The Devil in Purple Silk
rating: +12+x

The girl climbed twin furled ribbons of purple silk, red velvet curtains anticipatory silhouetting her. We the audience waited, and the music started: guitar strings and drumbeats. With a snap of hands and a flexion in my spinal column calling for attention that could only come from those playing host to us as guests, their show began.

She shimmied up the ribbons and the smell of chalk was overpowering in the still theatre air, choking like gas. My arm was over my beloved’s broad shoulders beside me and I feared our suits will be ruined from the dust. The violet surrounds pounded our vision like low fluid pressure in the eyes. Snap-snap — the guitar, like clapping, went the set of boxes in the stereo MP3 over loudspeakers imported from the other side of the Way — miss me when you – you, said the song, and with a deft twist the silk was twisted about her ankle halfway up, thirty feet high, then she curled and held to the middle of a span grabbed between her foot and hand and flung herself out. Her face was streaked with tears and my finger joints were sore from massaging my love’s shoulder, and the girl’s leotard showed the script of the Opa performance we were here to see: curls and whorls all up and down her left side in a winding tattoo, reminiscent of a dragon made of smoke.

Is the Devil so bad if he cries / in his sleep / while the Earth turns?

She broke her pose and shimmied down to the next. My love puts his hand discreetly on my thigh and squeezes; with mine on his shoulder, I worried that I was too public with my affections. I never asked – not here, not at the bar, not at the afterparty. I suspect I never would – or if I did, he would be accommodating and tell me without judgement, but I was too afraid of myself. I needed to work on my anxiety. A twitch in my amygdala – I knew that from the unprecedented rush of adrenaline and a heart palpitation, plus that we were told something of what to expect from our hosts, that we would be watched without seeing them, their hands could touch without us seeing – I paid attention again: the wingless Opa girl was upside-down, near the ceiling where mage-folk waited in shadow. I wonder what kind they were – Gravis, maybe? I didn’t know enough of the culture to speculate – nor what their purpose was.

We die alone / we all die young.

The girl made it to the top, her body flexible despite the tinfoil-crinkling of her sequences beneath skin audible over the thumping music and blazing not-colours in the dark – is that what she has made herself able to do? To manipulate shadows? but then the girl twisted down with a crescendo of the music and flips – five, six, seven! landing almost touching the ground before she flung herself back to the top – she imploded in a firework, soundless and massive, and do you know how huge a firework is up-close? It fills the room and then some, and I wondered if her rune specialization was fine enough that her firework had physics with the wall and yes it did, it flared: colours from each and every shock and silent boom from every twist on her way down came in bursts of livewire melting-titanium sparks so blinding I wondered if I would see again – but I could, and my ears rang in sympathy at what I remembered fireworks to feel like on my skin in the wake of the audience’s collective inhale, and my thigh ached where my love squeezed hard, a staccato pattern saying yes, this one, followed by a creeping-up to my hand and four short squeezes from a warm dry hand caught up in wrinkles: I love you.

She flipped around and the silk gleamed under the spotlights hanging from the trapeze rig above — to be used later, I presumed. Did my love really like me? I wanted to give everything to him, and so never enforced my boundaries – I wanted to give him everything, and so I never said no. He enforced his quite well though, and said he wanted me to feel happy and he was happy when I was happy, and to ever tell him if anything was uncomfortable. Ergo, my love would be happier if I enforced my own boundaries more. To increase happiness and trust, one must enforce their boundaries because then you become a realer person and someone feels like they can take care of you. Is that it? The girl flipped about, the lights changed, and the sensation — had they been mine? The emotions driving those thoughts? — switched off. The thoughts, though, remained.

The lights, purple, switched to blue, and the winged figures in the rafters sounded like silver bells as they moved: I caught the flash of feathers, of glinting steel implants, so Isc or Gravis they were; and then plummeting down to hang alongside the girl on her single fold of silken ribbon 50 feet long from ceiling to floor was another – blue this time, to accompany the purple — ribbon of silk, and swinging to it the girl showed us her right side, stretched a pointed toe to ceiling and ballerina’s arm to floor. I realized, then, that she had skillfully only shown us her left so far, and seeing her my mind stopped. Were her runes that she showed us now a lie, masked by an illusion of Opa? It would make sense – she was too beautiful, too pre-planned in her sequences: she was divided neatly in two, jagged Isc sequences lit on her right and cloudlike sworls on her left, and the glow of my partner’s inkpad lit his lap in green as he jotted her stage number.

