Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Deal with the Path

La Valtana brushed away the remaining flower petals from the corners of her eyes and whispered " It's certainly not an easy task for them, as the features of Tirahvaalta are constantly moving."
I gave her a quizzical expression. "How can anyone make a map of something that doesn't stay still? Maps by nature are static things. No wonder these poor men are mad."

La Valtana corrected me "Oh no, my dear. Maps are constantly evolving and growing. The features of every place are always changing themselves, especially in your world. The rivers change their path, the cities rise and fall, the forests expand and the coastlines contract. I grant you it happens at a slower pace to your eyes, because of the way you view time, but it is your misunderstanding of these adjustments that leads you to believe a map must be deadlocked. After all, if the world did not reshape itself, you wouldn't have to make any new maps, now would you?"

"I'd never really considered that..."
"Tirahvaalta transforms from second to second. The cities change their position, new places are discovered. A cartographers job is a difficult one."

The men were running up and down a small portion of the room, slapping the papers on the floor with their hats and stomping, and occasionally tripping over each other.

La Valtana called to them "Good day gents."
They immediately stopped their frenzy and with eyes wide as saucers preened themselves and arranged in a line, bowing. Well, all but the man in green who prostrated himself face down on the floor.

"Good day, your Majesty." said the man in gold. The men rose from their bow, except Notus, who needed a sharp kick from the man in red to resume a vertical position.
"I am very sorry to interrupt your work, but I have a guest with me today that I should very much like for you to be acquainted with." La Valtana placed her hand on my shoulder. It felt vaguely like a butterfly had landed there.

"This is Ms. Esteri Gridelin, of Leeds. She will be taking her place as a new Emissary as part of my court."

"My lady." The man in gold stepped gallantly forward with well practiced grace, seized my hand, and kissed it. "I am Zephyros, and these are my brothers; Eurus (blue), Boreas, (red) and Notus (green)." The other men came over to me in turn, each to kiss my hand except for Notus who presented me with his hat (turned inside out) for no discernable reason.

Zephyros continued "We are happy to bid you welcome to our fair Peili, and will serve you in any way you made require."
"Thank you kindly."
Zephyros then plucked Notus's hat from my hand with a sheepish grin and flung it haphazardly at his brother.

La Valtana spoke again "Esteri will most certainly require your guidance, as she has forgotten her cards."
"Cards?" I said, puzzled.
"I had Sir Cuthbert send along a deck of cards to the waiting room along with the book and keys. You've left them behind. "

I immediately searched about in the pockets of my dress to confirm, and indeed I recalled that I hadn't pocketed them.

"Not to worry!" said Boreas cheerfully. "We have another set for the lady." He went to a table close to the window, and removed several layers of paper until he found a wooden box. He brought the box over to me and opened it with a flourish, revealing an indentical set of cards to the ones I had first seen.

"Oh! Let me read them for her." Eurus said excitedly, waving his hands in the air. "If, ahem..the lady would like me to read them for her, of course."

"I, I don't understand." I said.
"The cards are a way to find your path." La Valtana explained as she picked up the deck from out of the box. "If you were to try one of the Cartographers maps at this early stage, you would find yourself terribly lost. Tirahvaalta is a wild place, and because the only constant is change you would never be able to right yourself once lost. You would become a "ghost". I have lost emissaries this way previously." This statement did NOT make me comfortable.

La Valtana glided over to a short table nearby that Eurus politely removed a stack of papers from, and set the deck of cards face down. "I had the brothers devise a tool that was unlike a conventional map, so that no matter where you are, you shall be able to find your path."
Eurus handed me the deck and said "Place one hand on the top, and one on the bottom. Hold them there for the amount of time it takes for a bicycle to become a fish."
"Alright, that's good. I'll take them back now."

Eurus shuffled the deck three times, and dealt out four cards face down in a row. He then turned them over one by one. "Very interesting..." he said squinting at the cards, which were named
Muse, Memoriae, Oubliette, and Never.

"Aaaaah, the great cities." Said Boreas. "That's quite a path indeed."

Monday, April 13, 2009

The Shifting Landscape

"The...voice? So, you...are Tirahvaalta?" I said shakily.

