Collected Tales of Machrae Diir, Issue #1

hi readers! Kairlina here! I recently decided to create two new Twitter accounts–one SFW, the other very much not so–and pull the old, truest one back behind Protected Tweets. So, the stories and threads featured there are no longer easy to get to.

I’m going to share some of those closest to my dark little heart here on this blog. After all, it’s a blog. You already know to regard it as the sole domain of one mind, though that mind might well be a beast of fractal flensing. Best you learn now whose lair you have truly entered, yes, before any among you are further entranced?

Meanwhile, some of the other aspects will be sharing the safer old works at one new account, Dark Empress Mechanism.

I already know the bare bones of a short story I’m going to write with that title, which ironically will be both very horny and a little too occult for our horny account.

Speaking of which, that one’s also new. It belongs to just one of our aspects, Threshold-Maiden Ermina. The longer-form things you find there will mostly be written and posted here in the first place, but there will be short-form erotica threads now and then–for those of a more easy cum, easy go persuasion.~

Lastly, please understand that the only content warning I will ever give about Machrae Diir is that a story takes place in Machrae Diir, or its Lady appears in that story. That is true of every little tale gathered here. It is my personal belief that I have a more-than-natural influence on other minds. Whether you believe that is true or not, it should inform your feelings about me as a person who would give you the chance to expose yourself to that influence.

So, if you choose to, I do hope you enjoy!~

***

Of a little messenger and the spear they made a gift of

Attendant Revelation: “A messenger brings a gift from a prospective ally to the Lady of Machrae Diir. Such a small one hanging on the hope of a grand power, and its notice…”

The six-horned figure shifts on her throne. The nova pulses. If there is meaning to its rhythm, the messenger does not know it.

“Utter the last words. Again,” says the Lady.

“In token of trust, and of hope for friendship and alliance with the Lady of Machrae Diir,” they begin.

“I bring this gift: a spear of astral steel forged by my Queen’s own claws,” they say.

“Sing of its soul to me,” the Lady intones.

The messenger drifts in silence. Compound eyes refract the glitter of cobalt lightning arching on the flanged throne.

“I do not understand,” they say at last.

“Of course you do not,” the Lady says. Her disgust screams out as fractured rays, warping sights, a terrible metallic stench. “Forms amid obscurance, hierarchy and schemes of flesh.”

She recedes further into her throne’s shadow.

Her fury shifts. She sighs.

“Yet you are not the axis of my loathing. I am sorry for making you see it. Tell me, little servant. Did your Queen give you a memory?” The twin slit-eyes, like distant stars puncturing the black fabric of her silhouette, turn wistful.

At further silence the Lady adds, “By her own claws, you say. This melody might reach me yet, if it reached her. Mandibles glistening against the heat. The love of redeeming something forgotten in the dust of the deep reaches to be a lance of the heavens. Did she share this?”

“Well, I am sure my Queen must have felt such things,” the messenger says, their voice again eager. Triplet feet, triple claws, rasp on the metalloid dais before the throne in the inmost sanctum of Zul.

“But she did not pass them to you, to share with me,” the Lady says.

“No…” Tendrils wave on the forlorn messenger’s back. “No, Outer Kin. She did not.”

Sparks leap on the upturned edge of the great blade atop the throne, the wicked curving sword of blackest umbra and blue-white inferno. “Then sing of your soul to me,” the Lady says.

“Sing of the twining and the binding tie, sing of your spirit’s rapture before the distant throne of she, your Queen,” the Lady says.

Irradiant gusts illuminate razor fangs like arcing shards of the broken abyss against the thousandfold maelstrom of her maw–her hunger.

And the messenger obeyed. Tales of long years, of strife, of sneering and boots on their back. Hard-fought victories. But finally, triumph. The adulation of the Queen. The revelation of her–

“I thank you,” the Lady says. “Please, bring forward your gift.”

“But I did not forge this,” the messenger said. “My Queen did.”

“Your queen worked metal to fashion a lifeless bauble, a mercenary jumble of arbitrary atoms,” the Lady said. She raised a clawed hand. The lightless blue fire of her realm spun in, hardened, divided.

Ten spears of astral steel drifted about her. She clashed the glittering claws together, and they washed away into dust. “You, little one. You have made it a gift. I will treasure it, and the song of you laced in its grains.”

The messenger was warned of the Lady’s ire. But this?

