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Susan

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This document being Chapter 8 in the recordings of W.S.D (1981-2044), 1st Commandant of Trann, borough of Porre (1999-2039)
Restored, catalogued, archived in Arris by the Hist. Pres. Soc. of Truce, 2347
SC DOA01-08
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I can't even remember half the events which had led, at that point, to my complete and overwhelming distrust of everything beautiful; but there are two, in particular, that stand out in my mind and still fill me with the shakes when they bubble to the surface of my memory.

The first was my birth. Though I of course have no memories of my own surrounding it, I have managed to gather bits and pieces from family members and friends to form a patchwork that has reassembled in my mind. This patchwork is so involved, so detailed, that I'm nearly convinced I DO remember it all. I'll spare you the boring and gory details-- suffice it to say that the weather was cool, crisp, and sunny, my mother had a difficult labor, and I was born with birthmarks covering my entire body, warping my skin, making me look like I was caught in a raging fire and bear the scars to prove it. Nothing so glamorous though-- just an unlucky, ugly child. The story goes that even the doctor responsible for the delivery cried out in horror when my tiny mottled head finally poked out from between my mother's thighs.

Of course, my appearance led to a troubled childhood, scattered delinquency, and a complete lack of romance. The only girls who ever paid attention were the ones as ugly as myself-- as antiscocial, as potentially murderous (though that's another story for another day.) The beautiful ones, of course, avoided me with downcast eyes if they were polite, and openly mocked me if they weren't. Childhood and adolescence are difficult for everyone, though, in one way or another, so I'm not too spiteful about all that.

My second, and far more terrible memory is one I actually remember and which haunts my every moment. The weather, of course, was excellent. Scattered cirrus clouds adrift in an endless emerald ocean. The leaves were in the midst of their autumn colors, rustling with the cool, gentle breeze which was flowing over the lowlands. I recall the ocean's dull thundering on the nearby beach, oddly muted, as if behind an endless pane of glass. The house was still as I arrived home from school. Only the ticking of a clock broke the silence as I passed through the entryway, hung my coat on the rack, headed into the kitchen to fix myself a meal. And there he was, spread-eagled and face-down on the floor, blood pumped out into a shimmering mirror, crusty at its edges, leaking into the crack between the tiles and mopboard. My father had been murdered. Stabbed fifteen times in the back by a slighted business associate, and I, his teenage son, was the one who found the body.

I remained surprisingly calm; called the police, called my mother, and sat in the entryway on the stairs and tried to control my breathing and settle my heartbeat as blue lights and sirens tore great bleeding wounds in my calm facade.

I tried to be useful for a moment or two, and succeeded, until my mother finally stepped into the room and let out a crushing, wailing scream. That was the last straw, and my will snapped, and I had to turn and run immediately else risk letting mother see my misery as well. I dodged two policemen in the hall and stumbled out the front door, blurry vision leading me to the edge of the beach, to escape the overwhelming emotions that came with being cooped up inside the house with my mother and the police and the coroners who'd come to scrape up what was left of my father and turn it into ash. On that day, staring out over the ocean, waves lapping gently at my feet as the sun made fractions of itself beyond the horizon, I realized that our world was at its most terrible when it was at its most beautiful.

I spent forty-five minutes on those rocks, watching the night begin, completely ignoring the drama unfolding behind me. If I was an artistic man I'd have pulled out a canvas and oils right there and tried to give permanence to that beauty. If I could have captured the glimmer of a foam-flecked rock; the toss of seaweed, the floating droplets of water which collected on all the fine hairs of my hand, making it appear to be made of glass... a visual representation of my misery.

After that night, I developed a grudge against our quaint seaside home. Several miserable months later I packed a small suitcase and made the move to Porre, hoping to find resolution in the filthy back alleys and in the great, soot-stained dome overhead which blocked all but the most persistent sunbeams. My mother begged and pleaded with me to stay. "You're all I've got left" she cried, in a voice worn thin by tears. "Don't leave me here in this house alone." She pleaded, almost on her knees. The day I left, I didn't see her at all except as a silhouette on the beach, throwing off the balanced hemispheres of earth and sky, fulfilling my need for imperfection.