La Valtana's eyes brightened and the fireflies on her necklace pulsed an electric green.
"I am an aspect, not the whole. The whole of Tirahvaalta is something far greater than I. I exist here, in the royal city, to keep ties with those who organize the information on this world. Peili is truly more of a focal point, or a door than anything royal. If it helps you, think of me as a figurehead, although that is not quite my role." She paused. "Do you not like the tea?"

I hadn't touched the seductive liquid swirling in my cup. The smell, now that I noticed it, was maddeningly delicious, and the bubbles were forming tiny scenes of animals frolicking on some sort of hillside. La Valtana smiled in a way that was supposed to assure me that I would not be poisoned or grow an ass's head, so I took a sip.

Caramel, purple, summer winds and calliope music floating across an empty field. This tea certainly made Earl Grey taste like the pompous fool that the name denotes. I slurped unceremoniously as La Valtana took her seat beside me again. I watched as her hair cycled through colors until it had arrived as the deepest cobalt blue I had ever seen. My eyes hurt.

"I know you don't quite grasp why I have chosen you, Esteri, as one of my Ambassadors. It's because of your sight. To give you an example, it's the difference between what Sir Cuthbert sees when he looks at me, and what you see. Everyone views me differently- it's a matter of heightened perspective....a certain keeness. Naturally, two people looking at the same painting will see different worlds, but there is no guarantee that they will see what they artist intended.
You have the ability to see my true form, and as such are one of the best to explore the world of which I am part."

Maybe it was the tea, but I felt finally understood her. Oriel's face changed to a great round window painted with zodiac signs in gold around the border, her dress wriggled itself into becoming a blanket of ivy and purple flowers that echoed soft musical tones. Before I realized what was happening, I felt myself being pulled through the window of her face into a colorful landscape of green and red hills, which then evaporated into a large room. One wall of the room was entirely open to the same hills I had just seen, the sunlight bouncing off the floor tiles which looked like they were made of mother of pearl. Aside from the gilt decorations on the ceiling, the room was fairly plain, although terribly messy.

There were several large wooden tables with papers strewn on them, about them, and under them. There were four youngish looking men in what I would consider a caricature of high renaissance dress (with these enormous floopy hats that looked like lattice topped pies) having a communal hissy fit and throwing push-pins every which way.

"Boreas! It's moving again! Catch it!!!" shouted the man in gold (His hat-pie looked like apple. What was it about palace attendants and this strange identification with desserts? Bother.)

Two men, one wearing pale blue and one wearing crimson were hovering over a pile of papers with push pins pinched tight between their fingers. The fourth man in green was biting his nails behind them and holding a large ceramic cup. The man in blue suddenly pounced on the papers, vicious stabbing away with his push pin.

"NO! NO! It's getting away...DON'T LOSE IT! It took me a half hour to get it onto this page!"
The man in crimson (hat looking like cherry pie) flung himself onto the papers, nearly knocking the man in blue out of the way. Both of them were flailing viciously, smashing their hands down on the pages as if they were playing a game of slapjack upon which one's life depended.

"Don't crush it you moron!" Shouted the man in blue to the man in red. "Oh, a fine example you are Eurus!" the man in red retorted. "Have you nimwits got it?!!" railed the man in gold. The man in green (gooseberry pie hat) shifted back and forth on his very girlish satin slippers, now with half his hand in his mouth.

"Notus, don't just stand there, HELP them! USE THE CUP!!" The man in gold slapped Notus's hand away from his mouth and pushed him towards the other two still writhing on the floor.

There was a scuffle, lots of screaming, a torrent of paper and Notus launching himself at the whole mess, cup aloft and eyes full of madness.

"I think we got it!!!" The man in blue had lost his (current and blueberry pie) hat in the meleu but didn't care as he and Notus (the man in green) both had their hands firmly over the cup atop a striped piece of paper.

"Well done, men!" bellowed the man in gold joyfully, clapping his hands. He walked over to them, triumphant. "Let's have a peak...but carefully now."

All four men bent down around the cup, whispering and nudging each other.
I noticed La Valtana next to me, looking radiant and holding somewhat to her blonde, violet eyed form. She turned to me with an expression of poorly disguised amusement and said quietly "I'd like you to meet the cartographers of Tirahvaalta; Boreas, Notus, Eurus and Zephyros."

