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She isn't wearing anything.

She's used to being nude, but not in this context. This is the opposite of a purification ceremony - she's standing barefoot, arms spread out, ready to be tamed.

Ready to be sacrificed.

Her hair billows within the bubble of light, and she feels the memories of former maidens flood into her mind, babbling about the rituals that a maiden has to perform. Their voices blur into a soothing drone of concern and affection for a fellow maiden, and the mark glows below her collarbone.

The star sword appears in a pillar of light, and he says something that she can't hear. There's a searing pain through her body, radiating directly from the mark, and she can hear a chorus of maidens screaming in her head, and she mentally apologises to them for what she's helping him to do. It might be insincere, she can't tell, she'll do anything to make them just stop talking.

The pain intensifies, and she can't bite back the scream that's bubbling in her throat. It's a high-pitched shriek, and she throws her head back, her hand clawing at the mark in agony. She finds herself curled into a fetal position, shrieking into her knees, as if it will stop the mark from fading away, as if it'll protect her against anything at all - and she doesn't notice when the bubble collapses and she falls to the floor.

He's already left to make his big speech, he's been rehearsing it ever since the Guild figured out the Cybercasket, and he won't let anything hinder him from his moment of glory.

Her cheek is pressed to the floor, and she tries to get up, but her chest aches so much that she gives up halfway.

A member of the Science Guild helps her up, handing her a loose white robe. The mark is still glowing on her chest, but she supposes it will fade with time.

"This phase will usher in a new age," the helper murmurs, parroting the words of the others. Another helper grins at her, opening the door of the cage, and gives her a thoroughly inappropriate thumbs-up.

"Congratulations."

She nods, wrapping the robe around herself, and isn't sure how she should feel.

-----


Head doesn't wear his mask in his room, and he discards his costume in a corner. The tall, spade-shaped collar is creased, but she supposes someone will take care of that later.

The room's sole source of light comes from the cylindrical aquarium. It's glaringly bright, and the two white angelfish look like they're about to go belly-up from stress. They only explore the bottom, swimming from side to side, never interacting with each other. The tank is as barren as the room it's in.

Head likes to loll on his bed, his long legs dangling off the sides, idly humming the song that he likes her to sing. Just one song, and he always cuts her off before she can sing the final few verses. He hates endings, he tells her, and he always breathes a sigh of relief when she tells him that the adventure of life will go on.

She knows it's probably a lie. What he truly hates is her power to end the song, to end the story.

"Fish-girl?"

She tilts her head at him - she was busy counting the bars on her cage. There are wide gaps between the bars, and she could walk through them if she was determined enough, she's small enough to fit sideways. The cage door probably isn't locked, but she doesn't want to test it - it would break his heart if she tried to open it. So she stays in the cage, and she wears his collar around his neck, and she stays because she can't imagine leaving him.

She weighs the chain in her hands, idly wrapping it around her right wrist.

There's a candy bracelet on her other wrist. Red and blue candy orbs, threaded onto a thin string. The red ones smell like cherries, and the blue ones just smell blue. He gave it to her a week ago, calling it an "artistic experiment". She'd prefer him to call it a "token of affection", but she's wearing it anyway, because his gifts to her have been rarer since her sacrifice.

"Dance for me, fish-girl. It's so boring down here," and a tear trickles from Head's eye, slipping down his cheek. He has the amazing ability to cry on cue, and he knows just when to use it. She's overcome the urge to reach through the bars and wipe the tears from his cheek by now.

He doesn't even consider the possibility that she could refuse, but she nods anyway, out of habit.

It's a dance dedicated to the maidens before her, and she circles around the cage slowly, methodically. She remembers the last time she performed the dance before she purified herself, how she felt so connected to the island, and her chest twinges in betrayal.

Her dress is too tight, and the sleeve cuts into her upper arm when she lifts it up. The back of her dress is low-cut, and the air-conditioning makes her back feel like it's freezing. But she can't bring herself to tell him about the dress, about how the ribbons cut off her circulation, about how the fabric makes her skin itch - after all, it was a gift from him, and she's supposed to treasure whatever he bestows on her. The candy bracelet shifts on her wrist as she dances, and the chain trails on the floor, clanking against the golden bars of the cage. She closes her eyes, trying to lose herself in the dance, but the collar on her neck and the bracelet on her wrist bring her back to reality.

He murmurs, "Would you like a partner, fish-girl?"

It's phrased like a question, but it's a demand. Her movements are causing the cage to sway gently, and he reaches through the bars to take her hand.

She shakes her head. "It would be inappropriate."

"I...understand," he says, filling the brief sentence with weighty disappointment. Another tear trickles down his cheek, but she can't bring herself to feel much sympathy for his distress. He flops down on the couch, turning his back to her, staring at the motionless fish as if they'll reveal some sort of secret. They're hovering closer to the bottom, and they look bored with life.

She stops dancing after a few more minutes. Her chest is heaving - she hasn't had this much exertion in a long while, ever since she entered the cage. He starts to pick up his things, getting ready for the next meeting. She supposes he'll get over his petulance when he wants another incomplete story, or another unfinished song, or another sacrifice.

He doesn't bother to say goodbye to her before he leaves.

When the door clicks shut, she steps out of her scratchy dress, standing naked in the cold air. She's tempted to remove the collar, but she resists the urge to do so.

She sings his song all the way through, again and again and again, and the final verse echoes in the empty room.
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August 2014

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