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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2. Chapter 2 - House Of The Arctic Circle

 

 

“An arena at Gerenham college can hold exactly 2,500 people, not including the glass sky decks.”

-An advertisement from Forktown’s current newspaper-

...

Sandy’s Diner was a small outlet for those who wanted a short meal, often times of club sandwiches and pastas glorified to drastic measures with toppings of all kinds. Lola’s morning shift saw many customers, but she hardly saw them from the kerosene stoves and choppers around back. A thin veil of grease always managed to smother her face by the time her rotation ended, and while the hard work was in some ways liberating, its passing brought more relief than anything else. The manager, Iris, had on several occasions offered her a spot up front, taking orders.

“People like to see a pretty face when they walk in,” Iris would say, and smile. “Maybe you’ll even find a man.”

Each offer was simply declined. Going about performing the same line of greetings and follow ups never housed an attractive appeal.

Lola washed her face and discarded the apron and rags for a simple orange shirt and shorts, her violin case slung around the shoulder with a band. It was just heavy enough so that its presence could never be ignored, but at least it would not have to be carried the entire way. Chatter bustled from hundreds of residents as she went to the closest street curb and waved out a hand. Horse drawn carriages trolleyed down pebbled roads winding all across town, a few carrying nobles with lavish suits and faces plastered with makeup, others wore traditional robes, or even simpler attires like her. Some were publicly owned, some were bought. One of them with an empty load came over, hooves clacking against bumpy pavement.

The driver looked down. “Where to young lady?”

“Gerenham’s North College Campus, 577 Drave Street.” Lola was about to hand out proper change when a flock of Snow Sparrows fluttered overhead, their numbers massive as sunlight filtered past their wings producing fast moving shadows racing across the ground below. Everyone, including the driver, stopped and looked on as children tried to catch these shadows by stomping around, laughing.

Lola gave it all a second's glance, then continued inside the carriage. It was an unsteady drive there, with the cage's frame rattling to every malformation the road offered, and the boisterous chatter bleeding through from outside had no intention of dying down. Even so, Lola could often picked out handfuls of sounds from the ruckus and made an internal beat from it, not exactly caring about what sounds came together. This was merely a good exercise in further developing a sense of rhythm, so only their importance at face value mattered in making a decent song, even if it was indeed a near catastrophic mess upon completion.

Momentum from the ride's stop pulled her forward, a rude reminder that there was still a fee in need of paying. The girl pulled the case’s strap back on and pushed the door flap open, letting a warm gust sift through her hair and face.

She stepped out with a few coins and a simple thanks, as if that was payment enough.

Gerenham’s Campus was a large spired complex with fountains and statues ringed by sidewalks of clean white asphalt. Quite a few described these grounds as representing an immense Mejis palace gifted with massive sheets of stained glass. Brilliant beams of light gleamed down the huge panes with colors so rich they could have devoured the comparably minuscule girl walking under them. A freshmen was almost guaranteed to get lost on their first day, but Lola was four months away from becoming a senior now, and knew that Mr. Krayble's seminar was far west of the main office.

Students grouped together in small clusters, chattering away about whatever controversial trend was going around. Even if class hours had come and gone, some still visited these squares for a talk about common taste. Even those who did not attend Gerenham came to visit some of the statues and other artifacts of intricate design, like the grand clockwork Tellurion, its size larger than a small house, showing a small scale model of Yevital and other realms slowly orbiting Mejis with meticulous accuracy. Lola passed it without pause, or even a notion of giving the relic attention. A few more turns were made, taking no heed of whatever painting or sculpture that slid to and from her sight.

The tall wooden doors to the seminar we're nearly impossible to open if one didn't use both hands. They creaked and vibrated as she heaved on them, a rumbling call from a whale, starting low, then getting higher as the twin panels parted.

Massive. It was an arena with dark gold streams of sunlight drained from a ceiling mostly comprised of colored glass. Rows and rows of seats and stands funneled down a slight incline until it ended with a wooden stage elevated at the center. If music had a favorite place, this was one of them. Lola began a long journey down one of the many open aisles, each step muffled by garnet carpeting. A few students were scattered about this indoor landscape, some erect in front of their stand with an instrument, others settled in a seat reading or committing time to school work. A few faces turned at her entrance before resuming their activities, but she was searching for a one face in particular.

