Chapter 3 ∞ Oblivion
Oblivion. Falling into it is gradual like skidding over a cliff with no way to return. It took people lots of time to realize where they are headed, but even if they do, there is no way to stop it or return from it. There will be a point in anyone’s lives where they find themselves making the journey. Usually, it means they were dead—or dying, at least.
I have been to death and back. I knew what it was like to fall over that cliff. It meant forgetting and being forgotten. For the most part in my case, it was the latter. I didn’t really get around to drinking from that river. While, up to now, I still didn’t know the specifics of it, I deduced that it might have something to do with memory. Amber mentioned something about that but I was continuously spacing out, so…I guess I got to figure out that part by myself.
While it was hard trying to come to terms with my own death, it also made me realize I dearly needed it. I got attached to my previous life because it was hard thinking that I had to let go of all the things I used to have. My death was sudden and I died with regrets. I died with a lot of loose ends I was not able to tie up. But whenever I thought about the unfortunate side of it, I was glad I got to start over.
If there was one thing I realized about the brothel and the mistresses, as I preferred to call them in my head, it was that they had some pretty big names on their client list. I might not have been allowed to roam the place during specific hours and I might have never seen the faces of those who came in, but the mistresses dropped plenty of names on more than one occasion whenever I was around.
These people came to the brothel for a specific kind of transcendence—oblivion. I guess that that was one of the reasons why the brothel was aptly named so. The House of Oblivion. To forget. To be forgotten. And my mistresses were exceptional in making their visitors do just that. Apparently.
I looked up and caught myself just before my face slammed on the bed of tender grass shoots on the ground. Luckily the tree had supported me as well. I rubbed my eyes with a small yawn, fixing my hold on the book I was reading.
“Good morning, mother,” I greeted softly. I couldn’t help but feel sleepy with the weather so nice.
It was Wednesday morning at the onset of spring in this country they called Venerya. Nearly five years had passed since that idiot man crumbled to ashes and left me in the care of the mistresses of Oblivion. The magnolias have blossomed quite beautifully, framing the gardens with popping shades of white and pink.
Hellenia’s wavy red hair swayed as she came near and I tipped back my head just in time for the morning dew to drop on my lid. I flicked it away distractedly and watched as my adoptive mother tipped over to me by the waist, hands on her knees and her nose touching mine.
“It’s time to eat.” She caressed my honeyed red locks, plucking a stray petal from the wavy strands.
I clumsily stood and took her hand.
The Oblivion was not a small place. It spanned to almost two thousand square meters, half of which I reckoned were swallowed by the gardens. While the two-story building that stood at the very center had its own grandeur, the landscape was given the utmost attention—and my personal favorite.
Although it was very beautiful during the day, it truly came to life at night. I could vividly picture the fairy lights and lanterns dotting the arching posts lighting up like still fireflies under a cool evening sky. The paved paths would be bathed in their golden glow—perhaps a bit of silver from the light of the stars and the moon. There would be crickets singing from an elusive corner while the music snaked through from the gaping windows.
On mornings like this one, even so, it was a home to the nine mistresses and myself.
As I busied myself musing, Hellenia and I entered a smaller, detached house around the back. The mistresses kept out of the main house—or the entertainment hall—when they did not need to enter it. They hadn’t at all allowed me to go anywhere near there as well. I had sneaked out on more than one occasion, even so, whenever they were too busy during chaotic days. Those trips weren’t enough to see it very well.
We entered the dining hall and found the mistresses chattering amongst themselves. Hellenia greeted them with a smile with me in tow. “Good morning, everyone.”
“Evy, my little darling!”
The ruddy-haired Liane was the cheeriest of the lot—probably the wittiest and funniest as well. It was her childlike and somewhat dumb countenance that her customers came to her for. She wasn’t stupid, to be clear—she could just be…horribly slow at picking up. And for most of her clientele, it was a charming side of her.
“Mm, give your mistress a little kiss.” She inched off her chair and opened her arms to me.
“Good morning, mistress,” I greeted, reaching up to her lowered cheek and planting a kiss.
“Let’s pick some flowers later,” Liane offered.
“Pick some flowers?” I heard someone echo. “You have the nerve, Liane. I just tended to the garden. Those flowers are not coming off unless they fall off themselves! I dare you try.” Mistress…Mister Kora glared pointedly at Liane and shifted on his chair. It took me long to realize that, indeed, he was a man. He could be a woman as well. He could be both—whenever, whatever he preferred. It was baffling to me how some people might prefer his expertise. Just thinking about it was a little strange. In the end, though, it was none of my business.
Today, he wore no flamboyant and girly dress. He was dressed more casual, suitable for a day of work in the garden. His earthy brown hair was standing in all directions and he had streaks of dirt across his working clothes. He must’ve just, as she said, tended to the garden. It was not surprising, really, since he spent most of his time talking to plants than people.
