Nina wakes on a frigid slab of marble. The surface is polished and smooth. Hexagonal crystals cast a blue light over her, a fog in the night, a haze of misty moon. She touches her stomach. There is no blood.
She turns her head to observe columns and tile. The ceiling vaults in a grand jete. A chorus of daintily arched windows do pas de poisson against a backdrop of stars. There is one other object in the room: a strange machine. It looks a little like a copper piano. Buttons and wires wrap around it like ribbon. It chirps softly and rhythmically, following in sync with the beating of Nina's heart.
Nina wonders if this is the lobby to some great theater. Do I need a ticket? Am I going to dance? She could not possibly. She can remember her death and exists now in a state of epilogue. It was perfect. Her mind is quiet now, like the moment after a phone call ends. There is an aloneness.
But Nina is not alone. There is a woman there. A silhouette.
Nina gasps when the woman turns toward the light. A queen wears Lily's body. She looks like Lily but she is older. She is Lily, and she is something else entirely. Her dress is blue with glittering fleurs emblazoned; her hair is long and loose, crowned in a headdress of icy pearls. She is like a palace built on the house you grew up in. In the window she perches, like a resting condor.
"Call me Seraphi," the woman urges. She says nothing of her other names, her other selves. She was Ishtar, Chaxiraxi, Iansan and Oyas; she was Anu, Athena, Minerva, Mary. She was mother and is sometimes that still.
"Why do you look like Lily?"
"Lily is just the latest in a pantheon of recurrences," Seraphi explains. Her accent is not Lily's, not at all; it is something long and languid and beautiful. "They are born to Earth. I go down to watch them."
Nina is confused. She cannot follow. Earth? Recurrence? The strange copper machine chirps faster. "Where am I? Why am I here?"
"Because... " Seraphi crosses the room like a wind and kneels by Nina's side. Her voice softens. "I went to see Swan Lake. I went to watch Lily and found myself watching you."
Nina looks up at the queen in awe. Seraphi is made of light and music; she is radiating power, a supernatural force and a catastrophe. She is the One That Affects All in Her Presence. In light of Nina's recent transcendence, Nina is certain that, surely, if this woman was present for Act Four, she participated in the manner of the Erinyes.
Yes, Nina concludes; surely I look now on the Angel of Death.
"Why would you watch me?"
"You know why."
Seraphi extends a graceful hand. She traces a feather-light touch down Nina's cheek. Leaning over the bed of marble, Seraphi pushes her breasts against Nina's shoulder and her mouth to Nina's ear. Her lips are soft. "You were the fiercest dancer, the most free," Seraphi whispers. "You BECAME the savage princess, Odille."
Odille. The black swan. Nina can still feel her. It was a violent tranformation--a bitten kiss, a broken mirror--but Nina let her free. And what did she do? What did she do? She killed me. She killed Odette--that poor, besotten thing. I killed her. What did I do? I killed her for fun, I fucked her prince. I swallowed his heart in the name of my father, the Night, and thrived.
Odille inhales. She takes her first and second breath of alien air. It is fresh, crackling sharp, just a little cold. There is a scent like jasmine: like the first clear night at the lake when the jasmine blooms. Odille searches for the source of this scent. She finds Seraphi.
Their eyes meet. Two witch-queens, lovely as they are cruel, embrace one another in the shadows. Neon blue light forms a halo on Seraphi's dark hair; it is pulsing steadily off the mysterious crystal tubes. Odille drinks in the light and feels herself come alive again. She understands now. This woman is a conjurer, wise in the ways of necromancers. Unknowing of how she knows, she knows; Seraphi has demonstrated her craft, tonight. She has knit Odille together from Nina's wounded body with sacrificial blood. Now it is Odille's turn to demonstrate. She sits up gracefully, with arms that slither and expand in an unconscious port de bras.
She fixates on the woman in blue and twists, like a deep current in dense water, like a maelstrom. Odille drives her tongue into Seraphi's mouth. Her fingers tear at the bodice of Seraphi's dress, exposing a breast. Odille slows to confirm that the queen is pleased by this; Seraphi laughs. "This is a time when nothing will be forbidden," she says. "In other places, you may dance the part of my servant. But this is my alcazar, my home. Here we are free, both of us."
