Constants

There are always constants in her dreams.

It is hot and damp, always hot and damp. There is nothing that scares her more than the heat, the way it cloys, the way it sticks to the skin, and how difficult it is to escape it.

The people in her dreams always wear blue. She moves through crowds of blue, trying to pass through the city, trying to appear inconspicuous; past vendors setting up shop, people running errands, but all of them clad in the various shades of blue and white that mimic the colour of the sea. She hates the colour, will never wear it, will always distrust it.

Always, she is trying to reach the plaza. Every dream, whether hazy or clear, she knows she is heading towards that place, towards the mask there. Sometimes it is a slow pace, sometimes there are shouts behind her and she is being pursued, trying to outrun them, or lose them. But she knows she has to reach her mask before that face is lost forever.

Always, her goal is her fox face. It is always there, a smear of bright crimson red and sigil of gold in a sea of muted blue. Sometimes she only gets a glimpse of it before it is gone. There are some dreams where she can almost reach out and touch it, touch the face they have put it on, cup the cheek that wears it. There are some days where she snatches it from her enemies, but feels the slick blood that soaks through it. Sometimes, she has to turn away and run, run away from the knowledge that it is a trap, unattainable, dangerous to desire. And there are some dreams where her fingers stretch for it, inch by inch, just about brushing it, as it dangles just beyond her fingertips, if only, if only…

“VITÓRIA.”

There is always the sense that freedom would be hers if she could escape with her mask; if she had it, if she could push away the hands that grab her and drag her back. That to fail means death, and she doesn’t want to die here, trapped, alone… so she fights harder…

“VITÓRIA! Damnit Vee…WAKE UP.”

She’s pulled, shaken awake screaming, Andrea holding her wrists firmly in her hands. There’s a pause, as she stills, gasping and afraid, the fight leaving her. The sweat on her rapidly cooling brow a stark reminder that she is awake, and it was a dream, always a dream.

“Oh… Oh.” It takes a minute to stop the hammering in her chest, before Andrea lets her hands go. Her wrists ache from the strength of the soldier’s grip.

“Hey, it’s okay. I have it here. Your mask is right here,” Andrea knows what Vitória is looking for, has it ready, presses the mask into her shaking fingers. How many nights now has Andrea seen her frantically searching for her war face after a nightmare? She knows what to do by now.

There is always a moment when she looks down at her war face and hopes, prays, that the gold sigil on the corner is a bird in flight, and not a bird cage.

“Still there?” Andrea asks as she straightens the bed sheets and blankets. Vitória looks dumbly from the mask to the bedding she kicked off in her sleep. Oh, she’s talking about the mask. She looks at the cage sigil, its delicate embroidery, as Andrea pulls her back into bed.

“Y-yes. Still there.”

There are always some constants to her dreams.

 

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The dangers of playing yourself

Quickly, fingers rip the mask off her face the minute the cursed play ends. She takes a breath, then another, hoping, praying, that the removal of it separates who she is from THAT role. She wants to throw it off the stage, this mask that she and Rodrigo both agree should be destroyed, and soon. But then, Rodrigo was always one to suggest destroying masks.

The emotions threaten to overwhelm, to suffocate her. She’s still in Asavea, still a slave. She rushes off, finds a quiet room to breathe, to be alone, to check her face is her own in the mirror; it is some time before she can return to the ball. But she can’t yet separate herself, ease back into the crowd.

It’s just the subject matter, she tries convincing herself, as she twirls with Tess. It’s the stress of performing, she tries again, forgetting the steps. You are not that person anymore. She tries laughing it off, as the dance ends and she turns. Comes face to face with the source of all her vexation, the next dancer in the set. Gabriel.

She runs. There’s a remembrance of Summer heat, and determination, and a flicker of the touch of the Realm in her that persuades otherwise. You are that person. You will always BE that person. And you are right to be ANGRY. This, she believes. It is unfair. Why did nobody think it might hurt her? Why wasn’t she asked if this was okay? It might have just been a play to the rest of the troupe, but to her– it was real, and it hurt, and they made her re-live it.

The play had ended. She had taken off the mask. Stepped out of the role.

Ah, but you played yourself, didn’t you?

In the midst of anger and fear, she touches her face, wondering why her mask is failing to calm her. It is not there.