That was the last gift my mother gave me, and I never heard from or saw her again.

So I arrived in Porre, a country boy with little more than the clothes on my back and a pocket full of coins my dad had left me. I didn't really know what I wanted, only that I needed to get away from all the damned beauty in the world, which is a lot more difficult of a task than you'd expect. Beauty is relative, after all. And the less of it you think you're near, the more you see it in objects once considered plain, like the dull gleam of copper in lamplight, or the little rivulets of black, filthy water gurgling into a storm drain in a feeble imitation of nature's splendor. And then, of course, there are other people. Children laughing despite their bruises and hand-me-down rags. Fine men passing by on their way to an opera, or an expensive dinner, completely lost in their possessions.

And then there was Susan, as out of place as I, but as beautiful as I am homely.

I don't know why she ever stopped to smile at me, a scarred and filthy stranger. I was fresh through the great gates of the dome, ruddy-faced and wide-eyed, gazing up at the near incomprehensible mess of advertisements and pipes and wires soaring overhead. I tripped, there, on something-- perhaps a curb, perhaps my own feet, and I never even looked down until I found myself sprawled out on the damp asphalt, which smelt of urine and dirt and ozone. I lay there to collect myself, hoping I wasn't too conspicuous, when a perfect white hand was offered to me.

And that was Susan. The perfect white hand turned out to be attached to an equally perfect arm, shoulders, perfectly pointed breasts covered--just barely-- in a sequined black gown. Perfect legs. Perfect neck. And her face! Oh, I lack words for what I saw there. My suspicions nagged at me; that much beauty HAD to be bad news. But I was still in shock over the city, and any hand offered to me was a welcome one.

With her assistance I stood up, dripping, trying to think of something polite to say. She smiled for a moment, perhaps expecting a word of thanks, and when I didn't speak ( I was spellbound even then, you see) she turned, though not impolitely, and began to walk away. Terribly confused, and still feeling like we had unfinished business, I followed. Just to the next crosswalk, I thought; then I'll thank her and be off. But the next crosswalk came, and the next, and I still trudged along behind her, feeling like an absolute fool. Whenever she stopped, I'd open my mouth, then close it quickly; my words all seemed inadequate, and eventually I gave up, resigning myself to this strange, building urge to follow in silence.

I'm well aware that this sort of behavior is terribly creepy, but I didn't feel wrong doing it. Even now, thinking back, I know there was no ulterior motive, no underlying urges. I wasn't making any effort to hide myself, after all, and she didn't seem to mind that I was there. Actually, she didn't even seem to know that I was there; she never looked back, never said a word.

There behind her for so long, I couldn't help but notice that, in her delicacy, she seemed almost to float, her shoulders swaying back and forth with each step like a hypnotist's watch.

Susan led me through Porre for many minutes, taking turn after turn, each new street seemingly smaller, darker, and dirtier than the last. I'd long since gotten lost, but it didn't really seem to matter. Having no home in the city meant I could sleep wherever I fell.

Finally she stopped in front of a door, wedged down underneath a corroded balcony, buried deep within a maze of alleys two men couldn't walk side-by-side in. The alley terminated here in a slight downslope; the cobbled walkway obviously out of place, obviously an indication of the city's much older infrastructure, all that was left of history buried there where public works couldn't be bothered to renovate. It's sad how the past was actively obliterated in cities like that; obliterated or shoved so deep no one could possibly find it. Much like that door, with no handles or windows, only seeming a door through its precise rectangularity and two inches of inset in the surrounding brick. The door was a blue of nearly imperceptible translucence, with a crest of tarnished silver that could be a spider; or perhaps a crown? In any case, it was so filthy and stained and pitted that I imagined it must have been there when the city was built, nearly 2,000 years ago. Perhaps the city was even built around it.

