TRACK 5: Accelerando
Liebestraum No. 3 in A flat
Composed by Franz Liszt
Her heart was beating, and that was all that remained the same.
The shapes, the swirling colors that filled her vision, the brilliant lights that shone into her eyes—Maya saw the universe spiraling into oblivion and she sensed the sands of time dispersing in the wind of the vacuum. The park was gone—it was a mountain; it was a lake; it was a desert that stretched into eternity. She stood alone atop a dune as the sand peppered her and bit into her skin. Her tongue was thick with thirst; her lips were broken and scabbed. She touched her hands to her raw arms and trembled.
"Where am I?" she mumbled, shielding her eyes with her right hand while she hugged herself with her left. The desert lay like a blanket upon the world, creased and bumpy and twisting as if some great giant had awoken and left his bed unmade. Maya longed to sink into those dips in the sand and shut her eyes and rest in their cradling comfort with the sky and its tattered clouds watching over her.
The gleaming sun was retiring now in fiery splendor; the shadows were growing thick across the dunes, rippling outwards like ink spilled on paper. The sky was a burning red marked with the blemishes of clouds.
Maya was soul-weary. She no longer cared where she had come to, where she was going. The worlds were shifting before her, the balance of the universe was evaporating while she watched, yet she only wanted sleep—to sleep and never dream or wake.
The passion for death was gone, but the wish still remained.
I awoke her and I saved her. If I did it once, I can do it again. I tell myself this.
She may not know her self, the mother of all other pitches, and she may not know the key with which her self is unlocked—but I do. I know her and her self; I know of the key. I swear this now—now, before chaos has a chance to destroy my resolve—that despite what may happen to me, I will wake her again. I will save her again.
Let the heavens hear me: Ruben will not let Lilia die!
So I tell myself.
Because I have to keep going.
Lilia is sleeping still. Lilia is silent still.
Who is Maya but the vessel for the pitch—the body for the spirit? Who is Maya that others would die to save her?
In Avalon, the young man is playing on the shore, his forehead knotted in concentration, sweat running from beneath his matted hair, the bow sliding back and forth across the strings although the music is growing weaker and raspier. He is tired and tense but focused. Ruben must reawaken Lilia. What began as a simple serenade to the breathtaking beauty of an angel has become a full-fledged opera of devotion. Even when the drizzle begins—dazzling, star-like droplets that shimmer in a kaleidoscopic aura around him—he simply drops his head lower, moving his chin ever so slightly against his instrument, and tightens his expression while beads of sweat and rain cling to his hair in a light film and gather in clumps along his eyelashes. High
tide approaches and he does not move. Water laps at his ankles and soon courses around his calves. The violin shakes in his hands.
The spirits of Avalon are watching him from within the forest, peeking from behind trees. They tremble with anxiety, and the newly arrived are gossiping in hushed voices, unaware of the battle he wages against time and his own fatigue.
"Who is he? What is his name? Why must he play?" they ask.
But none answer; they are too entranced by his devastating performance, overcome with the passion that brings his bow grinding once more across the strings and allows his fingers to accent the melody just right. Somehow, his determination and fidelity have pushed him to this extreme—this incredible perfection in technique and expression.
The apples are growing redder and riper. Some are splitting and spilling forth their sweet ambrosia. Some have already dropped from the trees of Avalon into its grasses and soon into its unfamiliar brambles.
Before Lilia's death, no thorns had touched this paradise, but now they spike the downy grass like barbed wire. Ivy coils around the trees while mold encroaches on the bark. Nightshade grows in the blue-black shadows.
Avalon is quickly deteriorating, falling into confusion. One spirit bends over a fallen apple and touches the golden, syrupy nectar that dribbles down its blotched skin—then recoils in surprise at its iciness. Somehow, it seems that death is stealing into Avalon, for the spirits quickly realize that they bleed when cut by the thorns. They fear that one day they may die in this land of eternal life.
Because Lilia has shed her blood, the stars grow dim and Avalon is no longer the center of harmony.
And Ruben stands with his back to the tide as new spirits sprint out of the surf. A few apples have rolled onto the sands where the waters easily push them about and draw them deeper into the sea. Ruben peeks down at the red shells of the fruits that bob around his feet. They are withered and wrinkled, disgusting, and fit only for the palates of maggots, not the eternal gods. He draws himself up straighter and suddenly trills his melody in shrill defiance.
How could you do this to Avalon—to Lilia?
I won't bear this any longer.
