At last you reach the tower's lowest level and its dungeons. You listen intently, but no one dwells here except dynasties of rat and fungus.\n\nThere are more bones. You don't know whose.\n\nYou touch one palm to the a wall. The stone is damp and rough and makes you think of salt. During your time underwater, you often wondered if it would have been worse to be surrounded by rock and left in darkness. If the queen was ever here, however, you find no trace, and you would know. Of all people, you would know.\n\nYou are just as certain that the king was never here. \n\n(His unyielding stare from the pier as the ship bore you away to be drowned. Your mouth open to a cry that would not come.)\n\nBoth relieved and disappointed, you head back [[up|top of stairs]].
<<cyclinglink $boneTaken "You pick up a bone" "You leave the bones to their rest">>.\n\nYou could count the bones.\n\n[[You don't count them|into tower]]. //Many// is all you need to know.
<<display "circles and mirrors">>\n\nThe queen's voice lowers to a murmur.\n\nYou [[hurry|the king's mirror-hall]].
<<replace>>You make no secret of your footsteps.<<becomes>>A woman is singing, lowly, in a voice that used to be beautiful.<<becomes>>You open your mouth, but of course [[nothing comes out|top of stairs]].<<endreplace>>
<<silently>>\n<<set $poolVisited = "yes">>\n<<endsilently>>Your reflection is the color of obsidian, eyes lit only by <<if $spirits eq "sea">>sealight.<<elseif $spirits eq "wind">>windlight.<<elseif $spirits eq "sunken metal">>ironlight.<<else>>BUG IN //pool: spirits//. <<display "bug report">><<endif>>\n\n//I'm coming,// you say inwardly, and break your image with your breath before [[turning away|fountain]].
Rituals of edge and clangor to please the spirits of <<cyclinglink $spirits "sea" "wind" "sunken metal">>. Arguably the queen would have done better to learn the <<cyclinglink $seductions "fox-dances" "snake-songs">> that appease men, given how things went with her husband. But then, you weren't around for that decision.\n\nYou'd rather not think about the king, anyway. You'd rather remember [[who you came for|comb]].
[[Flowers|drowning fragrance]] grow here yet. All of them are white, with petals almost translucent.\n\nTruthfully, not much in the [[courtyard|through the gates]] interests you, although it might have once, when even the small distance between mirror-hall and the rest of the tower was unbreachable.
Shufflecomp 2014
Yours was once the same as the queen's: black, thick, lush. None of that has changed. The mirror-break, however, means that the queen may have changed; that you are no longer as like as twins.\n\nYou [[miss her|comb]], although you can't help wondering if you'll feel the same way once you find her.
<<silently>>\n<<set $spirits = "sea">>\n/% sea, wind, sunken metal %/\n\n<<set $seductions = "fox-dances">>\n/% fox-dances, snake-songs %/\n\n<<set $mirrorHallVisited = "no">>\n<<set $poolVisited = "no">>\n<<set $BlackenedBonesVisited = "no">>\n<<set $love = "Even if you had a voice, you never intend to tell her">>\n<<endsilently>>The tower lies a hundred paces and a thousand memories away, a bone needle jabbing into a sky of smoke, sinking red sun, and fretting winds. Around you the land has been reduced to a raven's prophecy of ashes, abandoned houses, ruin. Even the great ice-colored walls are now a scattering of teardrop pebbles.\n\nYour [[wrists]] ache, but there's no help for it. If she lives yet, she has taken refuge in the [[tower|first step]].
You lower your hand.\n\n<<display "what the king did">>
You are sisters, and not-sisters; she was womb-born, like all humans, whereas you began life as no more than an impostor-image, reification of the king's desire for a voiceless target. Except you were not as pliant as he would have liked, fighting his soldiers even as they plunged you into the hungry sea; something of the queen's own steel went into your forging.\n\n<<display "what the king did">>
The queen stands by a window. Her hair is loose, unbraided, dragged into tangles by the fingers of the wind. At her throat is a pendant of <<if $spirits eq "sea">>deep sapphire.<<elseif $spirits eq "wind">>misty agate.<<elseif $spirits eq "sunken metal">>hematite.<<else>>BUG IN //queen1: spirits//. <<display "bug report">><<endif>>\n\n"I was starting to wonder if I'd have to free you myself," she says. She reaches out, whether to embrace or engulf you, you're not sure.\n\n[[You flinch|flinch from queen]] in spite of yourself.\n\n(Still no words. Words are for people, not mirrorwives.)