Odille understands. The stars are in reach if she is sly and she is sly. She drops to her knees and plants scarlet lips on Seraphi's nipple; Seraphi gasps. Odille sucks at her mistress, pulling slightly, ever taking more than what is offered. Their bodies lock and grind together. Odille slips Seraphi from her gown into nakedness, unveiling a bronze figure, unbearably slight. Nude, Seraphi is the twin of Lily: fit with high breasts and lean, smooth thighs. Odille remembers Nina's hallucination of the other dancer: defiance and cunnilingus in Nina's childhood bedroom. Lily unhinged Nina--poor Nina, the neurotic ballerina--with drugs and music and that small, wet, swirling tongue. Nina had wanted it so badly. Odille had wanted it more.
Seraphi climbs atop Odille and slides down, bare flesh on bare flesh. Planting kisses across Odille's pelvis, she parts the black swan's thighs with a breath. Suddenly, Odille feels something small and cold. A necklace has fallen from between Seraphi's breasts to brush Odille's petals. Odille pushes Seraphi back; cool silver traces over sensitive skin. Odille sees the amulet's shape. It is a phoenix, in clinquant metal, tiny and jewelled. Seraphi smiles wickedly, holding up the charm. The phoenix catches in otherworldly light.
"There are many ways to die and live again," Seraphi says. She tucks the charm away, then lowers her mouth, imminent on Odille's center. She begins to lick.
What follows is the appeasement of a proud seductress. Odille gives herself over, wholly, fearlessly. Seraphi thrusts a finger inside Odille, hooking it like a claw. The penetration completes a circuit; lightning strikes, and Odille is senseless, shuddering. She starts to slip away from herself. "No," she whispers.
Then speech is gone; Nina, a vengeful spirit, looks down at Odille from outside herself. Nina is trapped outside her body. She is desperate to regain control. She will punish Odille for her conquest. She vows to starve them both to death.
Seraphi looks up to see fear in the swan girl's eyes. "My little swan. Would you like to be free?"
"I am free!" Odille moans, insistent. "She died! It was perfect!"
"The white swan died," Seraphi soothes. "But Nina lives." Seraphi wipes her mouth and climbs up Odille, to straddle her. "You know, I can make you a swan again. We have ways of connecting half with half. Would you like that, darling?"
"Yes," Odille breathes. "No!" Nina gasps.
"Good." Seraphi settles one hand on Nina's stomach. With the other, she keys a splicing program into the copper device; it chirps obsequiously. "I am going to alter your genetic sequence," Seraphi says. "It will hurt a little but then..." Seraphi's fingers creep down Odille's torso and slide between her thighs. The touch is soft and quick as a promise. Then Seraphi withdraws her hand and turns her attention to the dials.
The device is printing avian DNA onto a base component of recell. It extrudes a system of mechanical tendrils, equipped with needles and clamps. They work their way to Odille. A syringe penetrates her skin. There is pain and there is heat. Nina cannot watch. Her gaze flits out to follow the stony cut of hard lines in the ancient room. She blinks once and the false blue moonlight pools in the pit of her corneas. She blinks twice and her lashes are feathers.
She is filling up inside, filling with claws and noise and sex. She writhes, joyous, effortless; she does not watch herself in terror, like Nina would. Her blood boils into brimstone. Her skin ignites and it is glorious.
The machine withdraws its tentacles. Odille, the black swan, sits up on the table. She runs a hand through her hair and finds lush black plumage. She grabs a fistful and pulls but the feathers hold fast. In the dark of the polished marble she can see, reflected, the impossible, inhuman whiteness of her face; it is the only skin that remains unfeathered. Her arms and legs feel lighter than air. Her costume, bustier and tutu, feel tight; she unfastens them with taloned fingers. Further explorations of her body yield happy results: legs and torso unchanged, cunt still pink and soft as a rose, feet webbed for swimming, knees and hips still nimble and strong.
"The formula is largely cosmetic," Seraphi muses. "You may experience a few changes in your moods and impulses."
Odille's eyes focus on Seraphi, whose lips are curving into a triumphant smile. "My impulses," Odille whispers, "have not changed." Odille seizes the queen with both hands and kisses her; Seraphi indulges the taboo, splice kissing Entitled, as the wild bliss of the new cygnet cracking her egg.
Odille is ecstatic. She burns with perfervid energy. She reaches for Nina, and feels nothing there; for an instant, her mind is quiet like the second before dawn on the night of the first snow. A symphony swells inside her--in a rush, she slips off the slab and dances to the windows. The cosmos glitter in liquid space, expanding in all directions. She is adrift in the heavens.
The fragile one is broken. The swans are free. Odille has come into her time and that time will be limitless.