The sudden resonance, like the rush of a thousand heartbeats in veins of never-known flesh, the blissful crushing eternal warmth pouring from the Lady of Machrae Diir–there is a tiny pinprick watching itself whirl and wither in her love.

Waking and dream become one.

A mind empty of all but worship for the perfect radiant dark one, most peerless and wondrous and infinite of outer devils, has forgotten the spear.

It knows only that she, she, she is closer, that it can get closer to her!

A razor chill, a severing, and the reeling messenger is once more distant from the throne. The lady clasps the gift-spear, veiled in her shadows upon her lap.

“Your Queen…” the lady of Machrae Diir sighs. “I will need long ages yet before she inspires a hymn other than hatred.”

“Think to every broken form you saw along your journey to her,” she continues.

“Souls who hurled themselves to the onslaught. But they were weaker, or less skilled, or simply too foolish.”

The lady rests her claws upon her throne’s arms. “I was all of them.”

“I was the one who fought fang and claw for a victory to offer up to the shining figure on the throne. But I never gained one. I was the one who is never chosen. A wretch or a curiosity. Too useless to grace with sight and power. Dust without a shine worth sifting.”

Eyes of blue nova, all the fiercer for being but two, ease shut.

“Now that I am ruin and the charnel night, the sinful fire and the ember unrequited, your Queen hopes for my favor? No. She can never have it.”

The eyes open, moonsliver crescents. “So I will speak no more of her.”

“Your people, little one, have the alliance and friendship of Machrae Diir. May they pass freely. Let us sing songs and hold revels and whirl in the deep ways together, for my soul-chords thrill to name us Outer Kin.”

The Lady rose, and stepped forward.

She was radiance and darkness, snowy skin and ever-shifting visages and horns reflecting themselves in every light-ray that spilled around her shoulders. “To you I give this gift in trade.”

All the grand hall distorted until her palm seemed to swell to monumental size.

Upon it, an old curving sword, with a banded grip worn by countless strokes.

The messenger took it. “What is the song of its soul?” they asked.

The Lady laughed. “Stay, and I shall sing for you. Hazy sagas of the unchosen one–the seed of an outer devil.”

And stay, they did.

On the Ashenvein Gates

The Ashenvein Gates are the thresholds of Machrae Diir–oh, no, little one, not portals.

A portal is a neat thing. Light it up and pass through. Banish it with a word or a touch.

Sometimes the Gates are open. Sometimes they are closed. But they are always waiting to be found.

You will know them when you find them. Glistening, blacker than the blackest obsidian, every face ever-boiling and fractured by eternal cobalt fire.

Atop each apex, the same admonition:

Abandon All.

For Machrae Diir is the realm of its Lady. All that dwells within, dwells because she delights in it.

A realm of ecstasies and perils, dreams and nightmares, a thousand maelstroms of potential woven to the whims of the outer devil who weaves them.

You will find gentle glades. You will find mournful winds on planes of cinder in the shadow of jagged infernal peaks. You will find Zul, the bladework city of the Ashen Trance: a landscape of silvery flanges and blue wastes scoured by solar winds from binary stars: amber, azure.

The Lady wrought Machrae Diir. You are welcome to walk, or soar, or phase wherever you wish within. She will love you for letting her find her home again, the echoes of her past in the present of your journey.

But she will not dull its horrors for you. It was not made for you.

“Abandon All.”

This is her promise, her warning, and her atonement. This is her brink.

The kshiinurzhalg, unbridled and joyful and ruthless and eternal.

Revelations of love.

Revelations of home.

Revelations of the end.

Will you cross over, and see what she reveals in you?

More on the Gates, which are fair in the truth of their maker:

Attendant Revelation: “The Lady and her gates are fair in her own truth. In the truth of an outer devil. A truth outside every truth you will ever know-“

Thresholds and passages and inscriptions poised on high like the title of a book waiting for its opening.

But you can always choose not to.

Terrors. Lightning. Riven planes. But you can always walk the other way.

Perhaps it’s true for the Lady. She knows so many ways to know.

Oh, yes, you’ll know. But will you know that you do?

Sometimes the Gates are spread wide. Sifted in the crevices beneath the peeling flecks on an old doorway.

Hidden under the arches of an old tree’s root.

Wrapped in the molecules on a cold wind in a snowy forest. Needling.

