It’s a rainy day, and the garden is well taken care of.
Parvo’s dozing at the hearthstone by the fire, dreaming his typical moron dog dreams.
Ranalie has decided she would go upstairs, down the shadowed hall of her Frau Manor, and open the door all the way to the left.
A clean white room replete with eight standing easels greets her. The windows drawing along both sides of this corner of the house flushes the space with the dull emerald glow of an overcast day shining through the leaves.
Locking the door behind her, because there really is no telling who’s creeping around, she gives a relaxed sigh, puts on her kaleidoscopically messy smock, and steps about the room.
Glancing at each painting, the Lord Knight carefully considers her next efforts. At the moment seven of the eight easels are holding paintings, which to her is the surest sign she has something on her mind.
Perhaps a meeting with a foreign dignitary took an irritating turn, or an operation failed miserably, or a child handed her a flower during a parade, or any number of other things.
She finds her collection of current projects pulses in and out with the seasons. The Knight’s Reunion is a particularly prolific annual period for her, considering she tends to compose unique pieces for not the single event, but the other knights that will piss her off in some, usually imperceptible and unintentional way.
Ranalie considers herself fairly easy to please, especially considering how she has had nothing of particular emotional value to her throughout the millennia, and in the short moments in which she does care about something or someone, they are promptly and totally removed from her.
It’s not always that way, she acknowledges that this is a slight over-dramatization, but the years weigh heavier now that even the people she took for granted are gone from her.
The first six paintings, closer to her room and thus the first for her to see each time, seem bland today – they’re not on her mind.
One did call to her a little bit, painting number six, so she held her gaze on it for a bit:
A rather exaggerated piece of a cross-eyed Rayda dancing down the halls of Reinhold, handing the Planar Sphere over to a laughing Chaos as comically small versions of herself, Redemption, Harmony before she turned into a slut, Justice, Sensitivity, Glory before he went crazy, Space before she also lost her mind, as well as a few with their helmets on which could have been anyone, all climbing up Rayda’s little toga to stop him.
Of course, the one character that isn’t an utter caricature is Meeo, who is standing, arms behind her back at the Knight’s Rest position, with a lit blunt of mistweed set crassly between her lips as she viewed the scene with an aloof hopelessness.
Maybe Meeo really did know by that point how it was all going to turn out, because maybe she really did know everything about the future. Ranalie decides the same thing that she decides every time she looks at this painting: she’ll never find out for sure, so it doesn’t matter.
Ranalie shakes her head with an aloof smile. The color-changing enchantment she set over her eyes to reflect her emotions pulses through an array of different colors as she inspects their faces, remembering their likeness in one second, and then remember the last time she saw most of them in the next.
So much time has passed, and she has done an admirable job of emotionally puttying over it all. To her, there are wounds that must be reopened to function, but these ones, the memories of her old compatriots, her good old compatriots, they have become a delicacy of pain: a complete extravagance. The pain that pushed her further and further over the precipice of longivae madness had, somewhere down the line, transformed into a meaningless, masturbatory indulgence that served no purpose other than to make her feel better about an event that, if she is to be honest, she still isn’t certain how to interpret.
With a long, unrushed sigh she takes a formal rear step away from the painting, gives a cursory glance over to painting number five, an expertly framed and quite brooding scenery of a striking low-wood she spotted once in Trench, and shakes her head.
No. Today she will have to go to the last two easels. One is empty, because she never gets to it, and the reason she never gets to it is because painting number seven is right next to it.
Ranalie sighs again, but this time it’s the kind of sigh a runner puffs out to mentally prepare oneself – she knows this won’t be a pleasant end: it never is.
Last time she worked on Painting Seven she woke up the next day butt-naked in her garden clutching a half-downed Old Wiz Tree Special. She was relieved that it was Parvo’s barking to be let out that woke her up, because the post was coming by that day and she had no intention in adding yet another rumor upon the pile suspecting that the legendary “Rayda’s Teeth” was actually quite a bit of a mess when it came to her personal life.
With a glance that a broken man might give to a familiar girl on the street at night, Ranalie stares down the curves along her liquor cabinet. It was originally to hold all her art supplies, and it still does that, but now it also holds six to twelve handles of various personal poisons at any one time.
Yes, it’s better to have one on hand for when the need arises, which she has already decided it will. Chaosbane steps over to the cabinet, spins out a centuries-old bottle of Graywall Dragonblood Type 4, the black label printed messily with the crimson ink of a murdered scale splayed out over the name.
She shares another moment with herself, appreciating the irony of how many Red Banner Knights she’s been hunting down recently after the Dragon Kin they seem to despise so much the centuries prior. The tables have turned, now she busts human communities for their beliefs, much like she did Kin communities for being… well, Kin.
“Changing times, gentlemen. Thanks for the sip,” she says, raising the bottle as a toast to the now reviled men of the Red Banner, a considerate one of which gave her these bottles as a present back when murdering dragon-halfs was all the craze.
