“Caress.” I answer the man introducing himself as Curator WEXLOR. Unlike those in the tunnel, his mannerism/outfit appears sophisticated, elegant.
He extends his arm to offer me a chair in a large, two-story office. Giant glass windows looking outward from the building confirms Tereka’s cliffs are too far away to see. On the other side of the room, glass walls reveal what appears to be the halls of an art gallery.
Someone I assume to be his assistant hands him a tablet. He intently reads what’s written on the screen while slowly making his way to a chair behind an elongated desk. “What were you doing sleeping outside, Caress?” he asks not looking up from the screen.
“I fell through the ground__ they were, chasing me.”
He looks up, “You’ve come in hopes for an audition?”
“I was following the lights, on the horizon.”
Reacting as if I answered the question wrong, he places the tablet on the desk, “Where are you from? How did you, get here?”
“I’m from Tereka. I saw the light and climbed down the outer wall. What is this place?”
His suspicious eyes traverse my profile, noting the dirt on my clothing and the bruise across my neck, “What is your business here Caress? Where are your parents?”
“My mother — died__ umm…”
Over my shoulder, a female’s voice, “Now that’s a pity,” introduces a tall, beautiful, immaculately dressed woman parading down the stairs from an upper loft. “Of all the sicknesses that plague the humans, the saddest has to be the one you call death.”
Shocked by her sudden presence, WEXLOR lifts himself from his desk, “Caress, this is her SPECTRESS, FXSCIA.” (fek-see-ya)
“You will have to excuse them,” FXSCIA’s aristocratic tone appears guarded. “They are merely doing as told. Sadly, their zeal for precaution is quite necessary. You would be shocked at the lengths some will go to infiltrate my presence. Just 5 weeks ago one of my own seamstresses tried to stab me through my Ethereal.”
I flinch in surprise. Not sure what to think.
“Yes, I know,” she proclaims in agreement. “Outrageous! Turns out she had a Steelion Dagger surgically embedded in her inner right thigh. Have you ever seen one of those?”
I slowly shake my head, no.
“Well,” she continues, “they’re quite rare. Picture a thin knife with a gripping handle.” Her hands indicate a length of about 6 inches, “It has a sharpened Thorn Crystal at its tip. You hold it with your palm downward.” Making a fist, she jolts her wrist in a chopping motion, causing my eyes to cringe. FXSCIA nods to affirm the violent nature of the conjured image, “She had been walking around with that, thing between her legs for 7 years. Quite the lengths to go through to try and deliver someone’s end, don’t you think?”
My attention is grabbed by an attendant slipping up to my side. I am prompted to extend my arms outward as he begins to scan my body with a glowing wand.
“Now,” FXSCIA continues, “some would argue the opportunity was my fault in the fact that seamstresses are, or I should say were, not to talk in my presence. And, there is really no need to make eye contact with them, right?” her rhetorical tone implying a common understanding. “So, her means of concealment was quite simple. All they needed to do was to get her on the inside. And do you know what that means?” Her face washes with annoyance, “It means I am now forced to interact with my seamstresses.”
Pausing in trying to acknowledge her implication, I mumble, “I’m sorry__ I don’t know if I understand.”
With a gamesmanship-like delight, FXSCIA is happy to explain, “Most lies blossom through voice inflection; makes the truth among commons quite easy to discern. If it’s not there, then the vast majority will give it away in the movement of their eyes. A simple conversation will reveal intent.”
“You know…” FXSCIA raises her finger in discovery of a new notion. “You know who I would send?” Her eyes flex dramatically, “A deeply committed actress. They spend the majority of their life masquerading as someone else, usually because they possess so much self-hatred, but anyway… A truly great actress would have mastered body language, vocal tones, perhaps charm. You would sense that there is something not quite right, but you might dismiss your suspicion, concluding that she merely has a deep-seeded personality disorder.” FXSCIA humorously raises her eyebrow and continues, “could be a real challenge.”
