1.11 Mina de Malfois and the Spiritual Renewal (part three)footnotesindex
Many, many thanks to everyone for their kindnesses and consideration. You’re a pleasure to write for, and your comments mean a lot. As soon as I can, I’ll be back to entertain you (or at least, to do my level best in that direction).
In typing this up, I realized that this chapter sounds ‘coincidentally morbid,’ if you see what I mean. It wasn’t meant to--I wrote it weeks ago, and the rough outline for these chapters has been in place since the beginnings. It’s just one of those ‘the universe is gently poking fun at me’ coincidences; please don’t allow it to put you off. The person I’m mourning had a merry heart, and would have been the first to laugh.
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On the evening of the spirit raising, it was overcast and gloomy in game, the first unseasonable hint of fall being the wind that rustled through the trees and tore off twigs and leaves. The cybermoon was full, gleaming eerily as clouds scudded across it. It was, in other words, perfect, and I wondered if the huge number of players who’d showed up for this ghostly event had somehow reset the atmosphere to ‘haunting.’
Because the number of avatars who’d paid to enter the grounds of Malfois Manor was astounding even by my standards, and I’m used to a lot of attention. They milled around in sombre mourning attire, more or less traditional: jet beads and hair jewellery were everywhere, along with frock-coats and top hats and pearls, but there were also lots of black ballet shoes and Ouija-board pendants, which I’m pretty sure people don’t wear to real funerals. There was a huge crowd milling around in Dread Lane, too broke or too unknown to have gained admittance, but still appropriately dressed and whispering excitedly among themselves as they stood en pointe and strove for a glimpse of Dr. Zerubbabel. I knew, I just knew, that somewhere out there in the real world all these people had gathered in tearful awe at their keyboards, drenched in appropriate scents and probably playing BalletChic memorial podcasts in the background as they willed Ciyerra into full game participation.
Sanguinity’s religious factions were out in full force. The C of M and the C of N were being icily polite to each other, but were taking notes for later. There were also furries everywhere, sporting sombre-hued pelts. The blonde who’d wanted to partner Josh was there, surrounded by her friends. They were rather prettily attired in black sailor suits, each with a single band of colour adorning their skirts and collars. ‘You need to calm down,’ one was saying, sounding more scornful than comforting.
‘I am perfectly serene!’ shrieked Rabbit in response.
Once they’d moved past, Josh himself stepped out from behind a nearby oak. I snickered. ‘It just seemed better to avoid her than to set her off again,’ he said, coming to stand beside me. ‘Everyone’s overwrought enough without that.’
‘Maybe you should just agree to attend Kawaiikon with her again,’ drawled a deep voice behind us, and I spun around to discover PrinceC looking absolutely to die for in full Victorian mourning. Really, top hats ought to come with warning labels. He reached for my gloved hand with both of his and lifted it to his lips, causing my knees to liquefy. ‘Lady Mina,’ he said theatrically. Josh Amos made a choking sound.
‘Do you know one another?’ I babbled, remembering as I spoke that they did.
‘We’ve seen each other at cosplay events,’ Josh said coolly. He made a slight bow in PrinceC’s direction. ‘Your costumes, allow me to say, are always impeccable. You gave a very masterful performance at Kawaiikon, I recall.’
‘I give a very masterful performance everywhere,’ PrinceC said sardonically. There was a sort of strangled group shriek from some women standing next to us, and Mrs.Sev gave me a little wave and a half curtsy when I glanced their way.
Josh looked annoyed. He gave one last bow, in my direction this time, and murmured, ‘If you’ll excuse me, Lady Mina, it’s getting a bit clichéd around here. We’ll talk later, I hope.’ He headed off, soon disappearing into the crowd. I noticed a couple of the Tented Tartanists detached themselves from their group and trailed hopefully after him. Not that I was particularly watching him walk away, or anything. I just happened to notice.
PrinceC snorted quietly. ‘What an ass,’ he remarked, momentarily startling me into a mistaken belief that he was psychic. ‘An utter young idiot,’ he went on, unconsciously clarifying the matter. ‘If I recall correctly, he spent his time at Kawaiikon too embroiled in ridiculous scandal and hysterical females to have possibly noticed my costumes.
‘What sort of scandal?’ I asked, interested in spite of myself.
