27 - Out of the Frying Pan

And there we are, snuggling the flagpole on top of my rooftop, on the tiny little bit of flat roof that surrounds it. No banner is up because it's night.

I can't feel or thing or anything. I spin us around to see everything--there's my battlement, Sparkledust waiting, the towering beautiful keep-house, the green slave roofs of the High Gallery, the hottub steaming, Copper standing motionless by it. Good example, I always thought, for Strawberry Home to have a hottub steaming away from it's tower-top.

"Dolly what went wrong."

Your Boobsong is so surprised and heartbroken her eyes fall out. She can't understand it. The Mommy games were her master plan. If Rada is our Mommy she must wake up, said your Boobsong.

The tears are coming and I can feel them in Boobsong when I read her. We need--up here is good but--

"Grandmother, what happened?"

Very seldom I've seen that. Always families that come together in darkness, and they can't see light when it gets to 'em. Real bad when they can't get into their head that the war's done. They'll be getting it, don't you worry now. Let's go make Kaari's ghost fly out her head. You can land on her windowsill, just down there.

Oh hell yes, castle mischief is just the thing right now, good one, Grandma--are you still watching me?

I'm up here watching you all the time, but I can read your mind right now, yes. I'm the only one, your game tells me.

I'm glad there's still you. And for now that it's just you. And that it's you.

I'll leave Kaari some more nice candy or something--

As I look out at Strawberry Home, with the Painted Sea above, my familiar home brought to paradise, and feel that combination of safety and wonder, the memory starts to come back, like thick old mud oozing up.

I stood on top of the world, then, too. Earth was a castle I silly-terrorized and sexily entranced then.

In a movie trailer my next sentence would be and then Aveh came back, but weirdly, I don't think that was where the hurt came from.

Christianity hurt me, though, and--we had to--

I know what I saw, keeps pounding in my head. I know what I saw. I know what I saw.

A memory of a potted plant on a windowsill, no that's--the classroom where--Nostradamus!? Backstory says I had a gifted-kids program I went to in gradeschool where studied the prophecies of Nostradamus, the backstory's so dreamlike sometimes, but that's so obviously me in Verana's study being the Princess so getting the special treatment of personal tutoring by the high priestess. The backstory even made the classroom vaguely like her study.

Verana's study has high windows along one wall with shelves and things and a big heater-vent along one wall (remember this castle has central heat from long before I was hauling electrical stuff back through the worldgate).

Studying prophecies, then. The backstory has is as some prophecy of doom that made me scared for the future, but that part's right I think, but prophet isn't Nostradamus obviously.

That potted plant again--lubetree, which grew wild and turned bitter and lost a lot of its slipperiness and became aloe when Earth restored from backup, I suppose--in a bulbous clay pot. It sat on Verana's windowsill--it was huge, I misremembered it as small. It hung over the whole room. I think I'm trying to tell myself something, thing which overshadowed the whole...study.

Things weren't okay with the family for a while before the reset. Okay with the Holidays. I don't want to call them the family right now. It was a big deal, thorns and choking bitterness where used to be soft sexy fun (I know aloe is healing to most, but it's the lubetree version of crabapples, except I like crabapples).

Game that PTSD thing triggered because you mentioned Laarhi, or--you get it. Whose idea was that?

[Vision: sexy mouth just open]

At first that looks like Sis' mouth--I think it is, but it's all of them like the all Holidays--big, like Big I should say, the mouth looks like when Sis would kiss me goodnight when I was little--but it reminds me of the disgusting mouth I saw asking what happened to Aveh--weeping cold mud floods out--Grandmother get something ready please I'm going to really need to know I'm a Strawberry in about five seconds.

I saw Eden's mouth speaking through all of them. The memory disgusts me but it's mine, there's none of the rage of their trying to my trying to tear out the emotional meat grinder Aveh and me put ourselves through (we weren't ready to talk yet, but the world needed saving) so we could start over.

They wouldn't listen. Told me I was paranoid. It took the form of--they--my heart slides off it, wants to twist away.

Yes, of the twisted, off kilter scenes they kept doing--or my game and the Dreams I guess, reminding me of how stuff would come at bad times--Aveh, Christianity, wanting me to suspend my Lesbianism, Laarhi, make peace with something bad and betray my fans by having sex with it, that stuff was trying to "fix" me when my putting up walls here was never broken.

The twisted lubetree seems to be withering, in my mind's eye now--no, it's turning into maleficent thorns like from snow white. The rosebushes outside my window in Limbo--we never had rosebushes in Stamford, that was Limbo reflecting that I'm a Princess--were like that. Poison apple--no.

What was wrong in Heart Home!? The Mechanical Heart was exactly the place for the breakup scene, but--wait--in my memory of the room with the dolphin-maid over the door, there was also a stair going down with a door hung horizontally over it, which the place the Camp is based on had.

That was never Heart Home in the first place. It was the Camp. That was my room in the Camp. Beds aren't for sleeping for me but I didn't idolize while I was at the camp because it would take me off to my next adventure, so we slept in that bed there! The family--Holidays, I only need to look around to see my birth-family's home--but wait, if this was while I was touring--yes it was a place I went in journey but the symbols all still work. We went there to be with Sis and Isht Visht.

I could fall asleep while journeying, I was that good, and so fall asleep in that bed, wake up to the light on the ceiling of the Camp in journey.

It was the perfect place for that flashback, because just being there gave me the flashback as much as that fake candy did.

They wanted me to do something that'd make my candy poison. Give people flashbacks. Trying to make peace where no peace could be made, not understanding the lesson that sometimes paradise is ending things. I'll never see Laarhi again, and I think seeing me would be as hellish for him as the other way around.

Will it have to be that way with the Holidays? Time will tell, I guess, but right now it feels like the answer to that question is yes. Like Jenner they betrayed me constantly, in the most intimate places of our life, trying to "fix" me for--but my game didn't let them--

So they used our political situation to manipulate it. Memories of the Episcopal church with a trans priest I went to in the backstory come up, to say yes to this, politics and Christianity equals Episcopalianism.

Tried to drive me to make peace with Christianity--they questioned my game constantly and fought and undermined it with that, but then when it looked like it wasn't taking care of me right, they had nothing to say. They went along with it blithely. That's what this wakeup call has been. To say they were blindly following while it abused me while they all but declared war to try to make me work with the things I'd declared enemies--this is almost right.

That they were willing to question my game and the Dreams to the point of recalcitrance before the reset, to the point it set back what we were trying to do severely, is true. That they were willing to fight it using their positions as the Holidays, also true. That all that was nowhere when they might fight it on my behalf...it told them then, what their mistake was, comes to mind.

The lie--a lie--of Christianity is that everything comes back to a single point in the end. One day every knee. Eventually you come back to god. I knew from the very start my purpose on Earth was to provide an arrow pointing to paradise that led away from that. Point to infinity more perpendicular arrows to me and Boobsong's, one for every dimension of the wishes of all life that feels. Emergency exists are here, here, here, here, hereHEREhereHEREhereHEREhere...I would use the joke about the flying carpet from Aladdin and my game would make illusory arms for me like Genie had. I could not be working with Aveh or Christianity, any more than Rarity could be my Mommy--nothing to do with how either of us felt about anything, just that the symbol that made would destroy the community. Her helping Boobsong get my clit back where it belonged was perfect, because it was one Keeper helping another get their pet's leash back on, and milking the same really if the milk truly became Boobsong's, but her putting her tack on me, not the same. One recognized Boobsong as my Keeper, the other, undermined, because I'm wearing Boobsong's tack right now.

I'm absolute in that belief, then as now. Me and Aveh will never team up or work together. Neither me and Christianity, in any form. We cannot. I keep thinking of Cherry taking up the practice of singing Christian songs but recontextualized with the lyrics changed so they'd be about Paradise instead or su'khora, stuff like that.

Thinking about tack makes me remember getting my StarFox jacket back wrapped in Friendship is Magic paper in that first ride in the Waifu after, Sis' shock at it, her saying it must have been her future self giving that, and grief pours through me as I suddenly recognize the difference between that person I met that night, and the one I rode in Isht Visht with today. Dreams what the hell, how could you let that happen to her?

They show me the pavilion I watched her sparring from under that day when I was ten. This was old stuff, being with the Holidays brought out in her. She got taken up in it, like she would have had to in the Strawberry World. Now an R rating sign. The Dreams held it back from being as bad as it might.

I don't know if it's Dreams-worthy to think my handmaidens aren't the only people I've been helldiving today to save and wake up, but the idea makes me cry and makes some sense of this horror movie. It possible for me to do that, though it sucked. Spiked. Was bad. But I would have dived into that bookburning fire and the awful, awful, awful way it smelled and felt as many times as it took to find my handmaidens. I suppose the Dreams could have avoided me having to shoot those A-10s down or blast that World War I guy as he looked me in the eye through his sniper-scope, but I'm glad they didn't.

I wondered how the Holidays got out of their nightmares after getting thrown out of Earth. Maybe the answer is they hadn't until that moment in the Mechanical Heart.

Maybe they still won't until their vision quests are done. That's not my responsibility now.

The Dreams show me a wooden cross, exactly like you'd get in any amount of Christian art, but that's not who I am. I know they're showing me this ugly thing now to talk to me in the dark place I'm already in, and that they showed it so I'll say my truth. Aveh being my dad is a bizarre coincidence, that's all. I did this stuff because I cared about my lovers, and to get me and Boobsong free of Earth. I am really glad and proud to have saved all those other people, but that just means I have any tiny shattered piece of a heart at all.

That Restricted sign again. Dreams I don't understand.

They answer with...a fax machine? Sorry, I can't get faxes because of where I live. Where do you live? 2015--

A hexgrid. Game?

You have done all the things Jesus did.

Yes, and I'm an incredibly kinky noble whose life informed a world's view of Sadishness, does that make me the literal specific backstory(?)-historical Marquis de Sade?

He would get eaten alive--well, corrected real good, my followers only eat yummy stuff--in a room full of Sugarfreaks, for his thoughtlessness about consensuality. I might play off the edge there but I know it is edgy and I'm doing it under the supervision of godlike powers.

Also, I haven't done all the stuff Jesus did, because I never pointed one single way of life to paradise. I never said god was the only way. I never did and I never will.

