Spoiler: A bit of background This was originally slated to be a potential PotS entry. I enjoyed the theme so much as a method of writing inspiration that I went ahead and did something using ekphrasis via Rene Magritte's work, but the story evolved beyond that and turned into an exercise for the strange. I have not posted here in a while and thus definitely feel rusty, so excuse the oddness that the writing style below entails in its frantic, dream-like mess of a state. Much of my writing entails ridiculously obscure information for further meaning and Google is your friend. This being said, regardless of whatever state the story may leave you with, I must not give you any preconceptions on the mood. Please enjoy. She crouched and dipped her hands in the cold water, letting the ink stains flow, like blood, from the tips of her fingers. The black ink wound through the water, coiling and snaking alongside the ripples which broke the reflection of the sky's bright clouds, letting them sway back and forth to the melody of a wave-length symmetry. When the girl gazed at the last tendrils of ink scattering off into the edges of the pool, hiding behind the reflections of the clouds, scurrying beneath gravel and pebble, she found no face, nor eyes, nor even the bright white hibiscus on her hair gazing back at her. No, no, it was simply the sun, burning into her vision, mocking her existence, lounging in its eternal blue kingdom above her head, and nothing more. She rose, and the cerulean sky's reflection in the small pool began to blacken as the inky thorns at its edge coalesced into a murky well, concrete and opaque, blotting away the clouds and the sun and leaving only a vacuum darkness that spilled onto the pockets of sand between her toes. She looked ahead as a breeze whipped through her hair, gently ruffling the lacy edges of her white dress. The girl dug her bare feet further into the sand and waited, scanning the horizon at the edge of the far sea. Beyond the edge of her view, the clouds and acrylic sky melted thick drops of candle wax into the water, submerging as bubbles and never retreating. She stood on edge of a winding sandspit, cratered with tidal pools, rising like the back of an ancient serpent and carving a meandering highway that just briefly and incidentally kissed the edges of the shore. To her left and to her right lived the calm beasts of the sea, gentle and doleful, reflecting the brilliance of the sun far above the ephemeral, ever-shifting lives of its terrestrial subjects, while below the water's surface, where one could stick a leg and touch with a toe-tip, massive domes, brains, trees, and lilies of watercolour coral lurked dormant by the sand's edge. When the girl would look beyond the tiny bridge of sand that served as her only path, she would find her footprints meek and lonely, sandwiched between the bony coral spires that quietly peeked their fingers from water's edge at lower tides, ready to tickle and drag these footprints back into the sea to live among the city of jagged abstract colour below. But today, where the scent of salt and flowers rubbed the tip of her nose, did not seem to be a day where the coral would at all be visible. The girl picked up the pudgy gunny sack resting behind her, a safe distance away from the water. Shake, shake, shake, the contents were still intact. She quickly opened the sack and picked out one of the hundreds of unlit light bulbs that filled it to bursting, holding it delicately towards the sun and touching it to the end of her nose. Sunlight danced along tiny spots of imperfection at the peak of the glass, and the light painted a reflection of the sky upon its clear surface. The scent of burnt metal flooded through her nose and sat on her tongue, forcing a shiver through her body as she dropped the unlit bulb back into the sack. Haumea, Haumea. The girl turned back to the inky pool. Haumea, Haumea, squawked the little black bird. It flipped, it flopped, it emerged from the pool as a wingless stain of ink on the vision that scurried upright on stringy legs, gazing up at Haumea from the end of its hook-like beak. Its enormous eyes stared into her own, but they produced a light that bore no warmth, and felt very much like mere holes in space, or gaps where eyes should have been but the artist simply forgot to paint. Haumea crouched, placing the gunny sack of bulbs next to her, and tilted her head at the bird. She wondered were the other Hekatonkheir went, curling her toes in the sand. The waves licked aimlessly at the edge of the spit. Haumea, Haumea, the bird replied. From this distance, one could see that the Hekatonkheir's form was sculpted of a burnt, blasted metal, where little veins of rust traced scars of salt and water along its black body. It twitched and fidgeted, and occasional halos of smoke puffed from the tip of its crooked beak, and at any moment the Hekatonkheir would have seemed to collapse. But by a miracle of the universe, its stability was limitless, despite being on the very edge of disrepair. Haumea, Haumea, the Hekatonkheires gather at the end of the sea. Oh? Haumea rose her head, curling a strand of hair around her finger near the hibiscus on her head. She opened the sack and picked out a bulb, dangling it in front of the little Hekatonkheir. The