The paint hits the canvas the canvas like bloodsplatter, and it keeps going. Still-wet flecks of black sit on the canvas, the finishing touches of the mural and masterpiece. It’s been four weeks since she’s started. It’s taken her hell to finish.

She stands back. It’s exactly normal for her to keep standing back to see the whole picture, but this one has to be perfect. On the canvas long black hair streams down the back of a woman well-dressed, sitting down to dine in carefully arranged meats resting upon alabaster china. She is half turned to the viewer, dark eyes staring straight to meet the viewer’s own. It is haunting. Beautiful. Careful brushstrokes adorn the image, give it an air of uneasy surreality. Detail is carved into the canvas material like a scalpel cutting into skin (the hair took her an entire day).

She remembers what, exactly, birthed the creation before her. Four weeks ago, under the summer’s glass, she’d been given a mural to create. She was not the inly one, her peers right beside her as they collectively received their assignment, but the words she heard felt like they were spoken to her alone. Judging from the excitement in the others’ eyes, she surmised they had felt the same.

That day, the next month was laid out by a proud standing man, alight in a traditiona suit on the studio floor. The concepts for the murals were open-ended, only intended to welcome new students to the pristine academy halls. The subject matter could be anything, as long as it expressed the artist’s self, except.

Except. Except. Except. The word had grown exhausted on her ears, not exactly hearing the following restrictions but knowing them by heart all the same. The murals had to be happy, warm, uplifting. They were for newcomers under stress and certainly not needing anything too dark. She could feel her peers’ eyes on her, then, no strangers to her macabre predilections. Those had been the terms.

This was her answer. Warm it was not, happy depended on if the viewer studied the woman’s face, and uplifting was entirely subjective. It was tame compared to her other work, if anything. And still completely out of line.

This could have her barred from the studio. It certainly wouldn’t be easily accepted by the council, who wouldn’t hesitate to give her hell over it, and yet.

And yet she remembers the real hell she endured to stand in her paint-stained room. Walking on broken bottles with pink flowers, hearing no other voice in the shadows but her own and a syrup coated sentiment of Everything Is Alright like a broken record, and tearing her voice hoarse asking for someone to just be honest in once of their goddamn lives until she saw the darkness clear, the knife with nothing else to hide.

It was awe. Something she’d explore countless times over, to the bemusement of her perrs, always lightly asking how she acquired this taste. She never tells them that it’s what helped her claw her way to the surface, bleeding from her lungs and breathing fresh air all the same.

The mural says it more than words ever could. The hell she left with iron and fire would never be superceded. Her peers could keep their paintings of sunlight and cheer, for uplifting those already standing on the ground.

She takes one final look and then gets back to work.