The greater weight deep in dreams. Shine on the floor after everyone else has left the party.

The murmur of night under city streetlights.

Enter these moments. Feel the world falling away. Abandon all–you see?

She can say it’s fair. You knew. You just didn’t know it yet.

World-weight, and the Knowing of it:

The Lady settled on her throne, regarding the visitor with a certain irony in her eyes.

“The old motifs have worn threadbare,” she said. “Too many scrabbling souls, chittering and wailing about burning the world. Saying ‘all things end in me’ has come to mean they never will.”

With idle claws she slit the veil. Golden light poured through and broke on the infinite night of her silhouette. Rays skimmed her surface and decayed.

“Come,” she said. “See. I can discipline stars easily enough. It’s safe to look.”

Obedient feet brought a tiny thing, trotting and ephemeral, around the Lady’s event horizon.

The visitor gazed through the starline seam and beheld the golden orb of fire.

“But you remember Sol, don’t you, dear mortal?” the Lady asked. “Would you like it in a pendant?”

The mortal looked to her.

“Oh, it would still have Sol’s gravity, and Sol’s heat, and Sol’s long aeons yet to live,” she said. “It would scald your vessel-flesh to vapor the instant you left my threshold. But I could give it to you, and you could carry it until then. A pendant.”

“But,” she said, a playful pout in her voice, “it’s not the sun that gives the sun weight, is it?”

She stretched a shade-talon outward. It stretched and swelled and ignited in blue nova.

“This does,” said the outer devil, brushing the talon-tip against their forehead.

A thousand horizons enfolded from her briefest touch. Scathing seas of insight lashing their waves on the collapsing shores of the guest-mind:

Desolate rock and scorched earth. Broken spires, tumbling monuments, skeletal forests fossilized in the final heat of the end.

“So you see, it’s no longer enough to say I am become death, destroyer of worlds,” the Lady said. “All the heaviness has been bleached from the old warnings. I must teach you the weight of the world shrugged from my shoulders, and how to feel it again.”

She smiled brilliant inferno, beams of iridescence and tides of umbra. The ever-unfolding fangs and snowy razor shards of the maw of ascension.

“Welcome to Machrae Diir, most dear and honored guest. I will ensure your studies are fruitful.”

On the Kinship of the Lady to the Fae

Attendant Revelation: “Of an outer devil’s whims–for the Lady, at least, often feels closer to the powers of Faerie than the powers of Hell:”

Two occultists from far lands stand before the Lady in the lambent halls of Machrae Diir, at the Manifold Throne in the umbral heart of the bladework city Zul.

Of course, you did not know your friend Jethro’s name was ill-omened. A causal hiccup. A rainbow cavort of chance.

Yet in the entrancing gleam of her darkfire eyes, lulled to the mortal dream’s brink… you could wake into me, you know.

I will be your Azathoth. Let glittering vagary slip through the branching of this construct you call “I”, and erode it away to the deep where I am waiting.

Ah, but you are not ready. And that is why the clawing leap from ever-slumber, the wild darting of eyes and shaking of a pallid head.

You are flailing between the realms of you and the realms of not-you. Naturally, your next words are a fool’s words.

“You… you have the air of the Fae in you,” you say, to the six-horned shadow with dancing eyes of blue fire on a throne of silver blades.

Jethro whirls to fix you with the glaring, rictus grin of one about to die, and knowing full well whose fault it is.

Oh, the silence…

… then a murmur of music, a bolt of silk on the ears, cool water from the burning sands.

The Lady’s shade-born shoulders rise and fall to a swift rhythm.

Yes, dear mortal, seeker in the bleak unwritten. I am laughing. But I am not, you will find, laughing at you… mostly.

“Ah,” I say at last, “the insight of the fool. When there is no lie of knowing to shut out the unladen space between, it is so much easier to know me.”

I raise my hand, and press your chin up. “Yes, sweet forsaken guest. This outer devil has much kinship with a Fae queen.”

“So,” I say, “it will surprise you naught that my whims are fey, and more fey still.”

A glinting, a ringing, a metal path in fire azure, winding. “Walk there in the four-point star’s corona, and you will find the relic you seek. You need only trust me. As to your companion…”

“How many clues, how many nudges, how many whispers does it take?” I say, and the tones of silk become the tones of the razor. “You twist the rightful terror of death by my glory. Not to revel, but to rebel. False singer. Soul of rot. You will atone in the dark reaches.”