Shake it all out when I’m gone/ I, for you.

She was climbing both now – purple for Opa, blue for Isc, I understood, and evidently other audience-members realized too, and in that shock of heartbeat the music swam through the air in a heady blast. Her sequences lit up all along her right from calf to thigh in electric-aquamarine-sapphire hues, shifting like spiderglass as she struck a pose: hanging from the splits between the purple and blue silks, left side to the purple and right to the blue, and my lungs were choked in radiation, swelling – crushing my heart, I doubled over, and I heard some of our collected student exchange governance hit the floor – the sensation disappeared, and I gasped, looking straight at her, not even in my seat anymore, and I swear she looked straight at me, and the music struck arrows straight through my ribs, vibrated me from the inside.

I opened my mouth, jaw muscles aching, and the music switched from the speakers to me: vibrated in my ribs and resonated out from my lungs and throat, using me as an instrument. I was in the front row, but I thought I heard other voices too above the deafening bone oscillation of myself. I couldn’t turn around. Above, wires dangled – she had cut them, somehow? Or was this another illusion? Or were those serpents curling, my peripheral vision cutting out? Left side now, sitting upright in the silks and climbing, back to us showing the jagged branching circles like suns embedded-in-themselves tattoo-patterns signature of Isc, she lit up like stars, and around her instead of fireworks she leaned forwards, not holding with her hands but with one foot high and the other low, silks wrapped about her ankles not under the arches of her feet, she breathed a kiss to the air above – and not fireworks, I realized after my love, forgotten, squeezed my shoulder, scratched the back of my hand, his habit of anxiety – not just me, then? Why? Was this her ability in Isc, to thrill us with anxiety? Was she so skilled as to perceive half-thoughts and indicate neurotransmitters and blood hormones as she saw fit to shape us?

Yes, she was – the stars, the air, the galaxies above shimmered in Opa, and she started a slow swing on the purple silk, only holding that now, as she climbed to the top once again, song almost winding down but it sounded like a bridge, not an ending, purple silk bunching behind her at her ankles as she brought it to the ceiling alongside her – what was she planning? What was she going to do? – and my thoughts were eaten by just how beautiful her illusion was, stars like fireflies in a 3D space above, so close I reached up and passed my hand straight through. Cabaret show indeed – this girl was talented.

I moved my hand to my partner’s shoulder, and adoration bloomed in my chest. The profound urge to give him the deepest kiss and settle alongside him, hug him and stroke his hair – no, that was the song and the mage in the performance. But I still appreciated the feeling – looked left, found my love looking at me, too, visible in the foot-away firefly starlight, haze of lilac and scarlet and ultramarine making a space-simulation over our heads. Always loved to kiss under stars – his eyes were filled with them. I leaned forward, he closed his eyes, I kissed him slowly, deeply. Minding the music, not minding that this was public. Let them wonder. Let them think the chairmen of the French Academy are more than friends – because we were. Hadn’t come out to them yet, though. Let them realize what the wedding rings signify – no wives, despite the students searching our records. I pulled out of the kiss, giggling under the music in my ribs and in the speakers, breathless, and salt and my beloved’s alcohol from the bar on my tongue. Not my taste, but his, certainly. Something fruity.

She was climbing down the Isc silk, and looking at her I saw in my peripheral vision a calming of shoulders where they had hunched before – ah, so she was able to manipulate emotions, that’s what, and I remembered that I had thought this before but then recalled that this was a development of my thought from earlier – and she could make illusions with light. Anything more, though?

The lyrics were oblong, purple and blue, rounded at the end and jumping like a whitewater river in the Cascades that the Relan mages had no knowledge of when I tried to speak of my travels there during the intermission. The one with the crow looked intrigued – I had made note to check on him later. Bring him to France – his bird might be useful in infiltrating England, if he could do as he said and trade places with it for an extended time. Ugliest face, though – he would need to fix that with makeup or prosthetics, I told him, before he would get many buyers.

He had tried to negotiate, too, I remembered through the song. The girl was winding down – three minutes in the air? Maybe more? She was ropy, lean, muscles taut and visible under her skin as she wound down on the blue Isc silk. Her above-skin sequences glittered like they were made of diamond-studded wire. Something in her hair pulsed, between the fibers. Red and alluring, like a choice cut of red tuna meat at the fisher’s chopping block before freezing. And then I shook off the feeling, dizzy, a whole-body shudder hitting me — who am I?