The double throne overshadows the [[hall entire|into tower]] by its very absence. You're not sure how they managed to cart it off. Perhaps, like a phantasm of ice, it sublimated under the attackers' desire.
//Left// or //right//: when you traverse a circle you should end up in the same place. Yet you think of mirrors, and directions reversed, and meeting the queen's hand with your own, unable to touch across glass and metal.
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Her name was a ritual all its own, to be chanted during the dances. She was named (so the king said once, to a foreign envoy) after swords out of legend, blades wielded by heroes and priestesses in defense of their land. If only the king had realized that her regard, her sharp wit, were the greatest blades of all. Well, he [[paid the price|tower]].
The air is cold and heavy with the rot of conquest.\n\nSurely the king wouldn't have left the queen here.\n\nSurely.\n\n[[Down|lowest level]].
Dull strands; the mingled smells of decay and deep-soaked blood. Once they depicted <<if $seductions eq "fox-dances">>men and women, all amber-eyed, all in red dresses and black gloves, smiling without smiling at each other against a backdrop of winter pines.<<elseif $seductions eq "snake-songs">>lithe, slim youths with their hair coiled and held in place by scaled golden clasps, their faces veiled and bright bangles around their ankles.<<else>>BUG IN //rotting tapestries: seductions//. <<display "bug report">><<endif>> You bend for a moment to rub a couple threads between your fingers; they dissolve into a smear of tangles. Just as ruined as [[the rest of the great hall|into tower]].
Nothing remains of the fountain's center-statues of <<if $spirits eq "sea">>cuttlefish and cresting wave<<elseif $spirits eq "wind">>dancing swans<<elseif $spirits eq "sunken metal">>downthrust swords<<else>>BUG IN //fountain: spirits//. <<display "bug report">><<endif>> except a scattering of grit and old, faint bloodstains. A <<if $poolVisited eq "no">>[[pool]]<<else>>pool<<endif>> of water stands in the center, seeps into cracks in the blue-veined stone.\n\nIt's a sad commentary that this is yet the most beautiful thing that remains in the [[courtyard|through the gates]].
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The queen's words are measured, but not calm. "After you were [[out of the way]], after everyone had seen the 'adulteress'"--that's you--"drowned, my husband locked me up in the mirror-hall. It's a pity that every time he looked at me all he saw was his own forbidden desires."\n\nYes. You remember the king's mutterings. The way he took note of which women and men watched the queen at her dances; the way that he looked covetously upon the most beautiful women of the court, telling himself that they would be wittier, wiser, more faithful.\n\nAt the time, you were no more than an [[inchoate presence]] living in the interstices of light and dark and flattened color, but his suspicions became so pervasive that you remembered them once cut free.\n\n[[The queen's smile]] cuts like a sickle.
You reach the top of the stairs. Rain scatters through the dull-toothed windows; you can smell sea-salt.\n\nThe hall forms a circle: [[left]] or [[right]], toward the mirror-hall.
<<silently>>\n<<set $mirrorHallVisited = "yes">>\n<<endsilently>>Long and uncurved, light dissecting light. You used to live in that hall, never imagining yourself a prisoner until you were cut free (//free//) and chained under the sea.\n\nYour wrists, the eroding struggle to destroy the maker of those chains--\n\nNo. You [[won't think about that|comb]].
Your stint underwater proved the uselessness of tears, but you hold the bone out. Let the queen look at it.\n\nShe is silent for a long time. "I will not deny that I bargained with the invaders once they found me," she says. "But by that time, they had slaughtered everyone they wanted to slaughter, and I had been //here//--" Her voice snags on the word.\n\n"I had been here so long," she says without meeting your eyes. "They let me out, and I danced the old dances for their pleasure, and then I hid myself in the maze of reflections until they went away. Once or twice I ventured out to look for you, but I did not know where to look."\n\nThe bone feels even heavier. You do not drop it. You do not put it away. Rather, [[the queen takes it from you|queen takes bone]].
Every wretched night under the sea you wished that you had never been cut out of the mirror-depths.\n\nYou may not breathe, but you drowned, and you drowned, and you drowned.\n\nYou can only imagine [[how the queen felt all that time|what the king did]], trapped by the man who did this to you both.
