PHYSICAL STATE. She only looks human. Her chemical composition and genetic code are massively different. Her anatomy is strikingly similar, but her skin is thicker, her flesh sturdier and her bones much denser. She weighs more than 200 pounds despite appearances. Her blood runs silvery yellow as it contains radioactive metals, the way human blood would have iron. In the dark, one can notice her eyes glowing Cherenkov blue. Breathing, eating and drinking are necessary.
| OOC PERMISSIONS|
BACKTAGGING. My lifeblood.
The plains stretch so vast that the horizon seems to curve at the edges. The wind chills to the bone as stout horses lazily graze on the yellowing grass.
Two little girls play as lady and warrior. Shuyi with her easy smiles and flowing hair is the damsel in distress while Lungme, with her strong jawline and long legs, is her protector. Being two years younger never stopped her.
Shuyi has always thought her sister more beautiful than herself, because arms are lovelier when they do more than just rest on her lap, clutching at her white skirt as she watches Lungme throw punches and kicks at imaginary monsters hidden among the grass. Her sister's blazing red hair flutters in the wind like fire. She wants to fight too, but she tripped and twisted her ankle the last time she rushed in to join Lungme's battle with the wind. She could hardly walk for a month. Mother blamed her sister for it and the guilt took even longer to recover from.
One day, she thinks, already imagining herself in a white dress swinging a mighty sword. I'll be the one to save you, sister.
Nothing is as transient and yet as immutable as sand.
The dunes are always shifting, its peaks eroded by the wind only to give birth to new ones, still the desert remains. After, no matter how many months have passed, you will keep finding sand in your shoes. But Shuyi has long stopped caring about grit in her boots. Thick wool socks help, especially on chilly evenings like these when the temperature drops with every passing minute. She shivers at a passing wing, even with her layers of wool and shawls looped multiple times around her neck, but makes no move to warm herself. There have been colder months than this when she still chose to sleep outside under the stars. Instead, she raises her palms up facing the sky.
She thinks of how even now her sister is fighting to save her-- no, thinks of the young men from her hometown. She had just turned ten then, becoming the talk of her town for her long black hair and sweet dimples. The boys took turns standing by her window to create lights from their hands, measured beams and flashes to say: I like you or come walk with me or be mine. Only one said nothing, giving her only a constant light to lead her to him. It was Darje, his beacon steady as a mountain with a heart as changeable as the wind. She would choose him over the world every single time.
The beacon between her palms seems to come from a miniature pulsing star, blinding in the midst of the otherwise dark expanse. But a closer look would reveal thousands of small explosions, atoms colliding with each other, bonding and breaking apart to produce heat and light. Transient yet constant as the kind of love she longs for.
Even mountains fall and crumble into sand.
From the distant camp, Darje claps for her. Her star scatters.
"Why do they say the world's your oyster?"
Shuyi is packing her hundreds of dresses and uncountable shoes to start her life as royalty with her sister's help. That is, Lungme is packing for her as she lies in bed with her feet planted on the walls, parsing through the piles of congratulatory letters strewn about her. The one from a distant cousin tells her the world is now her very own shellfish.
"It's just an expression."
"I know, but that's so small," she fans herself with the piece of paper. Thinking, thinking. "An oyster, you swallow it in one gulp and barely taste anything but the salt water. I say, the world is my hundred-course banquet so spicy it burns, so sour it makes you cry and so sweet that after, even honey tastes bland."
"Sister," Lungme sighs, meticulously folding a particularly ruffled dress. "It's just a saying."
"But a saying becomes a belief and a belief then guides your choices in life. And when you look back, see if you'll still say it's just a saying. This is important," more important than packing up everything she owns in the world and preparing for a life of public scrutiny and political intrigue. Shuyi sits up, brown hair tousled and her nightgown sliding down one shoulder. "Don't you see? I want so much more than a drop of salt water. I want the sea and all the fishes that swim in it and I want to taste every little part, down to the bitter dregs. So bitter that it lingers. Now that. That's my kind of world."
