Copyright © Crimsos
Chapter 1 - Blue Choir
“Some realms constitute the arts as a main focus for their society.”
-Yonet, a Typhon map maker-
Lola stood still, an early night's whisper reminding of a summer echo, rustling her silk blessed hair of pitch black, accompanying a sundress royal blue. The smooth rolling hill below elevated her a bit closer to the lunar circle as nylon grass swayed around with no effort, surrounding her patiently. All of this made for a warm welcome, for anyone visiting to gaze the stars, and sit idly. However, as for this time, Lola saw this not as such a simple venue, but a stage, one about to come alive in a new colorful form.
Her feet rustled with her heart thumping louder, breathing, taking a glance at the surrounding fireflies and Glowtail Swallows all rising from their nests and nooks, taking notice of the girl's presence, and, to a more profound extent, the violin cradled in her hands. For a moment it all seemed like a dream, an ethereal bubble where everything was magnificent, glowing, and coaxed in nostalgia, but this was like every summer night in Yevital, a realm where beauty like this could land with a joyous mood.
The embers watched on as Lola raised her instrument and bow, motioning them to mold in a perfect balance of posture, a grand overture condensed into a single body. Her feet parted slightly, displacing weight evenly where both of them met sound equilibrium, ready to move and shift about once the notes sped up. She let her bow rest on the valley of four strings and thought the performance through, over and over, mentally encapsulating each step until it was a subconscious movie playing back in repeating circles, where its beginning and end were fused together seamlessly. Flashes of light automatically manifested as the movie played, and she waited until it ended, where it would begin again. There. Eve had already passed. It was time to play.
To begin, Lola's horse hair slid along the thinnest wire for a wavering high note that floated about, rising, her eyes closed. She flew cautiously through the high octaves, down a little, then up, her mouth stretching a bit, playing this Adagio with a pulse. It was a nice sound to start, just to start, fun for a short stay. A dip was taken for a new refreshment. The bow angled and quickened to produce a snappy plethora of mid keys, and she swayed, making her dress flow in long swells. Louder it went, gradually, cautiously, giving each new sound time to breathe before it gave way to the next one in line, at times picking off the ends of some to make a few reverse Staccatos. Finally, she breached a new volume and sat upon it happily, a new, higher decimal. It was a fantasy to explore, all these notes ranging from flat to sharp, all these large rooms with luxurious recliners, beds, and sofas trimmed by neatly woven velvet. The wooden tones explored all their possibilities, some retaining their distinct separations, while others spoke along smooth transitions, a slur between consecutive notes, not letting for a break in music. Her tempo hastened slightly, turning a previously lethargic tempo into one of agile harmony. At this new rhythm, the grass nodded in approval, and to the new warm draft casting in.
A cold stab twinged her body. It was ignored.
Lola breathed, and took a short rest, adjourning her performance until its next stage. Another soft billow of wind made a welcomed presence, stirring the deep, silk ocean of her dress, rippling it, maybe brushing off some dust, with hair that remained unobtrusive, but added to this display nonetheless. If a crowd were watching from afar, they might mistake Lola for a swath of white snow snug around a royal blue aura. Her dark cobalt eyes opened, a first occurrence since her overture. The movie continued reeling away in her brain like a unstoppable chain of well oiled gears, with Lola's imaginary self image dancing around her with every second staged seamlessly, with no real distinction between one move and the next. It was a blurry mess, one that would only grow more hazed the longer she remained still. Movement was the only absolute state of existence capable of catching up to this image. The girl's vision clung onto the strings as she raised her violin once again, ending a short, but we'll received rest. One step at a time. First, picture the path, then walk on it.
The play resumed. She combined the two ranges of highs and lows, and her bow was now granted freedom to slant up and down at its leisure, suddenly opening a door to new formations more complex than before. She could hop between these planes, pitching around in her progression, growing louder, more distinct, and maturing in its identity. The fireflies stirred up like tiny floating light bulbs with eyelids, watching Lola stray from her spot and move around. Her feet waved across grass as if in the arms of an invisible partner, slowly, making sure not to step on his toes, or trip, a waltz that was aware of every sound leaving her strings. She winded off a trill of characters sewn together with smooth, legato intervals, fluidly altering between sounds, climbing up the scale, then back down, then wrapping around in more intricate patterns. And just as it seemed this phrase would end, she jumped off the ledger line and performed a high presto of short brisk accents to tie up the phrase splendidly, each one meaningful, and distinct. Instantly, the light bulbs and swallows cascaded as if reacting to a magnetic force repelling them away. She snapped into focus every minute detail no matter how much her fingers cramped in protest, and so, the smalls joints of pain were flattened out by her sudden Presto. Everything was moving along, and though not entirely synchronized with that imaginary image, it still showed no signs of stopping. Her feet swirled around where there was no distinct separation between different movements, playing faster, giving her instrument torture.
