Royals and Prisms At A Thousand Feet: Another Story from the Maya
A completely different vista greeted them when they exited the Theatrium. Gone was the stone staircase leading to the Altarstone, gone was the vast birch forest and the powdery snow.
Now, warm sunlight shone down. They exited a small doorway at the base of the The Auburn Palace’s southern wall. It was a balmy autumn evening, with the sun out and the dry leaves whispering. The wind ran its fingers through the long grass. The sun was a blinding jewel over distant mountains of blue and violet, crowned with snow.
“What’s this balloon we’re taking?” Puke asked Ivy.
“That balloon,” said Ivy, pointing.
Just ahead, there was an open meadow filled with nodding wildflowers. Visible over the treetops was the massive canvas bulb of a hot air balloon — emerald green and streaked with silver, like everything else Ivy owned.
“Are we going to dress for this?” Puke asked as they trotted through the soft, cool grass. He motioned at their naked bodies. He found walking around naked to be distracting, with his junk out and dangling for all to see.
Ivy looked at him incredulously.
“I just thought — “
“You’re comfortable with it, right? You should feel the air on your naked body at a thousand feet. And clothes are fucking restricting, babe. No one wears clothes in the Palace unless they’re in the Entrance or in public or in Trial or for some specific purpose, like role play or something. You look good naked, I look good naked, so who gives a fuck?”
Chuck was waiting next to the balloon’s gondola, the breeze ruffling the feathers on his head and neck. In the daylight he looked more regal than horrible, no longer half-hidden in the shadows of the Theatrium. His monstrosities were symmetrical, making him almost handsome.
“First way humans learned how to fly, you know,” said Ivy. “I love taking hot air balloon rides. I try to do it at least once a day. You haven’t fucked until you’ve fucked in an open air basket a thousand feet off the ground.”
Puke’s eyes widened.
“Are we going to…?”
Ivy smirked at him.
“No, we’re gonna have to wait and see about that. Intercourse is for Allegiants only.”
“Well, how am I doing?”
“Okay, that’s called Obligation. You’re being weak.”
Puke knew about Obligation.
“You’re right,” he said. “I’m sorry.”
“Men don’t apologize,” said Ivy sharply. “They accept their wrongs with silence and submission and stoicism.”
“Yes, my princess,” said Puke, making sure his posture was correct. Chin up, chest out, shoulders back.
“You’re gonna need to get more confident, though, if you want this to continue. You dig?”
“Yes, my princess.”
Once they reached the gondola, Chuck offered Ivy his clawed hand. She took it and he helped her step up and into the gondola. Puke lifted himself up and in, a bit awkwardly.
Ivy stood on her tiptoes and adjusted the fire in the burner. A flame licked up into the envelope and the gondola lifted off the ground. Puke grabbed the side for balance.
The gondola was large, about the length and width of a full-size SUV, and woven out of black wicker sprinkled with emeralds. There were four cushioned benches with pillows around the inner perimeter, and a small silver tea sat on a round table in the corner.
Chuck released the final rope and the balloon lifted off. The gondola swayed back and forth. The tea set stayed in place, the dishes not even rattling.
They ascended quickly, Chuck shrinking down to toy size within a few seconds of liftoff. The treetops leveled out and sank below them. The balloon soundlessly climbed up and up, the cotton puff clouds getting closer.
The Auburn Palace itself was to the north, immense and magnificent, a hulking structure the size of a city skyline made of honeyed brick. Its pointed towers jutted through the bellies of the clouds. Even rising in the balloon, Ivy and Puke still had to crane their necks to see the highest ones. It gave one a serious sense of megalophobia.
Ivy walked over to the tea set and poured her and Puke some tea, adding copious amounts of cream and sugar. She brought him a steaming cup and sat down next to him.
“This is real English tea,” she said. “Like my mom made. It’s not that thin-ass store-bought shit. It’s nice and creamy.”
“Was your mom English?”
“Her parents were,” said Ivy.
Puke blew on his tea. Indeed, this wasn’t your typical heated green water with a few stray specks of leaf drifting in it. This looked and smelled more like a sweet coffee with milk than anything. He sipped. It warmed his insides, went down smooth. An odd chaser for all the wine they’d had, but still pleasant.
Ivy reached up and leveled out the belching flames in the burner. Puke took in the sight of her petite body stretching, her belly going taut, her arm extended as she stood on one tiptoe to reach the damper, a stray curl of hair resting on her shoulder. He took a moment to admire the point of her chin, the curve of her armpit, the tips of her nipples, the swerve of her collarbone, the roundness of her buttocks, the way her tattoo looped around the back of her knee and how the final leaf seemed to cup her breast.
The balloon’s rise steadied and tapered off. They drifted southward.
Puke cleared his throat, letting his tea cool. Ivy sat down across from him, holding her teacup and saucer.