"And you might have it." Lungme tosses a sock that bounces off of her head. "If you would just get off the bed and start packing. Now. Please?"
Shuyi, laughing and tossing the sock right back at her, slides off the bed to join her sister. "Fine, but you tell them I don't eat oysters."
"Hovsann, do you know what we could do right this moment?"
"Not now, Princess."
Emegtei wouldn't eat. She offered him heart, liver, the choicest cuts of meat and still her eagle would take nothing. A week went by. She kept the fact from her sister, parents, everyone, lest they think her a cruel mistress. On the seventh day, Emegtei flapped his wings while standing on his perch, which she took as a desire to fly.
But when she let him soar high to the sky, he suddenly pulled his wings close to his body and let himself plunge back to the earth to the sound of her shrill screaming.
"Darje, know what I want to do right now?"
A hundred people making small talk all at the same time sounds like the droning of a machine, churning out jokes and gossip and nonsense. Her voice, albeit stern and unabashed, barely rise above the noise. Shuyi turns to face him, noting how beautiful his profile seems against the light. Set and stern. Immovable.
She has to remember to catch her breath when he turns to her with a rouge grin. "What?"
"I want to lie back on the grass, in the middle of this vast darkness, with only the wind and crickets for company. The dew is soaking my dress. Slowly, slowly, but I don't move because there's nowhere else I'd rather be. You're there too, lying right beside me, your right arm next to my left arm. But we're not touching. We can only feel each other's warmth and the little hairs on our skin that stand up whenever there's a breeze. Don't you think it's sweet?"
"So you want our frozen and lifeless bodies to only be found a month later? How morbid."
She jabs him with a bony elbow, biting back a giggle all the same. "No! You'll keep me warm, won't you? Then I want you to come closer. And you start dropping these little kisses. First on my fingers, then my palm, then up my arm. So so slowly. So tenderly. And I'm feeling so comfortable that I don't realize what's happening, until you very nearly kiss my lips, and I go, 'Stop it, Darje! I really like you but I'm betrothed to someone very important and we'd both be dead if they find out. So please, don't do it!' But you don't stop and you kiss me. Right on the lips."
"But I would stop."
"I know. You're proper that way. But never mind, this is my fantasy," she licks her lips and flexes her hands so that her finger accidentally catch against the fabric of his pants. "Then we get so carried away that we can't stop kissing even if I've told you no. So then I feel it. Your thing. Bulging and hard against my legs. I immediately push you back, and I say, 'Stop it! We can't do this! I'm very proper about these things, believe it or not. So please stop.'"
"Do I stop this time?"
"You do, but then you put on this really sad face, and I feel sorry for you and try to comfort you. But really, I still want to kiss you so that's what I do, and this time I don't stop you. We take our sweet time, rolling on the grass. We don't even feel the cold anymore."
"You're saying that's what you want to do? Now?"
He's grinning despite himself, reaching his little finger that it may link against hers before his hand grabs hers in its entirety, and holds fast. "Alright."
"Emegtei, do you think the suns miss us every night and that's why they shine so bright at dawn?"
Shuyi strokes the eagle's back with a gloved hand, leaning in to kiss the top of the bird's leather hood as she adjusts its position. The eagle chirps, calling out for mates it never even had. Today will be its first hunt.
"What about the other stars? The ones without planets and humans to love, are they jealous of our suns?" The eagle is quiet. Pondering its deep and most thoughtful answer, she thinks. "Are we more like those stars, wishing for worlds and animals and peoples to love but fated to never find them? Or will we?"
The eagle fluffs up its feather as a rabbit dashes from bush to bush, a few steps away from them. The predator can sense its prey. Shuyi lifts the hood from its eyes and points to the rabbit, an unnecessary gesture as the bird lifts off without looking and rushes through the air to catch its meal. The rabbit will be in its talons soon enough. Of this, she is sure.
