2018-12-30: The Structure of the Self

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  • Cutscene: The Structure of the Self
  • Cast: Neriah Parringer
  • Where: Basilica of Saint Arius
  • Date: December 30, 2018
  • Summary: Neriah and her longest-serving cultist reflect on the nature of self.

She'd stocked the Basilica of Saint Arius with more than its share of books. Some of them she'd stolen from Pendrago. Others she'd liberated from various ruins. Still more she'd just bought. None of them gave her the answers she thought they could give her. Only hints around the edges of something.

So she turned to her mirror. A freestanding thing, polished and framed fetchingly with gold.

The girl looking back at her was someone she barely recognized despite seeing her every day. Her short black hair had grown out dramatically over the past two years into a curtain of dramatic raven curls, prone to rippling about her cheeks in ways which drew out her porcelain-doll beauty. The pale blue of her eyes had given way to a more distinctive colour, a rich violet-red colour - Was it always like that? I feel like it was much lighter before the Photosphere happened. Even her carriage seemed different.

With a frown, Neriah reached towards one of the far too many clothing stands around her and retrieved an article. She set it atop her head, then turned a little to check herself out from various angles.

"You haven't worn that in awhile, Madame," a quiet voice from behind her observed.

Neriah sighed and reached up to take the grey newsboy hat from her head. "No, I haven't, Svetlana. And you could've at least knocked. I'm hardly decent."

The redhead in the doorway inclined her head shallowly. "Sorry, Madame. I wanted to let you know that we've gathered the materials you'll need."

"Which means now it's just a matter of reining in my anonymous gentleman caller for five minutes." Neriah flicked her curls away from her face with one hand, then turned back towards the redhead. "Get together with Yvain and start putting it all together. We only have so long that we can do this."

"Yes, Madame."

"Svetlana," Neriah called on a sudden impulse, half-raising a hand.

The redhead stopped with the door half-open and looked back. "Yes, Madame?"

"Tell me a little bit about your feelings," Neriah invited, gesturing towards the long couch arrayed beneath the arched window.

"My feelings?"

"You know. What's really going through your mind." Flipping one hand, Neriah sank back heavily into an armchair facing the couch, crossing one leg over the opposite. Casually she picked up a kiseru from the end table, balancing it in delicate fingers. "You go through your day and you put up a certain mask, don't you? But there's a part of you that thinks certain things impulsively. Where you see things and the first thing you experience is a strong feeling. Pleasant or not, it's the first thing, right?"

Setting aside a long marksman's ARM, Svetlana lowered herself to the couch, her hands in her lap. "I... I suppose that's true. Our paths crossed in the first place because I was lost and acting out against the world. But if I'd really listened to what my heart had been telling me, I would've been much angrier at things, I think...."

"But there was something in you that kind of mediated, wasn't it?"

"I think so." The redhead blinked once. "But isn't that how most people go through life? I mean, if all we ever did was listen to that inner voice, I probably would've shot half the people in this church by now. If I might say so, Madame."

Shifting in her seat, Neriah paused to blow a little stream of smoke into the air. With a lazy curl of a finger, she applied a touch of unseen magic, drawing the smoke into shapes. Faces, figures. A smoky outline of Riesenlied; of Jay Barber; of Erzebet; of the Demon of Elru. "We all put on masks sometimes, it's true. But I've sometimes wondered if those masks don't just take on a life of their own. If the masks we put on our real feelings don't take on a life of their own. Maybe we all just walk around hiding behind second selves of polite fictions we create for ourselves to mask the things that really need to be said."

"This is about Fei, isn't it," Svetlana remarked as she reached for the end table, picking up a thin wafer.

A soft blush touched Neriah's cheeks. "You're making me feel very transparent, 'lana."

"Sorry, Madame, but I've been with you longer than the others." The redhead smiled neatly, pausing to nip at her wafer, but the expression gradually eased. "You seemed upset over what happened at the Photosphere. You never did fight him, did you?"

"No." Neriah furrows her brows, curling her hands together. The kiseru dangled between her fingers, the shadow of it flickering across her face when it darted through the light from the window just so. "But the Demon suggested that he and Fei were different people. And part of me wondered if that's as true for me as it was for him. And more and more, I don't think it is. And that feels like it should bother me more than it does."

"You feel like you left something behind that was important," the redhead mused. "You didn't know for a long time who you were, did you?"

"But I built something in that time. And when I tried to help Riesenlied...."

A heavy silence hung over the room. As Svetlana tilted her head with expectation, Neriah couldn't so much as make eye contact. The thoughts whirled together into a complex weave - a geometric pattern of thoughts and emotions, like a quilt in some obscure Fereshte pattern from a time Neriah could barely understand or accept. Desires reached for one another's throats and raked mental blades across ideas that couldn't truly mix.

"...I have this delusion that if I can somehow be nice enough to the ones who treated me well back then, maybe I can live two lives," she finally says, her voice quieter. "And maybe in that sense, Fei and I aren't that far apart. And it's easy for him to choose to be Fei. Fei can go home and his girlfriend will love him and his friends will be waiting for him. But it never feels that easy for me. Maybe I lived as my mask for so long that I've forgotten how disgusting human beings really are, because all I saw were a few saints. But I doubt any of them would try to save me if I were in the same position as Fei, would they? Even Riese and Jay. And I suppose that means if Fei can choose to be Fei, then my only choice is to be Id, isn't it? Or whatever Id means for me."

"It's never a good thing to try and live two lives," Svetlana concurred, only half-understanding. But someone else did. YOU CAN ONLY HAVE ONE OF THESE LIVES.

Neriah sighed and leaned forward, lifting the kiseru once again. "I'm fine with that," she said levelly. "It's better to be honest with yourself about what you want. And I think I want to set the terms now. See how the world looks when I decide what's on the playbill. And it starts with no more Miss Nice Witch."

She reached for one of the wafers. From the mirror, forgotten, a short-haired girl in an excavator's newsboy hat looked on sadly.