Ivy took one sip of her tea and swallowed slowly, savoring.
“Mmm,” she said with satisfaction, smiling and squeezing her eyes shut.
They soared, the world far below, the fire licking the rim of nylon skin above their heads. The balloon itself was like a large house hanging overhead. The trees were small as broccoli beneath them. From this height, the forest canopy looked like an uneven shag carpet. The hovering sunset cast long beams of light across the treetops, turning them neon.
“You were right,” said Puke, closing his eyes. “The wind is incredible.”
“I know,” said Ivy, standing and stretching. Her exquisite body was lit by a setting sun that never actually set. It hung suspended just over the horizon, partially obscured by the blue, black and purple clouds. Puke saw every goosebump rise on Ivy’s shoulders.
“I can’t believe I get to do this,” said Ivy, stretching her arms out like Kate Winslet in Titanic. “I can’t believe people used to have to live the way they did in heavyspace.”
“Excelsior,” said Puke.
“I always wanted to be a princess when I grew up,” said Ivy. “Like, I wanted it, more than anything. And now I have it, literally.”
“You grew up poor?” Puke asked.
“No, I was middle class. But I wasn’t a princess.”
“Did your parents survive the Veil?”
“My mom and my sisters got taken by the Waste, but my dad immersed. I still phase my old childhood home as my Residency.”
“And now you’re a real princess,” said Puke, staring at her. He wondered what Willow looked like.
“I’m more than a princess. I’m an Anodyne. I heal. I kill. I have lightning in my fingers, and I can split my consciousness to interact separately with other people simultaneously. I wouldn’t have understood that concept if you’d explained it to me in heavyspace.”
“I barely understand it now,” said Puke. “But I’m thankful for it.”
“Everyone can be royalty at The Auburn Palace,” said Ivy, looking out over the forest. “Every conscious person has the same soul, so they deserve to feel wanted and loved and to never be lonely. To never feel the darkness of involuntary loneliness, to never feel like they weren’t meant to exist.”
“It’s incredible that only a small, small, small percentage of people got to feel this way in heavyspace before the Veil. To feel truly valued and connected with all things.”
“That was part of the rhythm,” said Puke. “If that hadn’t happened, we wouldn’t be here now.”
“Mm,” said Ivy. “Excelsior.”
They finished their tea. The forest below them stretched for miles in all directions, rising and falling with the hills. The Palace loomed like a mountain off to the north, its honeyed stone glowing almost violently in the sinking sunlight.
“Holy shit,” exclaimed Ivy, looking down. She bunched up a wad of skin just below her right boob and examined it. “I have a new freckle!”
Ivy pointed to a little dot in the center of the pinch of skin.
She inspected it like it was a rare gem.
“Hmm,” said Puke. He couldn’t see the freckle from where he was sitting.
“I have a couple other freckles,” Ivy said. “I’ll show them to you.”
She scooched over and plopped herself down on Puke’s lap, straddling him.
He put his arms around her, drew her in. Their taut bellies pressed together. Her skin was cool and smooth on his.
Ivy pointed to her face.
“I have one here, and one here,” she said, pointing to two little ones on her lower left cheek. She had a spray of sun-washed freckles across the bridge of her nose. The ones she was referring to were smaller and darker, like little grains of pepper.
“Hmm,” said Puke, giving a close examination.
“Kiss them,” said Ivy.
Puke did, little pecks, one at a time.
“And I have one on this side,” Ivy said, turning her head and pointing near her right ear.
Puke kissed it.
“But this one,” she said, leaning away and admiring her new freckle again. “This one I’ve never seen before. That’s crazy.”
“May I kiss that one?”
“Yes,” she said, letting go of herself. There were two flushed pinch-marks left on either side of the freckle. Puke went in and touched his lips to it. On his way back up he brushed them against her right nipple. He exhaled softly.
She lightly pushed him away with a finger to the forehead.
“You behave yourself now,” she said.
“How about a full song,” Puke sputtered, intoxicated with her scent and her touch. “It’ll be my first private song. I’ll give you the rest of my day’s BIC for it.”
“What about the Fantasy?”
“That’s coming from my vacation stash. The money I got for working.”
“I thought you’d never ask me.”
She stepped off his lap, raised both hands and snapped her fingers.
A guitar appeared in her hands, dissolving in, Puke could see each individual particle of it multiply and form until it was complete.
“I’ll need accompaniment,” she said. “You learned the basic instruments at Orientation, right?”
Puke took the guitar from her.
“I did,” he said.
He hadn’t played anything on it yet, but he kept that to himself. He gave the guitar an open strum.
“What are we performing?”
“I’ve got one for you,” said Ivy. “A song from a land far away, a little island in the ocean. Written by a girl who wanted, like all girls, to be a princess. She sang this song, and got her wish.”