No sooner has she finished the quiet introduction than there was a scuffle amongst the men.
"Blasted thing!"
"His elbow was-"
"It was not! It was your FAT fingers, chummy-"
"Well where is it?"

The entire group of men stumbled to their feet, pushing each other and ran to a far corner of the room.

"Umm, Oriel, what exactly are they doing? Catching a bug?"
La Valtana laughed so hard that flower petals rained down her cheeks.
"No, no my dear." she said trying to regain her composure.
"They are making a map."

(oh bollocks.)

Tuesday, March 24, 2009


La Valtana's eyes glistened and her pupils changed to a diamond shape.
"I will begin with your questions." She said very matter of factly, and regarded me quietly as I struggled to put my thoughts together.

"Ermm, your majesty..."
"Oriel. Please. Titles weary me. I hear a multitude of them all day." she smiled.
" I?"
Her smile had a visible glow to it. Pink to be exact.
"You are currently in the Royal City of Peili, which is also the capital of the Hidden Country, more widely known as Tirahvaalta."
"Well...where exactly is Tirahvaalta then? Am I....napping?"
Her laughter resembled wind chimes. "I can see how you would think that. You aren't exactly asleep, nor are you awake. And the "where" of Tirahvaalta isn't so much as important as the "why" and the "because"."
The look on my face must have been amusing, because Oriel laughed so much that the stars circling her crown turned into tiny comets.

"You are not the first to be confused by matters here, nor will you be the last. Tirahvaalta, is a famous place, known by many outsiders throughout history, but few remember its name. They more often take to mind how to arrive here, because the "where" truly isn't important. Arrival, as you have seen, can take place through certain venues. Mirrors, keyholes, cupboards, closets, blocked off entrances...places that are fond of containing secrets and mysteries.

And you, Esteri, have been here before. Have you not?"

I could feel the blood drain from my face. "Come again?"
"You are not new to this place. You are merely aware of it."
"I don't follow..."
"Tirahvaalta lives for all who recognize it. Many pass through its borders, but few return home in possession of any knowledge of it. No souvenirs, if you will. To put it plainly, I know you Esteri. But here you are, meeting me for the first time."

I sat quietly, attempting to wrap my mind around this. I detested wrapping. Never could get the hang out of it and all the christmas presents wound up looking like origami cranes fashioned by seven fingered trolls.

"Ok..." I said shakily.

" I don't expect you to grasp all I say here right away. But it will fall into place, hmm? Now, let me elaborate on why you are here, as this is of importance. Tirahvaalta is a very expansive place. No one knows it's true size. Not even me. We suspect that it is still growing as we speak. And, as I said before there are many who come through, but not all are aware as you now are. They are like...ghosts in a sense.

What I need most at the present are emissaries, explorers who would be willing to lose themselves in the task of wandering Tirahvaalta and building a bridge between it and other places. I seek people who are willing to...for lack of a better term...awaken the ghosts. "

She ascended to her feet and moved fluidly towards the nearest window.

"Tirahvaalta is a wild place," she continued. "To explore it is no ordinary task, and is not left to ordinary people." She turned slowly to face me, her eyes swirling with green sparks.

"You...are To be an emissary? I...but.. wait! I have a job, and a flat...a life outside of here and I-"

"These things will wait for you. Do not fret. We have not domesticated time in this world. How you manage to control such an impetuous creature has always been of interest to me, but why you would want to is quite the mystery. Trust when I say that your outside life will be uneffected by your absence in it."

"But...I don't KNOW this place. What if I go missing? Why do you need me anyhow? You're the queen here, aren't there...people within the country who know better how to explore and build...bridges or whatever you need?"

Oriel came gliding up to my chair and knelt down so that her eyes were on level with mine.
"You fear the possibility of being extraordinary, as well as the vast horizon of the unknown. This is nothing to be ashamed of. It is something to be forgotten." She was so close to me I could hear the rotation of the numbers on her collar.

"Believe not in what you cannot do. Instead, realize the opportunity of what exists in the void of those beliefs. I chose you for this mission. You are fully capable and will have my assistance at every turn, should you need it. "

She rose effortlessly and strode back towards her chair.

"As as for Queen? A Queen I am not. I do not rule this place. Tirahvaalta manages itself. Quite well."