Meanwhile, the mistress seated next to him reached up to wipe the smudge of dirt on Kora’s chin. “What is the purpose of a flower if not to sit on a woman’s ear?” she said with a small sigh, thin fingers whipping out a blooming red carnation and tucking it in her golden hair.
Kora’s eyes widened. “M-my…Did you just—”
“Mmn,” Marian hummed in feigned cluelessness.
“Why, you little bi—”
“Enough of this ruckus,” Hellenia said dismissively. “Go on to your seat, Evyionne. Ignore the mistresses.”
“What are you talking about?” Marian softly intoned, leaning down to look at her reflection on the spoon before her as she patted the petals of the carnation and made sure it framed her oval face nicely. “I do not handle well being ignored. Evy, princess, give mistress a kiss too, will you?”
I moved and kissed them all on the cheek one-by-one, just to be fair, after which I went and seated myself on my usual chair in front of the large, round table. There were eight present including me. Mealtime, I realized, was valued very much by the mistresses. Not one head would be missing from the table if it could not be helped. The only one who ever dared defy that was Marga who, in my last five years, I rarely saw come out of her laboratory. She was the nerdiest, probably the most reclusive. Her inventions would prove useful at times, if not dangerous.
Not long after everyone arrived, Lamia came in. I often called her Snow Lady in my head because of her standoffish and somewhat snobbish nature, but I’ve seen her fragile side. I knew there was some warmth beneath that shell of ice. Besides, that cold demeanor was what most of her clientele patronized her for. Men’s egotistic nature would always prompt them to take up the challenge of ‘breaking through.’ I don’t think any of them were very successful in that regard, even so.
The room fell to a hush as she made her way to her seat.
“I assume the only one missing is Marga?” Lamia stared pointedly at the vacant spot in front of the table.
A chorus of confirmation resounded.
“I’ll go and get the mistress.” I volunteered.
Lamia looked at me and gave no motion to agree, but I moved anyway. But just as I walked out the door, a distant explosion came from the detached shed behind the house—right where I was headed. While we were all startled, we weren’t at all that surprised.
“What the hell is that woman doing?”
“Does she plan on bringing down the place?”
A chorus of statements flitted about.
“Evyionne,” Mistress Veronika stood and gently took my shoulder, guiding me to Hellenia’s arms before walking out. She let out an exasperated sigh and strutted out of the door, just in time for the perpetrator of the mess to come up coughing. “Marga! What in the world are you doing?” Veronika stopped short, looking over the woman who had blackened over like roasted pig.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry! I may have forgotten how armorite crystals can be very unstable. I accidentally dropped one in the fire. I don’t really know how that happened, but it did…” She fanned the air from her face, dusting off her tattered clothes and smiling sheepishly at us.
Marga had the roundest green eyes, further magnified by the lenses on her face. She could be a charming lady when dressed up, but she could very well be mistaken for the slaves working in the salt mines at the moment.
“I see breakfast has been served—”
“Do not let that idiot in this room,” Mistress Lamia said coldly. “Go get changed and clean up yourself! We won’t have you in the dining room looking like that.”
Veronika, at the same time, quirked a brow at the grease and soot-covered mistress who hung her shoulders low with a sigh. The other mistresses huffed and chuckled at Marga.
“O-oh right…I just got hungry so suddenly, so I thought…alright, I’m going, I’m going. Sorry, sorry.” Marga scuttled away from the doors and removed her messy self from our line of sight.
“For someone so smart, she can be really airheaded,” Kora commented on the side.
“Oh shush, let’s eat.” Hellenia dismissively waved.
“Good, because I am not waiting for that woman,” Marian muttered, brushing her fair locks to the side to showcase the red carnation on her ear, a little bit tauntingly at Kora if I might add.
Mistress Marga specialized in innovative sciences mixed with magic—more appropriately labeled as ‘alchemy.’ It was true when they said she could be really airheaded. That was most probably because she got preoccupied too much by her thoughts. For some reason though, she kept on forgetting how armorite crystals and fire did not mix. She’d said that more than a couple hundred times that it wasn’t at all convincing anymore.
What in the world was this woman trying to produce? A weapon of ultimate mass destruction?
I shook my head and tucked my book between the table and my lap. I had long since grown used to the fact that my mistresses were rather peculiar people, having their own quirks and shot at weirdness. It was a shame how people would never see the Oblivion the way I did. They would never see the mistresses for who they could be or who they truly were.