"Be careful, Emegtei!" She calls after her soaring eagle with hands around her mouth. "Don't fall for the hunted ones. Don't love the ones too fragile to survive our claws!"
"Remember the bracelet I gave you, how you wore it every day?"
His oversized crown and heavy robes make him look even more pitiful, kneeling before her with tears in his eyes and hands held up in supplication. Shuyi tells herself to breathe, keep calm, but the weight of gold looped around her wrist burns like guilt. It feels heavier than even the sharpened dagger in her hand.
"Remember when we went to the mountains and you said you loved me. Don't you remember?"
She does remember, catching sight of the prince's bare back tangled in sheets together with some long-legged woman who asked him, aren't I more beautiful? Don't I fuck you better? Shouldn't I be your wife? and he kept saying yes, yes, yes. She wouldn't admit how much it hurt, then. She only ran into Darje's arms and asked him if he would be her husband. He said no. Marriage is a tool for suppression, he said.
"Stop." The harshness of her own voice surprised her. She tightens her grip around her husband's jaw and presses the blade against his skin as Darje prepares his lethal attack from behind him. "I know what I said. What I promised. But you-- your people broke your promises."
She turns again to the Emperor, slouched and coughing against the pen and paper shoved against his face.
"One last time, release our lands or your sons die."
Hovsann, once proud and mighty, sobs against her arm, soaking her sleeves with his tears. Once, she thought she could love him better if he were humbler, more pliant to her wishes, but now she despises him more than ever. Love not those too fragile to survive our talons.
The Emperor takes the pen and she lets go. Her husband crumples to the floor to kiss her feet.
"My dear daughter, off to conquer Preta with her bright eyes and decolletage."
It makes her blush and squirm in the voluminous dress constricting her waist like a torture device. "Can a city be conquered by things like that?" What power can a girl wield in the face of an Empire?
Her mother titters, combing her hands through Shuyi's dark locks, now grown to tease her waist. "Greater things have been built and destroyed with just a single glance from a woman."
It makes her blush deepen until it reaches both ears and she fusses with her hems and tugs at her dress to diffuse her embarrassment. Also to hide her eagerness to ask the next question: "Is mine enough?"
Firmly, her mother takes her by the shoulders and turns her to face the mirror. Look. Her mother sees her daughter, fully bloomed and loveliest of all, but Shuyi sees her sister peeking behind the door, unimpressed yet again by her white dress and useless arms. Beautiful to behold yet serving no purpose. Like yourself, dear sister.
"Emegtei, is this how a cow feels when led to the slaughterhouse?"
The first time she saw Hovsann with another woman, she set fire to her marriage bed.
Her blood boiled, reduced to something dark and congealed like tar. Pitch black was all she could see. The servants lit vanilla-scented candles in her room that evening, sweet and cloying like a lie half hidden. It was simply a matter of tossing them, one after another, onto the silk sheets. Only when the flames licked her arm did she think to scream for help and pretend to salvage whatever is left of the stage on which she should have proven her worth but didn't.
Weeks later, strangers dared to wonder how the candles could have fallen to her bed but never once asked why her husband wasn't there.
Even now vanilla reminds her of betrayal.
Shuyi is rushing, spinning, tumbling through the rocky expanse. Arms spread wide as if she means to fly, and at the speed she's going, it may just be possible. It may just.
"Shuyi! Shuyi! Stop!"
Her hair whips her face and arms and her head seems to twist away from her body and float away and all she can see are blurs of color. The blue-black sky swirling into the white expanse and the dots of tents like painted beads melting into each other. What a rush. Her heart stops short when Darje grabs her by the waist, tight enough to bruise. It knocks the breath out of her but she laughs and laughs and breathlessly tries to struggle free.
"Are you insane? Stop thi--"
"Let's climb a tree, Darje," she grabs him by the collar and pulls him so close their lips may touch. "I want to climb the biggest and tallest tree we could find and piss all over everyone. My mother, my father, Hovsann, everyone."
He doesn't know what to do with her but hold on, hoping she won't slip away and disappear entirely.
