[So, just as a brief reminder, Arkady is the codename for my partner, whom I shared with Rowan. Rowan is my metamour, who also dated Vali. Vali is a chronic liar who had moved in to the Crosman Terrace Household shortly before I did. Kirra is my very worst ex, who traumatized me the most. ‘Gaslamp’ is the influence Kirra and others seemed to have on those surrounding her, and what Vali seemed to inherit. TW: Brief mentions of suicide, mention of sibling death, vague sexual references, discussions of trauma and hallucinations]
[Note: Rowan’s name was initially hidden by the codename “Ash.” Though I’ve changed the text to reflect how I will no longer be protecting them, you will still see ‘Ash’, meaning Rowan, in the screenshots below. The same is true of Vali’s former moniker, which was formerly ‘March.’ The same is also true of Kirra’s former moniker, April.]
June of 2018:
“I really doubt you’re a Thysia. But I can check.” There was something that felt vaguely appropriative about Rowan insisting that they were a Thysia. Granted, having a piece of a broken god in one’s soul got me these cool soul-bending abilities. I could steal souls, trade them, make them into jewelry. I could destroy souls and make sure that entity could never be reborn. I could erase the memories of others. I could literally see what someone’s soul looked like. But the legacy of loneliness, betrayal, and suicide was a steep price.
It doesn’t exactly promote mental wellness to meet a god or some other ancient being and have them greet you with, “Oh, you haven’t snuffed it yet? Huh, odd. Good for you, I guess.”
‘Most have committed suicide before they turned twenty,’ Vex had said matter-of-factly. ‘All reinacting what I did to my poor girl. You were damned to fall for Kirra, or someone like what I had been in my youth.‘
And now that Rowan had read a good portion of Lost Chaos, they had seen Thysia’s life and was wondering if this was a past life. “I used to have this odd thing where I’d have discoloured spots all over my skin from time to time, like I was losing pigment, but not permanently.” They’d even met someone like a young Vex– someone like Kirra.
Lappa was her name. She was someone who loved the colours black and red together, who was an artist, who delighted in telling everyone around her that they weren’t good enough to breathe her air, and even created characters for Rowan to become attached to. Only to take them away whenever Rowan ‘misbehaved.’
Gee, Rowan, I’m so sorry you went through that. What sick, twisted, manipulative cunt would do such a thing?
It was too eerily similar to be a coincidence. “Did we date the same fucking person?” I’d joked on more than one occasion.
Just through Lappa alone, they had a case for perhaps being a Thysia like myself.
I didn’t want them to be. I didn’t want to break the news to my new boyfriend of a month and a half that his fiancé was cursed and that some people might’ve wanted to steal them away from their body. The subject came up again when they visited me in Savannah. “I can actually check and see if I can find a shard of Thysia,” I offered. “I just have to have eye contact with you. It’ll probably be uncomfortable, me probing around your soul like that, but–”
I think the deal was sealed by the moment their thirsty ass heard the word ‘probing.’ “Do it!” Rowan’s smile was always so charming. It radiated delighted wonder and just a bit of impish mischief.
Fine. I knelt in front of them in their room in the inn. The room they had rented for their impromptu vacation was decorated primarily in scarlet, with Asian antiques decorating the walls. It reminded me jarringly of Kirra, but I pushed that thought away. “Let me know if I hurt you.” I stared into their eyes. Within their green-blue irises, I slipped into my inworld. It showed me what I expected to see. “Your soul is lovely! It’s… like a lush forest, but a little to the left.”
“Really?” Rowan sounded excited. “I wondered what a fae soul would look like compared to what you usually see.”
“It’s odd, but not in a bad way.” I was always careful about making sure I didn’t accidentally insult them. Kaspar had even told me– ‘This looks ideal. But be certain you stay on the metamour’s good side. Something about this power dynamic strikes a sour chord with me.’ “Like, you know the scenery from James Cameron’s ‘Avatar’? It’s basically like that.”
