to.

Anthony rolls his head to the side, gazing at the waking angel next to him. He knows who she is, her name written on the painting he once saw. But the paint flecks, though talented, could not have captured the slight white strands in her hair or the ghosting flush on the patch just below her ear. She is magnificent. A Goddess worthy of her name.

Then she opens her lips.

“Who are you?” she asks in a pitch like a dial tone of Anthony’s old life, it rings from his right ear to his left and he frowns. Her voice is not what he imagined it to be, but then again how could he define what a Goddess’s pitch and accent would be like?

“The War Devil, do you not know of my name?” he asks of her and his frown deepens into valleys when she shakes her head. Her old life is barren to her here, not in the way that Anthony’s crawls in resilient strokes at the back of his mind. “You are the War Angel and you left Somnia many moons ago, in your stead I came and battled the Copper Soldiers and left in the same manner you did.”

His frown mirrors itself on her lips and she startles, pushing upright with indignant swings of her mood. She truly is a pendulum, whose passion is steadfast with its purpose swinging to the extremes.

“Fie! You counterfeit, you puppet you!” Her chest heaves and the flush moves onto the full of her throat, not just confined to one patch. She hates the way that she has been replaced, who stands to be the heat to her cold, the summers punch to her winters pinch.

The man in front of her is fire woven like pottery and plants, purpose wrought in the slight curl of his black horns. He frowns with his lips and his eyebrows, the valley in between them begging to be smoothed down by a hand.

Yes, she has been replaced by a God.

“A puppet? Why so?” his murmur was unjust, a barely spoken phrase upon the wind, “Oh if I am a puppet, what are you? A coward, a curse, a deserter? Fie indeed!” He stretches and stands, not believing that the fabled Goddess would be a nonbeliever decked in disbelief.

“I pray you, though you mock me, let me never be called a coward. You may have replaced me, or so you say, but I wore the gifted crown far before it sat on your head.” She retorts, fighting to be taller than he. She may not have known his name or his title but she could see the power in his veins. He had kicked himself free of shackles in his time and there he stood, a fine man wrapped in strength and ignorance.

“Then we deserve our titles of Gods.”

“Maybe so.” She agrees and they shake hands in silent agreement. They don’t know each other since they only know their respective skins and not their hearts, but they would come to know each other, in a delicate piece of time.

He tells her of his struggles in Somnia, how the Copper Soldiers have multiplied in her absence and probably grown further during his. He regales her with stories as he walks amongst the tall grasses since they have woken into an abandoned clearing where nature and summer rules instead of Kings and Queens. He is at home here but he can tell that Rayner longs for the cold.

She clicks her tongue against her lips, “I don’t understand why we leave, why we are obligated to abandon a world that clearly needs us.”

This time Anthony does not tell her why the world doesn’t fit right on their shoulders, even though it feels real enough. She has repressed her other life for a reason, knowing her name and perhaps her origins, but blanking out reality like it’s nothing more than a crumb.

“Do not dwell on madman’s questions like that, let’s see if your powers have grown rusty.” He relies on his cheekiness to draw her out of her mind and she comes back with the aforementioned disbelief.

“I will show you that I am worthy of my title.”

They fight with clashes of ice and fire.

She coats his horns in snowflakes and his hair taints white like an old man’s. His appearance, of which he catches a glimpse of in a puddle, reminds him of the old crumbling castle he walked through when he first arrived in Somnia.

He lights up her hair, the gold melting into amber, and he is gleeful when the flush transcends further down skin. He doesn’t harm her, although he knows that he can, and she leaps and bounds away before the flames can scorch her.

This is a game for them. A demonstration of their strengths. There is beauty in being in the centre of the flames and watching the world come alive with fire. There is also beauty in the icicles that freeze the flames where they stand, the overgrown field becoming a museum of ice sculptures. They laugh and play and the world becomes theirs.

It is theirs.

Then it belongs to the Copper Soldiers as screeches writhe through the darkening sky.

Anthony stops and stills, his blackened fingertips itch for the feeling of black blood and he looks to Rayner to see the same expression painted on her cheeks. They need this, and so they run away from the paradise they have made, the divided field of frozen flames, towards the battle.