The alley itself was oppressively dark. Even though the only ceiling was half a mile in the air and made of polymer, I felt like I was deep beneath the earth, with the walls and dripping pipes around us easily rearranging themselves in my imagination into solid stone and stalactites. The glow of my watch, when I pressed it, both told the time-- 2:17 AM-- and gave a sickly greenish pallor to the sequins on Susan's dress, shining back at me like a curtain of lightning bugs. I tried to suppress a shudder but failed. Perhaps this shudder, though, was what reawakened Susan to my presence. Before this she was deathly still, but she whirled (and the lightning bugs scattered in fear) and turned to me with the strangest look in her eyes. It was a look that I could best interpret as meaning... No.

"I just wanted to say thanks." I said. The words sounded weak, and died in my throat. I suddenly felt as if I'd profaned something sacred, and the stones beneath my feet felt painfully uneven.

She shook her head again, slowly, sadly. The headlights of a passing vehicle bathed her in a halogen halo, her eyes a brilliant, diamond blue. It was all I could do to keep from dropping to my knees and swearing I'd die for her.

Susan still hadn't told me her name.

I'm not sure if she took pity on me or just forgot I was there again, but she turned back to the door and fumbled with a clasp on her throat for a moment, pulling out a small, delicate golden pendant inlaid with a gem that --amazingly-- seemed to be cut from the same crystal as her eyes.

She held the gem up before the door; here, lost in the forgotten depths of Porre, her movements were only vague shadow hints in the dark, more heard than seen. There was a rumble, and a hiss, and an unhealthy grinding noise, and the door pulled inward on hinges I couldn't detect, and Susan slipped into the shadows beyond so quickly that she was nearly gone in the time it took me to blink. My heart skipped a beat. Was she leaving me? Do I follow her? And another thought; the thought of losing her there, on what seemed to be her very doorstep, was so abhorrent to me that I felt my face drain of color, I felt my guts sink into my legs.

In the next moment I'd crossed the threshold, and my logical brain was raging. "You don't even know her!" It said. "All she did was help you out of a puddle." But I ignored myself and pressed on; logic wasn't driving me anymore, simply the need to be near her, near Susan, to feel her hand on mine once more, and then to die.

I'd lost sight of her in my wavering at the door. I still, however, heard the delicate crunch of her steps as they echoed down this impossibly dark corridor, and I moved quickly in pursuit of the sound. The place smelled like a tomb. I held down the button on my watch as I walked (for I knew, innately, that running would be a terrible disrespect) and saw in the greenish glow the tattered remains of cloth on the walls, golden brickwork, faded mosaic, all from a culture competely alien to the mean streets of Porre. There were bones, too; skulls, fragments of jewelry, forgotten lives that whispered in my ears.

Death. Death all around me. There was no beauty there but the beauty of silence. I gulped, and shivered, and released the button; I felt better before I knew about the bodies, and I preferred to let them rest in the dark.

I recognized the smell of lilacs and knew that I'd caught up with her. She was still walking, but slowly. As far as I could judge, we'd gone an eighth-mile down this slightly declined hallway. I wondered why it hadn't been destroyed long ago, but then remembered the door, and realized that no one had ever been able to open it but Susan. And I... a poor, ugly wreck of a man she pulled out of the gutter, I did not belong there. But still I followed close behind her. The hem of her dress brushed against my shin, once, and I was bathed in a sensation of warmth and security. I knew, as long as I was with her, I would be safe.

Susan stopped abruptly, and I bumped into her; my face immersed in hair as soft and thick as cream. I was so tempted to just stay there, feeling the cool threads brushing across my cheeks, enjoying the even deeper scent of lilac here, and, more, the underlying smells of sadness, and silence, quite unlike those of the tomb we found ourselves in. She moved forward again before my sudden infatuation with her hair became unhealthy, and I was compelled to follow.