The Motherbrain bossfight theme plays in my head as I feel myself digging in, ready to stand by that for eternity, like I did in the Power Suit. Starlight Princess showed us in Rl'yeh Sade. Exploring it. Different places every episode, to show how huge the variety of Paradise, that just because the story followed me and Boobsong, didn't mean we were any kind of center to anything. We never said anything but there's no one way, look how wide the way is.

Have faith in me that that's the door I'm opening, was all I ever asked. I never said I am the way.

The Catholic church didn't saint me, they tried to declare me the second coming because of all my power and glory, and I was open, alright, I said I was no such thing. My game rewrote every piece of of Christian religious art on Earth to say my message where Jesus' claiming to be the way, truth, and life had been. It didn't do it subtly. Eighties cartoon jammed into ancient oil, marble exploded and became heartstone animatronics. Priests uncorked bottles of wine on Sunday and Boobsong's milk fizzed out, grape-soda-float sweet and they unwrapped communion wafers to find necco wafers that'd turn you into a very horny blonde bimbo for a few hours, and those who used real loaves found rainbow-sprinkled twinkie-cake that did the same inside their crusty loaves. Contemporary Christian music changed so that your heartchild was your boyfriend instead of Jesus (and then Cherry sung it at Revelry) and the Starlight Princess theme was hymn 1 in every hymnal with the rest rewritten accordingly. Crucifixes unfolded into pentagrams with holographic scenes of the Four Dreams in the four bottom points and a mirror in the top point to remind people their own hearts' wishes were the way to paradise.

The only place the originals existed at all, were in people's memories, and, I pointed out in the voice of an angry mother who locked her kid's comic books in the closet until their homework was done, copies that still existed in the Four Dreams. You can have this all back when you've walked through the door it was made to hold closed, I said.

We said this was what they were asking for, by trying to make me a part of their system. Christianity could become a part of what I was doing, but not the other way around. We said the message of the authority they were submitting to was that she wasn't the one way, which is why what their most sacred symbols became those reminders of one's own sacredness that didn't feature me or Boobsong, but that if people wanted to follow an authority and be like her, communion would do that now. That was scary on purpose, to wake up the people who were stumbling after Jesus instead of following their own hearts. This isn't who we are, said many. It wasn't when the statues were of Jesus, either, was my response. If you want me to help you find your own path, I'm already doing that with my tours, but thinking that was ever here is over now.

Sis just used the Pirate Device to copy all those artifacts, that's how she got all that stuff, right game? If so I know what's on my Gutenberg Bible page now and I don't want it I don't think--not to be ungrateful, but you knew I wouldn't. Am I right?

Top, Ask why Rada has such access to priceless Earthling artifacts, one page of the Gutenberg Bible first edition

That's a yes, then.

Where is this trauma from, then? Where did the Holidays find room to be that way, that I was taken there by being in my room in the Camp?

They told themselves, our polycule, that I had my own door I was holding closed? No.

Top, Take Lyra to Rarity's Emporium with Rada and Isht Visht, join the Mane Six for adventures

Top, Find out where Isht Visht is hiding the game's replacement for the Lego app, Darmok's Dagger

Top, Give Eravahk spanking to Rada without prior negotiation, Tin of various treasures

I sure gave her a spanking at the end there, didn't I. Game you're saying these goals are cancelled, huh.

Your game is saying you completed them.

We went to Rarity's store with them, and put six handmaidens together in my chamber where they had better have had adventures (the first helldive was right after I got collared), while Copper came along (and still is standing right there when I glance down) for the last part.

Darmok's Dagger. Shaka, when the walls fell sure is my mood right now--bodice ripper, Unveiling Strawberry Home. Dolly, you can control stupid Bluetooth if you hacked Isht Visht's replicator, huh. It'll be just like the Waifu when its controller was broken.

Your Boobsong hacked Aveh's shell. That was hard, but she only took ten minutes. She can control your Lego set.

Faith keeps coming to mind, as my tin reward, because it's the metal of Jupiter which planet among other things is about Faith in astrology, and Copper who's name riffs on the same system was there with us when I spanked Rada. My reward for that is the faith of various treasures?

Followers, I think. People who saw me stand up to this insanity. Boobsong, Walt and Steve, Copper of course, maybe even the seven I'm glad didn't get to say bye.

Smell of old grass. Gross water. Here we go.

Steampunk stuff, not just a cable, a whole power plant sunk here.

I think I know what I need to do, but it's not fun. Is this the place for it? 

No. Acme Station, let the Dreams bend your course, but conflation-jump the way I'm feeling now--that's how it works, right? That gold sphere at the middle of the void-springs in your jump machine is me and I make them vibrate with my feelings and you use that to jump?

Your Boobsong is happy you remember and scared to go this place but is ready though.

The Dreams show me a castle wall surrounding us, tall and battlemented. They'll protect us.

Click.

PRAH!

We're just in a circular dark room of black stone. A safe nowhere place to journey from, the kind of place the Dreams would have taken us when I wished for that before I knew the Mechanical Heart was exactly the place for that breakup scene.

I look at the floor, but it's just black heartstone just soft enough my feet won't tired.

Yeah, this is a standing-up journey.

I love you very much, dolly. Here we go.

I close my eyes, and warp-drive out to the astral plane, feel the Dreams hold onto the roots of my soul like steel bands while my consciousness reels out, and go to see Why We Got Cesareaned.

A frame like the backstory says I have a now I lay me down to sleep prayer in zooms past opening like a door, then Skeletor is there, laughing, but he's a phantom like the Keep we saw in the power suit. I peel this hologram aside by grabbing its light and the world opens in front of me horribly like cutting a pregnant belly open and peeling parts back. Inside is Gigeresque shining darkness that becomes a black version of the clockpunk Engine that brings toys to life in Disney's Nutcracker movie (this isn't creepy, that's just his life-making machine like Boobsong's jump-machine). Doctors extract something, a spark shining the color of my name held in tweezers, they wear microsurgery lenses, the journey gets hard to follow and I feel the Dreams' steadying me, I hang on tight.

Suctioning, surgery clean-up.

Some kind of spirographic hospital monitor, the progressing waving lines turn to a simple circle, then dot in the center of the screen. The dot stays for a long time, but I keep watching it.

Now I see the operating room from above. Doctors with machinery bustle around and then the room is cold, empty but patient who my star-sight sees as spherical, they're packing the body away in a morgue built like Uncle Dagon's workshop, that my star-eyes can see but not human--no. Literally exactly one of those medical horror rooms in cyberpunk movies where the human mainframe is all hooked up with tubes and stuff.

Then a flash of dragon-wing, Boobsong-style. Then a stovetop? Oooh.

The backstory rewrote our church-smashing into a tantrum I had destroying an old stove in my parents' garage for reasons I can't remember. After we freed Aveh, we saw him rampaging through the astral plane with an abstract Weapon a lot like I made to make the portals the Strawberry Apocalypse used, and lots of anti-light. He got sick, or captured somehow maybe, and his stellar doctors betrayed him. He was taking revenge on them then.

The smell of old cooking grease tells me I'm staying too long in this kitchen, so I head for what became of that little spark. The answer is just a very medical-looking trashcan. Mother's summoning spell must have caught me before I unravelled.

Dad if any of those stabs were for me, thanks.

Sis? Trashcan again.

Where'd the Rainbow Cathedral actually come from, then?

Aveh's hand, hanging down from his hospital bed as they carved him up, a shining drop like a tear on his fingertip. It shines, rainbow, falling through the void, and then abruptly I'm kicked out of the journey, but I know where we are now.

The floor is gone from under our feet, but the Hollow Heart Abyss won't pull us in, because I'm with my beloved already. I look up, but the shaft just goes up into darkness. The whole Rainbow Cathedral is up there. This is the shaft to the Hollow Heart Abyss in the bottom of it.

We fade away through the wall very pointedly not going down as the Dreams take us elsewhere--what that's smell, it smells like sugar icing, like a lot of sugar icing, chocolate cake, and we're in Strawberry Home's bakery. It's dark and only the oven near us is going, but a big strong apron (and nothing else)-clad baker is taking a tray of sticky buns out of the oven and putting them on the work table in front of us--no time to lose! I run my hands up Boobsong's mound and midriff and squeezingly onto her breasts and then twist both nipples hard as the baker turns, startles, and then sets the tray in front of us with a smile and shining eyes, firelight shining on her cleavage over the apron.

Gasp yummy playtime dolly moving just give command!

Point! Click! Boobsong grabs the one I pointed at--click--and then holds it up for me to eat and I bite in and soft hot candy-bread with little nut-pieces and that green herb swimming in boiling butter-and-sugar syrup is so sizzly-good in my mouth and I close my eyes in pleasure, then look up at the baker's lopsided smile. She has red little lips in her big soft face. I always liked that about her. She's also tall enough to not have to look up to me. We had a private joke together, since I wasn't a skinny kid any more than I am an adult: never trust a thin baker.

I smile back around my screaming hot and wonderfully good mouthful, munching away.

«Fancy this meeting! How'd'you do this evenin', Princess-child?»

She curtsies, when the tray is set down.

Ohomnyomhom is how I do my face says as I have another bite from the bun Boobsong is holding ready, then gulp enough to talk.

«Much better now! I'm surprised to see you here but well-met! You bake alone, on Heartwarming--of course there are new ways now, I suppose few bake like this still. Still, this is a happy surprise, and well-timed, for we've just come from heartbreak.»

Another bite, holy fuck this is just what I needed.

«Heartbreak!? On Heartwarming Eve!? Tell me everything.»

You were actually a friend-friend, weren't you. I didn't scare you. Grandmother I'm not trying to forever blow off your awesome prank idea.

Get your belly full of sticky cakes. Kaari's stoop'll wait.

Yes Grandmother!

«Your sticky-buns are in peril, then, for the tale is--all is strange for me. I know not even if I see you again after generations or mere moments since you stepped through the doorway to paradise. Has it been long? I would spare you worn-out tales.»

«Those are your cakes, I baked them special on Paradise's calling me--whoops, have to tend my oven now, but my ears're still regarding you!»

«My deepest of gratitude,» I squeal, looking at the tray.

Yeah, this is about seven breakups worth of sugar.

