Once, in a land of stories, there was a tower. The land had many towers; towers of ivory, towers of glass, towers fashioned from Leviathan's scales and from Quetzacoatl's bones. They were beautiful, they were terrible. They were dreams made real, reaching for the sky.
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But this story does not take place in any of those remarkable structures. This is a tower of incredibly drab, grey stones. It looks at if were assembled by a distracted Deity, perhaps one who'd just remembered that he'd left his last conquest grazing in the Elysian Fields. It leans a bit. Inside, there lives a girl, a cat, and a mirror. The girl once had a name, but she has forgotten it. The cat remembers, but refuses to tell. It is a game they play, to pass the time. They have many such games, for there is a great deal of time to pass. They have been in the tower for five thousand years, eight months, three hundred and twelve days. The mirror knows this, but does not mention. It learned around year two hundred and nine that neither of its companions cared for a tally of the days of their imprisonment. The girl began calling herself Violet this week, for the previous month, she would answer only to, "Queen Carlotta, Dame of Unkempt." The mirror insisted that she was mad, but the mirror was never much of a judge of character.
The cat is, and has always been called Mist. He is either silver or black, depending entirely on his mood and a little on the temperature. He despises poetry, has an evil sense of humor, and sheds rather a lot. He drinks only a mixture of brandy and cream, and eats only sparrow fillets sauteed in catnip. He is remarkably large, though he could not be called overweight. He looks as though he would be more than capable of catching his own sparrows, if the tower did not immediately provide anything that the occupants wished. Anything, saving only freedom or death.
"You are a filthy cheater."
"I am immaculate. And cats do not cheat."
"You never said anything about birds. If I had known you could use birds, I never would have...never mind. But I grow tired of playing your games, Mist. They are needlessly complex."
"They are no such thing. They require a certain amount of intelligence and adaptability, is all."
"You design them so that only you can win."
"You are such a poor loser. And to think, if you had won this game, you would have your name back."
"You are a demon, Mist. Which only serves to remind me that this is Hell."
The girl slides into a chair, looking the very picture of desolation. She is, of course, very beautiful. For some reason or another one rarely finds plain girls imprisoned in magical towers. Her hair is black, and it moves like a river. Her skin is fair, her lips are full, and her eyes are the color of amber. They are, in fact, exactly the color of the amber that hangs from an unbreakable chain around her neck. The amber has the shape of a drop, and there is something small and black in its center. The girl does not know what it is, but she has the satisfaction of knowing that Mist doesn't, either. Now, slumped in her silken chair, she is caressing the pendant idly. She has no idea she is doing it, it is a habit millennia old. Whenever she is thinking deeply, her fingers will fly to her throat and stroke the amber.
"We could play another game, Violet. One of your choosing."
"Don't call me Violet. That is not my name."
"And what is your new name, then?"
"I don't wish to choose another lie to paint myself with just yet, thank you all the same."
At this, the mirror begins to glow faintly. It is a simple oval of silvered glass. It has no frame, and nothing seems to support it. It moves from wall to wall as it pleases, usually staying as close to the girl as possible. Much of the time, it lies still. But when it wishes to speak, it radiates a soft and pleasing violet-blue. It was this color that inspired the girl to call herself Violet so recently. She does not remember that she has called herself Violet three times during her stay in the tower, but the mirror does.
"Lady, names are not lies. Any name you choose for yourself will have truth in it."
"Thank you, mirror. I know you are right, but I am indulging myself in a bit of melancholy. Fear not, it will not last long."
"As you will, Lady."
The mirror fades, and returns to the wall.
"Play another game with me, lovely girl."
"Don't try to get on my good side, Mist. I do not have one at the moment."
"We'll play Nine Men's Morris, how about that, love?"
The girl looks more alert. Mist does not like to play Nine Men's Morris. Not a bit. This is almost entirely because he has won only five times in the last thousand years, a number the mirror remembers for the girl when she cannot. It was the mirror, in fact, which suggested the game so many years ago. And the castle provided.
"Why would you play Nine Men's with me, you devilish creature?"
Mist walks slowly across the room, and jumps into her lap.
"Because I love you, foolish girl, and I do not wish for you to have another of your ridiculous depressions."