The wind swirls around your ankles and stirs up motes of dust. <<if $BlackenedBonesVisited eq "no">>[[Blackened bones]]<<else>>Blackened bones<<endif>> lie in stacks against the walls, intermingled with [[rotting tapestries]]. <<if $boneTaken eq "You pick up a bone">>The bone in your hand has a weight like a burnt-out candle.<<endif>>\n\nBeyond the bones, past the [[absent throne]], the [[stairs]] form a spiral.
Livid scars, the color of pearls, of foam, of moonlight shattering across the waves. A neat decorative reminder of [[how long you've been away|Start]].\n\n(There are other scars, no easier to hide from. The nubs where your fingernails used to be. Your toenails.)
You glance over your shoulder just after passing through the gates. The wind shifts; a moment's grit passes between your lips, snags in your hair.\n\nIn the courtyard there remains a [[fountain]], filled in with pale sand, and off to the side, the [[remnants of a garden]].\n\n(You remember //falling// through metal-edge and sharded glass, sliced into chiaroscuro--)\n\nBeyond both the [[tower]] stabs upward.
It is as well you have no heart, and no heartbeat, or it would be fluttering in panic as you descend. You cannot see in shadow, precisely. Still, you have some experience of darkness, and echoes, and [[subterranean longings]], and these guide you to the [[lower levels]].
This is not the hall you expected to enter: the mirror-hall, yes, but reversed so that dark is light and light is dark.\n\nHere you see a familiar silhouette, pierced through with ten and ten slivers of mirrorglass and pinned to the wall: the king. Where it meets the silhouette, each sliver is tinted viscous red.\n\n(//it worked//)\n\nYour toes and fingers itch where the nails used to be, scarred over, but unhealed.\n\nOf course it worked. You wouldn't be free otherwise.\n\n(//mirrors can kill//)\n\nSatisfied, you retrace your steps [[to enter from the other direction|the queen's mirror-hall]].
The inescapable weight.\n\nThe chains.\n\nDeath by water.\n\nThe king feared that, if he executed the queen herself, she would be avenged by <<if $spirits eq "sea">>sea-drakes<<elseif $spirits eq "wind">>snowbirds<<elseif $spirits eq "sunken metal">>wyrms<<else>>BUG IN: //out of the way: spirits//. <<display "bug report">><<endif>>. The spirit-guardians who accompanied her from her faraway homeland. So he created and drowned a mirrorwife with his wife's face, refusing to allow himself to be made a fool before his people.\n\nThe queen didn't betray him. You would have known. Of course, he forged you without a voice, so you couldn't tell him.\n\n[[He wouldn't have listened anyway|what the king did]].
Her eyes go flat and opaque, like pebbles that have never known rain. "I did it for you," she says, turning away from you to look out the window, over the ruined land. "My strength grew, if slowly. I called the <<if $spirits eq "sea">>sea-drakes<<elseif $spirits eq "wind">>snowbirds<<elseif $spirits eq "sunken metal">>wyrms<<endif>> to sing down the walls. It didn't take long for invaders to follow."<<if $boneTaken eq "You pick up a bone">>\n\nYou [[show her the bone]].<<endif>>\n\nYou [[bow your head, wordless]].\n\nYou [[strike her]].
The gate used to be a treasure carved from the bones of <<if $spirits eq "sea">>sea-drakes<<elseif $spirits eq "wind">>snowbirds<<elseif $spirits eq "sunken metal">>deep-delving wyrms<<else>>BUG IN //gate: spirits//. <<display "bug report">><<endif>>. The king would pace and pace in the mirror-hall, and speak to you of the people who wanted to gnaw their way through the gates, chew down the walls, make of the city's people a feast. In his eyes you'd see the great hinges wrecked, the doors fallen in on themselves.\n\nWas it a prophecy? Or mischance? Only the tower [[has the answers|through the gates]].
You close your eyes, wondering if you can hear some shadow-muttering of the people who used to live here. All that comes to you is the skirling of the wind, and the silent roar of your absent heartbeat.\n\nIt's tempting to [[put off the inevitable|approach]].\n\nBut eventually you must make your way to the [[gate]].
