Of Reality, Of Repugnancy
For what was perhaps the longest moment of her life, the child could not speak, could not do anything but simply stare at her surroundings, mouth agape.
The empty windows, the gaping roof, the ladder of soot that crept up the wall accompanied by the stench of darkness, madness; the scent of plaster, of charred wood, and of memories gone up in smoke is still fresh—
—She is only awakened from her little reverie by the sound of a creaking door, the stream of sunlight entering the room breathing life into the well-worn manor, a welcomed change from the dimmed light of the candles hanging above her.
Vira never liked being alone.
Because, when she was alone, she reflected things long gone, remembered things she would much rather leave behind her in the first place.
Shaking her head slowly, the sound of her new visitor shutting the door loudly behind them was a welcoming distraction. Her ears pricked up at the sound of bare paws against the cobblestone, getting closer, closer...
Her lips curved into a smirk.
"It's been so long since I've had a visitor." Crimson nails clacked against the wood as she tapped her fingers against the edge of her wine-red throne. Her gaze darkened. "And it's been even longer since any of them have ever left my mansion alive."
The dim candlelight shone against her oddly translucent fur, her mysterious, glowing red sclera certainly not the work of a paint brush. She looked like a dream, an abandoned sketch shaded with tints of onyx and crimson, here and there—and what a shame, for she had been remembered as a work of art that no pen could ever replicate.
Having received no reply, Vira sighed.
If her ears weren't deceiving her, the Acara could swear that she could hear the wind whispering to her, "Child."
The newly-created daisy crown slipped from her paws, as she gave a frown.
"Come here, child." He—she, whatever it happened to be—beckoned.
And, for some reason she could not—still cannot—fathom, she picked herself up from the floor, and took a step forward, and then another.
Hidden in the baby grass was a mirror with a shining gold frame, embellished with jewels. She frowned, the object heavy in her palm.
Vira let out a squeal at the voice—now much louder, much more menacing—dropping the mirror back on to the grass.
"Look at me, child."
She paused for a moment, then another, before reaching her hand out to the mirror. Why was the mirror talking, anyway?
The young Acara gasped at what she saw in the mirror. Yes, she knew she was pretty—seeing as her appearance is all that she really has left—but what she saw...
What she saw was brighter eyes, a wider, more genuine smile, the kind of beauty you cannot get no matter how many products you slathered into fur, how much you painted your eyes, lips, nails.
"You are a very pretty Acara."
When she lowered the mirror to see the source of the voice, she instantly jolted back. Standing before her was not a species of neopet she had ever seen in her entire life—a shadowy figure, she could not see beneath the hooded cloak that was so black that it looked like it was made of darkness itself.
"Wh-Who are you?!"
Cloth was moved, and suddenly the 'it' became a 'he', with a scarred face and broken, broken eyes; a different person entirely. Its lips contorted into what Vira thought was a smile, as though he had answered all her questions.
"Who are you?" she squeaked again.
He held up the mirror so that she could see her reflection in it again, and her heart beat slowed, even if only slightly, at the sight of herself.
"While, yes, you are a very pretty Acara," he moved closer, closer, "I, dear, can make you beautiful."
"Nonsense," the figure said, decidedly female. "You're still as beautiful as you were such a long time ago."
Vira raised an eyebrow, watching the other Acara closely.
"Thank you." Her smile was acrid, tight, controlled, and did not reach her eyes.
Vira knew—oh, how she knew—that she would never look the same as she did so many years ago. She could paint over her eyes to highlight them, then paint her lips to make them look fuller and darker, and paint her nails a brilliant scarlet knowing that no matter how much foundation, lipstick and nail polish she slathered on that it would never conceal her bitter hatred for the world that had wrought upon her such a terrible fate.
She never knew it could be so painful to be called beautiful, in the state she was in—lies would never cease to be painful. Did this visitor dare mock her?
The older Acara, who stood before her at the bottom of the stone steps, said nothing. No apology, no words of support, for she knew her words would be empty, and that they would reach deaf ears. She simply cleared her throat to break the silence.
"Vira," she began, a waver at the end of her voice. "Do you know what day it is?"