Hekatonkheir puffed out a ring of smoke and jumped towards the bulb, but no, no, Haumea smiled and held the bulb far above the Hekatonkheir's beak. Haumea, Haumea, it said. We see you have an offering. What do you bring today? Haumea stood up, saying her sack was filled with ideas. She dropped the bulb to the sand and the Hekatonkheir scurried towards it, pecking and stabbing at the lifeless glass husk with its beak. It pondered it for a few seconds, letting the shadows of the clouds pass quietly above, before pushing forth an inky, galaxy-speckled human hand from the depths of its body, poking and stroking the glass. Now, now, Haumea said. These offerings must remain pure. The hand retreated wildly like measuring tape, and the Hekatonkheir backed away. Haumea picked up the bulb and placed it back into the sack. Haumea, Haumea, the Hektonkheir said. Will you be giving these to the Makemake? The water licked the edge of the sand. Haumea picked up the bag and turned, her white dress twirling by the edges of her silt-chafed knees. She said that was the only reason one visits Mandelbrot's Limit. Was there a problem, Hekatonkheir? Haumea, Haumea, no problem, the Hekatonkheir said, bobbing by her feet and keeping up at a jaunty pace as Haumea began to walk across the spit. No problem no problem, the Makemake has no problem, Haumea, Haumea. It traced her footsteps and darted between her legs, following closely while Haumea paid little attention and fixated her sights at the far end of the sand's silky path. But Haumea, Haumea, the Hekatonkheir said, they gather at the end of the sea. She stopped and stared at the sea, watching it flow where the horizon interlocked its coral fingers with the blue sky. The gentle breathing of the tides carried on, ticking away at a steady pace to Haumea's each step towards the water's end. And it was true, Haumea mused, that not for a while in her walk did she see any others until the sun had descended closer to the earth. There are times at the sea's limit where the reflection of the stars in the water grow cold and aloof. The Hekatonkheires take this special time, when the stars mirror the seas and the seas mirror the stars, to roost in the wiry coral crevices of the little spires peaking out from the water. But to any wanderer along the lonely strand of sand that so callously bifurcates the stars' earthly looking-glass, the silhouettes of the birds that guard and carefully observe the horizon are all the company they can provide. Although Haumea's trek upon the sandspit could be measured only in time increments of how delicately the sea breeze played with the strands of her hair, her quiet pilgrimage was host to the gaze of all those little black birds around her, and their stares felt very much like the pace of time became not just irrelevant as it had been, but completely nonexistent. Some turned their eyes towards her own, letting the light of an empty space burn at her ears, while others fluttered overhead and briefly arched downwards to bid hello before rocketing back towards the clouds. A few little Hekatonkheires joined the lone smoke-puffing bird by her feet and danced along her walk, before flying off again to tend to their own devices. Some popped their heads out of the sea and knocked at the coral towers with their hands to get her attention, diving quickly back into the water whenever chunks of opal coral-stone crashed upon their wings. But through all of this, Haumea did not once turn her head. She continued her steady pace along the sand, keeping the sack of lightbulbs close to her side. Is it this? The Hekatonkheir tilted its head to the side, sitting on her shoulder. Haumea dropped the sack of bulbs and it landed with a gentle thud in the sand. The edges of the sandspit had slowly sloped into the sea, descending beneath the sky's reflection with the grace and elegance that only nature could provide. Haumea stood on the submerged path, the sand sticking delicately to the soles of her feet while the water reached just below her knees. Around her, patterns of swirling clouds and the pin-pricks of far-off stars populated the surface of the water with the scintillating noise of life, and their reflections tugged and poked at the ends of her legs, cautiously waiting to drag her beneath the surface and drop her into the sky. It is this. The Hekatonkheir chirped in Haumea's ear. She picked up the sack again and stared at the structure that made its cozy settlement on the very edge of the sea. They bring their submersibles here? Haumea, Haumea, this isn't a mere submersible. Haumea, Haumea, called the Hekathonkheir, the sea would never sustain it. Of course. Haumea tapped the Hekatonkheir's head. It pecked at her hibiscus. The sea keeps it safe. But the hat on top? The hat on top ... Haumea gazed at the hat on top. Why would a bathysphere require a hat? Haumea, Haumea. The Hekatonkheir crooned. She stepped further into the sea, moving closer to the enormous bathysphere that used the drooping cloth witch's hat as its roof. Easily the size of a house, it did not seem to float lazily upon the sea, no, for the sand beneath the waters tied it down with seemingly invisible strings. Its hide was a stark salt-rusted browning steel that gently curled around a single circular window of iced-over glass, and when