Monday, August 31, 2009

As A Prelude

Melissa danced; and though she had given better performances in the past, she was quite nearly sober and in every way invigorated by both music and surroundings, and therefore those both present in the night-club and observing (including her friend Ingrid, who she had known since the second grade) were in agreement that her dance had within it no slight element of grace.

But though enthusiastic and somewhat skilled, Melissa was mortal yet, and wearied, as mortals do. For this reason, when (some time hence) the song ended (to presently give way to another), Melissa made her way to the bar, there to briefly rest and speak with Ingrid.

"Did you see those guys in the corner?" Ingrid inquired. "They're totally weird - just sitting there, not dancing, not drinking, just staring at people. I don't know why the bouncer hasn't kicked them out already! It's not like this place isn't busy enough that they've got practically no room to spare."

Melissa followed her friend's gaze. There indeed were three figures seated at a table in the corner; little more could be said of them than that, for they were shrouded in shadow, remarkable for the strobe-lit nightclub. Nonetheless they accomplished it, a fact which only served to pique Melissa's curiosity further.

"I think they were staring at you, too, a minute ago," Ingrid observed. "While you were dancing. Total creepers."

"Really?" Melissa inquired. "Bizarre! I'll go talk to them, see what their deal is."

Ingrid appeared surprised. "Really? I mean - I guess, yeah, sure, that makes sense. But there's something about them... takes more courage than I've got on me to talk to people like them, I guess."

"You've got more courage than you think," Melissa said warmly, reaching over and taking Ingrid's shot-glass. She drained it in one gesture, saying "See?" and then turned to the figures in the corner. "I'll see you in a minute or two, yeah? We'll take the next song together,"

"All right," Ingrid said, some formless, sourceless anxiety writhing in her belly like a nest of worms. "Be careful, all right? Don't drink anything they give you!"

"'Course!" Melissa agreed cheerily, and then was gone amid the crowd.

Ingrid watched the scene a moment longer, and then ordered another drink.

Melissa approached the shadow-shrouded table, both natural and liquid courage strengthening her step. Peculiarly, despite her closer proximity to the table's occupants, she could make out no more of them than she could from the bar; nor did they make any response to her approach. It was up to Melissa, then, to make the first move; which she promptly did. "Hey!" she called out. "I'm Melissa! I heard you guys were watching me?"

The shadows parted somewhat. Melissa could see somewhat more of the general form now: one man, one woman, and... the third had a gender impossible to distinguish, from the dark, blurry image Melissa could percieve. (Though something in its face, even what little could be percieved, seemed fundamentally wrong...) Their features were sharp, but not unkind; in all ways they seemed set apart from the ordinary stock of Man. When one spoke - the man - his voice was crisp, cool, clear. "Watch you we did," he agreed without any tone of apology. "Your dance was in every way attestatory to the peaks of the spirit," the woman agreed, the burble of brooks flowing through her words.

"Aw, I haven't had that much," Melissa said, pulling up a chair from a nearby table. (The table was already occupied by a pair of lovers, their attention elsewhere; they made no objection to the appropriation.) She focused her speech on the matter which prompted her visit: "Who are you guys? What are you doing here, anyway?"

Somewhat more of the air cleared; Melissa now had a clear view of the man and woman who had spoken to her. They were of a type: their features sharp, noble, aquiline; their figures both tall and slender; their garb, though superficially of a type with that worn by the other patrons, somehow set apart absolutely in nature. (A thing which might apply to them in general.) The woman answered Melissa's question willingly: "I am the Marquessa of the Void," she said, and with a gesture to her companion, "He is the Prince Inhuman. We are here to observe and prepare before we begin our task in earnest."

Melissa raised an eyebrow at the names. "Didn't know there was any nobility visiting the area," she said. "Should I have bowed first, and called you 'Your Graces'?"

"If you prefer it," the Prince Inhuman said, shrugging. "We've more important matters on our minds than formality."

"Your task, right?" Melissa asked, intrigued despite herself. Certainly these were strange people - and in most circumstances, she would have willingly dismissed them as lunatics or god-botherers of some obscure cult. But their manner and appearance in some way disarmed her, rendered her willing to speak and to listen... and, of course, they had offered her no drink. (This being somewhat of a reassurance, under the circumstances.)

"It is an action of some scope," the Prince Inhuman admitted. "To extract some manner of amends from humanity for their wrongs - "

"- and to offer somewhat for the way in which they have been wronged," the Marquessa of the Void interjected, "for though much is said of man's inhumanity to man, and rightly, still there are no few horrors tormenting humanity that are neither self-inflicted nor deserved."

"Let me guess," Melissa said, her disbelief still held in an unsteady suspension. "You're in charge of making amends," this said to the Marquessa, "and you're in charge of - demanding them?" Melissa asked the Prince Inhuman.

"Roughly correct," the Prince agreed.

"And what about her?" Melissa asked, turning to the third figure at the table.

"Ah," the Marquessa said.

The shadows lifted as the figure rose; and a shape similar to the Marquessa's own, female and unnaturally slim, appeared - but it was clearly a thing of another type, for upon its face it wore the mask of some alien bird, its movements were jerky and sudden, and it spoke not at all.

"Nine Lives Twirling," the Prince Inhuman named the creature, even as it stepped towards Melissa and Melissa stood up and began to back away and it reached out and touched her -

- and Melissa was reeling, the table before her empty, something ringing in her mind. Ingrid appeared from behind her, gingerly reached out to steady her; "Are you all right?" she asked. "What did they do to you? Should I call the cops?"

Melissa felt queasy; her skin tingled strangely. She looked down. There was something - something had happened to her clothes -

Ingrid was staring at her in slack astonishment, now, unable to believe her eyes: for in all the places that Melissa's clothing had covered was now a vast array of rings, golden and capped with jewels of the same colors as the garb they replaced; threaded through her skin in the manner of piercings, rendering her skin like a great perforated sheet.

"Oh, God, Melissa," Ingrid gasped.

Melissa reached back to feel her ears; both were whole, unmarked, as though they had never been pierced. She looked at her body, at the rings; felt one. Melissa attempted to muster a response. Somewhere from the depths of her mind, one arose. She seized upon it; weakly, she said, smiling,

"Guess this was a good night for the tank-top and cutoffs, eh?"

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