For Phmonth18, Week 3, Prompt/Day 2: Mask.
What started out as something that was supposed to be a short little fic about Jack's internal monologue became an in-depth look into Jack's psyche…hehe. I'll admit, this is one of the weirdest formats I've ever used, and I'm not quite sure if it works, but I had fun with it! This is my first time writing heavily about Jack, and it's about how his mind works….so forgive me if there are any inaccuracies to his character. I also wrote this pretty quickly, so I will likely need to edit it. I also intended to post it as a long oneshot, but the second half was already lacking, and I couldn't do the ending justice in a day, so I decided to post the first section right before Phmonth18 ended.
Some good songs for this fic: "Masquerade" by Jonathan Thulin, and "Welcome to the Masquerade" by Thousand Foot Krutch
Everyone always wore a mask.
That was how things were, how the world worked. No question. No alternative. No argument you could make to stop it. Like a plague that replaced everyone's faces with the skin of monsters.
The world was a masquerade. A dance, where you trade partners, and you never quite know who you're dancing with anyways. You're thrown in without knowing the moves, and are required to learn as you go, because you can't stop. If you stop, the music, the momentum of the world turning, doesn't. So if you do, you may just be trampled, thrown off the world.
As you grew up, you learned the moves, programed them into your bones until the motions were mechanical, and your body knew nothing else. Nothing but the lies. Grew up, painted your mask, made it more ornate, less likely to show your true colors, less likely to fall.
Something that made a louder crash when it did fall.
They always do. Eventually. Don't think you can escape it.
Your parents, your family, your friends, they're no different. When I said everyone, I meant everyone.
But when you grow up in gutters, in the stench and blood, the offal of humanity, and watch from afar, forbidden from the dance, but also from...not dancing, learning that you must to learn the dance to survive, to make in it the world, you may or may not grow to hate humanity.
I couldn't wear a mask. But I was doomed to see through everyone else's. See their lies, see their hypocrisy, their cold cut rules about how much of a clown you could be, I could see the puppet strings.
I learned to hate.
The room glittered and gleamed. The chandeliers, the polished marble tiles, the wine glasses, the clothing of the dancers, and his smile.
Jack stood on the sidelines. The black and white players spinning before him, coming near him in flashes and fake smiles.
Outside, snow fluttered down onto a darkened ground, he couldn't see past the wind and flakes to a world beyond. He had to stay inside, or else the storm might overtake him.
Storm inside. Storm out. Between two evils, how do you know which is worse?
They didn't know they were simply chess pieces. That this was simply a game, that they would be sacrificed, all for the sake of the king.
Once, he had found their twirls and fanciful garments fascinating; the masks shined and their feathers climbed towards a twinkling ceiling. He looked on with longing, then.
Now, the word fake grew out of the crevices where their eyes were meant to be, it crept along their porcelain cheeks, their feathered heads, their bejeweled necks—and they didn't see the vines, the spiders, linked together into chains, strangling them, driving fangs into their chests.
At the same time, sickness pooled in his own heart, started creating ripples towards his thoughts, reaching his words, crashing upon the shores of his actions.
A sickness called hate.
It took him far too long to realize the motions held no meaning. They were all just tumbling in the dark and the cold, trying to make meaning of the moves when there is none. The shimmer on the surface of the water was reflected from a sky they could never reach, not something buried beneath that they could touch, hold, and keep, if they just held their breath long enough.
The same was surely true for the waters in his own heart.
At least, that's how it seemed, and what he told himself.
Black and white. No color. Pawns and knights in a grand game of chess.
What was real?
What would happen if it all just…stopped? What if we called the world, the dance by name?
A pause. A flicker. A flash. Color.
First it was red. Red like lamplight, in the night-soaked brightness of the room, a lantern of hope, guiding him across the lifeless waters to a land where there was more light like hers. Red that burned—could it burn down the masks? Like blood. Like roses.
Red in her eyes.
Then it was her hair, a splash of brown, flowing between the sides of black and white.
Then the violet of her dress, like she was the only royal in a council of fools, and common sense.
He lost track of the moves to stare her way.
One day, as I met a girl—brown hair, eyes red as roses in the snow—who wasn't wearing a mask. She told me she could see through the masks too. But instead of hating the world in general for the practice, she questioned, she wondered, and she cheated the game.
And looking into those red eyes, I realized nothing else mattered. Not the world, not the deadened grasp of humanity, the music, the moves, or the masks.…Just her.
I tried to follow her, but in the mix of feet, in the unlearned motions, I myself was trampled to the ground.
So I resolved to learn the dance—not to live, not for the dance itself—but to follow her. To trade partners until I found her hand. I had to get up, to sew together a mask, glue on the feathers with blood, and pull the jewels out of dead men's hands.
Horror is the word, I believe. The one to describe the things I did. I think you'll find that both joining the dance, and subverting it, will inevitably lead to that word. I followed in the steps of people who did worse than me. Danced with partners whose masks were sewn into the skin. I did things that'll make you shudder to think.
All part of the dance.
Nothing but her.
Outside, silent snow turned to to the taps of rain, asking to get in.
As he stared the girl's way, the other dancers knocked against his shoulders, they trod on his feet, and scoffed at his incredulity.
He looked over their shoulders, trying to catch another glimpse of the one real thing in the sea of falsity.
Fear, desperation set into to his fast-beating heart.
And, at last, he moved.
Out from the sidelines, into the mix of motions.
But instead of following the ordained pattern, he was a wrench in the perfectly predestined machine.
The other cogs knocked into him, he tripped into the workings, fell to the tiles beneath, was kicked by the steps, and lay beneath, watching the movements of the gears ticking above him.
"Lacie!" he reached out for her.