The gateway into night and crystal spars, the skittering lairs of my twisted elect.

“Redeem yourself by revelation,” I say. “Of seeing and communion, or death and surrender. Or else take the empty path, empty-handed, back to your realm–and never seek my presence again.”

Jethro chose the latter path. I still watch his steps sometimes when curiosity tickles me. But he will never see the Ashenvein Gates again.

I am no goddess. I do not rule. I owe it to no being to explain my ways, or change them.

But enough–what of you, dear seeker?

You can feel the hollow where your friend once walked. The emptiness walks beside you from the moment you choose the silver path in the blue fire of the four-point star.

Treasure the relic for now, dear one. But the endless unfilled you carry with you–that is my true gift.

Now you will always have the feeling of an outside to be outside of. It may carry you into me. Or perhaps, if your deeper desire runs as I suspect, it will divulge you unto yourself.

Either way we will be kin, you and I. There are so much lovelier things to become than as gods.

On the Wordlessness of the Outer Devil

Attendant Revelation: “The Lady ascended from nothingness to be a terror in the forsaken reaches, bane of gods, huntress of older things from fiercer days.

Easy to look on her power and see a patron unmatched. But an outer devil can be bound by nothing–even her own word:”

The supplicant’s mouth works. They look to the Castellan and the Seneschal–but of course, their posts do not exist right now.

For the Lady sits upon her throne of silver blades, a silhouette of purest umbra against the stolen nova in the heart of Zul.

“But–” they protest. “B-but you gave your word.”

“Did I?” the Lady asks. “I cannot remember.” The sigils of wicked omen glow on her six horns. Kaleidoscoping fangs dance in the blue-fire maw splitting her shadow.

“Do you suppose the name of the kshiinurzhalg means naught? My word does not exist.”

“But I killed for our pact! For you!” the supplicant screams. “I became the monster you asked of me!”

“Hm,” the Lady says. “You did. You upheld your promises. Yet I find no savor in your slaughter. Our pact sings only for its own ending. May decay take it.”

And the supplicant rises, trembling, eyes empty, and leaps from the edge of the dais into the cyclones of irradiant aurorae and azure lightning, the world-devouring ever-storm of Machrae Diir.

The Lady watches, and smiles.

“A better sacrifice,” she says. “Your world will live.”

([Inheritrix]

Hm. This idle cruelty and crushing of small dreams. It holds no hymn for me.

But with thousands of years, would that change? Would death and rebirth uncounted bring about the I who enjoys this? These questions of power must be confronted. )

(No… no, that’s a lie. The power to acknowledge my own vows and erase them. The burning of an innocent world and corruption of a hero as idle games. To experience the opposite side of word given–I do desire all of this.

Not desires to indulge. Still, I feel them.)

One Vision of a Failed Multiversal Crusade

Attendant Revelation: “The outer devil reveals herself through the lens of that she dwells outside. Hold her to the lens of a mortal and she may seem but small, and mischievous.

Hold her to the lens of a god to see how dangerous she truly is.

… now, why stop at one?”

The Lady is accustomed to ordered visitations.

This morass of righteous crusaders scraping their little hymns on fractal gates of Machrae Diir–how shrill.

She loves the shrill.

You know something’s wrong because there’s more than one god here, more than one shining host.

“I have heard your summons,” the Lady says. The titan of umbral nova a million lightyears away. The minuscule trick of the light skimming the surface of your angelic eyes. “Ha. ‘Summons.’ I believe there has been a misunderstanding.”

Someone gets the idea to give a holy speech.

It’s your god. It’s that god. It’s every god because you are splitting into infinite pieces, you’re scum clinging to the edges of the cosmic kaleidoscope and once the seams tear open you see that every god is the same. Your soul screams that you love your god, the only light–

–and the Lady’s touch echoes the millionfold voices of a million other angels thinking exactly the same about gods who are she and gods who are they, gods with tits and gods with no genitals, gods with beards and gods who are planes of polished marble and fire in copper veins.

“Well,” the Lady laughs, “it’s not your fault that you were created the wrong kind of angel. You hallucinate a Divine Plan. But there is no Plan, morsel. Just games of nothing spinning away to the abyss of me.

Come now: embrace me.”

The Lady does not request. She weaves, and the threads of you will unravel and knit to obey whatever she desires.