The girl smiles, and strokes Mist softly along his back. The purr that fills the room is like music. It is like wind sighing through the Tree of Life. It is magical, and the girl cannot resist it. She has leaned back in her chair now, eyes closed, softly stroking Mist's fur, which at the moment is a silver never seen in the waking world.
"I will play."
And with that, the board appears. It is a slab of black marble which hangs in the air. Like all of their game boards, there is much space around the actual playing area. This is so that Mist may circle the board and make his moves. Two small piles of stones appear. The girl's are smooth, made of topaz, nearly the golden-brown of her eyes and necklace, but deeper. The cat plays with faceted diamonds. It amuses him that his game pieces could start wars in the world outside.
The board itself is three squares cut into the center of the slab, one inside the other. There are four lines, each running from the center of one side of the outside square to the center of the corresponding side of the inside square. It looks like an arcane symbol.
The cat and the girl take turns placing stones. The object of the game is to line up three stones on the various gridpoints, and to keep your opponent from doing the same. You can also win by capturing all of your opponent's pieces, or by making it impossible for them to move.
"It's not too late to play Go, you know, if you're in the mood for a stone game. Or Mancala. Mancala's quite nice."
"Trembling in your paw pads already, Mist?"
"Nonsense. Make your move."
The game involves sliding stones to adjacent positions. One of the only things Mist enjoys about the game - it is quite suitable for paws. The game proceeds, slowly. The movement of the pieces looks like a dance. Topaz and diamond, fire and ice, they move and halt. This is why she conquers here. Cats, for all their grace, have never understood dancing. An hour passes, and the girl moves the third stone into her line.
"I win again, Mist."
"I am exceedingly happy for you. Honestly, my joy knows no..."
He would likely have finished his sentence if it were not for the blinding flash of light. Instead, he launched himself across the room and landed on the back of the girl's chair, which she has already evacuated, fur raised, fangs bared. It is interesting to note that he was almost twice his normal size. The chair, already having noted this, tipped over backwards. The light, now fading, reveals the form of a man. Mist vaults the overturned chair, and rushes between the girl and the intruder. The girl is frozen, absolutely still beside the gameboard. She has never seen another human, though she has read of them. A voice, beautiful and mellow, speaks.
"My lady. Your beauty has grown only brighter in this place."
"I am your lord. I am Cupid."
Mist leaps onto the marble game board. Gems scatter and fall to the ground.
"Lord Cupid, you are an ass."
A smile crosses Cupid's lips.
"And why would you say that, my feline friend?"
"I am not your friend. I was against this from the start, as you well know. But even I never thought you would leave us here this long."
The girl has recovered some of her composure, and it begins to dawn on her what Mist is saying. This is her Warden, this...pale Greek love god? Surely not. Surely this is a joke.
"I...I do not understand. Why would you have put me here? What could I have done to deserve this?"
"I placed you here, my love, to protect you. Though I admit I was also quite hurt and angry at the time. But let's forget that, now, love. Mother has finally relented, and we will feast in Olympus tonight."
Mist, on the slab of marble, is now easily three times his previous size. He may still be growing. His tail is flicking back and forth, scattering another fortune in gems.
"She does not know you. She does not, for that matter, know herself. She was a mortal when you put her here, you winged ninny, and their minds are not designed for the passage of aeons. She has broken, and reformed. I have forgotten how many times. She.."
Another glow, another interruption. The mirror, it seems, has something to add.
"She has lost her mind seventeen times. Utterly broken. So hard to find the pieces again."
Mist is now as large as a panther.
"She is not the same. She is not Yours. Girl, stand up. I will give you the name you lost. See how it sounds to your ears."
The girl rises, trembling.
"I do not understand any of this."
"I know you don't, love, and that's what I'm trying to explain to feather-brain over here. Girl, your name is Psyche."
The girl, her name hanging in the air in front of her, sinks back into her chair.
"Psyche? But that's a...that's a myth, a story..."
"Psyche, you are my love. I wedded you. You are the wife of a God. Come with me now. Mist and the mirror will return to the lives they had before they offered to join you here, and you will be a Goddess, by my side. I will help you regain your memory, and all will be well."
"You are not listening. She is not Psyche. You left Psyche here.... how long ago, mirror?"
"Five thousand years, eight months, three hundred and twelve days, eleven hours, ten minutes."