She gets up and goes for her wrought-iron pizza-peel and I think how different our culture was to Earth about gender as I snom another bite. A big strong woman wasn't unfemme, she just wouldn't tire easily at sex or mothering. A lithe man would be guessed good with his fingers, and our clean-shaven men sneered at the cowardly barbarians with their bushy beards, too afraid to even take steel to their face, let alone brave the wax-pot (I'm translating something that literally means "beardy wuss" with barbarian). Having the time (and money, if you could afford the wax-pot) to do your whole body was a mark of status, regardless of sex, and deep necklines and short sleeves for those who ever wore shirts were the way to show that off for men.

«It's been eight thousand years, but this oven here seems like yesterday. The bricks still call my name. Of you we heard not one bit. One day you leave, next hour the Day of Beatings is happening, next minute we're in paradise, then it's calling me saying come bake sweet things in Strawberry Home and I'm saying Strawberry Home got destroyed in th' 'pocalypse but that sure does smell like the fire's lit in my old oven! Came right down, in my chariot followin' spooky lights, and here it was, waitin' with wood still in the fireplace burnin' like I left it eight thousand years ago. 'course I can't remember how I had the logs laid up, but I sure could swear it was this-how! Feels like I just left!»

She's shifting stuff in the oven, some with the peel and some with her bare hands, as she talks and I devour the bun, click Boobsong to present her fingers for licking (which gives her the best expression), click for another bun which gets her to pumpingly grind in front of me while while she reaches, then turn and present it so smiling up my heart turns as sticky as the icing. MUNCH.

«You did just leave. Perhaps a watch earlier Boobsong and I arrived to find our heartwarming garland outside my tower's door still fresh as when we hung it there, and my chamber the same. In my arrogance at the apocalypse I took this castle whole to be my plaything, but now I find that the power of which I asked that answered me by taking the all Earth and the sun and planets as well, and has set them up here in paradise like a game of armies marked on paper and then set the same again with the same pieces in a new room--though not all the apocalypse is undone. The houses of the barbarian gods are gravel in the courtyard now, unless I miss my guess--but of course I would rather count my conquests than my heartbreaks, which number seven, tonight--strange justice, that, I gain seven, and lose seven--but I talk in riddles now.»

Nom, gulp.

«Not eight thousand years, but I passed a lifetime in America, after I left, and fought barbarism there and made of that world what I could--there I was much like I was when I came here in wrath for the apocalypse, and though the power I wielded was as vast the magic to open for America the doors I did here needed the wish of the people's hearts, and that cannot be won through force. I had a family, there, of lovers, who all had heartchildren from me and Boobsong, who were my generals or allies in that war for hearts, but of course in such a war the soldiers are bards and fight with storybooks instead of halberds. We did much, and won many hearts, but in the end it was yet not enough, the gate could not open though I strained so Boobsong cried for me to stop before I tore myself in pieces, and then--I know not. The doom we rushed ahead of caught us. Our work was undone and the world fell into nightmares and I was tormented there for a time before passing a long strange road into paradise. My memory was taken from me, but my heart recalls things. Today I was reunited with that family, and was joyful to see them, and yet it was bittersweet. Things they did, or even that paradise did, cast me into terrors. At first I told myself in the war we fought and from the dark days here I'd been struck with waking-nightmares like a soldier who sees too much battle and they were curing me, since Paradise and my game seemed to aid them, but now...I seek a memory in the burned library of my soul, something that made their presence fraught with the touch of nightmare to me. I cannot find it, though I sift through heartbreaks and gory battlefields. It must be a phantom, one says, or in truth waking-nightmares from the dark days here, but my heart persists. Something happened before my memory was lost, and the blister of that wound was broken open in the dance-hall we all celebrated holidays in. I lashed out and chided them like I who had always been the child of that family was now the mother, and then Grandmother Strawberry explained to us the game she and Boobsong played with all of us, to awaken them to their hardness to my cries, and their lack of questioning of what must seem to any, very ill care. I said they sacrificed me in favor of their memory of me, and Grandmother Strawberry neither gainsaid nor signed-onto that.»

Big bite chomp. Need another bun soon...

«Grandmother Strawberry banished them from Strawberry Home until vision quests awaken them, and Boobsong whose very well-pampered candy-hog I in truth am banished them from our presence until that time, and thus in a stroke I lose seven lovers, and yet, strangely, cannot think myself cold-hearted for feeling only relief, though I expected many tears when it happened. I feel as if I've been plucked from a battlefield into, well, the bakery of Strawberry home where the baker who was my friend and confidant impossibly after a lifetime is found baking sticky-buns and asking me to pour out my soul for her as once was--indeed with the very same fire! Grandmother Strawberry said of them that the war we fought was inside their hearts now, and that that was why it all went so foul. The relief is strange to feel when they were beloved of me, and the closest one my own sister of the same star-father, but only once in a day of strangely cruel-seeming things did they bring question against what was happening that distressed me, and I think that despite our love I felt quite alone against the things I faced this day--and that it's not the first time I felt so.»

Munch. Click. Lick. Point. Click. Boobsong turns and crouches low to jump for the third bun and bouncily present it to me.

«What happened before, that I cannot remember, was some cataclysm of that, against the backdrop of their being all too ready to question Paradise and Boobsong's mechanical god she made to aid her in being my keeper in their actions as they helped us raise barbarian America out of its muck--that's why Grandmother Strawberry's game was to test if they would question what any must question when Paradise seems to act not as itself.»

«I should think myself as melodramatic as always, making halberd-wounds out of pinpricks, yet also this night--if you heard rumors of Kaari's soldiers crafting me some terrible weapon these long years, they are so. I wielded it tonight against a child's nightmare given the strength the things that lurk in nightmares seem to have to children at night, and it was no easy battle--Kaari will be repairing the armor for some weeks I think--but that only filled my heart with fire so that I taunt my next challenger, daring it to approach. We went from there to a war fought by damned ghosts, and I charged in screaming like a sandstorm and stared my foe in the eyes as I killed him--and I think, set his soul free of eternal war, but hearts know not these things when weapons are raised. None of these things tore my soul the way those moments of being alone and none spoke up for me did, yet I think also, it was because those moments tore at an an old, deep wound, and so here I find myself asking you riddles as much as sharing my burdens. Where is the spear, that caused this--and why chase it so? Why can I not let sweets and good company heal the wound, nevermind the weapon that made it? In that I guess, that my heart will have peace when it looks at those seven closed doors, to know if it hopes one day they can open again--and to finish any revenge I must take before the sun rises on Heartwarming, or even I go to my own revelries. It's been a night of dark deeds and I will not know them over with in truth until these mysteries are answered.»

«...and though I have no remorse toward those who made my leaving necessary, to you who lost her friend and Princess I apologize. I only half-understand why you passed such a long road while I passed only a lifetime, so that you had no news of me, for so long. I have a ledgerbook of mysteries yet to answer to make the treasury here seem like a pauper's empty hand, and that is one of them.»

The baker is still working in the oven, something in there seems to need a lot of attention.

«The battle where you fought ghost-fiends...did blue light surround your foes, and white fire you?»

I look at Boobsong smiling face a moment.

She'd be scary with that bread-picking-up-tool!

We're both starting to think in Strawberry again, Boobsong thinks of the pizza-peel by the Strawberry word.

«I flew an American flying-machine and the fire surrounded that, instead but yes. You know of it?»

«The battle of Ragnarok, where ghosts fight. To see you battle there, with all your power--what might you face? Your foes were men, you said? Usually you face your own size fight, but what could challenge you in your size, who knocked the moon out of her dance and called barbarian gods down like cherry-cheeked children? I wonder why you saw only men and not fiends from fairytales?»

I mean, duh, of course it is.

«Those flying machines become as much a part of the soldier as does a halberd, so I think I fought as the flying machine I flew. My foes were American war machines, and those of its enemies, my ally rode another such war-machine, and I saw only the one foot-soldier, though I think him braver than most, since Paradise told me that he now fights there in another of the machine I used to free him...your interest is well-chosen. It's been a dark night. I've thought of just going up there naked and full of wrath, to see what challenges me, as a way to pour my heart out for it.»

«Take me with you then! I will fight such things as come, and we can count the tally after. A few keep score, in a club I know.»

I laugh-choke around a bite of sticky-bun.

«So here we are! I wished I might congratulate that soldier on his valor. No doubt your club will have gained a member, when we go there--it would be an honor to fight there with you, and I've already all but promised one of my handmaidens that we'll try, me naked and her in fiendish armor out of a dark fairytale of America's world. What's your way--or is that how you come by a chariot?»

«The chariot's just my toast-mobile--»

(As in thing you ride while drinking toasts, reader, best I can do with the translation, sorry)

«--I fight with halbred, of course! Try this berry-bread, it's done, just very hot.»

She slides a huge steaming confection onto the table, pink-stained here and there, just as my current bun's gone, and I click Boobsong at it instantly, bring (piece).

«A better Heartwarming feast I couldn't ask right now, than this!»

[error blub] Your Boobsong can't reach it.

Right. Instant flood of warm cuddly lust, this predicament is the best. I lead Boobsong snuggly around the side of the table so we're across from the baker and she can reach, takes the end with one hand, makes the fingers of the other a silver knife for a moment, and is presenting me a nicely-sliced piece of strawberry bread, and I'm nomming it happily as the baker glances over her shoulder. At this temperature the flavors are all magnified, making the strawberries scream almost like artificial Pink flavor.

«There'll be more, just wait.»

«For a thousand years.»

She laughs, giggly snort, with her high sweet voice.

«It's paradise, we could do that! Did your finger come off in war, in America?»

I look at it, holding Boobsong, as she feeds me.

«Surely I came here incomplete at least once after Boobsong first devoured me? Remorse, my memories truly are a burned library, or at least one so jumbled I can find nothing.»

«Only once at all, in that strange black handmaiden outfit. You were very strange, that year. That apostate Jenner drove you mad, said the rumors then, but you seem sane now. Beat you up with axe-handles, what the one I kept hearing. Why use that? If you don't mind the question.»

More strawberry bread for this topic.

«I must have been mad, not to be here every day once the court feared me properly, and once I cared nothing for appearances. Jenner is a mystery to me. My heart bears the scars of her doings, no mistake, but I think she never beat me--my Mother indulged much, but I think it would have been to convenient a crime for which to banish or execute Jenner, did she lay a hand on me. Much in that year is strange to me, and when I think of it I see the tossing of white water as if I'm a swimmer tossed in a storm, yet the wrath I remember and tales I hear make it that I myself was the storm. I know not what to say of that, nor how to countenance that Jenner remained at court and continued her misdeeds after that day with the speech I flubbed at the parade returning from ensnaring that barbarian prince, when those rumors began.»