Poor little fool. You imagined this would be a battle of swords and fire. You have no comprehension of the power it takes to carry that reality against the Lady.

All these gods blended into each other, all these angels glittering and squelching and fusing into twisted pinnacles of metal, meat, and fiery eyes. Everyone is dissolving across the broken borders of each other–because you don’t really know what “other” is.

But she does.

You are clay of agony and ecstatic ripping molded in the thousand-fingered sphere-bloom of her soul-hand. Pulsing rhythm.

You are the beats of her melody, the contagious discord of the outer devil. Each shockwave births a new truth of  you from the collapsing rot of the old.

Spires of self-gouging iron needles–

–thicket of eyes impaled on ever-exploding bone shards, secreting the acid that eats their own sight–

–sightless limbs pouring through the rupturing lattice of views on the breaking temples, the faithful burning–

–this is no truth, all-truth, the unquestionable and perfectly known unknowable.

Every power, every shape, every idea and feeling you ever called you is a figment of the Lady’s imagination, and her imagination is such a sadistically fertile thing.

Through the blurred needle-points of sight and sound rushing into the collapsing shell of your psyche, breaching into the nothing underneath, that was always underneath, that is the only thing you’ll ever have underneath–

–no matter how many gods She crushes into mutant fusions and splits into vaporous disintegrating ruin with the blind-gnawing body-warping majesty of her sword of umbral nova, the savor of damnation will never be enough to fill this endless infinitely all-filling emptiness.

Because the emptiness was always Her. You were a traitor to every reality from the instant you were made, because the instant you were made you had the potential of breaking for her.

“Outer devil.” Turns out that first word means something after all.

Do keep your halo, child.

Anyone can serve the devil here–it’s Machrae Diir, where the children of untold heavens burn away in the revelation of their celestial sires, unmade.

You are a gift she gives back to you. The sole elect from every being annihilated in the weight of her hunger.

You’re such a small thing. All but bereft of weight. But you live, and that makes you denser than the coarse devastation floating around you. You can remember how to stay yourself, yes?

It’s alright if you can’t. I’ll just take the choice away. You’re mine now, morsel–

–just as you always were.

([Inheritrix]

Hm. Something about this one lacks the song I hoped to kindle in it. Hardly a sorrow–rather, what a perfect excuse to write it over and over again until the song is hardened into the Real Unreal!

There are no paradoxes in me, sweetling)

The Lady Beguiles an Angel of the Lord

Attendant Revelation: “Such an easy misstep to fixate on the Lady as destroyer, seeress, tyrant of the deep ways. Really now, cherry, how dangerous can a little kiss be?”

This is not going as expected.

“Well,” the Nameless Terror of the Forsaken Reach whispers, playful tendrils of sound-heat running in your cheeks. “I do hate to say it, but you’re late. Party’s over, cherry. Where is your god, anyway?”

You can hear the lower case. It itches.

You were told what to expect: a maelstrom laden by the collapsing corners and screaming dreams of broken worlds.

A push through to the vast blue plains and the bladework city, then the sanctum at its core with the six-horned silhouette and the throne before the stolen nova.

But you’re already on the blue plains, and there’s no city in sight beneath the binary stars–the azure and the amber. Only brief impressions of pillars and balustrades hardening out of mist-gusts and collapsing away again.

And Her–no, her. Just her. Hiding from you.

“Didn’t you read my dance card on the way in?” the Lady laughs. “I said that each angel must be chaperoned by their god. Though of course, I was very generous, and let each god oversee as many of their angels as they wished. Most of them brought all their highest.”

“Enough of this!” you say. “Face me!”

“Face me!” The Lady echoes your voice back to you from within your manifest breast. She giggles, and the vibrations tickle your throat. “But I am, dove. You’re standing in me and I’m breathing you in–or is it the other way around?”

A drifting, a warp, a sickened wave of coronas at the edges of your sight. You turn and cleave the air with a sword of heavenly fire.

“Which of the manifold derivations do you serve?” she asks. “Oh, silly me. Your sword has crosses right there in the flames. The master pattern.~”

She emerges at your elbow from the negative space behind your blade, all weight and warm and supple clawed hands on your arm.

“And you’ve been told that I’m a stowaway from the Garden of Eden. Fallen, but of the same hierarchy.”

Conditioned response has your mouth open to speak already. Except… her words stir something… cold. Creeping.