"Psyche died, Cupid. Over and over again. In anguish, and fear, and occasionally just from boredom. It was very painful to watch. Every time she shattered, we would rebuild her, the mirror and I. The mirror remembers for her, things she wishes to keep. But when she lost her name the third time, the mirror and I decided not to give it to her again. Anyone could see that the name no longer fit her. I have loved every woman she has become. But there is nothing - nothing - left of the mortal girl you trapped here five millennia ago. He never designed Humans to live that long, especially not in a Gods-forsaken stone cage."
"Not entirely forsaken, Mist. And what do you think of what you have heard, Psyche?" Cupid crosses to the girl, and touches, with one long, perfect finger, the amber at her throat.
"Have you forgotten these tears you cried, even when Mercury transformed your fair flesh to marble, you cried still to lose me, these tears of amber. Because you had not trusted me, had wounded me with your lamp. Ah, how I burned. The smell of blackened feathers...that is what you have here, Psyche. A gift. A burned feather, trapped in an amber tear. Your crime, and your sorrow. My forgiveness. I saved you, brought you to this place to wait out the storm of a goddess' anger. And I think you love me still."
The girl rises. She is no longer crying.
"I am sorry if I hurt you. But there was nothing that I could have done to you to merit this. You should have left me a stone, if you were going to encircle my living flesh with stone, anyway."
"My mother, she would have destroyed you. She is quite terrible when she is angry. I was trying..."
"I was destroyed. I have heard the tale. They are right, I know it in my heart to be true. I will not go with you, Cupid. You murdered that girl, Psyche, and I am living in her body, which does not belong to you, God or no. Set us free. You have done enough."
"I am pained that you feel this way, Psyche..."
"Do not call me that. Do not use her name."
"I am sorry for what you think I have done. I tried to save your life and your soul. I loved you. I love you still. The tower provided for all of your needs, you have been living like a Queen. Mist said that he would stay with you, and Vulcan made that mirror for you, to keep you company. I never thought..."
"That much is clear. I wish to be free of this place, now, Cupid. I do not wish to talk any longer. Free me, and my friends, and let me live out the rest of my mortal life. Take this cursed immortality from me."
"He won't be able to do that, love. Your soul has been in a habit of not dying for millennia now. It has become very, very strong. You are an immortal now, though you certainly do not need to be His consort. You would have had the power to leave on your own centuries ago, but the tower was built by Zeus, long ago, for a girl named Danae, and the spells in its stones are very strong, indeed, Zeus is, by far, one of the most powerful spirits in His little realm. Cupid will have to release you, but he cannot fulfill your last request, though he is likely too stupid to understand that."
"You are an ill-mannered ruffian, Mist. That was always the problem with your pantheon."
"You are a womanizing idiot, Cupid. And that was always the problem with yours."
"Stop it, both of you. Cupid, I do not want to say it again. I have grown quite tired of these walls."
"As you wish..."
And they were outside. The mirror hung in the air above a lovely field, all filled with golden flowers. Mist, sitting on his haunches, was now as large as a horse, though considerably more dangerous-looking. Cupid had gone, but where he had been was an arrow in the ground. All of the flowers around the arrow were blood red.
"I wish he wouldn't do that. Those flowers are a nuisance to the mortal world."
"Mist, why did you trap yourself there with me?"
"Because I love you, foolish girl. I thought I had made that quite clear. Now climb on my back, and we'll decide where to go."
"But Mist, I...this is a lot to deal with...I really don't want to live forever. To keep going crazy."
"You won't lose your mind again, girl. The tower was holding your body in stasis, and in your particular type, that includes the mind, the thoughts. Your soul broke over and over again because its thoughts could not expand or change. But you are transforming, even now, as I am, into what your soul has become. You are a goddess, of sorts. You have kicked the dying habit. Now climb on."
The girl climbed onto Mist's soft back, and the mirror followed as they made their way across the plain.
"I think I have chosen a name for myself, Mist. I think I will be Amber. 'My crime, and my sorrow.' A tribute to a frozen past, and maybe a golden future. What do you think?"
"It suits you. Amber. I am surprised you did not choose it before, the way you are always toying with that thing."
"I suppose it was not yet the time. Where are we headed, Mist?"
"Does it matter?"
"No, you know...I suppose it doesn't."
We do not see things as they are - we see them as we are. - Anais Nin