Self [Margot Mood]
"Dreams surely are difficult, confusing, and not everything in them is brought to pass for mankind. For fleeting dreams have two gates: one is fashioned of horn and one of ivory. Those which pass through the one of sawn ivory are deceptive, bringing tidings which come to nought, but those which issue from the one of polished horn bring true results when a mortal sees them."

-- Homer (800 BC - 700 BC), The Odyssey


The world was one of fire, with a landscape of flame and char to the south stretching far and wide.  Smoke and ash swept from the blackened planes and choked the rest of the world so it could suffer along with.  Margot felt it stinging her eyes, scratching and burning her throat.  She squinted through tear-bleary eyes and covered her mouth and nose with the crook of her elbow and cast a look about.  She was facing the destruction to the south, stood upon a hillside's top ridge like she was positioned to survey.  She couldn't quite pinpoint whether she was feeling shame, fear, or pride, but the combination of the three made the sight particularly dizzying to behold.

When her head turned to see the north, the world blurred around her and suddenly she found cold gray stone under her feet and forming walls far around her, replacing the ridge upon which she stood moments ago.

It didn't take long to realize that she was standing in the great hall of a castle.  Her eyes cast down to the stones beneath her feet, and her bare toes curled against them and felt how cool and smooth they were.  The walls to either side were built of similar stone, stacked tall with pillars to support them lining the edge of the hall with neat spacing apart.  She craned her neck to discover the ceiling a couple dozen feet high, she couldn't guess exactly how far up, but the rafters were largely consumed by shadows.  After squinting into them for a moment she realized the tears were gone from her eyes but the shadows were thick in her vision all the same.  A look over her shoulder spoke of more shadows, deep and infinite feeling.  To look forward she found more shadow all the same, but it was a veil instead of a pit.  She could hear voices coming through it.

With no other direction to go, Margot started walking deeper into the hall.  For what felt like an hour her walking took her nowhere-- there was the impression of distance being crossed but at no point did any detail light up the hall beyond the stones below, the stones to the sides, and the rafters above.  The voices failed to grow louder, and even seemed to dim to a near-lost murmer at a certain point.  It was only when the panicky sense of being trapped settled in that the darkness ahead suddenly cleared to reveal the hall's end at last.

A long table of wood was revealed laid out with so much food that Margot worried it would sag and break under the weight.  Benches lined the table on either side, and though she saw nothing but small wisps of smoke that seemed to leak in from the South there was still the clatter of silverware and muted chatter of many men at a meal.  It was like listening to a feast with cotton in her ears, but she couldn't see anyone present at the table.  All she could see was the piles of food shift and shrink if she paid close enough attention to any one plate at a time, but soon as she looked back again it would seem to have refilled itself.

Valhalla?, she wondered within herself.

"Hardly."  A voice answered her aloud, and it was the first thing she'd heard that didn't seem at a distance.  Her eyes snapped this way and that, searching for the source, and soon they settled upon a great wooden throne set atop a raised platform at the end of the table, and ultimately the hall as well.

The woman was sprawled in the throne as though it had always belonged to her, yet the gouge marks of a blade and recent smears of blood along the back of the grand seat suggested otherwise.  She appeared long and lean, even with a leg tossed over one of the throne's arms.  Her skin was pale as milk and largely bare, painted in broad swaths of bright bold blue, with bones tied into her wild red hair to the point that they formed their own macabre crown.  Her breasts were covered only in necklaces of bead and bone and tooth, a loose plate made of crudely hammered bronze that did little more than dangle as a pendant.  She had propped herself up with an elbow on the throne's other arm, and the one free hand remaining was delegated to a leg of capon.  Grease dribbled down her chin when she took a large bite, cutting a trail through the red blood and blue warpaint on the way.

Though Margot was certain it was she who'd spoken, the warrior woman didn't seem to be paying her any mind.  Her eyes were watching the table, moving like they were following conversation that Margot could not hear, watching people that Margot could not see.  She licked her lips nervously and put another thought out into the air, testing.  Then where?

The warrior woman answered simply by taking another bite, and this time she groped around on the throne seat until she found the end of her long cloth loincloth, which was used to wipe the grease from her neck and chest and fingers.  Thinking that perhaps she didn't think loudly or clearly enough, Margot took a step forward, then another, until she was walking along the length of the table to approach the throne.  She felt rustling in the air and a vague warmth to her left, where the benches were, certain of the presence of men enjoying their victory meal without being able to see them or logically know for sure it was victory to which they ate.

When Margot remembered not to focus on the ghosts at the table she realized she was already standing before the throne, and with surprise she looked up to find the warrior woman had risen and was standing directly before her.  Hands with blood-stained fingers reached out and cupped her face, while astoundingly blue eyes bored into her and glued her in place.

"Not where.  Everywhere, nowhere, Old Lands that may become New again."  One hand left Margot's face, and though the fingers stroked slow and loving in their departure they left the stinging sensation of being scratched.  Margot's brow flexed but she didn't jerk away, and the woman flexed her brow back.  "Ask the right question."

Uncomfortable with the intimate touch, yet intimately comforted by it, Margot screwed up her eyes and tried to search for the answer in this conqueror's face.  The features were familiar but she couldn't quite find why.  Nothing about them reminded her of any names or events.  But there was something more, beyond appearances alone, that was ringing a bell in her mind.  A smell of copper and iron and ash and fresh ground herbs, a secure recognition of what it felt like to be home...

Who...? The suspicion and confusion and dawning realization were as hard to keep separate as the pride and the shame and the fear.

The woman's mouth split into a wide smile of black teeth filed to points and the blue eyes blazed all the brighter.  It was the right question, for the ghosts behind her silenced themselves and strained to watch and listen; she couldn't see them any more clearly, but she knew they were present and suddenly aware of her all the same.

"Don't you know?," asked the woman, and she tossed her head back and began to laugh.  Her other hand parted from Margot's face at last, again with the burning-dragging sensation that the fingertips left behind, and this time they migrated to the warrior's own face to touch from her forehead down her nose and over lips and chin.  The paint there swirled with her touch, and soon all of her features were swirling and melting down.  All of her was melting, shrinking in height and breadth and hardness.  When the confusion cleared and an identity took shape in the shifting body, Margot felt a stone drop in the well of her gut and startle the things there to wakefulness.

It was herself looking back at her, with the same wide hazel eyes and small mouth and thin body and shoulders.  The loincloth at her mirror image's hips was long enough to touch the floor, and the beads and bones shrouded a chest much smaller than the conqueror's.  Yet the crown of bone woven into hair remained, and the wild mane of red was there in place of her mute brown locks instead.

"....You're me," Margot whispered, and lifted a hand to reach out to touch her warrior-self's face.  That warrior face looking back at her smiled, and she found the teeth still black and sharp and wicked.

"No, child, I'm what you will be."

Suddenly the Warrior shoved Margot in the chest and sent her sprawling backwards, and where the floor had been was a yawning blackness instead.  For a terrible hanging moment Margot was sure she would fall forever, but it was a sharp jerk of consciousness that landed her right back in her bed.

Sweat made her hair cling to her brow and her nightshirt stick to her back, and Margot's door squeaked quiet on its hinges as she gentled it open to make her way into the bathroom.  In a small oval mirror above the pedestal sink Margot splashed her face and checked her eyes-- still hazel.  Her teeth-- still white.  When she brushed her hair back from her brow, though, she discovered the wash of crimson from her temples had broadened and brightened further.

A sign, she thought to herself.

No, that didn't seem quite right.  She tried the answer again, whispering to her reflection, and what she heard sounded so much more correct.

"No.  A truth."

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