Snow-snow / glistens on the ledge / whiskey on my li-i-lips.

Ah. I stumbled back into myself, butt hitting my seat with an uncommon thud – groans, soft and gentle, from those around me. My love clutched his head, ring flashing dully in the absent light. I rubbed his back in small circles with one hand, no longer tired, awake and heart throbbing, pounding, cheeks flushed cold. Was that what happened?

She cries ‘cause she’s nothing / like you — is she / like you?

The performance ended. The house lights went up, faintly. The stars in the space above, still there like the fireworks were not, faded with the introduction of buttery yellow light, and the scholarly part of me that had taken a vacation came back to ask if she conserved power in her illusions by making them not adjust to the levels of ambient light. I breathed.

An announcer stepped — the announcer stepped to the stage. Smart red trenchcoat clicking like irregular clockwork, slit in the back as though for riding horses. Inside, straps snuggled the sides of their coat to their calves and thighs. Gravis, I remembered from the brochure. Those were the ones with the coats. But red was for Eha – were they this, then? And wasn’t Gravis supposed to mean a team leader?

The questions left my brain easily, listlessly. The Mages did things their own way, I realized in quietude. Had been realizing all this night. The thumping of music still echoed, bruising over the tips of my fingerbones and into the good wood of the chair.

The performer, on the ground now, did a small twirl, and her sequences vanished as easily as the fireworks my eyes still longed to see again and my ears preparatorily rang for on thinking about. Opa indeed, then, for hiding her true skin. I wondered what she looked like – whether she was as scarred and mutilated as the rest of the mages. Some part of me lost hope, there – it was a small discomfort for others, seeing the faces the mages had on, as they left their planet for the first time and saw what other people looked like even as they were older. ”He’s fifty? But where are his…” and gesturing to the face, the arms, the legs, all visible skin – a behaviour so common it was a joke among the French Academy – my branch, at least. Beloved’s. Library-Orphaned Children branch. A discomfort because… of something. I never bothered to think about it.

My beloved and I – the French Academy, hosted on the banks of the River Lethe. Forget so you can learn.

“This was The Devil in Purple Silk by Sacchira Flynn.” The announcer sounded the same as always – which was to say, entirely soundless. Their words vibrated in my earbones instead. “Sacchira is a two-cycle Mage of Rela graduating at the end of our Spring year, which this year lines up with your February 24th. She is practiced in rune Opa broad and rune Isc narrow.” Sacchira took a small bow. Another, deeper, and small fireworks studded her hair. “She specializes in emotion regulation and stimulation. She describes her potential roles as for crowd control, group cohesion, and small military disarmament. She is used to working in a team of two, but her partner could not make it this night. She is open to any potential offers, and has spaceship training.”

She would be ours. I made to nudge my beloved, and when I moved my elbow without looking his elbow met mine halfway through – we were thinking the same again, like we had when we had just met and my walls broke down so fully that empathy became normalcy.

These residual thoughts – I knew. I needed this again. I would not have had these tiny breakthroughs, like fireworks but inside my mind, without this performance tonight.

I wanted it again. And so, too, did others, whose murmurs rumbled like the roll of a tidal wave as Sacchira Flynn left the stage, boards creaking into the cathedral-space so beautiful and old, not unlike the churches of my homeworld. And I decided, then and there, that I did not care for the other performances – for the other mage-slots we had planned to fill. I needed this again.

But for now, I stayed seated. My beloved was here, and the cracking-open of my shields had not resealed quite yet.

There in my seat, I waited. And then, quelling the anxiety of rejection that still plagued me like a huge purple rat over my back ready to sink its yellowed teeth into my shoulder at any time — despite that, — I leaned my head on my beloved’s shoulder.

And oh, he leaned his head to the side onto mine. Hair brushing my face, ticklish and intimate and smelling of good cooking and good nights spent long and sweetly.

On some impulse, I entwined my beloved’s leg with mine. And we waited in our seats, as others stood and milled and stretched and attended the bar for more alcohols and not-alcohols for business chatter and exotic inebriation not quite like our own – waited here, all here not there, and I shut my eyes, and I listened to my lover breathe.

Written in about an hour with a single song playing on repeat. Song link located in the discussion – Devil Like Me by Rainbow Kitten Surprise. The lyrics are out of order, but I do not care – they are as they were at different points during the loop as I found myself needing to put the song into the work.

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