Maybe tonight, she thought mechanically, more from habit than truth.
Her bones were heavy, eyes downcast, as Adena stepped onto the stage just as spattering applause replaced the swell of strings and wind.
Maybe tonight she could move on. A faint tingling twitched its way down her spine. As if to say no, she could not.
At her first performance fifteen hundred years ago, she had mistook it for nerves— and soon discovered otherwise.
It was the mark.
That piece of shame, inked onto her skin, and entwined with her very soul.
Adena was shaken from her thoughts when the music hall, filled a moment ago by the discordant clapping, fell silent.
It was time.
The air was sucked out of the room as the audience beheld her dress— its river of skirts, dark blue, rippling and flowing, small jewels sewn into the tulle and silk— and the strange tattoo that wound around her body like vines in bold swirling lines. And finally her instrument.
She bowed once, sharp yet graceful, before lifting the bone-white violin to her neck.
The first note screeched from the instrument; the audience visibly flinched. Wailing cries that sounded very much like screaming pierced the hall. A few beats later, deep moaning and soft, indistinguishable pleading layered on top. A mutilated orchestra.
The notes, played thousands of times, still trembled under her thin fingers. She could— would— do this. For Ophelia.
The music built, sorrowful and steady, until it arced over its first screaming climax, and a shower of blindingly blue sparks sprayed across the stage.
The tattoo around her arms and throat prickled as it too began to glow. In the corners of her consciousness, she felt her sister, radiant as the river at dawn, look down at her. Watching. Listening.
And the audience cried out, eyes darting around the room, air thick with unease. The sparks had not gone out. Instead, they had grown, becoming a swirling celestial cloud.
People materialized from the blue smoke, the townspeople of a village long forgotten, a drop of their spirits lingering in her tattoo. The rest of the scene sprawled out, bushes and homes arranged around the stage, the magic somehow aware of where everything went.
A familiar ache pushed against her chest, but she knew she couldn’t stop even if she wanted to. The story, written in blood and preserved with magic, was too far along to pause.
The theater was silent by the time a thin golden girl stormed from a ramshackle building, quickly followed by a heavily muscled man. He caught her by the elbow, murmured placatingly in her ear, a cutting smile tugged at the corners of his mouth, before he leaned in… She shook him off and stomped down the path to the river.
A few moments later, after the man had scowled to himself and left, another young woman, this one with raven hair, stalked out of the house, eyes burning.
Adena was thankful for the violin that separated her from the scene as the audience beheld the the ghost— and gasped.
Not because of the physical similarities with her past self— which were few after the centuries she had been wandering, playing for anyone who would listen— but at the blade she kept pressed against her forearm as she chased after the golden girl.
No one remembered the violinist on stage or noted the way her music blended perfectly with the scene, as her ghost slipped through the forest, chasing her prey.
As expected, her fair sister was perched on a smooth, flat rock that hung over the river, hands pressed to her face and shoulders shuddering. Adena’s tattoo throbbed as the projection stormed from the trees— and slashed the dagger across Ophelia’s throat.
Adena squeezed her eyes shut. Long ago, when this curse began, she had watched the whole thing without a spark of emotion, but now, and for the past several centuries, she was only able to watch until that killing slice. As a way to honor the sister she had so mercilessly murdered.
She heard the muffled scream, the distant splash, the shuddered relief at her sister’s death, and then—
A brilliant blue plume of smoke erupted from the river, its roiling essence framing her sister’s face.
Ophelia’s words were quiet, yet severe. “He does not belong to you. And he never will.”
Adena, still standing triumphantly on the ledge, did not have time to beg or cry or run as her sister ripped into her soul, shredded it apart until it clung limply to life, then glued it back together with bits of her own twisted into it.
As Adena jerked upright, struggling against Ophelia, a golden tendril sprouted from her legs, and wrapped around her torso, and arms, and neck. A gold and white violin appeared next to her, glowing radiantly despite the rough, chalky texture.
She gasped but couldn’t resist against the flooding force that pushed her to hold it, to carry it.
Adena had known, from the day she had first played the shattering tune, that it was to be her punishment— to spread her sister’s story, her own shameful story of jealousy over her sister’s lover.
And she had done it. Adena had played the bone violin with all the passion and hate that had manifested on that rocky ledge.
But at some point, that pit of anger had turned inward, slowly shredding any scrap of pride or joy.
Now, centuries later, she wished for that sweet darkness she had sent her sister to. The darkness her sister now withheld.
Nothing she didn’t deserve, Adena reminded herself as the scene ended and her tattoo dimmed, but still, she couldn’t help but think that if this little scrap of Ophelia forgave her, they could move on together.
But Adena knew it would not be tonight. Not as she bowed and smiled, the audience petrified, and swept off the stage in a river of blue skirts.