Someone tall with a blue suit and pants stood near a group of freshmen at the bottom row. Like most of Yevital’s population, her music instructor was an elf with a narrow face and pointed ears, but his drooped slightly from age. Lola at times wondered what it would be like to have ears like those, but that was a thought which quickly perished itself as she approached, arching back both shoulders to at least appear more professional, regardless of an otherwise offhanded apparel. It was too casual for such an important meeting.

Should’ve brought my dress.

Krable’s attention shifted before the girl could tap his shoulder. “Miss Pern, someone who actually knows that practice makes perfect” He partially turned back to the group behind and added. “A prime example of someone who turns their assignments in on time.”

A boy from the group raised a scribbled paper.“ It’s ninety nine percent done, I swear!”

Lola tried to chuckle along with the others, but the phrase, “practice makes perfect” twinged her spine, just a little. It was forgotten, because Krayble’s full attention was focused on her now, a silent prompt to speak first.

“Making new friends?”

The elf’s nose scrunched as he shrugged. “Maybe, if they wouldn't turn their work in five hours late. Head of staff urged me to go a bit easier on them this year.”

“Classes get easier when exams are near. Reviewing a year’s worth of material takes time.”

“Oh, just another common excuse for them to prioritize math and magic classes, I say.” He waved an airy hand. “We may be a school centered around the arts, but unfortunately, the basics always seem to be shoved in front at the end, and classes like mine become more of an afterthought.”

Lola was not sure how the two topics were connected. Maybe she would never understand.

“But that’s another conversation altogether,” he added with haste. “Now before you accuse me of complaining, how about you tell me what brings you here outside normal class hours?”

Both of them shared a grin, because she was raising a finger to do just that. “It’s a first for me, I know. Well, there’s a specific piece that’s been giving me a hard time lately. Not sure what it is about this one. Maybe it's one part, or a harmony I’m not grasping. It definitely calls for extra help with someone who knows better.”

“Something in music giving you trouble? Nonsense.” Mr. Krayble mused for a bit. “What’s the name?”

“Hummingbird’s Verse,” she replied, adjusting her case strap. “A song meant to be played on string and bow, but it can be done on different instruments all the same.”

They walked up a short trio of steps leading to the center stage, a platform with saffron beams coming down from above, plating the large wooden hexagon in thin sheets of lambency. Some of them touched over a piano near the left, a few scattered stands elsewhere, and several straddled short rolling benches.

“Do excuse the mess. Remnants of last evening’s concert still remain.”

“It’s quite alright. I’m just sorry for not being there to hear it.”

“Was it because you were indulging in late night practicing again?”

“Of sorts, yes.” Lola handed Hummingbird’s Verse over, and they sat across from each other as Krayble looked over it, or rather, he analyzed. Decades of masterful experience all poured down on this small booklet of stapled papers. His eyes were spotlights that searched through each crevasse formed by the markings with a carefulness that surpassed her understanding. She had often times been caught in awe at this display. This man could simply turn these spotlights on whenever the need arose, and simply shut them off and act like he was merely skimming the material.

“It’s not a children’s nursery rhyme, that’s for certain.” He brought over a stand and leaned the pages on it. “I’d put this song at mastery level in terms of complexity, probably not something I would ever teach here. This is something an orchestra would play at the Grand Hall, or maybe for a top tier competition.”

By now, Lola had cradled her instrument into playing position. “I take it you want me to start fresh from the beginning.”

“Now Miss Pern, don’t imply that our normal class routine has escaped you.”

She handed him a light smirk, like hearing an old joke. “Of course not. Warm up always comes first.”

Due to the arena’s careful architecture, sound always bounced off the wood floor and was spread consistently to everyone who listened. It was why Lola’s practice scales resonated freely throughout the large room, undisturbed by obstacles that would normally cause it to echo, a world free of retainment and suppression. Her notes touched the ears of a few students who were in the mists of their own exercises, and each one averted their attention down, down at her.

Lola could feel each pair of eyes roll down her body like slow moving water droplets, or perhaps they were her own beads of sweat brought to life by nervousness. Either way, this sensation could only be pushed back as her hand steadily moved the bow back and forth, going up the scales, back down, then up, much like her breathing -inhale, exhale, one at a time. Playing before a group was an undertaking she often tried to refrain from. It was the reason why she practiced on that small rolling hill outside of town, where not a soul could ever find her, and, upon a further realization, another reason why she never asked for addition tutoring outside normal class sessions. Krayble would send each student to this same spot to perform in front of an unsuspecting audience.