"But...then if you're not a queen, then why are you here?"

Her hair suddenly changed to a dark magenta streaked with gold and her eyes went midnight blue.

"Me? I am the voice."

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

A Cupful of Glamour

I was not prepared for the room I had just entered. It was an enormous space with high ceilings, and at first glance was covered with every ornament an ostentatious palace should possess- carved molded ceilings, wall sconces, elaborate furniture, tall windows and sculptures...but upon blinking I could not decide if I had stepped into a room or a forest. Or maybe a courtyard.

Everything seemed to shimmer and move, even though at the same time it all seemed to be staying still. The pillar colonades wanted very much to be trees. The rugs were doing their best impressions of flowing water and the curtains couldn't decide if resembling flowers or moss best suited them. The ceiling was dizzying. It was painted to look like the sky...or maybe it was the sky, as I swear I saw a flock of birds dart off into a corner. The windows has no glass- or at least they seemed not to. Air flowed freely through the space that looked like leaded windows, but the "glass" behaved more like the ever changing liquid spectrum of soap bubbles.

My reverie was only barely broken by Cuthbert's voice bellowing:
Visitor to the Court of her Chromatic Eminence La Valtana--Lady Esteri Gridelin of Leeds!!!
(Lady? since when?)
There followed a strange chiming chorus which can only be described as a horn trying to mate with a xylophone. Figuring this must have been the fanfare, I summoned my inner royalty and did my best curtsey. Cuthbert was standing stark still besides me, looking annoyingly proper.

I saw a...flickering pattern coming towards me from what had seemed like a grotesque sculpture between the tree colonade, and it did not register as anything tangible until it was within a few feet of me. It approached with slow and deliberate grace, and spoke in a warm, musical sort of tone, like if a viola could speak perfect English.

"Welcome! I am honored that you join me today, Esteri."

My eyes were having trouble making sense of what I was seeing. I had the impression of an inordinately beautiful woman, but she was nearly impossible to look at. Her features were constantly changing- blue eyes, green eyes, violet eyes, pale skin, dark skin, pink hair, indigo hair...I won't even get into how mad her robes were. I felt dizzy, and unsure. This must be what doing drugs felt like.

La Valtana smiled gently, seemingly to acknowledge my predicament and her appearance slowly solidified. A tall fair woman with blonde hair and violet eyes gazed down at me from beneath the spread of a perplexing leafy crown with blue stars orbiting it (literally, they were moving). Her clothing was still writhing slightly in appearance-but at least now it looked like a dress. The fabric seemed restless as a leafy brocade spilled playfully about the purple silk upon which words kept appearing and vanishing. Her jewelry was also moving- being that it was primarily made out of butterflies and other winged insects. Her face was framed by a large Elizabethan style collar across which roman numerals slowly paraded, sometimes followed by occasional astrological symbols.

I'd heard numerous descriptions of faeries before, and I decided right then and there that all of them were hopelessly boring. This, by God, was a bloody faery standing in front of me. There was no other explanation. Even most dreams I had didn't have the knackers to be quite so bizarre, so I couldn't possibly be dreaming after all. I was being kidnapped by faeries, yes. That was it!.... Oh bollocks. Am I ever in trouble.

La Valtana regarded me with amused curiousity, as she was apparently watching my thought process. She smiled kindly and said "I understand this must be a lot for you to take in. Please sit with me. I promise to allay all your worries and answer any questions you most certainly must be having about now." She turned to Cuthbert, who was still maintaining maximum court composure by resembling a bloated, flouncy pinata. "Cuthbert, could you please find a seat for our guest and place it over near my chair?" "YES! YES YOUR EMINENCE!" Cuthbert blurted as if speaking was not unlike being constipated.

He scrabbled off to a near corner and returned with a soft plushy green ottoman covered in tassles. He placed it obseqiously next to what was apparently La Valtana's throne- what I had mistaken for a sculpture. "Thank you, Cuthbert." "YOUR EMINENCE!!" His nose was shifting between a striking cobalt blue and a distressed looking blue paisley pattern. La Valtana bent down to his eye level and addressed him gently. "You are free to go now, Cuthbert. If I need your assistance, I shall certainly call for you." She smiled radiantly. The Steward twitched erratically and could only blurt out "Passfelberry!!" as he awkardly toddled off.