Maya awoke upon a beach, water lapping at her bare ankles. She was lying on her stomach, facedown in the sand. She could hear the surf crashing in the distance upon the jagged formations of volcanic rock. Slowly, she lifted herself and turned to gaze at the frothy ocean foam that was creeping up the beach. Her hands sank into the black sand and she struggled to her feet. Again, feelings of displacement rushed her when she eyed the stormy sky and the dismal cloudbanks, the alien shore with its spindly palm trees. A figure leaned against one of the trees. Relieved to see another person, she waved and approached him.
"Can you help me?" she asked once she was under the palm leaves with the young man. He had eyes the color of fertile earth and ruffled hair blacker than charcoal. He stretched one hand towards her as if he were holding her fate in his palm. She found herself tracing his lifeline with her eyes.
"Are you all right?" he asked. Without quite realizing what she was doing, Maya laid her hand in his and was bizarrely grateful for the warmth it provided. His smile was so wide and sincere at that moment that Maya thought she could see teardrops at the corners of his eyes.
"I...don't know what is happening to me," Maya told him, catching her breath, her eyes flitting nervously toward the ocean, expecting it to turn into a wasteland once more. "Where am I?"
As he grinned with excitement, the words tumbled past his lips. "Another world."
Her heart stopped.
Perhaps I should have not said it thus. The bewilderment on her face, a face sooty from sleeping on the ashen beach and pricked from resting upon the desert sands, told me as much. She clutched her chest when I tried to explain and sank to her knees, shivering as if she would faint.
Again and again, she asked me who I was. Again and again, her words cut me, until I found myself recalling the death wish that had initially sent me to Avalon. But the grim reaper was no longer my paramour. I was Lilia's devoted follower, possessor of the sole hope that somehow my fate could be tied to the destiny of my muse—that somehow the heavens would forgive my sin of blackest love and let me stay by her side.
And yet, the girl before me knew none of this. She saw a stranger in me, and although I tried to explain, although I forced myself to take my time, she would not listen. She clapped her hands over her ears and shook her head. She wanted her mother—she wanted to go home—she wanted to die. All these things she said while she sank to the ground, shaking and crying at once.
I tried to explain about the fundamentals of the universe, their connection to music, the perfect pitch—but I couldn't. My heart was suffering. I couldn't do this anymore. Since the day I had awoken to find Lilia gone from my side, time had been battering and bruising my heart. The wounds had not yet scarred over. I still loved her, and perhaps it was this that affected me the most at that moment, when—while this girl was yet weeping with shock and confusion—I knelt and laid my arms around her, drawing her into an embrace and kissing her forehead seven times, once for each tone that the apples of Avalon sang.
"Lilia," I said.
"Who are you?" she cried.
Before Lilia, my life had been in shreds. Before Lilia, gloom had pervaded my essence. Before Lilia, I had never been happy.
When she came, all that changed.
But now, the fear, the sorrow and hurt, the torture had returned. The emotions rushed and churned within me like the waves that crashed against the shore; I felt the passion of the music gripping me, and the horrible breathlessness that only injury bred.
I was broken again.
And within moments, my self-control had escaped me and I was weeping into her hair and pleading for her to come back—
Come back home, Lilia—
Come back home...
The Perfect One stirs.
In his right eye, Daniel could see Ruben playing in Avalon, projecting his spirit into the manifest world through the faltering murmur of his violin. In his left eye, Daniel could see the physical embodiment of Ruben upon the beach, enveloping Maya in his arms.
Avalon was falling apart; hence Ruben was growing weary. The music was draining his energy, and the entropy spawned by Lilia's absence was also stealing it away.
"It is only a matter of time before he dies," Daniel confidently told June, who simply sent a current of sound through her harp in response. She had grown more despondent recently, darker in visage, more distant from him. She was meditating on something, he could tell, but he knew not what. He could only suppose she was concerned about the sheet music, which rested on the music stand next to her, the final copy penned in golden ink.
Pieces of the rough drafts littered the temple hall, scribbled with sketches of the grand staff and treble clef, dotted with half-imagined notes. Midnight ink blotted the cream parchment and speckled the marble floor. Broken nubs glinted in the autumn glow from the sky, and Daniel was reminded of the effort he had poured into his magnum opus. All for her, his goddess Entropy.
June must have sensed his disquiet, for she suddenly drew herself from her reverie and looked at him. "Daniel?"
"What is it that you see?"
In his right eye, Daniel could see the last-ditch effort. In his left eye, Daniel could see the suffering. In his right eye, there was sorrow and exhaustion. In his left eye, a glimmer of hope remained.
"I see the flame."
Daniel moved to extinguish it.
Ruben buried his face in her hair while she dug her fists into his chest. Droplets of rain had begun to fall from the sky; the ocean was a dreary gray. The spray shot skywards as the waves broke upon the offshore reef.