Thankfully, the last scale was done.

“Very nice. Now onto some real material, shall we?” Krayble scooted behind the girl’s seat so that he could follow along with Hummingbird’s Verse.

It was a guilty blessing having this song already edged deep within memory. Lola could plummet the world into darkness by closing her eyes, and hopefully forget about those who watched from beyond the black bubble. With wavering fingers, her bow began its long journey across the first few lines of music, making sure each note was performed to their highest quality. When put in a ring with hundreds of spotlights blazing down, playing perfectly was a must. A missed rest would ultimately end up as a disastrous fallout with no way of recovering, an embarrassment to every doll who spectated.

Dolls? She thought. No, don’t worry about it.

This arduous trek continued on through the first climax, with her setting off a smoothly connected plethora of keys that rose in pitch with each one resolved. For one split second, a glitched crack of white light splintered her enclosed vision which almost made for a stumble, a detriment given this was a relatively easy part of the song. If she messed up here, a doll would be added to the bunch.

This is stupid. Stop with the dolls you idiot.

Now came the section where her path would become increasingly disoriented, full of notes that skipped around on opposite spectrums, and of course, that tremolo which climbed up its convoluted scale at a nearly incomprehensible pace. All she had to do was breathe out right where the climb began, then let it all out, not too fast, not too slow. Either mistake would be very apparent even if one had never listened to Hummingbird’s Verse before, and Krayble’s stare was fixed like a pulled wire about to snap. He was ready to detect any microscopic error, even though his expression remained calm, almost flatlined.

A thin line tugged sharply at her waist, knocking a of bit a wind out, but thankfully she managed the rigorous stanza free of complications. For a second she thought about revisiting the bright world to look down at whatever caused such an unusual interruption. That idea was instantly discarded, there was no time to catch what was clearly a figment of imagination. More intricate parts lingered ahead, waiting to be played off and judged by faces with silk for skin, and threaded stitches for mouths.

Stop it, please!

Inhale, exhale, one at a time, over and over. It was not hard, and Lola was getting a decent ways into the piece, progressing through the section where a once smooth connected style dramatically transformed into one full of raspy notes that sounded just enough off tune than an average ear could easily notice and rattle to this eerie chunk of tones. This was the part of the song that drove with a most devilish demeanor, as if she was beating her violin to submission, not caring for its plea, or giving head to its retorts.

The invisible wire materialized again, and this time it pulled so harshly her eyes snapped open. As this glaring halo cleared, a pellet of water slithered down the girl’s chin, falling off somewhere below. More seconds ticked away, each one tied together by absolute silence, making her ears ring.

“Trouble, Miss Pern?”

Lola stiffened. Krayble’s question pinched her spine, again.

“That last phrase came out a bit ragged. Remember to not play those sixteenth notes as accidental Staccatos.”

She hurriedly wiped the sweat away with her bow arm. “Uh, let me start a line before, from the last rest.”

The elf verged on coming closer, teetering between standing and staying, but decided on the ladder. “Sure thing. Whenever you’re ready.”

It was more difficult to resume where the tempo had already been given steroids, even so, this felt less daunting than starting fresh, and truthfully, she thought retracting older ground would arise another flashing light, or more images bearing faceless bodies of sewn flesh. Trying to keep her instrument at the correct angle was turning into a struggle against gravity. Its own weight seemed to grow every time a note left its strings. Another flash shattered the dark world, confirming there was no stopping this, like being diagnosed with a terminal illness. The string pulled, the dolls returned in greater numbers. A crawling avalanche eased up her feet, her calves, thighs, chest, neck, all in a strangling path towards her face. For a moment, she considered what would happen if another missed key were to be let loose. This string would pull even harder, and more dolls would all come flooding in with their aimless stares and hands void of fingers.

The song fell apart. Lola’s bow missed its mark and threatened to slip from her hold, generating a vibrating shriek across the arena. Her body locked. She found her breath quivering, each finger doing their own involuntary dance. Her spine pinched once again. Krayble was saying something, but it was muffled, an echo that had bounced off the walls.

