The Red King


cardinal_icon.gif delia2_icon.gif dema_icon.gif

Scene Title The Red King
Synopsis A game of chess between a red king and a lowly pawn turns into a more frightening affair for the peasant. When serpents swallow rats, only shadows are left to tell the tale.
Date November 18, 2010

The Shadowlands

The air is dry, filled with the smoke pouring from the steaming mountains in the distance. The moon arely visible, peeking through the constant cover of ash and rolling thunderclouds which rumble disagreeably every once in a while. Unlike its neighboring kingdom, this one isn't lush and beautiful, it's spoiled with the smell of rotting eggs. Sulfur.

Wanderers in the dark are forced to use torches, oil lamps, or go blind for the road has no lamps along the way. One such traveler has built her own, a small flame from the top of an oil soaked rag, tied around a stick. Her white cotton dress is clean-ish, having been washed in a spring some time ago. How long? She doesn't know anymore. Her bare feet show the weight of her travels and on her back what is possibly a weapon of some kind is wrapped in the fur of an animal and strapped to her back.

She's tired of walking and it shows.

The road marker isn't the same as most of the others she's seen. Piled stones of obsidian that have been carved with crude symbols point in directions where no road leads and so she sticks to the paths worn by wagon wheels. Where they lead to, she has no clue.

A small fire by the side of the road ahead might be cause for her to be wary, the Shadowlands have been touted a dangerous place unfit for anyone but the most tried of warriors. Delia isn't one of those, not by far, but her feet have brought her here and forward is the only direction available to her. There never is any turning back because the way she came is barred.

The fire is manned by a hunched figure. Broken and bent, he pokes at the coals to coax a little more flame from them without wasting any of the wood that has become so precious in these parts. His face is indistinguishable but the barbed crown on his head would lead one to believe that he is a king of sorts. A red one.

Sullen crimson sparks spit up from the coals beneath the prodding of the tatterdemalion king's twisted stick, tiny embers stirring upwards on the draft of the fading fire, twirling upwards towards the ashen darkness of the heavens. The stick lifts as if to prod once more - and then stops still, the shadowed visage of the Red King turning to regard the approaching woman. one gloved hand lifts, splaying before his eyes as if the lamp that she carries blinds him.

"You've come to the wrong land, pilgrim," he says in tired, weary tones, "There's nothing to be found here but shattered dreams and murdered futures."

A quick glance around would confirm his statement, if she could see anything, but the young woman has nowhere else to go. This is where she was led, this is where she must be. Stepping forward another couple of steps, she lowers the torch in her hand and tries to make out the features of the man in the crown. Should they be illuminated by the circle of light, she doesn't recognize him, not even the faintest sense of memory stirs within her blue-grey eyes.

"There's nowhere else," she begins as she pulls the pack from her back with one hand. It swings heavily to her side and dangles from the curl of her fingers. Inside the roll of fur a distinct glint of precious metal can be seen. "Can I sit for a little while? I'm.. I'm tired."

"There's always somewhere else," comes the haggard figure's almost sharp rebuttal, trailing off into a sigh as he sinks down to sit beside the fire, gesturing with one blackened glove in a vague manner, "You just need to have the will to get there. Or so I've always believed, but see where that got me…"

The Red King reaches over to an ash-stained chessboard on the ground beside him, the pieces broken and scattered haphazardly around the board. "Do you play?"

This world was not meant for him. He can feel it at once. Without announcing himself, without demanding a role to play within the unfolding drama, without doing precisely the sort of thing he tries effortfully to avoid as he moves from sleeping mind to sleeping mind, finding meaningful entrance into this place is a task. Moving through metonym rather than metaphor, not walking but sliding into the fabric of this dream-mingling, Dema Gataullin presses his way into the pages of this story like a dried flower, pressed but long forgotten.

In the spirals of smoke, a form can be seen, indistinct but steady, at least as far a smoke goes. An eddie, a confluence, a thickening that natural laws (insofar as such things apply in dreams) cannot easily mimic. Sparks shoot up and are caught in the hollows of what, upon looking and only then for an instant, appear to be eyes. Deep set. Gleaming.