"What? Are you scared?"
"They're dead, Shuyi. Do you understand? They're dead," that earns him a slap, clean across the face, just enough to disorient and push him away so she can run again. Her feet catches on the rocks, ice shards, slippery surfaces, and she does stumble but still she rushes onward. Nothing can stop her. There's so much land everywhere. She would die before she reaches the sea, she thinks, and somehow the thought saddens her more than the passing of her own parents.
When Darje catches her next, she's still laughing, breathless, her fatigue subduing her, turning her peaceful.
"Darje. Darje, it's alright. I'm free now."
The one thing Shuyi could be sure of is the dark enveloping all and the ground beneath her feet sloping down, down, down. She has been walking for years it seems, traveled so far that she must have reached the center of the world by now. Bring no light, the map had said. Want nothing and the universe shall be yours. Conquer yourself and you won't be conquered. It took her so long to decipher the message written in the most ancient of Atagui scripts and another few months to find the cavern the map directs her to and still she fails to understand the purpose of this pilgrimage.
But here she is, walking into the bowels of Prapanca with an empty water bottle and no supplies left for the return journey.
Shuyi takes each step with the leisure of those with a million years left to live but the focus of one finishing the final race that would decide her legacy, even if no one will know she was even here. Rumor has it that she died years ago in the Great Calamity, that she took part in Preta's demolition or drowned in her brethren's destructive blood. Well deserved, she heard someone say to her, not recognizing their once heroine without her headdress and jewels and paint on her face. But she disagrees. Dying there and then would be too easy. There was a reason she allowed Hovsann to live and a reason why she keeps walking, stomach twisting in hunger and sandpaper in her dry throat. She could circle the entire Prapanca a thousand times and it still wouldn't be enough to undo the damage she wreaked.
There is no sound aside from the occasional rustle of her clothes, no, not even her footsteps on the damp moss or the world above her make enough noise to assure her that her feet are still planted on the ground, that she isn't floating in some empty space bereft of anything but the thoughts in her head. She sighs, needing to remind herself that she has lips and nose and lungs to breathe with, even as a little voice inside her begins to understand what is asked of her. Conquer yourself, the text said. Want nothing.
Her clothes are damp, so she peels the layers off her skin, throwing them aside without a single care, knowing by now that she won't be retrieving them. There will be no return journey. Her shoes chafe, making every step unbearable, so she removes those too to find the moss surprisingly warm and welcoming. Even the carpets in the Imperial Palace can't compare. Naked and alone in the dark, at last.
There is no room here for wonder, for wanting, for grief or for regret. She remembers a long forgotten phrase: if the world is nothing but darkness, then all that matters is who you are in the face of it. The choice is only between fear that paralyzes or absolute stillness. The art of letting go.
Shuyi drops her knees to the moss, ankles giving out from the strain of her long journey, but she knows now and the joy the epiphany brings her far outweighs her aching body. Sobs wreak her body as tears warm her cheeks as she takes off not just her physical possessions but all the things she clings to that are no longer hers: her family, Lungme, Darje, all her dreams of becoming something more to her people. She understands that she is to be no hero to be lauded and remembered by the Atagui. She is the lamb to the slaughter. The blood sacrifice with her name scratched out from her tombstone. And that's okay. That's okay.
It should be cold, here in the heart of the world without a single thread on her body, but all she feels is warmth and lightness. She has conquered her self. Nothing can pin her down.
"First Father?" Her voice echoes, sounding mightier than she remembers. "Take me. Show me the true way."
In the dark, she feels mighty arms enveloping her. It feels like coming home.
Leave me any comments on how I play Shuyi.
Is she engaging to tag with? Did I drop a thread or tag back too slow or did you wonder why she did what she did? I'm no expert on nuclear science either so any input on that would be much appreciated.
ANON ON ↭ IP LOGGING OFF ↭ SCREENING OFF
All comments are unscreened for transparency's sake. Thank you for taking the time to help me improve!