Haumea approached the window, almost the size of an ant to a shoe, she gazed at her reflection. Strange, strange, Haumea, Haumea. The Hekatonkheir knelt closer to the glass, its human hand emerging and tapping at it with an outstretched finger. Haumea's clothes, Haumea's bag, Haumea's hibiscus appear to be floating in the air, without the Haumea wearing them all. Strange, very strange, wouldn't Haumea agree? It tilted its little head and gazed back at her. Haumea briefly opened her sack of light bulbs and peered inside, shaking around the contents a bit. Not strange. The Hekatonkheir retreated its hand and chirped at this curious response. Haumea shut the bag and walked to the window. Quickly, the Hekatonkheir jumped off her shoulder in a dive and flapped its wings forward, flying off into the sky. She touched the glass with her outstretched palm, letting the cold feather her skin. Hold your hunger, Makemake. At the limit of the sea, there are points where one's vision is obscured by the quickness of the breeze, or distracted by the scent of flowering salt. At these very such moments are times when nature shifts and changes its quaint machinations from time to time, unaware and under the nose of all who observe her, yet returning to their present state of affairs they find that something imperceptible about their world has fundamentally changed but are unable to precisely pinpoint what. It was in these little crannies of time abandoned that one would gaze upon Haumea and but a blink later see not a trace of her existence. A bell chime's ghostly wail filled the cozy interior. Warm and safe. Haumea looked through the bathysphere's room through any splotches of light she could use. At first, she never expected the interior to be so small. The peak of her hibiscus just barely reached the low teak ceiling, and the woodboard eaves of the floor cracked and groaned under the weight of her feet, like a ship yawning on its last legs in a thick storm. Little fluffs of white cotton-dust, the size of wharf roaches, floated along the floor, basking in the spots of cold skylight from the ceiling-holes. The thick scent of musty wood blanketed the room, settling in the cracks and crevices between the boards, but left all the room bare. Haumea cleared streaks of dust from one of the many mirrors hanging on loose red string, but her reflection was still the same, keeping the clothes but lacking the Haumea. She called out, and the only response came from the gentle rocking of the floor. Haumea put her hand to her ear and listened to the sound of the waves outside more closely. Mmm ... She curled a fist around her gunny sack of bulbs and walked towards one of the mirrors, this one low-hanging on its frayed red string and cracked at the edge so that whatever lack of reflection she possessed angled grotesquely in the dusty light. Placing the sack down, Haumea traced the crack's intricate veining through the glass, and lifted a loose piece out from the frame. Ticklish light flooded through the hole, and with a quick puff at a loose strand of hair, she removed the remaining pieces and moved herself, with her bag, into the space within the frame. The mirror frame snapped and fell to the ground in a flourish of dust and fury. Haumea emerged from a deep green sea to glance upon an island of shells. Although one could look up at the sky and find solace in its similarity to the outside world, the very nature of the sea was different; more quick, more fleeting, more fanciful. Haumea felt the water tug and jab at her ankles as she continued her unending trek. The points, pokes, and pin-pricks competed with the billowing breeze in excitement and livelihood, and Haumea made certain that the sack of light bulbs did not once feel too much intensity from the nature of this atmosphere. The little white shells massaged the soles of her feet and slipped between her toes, and as she placed the sack soundly on dry land, she came face to face with a flat-capped, fog-haired old woman who was much too invested in the paintings that circled her, sunbathing quietly on crooked easels while she fervently focused her attention on the canvas directly in front of her. “I never have once seen a visitor in my atelier.” Haumea began to look around at the paintings. They were conventional landscape scenes, filled with the meticulous detail of sky and sea, and would seem almost uniquely photorealistic in their vibrant shapes of colour if not for a fundamental uncertainty about their construction. Would you turn to see us? Haumea asked. “I musn't,” replied the woman. “The world does not rebuild itself. I mustn't take my gaze away once.” Is that so? “That it is.” She nodded. Haumea continued to observe the paintings. Scenes of forests, lakes, and rivers, and cities in the fit of bustling motion but without a single person visible. Little painted messes of arched rock and mountain, or blinding volcanoes that spat fury into the blackened sky. Yet Haumea could not cease to observe the unsettling oddity of each work. Looking down at her feet for a moment, she briefly turned to the back of the woman. “Are you enjoying my work?” The old woman asked. We are not, Haumea replied. The woman stopped briefly. “That it is. Will you be telling me what your offering to the Makemake is, then?” We could ask