‘The sort no gentleman should allow his name to become attached to,’ PrinceC said firmly but uninformatively. He tucked my hand around his forearm. ‘We should make our way to the monument,’ he declared. ‘The ritual must be starting soon, and you are the hostess.’ I refrained from pointing out that he wasn’t the host. He made an awfully handsome escort, and a fittingly dressed one; well worth a ringside seat, really. We weaved our way through the masses, PrinceC’s broad-shouldered presence seeming to part the way with miraculous ease, until we were standing in front of the winged ballet dancer. Dr. Zerubbabel was there, flanked by Neo-Table Rappers and various cultic representatives. They were standing around what looked like a freshly filled in grave. Warr1or stood at the foot of this, leaning on a shovel and looking impossibly rustic. We emerged from the crowd to stand next to him, and he tugged his cap to us and nodded. Dr. Zerubbabel cleared his throat.
The ceremony proved much more subdued than I’d expected. Dr. Zerubbabel gave us a short homily on how one of the paradoxes of online life is that the pursuit of universal popularity often leads to isolation, but by being oneself one can find a supportive tribe. Then he muttered a short chant in some arcane language, and Ciyerra’s ghost was suddenly in front of us, hovering just high enough above the grave so that everyone could see her.
‘And now let us have the grains of salt,’ instructed Dr. Z., and one by one each of the religious and cultural representatives stepped forward: Arc, a C of N counterpart, a multiply-breasted catwoman, Darla, a Gay Unicornist, an enormous wolf in a wizard’s robe, what looked like twin boy scouts, a knight in chainmail, a Druid Priestess, three uniformed schoolgirls, and a gauze-clad feedback whore.
Ciyerra, who had started out in her usual misty form, grew more and more solid, and less ethereal and idealized, as each representative dropped a single grain of salt on the grave. Her avatar bobbed lower and lower until finally it was firmly on the ground: a perfectly ordinary looking young woman, standing there like the rest of us. She looked tear-stained but relieved, and a pack of her friends raced forward to hug her.
I was gratified that we’d had such a spectacular, and well-attended, success, but once it was over I was left feeling a bit flat. It’s like throwing a birthday party for someone else: a lot of fun to plan, and of course you’re happy for them and everything, but at the end they leave with the gifts and you have to clean up.
Arc must have noticed my avatar was moping. ‘What’s wrong?’ she asked. I explained as best I could.
‘I suppose I’m an awful person, really,’ I concluded glumly.
She smiled. ‘Of course you’re not,’ she said. ‘Everybody feels a bit that way sometimes. You’ll feel better once you throw yourself into the next thing.’
This cheered me slightly. ‘You’re probably right,’ I agreed. ‘Tomorrow I’ll head down to the harbour, and check in with the others. It’s about time I got to work on remembering who I am.’
Her smile widened in a way that gave me the distinct impression she wasn’t taking my new spiritual interests seriously, an impression bloody well confirmed when she replied, ‘Remember who you are? Mina, if there’s one thing I knew about you right from the start, it’s that you have a firm sense of who you are. It persists even in the face of who you want to be.’
She had to leave soon afterwards, so I didn’t get time to formulate a rebuttal, but I reopened the conversation the next time I caught her on IM.
‘Are you familiar with the phenomenon of soul bonds?’ I asked her haughtily.
‘No, but I’m conversant with the phenomenon of imaginative young people spending too much time indoors and needing to get out into the fresh air,’ she replied. ‘You don’t know anyone who’d be interested in a four-week stint as co-counsellor of Computers and Creative Writing at a summer camp, do you?’
I paused in mid-indignation. ‘What sort of summer camp?’ I asked.
‘It’s an all-girls camp for ten to fourteen year olds. Eva Hamill runs it.’
‘PrinceC’s mother?’ I asked, both intrigued and horrified.
‘Yes,’ said Arc. ‘She’s been involved with summer camps and after-school programs for years. All her projects are aimed at supporting and empowering young girls, and she’s pretty rigorous about keeping her son well away from it.’ I fancied I could sense Arc smirking, but her font remained impassive.
‘Would this co-counsellor have to have a lot of experience?’ I asked, my hopes rising in spite of my best efforts to suppress them. I’d never been a counsellor, but I just knew I could do this. And it would be the perfect break from my routine--I could always pick up another McJob in the fall.
‘Not if she came with strong recommendations,’ Arc typed. I held my breath. ‘Are you interested?’
‘YES!’ I said.