Her eyes widened. She could not tell when morning and evening switched places in this windowless room. Enveloped in darkness—for it does not reflect on mirrors as bright light does—it would only ever be night for her.
Seconds turned to minutes, minutes into hours, hours into days, days into months, and months into years. Decades may well have passed, and she would not have known.
"Do you still remember, Vira?"
Vira winced in response. Several years to this day, perhaps do this hour or minute—she was too young to have a good grasp of the time, and the clocks were obstructed by plumes of smoke, but how could she forget this day?
'Vira,' she remembered someone calling out, 'Vira, grab my hand, we need to get out of here, come on—'
The stench of death, darkness, madness, the final choked cries of her baby sister and the smell of burnt flesh—her eyes watering from the thick smoke, or perhaps something else entirely.
"Yes." Her voice was strained, brow furrowed. "Yes, I remember."
It was then that Vira noticed Acara padding up the steps leading up to her throne. She gulped, as the spectre leaned in to whisper into her ear, "Then I want you to answer me a question."
'Do not talk to strangers.' Her mother's voice runs through her mind. 'Do not accept their help.'
He reached out a clawed hand to tilt her head up towards him. "What do you say, dear Vira?"
She remembered all her mother's warnings: 'Do not accept their offers—my darling, we live in a dangerous world...'
Vira shut her eyes, finding herself clenching her fists.
Mother isn't here to stop her, not anymore. There's nobody left to stop her, nobody left to tell her what to do, who to be, what to look like.
And when she opens her eyes again, and she tells him her wish—resolute, firm, decisive—she noticed that he sighed, an unidentified emotion (perhaps bemusement, perhaps pity) flickering through his eyes, though it passes in a second and she thought nothing more of it.
She thought nothing more of it, until she picked up the mirror and gazed into it again, and she swore that she could hear murky, maniacal laughter underneath bloodcurdling shrieks.
"Child." Her whisper turned into a hiss. "Look at me, child."
Vira saw the emotion burning within those crimson eyes—anger, bitter hatred, sadness. She could not tear her gaze away, frozen to her spot.
"Why didn't you listen to us?"
Vira winced. For so many years, with her visits, with her offers of daisy chains that turned into ash, of food that rotted upon her touching it—and other mockeries—she waited for her to ask that question.
She cannot look her in the eye now, nor could she stand the judgmental, cold look in her eyes that she once cherished so deeply—eyes and expression cold and unforgiving in life and in death, just as she imagined, just as she always remembered.
And here she stood before her, waiting for an answer that she could not give.
Vira realised that the silence had stretched on for a moment—or a few—too long, before she cleared her throat, her gaze still directed to her lap.
"Your guess is as good as mine."
And there, she shut her eyes tight, and, if this were any other time before now, she should have cried. But her eyes have been dry for so long, her heart drained of all emotion over all these years—that was the only way she could get rid of despair, she had decided—and she isn't sure what to say or what to do anymore.
'I'm sorry,' were the words that went unspoken, 'I didn't mean for you to suffer. I didn't mean to do this to my father, my mother, my siblings, everyone I ever knew or cared about—'
Vira opened her eyes, and saw her mother looming above her, her beauty something that had surpassed the boundaries of life and death. Oh, if only Vira could say much of the same of herself—even in life, she would never have become as beautiful as her own mother.
A smile graced the ghost's lips, as she brushed her hand against the side of Vira's face—the once warm, comforting touch of her mother only feeling like cold wind against her cheek.
Nothing was tangible—nothing was real, and she wondered if this was all simply a dream.
"Goodbye, my sweetheart," she said with an air of finality, "They are waiting for me."
Before she could call out to her ('No, wait, stay, please don't go! Please! Please, oh, sweet Fyora, don't leave me here—') the spectre before her, like the memories of what was and what could have been, simply dissipated. Behind her, she left behind a trail of wind and dust, taking the flickering candlelight along with her, and Vira was left in a room full of bleakness, darkness, blackness, stretching as far as the eye could see.
Reduced to a broken voice, a broken, broken mind trapped in an ever disfigured body, the Acara felt her expression shutter into indifference.
She had nothing left.
Not even tears to shed.