the same of yourself. “You know well enough what my offering is.” But how can you be so certain if you have not seen our observations while your back is turned? “You do not need eyes to see the world.” Then what good would the example of our offering be to you? The woman turned to her side, not directly looking at Haumea, but instead casting her glance off to the sea by the edge of the island. The flat cap protruded downward, with curtains of the woman's fog-hair framing her drooping nose and wizened, sea-wrinkled lips. Haumea arched sideways and saw that she was painting an intricate, down-to-the-letter replica of the island of shells and the sea around it. But the island was lopsided on the canvas, the shells bore shine and shade only on the scattered edges, the sunlight reflected itself alone, and there was no trace of Haumea or the woman ever touching its surface. “You have beautiful eyes, miss. I've never seen such black onyx pearls in my life.” She turned back to her painting. “When I feel their gaze upon me, it is as if all of space descends to watch me work.” Haumea sat down on a smooth bundle of shells, placing the sack next to her. The frenzied sound of a paranoid sea shuffled against the island's ends. She asked the lady's name. “A name is a powerful thing, isn't it?” It is, Haumea agreed. “I have to be careful when telling a girl like you.” Haumea played around with a shell by her feet. The woman continued painting. “Palimpsest.” Palimpsest. “Yes?” Haumea looked back up at Palimpsest, her entirely black eyes gleaming in the sunlight. She whispered a few words that were lost at the crash of a wave. An easel shook and lost its footing, almost tumbling to the shells and the sea beyond. “I do agree it's strange that I've had to make home this far by the end of Mandelbrot's Limit,” Palimpsest dabbed her brush in the small palette strung by her free hand. “But this is the best I can do.” Haumea asked what she meant. Palimpsest continued painting. “The Makemake gives and the Makemake takes.” Her words trailed into the ocean. We are well aware, Haumea replied. “Will you be telling me your offering to the Makemake?” Haumea shifted off of her bottom and picked up the gunny sack of light bulbs. She moved behind Palimpsest with the grace of a soft wind and set the bag down next to her, opening it to the air. The glass orbs gleamed and sparkled in the skylight, and ever so slightly shook from the force of the waves. Haumea picked up a bulb, kissing it gently, letting the daunting smell of burnt metal fill her nostrils. The birth of ideas, she said. Palimpsest stopped painting. Haumea placed the bulb back into the sack and closed the ends, turning back to the old woman. “Why do you not like my paintings?” Because, Haumea replied, they are lost. “Lost, you say?” Haumea curled a lock of hair around her finger. These paintings paint an unstable world. Palimpsest grunted and concentrated on her work. “So you know what my offering to the Makemake was, then?” The act of a human offering something by themselves alone is extremely risky, Haumea mused. The girl sat down cross legged by Palimpsest. “There are times when an artist is a hollow shell, unable to see the inspiration that lies around them.” She dabbed at a spot of paint on her palette and made quick strokes along the edges of the island. “Where each day appears identical and each object a mirror of the last.” Haumea looked back at her painting. Even here, there appeared to be a fundamental discrepancy, where the very island was offset with its shadows and its reflections. An alteration of perspective, perhaps two in one that gave way to no perspective at all, and yet the island's clear depth shared a simultaneous flatness. It was a stunningly beautiful work of art, but any viewer would feel a nagging sense of imperfection when looking at it. It could be improved, it could be improved, especially as the artist would say with all her work, but no matter how many improvements were made, the imperfections would linger, and the warped perspectives would stay. And not one, not any being, human nor otherwise, dared to see their forms reflected in the canvas. You offered the symmetry of your universe in exchange for inspiration, Haumea said. “And the Makemake granted me an infinite discord as my only inspiration. My atelier sits here at the sea, shattering the Limit's own symmetry, where I grasp for straws for the natural order I once held dear.” It was no wonder, Haumea thought to herself, that the Hekatonkheires ruffled their feathers over how a human managed to shift the tide of universal entropy, building up this little hut of a workshop at the edge of Mandelbrot's Limit like the clogging of a drain with calciferous residue. Haumea reached into her sack and pulled out a light bulb. She asked Palimpsest to paint an “X” on the bulb. Palimpsest obliged and shifted over on her stool, leaning forward and carefully painting an “X” right at the tip of the sky's reflection. The bulb immediately cracked along the point of the “X” but stood stable, a jagged gash in its side rendering it crooked and asymmetrical. A likely sacrifice. Haumea agreed to make an offering to the Makemake in exchange for the return of Palimpsest's orderly view. But, she mused, it was only because the continued existence of