After breakfast, I helped my adoptive mother Hellenia clean up. Menial chores in the kitchen and dining room were tasked to her while the other mistresses were given their own responsibilities for the upkeeping of the House. Kora, for example, was assigned to tend to the gardens and Mistress Marga accounted for maintenance and installation of technology around the house. I hopped duties most of the time—whoever I felt like helping out the most depending on my mood.
But when I didn’t feel like doing anything, I would retreat to my spot in the garden to do my own thing. It was where I headed right after, sitting under my favorite tree to enjoy the outdoors with a new book. I didn’t like being confined in the tight, closed walls of my room. I had to do that more than half the time, especially during ‘working hours.’
I was not aware if anybody outside the House knew of me aside from a select few of the hired helps who came in during those certain hours. Mistress Lamia did not allow just anybody into the House of Oblivion. The helps underwent a rigid selection. Even the infamous, almighty, highly-selective list of patrons was arduous to be included in—not just anybody could be a client.
I have spent the last year raking through the arsenal of knowledge available in the House, trying to learn about this world as much as I could to understand where I originally came from—at least, where I was born.
“From above,” I read aloud “The emerald trees would seemingly be wrapped in mists. Then again, no fog could be found on a summer’s day as the sun would batter the land with its scalding rays. A tyrant it is when it sits on its throne, humble and light as it ascends the skies. At the end of day, still, it will shine until the last of its rays vanish in a dying haze.”
I marveled at the beauty of the painted words as I sang its rhythm. There was a symphony in these books that I would simply never tire of hearing.
“Jinekann Bondell,” I heard someone intone. “Evyionne, is that the man’s account on Vertvalden?”
“Mistress Lili,” I said, looking up.
Mistress Lili owned most of the books I read. Like myself, she was a quiet bibliophile. If she was in another profession, she probably would’ve been an Oxford history professor—provided she lived in my previous world. She specialized in myths and history of the country as a hobby, having amassed a number of rare books over the years, most of which were given to her by her clientele. I would bet that her collection was far more valuable than what the biggest library in the city had.
“You’re curious about your father?” she inquired.
I nodded a bit. “I wanted to know where I can find him.”
“You can come to me if you have questions you know,” she told me, taking her seat next to me and brushing off the locks falling on my eyes. “May I join you?”
I nodded. “Is this man still alive?” I softly asked.
“If he is, no one knows where he is. This man has always had such intense wanderlust. He’s trod through countless dangers in search of new places,” she told me. “And when you do get to know him, he’ll speaking of nothing else other than his adventures.”
“Maybe I can ask him,” I stated.
“Someday perhaps, dear,” she said.
I closed the book I was reading and turned to the mistress. “Tell me about the dragons again,” I said, scooting into her arms and taking shelter in her cool, silken robes.
“You’ve heard that story a thousand times.”
“Let me hear it again.”
She gave a small sigh, her dark lashes tapping the top of her cheeks as she gazed down at me. “Alright, then. Listen very well. It was said that the stars in the sky are all scattered pieces of one, great being who sacrificed itself to give birth to the universe. While all the stars in the sky possess a piece of the great being’s power, our world remains the star most fortunate, bearing affinities that can rival all the others combined. Now, our star sits in the middle of two grand territories—of the sun, always filled with fire, and of the icy hills of seven moons where, in each, seven dragons lived.
“Once there was a serpent of the sun who had grown discontented with its never-ending sea of fire. It wanted to live amongst all the faces of nature and saw our star as the perfect place to thrive. However, he wasn’t the only one who wanted to make it his home. There were the seven dragons of the seven moons. These dragons, except for one, greed for the fortunate land as well. The six dragons were determined to make our star their own, but the last dragon was contented in his place in the heavens and refused to take part in their conquest.
“The six dragons were frustrated with the seventh dragon, but they descended into our star anyway. Incidentally, they also met with serpent of the sun and a battle ensued. Fire and ice rained from the sky. The serpent lost its tail after attempting to burrow deep under the earth in an attempt to attack and the six dragons slowly lost pieces of their moons until such time that one of the dragons truly fell—he’d lost his moon and therefore, his life.
“Seeing the death, the seventh dragon made his way down and proposed a compromise between his brothers and the serpent of the sun. They all then came to an agreement that they would all take turns with our star. The serpent would occupy it for twelve hours every day and the dragons for another twelve.
“They called it day when the serpent ruled and night when the dragons roamed. That is why the night is always filled with different phases of the moon. Each night, a different dragon comes down. They reserve a day in every seven for their fallen brother, which is why there are sometimes moonless nights. The serpent reaches into our world as well during the day and you can sometimes feel him burrowing deep under the earth in search for his tail.”
“Are they real?” I inquired softly. While I was fascinated by the myth of the seven dragons and the serpent, I honestly had no idea whether it was true or not. I have seen many unbelievable things—who was I to say that the logics and laws of physics from my previous world applied to this one as well?