“Excelsior,” said Puke.
“The star we called Lorde, may her voice live on. The song Royals.”
“May her voice live on,” said Puke, anticipation lighting him up. “And yours.”
He flipped out his Tag and downloaded the song. He remembered it vaguely from heavyspace and was pretty sure there wasn’t any guitar on it. The backing track had been minimal and electronic. He would need to come up with his own guitar part on the spot.
As the download wheel on his Tag turned, Puke felt himself know the chords, know the lyrics, know the notes, and he began strumming a pattern, tentatively, finding the rhythm, finding the right transitions, the right licks. The sound of the guitar was sterling silver.
Ivy watched him, nodding along.
“That’ll work,” she said once he fell into a steady, busy progression.
Puke hung on to himself.
He dropped the guitar out for a beat, and Ivy filled the silence with her voice.
I’ve never seen a diamond in the flesh
I cut my teeth on wedding rings in the movies
And I’m not proud of my address
In the torn up town, no post code envy
The first verse was pudding, Ivy’s voice molten gold over the silver of the guitar.
But every song’s like
At the first pre-chorus, four more Ivys, each of them slightly less opaque than the original one, sprang up around the original Ivy — the Master. Half-formed prisms, holding close.
Tripping in the bathroom
Trashing the hotel rooms
Ivy harmonized with herself, all four of the prisms dancing around her under the flaming burner. She looked like a floating flower of Ivys.
We don’t care
We’re driving Cadillacs in our dreams
Puke sat frozen to his seat, helpless and high, his hands and fingers on automatic. The guitar was playing him more than he was playing it.
Ivy and her prisms sang, one of them perched next to Puke as he played, stroking his chin and staring into his eyes.
But everybody’s like
Diamonds on your time piece
Jet planes, islands
Tigers on a gold leash
We don’t care
We aren’t caught up in your love affair
The prisms disappeared for a split second as the Master Ivy sang the chorus. Puke switched from power chords to open major chords. The sound filled the world, held it together. He was tripping balls.
And we’ll never be royals, sang Ivy.
Royals, sang the prisms, leaning out of her just long enough to get the word out.
It don’t run in our blood
That kinda lux just ain’t for us
We crave a different kind of buzz
Ivy danced on her toes like a music box ballerina, turning and tossing her hair about under the burner.
Let me be your ruler
Ruler, sang the prisms
You can call me queen bee
And baby I’ll rule
I’ll rule, I’ll rule, I’ll rule,the prisms harmonized, a small grove of swaying arms.
Let me live that fantasy
Ivy leaned over the edge of the gondola and looked down at the forest canopy hundreds of feet below them, the first verse and chorus complete. The prisms coalesced back into her and she was one again.
Puke switched back to power chords, looped the intro to the verse, waiting for her to come in again.
“Everyone wishes they were royalty,” said Ivy. “Now all they have to do is put on the Halo.”
Puke could only nod, high as fuck. Her voice came into his head in swirls. Every vocalization, every vibration produced lit up something in his head that made everything vivid, more defined. It gave him the greatest feeling of comfort, of belonging. The Hallelujah.
“But you can still be a regular person,” said Ivy. “That’s how you keep your soul.”
“I have no idea what you’re saying,” slurred Puke. “But I love it.”
He played the guitar and tried not to faint. The Hallelujah wound through him like some fiery Chinese dragon. They were playing at a quicker tempo than the original — a chipper, coffee-shop version of the song.
Ivy’s prisms moved and sang and danced with the Master Ivy, radiating off her and fading out like ghosts. Every lilt in her voice, every breathe she took, pushed his Hallelujah higher.
The second verse passed, and by the second chorus Puke’s very consciousness seemed to hum with the love of the universe.
Then they were at the bridge and Ivy’s voice was like a breath of mountain air, transforming her into a goddess of light and wonder and ultimate beauty, moving slowly in the setting sun with four or five copies of herself surrounding her. Puke stared, his jaw slack and his fingers and hands moving.
With one final “Let me live that fantasy”, Puke strummed one last open chord and the song was done.
Ivy smiled warmly as her prisms disappeared like mist.
She took the guitar from Puke’s grip and set it on the floor, climbed into his arms. He lay back on the bench, snuggled with her. Her hair fell in his face.
They held each other, with Puke’s sore, half-erect dick pressed against Ivy’s stomach. He began to feel slightly anxious.
“I’m still high,” he said. “I thought Hallelujahs were only when the singing is happening.”
“Hallelujahs can linger,” said Ivy. “Especially vestal Hallelujahs. I gave you a lot of Sugar there. You’ll probably be feeling it for another coupla minutes or so.”
“Thank you, my princess,” said Puke.
They held each other, suspended. The balloon drifted any way it wanted, and they did not worry about anything.