Title: Guilt
Genre: Fantasy, Horror, Angst
Rating: Teen
Fandom/Original: Original
Prompt: no way out from the LJ community 50originals

The music twisted, moving from the slow and gentle rhythm of nameless chants to a sudden complication of echoes and twists; it was fast-paced madness, coordinated into layers upon layers upon endless layers, for an illusion of a thousand songs woven disjointedly into one. Beneath watchful eyes—everywhere, all around him—dancers moved like ghosts.

He was standing still.

"It is truly beautiful, is it not? They dance, enraptured, unable to stop. Did you know, they will dance till their deaths, and not even realize that they are dead?" The words were soft, the voice familiar, the questions traced with amusement. Warm, dry air brushed across his skin, as erratic as the beats of the song, though slower and less frequent, sometimes there and sometimes not. He couldn't feel the warmth of another body close to his, even though everything in him told him that there should have been.

Fingers grasped his chin, and titled his head up so that he stared into bright green eyes that didn't belong to any face, familiar or strange, because there was no face. "Will you not play, my pretty musician? It is your song that has so captivated them, after all."

"It was a song you'd asked for, not a musician, highness."

"They already know it is you who is responsible for their existence, these dancers. Do you not see that it is you they are looking at you with despair and hysteria? Why will you still not play for me, when the damage is already done?"

He remained silent.

An annoyed exhalation of breath. "I do not understand you. They are as good as dead, impossible to harm further or help. Yet your qualms are, apparently, as present as ever. It is quite annoying. I shall return later, musician. Do reconsider while I rest my patience." The hand that held him still disappeared, and the eyes above him faded until nothing was left.

He looked at the dancers that writhed past him, around him, and laughed, but the sound was hollow and forced. "Even if I never play, you will still blame me, won't you? So why can't I play? Tell me, why can't I play?"

Light flickered across the tavern from a fire had been lit and kept lit for the crowd that had remained well past midnight. It had become a common place occurrence that people sat in clusters, at tables and on the floor, though their jugs and tankards and bowls and dishes were emptied; they never left until the storyteller's story was finished.

The storyteller—he was an old man with wisps of hair that glowed gold in the firelight, and such a wrinkled face, it was a wonder his eyes hadn't been replaced with wrinkles. He always sat in a chair nearest to the fire, his pale eyes glowing as much with firelight as his hair did. No one knew his name and the many who'd asked, led and troubled by curiosity, only received stories for all of their efforts.

They hadn't minded; his stories were wonders, foreign pieces from some far away place they'd never heard of and would probably never see in their lifetimes, and when they finally remembered that he hadn't answered their questions, they were sated and content and didn't really care to have answers to any questions. It was very close to how they were, at the moment, eyes drifting shut and thoughts drifting.

The storyteller was finishing his story, saying quietly to the fire, "The musician, he was a young one when he'd gone and caught the attention of the gods. Twenty, some say, but he was younger—much younger. Still mostly a boy, gangly and awkward the way all boys tended to be at his age. The only difference was that that boy, he was the only one could enchant a rock into singing along with him, if he wanted."

The storyteller laughed softly, his laughter a rasping sound that wasn't malicious but could have been fond, if that made any sense. Whoever was fond of a boy who never existed? "He'd done it one, too," the storyteller went on, as if unaware that he was being silly. "The poor in question wasn't even the slightest bit confused, just sang like rocks coming to life and singing as loud as they was something all rocks did in their free time."

Then his voice grew angry as he said, "But the stories, they make him older. It's much easier to hate someone who ought to know better about some things, and they wanted someone to hate, so he was older. His pride in making gods and goddesses, even the grouchiest little old hag of a goddess, laugh became arrogance. Everything he ever did, they start thinking he'd done for some hidden agenda of his no one knew a thing about.

"But it wasn't ever his fault, what happened to those people. Anyone who could enchant a goddamn rock and goddamn hags—they'd eventually enchant the wrong thing, or the wrong person. No damn enchanting'll work then to get them outta it. Bound to happen, but they didn't care.

"It wasn't ever his fault." The storyteller paused then.

After a moment of silence, someone at the back, a pretty woman with frizzy red hair and drunk brown eyes, hollered, "So what happens, old man?"

The storyteller shook his head, as though to scatter unpleasant thoughts, and huffed. "I'm getting to it, Trouszi," he called back, annoyed the way old men were when they were interrupted doing absolutely nothing.

The red-haired woman grumbled but settled back down against the tavern's wall, beneath a window that was black with night.

The storyteller muttered something under his breath that no one heard, but when they both finished their grumbling and muttering, he started again: "Well, he did it—enchanted the wrong thing, that happened to be the wrong person, too. The young man with the brightest green eyes that the boy had ever seen, who'd asked him for a song with the saddest smile the boy had ever known, was a king. And king, and a thing of magic and darkness, that knew no remorse and little of pity. It was selfish, understanding only its own desires and not the existence of others'.

"When the boy played the song he'd crafted for the magic and for the darkness, the gods sang with him and the people danced for him. And they never stopped. Not even when they wanted to, because they were caught, in the song, like notes of a flute or violin or some other instrument. The more the boy played, the longer, the more complicated the song grew, the more lives the song stole and the song became.

"But it wasn't ever his fault.

"It doesn't matter much now." The storyteller sighed and got to his feet. He was done for the night; his last story was his shortest one yet, and it was soon to be finished. "The musician stopped playing. The king trapped him in the middle of the dancers and the song, far away in a castle that doesn't really exist to anyone but them, until the musician played.

"And that's the end of that! Now who's got some ale left for this old soul?"


Author's Notes: I'm fond of slash and, as such, am fond of writing slash. Slash is a term which is used to connote relationships between individuals of the same physical and or biological gender. And although the first story in this collection was fairly free of romance, I can't guarantee the same for every story hereafter. I'll try to note which stories will contain slash and of which sort (between two or more men, or between two or more women).

If you find slash absolutely deplorable and just as disgusting, I won't fault you. It's not my business what you, someone I've probably never met and never will, do and don't like. But if you don't remain civil, do it somewhere else, all right? Thank you in advance!