A hand found the girl’s shoulder, again, breaking up this cloudy world in favor of one filled with spotlights.

“This is a difficult piece, and I can tell you’re letting nervousness have its way. Now, you know what to do. Take a second to step back and see what went wron-”

“It’s likely easier on the piano!” She cut him off, wiping her face once more.

“This isn’t like you. What’s wrong?”

Lola had already placed the violin back in its coffin, and she balled her hands to stop their shaking, turning them pale. “Nothing is wrong. I took a step back as you suggested.”

“Well, you came up with that idea really, really quick.” Krayble was watching someone completely different from a few minutes ago, a student who had underwent a paradigm shift, a arctic glacier that had faded out to then explode into a more fragile shape. If he were to touch this girl again, she might break with a crack so loud his ears would lose their purpose.

“Here, see?” Lola’s shivering finger slowly arched over as if she was afraid to get near the paper, pointing at a section within Hummingbird’s Verse where notes came together in their most complex knots and loops. “These are easier to perform with this kind of instrument.” She was already sitting on the piano bench, postured correctly with both arms angled flat, back arched, the music sheets placed in front. By now, everyone was watching with full attention, their faceless complexions beaming cold, decrepit light on the girl’s skin, making her pores brittle. The arena was a wide open ice chamber filled with frozen bodies.

Krayble, without releasing his stare from her, gestured to those who looked on and said, “All of you get back to work!”

Mostly everyone complied, although mumbling amongst themselves. Thier whispering was unbearable static for Lola. Their words plunged into her ears like scalpels, and now, that same flash of light came again even though she wasn’t in the black world anymore. It was utterly humiliating to fail over and over again under the judgment of a music teacher who had decades of experience. That was why his eyes alone made her wish this meeting could end.

I hate this.

“Starting from the same rest again, Miss Pern?”

“Y-yes sir.”

“Fine, whenever you’re ready.” The elf crossed him arms. “But Lola, I am not unaware. There is something wrong so, if I hear another missed note, I highly recommend you tell me what’s going on, understand?”

Krayble rarely called any student by their first name, so this was a signal that he was growing tired of being left in the dark. The girl simply nodded, and splayed all ten fingers across the flat keys, a hair's width from contact.

Just breathe, she thought, and allowed her hand muscles to function on their own accord, relying on memory to move everything by itself. All she wanted now was to enter the world unburdened by light. However, if she went back again, there would be more skin chilling images that would further drive this nightmare into reality. So, there was nowhere to go. The only way to exist was out in the open light endlessly poured down, making sure to slip between every crevice of her mind until there was nothing left to hide. She tried everything not to completely break apart in front of everyone. The string pulled again, making her pulse accelerate to the point where she could feel it pump along her wrist. Her eyes raced across the paper, forcing every muscle to conform even if it hurt, even if every fingertip burned, and every time they struck down to play a note, she might as well had pressed them against a frigid plate.

Then, a final image wormed its way from Lola’s brain. The girl’s entire body stiffened intensely, her vision turning grey around the edges, as if the air became frozen water, encapsulating her in a state of paralysis. The piano keys became cold bars of iron. She jerked away, panting. The arena stirred with everyone muttering louder, exchanging confused glances with each other, as if they were passing around a contagious, unknown disease.

Apparently, she had screamed during this display, because Krayble was immediately sitting on the bench next to her, bending over, trying to make eye contact. His mouth was moving frantically, although not a sound was heard. In fact, nothing was making noise, it was just an omnipresent, all encompassing ring that never stopped.

“Hey, can you hear me!” Krayble tried to stretch his voice louder so that it could reach this person, this different person from before, but as soon as the elf touched Lola’s back to offer some form of comfort, she rose instantly, hauled up by puppet strings.

“Miss Pern,” he whispered. “What’s got into you?”

She backed away, slowly, a hand clasped tightly over her mouth, face aghast, legs trembling. It looked as though someone had just violently died right before her eyes.

“What is this? Say something!” Krayble stepped closer to his bewildered student.

“I’ve caused enough trouble!” In one hectic motion, Lola clumsily scooped up the coffin and whatever dignity she could gather. Everyone watched her storm out the arena, all wearing faceless, frightened glares, with buttons for eyes, cotton for flesh, and mouths of stitched threads. Their cold, lifeless stares dipped under her skin, and left a heavy ice shard buried in her chest.

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