La Valtana turned to me and sat gracefully in her seat. "You'll have to excuse poor Cuthbert. He's...a bit smitten. He's one of my newest palace attendants." She said, producing a twisty looking little pot from out of nowhere. She poured liquid from the pot into her hand, where it formed a cup. She continued to pour until the cup was full and with a smile, she handed it to me.

I regarded the cupful of swirling fuschia liquid with severe caution (remembering all the madness that is caused by eating faery food) and just as much curiousity. The smell was seductive- like flowers and grass and midday sunshine on a glistening pool filled with striped fish.
God help me if I should drink the stuff.

La Valtana poured herself a cup of dubious magic fluid as well, sipped it delicately, and then said "Now then Esteri, I imagine you are wondering what this is all about."

Monday, February 23, 2009

An Angry Pudding

I rubbed my eyes, as the dimness I had stepped into didn't seem to be receding. There was a sense of not only visual but textural fuzziness, as my steps weren't finding purchase with any sort of solid surface and my groping hands seemed to close on cottony greyness. It was frightfully annoying. Nevertheless, I had encountered this in dreams before and knew such a condition was not likely to remain so for long. I continued to grope my way forward until I heard a sharp and pompous voice snap "Come on then! You do know how to walk don't you?"

I angrily snapped back "I most certainly do- but I have the habit of doing so ON THE FLOOR. And there doesn't seem to be one here. So I can't exactly walk very well if there's nothing to step on now can I?" The pompous voice heaved a deep sigh and I felt both hands being yanked forward- the rest of my body following like a balloon follows a string. The scene faded into view- a sun dappled hallway lined with tall pillars trimmed in golds and pale greens swam before my eyes and then solidified. "Well you're doing it ALL WRONG." The disembodied voice retorted (with considerable snark, I might add).

I looked off to my left to address the voice to find it no longer disembodied, but inhabiting a short pudding of a man dressed richly in antique looking clothing- and not surprisingly a pair of those dreadful puffy balloon pants that one sees in Elizabethan era portraits. No wonder he was so angry. Anyone in pale lavender poofy pants trimmed in green piping and copious gold ribbons had a right to be. The man rolled his eyes at me, and his nose went blue.

"Cuthbert?" I said tentatively. (and biting my lip hard so as not to laugh)
"That's SIR Cuthbert Bluenose, Palace Steward" said the little man, bowing low in a jiggly sort of way, and removing his hat (which truly did look like the top of a pudding).
"La Valtana has sent me to escort you to her chambers where the audience shall take place." I started to move forward but he stuck out a pudgey arm and snorted "NOT IN THAT."
His beady eyes addressed my pajamaed condition with disdain and he wiped his hands on his poofy pants as if he had just shaken hands with a pile of mucous. "La Valtana is to be treated with the utmost respect and therefore you shall abide by royal decree No. J-78 which clearly states that all visitors must be wearing the appropriate garb in the presence of the Royal Valtarans or they shall be forced to leave the palace."
"Alright...I would love to do so, but I haven't any other clothes."

Cuthbert's nose turned the color of smashed blueberry pie. "No. Other. Clothes. You impossible girl. Don't you know anything?"

"Apparently not, SIR, as I have never been here before and your lovely note did not make mention for me to bring any clothing. Never mind the fact that I couldn't even get-"

"RIGHT! There!!" he said gesturing impatiently at me. I looked down to see I was now wearing courtly attire- a full skirted pale green dress with violet and gold embroidery and sheer violet oversleeves. I was examining my tiny green silk slippers peeking out from beneath the skirt when Cuthbert barked"Next time, do it yourself. It's not rocket science." He turned and strode forward. "This way miss. Waste makes paste. We are not to waste La Valtana's precious time."

He wibbled forward and I followed. (Waste makes paste? Whatever little man.)

The hallway was long, lined with tall windows that were framed by marble pillars, and the floor was tiled in white and green. Sunlight spilled in, but was so bright that I couldn't get a sense of what was outside the windows themselves. There were ornate golden stands holding large flags every few feet, and wallpaper that simply writhed with purple and green brocade flowers on the wall sections behind them. The hall made a turn to the right, and while it was still lined with windows on one side, the other was covered with large portrait paintings of fascinating ladies, all of whom were wantonly encrusted with fabrics and trinkets.