Maya's heart was pounding in her ears. The word made her lose her breath. As if she had fallen from the heavens, exhilaration flooded her mind and she could spare no energy to sustain her cries. The enigma of the word—Avalon—so enthralled her as he spoke it, the mist surrounding it—what was Avalon?
She began to calm and regain her composure. She drew herself away, wiping her eyes, almost dizzy with wonderment and awe.
What was that faint, sweet perfume that filled her nose when she heard its name? What was that tinkling bell that chimed so readily in her ears? What were those brilliant colors that blossomed and flourished before her eyes—why did such a word as Avalon conjure them? And finally, his voice and the awful passion that filled it—
In the word, she saw her own grief and weariness reflected a thousand times as if upon the surfaces of a thousand shivering globules of water.
The drizzle had pockmarked the sand. A jagged white lightning bolt shot from one horizon to the other, crumbling the clouds like clots of dirt. The sky was darkening rapidly, the stars developing from dim points into blazing beacons.
"What's happening?" Maya whispered to Ruben.
"The universe is dying," he said bleakly. "The worlds are folding up. Entropy is devouring the balance."
"And what about me? Why does Avalon call me?"
"It calls you?"
Maya touched her right temple and tried to recall the sublime sensations that had overwhelmed her moments before. Now, all that remained within her grasp was a faint melody, so faint it could die, like an ode intoned by the Muses and carried to her by the wind.
Maya hummed it a bit to give it more substance, and Ruben's eyes widened as he listened to her. Suddenly, everything seemed not as hopeless as he had feared. Lilia was asleep, but Maya could still remember the song—the song he had played for Lilia so long ago.
But it was not his own song. It was the universe's. And in an undertone, he whispered the first two words, the words he could never have spoken to Lilia herself: "Dearest love..."
"I can't remember exactly what it was," Maya was saying, "but it was as if my whole body was in the water—in the ocean—and was swaying back and forth. I felt that word resound within me. Why?"
"Because," Ruben said, "it was you who kept the balance of the universe. Your soul is the bearer of the perfect pitch—and when it awakens, you will be able to guide the stars back to the original symphony."
"But what is Avalon?"
"The land of spirits—of the dead. You were there for the longest time, and then you left," Ruben explained, a giddiness rising within him as he looked towards the future and Lilia's return home. "When you return—"
"Return? To the land of the dead? Avalon?" Maya asked—and then she remembered him. "Was it you—you were the one who stopped me before! I remember your voice. You were the one...the one who saved me."
Ruben met her fervent gaze, his mouth ajar, and no sound escaped him as Maya's eyes grew glossy with bitter tears. What he thought had been gratefulness was truly anger; she shouted at him, her voice cruel and twisted like a treacherous knife:
"Why did you stop me?"
She dropped his hands and got to her feet, her hair whipping violently in an ocean gust. Standing over him, Ruben perceived an incensed deity, and despite the incongruity between Maya's appearance and Lilia's, he felt as if his angel were furiously damning him.
Maya wasted no more words on him. After one glaring look, she ran from him along the sand down to the sea. The ocean churned and burgeoned with rain as if a great whale were lifting the surface with its presence.
Maya did not stop at the shoreline but instead plunged into the waves, the waters rushing about her as she waded deeper and deeper, her throat thick with withheld cries.
"If you wanted me to go to Avalon, why didn't you just let me die?"
Even as I watched her break away from me and rush into the ocean, I knew I should not have stopped her. Maya's wish for death was the universe's way of returning the balance...but Maya was Lilia, and I couldn't let her die.
I ran after her and called her name, but she vanished, and as I sought her out, the world began to melt away.
"Ruben, it's time to die."
They stood together in the fields, the stalks of wheat shivering in the lulling heat. An orange sun hung in the sky and a black moon slipped closer and closer to it, the approaching eclipse throwing field after field into hopeless shadow. The air smelled of acrid cinders, the memory of fire.
Maya crouched among the stalks, cursing him and attempting to suffocate herself with her fist. Ruben touched her shoulder and she screamed.
"If all you said is true, then why don't you kill me?" she snapped. "Why don't you just kill me so I can return to Avalon—isn't that what you want?"
"I don't want to hurt you."
"Go away," she snarled and hugged herself. "I want to be alone."
Ruben lowered his eyes and gave her some distance. All this time, he had wanted to hear her again, to speak to her again, to hold her again—but he hadn't thought it through. How could he return her to Avalon without bloodying his hands and hers? No door opened for him—the wheel of fate did not favor him with lucky inspiration...
In Avalon, the sword hilt touches Ruben's shin, Daniel's attempt to catch his attention and interrupt his playing.