“Well, darling, many people say that the battle has occurred even before we lived in this world. This story, real or not, has faded and became a myth,” Mistress Lili told me, caressing my hair. “And myths, while they can be a little too embellished, they bear a piece of the truth. Myths are just a way for people to understand things they cannot explain.”
And how would that explain me, then? Was I a myth?
“Still,” she continued. “The Empire of Erindal was built on this very belief. Of the serpent and of the dragons of the seven moons.”
I wanted to say that aloud, but I knew I would only be bringing unnecessary trouble to myself. I had heard nearly every story and every possible tale out there; at least as far as the books could reach. The afterlife had always been pondered upon. Countless theories, countless ruminations. They all bore a bit of the truth, but never enough to give a clear answer…never enough to tell me what I needed to know.
Was it scary? With Amber’s torturous attitude, it definitely was.
“Now I’m bored,” I muttered, slacking in her arms and staring up at and through the branching tree. I thought I caught a beast fly by just now.
“A little too much, is it?” She laughed. “Your Mistress Neilly asks for you,” Lili said with a smile.
I perked up.
If—I would say Mistress—Kora specialized in herbology and gardening, Mistress Lili in history and mythology, Mistress Marga in alchemy and the sciences, then Mistress Neilly was the best dancer. I knew I had no talent for it, but watching was something I was very good at. I could sit on my ass all day just watching people, observing them, noticing their habits. And by the end of it all, I would know a lot about the person without even talking to them.
“I’ll see you later, mistress!” I exclaimed.
I pulled my book to my chest and scrambled to a stand, making my way through the garden in haste. A chuckle lightly caught my tail. I looked back to see Mistress Lili relaxing on my favorite spot.
I climbed up the short flight of stairs, feet loudly crossing the open porch that snaked about the House. I loved the open concept and zen architecture that embraced the building. It was all wood and natural lighting, with tall glass windows and high ceilings—a little modern for such a place and culture. There was something so human about it all. The building breathed. The cool breeze would snake through it during the hottest days yet, somehow, it would stay warm in the coldest nights.
I could not help to notice how they embraced both tradition and modernity. This city they called Lerion was one of the most advanced cities in the country, one of the most prided too.
As I neared, I caught the sound of my foster mother’s flute rising in the air. I slowed, fearing I would interrupt if I made too much noise, and tuned in as the sultry strings from Mistress Marian’s harp sung in chorus.
I peeked past the frames of the open doors. The long muslin scarves of Mistress Neilly flagged about in the air, dancing across her skin as she frolicked about in accord with the subtle beat of the music. My foster mother, Hellenia, sighed into her flute. Her breath turned into reverberating notes, rising and falling like the calmest days at sea.
I could not wrap my mind around how such beautiful music could appear in the hands of mortals. In just the skills department alone, my mistresses would not have many rivals. No matter how contented I felt in their arms, I would no doubt continue to observe them as the days passed, basking in the light of their talents and beauty while imagining what my life could’ve been should I have stayed with my birth family.
The matter with Amber remained unsolved and I suspect would continue to be for a time. I expected a whisper of his presence, at least, provided how much time had passed since we last ‘met.’ However, I was left in the bitter and cold disappointment. He was the only one who was capable of shedding light on my questions—questions that continued to fester in my mind. I knew my entire being would remain restless unless I knew what he meant about what he told me that day and why he did what he did.
A broken balance. The coming of veils. What in the universe could he have possibly meant?
“Evyionne,” my mother Hellenia spoke.
I didn’t realize I had fallen into a state of stupor from thinking. The two of them were already done and I had missed the latter parts of their practice. I shifted from where I was, making my way to my mother’s beckoning hands.
“You spaced out again, you little thing,” she said as she reached up to sift through my honeyed red curls.
“How is our little princess?” Mistress Neilly bent down to give me a kiss on the forehead.
“I’m good,” I replied with a smile of my own. These women were such loving creatures. I had often wondered why I was the only child in the house. Although I knew of the fact that Hellenia previously miscarried before finding me in Amber’s arms, I was not very aware of the other mistresses’ lives—not that I really dared to ask.
“You know, Evyionne,” Hellenia began as she pulled me to her. “It’s going to be your birthday soon.” She smiled at me. “I know what you’ve always wanted. Do you want to go out?”
“Go out?” I reiterated, eyes widening. “You mean out of the gates?”
“Yes. Do you want to?”
“Of course, I do!” I replied eagerly. “But will it be alright? You and the mistresses don’t ever leave…”
“I’m sure it’s alright,” she told me with a smile. “And there may be others in the future if this goes well, but first, you will have to listen to me. Can we agree on that?”
I nodded. Enthusiastically.