20 – Aurum

Castle Aurora.

It was a name that resonated among those who yearned for the fantastic: The Castle without a King. 

No ruler held it, no lord claimed its land. It belonged to the Kindred, in as much as it could belong to anyone. They were its hosts, and a grand ball was always held in its eternal night.

The orange of Autumn faded as the pumpkin-lined path converted to cobblestone. Eternally dying leaves gained new life in a shimmering sapphire hue.

Carriages traveled along the roads, driven by dullahans and pulled by skinless steeds with manes of bluebell flames. The headless horsemasters dressed well, hiding the rot of their bodies beneath silk and satin. To open their coat was unforgivably rude, outside of consensual encounters, for it would reveal naked ribcages leaking with black bile. 

Invigorating melancholia, writ unto atrophied apertures, holy in a sense, yet not innocent by any means.

Contradiction lived free among the fair, though the foul loved it just the same.

No gates would bar the way, the doors were open. Great and mighty, deep blue in the midnight moonlight. The blue moon always bared her face above the castle, though not all things were true among the blue.

A golden frog sat in the doorway. Not blocking, no, he would not block, he did not block, plutocracy allowed allowances all the time. The frog was no doorkeeper, but he was a host. A host to many and more, a Kindred to the already introduced Indolent, though Avarice was his own preferred meal.

Toss a coin to the frog as you enter. It was required, it was necessary, it was optional, but not really. 

Rudeness was not allowed among the fair. 

The worst thing a guest can be is rude. A host is kind, granting shelter and succor, and to repay that with rudeness, with insult, with forbearance instead of indulgence, was cruel. Patience could be tolerated but it harkened to pretended superiority and the real way to be polite was to play along.

So toss a coin to the frog. Bonnie did, knowing what was coming, and her clients did as well. 

Gloria inclined her head, the closest to thanks she would allow, and walked with Grace, who thanked the hunter far more readily. It was a masquerade and they wore their masks readily. A monarch and a moth, showing nature and nurture plainly yet hiding truths all the same.

Bonnie wore the mask of a wolf. A black wolf, with a hide like shadows. It drew curiosity, interest, and wariness all the same, for she still wore the clothes of a hunter.

The frog did not mind. Amusement rumbled. Not thunder, nothing here was that close to heaven, but light and clinkling, coins falling over each other. Metal chimes, beautiful in a sense, horrible in another.

Once a man called upon a frog. Its hide was gold and his eyes shone with greed. He demanded wealth from it and took a knife to its skin. A scrape could be worth much, a hint of golden dust, but a chunk would give him more.

The frog did not mind. Its flesh was soft and easy to take. No hard shell hid its vulnerability, but it did not mind, not in the slightest. Not when it all came back.

The man was praised. An alchemist, he was called! Discoverer of the Philosopher’s Stone! He could turn any rock into pure gold with a shift of his hands!

Rumors and hearsay. A golden touch was not what he wanted, he had no intention of starving or becoming gold himself. He wished to hold more than cold metal, to indulge with many things. So he took what he wanted, sold what he obtained, and gained all the more.

The frog did not mind. It was locked in a box, bound in chains, and sealed in a safe. It had no need to worry, for the man would always come back for more.

Greedy eyes turned his way. He had what was coveted. Envy wanted what a hoarder had, and slinking cats considered their manners of burglary as the man’s paranoia grew. Hungrily. Greedily.

The safe opened. The frog was stuffed down the man’s shirt. He would never let it out of his sight.

The frog did not mind. The man’s heartbeat was pleasant as his greedy panic grew.

The man made an offer. He would let the frog go in exchange for three wishes.

The frog was intrigued. Only three?

The man knew what he wanted though. He was sure of it. He wished first that all who coveted what he had would die.

Eyes became gold. Molten and searing. Those who coveted, who envied, who thought for a moment “I wish I had what he has”, found their eyes sinking through their skulls and burning all between them and the ground. Some went quick. Others did not.

His second wish was for eternal wealth. A grand wish that would give him wealth beyond compare whenever he desired.  

His third wish was simple. He wished the frog would die, so it would never grant another’s wish.

The frog was amused. It was understandable, for the man’s wish was so very amusing. 

The frog allowed it, and burst.

The man laughed, for he was free. Free, and wealthy, eternally. He stretched out his hand, looking for his wealth, and stared, bewildered, as a single penny dropped into his hand.

Rage followed his confusion. The frog had tricked him, and now, with it dead, he had no recourse to see himself revenged.

The frog had tricked him, though not intentionally, as it readily explained from his table.

The rich man was startled. He had wished for the frog’s demise! 

And he had it. But he had failed to understand the frog was never alive, not in the sense he was. To call it alive was to express confusion on the very concept of life. The frog thanked the man though. He was always curious what death was like to experience, and as thanks, he would give the same to his friend.

A second penny dropped into the man’s hand. The man hadn’t expected it and the dropped penny bounced from his hand with a faint tinge of pain. So a third penny dropped. And a fourth. And a fifth, and a sixth, and a ninth, and a twentieth, and the man began to realize what was coming for him.

Wealth. Eternal wealth, or at least as much as a man could survive carrying.

Though, no, that wasn’t accurate. The falling coins, which began to bruise where they hit, falling as though flung with force, were far more than any normal man could survive carrying.

The pennies fell faster and harder. They were hail, battering down on exposed skin. The frog had granted the man’s wish, though the frog did, perhaps, act outside the bounds he was meant to operate within.

There was no need to lock and bar every entrance of the manor, but he wanted his friend to enjoy his ocean of wealth. He thought it a curious experience to watch as a man drowned in coin alone. Though “drowned” was perhaps not the right word.

Really, it was more as though the man was stoned, beaten with coins until his body broke. Or, perhaps pressed was a better word?

The frog digressed, and thanked Bonnie for listening along. He hoped she would enjoy the party.

Bonnie replied that she would try. 

Lies came easy in a place like this.

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