Perhaps it was a tiny knot in an otherwise straight line, a split second's sound coming out mutated. Her bow hand stiffened making all five fingers buckle under a weight beyond comprehension. The last note left her strings as a choking squeal, like an static discharge. Lola's entire frame crunched as the bow dropped dead with a soft thud, and suddenly her instrument was searing hot. She stumbled, and lurched back as the embers and lightbulbs fell back to earth leaving only a tiny grimmer within grass blades. Gradually, she leaned down on bent knees, letting the malicious wave drone by, waiting for the sharp, severing wiggle of her ear drums to subside. Like an old friend, it was be bewildering, seeing that phantom image continue playing away every marvelous accent, dancing happily until it vanished with a smug wink, but there was nothing that could be done, not this time. One misstep would leave a crowd disappointed even if everything else was performed perfectly.
"By the stars," she muttered sternly, "another wasted play."
After a lengthened pause and a mental curse, Lola rose feeling her dress heavier, a cloak made of iron as it slumped down relentlessly. Faceless attendees laughed behind tight lips from outside her bubble, even though no one watched. Once fertil currents of air now felt as if creeping over, these irritating little bugs with spindly legs hardly touching over her skin. She mistaking tried to swat them off. It was best if she returned home and revise her mistakes, again, much like the past few weeks.
It was a long way back home, on the lonely narrow sidewalk winding towards the small town, passing the Mejis sanctuary made of domed marble with enormous pillars, and expansive grass meadows disturbed only by white stone Gazebos. Even an elf born of high class would at least stop to admire some of it, but Lola's half closed stare never drifted off the bar of concrete sliding under her feet, lost in another realm. That is, until she glanced up to get bearings on the moon's position, and sighed. It was just turning into the morning hours, at least. Time had railed by faster than expected, and it made her finally notice a certain roughness taking over her eyelids, realizing how tired she was, how weak she felt. It was understandable, absolutely. Playing for hours on end made her feet turn into into brittle pieces of ice, with arms about to give under the violin and bow they were holding. Perhaps if she walked with more assertion, a few bones might snap. Then, there she would lay, a little pile of crystals on the smooth, moonlit walkway. There were no crickets or frogs to pick through the silence, so her mind drifted away into thinking up such metaphors, even if some were simply ridiculous.
It was when the first oil fueled street lamp arched over the horizon did Lola know she was close, its tawny gold halo making her shadow visible once she passed under it. The girl's body flickered on and off which each lamp saying a quick hello before turning her dark again.
She turned the corner leading to a wider road.
Large blackened bodies of apartment complexes looked down from either side, with a scent carrying musky bricks wafting up her nose, a standard for humid weather. It was a nice residence nonetheless, each structure bound together by complex designs curving fittingly, with picket fences and well kept gardens encircling her own motel, which was four buildings down from where the street started. Lola's room sat on the second floor, where it had been waiting for hours.
Up the stairs, a corner turned, walk twenty feet, and stop. Lola craned over and pulled a small nickel key from one of her flats. She leaned against the thick heavy door because pushing it open would have sapped away her remaining energy. After a light, closing click from behind, her limbs loosened along with a listless exhale of tense air. A bedroom, kitchen, bathroom and a living room formed a loop within these walls, all creating a rather small quarters, but still, there was no place like it. Not to mention rent prices were tolerable. Both the violin and bow were casually placed back in their case, the one that, admittedly, was purposely left behind. Lola seldom carried it unless she was making way into town, which, recently, was more of a rare occurrence with most classes already over for this year.
After pushing away a few strands of sticky hair, she headed around back, bathed, changed, ate a small sandwich, and did so with such weariness that the disdainful memory of what recently transpired only came back as she swung into bed, just before letting that drowsy weight to finally run its proper course. Across the room, two connected squares of snow watched from across the room, a music stand holding an open booklet of sheet music. A window above doused pale rays over the paper consumed with back notes and lines.