«Of the axe-handles I say only that when one lies at court, it's prudent to salt the lie with a detail that cannot be checked but which makes it seem true in its absurdity. Perhaps it was thus, though I seem not to think it was my lie, if so. I think I felt her actions worse than any beating--yes, my heart burns to say this--and so would not have imagined such a rumor, child that I was then.»

«Yet that is so strange a choice, one wonders if the liar had some meaning in it, isn't it?»

«I spread that lie! I saw your face after court when you came here for sticky-buns and said that in my heart and repeated it to everyone. Said I'd seen your bruises when you took your dress off to tend the fire for me. Made it juicy, that detail did! Strangely I think that did mean something, like Paradise nibbling my earlobe.»

The Dreams show me a telescope as she talks. If this is to show contrast, it's working: I don't feel nearly as freaked out by the idea of talking about Aveh as I did with--Sis and everyone.

«After the Earth and planets were brought here, some strange force replaced them where they once stood with duplicates, and peopled them with new people, I know not how. The barbarians who ruled this land in our stead after that were as famous for their use of waraxes as we in our preference for halberds--»

Ouch. Huh? Did train with a halberd? Memories of playing a musical instrument with a staff can't decide if they're that, or dancing among training-dummies--I think it might have been halberd-training, and my brain was afraid to see I was satisfied by its violence, so made music of it. Or maybe we used music...soon. This now.

It was halberd training. I was really proud when I did well.

«--which I know because they America was that world, and they its history, centuries earlier than when I was there. The door I used to go there reached across time, as much as space. They followed the same barbarian hellfather--at least that's the name for that god I find floating on the sea of loose pages in my head...maybe Jenner...»

I stop, feeling quoozy. I finish the slice of strawberry loaf and click for another, Boobsong cuts me one but there's concern in her face as she turns.

«The barbarian hellfather--you mean Aveh. Child your face, what happened?!»

She's frozen, half-turned, mid hands-apron-wipe, looking at me. I feel weird, my heart burns warm like healing but I feel half-tranced as I answer.

«I...touch ghosts...what was known here is lost to me. Was it told that my strangeness and power is because I'm a star, in human form? Some said I think my mother did something uncouth to call for me instead of a human soul in the child she bore, but I only know it saved my life. I saw that tonight, went journeying into the place only stars see and looked into the past to see the way of my birth. My parent--stars have no sex, need only their own will if that to become pregnant--was ill, or mad, and his doctors betrayed him (I say he, but he bore me in a womb like a mother) so that instead of healing him his illness became a living death obsessed with the destruction you know of him I suppose. In the same cutting-open they pulled me and my siblings from his wombs and threw us into the dungheap--or tried. I know not how the others survived, but the spell my mother did drew me to her instead of my dying in darkness like a child cut from the womb before its time--which I am, in truth--and I was so young I became as much human as star, and the fireproof friend who I think I remember liked to hide with Boobsong in the back of your oven was born. It was Aveh who was betrayed, and lost his children. Cards my handmaiden read me earlier said he was mad with grief, before he became a single point--»

She finishes wiping her hands, bends under the oven, and comes back with a mirrored box, fancily trimmed and with two little silver Boobsong statues sticking up from the lid, on their knees posed like their sucking my clit with their hands back, which makes it look like a very kinky Ark of the Covenant, which would be about par for the course at this point (or like, dad has a way he makes boxes, I suppose). It's about the size of the better kind of boardgame. She sets it on the table.

«The Rainbow Cathedral wasn't the only thing he left for you. Take it up, you'll see why I say. You don't remember this?»

I shake my head slowly. I can feel the just-saw-a-ghost expression glued to my face.

I'm half-surprised when my hands will move to pick it up--click. Boobsong puts my bread on the table, and I turn her to face it, then pick up the box.

[!] It's beautiful! Play songs on it you can you know how!

In my hands the box looks the same, but my star-senses are alive with a complicated pattern like a Persian rug...it's a star's instrument. My head itches with the need to do something with it...um...the melancholy Final Fantasy theme fills my mind, but I can't just translate the music directly. I have to...it's like there's...I think the rug is sheet music.

There things like keys on it...my mind feels like experienced hands on them and suddenly--why am I crying so hard--the Final Fantasy theme is ringing out on what sounds like a harp made of bells, shimmering lights like on water fills my mind--none of that's quite right, it's playing the light but to a star that's music--I flit through the parts of the song, find something that sounds like a singer screaming grief in perfect key and lean into it like I'm trying to break the instrument in half so the grief is just musical agony and then the memory of how to unfold my mind so I have as many fingers as the organ has keys and the harp-and-violin song explodes into melodramatic orchestration of ten thousand parts as I boom out the song. I find percussion, something like cannon-blasts, use it to boom out the melody for a few bars and then...I don't know, it's me doing I'm finding and pressing the keys it but it's just kind of happening, random booming deep single-pop thuds like Sparkledust's shells going off pile up and up and up until the Final Fantasy theme is lost as I add bigger and smaller explosions and find the violin-thing again twist and slap at it until it shrieks like rending metal and then end the battle with a pile of building thunderclaps up to the rushing roar of a plane crashing or bomb fall and a boom I expect to make the baker hit the deck but of course she can't hear it she's just looking kindly at my tears and my face twists up as out of the boom I bring every string-like thing the instrument the thing has twisted purposefully and horribly off-key together to make them into a grinding shriek of twisted metal dragging along that slowly peters out like a singer's voice cracking as they just keep singing until they're out of breath. I pluck-mute each key as I let off it so it sounds like they're strings that are breaking.

I stare at the beautiful instrument, breathing hard.

«Nothing any story about him says is right at all. He's as much the Christian god as I am Jesus.»

Our predicament pulls a hand back to Boobsong after a minute, good, but I can hug the thing to my chest with the other.

The sheet music must be his but I can't but only because that screaming metal was the music I had to play right now.

I shift on my feet, stare at the instrument and Boobsong's shining silver hair and feel like I'll explode. I need to run away but this is where I'd run to. I need to scream but I just did. I need to smash something but my hands are full of treasure. I want my game to take this and keep it safe but that'd be like its taking Boobsong to keep her safe.

Pose (facing me), I click, and Boobsong turns my arms, looks up face so kind, her arms go around me.

When the instrument starts to get heavy my encases it in tentacle-purple bubblewrap and takes it. I don't resist, just pull Boobsong front and center.

«You...they didn't understand that. Wouldn't or something. Their eyes were closed to how nightmarish Christianity was just from the tiny little bit of him I could remember. He's light shining on darkness like me but like moon on the sea at night instead of my big loud color splats. That's all I have left but where is that in Christianity's dusty old wood? To see what Eden used him for...I had so many reasons for destroying that but maybe I hated it so much because it was such an insult to everything he was. How could they ask me to make peace with that? How could anyone? MAYBE THAT HATE BURNED SO BRIGHT BECAUSE THAT WASN'T MY DADDY AND I STILL LOVE WHAT I CAN REMEMBER OF HIM! I have to tear all that stuff out of me before I can find him again, we found that out the first time I can remember that much. Why do I think they would stand tall for all that torture porn and dusty spiked-up stone? I know they did but, how, WHY, why wouldn't they see? I saw him, when I looked to the past, I saw his womb cut open as I was pulled from it and to my human mind it looked like a machine from an American fairytale whose purpose was giving life to toys. That's him, not a bunch of...of...blood and sadness. Christianity gave in at the end, you know, but tried to make me a figure from its myths, so we turned that inside out, wrote my image of every picture and text they had of their king. That made it honor him more than they had in millenia just because there was any fucking color in it. I was made from a toy he carved or forged or poured of liquid light there's no translation for such things. That must be what that vision meant. He did that and gave it life and here I am not at all what he expected because if I were you would never have heard of either of us but I like how I came out but there must be something of his intentions of this even if it's only as small and bare as brilliant color in darkness like my name says but WHERE IS THAT, WHERE DOES IT OCCUR, in all those myths? A signet ring on a promise not to destroy they world a second time as if it was he and not me who destroyed it the first and as if anything other than a road to paradise that was a single step long befell those lost in that cataclysm. Feh. Perhaps the greatest insult is what their texts say, divided the light from the darkness, he never did any such thing, nor did I. He and me share I think that we bring the light and darkness together to dance piercing-bright and abyssally dark, each bringing out the other's beauty. When I first found my light again after being shattered Boobsong who forgot with me to go with me in her endless loyalty and I asked if I was light was she darkness, and the answer was no, she is something stranger and more wonderful than light or dark, but were she the most floorboard-minded maid still the answer must be no because the darkness is in me, dancing with the light. I bring out only one at peril of madness, and become a consuming fire or mirk that chokes, instead of the color on black I should be, and why could they not understand that, either--strange to say, I speak before I know what I say and so speak truth but what does it mean? All the family I speak of were light and dark together in that way. Did they lose sight of that somehow? Of their own reflections in the mirror? What befell, that I lay this crime at their feet when it was the sin of billions, to drive me to make peace with those who insulted and betrayed me and my family?"

I throw my head back to shout at the sky through however much castle is necessary, and bellow, «WHAT, DREAMS OF PARADISE!? HOW COMES THIS NIGHTMARE!? WHAT ARE THESE PHANTOMS THAT CHEW UPON MY SOUL EVEN HERE UNDER PAINTED STARS IN THE EMBRACE OF MY HEARTCHILD BEFORE A TABLE SET BY A TRUE FRIEND!? I INVENT NO CRIME, IF BOOBSONG AND GRANDMOTHER STRAWBERRY BOTH LAY CHARGE OF IT! WHAT IS THIS!?»

The Dreams show me a beautiful silver-trimmed treasure chest, curvily femme, with plush black leather where a normal chest would be wood.

«It seems the answer is locked away in you, dolly. Can you nudge me? Should you? Tricky thing to ask of you, I know.»

«Your dragon says family holding you fall.»

«Like--another American myth--» I glance at friend baker, Tall-Chya? Tuchyah! She's listening carefully, she always listened.