Every portrait was lovelier than the next- each lady was adorned in impossible hues of decadent fabrics, with coiffures that normal gravity would not oblige. I began getting so caught up in the faces, that Cuthbert hrumphed loudly at me and clicked his heels together in frustration at my lagging behind. Continuing on, we approached an enormous door which looked as if the baroque period had vomited gold cherubs in an unseemly fashion all over the front. Cuthbert stepped forward and grasped the handle, which giggled, and pulled the door ajar slightly. He peeked about through the door crack and then turned to me, his nose fading to a pleasing periwinkle. "She is ready for you. I will announce your presence, there will be a fanfare, and you are to curtsey. You know how to curtsey, yes?"
"Right then. After me."
He opened the door wide for me and followed me through.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Postmarked Peili

There was an envelope adhered to the mirror. I was positive I had not seen it when I saw the mirror before, nor when I had first sat down in the seat opposite. I cautiously got up and walked slowly to the mirror, focusing as much on the reflection in it as on the envelope. I didn't trust the place to not change suddenly, as it had proved it could do so in small ways which were not settling well with me.

I pulled the envelope off the mirror surface and examined it. For all intents and purposes it very much resembled a legitimately normal letter, until the markings were examined. It was addressed to me- E. Gridelin, Waiting room No. E76....? Leeds, England. The Outer world.

Bollocks. This was a blasted dream if there ever was. One of those dreams where you try to wake up and you only arrive in another dream where it seems like you've awakened, except your bed is levitating and the ground is tiled in slices of toast slathered with alternating colors of jam.

"Fine. I'm lucid then. I'm in a dream and I know it. Let's make the best of it, shall we?"
(So, I talk to myself. It's fairly normal for me. Don't tell me you don't break into soliloquy when no one else is about?)

Anyhow...the envelope was covered with the prerequisite postmarks and cancellations, but like none I had ever seen. The stamps were lovely if not bizarre, and all of them like the sticker for the return address was for a place called Tirahvaalta. Though my geography was escaping me at the time, I was quite sure that such a place did not exist. Not in the "normal" world anyhow.

But, this was a dream, and it didn't really matter what I thought did or didn't exist. I opened the envelope carefully and pulled out a very formal looking invitation.
It read:

Salutations, Ms. Gridelin.
By great fortune and even greater necessity, Her Peculiar and Chromatic Eminence, Oriel Crespina De Carnate, La Valtana de Tirahvaalta has requested your presence
on this auspicious day;
The 34th of Glockenspiel, to report to the Royal Palace of Peili straightaway.

We look forward to your arrival,

Signed with sincere and honorable regards,
Cuthbert Bluenose, Palace Steward

What does one say to such an invitation? Better yet how does one attempt to get to said destination when there are no doors to be had? Bugger.
I read the invitation again to see if it returned any clues I may have missed. I flipped over the card, peeked inside the envelope, then read the card again. I sighed deeply.

There was a note sticking to the mirror in pompous handwriting.
"My dear thing, DO try the mirror."
I picked off the note and glowered at it. "No reason to get snippy." I spoke aloud at it. I flipped it over.

"And don't forget to bring the book and keys, you silly girl."

I crumpled the paper, annoyed at being harped at by it and tossed it into a corner. I thought I may have heard the note scream quietly as I did so. It made me quite pleased.

After retrieving the book and keys, which I placed back into my pockets, I stood in front of the mirror. "Alright, " I said aloud. I've read "Through the Looking Glass". I'm not daft. All I have to do is step through, right?" Somehow, getting myself to perform the action was not nearly as easy as speaking the idea. Gingerly I put my hand on the surface of the glass, which felt solid at first but then seemed to melt like syrup... and my hand soon disappeared into the surface with a vague ripple. Gathering some courage, I decided that I should take the "quickly like pulling off a bandage approach" and stepped into the mirror.

It was less like stepping through a door than being absorbed by a gelatinous dessert. A fascinating feeling really. I felt myself inside the mirror glass, and turned to look back out of it into the room I had just been in. Everything was tinged an odd bluish green. I turned again and headed forward into the dimness.