She was walking down the corridor, the endless empty corridor tinged with the mingled scents of countless exotic flowers which tickled at the back of her brain. Under the strings of lights which were the sun and the moon and the millions of stars all at once, never entirely switched off, never entirely turned on. Past the doors, hundreds and thousands of metal doors it seemed, tall and narrow, soundproofed and sealed, set back into deep alcoves in the jade-green silk-papered walls. With each door, a different flower smell, and on each door, filling the entire surface, a picture, exquisitely and delicately executed in light gauzy colors.
A painting of a woman, each different in body size and type, tall and voluptuous and petite and slender, black and white and yellow and brown...
But each healthy and beautiful.
She had been here before, that much she could remember. A dozen times, a hundred times, she had made this same long lonely journey.
But that was all she could remember. She did not know where she was going, or how she had come to be here.
She could not remember this place’s name.
She could not remember her own name.
And the more she struggled to remember, to reclaim anything, the worse it became, until she teetered on the edge of forgetting how to breath, how to keep her heart beating.
Through all of this, her feet carried her serenely on, the nearly-black carpet thick and soft under her soles.
She quit trying, and let the soft veils of forgetfulness (jade green...) swirl back around her. Her breaths went calm and even again.
A certain door. The woman depicted there was... familiar... and the task at which she was engaged...
Somewhere far away her stomach clenched then went smooth again.
She reached the door and turned in a sharp pivot, and the portal slid open before her, smooth and silent on heavily-oiled runners. Beyond was darkness, thick and beckoning.
She stepped in and the door slid shut behind her. She paused for a moment just inside the threshold, to let her eyes adjust. As she did so, she remembered without looking that something, someone very different was painted on this side of the door, in an very different style, every line harsh and firm. She could feel the that gaze, looking at her even now, boring through her, reading her every thought.
The rest of the room came into view. It was circular, with odd smooth shapes bulging and receding in layers around the walls. Some of the shapes moved in subtle and unpleasant ways, row after row reaching up out of sight into absolute darkness; there were no lights overhead, not here. Like the hallway, she had been here before. The smell of the flowers grew stronger, much stronger, and a haze filled the air.
Still she did not move, trying to remember what was now expected of her.
Yes. That was it. She took a long deep breath, letting the lovely smell slowly fill her lungs, all the way down to the bottom.
Black rose, drowned deep in dead jade water.
Petals, soft as silk.
Thorns, cruel and twisting.
She whimpered, a tiny short noise in the very back of her throat.
She remembered where she was.
She remembered... not everything that had happened in this room, she would never again be allowed to remember everything, but she remembered much. This was the Chamber of Roses, the chamber of delights and horrors, endless waves of them, bending and stretching, twisting and warping, reaching out of the walls, thrusting up out of the floor, fluttering down from-
Lily. Her name was Lily. And voice telling her this fact...
The Voice. She whimpered again, pleasure and pain, not moving, not blinking, unable to move even a single muscle. The Voice. Cool and slightly sardonic. The Voice that spoke to her in this room, from its place high overhead in the jade blackness. The Voice that meticulously and justly measured out her punishment and her rewards as she progressed in her inevitable education. Even now, after everything, there was still a tiny crushed corner of her mind that hated the Voice, wanted nothing more than to track down its owner in the blackness and-
“Have you completed your daily Assignment, Lily?”
A direct question. Her thoughts vanished and her throat unclenched.
It was true, she knew it was true, that she had completed her Assignment with ruthless clinical efficiency, even though she of course no longer remembered what that Assignment had been. It was certain that the Voice already knew as well, but obedience and surrender must be displayed openly, again and again, in full view of those Eyes...
“Excellent, Lily. You may proceed.”
She walked further into the room, her feet following an invisible tightrope, one before the other. In the center, oh yes, in the very center was the Pedestal, and on the Pedestal was the Button
and the Rose oh the Rose. It was dim now, but swirling, always swirling, down and down inside its thin crystalline shell. Her arm rose up, her finger gracefully outstretched. The digit came lightly to rest on the button, the bright button candy sweet, and her body froze again. An eternity passed. Eons came and went. The Eyes drilled further into the back of her skull, exposing her utterly. She revelled in the sensation. She could still hate the Voice, just the tiniest fraction, but the Eyes were utterly above such things. Finally...
“You may push the button, Lilly.”
The Rose spread its petals.
The Light flared on.
First on the Pedestal.
Then in the Eyes.
Which were on the door, and were the source of the Rose and the Light and were everywhere in the entire universe.
The petals opened wide and the Light flared on, deep inside her mind...
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