Serenades, chapter 2

Deviation Actions

Literature Text

two: somehow, we’re the inferior ones
Even the outer parts of Tarentum felt inhuman. Gunmetal gray clouds, wind, rain, disused factories, iron and concrete highways and bridges. Ava wore a gray sweater and black pants too, with a mood to match, but with pavonine green streaks in her hair, pink and violet speckles on her sweater and the occasional smile to break the monotony.

The sellaria in Lepidus’s manor had wood paneled walls with detailed marquetry, oak caryatids and telamones, high ceilings. In the center of the room stood a glass tank filled with water and brightly iridescent fish with long gossamer tails and fins swimming among buoyant globes with trailing tendrils, brightly colored sea lilies, and thin, translucent seaweed, surrounded by damask and velvet upholstered divans with mahogany frames. To the side, a small table with gold leaf inlays and malachite, surrounded by green-cushioned wooden chairs.
“What the hell is this? It looks like they pillaged this wall from a temple in Sri Sattanak,” she sighed, and went back to eyeing a fish.

Lepidus’s office had frescoes on the walls, imported from ruins in Gedrosia and Haihaiyavansi, rectangular stone tiles, potted ferns near both doors, parquet floors. The room was lit by both halogen lamps on the desk and wrought iron lamps hanging from each of the corners of the room. Marble pedestals held statuettes of Yunanese jade and Shewan black iron, along with a brass mortuary urn from Patal. I got a glimpse of his bedroom, just as lavishly decorated, with a huge bed, Aredvian carpets, a thevada and naga statue from Patal flanking the doors, and Alakipuran art hanging on the wall.
“What did you promise your voters this time? Art from Lanka and Alakipuri and trinkets from Lanxang, and where I am, it’s fucking freezing and the toilets are backed up with pigeons fossilized in their own shit and I don’t have a fucking thing to eat. Selinia deserves better than you.”
“If you haven’t seen yet, as of the incidents last month, I am Selinia,” Lepidus said, sitting in a leather chair. “As such, I do not care about your little sob story. Please leave and do not show your face here again, or I may have to forcibly remove you.”
“Oh, you’d like to do that, wouldn’t you? You must be busy, you didn’t even try to baffle me with High Selinian nonsense. This is what you sound like: Da da da, da da da, da da, da da da da, da da da.”
“Don’t shoot,” he said to two Praetorian Guards. “This whore is only here to humiliate me. I don’t need her martyrdom on my hands.”
“Lanxang. Chenla. You know, that’s really funny.” she said mockingly, running her hands over a jade garuda statue. “I know how you really feel about us. Somehow, we’re the inferior ones. Well,” she said, giggling, playfully with a hint of malice. “Karma will catch up to you sooner or later, no matter how many tongues you remove with meathooks, no matter how many children you force to shoot their parents, no matter how many monks and nuns you force to copulate in public. Not like you can stop all of us. Your mandate’s little more than clever districting laws and a well-timed attack. Too well timed, if you ask me.” She walked out of the room in disgust. I followed. “Should have brought some dead pigeons to chuck at him. He’s fucking with Ava Samassaravong, urban explorer extraordinare.”

We climbed up a thick tree branch to the red ceramic tiled roof. There were no guards up here, and no security mechas. On a higher part of the roof was a circular window covered in a thick layer of dust. Ava pushed it open and crawled through. I followed her. Just a musty room with wooden floorboards covered with a carpet, institutional-looking seafoam green walls, and sheet-covered furniture and boxes. There was a trapdoor in the corner.
“Is anyone down there?”
I put my ear to the floorboards near the door, heard nothing.  “I can’t tell. Do you have a weapon?”
“We’re already in enough trouble if they catch us. I have an excuse if we get caught. We’ll risk it. Or not. Locked from the other side.” She went back out the window and I followed. “Ever do this before?”
“Yeah, once, when Marciana and I were kids. The place had a reputation for being haunted. Marciana saw a gammadion painted on the walls and bolted. I made fun of her for years afterwards, because I thought she just imagined a ghost or something.”
I went to the edge of the roof, where I could see both loggias, going around the enclosure. The upper loggia was attenuated plaster columns and a wood lattice railing. The lower loggia had ogee arches held up by stout columns and a thick plaster rail, with marble pots that held tropical plants in the summer. Below us was the garden, overgrown and dry and wilting in the autumn chill, strewn with fulvescent fallen leaves. A fountain with four porcelain statues of women facing in each direction was the centerpiece, one of the faces cracked like the moon. We climbed down to the upper loggia, climbing down from the roof, being careful not to break the lattice, damaged from rain, climbing plants, and neglect.
“What now?”
She was investigating the rooms, and went through a glass door, beckoning me to follow.
This room was almost completely empty. Paint peeled off of the plaster walls that once depicted fantastic beasts. A surviving mural showed a great maned beast with a snake for a tail, and strangely shaped forelegs. Anemic sunlight streamed through the dusty windows, illuminating wayward motes of dust. Ava slowly walked to the door, and peeked through. She signaled to me. I followed her, nobody else in the room.
There was more furniture in here, all covered in white sheets, and a carpet rolled up against the wall. All the damage was due to age and neglect. The room was filled with the subtle odor of mildew and pungent ammonia.
“May I help you, domnisoara?”
“Bitchcakes! Someone saw us. Oh. I get it.”
“Is there a problem, domnisoara?” the glass asked. It was a polygonal face wreathed in chlorine green mist. “My sole duty is to help guests. You are the first guests we’ve had in years, I must say.”
“Help me by staying quiet,” Ava snapped. “I hope nobody hears that thing talking. Do you have cameras? Can you show me a map of the villa?”
“Yes, domnisoara.” The screen changed from the simplistic face to a map of the villa. This part was on a hill, and attached to the other part, which was in a much better state and much larger. Yellow dots were cameras.
“Where are we?” A room near the north stairwell shifted from green to yellow.
“Show me the hallway outside of this.” It was empty, green painted walls and oil paintings obscured in a thick fog of dust. We watched for at least five minutes, no one passed through.
“How about the stairway of this wing?” I asked it. Two guards in blue stood near the exit a floor below us. It looked like they were having a discussion and not one of utmost importance.
“Ok, then, can you just shut down now?”
“Yes, domnisoara.” It dissolved in a vortex of colors, the glass became opaque and pearlescent.