A creak in the darkness indicated that she'd opened a door. We stepped into a room, small, square, but surprisingly tidy and warm considering the route we'd taken to get to it. Was this where she lived? One thing was certain; the sacred 'aura' the hallway had given off was quite muted here. The room was lit, slightly, via grates in the floor, and I soon discovered this was where the heat came from, as well, as there was a roiling pool of what seemed to be lava beneath us. That couldn't have been possible, though, as the room should have been sweltering if it were. But I couldn't sit and ponder this for any length of time.

Susan, with a cry like a wounded dove, fell backward into my arms. Who knew I had the reflexes to catch her, but I did. She was as light as a feather, and I reconsidered her walking through the streets; perhaps she had been floating after all. I think I should have been panicking then, with Susan limp in my arms, but her touch still filled me with an almost impossible serenity, and instead I sat, lowering myself and the angel to the ground. I cradled her in my lap, like a child.

You wonder if I felt any sort of... it is distasteful to say it... sexual arousal in the situation. But I assure you, sex was the farthest thing from my mind. The idea that myself, or any other man, could harbor such thoughts about Susan was simply impossible. She was not a woman you lust for; she was a woman you worship, and therein lies the difference. In that moment I was serving her, and I would have sat and held her until the flesh fell from my bones had she not stirred.

"La...vos..." She whimpered, so quietly I thought it could have been a sigh.

"Are you alright?" I whispered, and even that sounded so harsh, so improper, so terrible for her delicate ears to hear.

She simply squeezed her eyes shut and buried her face on my thigh, sobbing silently. I cried too, for what else could I do? What help could I be to an angel? I hesitated to touch her, for fear of hurting her. But finally I laid a comforting hand on her back and brushed my fingers through her hair, and this seemed to calm her.

In moments... days? Weeks? I neither knew nor cared... Susan quieted, and seemed to sleep, and nestled closer into my lap. And I, I was in heaven.

**********

When I opened my eyes again, I realized that I'd been sleeping propped in the corner, which is not where I'd sat down, and the thought of Susan, in her frailty, moving me there seemed absurd. But I was beginning to believe more and more that she was an angel, and who knows the powers of the heavenly hosts but God himself? In any case, I was here in the corner, and Susan was no longer with me. I felt empty, and worried a bit until I spotted her again on the opposite side of the room, leaned heavily into a desk, writing feverishly in the glow of a single candle. At this moment she looked not angelic, but simply human; broken, forgotten, and impossibly sad. And this... this made her even more beautiful. I thought I would die simply from the sight of her. But I did not, and hearing me stir, she put her pen down and turned in her chair to regard me with a soft smile.

"I hope you slept well." Her voice was pure as pearls.

"I... yes." Although to be honest I was very sore from my night on the hard tiles. But complain to Susan? Impossible.

"I'm glad." She smiled again, crossing her arms on the back of the chair and leaning her chin on them, studying me. After a moment of silence; "Why did you follow me here?"

"I had to." Such a simple reason. And in my mind, that was all I needed.

She did not reply right away; instead, she closed her eyes and seemed again to sleep. In moments, a murmur. "You shouldn't have come."

"I had to."

She nodded, and gestured for me to join her at the desk. I did so; and as I crossed the small room she closed the book and sighed. The sound of her sadness broke my heart. I wanted to hold her again but I knew; now was not the time. The time would likely never come again.

I lowered myself to the floor beside her and she remained silent for a moment, head in her hands, perhaps deciding just how much I needed to know. When she looked up again, I saw her eyes were glistening with unshed tears. I desperately wanted to comfort her, but I forced myself to remain still.

"There is going to be an earthquake today." She whispered.

This seemed oddly anticlimactic, for earthquakes had been striking us with ever-increasing frequency for the last several hundred years. A frown must have flashed across my face as I thought this, for she blessed me with a thin smile.

"This earthquake will be different from the others. It will kill many people."

Had anyone else said this, I would have questioned, probed, asked for proof. But with Susan, nothing was logic. All was passion, and instinct, and belief, and servitude. And so, I believed. "What can we do?" I whispered, suddenly feeling a sense of divine purpose.