It had been maybe twenty, thirty years since she downed a bottle of the stuff – the years all blend together once the soul has been beaten down deep enough to lose consciousness while the body and mind still work away as if all is well.
Here we go.
She remembers the taste and the mouthfeel after just a second: blunt, hot, very rough going down – but the warmth is competitive, among the best on the continent. She had a few “out of verse” ones while on any of her numerous inter-realm missions, and they were good, but nothing quite held the same kick as the stuff back home.
In fact, now that she considers it, the only thing rougher she’s had was probably one of the “experimental” beverages those perv freaks in Kanvane’s “Number 2 Non-Standard” (or whatever the hell it is they call themselves these days) got up to. Of course she couldn’t let them know she was interested in the spirits, she was there on official business as usual, and there were enough high-profiles to make it look bad if she took more than a sip or two, but the aptly named “Ether-Breaker” caused more immediate emotional pleasure in her pain-dried brain than anything, anything, anything at all she had tasted to that point.
And then one week later they were busted (again) for magical malpractice. Turned out Lab Number 2 was using human souls in their brewing- very tasteful, but that did explain a few things: the aftertaste did in fact taste a bit… lively for her.
Alcohol is a fine friend to Ranalie, and like a perverse aromatherapy it peels back the numerous pages in the tome of her life to help her recall the pa-…
Oh, she downed the whole thing.
With a glazed look, Ranalie seethes out a sharp breath through her teeth, and puts the bottle aside.
Right… time for her to get to work, then.
Wiping the spirit’s dense cinnamon scent from her lips, she walks over to the side of the room, slowly revealing Number 7 to her.
Standing there like an untouchable family heirloom, something to be grieved over forever, is a tall dual portrait with a man and a woman – and the woman is her.
A dark ballroom scene unfolds across the canvas, the billowing curtains drawn to show a moonlit lake peering upon the two lovers at the end of a dance. Their hands met above the woman’s shoulders, testifying to the height of the broad-chested man with an gloriously slim waist, his white gloves providing a soft, cool touch masking the strength of his grip.
Ranalie decides instantly: she hadn’t drank enough for this.
After taking in the scene, the composition, the lighting, and of course, the touch between the two figures, she focuses in on her doppelganger in the painting, starting at the feet:
Dainty white dance shoes that remind her of the style young ladies in waiting wore during The Golden Age, when dances like this were common. Moving up, the dress is lacier than anything she’s ever owned, which he doesn’t have an issue with because she never has an occasion to wear one: if it were a big occasion she’d go for her old dress uniform, of course with the embarrassing exception of the time she was provided a dress when Reinen received the Ultarian Seats of the Emperor – what a charming night that was, especially considering diplomatic relations took an even worse turn after Rayda bit it.
Ranalie sighs, thinking back to the ever better days, and then she keeps on:
Her hair is down in this one, and braided after a wash, she can tell by how the little azure sprigs of hydrangea in her hair are splaying out, giving it an austere, beautiful appearance.
And her expression… she’s just looking up into that face, and the smile on her is a smile she’s not sure she’s given to anyone since little Arram.
It was the kind of smile she knew she made when she trusted someone – her parents pointed it out to her when she and Roem carried water back to her house up the hill.
Looking back, she feels as though it was a smile trusting the universe: to expect something good on the way – or simply a sense of security in that everything was working out for her own good.
The wide white smile and the sincerity of her eyes in the painting, it felt almost comical. It looks so unlike her, and yet she knew she was that way one day long ago… No one has inspired that into her in all these years since.
Just who is this mysterious figure that reminded her that she was a girl, a woman, a person beyond the worshipped figure of The Knights? What kind of person could win a look like that from a face as perpetually relaxed as hers?
Her gaze, dulled by the power of the alcohol that she allows to condemn her nervous system to perpetual stupors of warm half-death, finally and nervously turns over to the form of the suited man.
Nothing can be seen of his skin, his gloved hands are shadowed into his cuffs, but his face…
It had been repainted, and subsequently overpainted, so many times that it has resulted in a messed blotch of confusion – a surreal form of unknown running colors.
Today, after all that she has done, after being in his arms, and hating him, and perhaps something else after all this time – she has made her decision. Somehow it has become clear.
She pulled her two stools over: one for holding her dinner plate covered in paint, and the other for holding her, and she dabs a thick, starless nighttime black on her brush, paired neatly with an outrageous, vibrant white ready to go on top of it.
Perhaps Meeo knew about this as well- she knows that she wouldn’t have bought it, not even from her.
The High Overlord, what a joke all of this is – she couldn’t even let him know, let alone the billions who believe her to be The Realms’ one defense against him.
Pulling the brush away, she can only stare at his face, looking down at her with that wide, cosmic grin.
“What in the world am I supposed to do with this?” she asks herself. It is a question for which she will find no answer anytime soon.
Perhaps it’s time for another drink, she decides.