“Domnisoara? What are you doing here?” The meeting with Lepidus is in the sellaria, you know, in the west wing.”
“Sorry, I just got lost. Thank you.” She bowed. And when they were out of earshot, “I can’t believe they weren’t suspicious. I’m not dressed for this kind of stuff.”
We followed him down the north stairwell, a thick red carpet covering marble steps, carved oak banisters, lit by afternoon sunlight streaming through a dusty yellow-stained abatjour. Tapestries hung on both walls to our sides, and lit thuribles hid the musty scent of the villa.

“We aren’t going to listen what he has to say?” I asked, washing my hands in the nephrite lavabo, turning to follow Ava as she opened the door to the garden instead of following me back to the sellaria.
“Fuck him. I don’t want to hear him acting shitty.”
“I thought you wanted to hurt him.” Fallen leaves, violescent and lutescent, crunched beneath my footfalls. Still, there were signs of a second efflorescence, roses on a bush, dandelions and daisies on the ground.
“Yeah, that’s right. But I don’t think it will accomplish anything. At best,  the Senate will just give the CEO position to some new piss-stinking rectal wart. A spike in non-sanctioned attacks on minorities, maybe some internment, even more expansion of the Siguranta’s power. Deportation doesn’t sound so bad, actually. At worst, numerous, vicious, state-sanctioned pogroms, random executions, further marginalization, war on Lanxang and Yunan.”
“I don’t mean physically. I mean politically.”
“So did I.”
“We’d be in more trouble if you weren’t as pretty.”
“Just say you want me.”
“I’m sorry, that sounded awkward.”
“We all say stupid things, ok?”

I gazed out the window at the ancient, empty forest of gnarled trees and crumbling remnants of structures, overgrown and reclaimed by nature, shrouded in mist and rain. We stopped, nobody disembarked, a man of unspecified Eastern descent folded the paper, boarded.

As we got closer to the city, the forest became desolate plains dotted with battered buildings, boarded-up doors and smashed windows, stacks of crates and scaffolding, piles of abandoned machinery and the stripped and sometimes burnt-out hulks of trains damaged beyond repair.
“What a fucking cesspool,” she said. “At sunrise, it looks both terrible and beautiful. The industrial haze makes the sun red. And when it’s hot, the sun shimmers.”
“A testament to humanity’s resilience that people will live here,” I remarked.
“They don’t do it willingly, they just move to places where the rest of polite society left. There are even people that live in those burnt out trains. There were when I lived here. They get forced out of their old homes because the higher classes want to expand their territory and because they can no longer afford to live there. I don’t know if they moved out when the city started to decline in population. I suppose it’s better than some of the Exarchies. It’s actually illegal, even when they have no other place to go. The place has a problem with homelessness and yet there are all these abandoned buildings, does that make sense to you?”
We stopped, left the platform for Silver and waited for Red to arrive. In the distance, lights from an industrial facility winked on and off, the towers belched smoke and colorful flame, a faint sulphuric smell lingered in the air. She was right about beauty in unlikely places; the sumac was aflame with autumn.
“Not at all.” It didn’t take long.
“It makes sense to the city leaders in National.”
Then came darkness, except for the scrolling of sodium lamps. Fluorescent light bathed the train as it stopped and people inundated the inside. Ava had to stand and the train was so full that she had to take care not to step on any feet.
...Such is the reverence with which Tibetan Buddhists regard all living things, they will not even kill the mosquitoes which bite them - yet in the early years of Chinese occupation, Tibetan children would be forced to shoot their parents. Celibate monks and nuns would be made at gunpoint to have sex in public and use sacred scriptures as lavatory paper. According to an International Commission of Jurists report in 1959, dissenters were disembowelled, crucified or buried alive. To prevent them from shouting out "Long live the Dalai Lama" on their way to execution they would have their tongues torn out with meat hooks. All but 13 of the country's 6,000 monasteries were destroyed and in some cases slaughterhouses were sited in their place...
-from an interview with the Dalai Lama

"sob story" is one of those terms that's used far too much by douche galoshes and should never be used unironically, much like gangbanger or common sense. I'd compile a list, but that means listening to people acting shitty. Entitlement. Race card. Jihad. Stuff like that.

I thought about foreclosures in real life when Ava mentions the problem with homelessness even if there are enough abandoned buildings for everyone.
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