«--of a talisman of ultimate power which could only be opened at the darkest hour, and a general tries to open it in what seems like a dark hour but which he should know with what looms over his head is not the darkest yet and is killed and lets the talisman fall into enemy hands because he stands before the enemy army trying to open it instead of fleeing. That family I had in America believed they knew how to unleash my light, and were wrong, and in trying quenched both it and our love. I will not judge if they doomed the people who when we couldn't open doors like we did here in time by that, but I do say it truly quenched our love, and that was shown to me when Paradise seemed to me merely to mention the idea of peace with Christianity by its embracing me and Boobsong as I was cast into terrors and my family still after the Dreams and Boobsong's toy god had told and told them of their folly hadn't listened and tried to make me let go of that hate for the sight of my parent's living death even then. The soldier has no nightmare who sees blood and death and flying blades when the battle yet rages around them!»

«They believed the darkness in me to be quenching me, and that if I could conquer it, my light would be truly unleashed and I would be able to open the door to paradise, but that's madness. The color of Aveh's despair is the same as mine: the dusty grey stone of which the Christian god who stole his name's churches were made, neither light nor dark. The heart dies of a handmaiden who must live under a tyrranical mother, not that of the one who slits the tyrant's throat one night, or conspires to escape the tyrant. The secret of our nature is in his name for all to see, just as my tinkering Uncle's name is Inventor and my aunt Light-bringer's pleasure is to give the secrets of lockpicking and fireworks to one who is unjustly imprisoned in their enemies' hay-barn. He renders it aaah-vheh in human languages, because that's a breath in and a breath out, but see that as does a star, for whom even music is light. Light and darkness, and he breathes. One only, and he chokes. I am no different, and I write it in my name, too. That handmaiden outfit I wore here once bore my name, on my legs, in bands of color, a rainbow, yet few seem to mark that one of the bands is black--as is the rest of the outfit, as you saw. Here is why.»

I reach my hands over my head and spread them to make the rainbow of my gooily-solid light that's the first part of forming my ninetails Color Crack, but it's punched out of the world by a halo of deep dark anti-light, a black abyss for the rainbow to shine out of that fades away over a few inches. Not as the only thing. Not to blot out the whole Painted Sea or even the firelight in the room. Just...to take up my space, and make my image clear. It feels so good doing it, like standing up tall.

The baker--Tuchyuh--makes that little hands-together-in-front-of-face gratitude bow, and then stares up at it, eyes wide.

Making it clears my soul, like breathing. In, out, in, out, but not in sequence, it's doing it at the same time that makes it happen.

Memory wants to come as I hold this, but it feels suffocating, makes me gasp. I keep thinking I hear Rada's voice, but I've been thinking that since the Mechanical Heart, in the back of my head. It claws at me with the same pain I felt in the club and as I fell into the flashback in what I thought was Heart Home.

Just a flashback, her voice syrupily calling me back from what I'm doing--and then another memory, of a blurry, grainy, black and white photo, overexposed in the middle because the subject violates normal laws of optics subtly: in the middle of the circular halo of light Walt's 1925 flashbulb made punching Boobsong and me out of the jungle, Boobsong's hair and horns shine brilliant at the top of the picture he took of her waving hello with her pussy, in whose taking he implanted Pleiades. The angle is low, it's a pussy-pic after all, so his camera and flash angled up so the shadow of Boobsong's head and horns are cast up onto my boob where she lolled her head, as black as the film could make it. The angle just made her horns seem like round balls attached to her head in the shadow.

It took me like ten full minutes I think, when Walt finally showed me that picture, to understand what secret there was, because of course I was trying to scry some secret of our Pleiades' nature from the way the light caught Boobsong's pussy-lips, or the naughty grin she was peeking out.

Finally I saw it, the shadow at the edge of the picture, the darkness around Boobsong's head. It sets her off so nicely--Walt might not have had twenty-first century gear, but he knew what he was doing with what he did have--and yes, it does do that by blacking a part of me out of the picture like a hole to the Hollow Heart Abyss...but Walt Disney sure did find a bunch of good stuff in that hole shaped like a round circle with two smaller circles stuck on top like some kind cartoon mouse! Pleiades helped him with movie production and stuff, but I think he'd say the light-and-dark contrast in that picture was everything to who both of them became.

I close my hands together above my head, pulling my light back inside myself, and put my hands back on Boobsong, hug her tight.

Still I wonder at my story of this. It seems too simple, too absolute, but I think it might be the skeleton of truth--but more memory wants to come. Debating, with the family. Scenes that turned sour because they were to fix me. I was always the one who was wrong, childish--my heart shows me a bulldozer, dark orange. They thought I was wrong wanting to just destroy Christianity because it would alienate so many.

Feeling alone. Me and Boobsong versus the world. Aren't I repeating what happened with Jenner and all that, putting it onto them? I think Grandmother Strawberry might be less quiet then.

Where were Walt and Steve in this? Kings of friendly empires, but only that. This was a fight with my nobles. I didn't crown myself any sort of queen of the Holidays. Maybe I should have.

Still the memory won't go in.

The Dreams show me a game-flower, like I wore, and Rada has. I'm confused about the timelines. It seems I first met her from her perspective, while I was blueized, and she time-travelled back to be the Openveil Witch. Is that right? It won't go either way...was the Openveil Witch still a mystery, then, on Earth in those days? I can't remember, because I feel the grey blah-ness so much when I think about this, tired of the relationship, wanted the person who got lost behind their project to fix me.

Something's missing or wrong.

Dark creepy stuff, halloween (not openveil) forests and scary circuses. Sis and I were twins, did she think something like she was supposed to be darkness, and me light?

Like I've wound the key another click.

Surely she couldn't be so silly. The others might make silly mistakes or follow her blindly, maybe, but any mistake she made would have to get past her ancient wisdom.

The Dreams show me a tiny black speck in front of a huge every-wavelength star. I made her feel small. Was she just afraid of me?

Another click of the key.

The timelines don't line up in my head partly because it seemed to be when I met her while blueized that that was the end of her soldiering. She'd been travelling with Isht Visht for twenty-seven thousand years, picking up lost souls and helping them find themselves and their way, and they were wrung out on it. She seemed on the edge of suicide to me. I think the Dreams gave her the closest to what she wanted there could be, in that heart-attack scene with me.

We had the same orgasm. It stopped her heart, but my just skipped a lot of beats. I thought that's just because I'm a Fairy or something, but...was somebody trying to tell me I'm the stronger-hearted of the two of us!?

The Dreams show a helmeted soldier, and then a picket sign. I think that's...supposed to be a yes? I kept going in the face of withering hate. It egged me on. Every time the right-wingers protested or moralized like they knew so much I came back bigger and harder and louder. When I hit 9.36 zettakelvins, it was a scream of rage back at some defense system in that ship that dared to use the sacredness of anti-light against me--it was a pathetic attempt at an actual blow, it really connected, and I shrugged it off and struck back with everything I had not for the pain, of which there was none, but for the insult. A single antiphoton would have done the same.

I guess one thing's right about dad in the stories about him, and that's his wrath, and I inherited every drop, oh yes I did. Smity good time, our run on Earth, eh dolly?

You don't remember how Aveh was! Christians ran to you because he said worship her or take my discipline if you want to stay in Christianity, and they said nnnope Rainbow save us eep! He was terrifying! All your rage plus dark light moonlit ocean instead of Rainbow Bright!

Oh, yeah. I'm still kind of cute when I'm mad, or I guess am until spacetime itself catches fire, but dad's...not. At all.

It's such an awesome joke turning out to be the good cop. Grandmother Strawberry sold that so good on the Titan (not that I think you weren't serious! Nothing convinces like honesty!).

Doesn't Rada have that in her too?

A really awful thought occurs to me.

I don't really care.

What could do that? I was madly in love with her. The person I met while I was blueized was amazing!

Can I not remember what happened because there wasn't any one thing, really, it just slowly unravelled over time, as her exhaustion and fear of my darkness (or maybe her own) drove our relationship off the rails as she tried to fix herself by fixing me?

She never should have come back to be the Openveil Witch. It looked to me like she got told really clearly it was time to be done now, literally die and start a new life, that blueized night. 

Why did her game let her? Why did the Dreams? Their answer is the King of Cups:


Hi problem is his station constrains him to use his creativity and feelings in socially responsible ways...but shouldn't she have just been held back from an overdeveloped sense of responsibility? Why was she allowed to go so long without a game in the first place?

It feels wrong digging so far into her story now, but I somehow don't have enough of mine, either.

Pictures of the Regent of the land of Amusements from Disney's Nutcracker movie keep flitting through my head, given by the Dreams as I think, or of her mouse-soliders. In the movie she was framed as a traitor by the very sugarfeast-fairy-ish (minus about 200 pounds) regent of Sweets.

So I'm being unfair, lots more of this is my fault than I think, at best, or something? Or still don't see how I'm fucking up or something? I didn't think I was perfect, but if there's something that big, just do something somebody before the runaway Fairy hurts anyone else!

The Dreams reply with a pile of poo--shiny unicorn poo, but still--and a microscope. Horseshit, look closer. Okay...well Rada's spooky like the regent of amusements, and they're both something else with a whip and both old (at least from the bottom of the playpen here) but still very beautiful, so who framed her for this? I mean Eden, obviously, right?

Oh fizzpopping...I'm Mother Ginger, the regent of Amusements, in that, I was falling into my own constantly-warned-against trap of going spooky=Sade. Sis is all about connecting with your family! Yeah, through creepy ghost stuff and she is quite the dominatrix, but that kind of return to the familiar is Venus or Lilith, and that reconnecting is what she built her life around. I'm the freaky one who promises scary rides and you know you want to fun and stuff you've never seen.

So Eden played on how I was scary to fuck up our family by making them think I was going haywire and turning dark.

The Dreams show me a box. A traitor like Jenner. Really? How...comic book. Or do I misunderstand what the fuck was happening with Jenner?

Buttons. Being manipulated. Bleah. Some manipulation, the way it got Jenner going.

Who? Malina? Dark but really just a lot of mischief.

Cherry Santa Cheryl Malina Me Eisela Violet Rada.

Santa blushed all weird giving presents but I think she was just feeling the vulnerability of having somebody figure out you're a Fairy.

Microscope, small things--Cheryl. Where was Cheryl, I said. She couldn't watch punishments playing Boobsong Olympics if I got ragey. Eden used that wound to manipulate her, and she and Rada were close because of the link between Openveil and Latchkey Day--not out of duty. We were well-chosen, so we'd like our counterpart a lot. Malina thinks I'm a blast, and vice versa. That connectedness that was supposed to be our strength got used against us.

