Full Circle

Felix stood at the edge of the clearing. Within it stood a small, homely cottage. A simple sign on the door read “A Tailor’s Touch.”

This is the place, right?

It took him five years to track this place down, and another two to actually get here. Hopefully, the legends were indeed true.

He gingerly walked up to the front door, and upon noticing a small “Open” sign in the window, slowly opened the door as he knocked. “Hello? Is anyone here?”

A head of frizzy hair streaked with red and gray greeted him. The woman stood from the loom she was working at and approached him. A frayed smile covered her face, partially hidden by a couple bright red satin patches on her cheeks. “Welcome to A Tailor’s Touch! Can I help you?”

“Y-you’re the Crimson Phoenix! I can’t believe I’ve finally found you!”

“Oh, do we have a customer, Fi?” The deep, soft voice echoed from the back room. It was followed shortly by the shape of a large man covered in cloth patches of his own. Soft pink, blue, and red tattoos glowed in the spaces between. His face folded into a similar grin upon sight of little Felix standing in his store.

Felix gasped and fell to the floor, kneeling. “The legendary Patchwarden! It’s an honor to be in your presence.”

The old man chuckled, walked up to Felix, and lifted him back to his feet. “There’s no need for that. I’m just a simple tailor. Now, what brings you to our humble establishment?”

Felix looked into the man’s taffeta eyes with a confidence that his voice could not seem to produce. “I-I’m here to become your apprentice, Master Patchwarden.”

The man let out a hearty guffaw and turned to the woman. “Ha! Now those are words I haven’t heard in a long, long time. What do you think, Fi? Does he have what it takes?”

The woman returned a devious smile. “I don’t know. Did he come prepared?”

“Of-of course! M-my carriage is sitting outside. I-it’s full of supplies.”

A soft, warm smile folded its way across the old man’s face. A glint of pink could be seen on the edges of his dark blue eyes. “Well, then let’s begin! Here’s your first lesson: Call me Patch.”

New Beginnings

“Are you sure you don’t want to come along?”

It’d been a few months since I gave Pandora her tattoo, and now the small shop was completely flooded with dresses, shirts, pants, jackets, pillows, blankets, tablecloths, and all manners of different threads and cloth. I packed a few more into the already near-full cart that Pandora was peeking her head out of.

“I’m sure, but I don’t think I’d fit even if I wanted to.”

This wasn’t the first time she’d asked me to come along. Pandora and Dahlia were just too prolific for the demand in this little town, so I suggested they start out anew. We’d scrounged up enough for a little cart and horse, and today was the day they were to head out.

“Well, then what are you gonna do here?”

That was, indeed, the question. I had a few ideas, but nothing long-term. I knew I needed to play around a bit more with my patches and runes to see what else I could do, but that wasn’t really a plan.

Dahlia popped her blonde head out beside Pandora’s and gave me a beaming smile. “Fi’s still here, isn’t she?”

Of course, she was. Her spirit was pestering me by day, and her heart by night. She was just as stubborn and outspoken as ever, but now I was her one and only outlet. I didn’t mind, though. Talking to her was always somehow refreshing, and watching her detail her hopes through our dreams was exhilarating.

Pandora’s somewhat sad face turned into a devious grin. Apparently I was blushing. “So that’s why you want us out of your hair.”

“N-no, that isn’t it at all!”

She put her finger to my lips and stared deeply into my eyes. I stared back, taking in those beautiful pink-hued irises I would likely never see again. “Goodbye, master patchwarden. I hope we one day meet again, but until then, this will be our farewell. Besides, you have an apprentice to resurrect.”

The Tailor’s Return

Fianna and I took a few days to rest up after that, but before long, things had returned to normal. Pandora and Dahlia were as inseparable as before, maybe even more so. And with her youth renewed, Pandora reached new levels of inspiration. Between the two, they began stitching and spinning at a pace I’d never seen in all my years of knowing the former.

It didn’t take long for Pandora to notice the stark difference between she and Dahlia’s work. For all the experience she had as a seamstress, none was done with her own fingers. Sure, she was accustomed to the feel and had more than enough creativity to power through, but her works just weren’t the same. She had accepted the loss of her patches, and was happy to have Dahlia by her side again at the height of their primes, but something was still missing.

And I knew just how to solve it.

I pulled out my old tattoo gun and dusted off the top. Since Dahlia’s resurrection, it hadn’t seen any use. “Pandora, come here. I’ve got something for you.”

