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She drew the shawl over rivers of golden hair, but nothing, not even a mountain looming between her and the surrounding sea of people, could avert their gazes. The fires of the underworld, the whispered judgment, scorched her skin whenever she dared traverse through the city’s streets.
After an hour spent dawdling around the marketplace, the two women, submerged in tea-dyed scarves and skirts, slunk into the nearest alleyway.
The plainer face of the two women placed a hand on her antithesis’ shoulder, and gazed into her eyes. “This was your choice, remember? You considered it a blessing.”
The self-appointed goddess shook free of her friend’s arm, and buried her face in her hands. “This cursèd gift will never leave me, for as long as I may live.”
“The moment a gift touches the hand of the receiver, it is no longer the property of the endower.”
“I have to dispose of it, don’t you see? I can’t endure this torture.”
“Here, join me in a vision. We must remember why we once found this dismal alternative more appealing.”
They crouched down. After the vixen and her accompaniment linked arms, a swirling inferno swallowed them whole. It drew them into a time Caliya longed to forget.
He licked his lips, as he so often did, and pressed one finger against the crinkled manuscript. “Caliya, do you remember what I busied myself with yesterday? My mind—”
“That’s right!” His glacial eyes searched the table of contents, then he rifled through the pages. Caliya shifted in her seat, and attempted to appease the armies battling within her stomach. She lifted the white flag, and was slain for it.
“Oh dear, are your ill? Your skin is void of color.” He cradled the side of her face, but as a doctor examining his patient, not a musician strumming his beloved instrument.
“Perhaps I am tired.” The lie left her lips like a sweet song that all but he could hear.
“I will take you home.”
She followed him through torchlit streets, and over a cobblestone bridge. Her ethereal, white dress branded her a specter, and she felt no more significant than one beside him. They reached her abode, a fairytale place covered in tendrils of ivy.
He beamed. “Caliya, I hope you are well tomorrow. By then, Persephone’s kiss will have reached the town’s meadows.”
Turning on his heel, he found shelter beneath the moon. Caliya reached out, towards the unattainable. How straight his nose fell, and how profound was his jaw.
“Is Caliya here?” A silhouette resumed the place her tutor had abandoned.
“I am she.”
“Caliya, I come to assist you.” The shadow bade her hood farewell. Caliya gasped.
Before her stood the paragon of femininity, with the figure of a sand timer and the hair of a stallion. Her eyebrows were crossbows framing her fragile face, a face that might shatter to pieces at the slightest touch.
“How, why, would you assist me? I am wretched in comparison.”
“Upon my birth, I received unchallenged grace. It exhausts me. Oh, do say you’ll accept it!”
“I will!” She thought of him, of how her mediocrity solicited his scorn. “I will!”
In the morning, a divine artist accented the gray world with hues of rose and mint. Like a dove whose feathers had been untied, Caliya flew awake. Without sparing a moment for either the mirror or her breakfast, she raced downstairs and bounced straight through the doorframe. Bulbous clouds emboldened her every step, and summer air, acting as a blanket of comfort, draped over her shoulders.
She pummeled on his door.
“It is I, Caliya!” She spread her arms, and spun around.
But he did not react as she had expected. Tears lined his eyes, and he banished them with his sleeve.
“Caliya, if you are who you claim to be, know this…” He choked on his words, and spent several moments, likely hours in his mind, retrieving his poise from the trenches. “To me, your bouts of depression were rainstorms that brought glitter to the morning grasses. The lines on your hands you despised so wholeheartedly were the road maps of your life. ” He bowed his head.
“Why would an immortal scour the world for the Fountain of Youth? Why would one remove the strings of a marionette?”
The door closed, and remained that way until Caliya traveled onward.
“You see, Acacia?” The vision concluded, Now, I am without him, and I am without myself.”