I was sifting through their soul, on the hunt from that tell-tale blinding shard that would’ve been lodged in the incandescent greenery. I did find an area that seemed somewhat scorched, as if the sunlight had been there without moving too long. “I… see remnants of it, to be honest. Like maybe you had it when you were younger and your soul just… rejected it? But no actual shard.” I gripped the sides of their shoulders. To make sense of what I was seeing, I was basically flipping their soul upside down in my mind’s eye, tilting it, flipping it– and then Rowan fell to the side, pretending to faint.
It didn’t take long to revive them. Thank gods for cinematic timing. But I did discover something, that day.
That my soul-bending abilities could be used on the outside, as well. And actually affect people.
September of 2019:
I had the perfect opportunity to be heartless and I didn’t take it. I know now that the situation was damned before I had ever become a part of it, but I’ve spent a ridiculous amount of time wondering what would have happened if I were the bastard that they thought I was.
Probably nothing different. But I can’t help but wonder.
The day after the grand reveal and Rowan’s odd seance in the cemetery, we decided to wait until Vali got home from work the next day, which I want to say was somewhere between 1pm and 3pm. I believe this was a Saturday– Zara was there, for some reason, to serve as unrelated witness because she had long decided that drama couldn’t go on without her sitting there looking pretty.
I remember the four of us waiting around, partially hungover, and charged with pre-battle fire. Vali was accosted by Rowan nearly immediately as he walked in the door. I’m pretty sure Pearl Harbour was less startled. “Vali. You lied to me?”
It’s amazing, how strong Rowan could appear when they had an audience, and only then.
“What do you mean? I’ve never lied to you!” was Vali’s too-quick reply.
I winced and squeezed Arkady’s hand. He and I were on the couch, Zara on a cushion on the floor, Rowan standing and facing Vali as if they were a cat that just batted at something. “Oh yeah? What about– [This section is censored but just be assured that a bomb is dropping]? Hn? What about that?”
“We found your [unflattering legal documents], Vali!” Rowan spat venomously. “You’ve been lying to me this entire time!”
Vali broke down crying almost immediately. I’ve always been jealous of those who could weep openly. Somehow my drunken stream of consciousness about how much I hate myself and that I’m only alive for my art doesn’t inspire as much as empathy as the ol’ waterworks. “I didn’t mean to lie to you!”
And then a strong surge of dumbassery hit me. Just an overwhelming wave of idiocy, as if the legacy of all of the anti-masking Coronavirus victims were retroactively naming me the heir to their suicidal bastard dodo complex. “Is it… the type of thing where the situation was traumatic and you just told yourself a better story?”
I was directly quoting that Sherlock episode that always messes with me, which is how I should’ve known I should have stopped talking. Vali took the lead that I so graciously gave him and ran with it. Oh, yes, the story was as traumatic as it was unverifiable. He was only the helpless victim. There’s a chance his version of the story was real, but I’d honestly bet my paycheque otherwise. Between the lying about everything else and the fact that Vali has changed friend groups every three years, I can’t fact-check it, so we’re all stuck with my gut feeling for now.
I even gently helped him through the question of his accent. I think I empathized, being my British ass was American on paper. “And when you said that you slipped into a Russian accent when you were drunk– I’ve seen you wasted quite a few times now and that never happened. Is it just– wishful thinking? Like something you wished you retained?”
Another tearful nod.
Arkady was less apt to leading the accused to redemption. “Can you even speak Russian?”
“N-Not… Not as well as I used to, when I was a kid… But… It’s not… as fluent as I said.”
Then Rowan took the floor again. “So, when you messaged me, telling me that you had to tell me that you had a crush on me or else your ex or whatever would blackmail you? What was that? A lie? Were you just looking for an escape and I just happened to be the only one who responded?”
“Of course not!” Vali was crying again. Zara hit her cannabis pen.
“Do you actually love me? Or was I just an escape to you?”
“I do love you!”
Oh, his tone could have won an Emmy. I’m pretty sure that was the point in the conversation where Rowan was much less interested in proof. But I still pressed the issue.
“Do you have any screenshots of that happening?” My line of questioning was mostly the same throughout the interaction. “Do you have your psychology degree? Or can you obtain a copy of the actual degree?” “What about that time where you barged in on Rowan and [Arkady] having sex and claimed that Vic was emailing your mom? Is there a screenshot of that?”
