It wasn’t difficult to find Ramon again. He was at the center of the mirrored hall, chatting away with the crystal statue of a peacock that stood on a podium in the middle of every mirror. He paused though when he noticed Bonnie, and made an amused remark that he had no idea he was escorting such a beauty.
Bonnie, with her scarred skin and callused hands, had not been called a beauty often. She was not a doe-eyed girl falling for compliments though, and simply thanked him, before bowing to the host and thanking him in turn. The peacock required no payment besides praise, and that was easily given.
He would never deny flattery, no matter how insincere. Really, insincerity amused him, invigorated him, for the things in the mirror could be as false as any image. Perhaps even more so, for they had no cause to hold to reality.
Reflection could easily mean distortion, yet that was not the focus now. They were moving along, out from the mirrored hall, and into a new lounge.
Gloria bid Bonnie a good evening and went onto her own business while the newly bedressed huntress followed her wolfish guide, whose crimson mask and suit stood out strongly amid the blues and teals of the lounge they entered.
The servers wore the masks of white rabbits here. Well-dressed in silky sapphire, they cut a soft image, unlike the hares that worked for the bear.
Guests in masks of beetles, Hercules and Atlas, rhino and stag, chatted amid soft azure cushions, couches, and even beds. It was a pillowy place, laden with comfort, and one rule was to remove shoes before walking on the deep blue carpet.
The reason why became obvious when Bonnie found a seat for herself and noticed the worms weaving their ways through the carpet. Silken rivers in the midst of the water. Their seats were not standing on wool, but adrift in a shifting sea, bluer than the sky it aped.
When the sky fell and smothered the earth, the sea fought back. Or so it is said.
Aquatic, atmospheric? What held dominion over the half-rotted earth?
“Not I”, said the snail atop the tea table, “Far too much work.”
Bonnie remembered the snail. She knew of what he did. The university in flames still lingered in her mind, as did the horrors within its halls.
The snail had done worse. It had done better as well. It had done many things in its long life, and it was annoyed by most of them. Effort was aggravating.
Living was a pain, dying was a pain, existence, nonexistence, pain lingered in all of them. Thus the snail strove to do as little as possible for as little as possible. It was not greedy, not in the same way as the frog, but it desired, it was not apathetic, it was lethargic.
So why was it a host?
The snail considered the question. “The simple answer…I lead those lacking spines…”
But why lead? Leadership was a burden, one the snail wanted none of. It would transform an entire college of people into monstrosities to avoid answering questions, so why bear with leadership at all?
In a word, it was a pain to give it up. Too troublesome. To give up leadership was to invite another to have authority over the snail. It had no spine, but it did have a shell, and it was easier to be stubborn than to allow change.
Inaction was the only action it loved to take.
It was born on a field of flags.
War, as it always did, had ridden roughshod. Limbs littered the ground, skulls were split and splattered, the barbarism at the heart of humanity had devoured lives innocent and monstrous alike.
What a drag.
It raged onward, through mud and rain and sinking muck. Flags flew high, yet not everyone had them.
There were those without, who flitted from side to side, unable to make a choice.
They would turn with whatever tide did turn. They had no rage, so they agreed when one side declared injustice. They had no conviction, so they followed when one side claimed righteousness. And when the tide flowed the other way, they were right alongside the victors, proclaiming their aid had helped more than any other.
The snail had been a slug then, one of many, born from one of these tidal people. His belly had been cut open in return for his treachery, and all the slugs had come pouring out.
The man did not understand. He had sided with the righteous. What did it matter that he had once sided with the vile? Clearly, the righteous were to blame.
Such were his thoughts as his head left his neck, and the slug, the singular slug, the important slug, crawled into that discarded head to make its first shell.
The snail’s lounge was between sky and sea. Clouds concealed the pure blue, masking it from the deep blue sea. The guest floated along, relaxed and indulged. At times, their brains would bulge as they smoked deep of the snail’s offerings, their minds expanded. Their skulls needed to be malleable, lest they break.
Had the headmaster made his way here, he would have been granted the same, all the easier. But because he called the snail, an effort had to be made. And the snail hated effort.
A cup and a plate was provided by a rabbit that could walk along the water. The worms supported her gait, moving as needed. Far more helpful than the snail.
A cup of tea and a plate of cookies. That was what was offered.
Bonnie turned her gaze towards Ramon, who smiled through his mask. It was up to her which she wanted.
Her gaze returned to the snail. Eating the food was fine. Drinking the drink was fine. There were no wrong choices.
At least in the sense that no outcome was ever truly wrong in the snail’s bulbous, colorful eyes.
Bonnie chose the tea.
It took effect quickly. She did not experience visions, nor greater understanding. She did not become apathetic or lethargic. It was not a matter of the mind, but the body. And she found herself swallowed in darkness that she soon recognized as fabric.
She pushed through the silk, through the consuming blackness, and saw light.
Up close, the snail’s eye stalks glowed.
There was no table, but an endless field. Mushrooms sprouted from the trail of slime, glowing in impossible colors, seeking adoration for their existence.
The snail was massive. Its shell was an endless spiral. A city, compressed into ceaseless twisting. Deserted, but perhaps alived.
The sullen sunk in the snail’s flesh. There were no screaming faces along its body. They had no feeling beyond the malaise of existence. By the time the snail had taken them, willingness was not a factor, for they had no wills of their own. Such was their existence. Yet it was not the snail’s existence.
Madness shown in its eyes. Cruelty, callousness. The stripes along its stalks pulsed, and then the faces began to scream.
The snail could not smile with its face as it was, but it was open in its amusement as the faces along its hide roared with laughter.
“How quaint. Did you think I couldn’t lie?”