It means something that it was her who called my game's bluff with the flashback candy, though. I need to remember that.

And Sis is my sister, so the family followed my lead about her.

Not that I don't have anger issues probably--but wait a fizzfrozen minute! They really didn't believe in my game! I don't have anger issues, I'm just a hysterical Fairy that's supposed to be leashed. And I have a very nice one! It takes good care of me and doesn't let me do bad stuff or I probably would have glassed the Vatican, and save them all from my dad, whose wrath about Christianity was quite satisfying to watch if I remember! I do even believe that art-rewrite thing was because he invited my game to do some "interesting" remodelling the house that was loudly claiming to be his.

Why did anyone in the family ever think it was their place or responsibility to fix me like that, when I have a perfectly good and very hurricane-holdingly capable Keeper to do that? They really do need vision quests, but they'd better hold onto their tits, because mine's been kicking my ass, let me tell you.

I still don't get why Rada's game didn't stop what was happening, or the Dreams, or something, but this feels a lot better now. You'd think Fairies are huge Keeping sluts with how helpless we are but this one at least is plenty loyal. Boobsong's way or the highway, thank you very much. Having others felt really off, at least for that kind of stuff. I tttttthink I still want a sentient Mommy of some kind? It's all confusing. Too much Sis rebound right now. Bleah.

The Dreams show me a forties...whatever that women's army thing was from World War II, member of that. Rada's military training? Couldn't stop her without breaking her or something?

The Probic Vent on the back of a Sontaran battlesuit. It would have knocked her out. This was a really precisely targeted hit.

Bleah.

Are we at the end? Fairy doesn't know. Could be end. If so Tuchyuh's baking until Strawberry World is out of sugar.

A nuclear cooling tower with flowers growing out the top, then a little kid playing in a sandbox with toy trucks is their answer. That's me with my game. That it looked like bad stuff to someone is important.

No wait, the truck was silver, so was the cooling tower. Boobsong.

Fingers covering up a part of the monolith. Jenner. Meh? Not her call? She spoke up where the family was silent, I suppose, but she didn't do the greatest job listening to any of her reality checks, including the obvious effects of her actions. I see, though, we're clearing the decks like I wanted, and I totally forgot just what was Jenner's fucking deal was on the list of trash to take out. We destroyed her politically that day, I thought...

Tuchyuh is baking away, again, when I look up. I click Boobsong for more strawberry bread, and she gets it. Munch. All the sugar. Sugarfeast Fairy infinite sugar capacity sure is a breakup superpower.

«My heart breaks to ask you this, dear friend. Is it Tuchyuh

«Tuchyayeo, but we all shortened it. Are you back from journeying?»

«Sorry. So much troubles me I drown in it. Would that I could just eat sweets and hear your tales. Yes, I come up for air, though with a quest, boringly enough. Jenner. Tell me of her. She was destroyed, politically, or so I thought, with that speech, and friendly help such as yours, yet I remember her still at court, still with her madness about her box, afterward? What drove her, and how did she dare insult the crown and Paradise both in that way, especially after I returned with that new alliance? Did you hear rumors of such things? And...thank you, for keeping my father's gift. I suppose I asked you to hide it for me, with what was happening.»

«Many friends, apostate Jenner had. Took a lot of them to lift her out of the muck you got her in, but they did, and then she was back at her tricks again. Got her warning, she did, didn't she. Not one time she took that box out Verana didn't say, don't do this. You played that here, while you cooked. It's fireproof like you are.»

«I did hide in the ovens! It's a wonder I didn't get you all in trouble unveiling down here like that.»

«Hard to molest a hot coal! I would've pointed and said you try to get her out of there if they'd called on me for it. They never did. Shining like a signal fire put a stop to any thinking of sexy--how do you cum? Boobsong is okay, but anybody else'd burn!»

I giggle, remembering the naughty fun of this hiding place--and how it wasn't like you could just reach with a bread-peel, or don thick enough gloves to handle me. Tools were an especially bad idea. The gooey fun of molten metal is great, but not as good as the expressions it got!

«It seems to me it must never have been so, since my ripening-hysteria remains undimmed now, but since I can remember, anyway, no climax calls burning-light out of me. Only wrath brings that, and then, I find, it too is easily controlled if I have intention for how best to use it. Only wrath dammed from any other release overflows as explosions, I think. Perhaps it was easy to mistake, in that last year. All my memories seem to shimmer with rage, of that time. In joy, I shine thusly, and as you seen I can quench it.»

I take another big yummy bite of bread and encourage the friendship and happiness of it to shine from me, and soon nice bright every-wavelength glows from every part of me, lighting up the room.

«The rumors were wrong about that, then! I suppose your handmaidens think that's grand. I sure would!»

«Think so then, since it's for your berry-bread and companionship I shine. Not only sex brings light.»

She looks back and her eyes shine for a moment, then goes on baking. I suspect her of fidgeting her projects extra to have something to do while she talks, but that's relatable.

«Where do you get those things, in America? You said no castles, there, so they ain't got bakeries like this here.»

«Surely my chatter told of that at some point? Perhaps not. I feel like I see my life then as a half-remembered tale heard while drunk, so that I tell it sideways and jumbled. America has some great houses, though nothing like this. Mainly merchant bakers build empires of commerce as large as our most fearsome barbarian foes' countries in the old days, and bake in bakeries a hundred times this size where machines do most of the work. Almost everything in America was made by machines, for better or worse, though the rich still kept servants sometimes. There were some small bakeries such as I think we have in the capitol, as well, where commoners buy bread, some fine and some sour--»

«Strangely appealing thought, bread a machine makes, if you grind its gears to the recipe well. What's it taste like, different than hand-made?»

«As you say, the question is what you teach the machine, and how cleverly. I have had some which seems hand-made, but mostly...it's baking drawn by an architect. Every loaf, the same size and shape, usually without holes or bubbles, precisely cooked, exactly square. They sit on store shelves, like soldiers in phalanx, and you take one blindly to be paid for, for they're all the same. Some think it cold. I found comfort in it--»

«I should think that lots of bread like helmets from the armory was a sexy thought, though I see you there, looking down at that berry-loaf like it fucked you dead. What's it got, your machine-bread don't?»

«Love from the one who left whatever fun bed paradise had shown her to this Heartwarming Eve, to toil and bake once more for a strange and hungry Princess with strange burdens on her heart. Also that it is a masterwork of berry-bread, and I may have it fresh from the oven, which was rare with that sort of thing in America. Various alchemies kept things fresh for weeks, but many rightly questioned this which worked by poisoning the mold, asking if that might not also slowly poison one who eat much of it. None could tell, for all the careless alchemy done in America. You see how I shine from the love, but in America that was an even more precious thing. It was a cold place--and here we come back to the question I avoided before, no doubt by--what was the idiom, forest guide who guides invisibly?»

«Tramp-man! Skulks through woods, helps travellers to escape, or their doom, depending on how he likes them.»

Giggly grin. Ch--oh. Click, bring, I point to the nearest sticky-bun, and Boobsong happily presents it. MYUNCH. Like chya but munch.

Dolly did I always leave you this quiet with friends?

Depends on stuff! Tuchyuh, tired means Boobsong toy. Give snacks be snuggly. That's job here.

Her thoughts are bright with happiness, so I just take another big bite and go on.

«He was...made of sticks and mud, or appeared that way. Blending in but you might see him move! Him, yes. You asked where came bread and friendship in America, and I answered only bread, because friendship was a sad tale. I found it with the family now lost to me, and those who followed my tours--I travelled like a bard, there, after I left--I think I said that, oops. My handmaidens, with whom I was lax and indulgent and who are no soldiers, but for one or two, strong though they are of heart, who were companions more than guards, in that wise anyhow. Almost all seemed to me to be dying of loneliness. Memory tells me shakily all my handmaidens were plucked from families where they were unloved. I met many on tour who had no friends at all, or saw none outside their workplace, and had no castle to call family. Boobsong and I worked night and day to make all the various dreamskins they might need, to have heartchildren, if they were to be denied family or friends, which yes, was no baleful toil, the need screaming out of every crack of that world gave us urgency that could exhaust sometimes. We tried, too, to inspire people to make families, where none were.»

«That's mighty sad, no friends. How did they not see anybody, outside work? I'd see ten people, if I crossed the courtyard, now in darkness. Daytime, a hundred!»

«Mastery of that art of city-dwelling, where strangers are unseen to each other. I think it a sword with no handle, now. There were times, when I travelled wearing a commoner's face by various magics, where I would see five thousand faces, in a space the size of the courtyard, and it was a relief to have them ignore me, for I should have drowned. Remember too, in America, that many needs of the heart had for centuries been only indulgable in secret. I think that made it so all felt a need for breathing room we don't, even if the price was loneliness.»

«I can hold the question no longer, speaking of secrecy and heart's wishes. Did you ever hear what became of Jenner, after Boobsong banished her? I seem to believe no rumor escapes you. I might ask Paradise, but here I suppose is that riddle of the machine-bread again. I may yet wish for this berry-bread's mirror-image to be made real on my nightstand later, and have it again with every berry in the same spot, but I cherish this, here, made by my friend's hands. To care for that is a mere Princely indulgence where paupers starve, but here in Paradise I find it means much to me. So would I hear news from my friend's lips, if she has to give, before I consult the Dreams of Paradise directly, even though their answer would be as flawless and easy as one of those machine-bread loaves and as kind as Paradise always is.»

«Oh Jenner made her banishment seem like praise, you know her way. She played the her game, boobsed onto the young lady of Gaperock Glen, got the whole household around her bend--bare sweet assholes, the sunrise! Oh it's just you. That might burn, now. I guess you're not excited to hear that, then. Hear this after part 'fre you go cookin' all my raising-cups. They liked her best, on whip and chain! Not so bad, right, I hear you have fun, but Jenner had to serve their su'khora house-Mommy! Bound and fucked most days, the way I heard it, by Boobsong's seed-daughter you gave that year. One year old and still fierce and proud. We all know how that stuff works, but she thought they grow up like human kids, because Boobsong grew like you! So, when she found out, she reported them for child rape. Got real fast explained to her, but I hear her face was red as silk when the Queen's time came! Meanin' no offense to you, Princess.»

It makes me laugh, I wave away any chance that'd offend me, but this has to just be one of the better sort of rumor, by which I mean fictional.