She flashed me a curious but teasing smile. “What could you possibly have for me with that thing? You know I’m not cut out for being a rune warden.”

“I know, but I have an idea.”

I sat her down in a chair next to me as I began pulling out various needles and inks. “Would you like a rainbow ink like the thread of your patches, or more pink like your hair?”

“For what?”

“For your tattoo, of course. Do you want it to remind you of your past or your self?”

Pandora thought for a second, then responded, “Rainbow.”

“Okay, then. Here we go.”

I mixed a few colors together, then started on her hand where her Tailor’s Touch was once stitched. It didn’t take long before the faint outline of a needle and spool of thread could be made out in her skin.

“And now for the pièce de résistance.” I pulled the rainbow thread from both my own Tailor’s Touch and the one that used to be Pandora’s, twisted them into a single string, then threaded it into the tattoo gun. A beautiful multicolored ink filled the barrel that gave off a faint pinkish light. I went to work filling in the rest of the tattoo, and by the time I was done, she had a perfect copy of the needle and thread on her old patch.

Pandora gave me a huge, beautiful smile full of gratitude. “Wow, it’s beautiful. Thank you.”

“Well, aren’t you going to try it out?”

“What?”

“Go ahead! You should already know exactly how to use it!”

“I don’t–what are you saying?”

“What, have you already forgotten your tenets?”

“Huh? Oh!” Pandora closed her eyes and calmed herself. In an instant the tattoo began glowing various shades of pinks, greens, and blues. It wasn’t long before the needle and thread slid out and danced before me. Her eyes reopened and filled with a giddy glee.

“Ohhh, how wonderful!” She picked up a pillow she had started already and went to work. In no time it was finished with perfect, steady stitches. “How did you manage to figure all this out? This is the kind of thing straight from legends!”

A little chuckle escaped from my lips. “Why, you taught me, of course!”

A Debt Repaid

I bent back over Pandora and began to work.  I started with her heart, weaving her new heartstrings from some rolled rose petals.  With a little bit of my own life essence, and a little of Fianna’s soul, I managed to get them stuck into cohesive and placed in.  Her heart began beating stronger and more regularly, but I was far from done.

Her muscles were next.  Each fiber was replaced with stretched cotton threads dyed with my blood and empowered by the fire in Fianna’s heart.  I then went to work on her skin, unstitching each wrinkle and bleaching each blemish.  What I couldn’t fix with my magic was taken from my life force. Soon I was standing over a beautiful woman with a complexion of white satin and a strong, yet supple body.

“Wow, I can see why Dahlia fell in love.”  Fianna’s spirit was standing next to me, bent over in pain and exhaustion from the tribulations so far.

I gave Fianna a wry smile.  “Just one more thing left before she’s really done.”  I started plucking each frail and brittle hair from her head and replacing them with long, thick strands of silk dipped in a deep pink dye made of my blood and a bit of zinc.  A few rainbow ones from my patch were placed in here and there, as well, for her characteristic multicolored sheen.

And with that, we were done.  Fianna and I collapsed onto the bed in front of us, inadvertently waking up Pandora.  She slowly sat up, then looked down at herself, and gasped.  Her soft, warm hands grabbed my mostly limp form and pulled me up by the shoulders.  “What have you done!?”

A week smile folded across my face.  “I’ve repaid my debt.”

A Punishment Exacted

“Then let us begin.”

I rose from the bed and helped Pandora into it, then place a simple sleep spell over her.  Once she was fully out I began working at the stitches.

One by one I removed each patch from her frail body, exposing the bone-white skin beneath.  In some places the patches had been attached for so long that they were the skin itself.  With each one I pulled from her body, I could feel the threads of her magic leaving her body and entering my own.  And with each stitch, her life force seemed to sap away, as well.

When I pulled the last loop from her Tailor’s Touch and stitched it onto my right hand, I stepped back and gazed upon Pandora.  I was likely the first person to see her skin since her own master stitched many of  these patches himself.  The creases that had folded into her patches over time were now replaced with the wrinkles and blemishes covering her ancient frame.  Where once were soft satins, silks, and cottons were now thin, pale skin stretched tight over weak, brittle bones.  Her chest was barely rising and falling with her shallow breaths, and I could see her pulse was slowly weakening; the beat of her heart was getting further and further apart.  The patches had carried so much of her strength, and now that they were gone, her body couldn’t keep up.

Fianna rushed into the room, clearly distressed.  “The other apprentices just disappeared!  What’s going on?”  Her sight turned toward Pandora on the bed and she gasped. “What are you doing!?”