Old fragments of glass cut your shadow. <<replace>>You flinch.<<becomes>>You hurry into the mirror-hall where the queen once danced.<<becomes>>[[There she is|queen1]].<<endreplace>>
You wonder if she still wears her [[hair]] long. If her husband combed it out for her. You used to watch it, fascinated by the glory of black braids bound close to her head as much as you were by the [[sword-dances]] she performed in the <<if $mirrorHallVisited eq "no">>[[mirror-hall]]<<else>>mirror-hall<<endif>> to reassure the spirits of her homeland that she was alive and well.\n\nThere's only one way to [[find out what became of her|approach]].
//epilogue//\n\nGame written for Shufflecomp 2014.\n\nLoosely inspired by "Over the Hills and Far Away" by Nightwish.\n\nThanks to my beta tester, to be named after reveals.
Please report the bug and any error messages (in //italics//) to Thank you
Try as you might, you can't so much as count the syllables of the queen's name.\n\nNo matter. It's just [[one more scar|tower]].
You lift your chin. It doesn't take her any particular acuity to understand the hammer-judgment of the gesture.\n\nNevertheless, you don't stop her when she takes your hands in hers, traces the white scars around your wrists. "It's too late now," she says, "but I'm sorry. You were never meant to be a part of this."\n\nToo late indeed. All those years under the sea, and what home is left to you now that you are free? Even the woman whose face you wear has nothing to offer anyone except her pall of regrets.\n\nYou step into her shadow, obliterating it in a precipitate of skeletal light. The last thing you hear is the queen's agonized cry.\n\n[[epilogue]]
[[Up|upstairs]].\n\nOr [[//down//|downstairs]].\n\n(The songs of whale and fish and lashing wave, the metal cold as rage around your wrists. Still, she could be there--looking for //you//.)
Your boots crunch against sand, ground-down glass, the occasional fragment of rusted metal.\n\nAs you approach, the gate casts a shadow like a hungry [[comb]]. Around it the [[detritus of the walls]] falls away in treacherous heaps.
"He knew better than to enter after that," the queen goes on, "even if I couldn't leave the room. The spirits of <<print $spirits>> nourished me or I would have died mazed in reflections."\n \n[[You reach out to the queen]] <<if $love eq "Even if you had a voice, you never intend to tell her">>in sympathy<<else>>and draw her into your embrace<<endif>>.\n\n[[You regard her coldly]], thinking of your ashen homecoming.
Your hands touch, and you relinquish the bone. She murmurs something--benediction, apology, both--before setting it carefully on the windowsill.\n\n<<display "what the king did">>
<<replace>>One step.<<becomes>>Then another.<<becomes>>All riddles have reduced themselves to a pittance of number, and in each of them you're [[too late|approach]].<<endreplace>>
The flowers' fragrance fills your lungs like drowning. It's difficult to [[appreciate|remnants of a garden]] their beauty.
<<if $love eq "Even if you had a voice, you never intend to tell her">>The queen accepts your gesture with a certain regal distance. You smile at her and dissolve into the light of her eyes: it is enough.<<else>>You are as beautiful as she once was, and less beautiful than she now is, all at once. The quickening of her breath tells you that your advances are not unwelcome.\n\nThe two of you have known so much of devastation small and large. Here, in the hemorrhage of evening, mirrorwife and mirrorsource can join as one.<<endif>>\n\n[[epilogue]]
Virgil Caine
Whoever battered down the tower's door did such a thorough job that not even the intimation of hindrance remains. Even the gaps that used to accommodate hinges are but gouges of vulnerability.\n\nYou would call the [[queen's name]] through the threshold, if that hadn't been [[cut away|queen's name cut away]] as well.\n\nYour shadow enters the tower; it is for you to [[follow|into tower]].
The queen is not a warrior, precisely, but she has trained to sword and spear and shield, to the singing precision of archery. Your blow shouldn't land, except that she permits it to.\n\n"You're not the only one who was imprisoned," she says, correctly surmising the source of your anger.\n\nYou didn't know that.\n\nBut she's [[still speaking|the queen's explanation]].
For all that you spent your humanform existence in the everywhere arms of the sea, you dreamt of what it would like to pass a night, an hour, a moontide moment in the queen's arms.\n\n<<cyclinglink $love "Even if you had a voice, you never intend to tell her" "When you find her, you will find a way to convey your desire">>.\n\n(You never had any interest in the king.)\n\n[[Down|downstairs]].
<<display "circles and mirrors">>\n\nThe queen's voice rises to a great-throated cry.\n\nYou [[hurry|the queen's mirror-hall]].