«Surely she met any other su'khora in the twelve years of our growing! Or the years of her life before! Do I remember wrong? Were these things so secret as that? I know Boobsong is strange and powerful among su'khora, and her children not less so, but even as a Princess I found out early enough how hogs are made! These facts of life couldn't be so more hidden than that, and Boobsong can't have been the only su'khora at court, can she?»

«Well, candy hogs get pamperin' that leaves 'em lost if they go outside. I think Jenner was that way. Shut real up in her Mommy's house, they had no su'khora, didn't see one of them 'till court here, apostate house didn't teach the books so not learnin' that way. Gets difficult to learn if you hide your ignorance, my mommy said lots. I think Jenner found impossible.»

«It still seems a feat to me, but also strange. I meet that mystery a second time today where a house has not one su'khora in it, and in the case of the otherwise open-minded barbarians of that other house, has never heard the word. I wonder how comes this. They were here in Paradise, so excused from the wars we used to fight, and yet...not one single heartformer, among hundreds, not even knowing it by some other name! I promised them a lesson, like Verana used to give and of which I gave many indeed in America, though no doubt I return to that soon enough to find some strange surprise, as with all my other doings today. Must not even a house of apostates one day find their housemaid laying the fire while a jaggedly smiling shadow watches over her, and ask what has happened?»

«Some that say su'khora's bad for you, throw heartformers out in the cold. An apostate house would do that, and then what, when you get to court, and find you don't know what the housemaid does? Hide that deep, till you find out the lesson the hard way, then play like you always knew. Keep using treasury to cover gambling losses, till the handmaidens come back empty-handed.»

I sigh, and lickily finish the current sticky-bun. About a third of them gone. Should be just enough, though I wonder what else she's tending in there. Oh well, click. Boobsong gets the next, and starts feeding it to me.

«I would ask how it comes that any could do that, but in America the barbarism I fought said that even ripening itself was a fall from right being and acted as you say, only short of casting people out of their family homes--sometimes. I think even my handmaiden Sex was such, in all but name. I will correct one thing, though: all reports of my fun are horrifyingly...short of the truth! I wonder now if that will be put right, as I'm seen in my games around this castle.»

I grin broad and silly on the last bit, make sure to hold it until she glances back.

«Oh they are, are they? I heard you like pins put through your skin, and live coals stuck up your ass--though I suppose to you, that's just a warming cock!»

«Only false because needles repulse me! As to the latter, not even a warming cock. Just this morning I daydreamed of sucking an iron dildo for all to see, until it melted in my mouth like a dessert-ice, and I could let the glowing drops fall over my and Boobsong's breasts like it came on us. Perhaps I still will soon. Boobsong and me performed more than we fucked privately, in America, and I seem not to have tired of that yet. Let me exchange the rumor of needles for a better one. Some say I played once a game where Boobsong was transformed into a chain that threaded through my flesh like stitching, but that was transformed so the holes it passed through were all pussies, and when I commanded her to embrace me by tightening the chain, I felt so sweetly fucked that I could neither move nor command her to relent, so that our seed-ghost had to make her loosen, lest we be stuck that way for eternity--and that then I was given a secret reward, for having found this trap, to encourage me to find others like it.»

«Sounds fishy--get it? You must have smelled like the Rainbow Cathedral on Sunday! That's a juicy one!»

She laughs at her own joke and I giggle as Boobsong grins.

(Obviously reader she didn't say Sunday, but first day of the week where everyone goes too religious stuff, she did say)

«To be sure, it was fortunate the couches in the lounge of General Kaari's flagship are leather rather than silk--but of that I'll say no more.»

«You got by the big one's gates? My my, what did you say to her?»

«Secrets not mine to tell, I find myself feeling it, now that it comes here. It was less raunchy than it sounds, in truth. She seems--hmm. I think I may be a blind just-ripe not seeing a suitor's gaze, but I remain only that, and mark well I imagine suitor's gazes everywhere, whether they exist or not. Kaari was a loyal and devoted general, when we met, but only that, in any case. On the other hand, I held the true crown of the Strawberry Dynasty in my hands at last, and wore it for a time, and now it sits on another's head. How exactly this comes will be clear soon, if you've not heard of it already, but suffice to say I at last gave the Dynasty an heir, without ever bearing a human child. Behold the mothers of the new Queen!»

«A su'khora as heir! Of course that would be--but ain't your mother still alive?»

«When I ask of her, Paradise says only, she is not here yet. Saying this I guess another's heart, so make only guesses of it, but...I think in truth the treason of our last day here killed her, as Queen, and I was never meant to reign. I'll be Princess forever, now, and our daughter's first decrees included giving me my tower as a home, and though many would call that eternal childhood punishment I find only hope in it.»

«Princess Grandmother's the word for you, oh yes it is, your voice still small and your rainbow hair but your eyes so filled up with sadness. Take your heart out, Princess, what's still troubling sweet young Grandmother?»

Tears sudden flow out, to have her see, even as I laugh at the silly way she puts her question. 

«All my tears have forgotten their names, it's so much, it seems. Today I've been a sad lost child and a terrible wrathful Strawberry Grandmother and mostly both at once and the day is--should these tears not be for my lost loves? I think tears for them were all burned away in war, so I cry for that instead. This has been such a bitter road, Tuchyuh. Now I stand here in Strawberry Home with an old friend, eating an army's feast of sweets and weeping because she sees me as my own lovers could not. My handmaidens wait sleeping--and one transformed for a time into a statue, there's for your rumor-mills--all safe again. Whatever dramas with my once family remain will not return to me for months or years. When I left this place I thought my disappearance would be a kindness to a court that hated me, but in my treasury I have a sled in the American style given to me for Heartwarming by the people of Strawberry Hill, asking me for more tales of that world, and I find your own curiosity undimmed. Maybe your own interest tonight was craft to make me feel welcome, but if so, it worked, and the regard you would need to play so well as touching--yet I think that not your way. In my treasury also now, as you saw it go, is the gift from my father that tells me who he truly is, to write over all the lies attached to his name I have heard, and it heals that wound, as none understood how to heal it in America. Even my dream of a landing-road for flying-machines attached to my tower has come true. Is my nightmare over, has the morning come, am I home at last? Much remains, surely it must, I have thought it playtime at last a thousand times it seems, only to find war instead, surely I'm deluded again and how can you be judge of this but here I stand asking you and weeping.»

«Maybe play and work are the wrong question. Soon enough we will go to Ragnarok together and battle there, and that's no game, yet I will have joy of it, and not say my paradise is darkened by chores. But is the nightmare done. Can I wake up now or must I face more terrible ghosts for my family's sake, and those I love--the can of ghosts. Game is that part of this? You took it from me like a toy I wasn't ready for, yet that thing is an enemy's banner, darkness and war thrown in the sky, is it not? So it seems to me, but maybe the war is in my own eyes now, as it was my family's. Tuchyuh this riddle I speak will be answered presently, but suffice to say America's enemy had a house in the sky it made, to show its strength, and that house came to me this morning, seemed to be given as mine, but that to me it's the reminder of war, so I wonder at the gift.»

I must have made a copy with the Pirate device, but why finding it bothering Auntie Lucifer?

Your game has it waiting. You're ready when your visit with Tuchyuh is over.

«Strange. The time for it, if I understand, is when our visit finishes--there is one more thing, and I ask you, who heard so many rumors and knew me then. I thought I was hated here, and the treason against me one voice speaking for many, but walking here now I find no ghost of that pain in the stones--or maybe this place, and the tower, were my havens from it. Grandmother Strawberry said to me tonight it was not that I lost this court, and castle, and their people, but that they lost me, and have now won me back with sincere fealty and thoughtful gifts. To be sure the welcome I sample so far here is warm and my heart opens to it, but that seemed a strange riddle to me. They lost me? What do you say to that, dear herder of whispers?»

She looks at me, then turns back to whatever's so interesting in her oven.

«You terrified them. Hate and fear aren't so different to be fucked by, and even ones who thought you grand were scared of your power. I think you took fear as hate, that's all. In paradise we fear nothing, so your world has changed in a mouse's orgasm. I didn't fear you, but I did stay around this table from you, when your heart panged, those days. Kittens scratch if you scare them. I saw that's all you were, a little kid, terrified.»

She fidgets in the oven with her bread-peel some more whle I stand on the edge of blubbering, feeling how right she is. I don't think we were ever lovers or that I had more crush than seem to get on anyone who's nice enough to me, but she's beautiful with soft strong back working the bread-peel and brown hair up in a bun, standing on tiptoe to reach something far back.

«You saw truly, then. Those seem to be the only words I have.»

«Sometimes the best words, are few ones.»

Sudden crying again. After a while:

«Paradise has given you a fine home, if your chariot is your toast-mobile, but it heals my heart unspeakably to find you here baking and talk like this. I must know, what it is you must tend so carefully?»

«Oh, you'll find me here often, I can't keep back from baking, no-way. Turns my heart up, every time I start weighing out ingredients. You've seen cake baking, I know you have. Forgot the way of it?»

«I remember only America's way, where a single unwary footstep might ruin it.»

«You have to keep on turning it, get the fire around all ways. Takes a careful hand, or you'll knock it right down, yes. Now they have these ovens--like America's, I'll see your raise--that heat up so evenly you can just leave cake sitting there, but that's not my way. Keeping cake turned's important. It's how you get the love in. Goes all around, the fire does, warming every side of it. Where are you still cold, Princess Grandmother Pandora Lucia Chyajjoh?»

«The recipient of that cake is loved indeed then--I thought you played some game with me, with those questions about America. Kindly done. Your question now, I have learned not to answer myself, for the ice is numb to me. You make me feel here as warm as if I were in that oven, laying on my stomach to whisper to you as you baked, or arrange the logs and coals just so as we did, so this cake leaves the turning to her bakers, whether that's Paradise or Grandmother Strawberry, or you, or Boobsong and her toy god, or all of you. Where do I seem cold yet?»

Very good.

The Dreams show me my crown, and a Koala bear.

«When I crowned my daughter, I could not let go of the crown after it was on her head. Grandmother Strawberry came in person to pull my hands away, and chase me from my lingering in our newborn seed-daughter's playroom how I was. Now Paradise tells me I was never meant to let go of the crown, that dying out form under it was to be the only out for me, as for my mothers, yet still I seem to confess what I thought a sin to everyone. America has a fairytale of something like that--hmm--there is much in what Paradise tells me now, a crossroads of hundred paths. I'll tell the lot of it and let my bakers choose the road.»