His responses were mostly the same. “I don’t know if I can find that, but I think I can try to find it.”
What about the twin? I forget which one of us began that line of questioning, but I feel like that was I. “Can you prove, in any capacity, that this twin existed? A photo of you two together? Messages that references him sometime before 2018?” I gave him such a wide berth. Vali sniffled something that Romani didn’t normally have documentation. “Maybe your family doesn’t, but that’s the type of thing that gets a full page in a year book. There’s going to be something. Even your birth certificate.” Apparently.
“Well, I know the twin’s real, because I have memories of being him.” Rowan asserted gently.
Arkady and I exchanged glances. It was a somewhat sad joke in between us that Vali and Rowan wanted to seem like reincarnated twins so badly. How do I even respond to that? ‘No, honey, you wanted to believe it so much that you essentially lied to yourself.’ I took a breath. Arkady shook his head at me minutely. I felt innately that he was saying, “No, it may be wrong, but it’d be more damaging to find out it was a lie.”
“Could… he have existed exclusively in another plane?” I asked hesitantly. It was the sort of stretched-thin fellowship that could only come from regularly waking up and wondering how many of my friends were visible to everyone else.
Rowan and Vali looked at each other. “Maybe…?” Vali finally said.
Weird thing; when I tried to go back to Vali’s old Facebook profile to back up my points, the profile was gone. Vali had deleted it, on a whim, on today of all days. Literally in between the night before and this discussion, a time frame less than twelve hours, Vali got the random idea of ‘Hey, I should delete my old Facebook page.’ And how does that even happen? Looking back, it was entirely possible that Rowan had pre-warned Vali, but coincidence remains a dubious explanation, to say the least.
It’s Gaslamp, I thought. It’s just like when I’d vent to Apollo and find out that Kirra was striking back on her Tumblr with another bit of slander. It’s like their minds are all linked or something.
“The thing is…” I’d mentioned Gaslamp as a public idea before. It was for some sort of pagan holiday weeks before– we’d all gone up on Pinnacle Hill and rambled to everyone else about magic. It was that night where Vali told that hilariously cheesy story about some football magic involving the Jersey number 13. But I explained what ‘Gaslamp’ was– that it had influenced the world to look the other way as Bosie Douglas crushed Oscar Wilde’s genius. It had wormed its way into the brains of Canadian judges to convince them to let a murderer raise the son of her murder victim. It was what made everyone turn on Koji as soon as Romeo so much as sniffled. “Gaslamp hates being talked about. If you are unknowingly wielding Gaslamp, revealing the lies and the skewed power dynamic should have shattered it. You could be a completely different person outside of its effects. If that is what happened.”
I kept my options open, even though I was certain that is, in fact, what happened. Why else would my love have yelled at me over bedroom arrangements five months ago? Why else would my best friend forsake the existence of both myself and our partner for months?
If months of living with those that claimed I impregnated them astrally with twins had taught me anything, it was that magic was a solid explanation.
Vali sniffled and nodded.
It was shortly after this that Rowan said that the three of us should meet on the porch and deliberate. ‘Kicking out Vali’ was definitely on the table. “So, what are we thinking?” Rowan asked. There was a weird lightness in their tone. It was as if we weren’t on the brink of judging if Vali would be thrown out, but what sort of pizza we should order.
Both Rowan and Arkady were looking at me, as if I’d been elected leader in this just because I was revealed to have a mouth on me in the face of injustice. I frowned. My idiotic empathy was being annoyingly loud. “What if… we demand that he provides proof for all that he claims… And if he can’t, then he should drop it. We can decide in [the month of] Vali, when the lease is up, whether he’s changed. That way, we can see if he’s redeemable. Or if he’s been possessed. Or if he’s just a toxic asshole. Oh, and it should definitely be a stipulation that if he uses suicide as a threat again, he’s out. That’s literally disgusting.”
Rowan and Arkady agreed. We went back to tell Vali the good news that he was giving a stay-of-leave. “If this has all been due to the curse that I’ve dubbed as ‘Gaslamp’, then you’ve got a good chance at recovery. Romeo nearly got someone killed before we called him on his shit, but now he’s happily married with three kids.” I didn’t add in the fun fact that I still really didn’t care for Romeo. “And if this is mental illness, you need to get help, allow us to call you on your shit, and figure it out.”