"Here is my sword, Ruben. You know what to do."
It would be...so easy.
"Just take it."
Ruben draws a sharp breath. His bow hand is trembling.
Daniel leans closer and whispers into his ear, "Bring the bloodshed full circle."
In the white temple, June suddenly shoved her harp away and shouted: "Daniel, leave him!"
The words swelled and echoed forcefully in the hall, but June was unaware of it. She was blind to her immediate surroundings, waiting anxiously for the scene in her mind to change, except Daniel could not hear her. He continued to tempt Ruben with the blade, as if he would sabotage himself. Daniel loved ruin enough to trade his own wish for Ruben's demise.
"Daniel..." She ground her teeth together and bit off the word. "Don't—"
"Don't tempt me, you bastard," Ruben hisses.
"Missed your chance...and I bet you didn't even tell her the truth..."
"Goodbye, Maya," Ruben said.
She shifted and focused her attention on a stalk of wheat near her, ignoring him.
In Avalon, the young man's playing stops as a steel blade slides under his chin. A rivulet of blood drips down the sword. The violin slips from his hands.
June, who had been lying in the rain under a canopy of roses composing herself, heard the death knell of the universe. She gathered herself up and returned to the marble hall and her golden instrument, where she waited for her brother to open the door to Avalon.
Involuntarily, she balled her right hand into a fist.
"Time to remake the worlds," she said.
As the eclipse became whole and Maya's own shadow engulfed her, she heard Ruben's body fall to the earth. The rain that followed soaked her through.
Ruben lies supine on the shore of Avalon, too spent to stand, too weary to argue while Daniel smashes his violin with the heel of his shoe.
It is raining here as well, and the luminous glow of Avalon has dissipated like a pleasant recollection. The grass has withered. The trees are bent and crooked, their branches twisted in agony; some lie sprawled upon the knolls. The apples rot on the ground, and flies, large as bullets, buzz around them.
"Ruben, you have been struggling too hard," Daniel says after he has kicked away the pieces of the instrument. "Avalon is a place of death now, and you will die soon as well." He shakes the blood off his sword so that it splatters across Ruben's face.
Ruben can say nothing. His breath comes fast and hard, the aftereffect of being stolen from his musical reverie. A shallow cut grazes the top of his throat.
"If you truly loved the worlds, you would have killed her at that moment. You are far too selfish."
"I couldn't do it..." Ruben murmurs. "Not then..."
"Of course not," Daniel says. "But that's fine. My sister and I can take over now."
"Everything will perish—"
"You're wrong," Daniel interrupts. "I may not know the essence of the song, its dynamics and inner workings—but June does. She will tune the skies."
Ruben doesn't seem to hear him. His eyes are unfocused and bright with tears. "Lilia..." He stretches his hand skyward. Daniel gazes impassively at this last gesture of defeat. "I'm sorry..."
"Your love is black," Daniel says gently. "Your song must end."
And then he brandishes his sword—that brilliantly keen blade that has spilled divine blood—and thrusts it into Ruben's heart.
Ruben's hand falls to his side.
If there was anything more I could have done for you, Lilia, I'm sorry.
...I can hear it calling me.
Welcome to Zezelom, fallen knight...
When his blood spills across the ground of Avalon, the key is forged.
June gapes at the wasteland called Avalon, the upturned trees, the carcasses of the apples, the weeping spirits. The rain seems dreary, imparting sorrow instead of hope, staining the world instead of cleansing it. June hears no music besides the one within her, and even that bears no light.
She sees her brother sitting upon a boulder on the beach, the same rock upon which Lilia stood when she tuned the stars. A golden harp sits in the sands with a delicate, intricately carved ivory stool next to it. June lifts the hem of her dress and strides down the knoll, her bare feet searching for the former warmth of Avalon and finding only crabgrass. When she reaches Daniel, he extends his arms in a gesture of familiarity.
June smiles and sits upon the stool. She scans the murky waters of the sea and the kelp and seaweed that have washed up on the once-pristine shore. A body lies further down the beach, the sands around it stained red. She feels her heart lunge within her bosom.
Daniel sees her look of confusion and says simply, "I killed him."
She inhales sharply and lowers her eyes. "Oh..." Her fingers tremble as she reaches for her harp.
"Is something wrong?" Daniel asks, stretching out on the rock and looking at her with concern. "Can you play?"
"Yes. I can play."
But June leans against her harp first, her fists pressing against her thighs. She grits her teeth and sickens at the ugly, acrid feeling congealing within her. When she finally opens her hands and flexes her fingers, half-heartedly recalling the melody line her brother composed, a dreary thought crosses her mind.
Brother, how could you?
What have you done?
TRACK 5: END