"We can do... very little." Her voice wavered, ever so slighty. The blue of her eyes grew deeper. A tear, shimmering like diamonds, slid down her cheek and off her chin, dripping onto her clasped hands.

"I would defend you to the death, my angel."

"Thank you." She whispered.

And that's when the earthquake began. Susan squeezed her eyes shut and dove onto the floor, muttering a prayer, or a chant, or something more arcane, in a language I had never heard before and have never heard since. I, fulfilling my vow, dove atop her; keeping my weight off of her, but covering her body with my own, to bear the worst of the weight of any falling masonry. If I could have done more, I would have; If she had told me that only my death could save her... well, the breath after those words would have been my last. As it is, though, I did what I could.

That earthquake, the records say, lasted for fifteen interminable minutes and registered 8.6 on the Richter scale. You can't imagine it, no one ever could. You have to live through it, or, as was sadly so often the case, die in it.

But we lived, Susan and I. We lived without a scratch. My chivalrous gesture to protect her was pointless, for the room was none the worse for wear, other than the candle, which had fallen to the floor and extinguished itself. We helped each other stand, and with simply a look at each other and back down the corridor, we knew; we had to see what damage had been wrought, and save what lives we could. We tore through that dreadful hall; my breath, panicked, coming in short ragged gasps; Susan nearly floating, again, but keeping up my speed with hardly a hair out of place. My angel.

When we reached the heavy door, she held her pendant out again and with another shudder-- this time significantly louder and more pained--the door swung open and...

Again, my words fail me, and for this I apologize.

The world was red. On the horizon I could see a vast, spiked creature, rising slowly from a great smoking pit of lava. The ground all around us was cracked and scorched; and, considering when I entered Susan's sanctuary I had been in the depths of the city and the horizon was a distant abstraction, the fact that I could see the great beast from many miles away should indicate what was left of Porre. I could only just stand there, dumbfounded, as I watched terrible missiles of liquid flame fall down in oily showers from the heavens. The sky itself was black; ash circled in the hot winds as in some perverse snowstorm, settling on anything with a surface; within moments I myself was covered to the point where my clothes could have been gray for all their original color mattered. The only clean spots on my body were my cheeks; where my tears were washing away any of the ash that settled there.

Even in death, my world was absolutely beautiful.

**********

It took a moment for me to collect myself. With a swallow, I turned, realizing Susan was no longer behind me; rather, she was rooting through the smouldering wreckage with her bare hands, pulling aside bricks with the strength of a man twice her size. Her lips were pulled into a firm line. Her determination was contagious, and within seconds I was by her side, hearing now the stifled wail of a small child somewhere below.

Brick by brick, for many minutes, we worked our way, wordlessly, through the rubble. Finally, a small hand, clenching the air. A tiny, pink cheeked little girl, with wide brown eyes, reached for me. Sinking to my knees, I pulled her to my chest, out of the ruin, and she clutched me as if I was an angel myself. I looked up to smile at Susan, but she was already gone, digging again in another spot, again with inhuman strength (a strength I once attributed to adrenaline rush but now suspect was something a bit more arcane.)

I put the girl down gently and rushed to Susan's side; again I dug beside her, sweat pouring from my body in rivers, her ivory features barely flushed, as we found a teenage boy, who, once freed, set to digging beside us.

One by one, Susan found and freed several dozen people. Miracle of miracles, every soul she saved was unhurt; all it took was for us to clear the wreckage and they stood up, took one look at her, and turned to dig as well.

I've never seen anything like it since, never seen any group of people work so long, so hard, with so much understanding and determination. It must have been days, or could have been only hours; all I know is that, after a while, I was so exhausted that I fell to the ashen ground and slept.

**********

When I awoke, the fires had died. The sky was still terribly dark, but the horizon was no longer an inflamed red. It was night time, and though no moon or stars could be seen through the haze, I could see shadows -- and hear the snores -- of several hundred survivors sleeping on the ground around me.