They watch.

Laying the bundle carefully on the ground, Delia slides to a seated position kitty corner from the hunched man. Finally her tired feet are given a touch of reprieve, unfortunately her dress becomes soiled again from the dusty earth.

A glance is given to the board before the young woman shrugs her shoulders slightly, "I know which way the pieces are supposed to go… but I don't really know how to play." It's a simple enough explanation for her tentative, non-verbal answer. "I will play if you want to though, I just won't be very good. I know how to play backgammon." A more ancient game that takes a different level of skill.

"I was never very good myself," the Red King admits in self-depreciating tones, sliding the board over the dusty ground to set between them, legs folding beneath him, "I was better than the man off the street, but I could never keep up with the real masters without help…" The latter words are muttered under his breath as he sets the board.

The broken, twisted pieces are set up in an uneven fashion, not the typical set-up of a board, a seemingly schizophrenic pattern that doesn't even match from one side of the board to the other. The true strangeness, although it doesn't seem odd to him, is that as he sets the board… the very world seems to shift. Ruined buildings heaving themselves up from the ashen ground, mountains shifting, the signposts that point like jagged thorns along the road becoming less certain still in their direction.

"It all comes out the same in the end anyway."

The sudden rumbling of the earth when a city nearly as broken as her partner rises from the ashes like a phoenix has the young woman nearly tumbling over. With her two hands clinging to the bundle of fur, she turns a wild eye from the scenery to the man in front of her and tries to calm her quick breath.

"Who are you?" She breathes out, certainly not the King of All, perhaps his opposite. Glancing down at the board once it's been set, she pushes forward what should be a pawn. Two spaces toward the center she stops it and then gazes across at the other player. The dull color of her eyes bare traces of blue as she studies his face, the chiseled set of his jaw. "I've seen you somewhere before?"

"I've wondered that myself. I've been a lot of people," he says in a quiet voice, "The Red King… Lamont Cranston… the Murderer of Futures… Richard Cardinal." The shadow'd visage beneath the edge of that barbed crown can be seen briefly, distinguishable just barely as the tired features of a man that she may recognize. "Can any of us say who we are?"

The ashen clouds stir as she moves the piece. As a 'knight' leaps upon the board under his hand, the earth heaves in the distance, the line of the mountains far off shifting closer as of their own accord.

The crowned man's control of his own dreamspace comforts Dema, in its way. The sudden shift of the mountains causes the shape in smoke to turn in its direction, noting the change in the landscape. Delia, whom he now recognizes, is not running slipshod through the minds of others, at least not now. That was Dema's worry.

Not that he expected to see her again.

This stage set is elaborate, and Dema is hesitant to take any action that might disrupt the flow of the dream. Consciousness of dreaming isn't a think to be idly invoked. If all goes well, you gain lucidity. If all goes poorly, you get waking. And with waking-

More than one's future may end up murdered.

A faint breeze picks up, and the smoke coils over in Delia's direction, moving in wraith-tendrils around her head, getting in her eyes. Dema's borrowed manifestation paws at her, his presence reaching out to delicately discern the nature of Delia's own. Something doesn't feel right. Something feels… unanchored.

Oh no, it couldn't be…

The wisps of smoke are at first fanned away by a milk white hand and the huff of her breath as she coughs lightly. The gentle miasma doesn't dissipate as what would normally, sticking to her form like a spider's web and she tries to move to the side to avoid it. Without thought, she plucks up a bishop and moves it through the cleared space and into the board while at the same time one of the crumbling buildings shifts and slides toward the duo.

The red king's introduction doesn't go unanswered, at the mention of the last name there's another pulse in her eyes as they gain another fraction of blue. The name is known better to her than the face it seems and she squints through the smoke in an attempt to divine just where she is.

It's with that spark that the young redhead recoils from the vapors that surround her and she grips at the bundle, reaching in to draw out the gleaming sword. The gift could very well be recognized by the murderer of futures as a bit of unnecessary luxury familiar to another king.