They belong here, in the mix of beautiful woods and monstrous copper.

They work well together, a mixture of everything destruction is made of.

They settle back into their routine seamlessly, breaking up the fights with stories and teasing words.

“Why do you have horns?” Rayner asks as she discards a shattered body effortlessly.

“I think my spirit animal is a sheep,” Anthony remarked, looking upwards to where his horns started to briefly curl downwards like a mixture of a sheep and the devil incarnated.

“Why do you think your powers are to wield the ice?” he retorts as a Soldier goes down with a war cry, a futile cry at that as Anthony detaches its limbs with one flick of a finger.

“Because I am cold-hearted, I thought that would be easy to figure out,” she pauses as she twirls and ice smacks against trees and bodies. “My powers are of winter and bitter bone, everyone has an Ice Queen in their bones.” She winks and carries on with their entertainment.

They sleep side by side in burrows, twitching fingertips inching towards the stars. Rayner makes stories up about the stars, how they were the old Gods and Goddesses that succumbed to their tales. Anthony knows the stars are an artist’s dream, an aesthetic fitting for paradise even though the darkness is the monsters playground.

They wake with the sun, Rayner dances when the daisies open with the sunlight and Anthony rejoices when their eyes are lit with starlight.

New stories are formed about the War Angel and Devil, a perfect collision of Heaven and Hell, with hearts of opal, crafted by each other’s hands and malice towards the Copper Soldiers.

Then their time comes, it creeps up on them even though they have asked the Copper Soldier’s for it many times before. It is the time where they find Cogito.

It’s simple in the end, they follow the Copper Soldiers to their home, torturing others when they were not ready to comply.

He resides in an old castle, one different to what Anthony knows. The castle is a tower of needles, beams of iron and copper and steel welded together like a prison. Its floor is cogs, twisting and turning, and Rayner dances among them, her steps freezing the gears until they grind and stop. Cogito has to know they are here.

Nature is swept back here in favour of advancement. There are no trees, no flowers, nothing of what the world intended and the castle stands barren in technology. But it is the home of the man who fights for humanity despite his artificial skin and when Anthony sees him in the flesh for the first time bile surges against his ribs.

“My children have come home to me at last,” his words grinding against his third face as he enters from the dilapidated gardens. They are in a ballroom, an elaborate marble floor fighting between the still cogs before lapping against the southern wall where doors lay into a metal garden. From behind Cogito Rayner could see flowers and branches, twisting and turning out of metal and fake elements.

“We are not your children,” Anthony retorts, anger coating his tongue in the same way as Rayner’s tongue is covered with condemnation

Cogito chuckles and it appears human, warm off of cooling oil fumes where warm air would have occupied human lungs. “You two are the product of science, metalwork and calculations. Your two bodies are hooked up to plastic and machines are placed in your eyes. You are nothing but machinery, just as much as I.”

“I see nothing but human skin on us,” Rayner ignites, her fingers twitching as power burst forth from the tips. She is ready for a fight, for the battle she should have had before the world stole it from her.

“You don’t appreciate how I created you, you don’t want to know do you, Rayner Abernathy, not as much as you do Anthony Wailer.” The words are enough to make Rayner attack.

Their world descends into nonsense. Anthony follows into the madness and loses himself in it. Rayner welcomes its presence and the world transforms into chunks of glass like ice and creatures made out of flames. Cogito has more powers than they expected, gears flying from the walls of the castle, the building coming apart and being remade all over again.

They dodge and come together and attack and defend.  

This is their world and they abandon the real one that lies beyond their hologram eyes.

In the real world, Mrs Littlewood was pulled back to the sleeping pair as both of their hearts beat out of sync, for little more than two beats, and then resumed to frantic dreaming.

(May the world push you to see if you push back and may the world turn its back on you when you turn your back on it.)

//

(Resilience is more of a virtue than patience ever was.)

“You will tire of love like all are willed to do,” Cogito gasps as he lifts a hand to the ceiling and the chandelier detaches itself from the eye socket that lies ahead.

Cogito knows that love is what drives the pair to fight him, to repressing their true selves.

The pair knows that too yet their denial crawls too deep. Being in Somnia is demonstrating their true selves, that is what they know and Cogito can tell them no differently.