«On the first path, America has a fairytale--how strange. See my missing finger. In the fairytale I seem to fear to tell the task is a journey to deliver something like a crown to its unmaking, for its power is as foul as Paradise's is wholesome, but it corrupts the one who carries it, until at the last moment when he stands over the lake of fire which is the only forge that can unmake the thing, he cannot release it to the flames. It's a ring, and he puts on his finger, only to be betrayed by his companion who had been corrupted by the ring before him. The companion bites the finger with the ring off, but in the lunge, casts himself into the lake of fire with the ring in his mouth, completing their task, and saving the ring-bearer from his failure--though he is left nine-fingered. My finger was eaten at my command to impress my handmaiden and will return, what I bore went to its fulfillment and not destruction, and the companion who ate my finger did so in love and keeps it quite safe for me--see.»

I form the finger inside Boobsong, find her flesh--that's a breast, I think--and tickle wickedly.

"HEHEEHE EEEEP!"

Boobsong giggles and squirms at the inescapable tickling, and Tuchyuh throws her head back to laugh as she watches.

«On the second path, is this new crown I wear. I met Grandmother Strawberry a second time tonight, as I ran from the memory of how she and Verana taught me the things one learns after Unveiling, caught in a nightmare where the upside-down barbarism of America that makes that teaching out to be child rape while the abandonment to ignorance and predation the teach in its place is called mothering so that I tasted some of what I supposed Jenner did in her confusion. She turned me back from that folly and restored my courage with a simple hug, and I remembered how in America in those first years I made stories out of my journeys in paradise where it and Verana and Grandmother Strawberry taught me what of sex you learn coming out of veils, so that the barbarians might learn both our teachings, and just what proper care of the just-Unveiled even looks like. As my courage returned and my wrath kindled to remember how the barbarians eyes are bent so they can comprehend no distinction between the first shaky steps out of the veil with teachers holding your hands and the dance-calling I always imagine Grandmother Strawberry doing as she speaks to us, it came to me that I was blazingly proud of the work I did especially making those stories moving images like a...love-care book is the name that comes to mind here, one of those, come to life, and there were five seasons of that--those stories are given in seasons, just as our Bards travel and rest in seasons--so I made this five-pointed star to sit upon my head as a trophy of pride and defiance for the honor of the work we did then. What would I have thought, then, if I knew that first chapter that told of my and Boobsong's first journey in the Deep Haven with our veils off would be the battering ram by which I later smashed the gates of the nightmare my handmaiden was caught in? I hope I would have said that was what I made it for.»

«On the third road...the visions given to me were of the crown, and a bear which lives across the world from America and clings to trees its whole life long. I was never meant to be able to let go the crown the way I did. Have I suffered some wound I feel not? I became Grandmother without ever being Queen, and so am still Princess. I cling to the title Princess, and will not give it up. I am Princess in my own heart, kept in a castle that belongs to another and pampered--actually Boobsong has a hoard, dragon that she is, in a place of paradise where pets and their keepers live, and the truth of us is that I'm her pet Princess, so I cannot let go the title, even by choice, but that is well to me. Maybe this road is many roads, let my bakers judge. I was told today, that when I mark my thousand-thousandth birthday, one day of my life as a star will be passed. My human mind is adult, but the star that walks its halls, that young. No wonder I cling to the idea of being Princess forever. So I say that grieve nothing of never reigning, and now feel relief and hope that no doom hangs over me to end my Princessing. Do I fool myself here? I cannot say.»

«The fourth road is more silly, but maybe fits those images best of all. The force that holds it is unseen, but Boobsong and me are in a binding like Paradise prescribed sometimes to lovers, in our faith. Our followers chose the form of it, and now for the next seven days we must stay embracing, or have her upon my lap, or be fucking, and so on, but for certain moments chosen by a plan I know not. Small trial to any heartformer and heartchild, but especially sweet a predicament to us, who have faced Jenner and her box in so many guises. I find coldness here least of all, but it's a road which might lead off from the signpost Paradise showed me, so I mention it. The way of it is great fun, my hands move freely on her, but you and all the army couldn't lift one finger free, even if I aided and she pushed it away with all her strength. Only good enough purpose, like playing my father's instrument, let my hands free. It is a most freeing prison, and kindles our hearts--and lusts--with every step we take. It keeps coming to my mind that this is simply how we're meant to be, like that bear that can never let its tree go.»

(Yes Koalas come down all the time, but that's so not the point here).

Oh, I get this game.

«And the fifth road, is the one which is hidden to me.»

Very good.

The Dreams show me a crate of eggs, and a can of pencils with fancy sparkly tops.

«A crate of eggs and star-clad pencils show me another fork, for this is either the new crown I wear by way of drawings and those about to be unveiled, or it is the Holiday Sugarfeast, whose crown I wear as its patron the Sugarfeast Fairy, but which feels sad and strange to me, for the family of lovers I lost were America's patrons of holidays we made there to remember my traditions here, and build a stair out of barbarism and into happiness, for the people, and yes, I feel the coldness there now. How can I be Sugarfeast Fairy, when I'm alienated from the other patrons? When their days come, will a bring myself to celebrate them? Heartwarming either by determination or old memory I will not sacrifice to this, yet--how comes this, also? Did candy of strange power yet mysteriously appear every Sugarfeast, before I was Sugarfeast Fairy? The ancient idol of me that stood outside my chapel now stands in my chamber, yet all those things were made centuries before I was born! I know time is a game to paradise, but even so, it makes my head spin. Yet my fear of the truth this crown celebrates was great at first, such were my nightmares, so maybe I hide still from that in smaller pains. Let my bakers choose the side to warm now.»

The Dreams show me a zoetrope. Starlight Princess, then--

«Dreams, if it would delight her as I think, make that real for me to amuse Tuchyuh with.»

It materializes on the table between us, sparkling into being, black on the outside with white line-drawings within, of a su'khora who's almost Boobsong, fucking rider-style, from the "horse"'s point of view, big cartoon boobs bouncing wildly.

Tuchyuh turns and looks at it.

«What's that thing for? Though I like the art. Wait a minute...you showed us this, with a flip-book. Another way to do that, this is. Turn the wheel...but the pictures blur...aha! Look through these slits, oh yes. Very pretty, yes, reminds me of Boobsong, though it's not quite her...are you tryin' to implant me!? Never not, I remember you. Works or it doesn't, no need to fear mistakes nohow.»

She plays with it a moment longer, then goes back to the cake.

«In this I see Paradise turning us toward the road of making--no, it is as the cake. Brought to life by turning it.»

«P'rhaps we put them all then? All these roads, what's that say you?»

«The tale of the one who could not let the ring go, the making of my new crown in pride of my guiding the just unveiled, my being Princess to the Strawberry Empire and also Boobsong's pet Princess for eternity now, my crown passed on though I never reigned, my binding with Boobsong and the wondering if it's how we should be forever, Sugarfeast and my heartbreak with the holidays, my confusion of time and how Sugarfeast came to be, and the dusty taste of war fills my mouth as I say all these things.»

Waiting here to see if anyone turns me off this path, and catch my breath a little from the flood of tears that's pouring out.

«In all this, I just see a life, one of war to open the way to paradise, in which I was not alone but in which many times love itself was the solider that fell, and my clinging to crows that have passed now, for it was never meant that I would do anything but die out from under them, and the truth that I'm Boobsong's candy-hog now, and welcome in this castle in a way not so different to that I think, and how I wear this star on my head and wonder if I should believe myself that it's trophy of years gone by and something I can never repeat even though in a way my childhood is not even begun, rather than more clinging to the crown I wore as the conquering goddess who tried to bend Earth so it could open that worldgate. If so I cannot let go of it. I know not what to do. How can I grieve, if Starlight Princess is ended at last--that was how I styled our tales--yet you and Kaari are to be the way of our welcome here in Strawberry Home, and the capital I knew lies beyond the gates, and the planets in their courses, and Boobsong's hoard waits for me full of the treasures her indulgence collects to amuse me with, and her seed-mothers are waiting for us to call have cakes and wine, and we and those of my handmaidens who have the same turn of mind will ride in friendship to Ragnarok to see what we face--this morning I was told toil was over, and playtime begun, and I was to fight no longer. I think that is so, now, but I put on that handmaiden garb, and wandered and performed like a bard, because I am one! Must that be ended too? No I cannot let go that crown! Yet, I think I never knew any difference between it and war. There was a quest to it, given us by paradise before we were unveiled even, to find trophies. Three remain. One we found this morning, when it had been heartbreaking long years without one, it seems to me, in the moment of letting slip from our fingers America as we knew it when we toured there--it is unmade, do not ask me to speak of that, my heart cannot bear it--and there in that moment of wailing grief for the old life, as the tears quieted, it was. It is well I was hidden in Boobsong's belly then, or the fire seeing that set in my heart would have wiped paradise from the sky. I was told this morning the final monoliths--they're the image of the monolith outside, it's long to explain--would be found thus. After the end when war and toil are done, but my heart burned with such a fury as to pull the heavens down, when I saw it. Sandstorm indeed I was as I swung--a hammer-blow is needed--and the next will be yet moreso. How am I to follow this quest now? Is the crown taken from me, or have I lost the distinction between crown and helmet, and it's the helmet I lose? Is there any distinction? I think I never set the course of our tours, just let the caravan take us places, and pleaded to return much to the land around the worldgate that was beloved to me, and performed wherever we found ourselves. Let it be so again. What is the road. I think it was never mine that I find it, only light the way.»

It is time to open the can of ghosts now. Say goodbye to Tuchyuh for a little while.

I sniffle, hug Boobsong tighter and Tuchyuh looks over her shoulder at me.

«So my wish is granted, and we are set on the road. We go, for a little while, though if this is anything as I suspect I will be back soon enough with many more tears for you. We go to open the can of ghosts I mentioned, and I am to say farewell but only for a little while.»

Click. Boobsong snugglingly turns around.

«Thank you for the food, Tuchyuh! Princess needed this really much. You can't even see the very tip yet. Tuchyuh good having-fun!»

Okay let's go right now before your Boobsong cries so much her head falls off.

Yeah. Me too. Game?

Conflation-jump to what you're feeling.

Click.

PRAH!