Playfully turning to WEXLOR, she casts her voice, “Right up there with the Patriarch’s." WEXLOR agrees with a smile, enabling her to continue, “The politicians. Now that is where the realsport is. They can look you right in the eye, smiling as they spindle a harmonious blend of deception to your face, all the while, carefully placing their surrogates right up next to you, ready to strike.”
The scanning admin returns with a new device, sticking his fingers underneath my chin, propping my head up while swiping the instrument downward. A trail of misty light displays a holographic shape of my face, momentarily suspended in mid-air as geometric details are searched for identification.
Flattening her voice with an inflection for conducting business FXSCIA asks, “What about you?” Her suddenly cold eyes stare directly at me while restating her thesis as a serious inquisition, “How would you do it?”
“How would I…?” I ask.
“How would you dispatch an assassin?” she snaps.
“Oh...” My intimidated voice cracks “I don’t...”
“Just go with it my dear,” she commands. “Entertain me. Take a stab__ figuratively speaking.”
Feeling uneasy, I am at a loss for what to say. In the corner of my eye I can see WEXLOR beginning to empty the contents of my backpack onto his desk. FXSCIA’s eyes glare into me in razor sharp observation. My voice can’t help but squirm, “Why would I want to…”
“Ah, motivation. Yes!” Abruptly her mood becomes playful again, “Let's say, personal ambition? A thirst for power? Simple jealousy? Maybe there has been stagnation in your lineage and you seek an advancement in class. Perhaps THE ELDER has banished your family and you want revenge. I don't know, pick one.” Turning her head sideways, she raises her hands in a theatrical pose. “Maybe you just don't like the color of my hair.”
WEXLOR comes across my flute, holding it up to alert FXSCIA.
Sensing the suspicion, I avoid playing along, “I can’t imagine...”
“Oh! A vessel of innocence,” FXSCIA raises her brows to imply the premise as my suggestion. “I see where you are going. Someone oblivious to the undertow of power structures, generational vendettas… That's good__ There would be very little to detect, yes? The means of delivery could be unknown, maybe even unintended.” She watches WEXLOR inspect the flute’s use as a possible weapon and continues, “So, tragic death in the family. You wander away from home, alone. And by sheer chance, stumble upon the gates of ELEVAIN, the single most exclusive gallery of cultivated human artists, flute in-hand, AND it just happens to coincide with my annual visit.”
Slipping from her insinuation, I deny, “I am not here to… I wasn’t sent...”
“Of course not,” a deadened look falls on her face now serious. “Because there would be a significant flaw with that approach, hmmm? A plan to send an artist would be burdened with a fundamental weakness.”
Tightening her gloves, she takes the flute from WEXLOR and begins her own inspection. “The late great GLREFL was the original architect for the entry level of TYKRON's decade hand and unveiled a design for this massive archway, a series of support structures that looked like curved sharp teeth. If you were to walk through it you could easily feel like you were being eaten, an absolute monstrosity, hideous. And while the architectural community was in awe, marveling at its precision, the rest of us were__ disturbed. It highlights the difference between disciplinary eloquence and aesthetic appeal.” A quick glance towards an attendant has him swiftly place a chair directly in front of me. “The design was of course rejected, but I convinced THE ELDER to see to it GLREFL was given the TimingStar for Excellence in Engineering." Gracefully taking her seat, she leans in close, lowering her voice in a manner of intimacy, “Regardless of one’s appetite for the arts and whether or not you like someone's performance or style, there is one thing about expression that doesn't exist in any other aspect of our lives.”
Understanding her implication, I acknowledge, “The truth.”
FXSCIA’s eyes light up in delightful surprise, “Precisely.” I watch her pause for a moment, puzzled by her intuition. “GLREFL's design was a success in being able to convey his vision. A look into his state of mind, which was eating itself alive.”
FXSCIA gracefully cups the flute with both hands, momentarily looking across its surface before lifting her eyes into a piercing stare, “With expression therein lies transparency. So, if you don’t mind,” extending her arms, she hands the flute to me, “I would like to be enlightened.”