That, though, is the trick, the illusion, the mask — the Red King has little control of anything here. The board may seem to control the terrain of the dreamscape, but how it controls it escapes the chessplayer's grasp entirely, the every movement of a piece upon the ash-stained wood of the board connected to the land in some arcane method that he fumbles at like a child playing with a gun.

As the sword is drawn, Richard Cardinal recoils in return; tumbling back from the board with a snarl, "Treachery— "

The smoke coalesces around Delia's head, rising out of her eyes and forming a dense ring around the ruddy mass of her hair. Denser and denser it becomes, until it forms a wreath of soot-black leaves, withered and fragile, spanning across the dreamwalker's brow. Not a crown, by any means, but black to play against that of the red king.

A murmur sounds in Delia's ears, for her ears alone. A voice she may remember, as she has only heard it in dreams, and then only in one dream. "What is this? You've wandered too far. If he wakes, you know what will happen, yes?"

Richard's reaction to the sword held tightly between Delia's hands is ignored in favor of the voice that's suddenly invading her mind. Memory fails to place exactly who it might be but a near instinctual sense of danger warns her against it. Spinning around to try to find the source has her looking in all directions before she realizes and reaches up to snatch the wreath from her head.

Unceremoniously tossed to the ground, she points the tip of the sword at it, glaring. Only then do her eyes flit toward Cardinal and then to the wreath, making something of a quick judgment, no matter how wrong it might be. "Did you do this? Is this a trap?" The accusation is spit like poison from her lips before it becomes a more defensive whine. "I got lost! I didn't mean to! I .. lost.." But faded memories are hard to reclaim when there's no trigger and what it is she's seeking is well away from her grasp.

As the woman begins to argue with another stranger to the dream that he can't even hear and only perceives as a wreathe of black leaves upon her brow, Cardinal hesitates, as if sensing at some level that something is wrong with this — his conscious mind stirring beneath the unconscious, although only lightly. Silence from him as he regards her, as he regards the sword, with a scowl carving his shadowed features.

The wreath disintegrates, its weak hold on substance fading as Delia tosses it to the ground, reducing it to a ring of ash. The ash stirs in the weak breeze, moving with what might be mistake for life, right up until it stirs with life. A dull black snake slithers out of the ashes, peering up at Delia with eyes that are like tiny vivid sapphires. Forbidden blue.

The young redhead's breathing quickens to a point where hyperventilation could become a threat, would breathing be completely necessary for her. The fact that she's completely separated from her body is a small mercy to the comatose shell that she once claimed as her own.

Her eyes darting between Richard and the snake grow to a brilliant cornflower blue as memories slowly eke back to her. The little beads on either side of the snake's diamond head are what trigger most of them. Slowly, she backs a few steps from both the man and the serpent. "It wasn't my fault… I got dragged in… I didn't want to go, but I can't find it and I can't leave until I do." The stammered explanation may be nothing to the red king's ears, but it would mean an awful lot to that snake.

"Who… are you?" A cautious question ventured from the King of Nothing, his head canted just a little to one side as he regards the girl - then the serpent - and back again, straightening just a bit from being bent and crooked.

The snake peers a moment longer at the girl, and at the gleaming blade of her sword. Then it disappears into the ground, slithering through the earth as if it were swimming thorough water, though leaving a crack. The crack forms into a mouth and grumbles in a low, stone-grinding voice. "Come with me. Leave him to his games in the dust. I can help you. Not this poor soul, playing madman's chess with no one."

the young woman's face contorts into a grimace of fear and she shakes her head. "I'm scared…" Turning to Richard, she lowers the sword only enough to show him that she's not necessarily a threat. "I don't want to go, please don't make me. I'm scared." A rapid blinking of her eyelashes wards off the threat of her tears as she stares at the red king. She calms her breathing just enough to keep new tears from springing up and spilling down her cheeks. The slight shake of her head as she regards him is nothing more than a small attempt to keep him from lucid thought without saying it outright.

There's an audible gulp as she swallows and chokes out her next plea, "I don't want to become a monster… I want to go home."