Vali nodded, wiping his eyes. “Maybe I got it from Vic… All of our friends in Arizona turned on me without even asking what happened.”
“That’s also a possibility.” I was leaning more towards curse, truth be told. If it turned out to only be mental illness, then it wasn’t as if keeping open communication was going to harm anything. And if it was all a curse, then hell, everyone could benefit from therapy. But the fact that Rowan had been possessed by Thysia the night before and also the fact that Arkady could feel it affecting his magic and vice versa– it made me think that my hunch was right.
And it made it easy to blame my ex rather than holding my current loved ones accountable for their recent shitty actions.
Probably the Scorpio in me. When in doubt, blame your ex.
We concluded the household (+ Zara for some fucking reason) ‘Come to Jesus’ meeting on that note.
“Does the house feel… lighter to you?” Rowan asked breathlessly.
I’d paused. Yes, now that I thought about it. It was like a change of atmospheric pressure.
“Look!” Arkady pointed out later, after Vali had already retired to recover in his room. “Rowan’s plants are looking much more lively already!”
“Rowan’s energy was like… insidious tentacles weaving their way through everyone.” Zara said, ever-eager to offer her expert opinion. After all, being too high to function made one an expert in auras. Or something.
I’d nearly convulsed with the sheer continuity of this comparison. Didn’t Aberle compare Gaslamp to the spreading tentacles of Anne Rice’s Amel several years ago? Didn’t David Bagby say in ‘Dance with the Devil’ that his son trying to wrest himself from Shirley was like disengaging from an octopus? Hell, I feel like Oscar Wilde probably made the comparison to Bosie in ‘De Profundis’, though the specifics escape me now.
It was the same thing! And I had defeated it!
I didn’t have time to celebrate my victory. The hotel, as hotels are wont to do at any given time, was overworking me. I’d had two months before I was hired that I could have spent with my family, and I’d wasted it walking on bloody eggshells around Vali. PMDD was plaguing me, at a rate that was eclipsing half the month, and I was an insecure mess most of the time. Plus, I was apparently integrating with Star. Arkady, still apparently reeling from the drama, was being entirely snappy.
RSD and PMDD were basically collaborating on a thesis entitled, ‘HEY XANTHE, YOU SHOULD BE SHOT FOR EVEN EXISTING.‘
It was one moment, but it was the sort of thing getting overly frequent. It seemed uncharacteristic of Arkady. “Could it be that Gaslamp has gotten to you again? You’re snapping at me for things that don’t even make sense.”
At this, Arkady looked sheepish. He seemed to realise that he had been an ass for a solid week. It wasn’t exactly what I had pictured, when I had sacrificed months battling my foremost trigger, to also have to clean up the mess left behind. “Yeah..” He said huskily. “I haven’t been myself lately. You can try to look for it.”
And thus, I did the same thing with him that I had done to his fiance more than one year before. I knelt before him, stared into his eyes, and inspected his soul.
His soul, unsurprisingly, was precisely as I pictured it. It looked like the misty, rolling green hills of northern Ireland, with crumbling stone structures sprawling like a decrepit kingdom. The sort of place where Vinculus would scuttle about and shout prophesies at people. It was gorgeous. But there it was– clinging to the walls, the sticky residue of manipulation. “Found it,” I exhaled, extracting the black, pulsing, squealing thing. “Does that hurt?”
“No,” Arkady answered with a sigh. “I feel it, though.”
“I like your soul,” I told him and described it to him.
He nodded along. “I feel you in there.”
A side of my mouth quirked up. “Well, you always do like feeling me i–”
When I finished, Arkady stretched and smiled. “You’re right. I do feel better.” He kissed my forehead. I had helped.
That was why this curse made so much sense to me. Otherwise, my husband had just been an ass. Had just taken out his stress on me. Otherwise, I was living amongst people who would forget I existed once Rowan’s sex life was fulfilled and I was once again in a toxic situation that took advantage of my ‘other plane.’
I would’ve rather believed in a million curses than believe that could happen to me again.