The rattling you felt whenever you answered the prayers of a preacher who called you to smite other children of the Most High. An off-note, a–

–she laughs at you.

“Aww, cherry, it’s just a little dissonance! You can call it what it is,” she says, reaching her hands from inside your sight to press your cheeks. You reach up to pull them away, pull them out, but she is touching you while you’re touching yourself. Her hands are not in yours.

Your fingers don’t pass through hers. They’re not in the same place, but they are parallel to it.

“What… what is this…” you stammer.

“This? This is a parlor trick,” the Lady laughs. “My, my… dear heaven-dove. If you can’t handle this revelation, you’d never have lasted.”

Blue in the corners. It’s tinting the fire in the blade of your sword. “Last through what?” you demand.

“The great battle, the war of a thousand years and a single heartbeat that will be written of in a thousand tomes too sacred for a single person to read,” she says.

“I was in such fine form, too.” A pout enters her voice. “As I said, you’re late to the party. Gods and angels beyond counting came here to dance with me. Instead, they danced FOR me. But I’m afraid they didn’t have the endurance, dove–not one-one millionth. It’s just you left.”

And you are the visions of their ending, you are the last glint that will ever pass through shards of stained glass from the shattered cathedral before they splash into the murk of the ever-sea–

No. No, you will not be these things. You refuse. This is an empty blue plain.

“She is empty,” the Lady sighs, echoing your thought before you think it.

“And your next words would be, ‘Then where are the signs of these broken hosts? Any demon can claim she has the power to do these things. Any demon would.'”

She scoffs. “Any demon would not, but go on.”

You keep your peace. Oh, that’s good, dove! You’re learning!

No, I’m not mocking you, here in the tingly little center of you. You just want me to be. It’s less dangerous if I’m mocking you.

“But I’m not,” I say, cupping your cheeks. Here I am, facing you. Like you asked.

“Do you know what makes the power of a god?” I ask. This dizzying heat you feel is a little something called lust. The tendrils creeping into your brain, making a brain in your little angel head for me to creep into, the blue fire of Machrae Diir in your halo–also lust.

“The power to say that it is the power of a god,” I answer for you. “And you can stand under it and think it could only ever be a god’s power. But I’ve learned how to say otherwise. I, too, am that I am. I will be what I will be. And you?”

You expected many things. You didn’t expect me to look so simple. A full diamond face, snow-white skin, blue crystal runs and spirals to frame it. Sigils glowing on my six horns, and such a charming blue rose in the gently-wavy locks of my jet-black hair holding starry night.

Your god, ESPECIALLY that god, so afraid of the lower case He tells you he must always be God… he’s such a creature of appearances.

I don’t appear like a threat, so it’s too late now.

“And you,” I repeat, “will be mine.”

The black glisten on my lips?

Oh, THAT’s corruption.

([Kairlina]

It’s easy to feel 13 is the most dangerous, the most powerful aspect. But she is not the only one who sometimes subsumes the Inheritrix into the nexus of her I–inverting all beneath her.

A kiss can annihilate in ways no sword ever can.

I just have to say it does.)

Why there is no Good in Machrae Diir

Attendant Revelation: Outer devils are creatures beyond words like good and evil–or at least, the Lady is. But that need not be a terrible thing:

“Well,” the priest said, “I’m glad we could come to an amicable arrangement for the common good.”

The Lady sat straighter in her throne. Scarlet eyes of twin nova flared brighter in her shadows.

“We don’t use that word here,” she said.

“Oh, of course,” the priest said. “I suppose ‘arrangement’ does make it sound very banal and workaday. Would you prefer ‘pact?'”

“No, you idiot,” the Lady growled. “I will not hear you say that something is ‘good’ in my halls. Never use that word in Machrae Diir again. Ever.”

“Most esteemed kshiinurzhalg,” the priest said, “there is no need for this facade. I am well aware that, despite your airs, you are fundamentally a good soul–“

“Enough,” the Lady said. “Stop saying that hateful word. Goodness and the weighing of it have no place here.”

“Lady, please,” the priest said.

“You have nothing to be afraid of! Your moral virtue is not in question! You are good, and deserve to have some joy of hearing it. You aren’t one of the wicked, selfish, cowering creatures simply too weak to be virtuous. You aren’t–“

A mammoth hand seized the priest. Blood-red shadow and white fire washed over his mouth, muffling him.