Anthony dives out of the way, the familiar sword that he once detached from a Copper Soldier, thrown through the falling wreckage towards his enemy. It sails through iron spikes and metallic thorns, the chandelier a replica of a crown, and wrenches itself into Cogito’s shoulder blade.

The creator does not groan or squirm and yet a wet human sound echoes from the wires in his throat.

“And yet I pity you for never knowing love,” Anthony says as the chandelier shatters on the floor, an explosion fitting for this battle and Rayner makes her way towards them from where she had dove away to the wall.

The painting had depicted her as gossamer and silk, Polaroid’s of finery and elegance. But the woman that turns her glare towards her enemy and stalks with limbs made of lightning strikes cannot be captured by painting alone. Her fingers dance by her sides and the room collapses in frost and frozen hyacinths. The world finds beauty again where technology once hid it and Rayner sits calmly at its epicentre.

“Why would I want to know loves keen sting? Run from it, beg for it, fight for it, you will tire of her as much as she will tire of you. It’s futile to avoid,” Cogito explains as he wrenches the sword from his back and launches it back at Anthony. The weapon is caught between an eastern wall of frost and a western wall of fire and embeds into the wall, the fresco coming apart around the blade. Anthony quickens to grip it out of the plaster and the fight resumes swifter than it had paused.

“The future will only tell,” Rayner retorts and freezes Cogito where he stands. The strands of winter wrap around his legs, freezing his displeasure and his attempts to hack away at it. Anthony distracts Cogito with the flames up ahead, keeping his arms busy from their attempt at freedom. “And the future tells of your death,” Rayner muses, as Anthony nears with his sword at his side. The blade is hot with the flames that lick down Anthony’s palms and it is the God’s weapon, one made out of dragon’s breath.

Cogito slumps. All six eyes staring at the couple as though he knows what the world is made out of. “Kill me if you must. But you will not like the consequences of such an atrocity. I came to show you the world, the real world, and how it’s love should rival anything you shall conjure but if you will not see then you will–“

The ice licks up his foul body, encasing around where his metal heart should rest. The sword that Anthony holds plunges into the crevice where all the heads meet, coursing through like the underworlds river when it meets the processing brain of their enemy.

The words still and stop, silent and unmoving as ice and fire alike rip through.

Then the world shatters, the building tearing itself apart as Cogito’s body greys and dies. Rayner and Anthony are tossed aside like canoes in a hurricane and for one sudden, sullen moment their bodies are held aloft between two worlds.

In one world, their bodies lay entwined in a newly formed field, a park bench to the distant east and a castle to the distant west.

In another world, Rayner watched as her boyfriend – what used to be her boyfriend – shrugged on a shirt to hide the love bites and the nakedness of his chest. He wore his errors on his skin like tattoos and his regret was a ghost, dead where it should have been alive. He didn’t tell her sorry, just closed the door on their bedroom, where another girl resided. He tried to touch her, to mark his love on her arms. But he didn’t love her, he couldn’t, not after his transgressions. She told him to get out, to get out of her life and her apartment and her heart.

She noticed the word ‘hers’ had replaced the word ‘theirs’ and the latter concept hadn’t been real in a long while.

In one world she asks her old self a question; “Tell me Rayner, which to blame for this: who I was for causing this, or who I wasn’t?”

She remembers the pain and unforgivable loss and she doesn’t like it, doesn’t appreciate the way it makes her veins weld into copper.

In another world Anthony watched the day go by in blurs and screeches of train wheels. He went around the world to escape the loneliness of home, where his mother sat forlornly in a house that his father made. His family was a broken assortment of people, forged by arguments and grief over too many children lost. There was only Anthony and even he was disregarded because he was the only success over eight attempts. Death swallowed them all and Anthony needed to chase it until it left him alone. So he sat there on a bustling train car and he chased the sun because God knew that Death hated the beauty of light and nature.

In one world he asks himself a question; “Tell me Anthony, which to regret: the monster I created for myself or the monster I left behind?”

He remembers pain and loss, an emptiness nothing could fulfil and he hates it, detests the way it turns his skin copper.

(Patience is the sidekick that obliterates the story and takes the title for itself, leaving its counterpart to pick itself up from the war.)

 

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