And on the floor, his gaze on her fading footfalls, he realized that that the pattern was too ruthless to break. Kicked and beaten by the dance, he realized that the only way to follow her, was to join the dance itself.
He wouldn't give up. He'd follow her footprints through the forest of feet and fakes.
If he'd bend the rules a little.
After a long time of setting the moves into my hands and feet, the day came when my hand found hers.
She…didn't remember me.
No peppered, cheerful hello. No pretense, or pretending.
My free spirit. My unmasked beauty. My blood red girl. My Lacie.
In eight years, she still hadn't changed, been chained; she was still the same dash of color in a world of black and white fakes. A player in a world of pawns.
Despite all the things I had done, I knew she was the one person who would still accept me.
The time we spent together after that, the days in the sun…I never wanted it to end.
After the moving maze, the muddied world of men, the journey to get back to her, his hand found hers.
Something real, something dynamic, instead of stagnant, something warm to the touch, not metallic and cold.
Standing before him—at last—was his pride, his prize.
She was on the other side of the endless ballroom, off to the side, her head turned, gaze out the window. But she was still dancing with someone. Slowly, their moves less cold and mechanical.
He didn't bother with the pretense of the dance, or courtesy towards the one she was currently dancing with. He threw his arms around her, and held her tight.
The shock in her eyes told him something wasn't quite the same.
—(Or maybe he wasn't quite sane)—
Did she not remember him? That moment when color entered his world?
What was all of time for him, was a passing glimpse for her.
It didn't matter. As long as she didn't cover those pretty eyes with the mark of a fake.
And she never did. Not as long as he knew her
"Jack." She placed her hand on his cheek, running her fingers along his skin, pushing a strand of his hair behind his ear.
She smiled, and it was the only real thing in the sea of masks.
But that smile didn't last forever; it became a twisted thing, etching itself onto her features.
A thing that certainly didn't belong to her, even now.
Was this her mask? Could her face have been a mask this whole time?
She pulled away from him.
He drew in a sharp breath, and it pierced his heart.
"You really don't see it, do you?"
She gestured grandly to the room as a whole.
What? What didn't he see? This was how it had always been. Nothing had changed.
She grabbed his chin and made him look away from her.
"Look at them."
Then he saw.
The dancers around them weren't just dancers, strangers, background.
They weren't strangers at all.
Or maybe they were even less known to him than strangers would have been.
Many of them were wearing the same green outfit he wore presently, others were in red, and blue, some wrapped in a thin blanket…They all had the same blonde hair, sometimes in a braid like his, others messy and short. And they all still wore masks, as if the emotions could be written and plastered on rather than felt—happy, sad, angry…that disgusting smile…
His disgusting smile.
Each and every one of them was himself.
Had it always been this way? Since the beginning? Or had they become this way? Somewhere in the middle, had strangers morphed into mirrors?
The music faded out, and the rain outside grew louder and louder until he couldn't help but turn to the window, as if to demand some peace and quiet.
The drops that dribble down, and splattered across, the panes were not clear, or grey, or blue.
That red he had once found so fascinating, once begged for, was painting the world.
As he realized the change in scenery, all the other Jacks stopped, turning to him with mechanical motions, and faceless expressions, some creepy army of past-self-dolls.
"Lacie," her name on his lips, he turned to her, his one hope, his one safety in a world that had fixed its canons against him.
She was no longer beside him.
Laying in his hand was a limp chain.
He didn't want to look, to follow the trail; he feared what he would see. But he chased the links to the ceiling—
Her body, suspended in the air above, like she was one of those twinkling chandeliers. Her body, pierced by chains.
That red rain was inside now.
And below her, looking his way, was someone else. Someone who wasn't wearing a mask.
My Lacie, who lied, and died at the hands of her brother. For the simplest crime of never wearing a mask over those red eyes. For the simplest crime of existence.
Oswald. Her brother.
I should have hated him, perhaps. For taking her from me.
And there was a part of me that did. Surely. But he loved her too, you know. And it was some sick sense of duty that threw her into the pit, not his own will.
I was a question in his eyes, and he was an answer in mine. There's something about mutual darkness between people; being able to look into someone else's soul, and see your struggles reflected, and yet…not yourself… Something that we call friendship.
The first thing he saw was his cloak, like a wave, breaking across his shoulder. Crimson, just like her eyes.
Just like her blood he spilt.
Then his eyes, violet, like her dress. A violet that was sharp, and cold, and unforgiving as a winter storm. Then it was the black of his hair and clothing. A deeper black from the dancers before. A darker sky.
He was the black king, after all, wasn't he?
"Lacie is dead,"
"I killed her."
It wasn't malice, or revenge. It was the requirement of a leader.
Or at least, they poisoned his mind, and made him think so.
I'm sure he would have joined me, if he wasn't such a fool. If he wasn't so wrapped up in his own ignorance.
(An ignorance that was my fault).
Joined me to get her, that is.
Death isn't quite the right word. She was cast into the Abyss, into a place where no return.
But I learned that the masks, the dance, the masquerade, goes by another name:
Chains come in many forms. There are the chains that killed her, the ones that we create contracts with. Chains between people, and the chains we create for ourselves.
Then there's another type; this world is a ruin—(I always knew it)—and the Chains around it are the only things keeping the world from the Abyss. They fall between the lines on the pages of our story, into the places our eyes can't see.
Or, more accurately, keeping the world from her.
Blood red world. My gift for my blood red girl. And I didn't care how blood I spilled in the midst. Not really. Not enough.
This world is rotting anyway. I've known it from the start. But not to her. She saw the light. She saw the stars. She saw that there was something real behind those shimmering lights. That maybe it wasn't all on the surface. Maybe there was something beneath the waters that we could reach.
And I'd bring the world she loved to her.
I'm doing this for you.