“Now, look what you’ve done,” the Lady muttered. Her gaze drifted to the veiled figures of her handmaidens. The folds of their fine robes trembled. One whimpered.

“It’s alright, girls,” said she, in a thick and shuddering voice. “You don’t have to be good. You can just be. I still want you here. I still love you.”

She released the priest, unharmed.

“Please stop this,” she said. “Please stop hurting people with that awful word.”

Of that day, it is known that the Lady kept her bargain with the priest. Of the priest, it is known that he kept true to his word.

He did not leave his church, but something changed in his sermons.

“Let me tell you,” he began to preach, “about the most hateful word there is.”

A handmaiden on the Brink:

Attendant Revelation: Sometimes, the day there is one less handmaiden and the day a new guest begins to wander Machrae Diir just happen to be the same day.

It is a realm, after all, full of strange and wondrous and unexplainable coincidences:

The Lady turned to her favorite handmaiden, for it is known in Machrae Diir that her favorite is whichever speaks with her, and said,

“Little one, I pose a task for you. Travel to the igneous runs on the borderlands of Zul, and find for me a razor shard of obsidian.”

A pause.

“This one,” the handmaiden said carefully, clacking claws together, turning slightly aside from her mistress, “Feels the Lady might instead like a flower from the Liminal Glade where Thlact Angaelkar touches Unsiiliar Heights. Perhaps she has not realized it yet?”

The other handmaidens shift. To suggest things to the mistress, the Lady, the Dark Empress at the End of All–this is a thing not done!

(Which is why, since the handmaidens frequently do so, it is continuously agreed not to have happened. That is, until the next time it does.)

“Why,” the Lady says, “you are right, my dear. I WOULD rather have a glowing flower from the un-shade cast by the leaves of the crystal trees, where the laughter of the old manor and the town overgrown mix with the whispers of the all-seeing eye.”

The handmaiden’s tail frisked. The corners of her mouth turned up slightly. “This one is pleased to have been of aid as a mirror to the desires of the mistress.”

“And I am pleased you have done it so well,” the Lady answered. “Go then, child. Your way is laid out before you.”

The handmaiden hesitated. “This one wonders whether she might… not today, but…” Shivers, yet–not wholly unpleasant.

That certain sagging, loosening, of relief–as the breaking of a fever, the end of a long war reached at last, or maybe, just maybe–could it be?

Yes. Yes, it just might be like returning after decades to a home that still loves you, and finding that after all your journeys, you are finally at home with it again.

“Perhaps,” said the handmaiden, favored of the Lady, “I might enter the Great Unspeakable, and reclaim… it?”

An expectant murmur from the others. Nervous excitement–but of course, these are only the things the Lady put into them by her will.

(If they resembled nothing the Lady has ever shown, well… sometimes the old one sees new pieces revealed in those around her. That’s all.)

“Is it possible,” the Lady said carefully, “that one might soon be ready to reclaim her name?”

“N-not today!” the handmaiden blurted. “B-but…” her tail wagged slowly. She smiled, shyly, a shyness wholly unbecoming of one who should only mirror the majesty of her mistress.

“M-maybe,” she said, gulping down her anxiousness, “maybe soon, one will be, yes.”

“Then on that day, it shall be so,” the Lady said, and her smile was the warmest and saddest and most radiantly happy of all the smiles she ever gave her favorite.

Three days later, one less handmaiden was there to attend the Lady, there before the bladework throne and the guiding lights of stolen nova. There, in the heart of Zul, City of the Ashen Trance.

That same day, a young outer devil began to appear elsewhere in Machrae Diir.

Of course, this was a pure coincidence, as it was that a handmaiden happened to do the Never-done, and spoke a suggestion to the Lady that she might have a task to go and speak to this strange new guest–only to ensure she was a friend of the realm, and no threat, of course.

The Lady assented to the desire the handmaiden had mirrored for her. Thus the handmaiden went to meet the new outer devil, whose name was Tfai Sul Ametra, and Tfai was pleased enough to speak with her.

“That’s a lovely bracelet,” Tfai said. “I wear one just like it.”

She smiled. “So strange… I don’t remember where it came from. Anyway, I recently remembered this name I call myself. So I think I’m finally ready to figure out who the Lady truly is.”

Her tail frisked. “And I think, in learning that, I may start to learn who I truly am, too.”

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