her atelier would simply flood and build up the disorder along the very ends of Mandelbrot's Limit itself, remembering how it seemed so hard to see the coral today. When the two women emerged from the large hat-wearing bathysphere, a regiment of Hekathonkheires had gathered at the edge of the water to ready departure. Haumea lifted her hand, the other holding the sack and Palimpsest's own hand, and with sharp chirps the Hekathonkheires began to flutter around themselves, the human hands emerging from their small bodies interlocking in distinct tessellations. When enough sand had been kicked up and the sun nearly dipped its toes at the end of the horizon, painting the sky and the earth a solemn crimson, Haumea brought Palimpsest onto the raft of interlocking hands that the Hekathonkheires had made. A few flew forward, helping guide the craft along the calm star-lit waters as it cast off to sea beyond the bathysphere. With a crooning groan behind them, the bathysphere began to sink back into the water, but Haumea noticed that Palimpsest, who simply sat by the end of the raft staring into the quickly-approaching night sky above, did not take a single glance behind her as her home sunk beneath the sea. The farther one moved away from Mandelbrot's Limit, the angrier and more active the sea became. When the water level grew high enough that the Hekatonkheires used their hands to shield it away, and sparks of electricity coursed from the cracks of empty space and vacuum that slithered just beneath the water's surface, it looked as if the sea was slowly melding with the sky itself. Palimpsest simply looked on, and Haumea rubbed her black eyes as the air grew thick with the silence of the vacuum. Gone was the slow perturbation of the waves that signified the time, for time had no place beyond the shores of a concrete reality. Only stars, only blackness, remained upon the sea. There reached a point upon the sea where all movements ceased, and the night sky drained colour from the ocean. The raft lay floating gently upon a liquid mirror, reflecting the colourful nebulae and galaxies above, where it served to be the only moving object on a time-frozen canvas. Haumea looked over to the side of the raft as the Hekatonkheir began their metal-struck chirping, and glanced at the reflection of space as their approach to the Makemake slowly snuffed out the mirrored light of the stars. The raft began to slow as it reached a boundary on the sea: a wide, curved black disc that stretched beyond; a hole in space that jealously guarded the starlight's reflection it consumed. “Why is the Makemake like this, miss?” Haumea turned to Palimpsest, who seemed wary of the Makemake. This is only the Makemake's shadow, but it is all we can dare to offer to. Palimpsest lost herself in her thought as she watched the sprawling abyss. When the raft of the Hekatonkheires reached the edge of the Makemake, Haumea took the sack of bulbs in both of her hands and opened it to the mute air. The hands of the Hekatonkheires lifted her by her feet and brought her to the very boundary of the Makemake, almost close enough to touch the surface of the shadow. With a flip of the bag and no distractions, Haumea emptied the bulbs into the black void, and the little glass spheres descended quietly, growing smaller and smaller and even then smaller until they were nothing but minuscule dots in their lengthy free-fall. And so begins the birth of ideas, Haumea said. She took out the final bulb – the one Palimpsest had painted on and cracked – and knelt down upon the platform of outstretched hands, dangling it close to the border of the abyss. The bulb immediately flickered to life, but it was a thin orange light that was a weak copy of the sun's radiant rays. She lowered her arms into the shadow, and the inky darkness scrambled along up to her elbows. Haumea whispered a quick prayer to herself, and dropped the bulb into the gullet of the Makemake. The tiny orange light grew smaller and smaller until it too snuffed out of visible existence. When the raft returned to the edge of the sandspit, the bathysphere had disappeared and the sun had retraced its steps towards the crown of the sky. Haumea stepped back onto the white sand, letting her feet soak in its ticklish, sun-baked warmth, and turned back to the raft. The Hekathonkheires began to separate themselves from the structure, fluttering away as the network of interlocked hands retreated like cut guitar strings. Palimpsest continued to stand on the raft, and bowed to Haumea. “Thank you.” Haumea tilted her head, and simply waved a blackened hand back. With that, the old woman slowly sunk into the sea, her fog-hair fluttering down into the water, and the last of the Hekatonkheires flew to their roosts by the coral spires. Palimpsest's cap began to float away from the edge of Mandelbrot's Limit, drifting off into the waters as it grew further and further away. The water returned to its soothing rainbow reflections, the soft sound of waves breaking against the strand's arches became all too familiar again, and Haumea walked to the spot where the bathysphere once stood, holding her ink-stained hands to the light of the sun. She crouched and dipped her hands in the cold water, letting the ink stains flow, like blood, from the tips of her fingers.