That strikes a chord deeper than she could possibly know, and the Red King - Richard Cardinal - straightens slowly to his full height, the barbed crown that he wears glinting in the smoldering ruins of the fire beside them. "Don't we all… don't we all," he says softly, the shadows that conceal his face receding to become clearer, "I'd show you the way if I knew it, but I don't know the way to my own home. Perhaps we can help each other."

The face in the earth is regarded with a sneer, "I've never trusted those that offer no choices. There is always a choice."

"I wish this lie made you happy," the arid earth says to Cardinal, drly. It begins to leak dust, slowly pouring up out of the ground like mist. "Do not linger too long. He is close to knowing. And that may makes him close to waking." This last is to Delia. The object of the earth's interest. This is disruptive, of course. Taking the focus from the dreamer. But Dema does not trust Delia's judgment, and she is at risk.

She knows the risk and the reminder frightens her more than anything else. "Where are you going to take me?" The whispered question to the ground is an obvious concession that whoever is in control now, is right. The sword point drops to the ground, digging into it with a small puff of dust. Turning to Richard, her lips turn downward at the corners and the fear splashed over her face is another familiar expression. "I saw you explode out of someone's pants… Tell someone… Tell someone you saw me."

Hanging her head, she drags the sword tip behind her as she walks toward the mouth. Delia's saving grace is that there's no body to force Refrain into, but there's also the worry that she might become trapped.

"Explode out of…" A long pause from the Red King, memory stirring through cracks in the dream as he watches her fear-traced features, "…Delia? Wait… how are you… why…?" A hand stretches out towards her, "Wait."

"Waste no more time," the ground rumbles, the distant mountains shaking with petite mal tremors, "Finish and we'll go. Somewhere safe. To my dream." The crack in the ground closes, and the dust swirls in a tight circle around Delia's feet, though it holds this position. The true dreamer here said 'wait'. Dema tends to play along with the house rules.

Holding the sword in her hand tightly, Delia regards Cardinal with a solemn stare. "I — I got lost." Looking down at the swirl of dust around her feet, she purses her lips together tightly and squints her eyes as she glances back to Cardinal. "Remember me, please? I don't want to die. I'm not strong enough to live when you wake up." With those words, realization of where Richard is passes to the only one who doesn't know. Delia's blue eyes, now as electric as the color of Refrain stare at him pleadingly.

Then she turns her gaze to the circle of dust at her feet and nods, "Alright Mister Dema… I'm… I'm ready."

When he wakes up… then he's asleep. This is a dream? The edges of the world start to crumble as realization begins to seep in, as Cardinal tries too hard to hold on to things. He's always been poor at yielding when he should, a talent that's necessary for true lucid dreaming. "I'll remember," he says quietly, and then he lifts one hand towards her, an underhand lob of a tiny broken thing - a black king, scratched and cracked stone - to her as if in offering, "And remember what I said."

Dema waits for Delia to take this token. It is part of the grand script, and he knows better than to disturb such constructions. If this is part of Delia's bridge back to her anchor, back to herself, then he doesn't wish to sever a link in the chain by which is suspends. His dust manifestation swirls up, up, like a miniature cyclone, slowly peeling the redhead from view, bearing her out and elsewhere, gently drawing her off the surface of this dreamer's mind.

Gripping the sword tightly in one hand and the chess piece in the other, Delia watches Cardinal until even the bright blue of her eyes fade into nothingness. When the last bit of her dies away, the scenery melts into a puddle at his feet. For a brief moment her trek through his mind replays like a distant memory before it sinks into nothingness, the last bit to disappear is the red crown.

With a jolt, Richard sits up in bed, his heart still pounding as though it's trying to just out of his chest. The ragged heaving of his chest calms only after a few breaths when he finally realizes where he is. Not in a ruined wasteland of a dreamwalker's wildest imagination but the heart of New York City, a horror all to its own.

A glance at the clock reveals it to be a little after three in the afternoon, too early to wake up. Rubbing his face, he collapses back into the pillows and pulls one of them over his head.

If he goes back to sleep, will he reconstruct that place on his own?

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