Settling rubble sent sharp cracks of sound which echoed through the streets. Rubbing my face, I sat up, thinking of Susan. Where had she gone? Stumbling to my feet, still deathly tired, I looked at each of the sleeping people, trying to find a sparkle of sequins or the flash of her emerald pendant. I began to worry as I realized she was not among them, and breaking into a jog, I headed toward the one spot I could imagine she'd be.

As I neared the door, I slowed again to a walk, winding my way around the debris.

Lo, I was right; Susan sat there, just outside the door, gazing up at the sky, one miraculous moonbeam cutting through the haze and bathing her face in a silver glow. She turned her head to look at me. "Come." She whispered, and I walked to her side and went to my knees beside her.

She glanced down at her hands, which were clasped in her lap, still amazingly clean considering the filthy work we'd been doing. And -- I still can't believe it -- she reached over to me.

I swallowed as I looked down; seeing my hand, huge, filthy, scarred, covered with grime, being happily clasped by the delicate fingers of an angel.

"I have to go." She sighed, looking away from me again to regard the horizon.

"But... but where?" My heart skipped a beat. My angel was leaving.

"There are others I need to help; and dear friends... and family... who I must find." She offered a cryptic smile. "Take the survivors and rebuild Porre. You'll have my love, wherever you or I end up."

Her love... I had her love. I, who did not know anything about her, would have her love. The concept would have struck me as absurd a day before. But now, I knew all was changed, both in the world, and in myself. I was silent for a moment, squeezing her hand as if she was the one thread holding me to life. "I just want to... to thank you." I mumbled finally.

She turned to me again, eyebrows raised. "Whatever would you need to thank me for?"

"For... for pulling me out of the gutter." A confession which, I suddenly realized, meant far more than I had intended it to.

"You're welcome." She giggled, like windchimes in a summer rain, standing then and pulling me to my feet as well. More quickly than I could comprehend, she stood on her tiptoes and gave me a light kiss on the cheek, eyes crinkled and sparkling with laughter, turning from me and leaving me standing there, spellbound, face burning with embarassment and a feeling of well-being which coursed its way down to my toes.

She lightly stepped along the rocks and rubble, heading away from me at frightening speed, and, shaking my head, I started to follow her until she turned and called out to me. "Stay there. They need you to guide them."

I stopped, knowing it to be true, but still hating to see her go. As she headed down the road again I recalled the one question I'd been meaning to ask since I'd met her. I cupped my hands around my mouth and shouted. "Wait! What's your name?"

Another giggle, clear as a bell, echoed back along the rocks in response. I craned my neck, focussed all my will into listening, hoping to hear her reply; but all I caught was a whisper on the wind, a sibilant 'S' sound, followed by a long 'A', or perhaps two; I couldn't hear, not quite, and before I could ask her to repeat herself I realized -- to my amazement -- she was no longer within my sight.

My angel had left me. One would expect me to feel alone, broken, bereft. I would have expected it of myself. But when she left, her love, and her spirit within me, did not; even now, I know I am never without her.

Having only the S and an A to go on, I began referring to her as Susan, to tackle the unending volley of questions the people had about her. Sadly, I could give them very few answers; but I know her spirit stayed with them, as well, for there never was a more happy, determined, honest and truthful bunch than those. We did rebuild Porre, or at least the borough of Trann, in several years, constructing a much smaller dome, basing it around the door to Susan's chamber, which neither I nor any of the others could ever open. All of these events will be recounted in greater detail in the following chapters of my memoirs.

All I pray, as I write here in my waning years, is that that hope and determination that Susan left us holds firm through the generations, bringing us back to our former strength before the Day of Lavos. Let us never lose hope. Let us never grow weak. Let us always grow strong in our love for her and each other.

-William Solomon Doan, 1st Commandant of Trann, father of James Edgar Doan, founder of Arris.
Sept 17, 2042.


All That Glitters Is Cold 2 Fanfic Competition
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