"Please, not now." Lola's whisper died midway, because it was crazy talking to a lifeless object, but, nevertheless, she wanted a look at it. The bed complained as its passenger rose off, and she made a stumbly walk towards the portal where wonderful sounds were stored within ivory colored sheets. “Hummingbird’s Verse” was scripted in large cursive font near the top, and below, a sea of symbols contained within their rails peered back at her; an audience of people all shapes and sizes. This song was flying off her strings not an hour ago, a five and a half page set of dynamic chords connected with slur lines, rests, repeats, and all manner of markings constructing the extensive piece. She hummed the first few phrases, and continued the rest in her mind because no one could ever fluently voice Hummingbird’s Verse completely, at least, not from personal experiences of watching singers try and try again only to fail. It mattered not what race of creature tried to stir their vocal cords, not a Human, Aven, Elf, or anyone so far had succeeded, at least no one she had witnessed. Only an instrument played by hand could explore this foreboding plane. It was also why many believed the lyrics for the song were discarded a long time time ago, and was reorchestrated into a purely wordless creation.
Her fingers softly turned the sheet, exposing another layer of sounds trapped in parchment, passing a line where the tempo and pitch climaxed, bringing forth a crescendo, one of the more emotional parts. Past that was a short rest, then a set of eighth notes played in Glissando, meaning to slide between them. All of it was rather easy compared to other sections, or even other works of music at this difficulty level, even though it still appeared like a forest of ink. However, she knew harder portions were waiting for her underneath a few more layers.
Page four came along, a jumbled mayhem of keys and symbols all latticed together, and there it sat, a measure where one had to jump around the sharp scale with a Tremolo. A Tremolo was performed by rapidly moving the bow back and forth against a string to create a wavering effect that produced slightly different pitches than normal, prominent overtones. This spot was where her brain screeched horribly, and halted. Even after weeks of meticulous rehearsal, this incomprehensible maze still appeared as it was, a maze, and every time a journey was made through it, she never failed to stumble, or trip, or simply fall flat. Time had stubbornly refused to let her bring closure to the predicament even with long spans of practice. Nothing clicked. If there was a point where shear resolve could not succeed on its own, Lola was standing right in the cavity of it. Another hyperbolic metaphor, yes, but it was in many ways based on reality, and true all the same. So, a quite simple conclusion brought itself forward and stood on a pedestal, awaiting confrontation.
“I need help,” Lola whispered evenly, giving that conclusion a physical existence.
She did, after all, attend one of Yevital’s most esteemed colleges, known for specializing in the advanced musical arena, and that said plenty coming from a realm where the arts already had a firm hold on society. It was best to visit her teacher there and share dialogue of her dilemma, and luckily, this teacher was someone who she already had a close companionship with. Mr. Krayble was a wise soul who taught many, only to befriend a few. Krayble normally welcomed those who wanted tutoring regardless of the hour, however, their meeting would have to wait until afternoon.
Chapter 2 - House Of The Faceless
House Of The Faceless
“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 followups 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 trollied 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 boisterous chatter bleeding through from outside had no intention of dying down, or even giving room for a minute's thought to most. Even so, Lola 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.
Well, if he doesn't bring it up, she thought. I'll just mosey on by.
The driver said nothing of it. She stepped out with a simple thanks, as if that was payment enough.
Berenham'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 Berenham came from around town 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 on oxidised hinges.
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 for perhaps a moment 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 over paper and said, “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 some 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 a 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, and readjusted 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 a couple 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.” She set her case down on the wood with a short thud, and opened it to take out the few sheets of music, revealing her violin beneath.
“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, all in a fluid transition.
“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, giving each audience member a constant flow of sound no matter how big the gathering. 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, then 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 on to some real material, shall we?” Krayble scooted behind the girl’s seat so that he could follow along while Hummingbird’s Verse was played.
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, both in tone and coherence. When put in a ring with hundreds of spotlights blazing down, playing perfectly was a must, without question or consideration. A missed rest would ultimately end up as a disastrous fallout with no way of recovering, an embarrassment to every doll who spectated, with buttons for eyes.
Dolls? She thought. Why am I thinking of dolls?
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, and it almost made for a stumble, which would have been detrimental 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 silly. 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. Even 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 a brutish animal, 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, becoming wide plates bleached by radiance. As this glaring halo cleared, a pellet of salted 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 a the correct angle was turning into a struggle against gravity, because its own weight seamed 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 one too many times.
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, and wiped her face once more, as if the sweat was acid burning through skin.
“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 star that had faded out to then explode into a more fragile complexion. 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 correctly, back arched, with 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 rise. 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! If you find your current task to be that unimportant as to get distracted, then leave.”
Everyone, mostly everyone, returned to their work, mumbling among themselves.
Everyone’s whispering was unbearable static for Lola, and 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.” Her voice came out wavering, and thin.
“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, because all she wanted now was to enter the world unburdened by light. However, if she went back again, there would be more familiar images that would only serve to drive this nightmare further into reality. So, there was nowhere to go. The only way to exist was out in the open where white 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 hot stove.
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 hot 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 under a continuous electrical shock. 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 shard of ice forever buried within her chest.