I gave Fianna a tremulous smile.  “I’ve executed Pandora’s final punishment, and now it’s time for me to repay her for her teaching in full.  Would you mind giving me a hand?”

Fianna flashed me an incredulous look, then sighed.  “Fine, but promise me she won’t die.”

“I promise.”

The Apprentice Becomes the Master

Pandora let out an indignant huff.  “That’s crazy.  You must still be out of it from before!  Why don’t you get a good night’s rest and we’ll talk more in the morning.”

“Pandora, you know it to be true.  You’ve spent your entire life devoted to them.  Never once thought about yourself over the patches.  With each and every one of your apprentices, you never once thought about your own legacy or your own misgivings about them.  You even dropped your own name in favor of the patches.  When was the last time someone spoke to you and the patches weren’t the reason?”

She sat speechless, her mouth attempting to find a response, but it never came.  I continued.

“Besides Dahlia and Fianna, the apprentices aren’t even their true spirits.  They’re merely caricatures of their personalities, created entirely by your patches, and I can only see and hear them because a bit of your soul has been stitched into me.  They’re the only ones that have changed since their death, and they’re the only ones that ever will.  The magic wasn’t merely punishing them with their deaths, but also you with their fake ghosts.”

I dropped my eyes and retreated my hand, readying myself for her response to what I was about to say next.  “And now I’m here, your last apprentice, to mete out your final punishment.”

Pandora rose from her chair pulled back her hand, then let it drop weakly to her side.  The pink-hued tears I’d seen once before were now streaming down her face and soaking into her patches. She sat back down and placed her face in her hands.  After a few long, quiet minutes, she spoke.

“So you take my patches, and then what?  They’re all I have.  Taking them will leave me with nothing.  It’s practically a death sentence.”

I sat up and took Pandora’s face into my hands and stared into her now dull mauve eyes. “You have Dahlia, don’t you?  And don’t worry about your future. I still need to repay you for all your teaching.  Just let me know when you’re ready.”

She took in a deep breath, accepting her fate.  “Okay, I’m ready.”

The Sixth Tenet

“WHAT!?”

Patches’ voice boomed through the shop.  Her eyes turned a reddish pink, and a little of that dark look I’d seen before came through again.

“WHY IN THE WORLD WOULD YOU NEED MY PATCHES!?”

I returned my own look, stern and stolid.  “It’s part of the bargain, and I’ll need them for my next step.”

“What could you possibly be scheming with that whore that would need my patches!?  They’re my everything!  need them!”  The threads crossing her skin and cloth lit up all at once with the same deep pink as her eyes.

I reached out with my blackened hand and grabbed hers.  I looked into her eyes and smiled, and she began to calm down.  “Master, your apprentice needs a refresher on the tenets.  Could you recite them to me once again?”

I had flustered her a little with that one.  She looked at me with a questioning stare.  “Why?  That doesn’t really seem to be relevant.”

“Please, could you recite them to me?”

“Well, I guess.  Live simply, live purely, trust yourself, trust the patches, live selflessly.  Now, what does that have to do with anything?”

“I’ve learned something about the tenets since I’ve been here.  They’re the guiding principles that keep you in check and stop you from consuming the magic whole-heartedly.  But the other way, that’s important, too.”

Patches looked confused. “How so?”

“As a runewarden, my magic is held back from completely consuming me by the limit of what I can do.  The runes do what they’re designed to do, no more and no less.  But for patch magic, that’s a different story.  What is there to keep me from being consumed by the patches themselves?  I am not to outshine them, but what if they outshine me?”

The question seemed to have baffled Patches entirely.  “What do you mean?  That’s the entire point of the magic.  Let it be your guide, and it will reward you in kind.”

“But that’s the thing.  There’s a difference between being a guide and being a slave master.  Don’t walk over it, but don’t be its doormat, either.  Listen, heed its warnings, and take its advice when its prudent.  As the five tenets say, don’t let the magic’s use revolve around you, but also your life shouldn’t revolve around it.”

Patches’ eyes narrowed at that remark.  “What are you saying?”

“I’m saying I’ve learned the sixth tenet — Live authentically.  Imitation and facsimile are just as terrible as vanity and narcissism.  As a craftsman first and a servant second, your duty is to your inspiration, not the people.  The magic of the patches requires you, it is your duty to use it to its fullest.

“Pandora, I’m saying you’ve been violating the sixth tenet most your life, and that your patches have been punishing you with each of your apprentices.”