Khaalida

I remember the rain; its steady patter went long into the night.

Normally, it soothed me as I played the music of string quartets, their soaring notes lilting in the background as I wrote.

This night was different; I was restless, and the words I needed eluded me, flashing like sunlit fish scales in fits and starts of inspiration. It was to the point where even the steadfastness of the quartets could not quiet my mind.

Something was wrong.

I sighed, closing my eyes, and as the first violin began its haunting, plaintive solo, I fell.

Through the viscera of the void, I plummeted with the velocity of a star hurled into space by the strong right arm of its celestial creator. There was no time to scream, for as fast as I fell the darkness rose to meet me.

Roiling smoke, thick, black, acrid, and pungent with midden smells rolled back on itself, peeling away to reveal a darkness so utterly devoid of light that it made me shiver suddenly, uncontrollably, even as I fell.

Panic rose like gorge in my throat.

The solo violin gave way to a chorus of voices, soft as feathers, rising up through the dark.

I’ve been waiting for you.  It was more than one voice, but said ‘I’; my terror had a thread of curiosity running through it now.

The blackness cascaded in an ascending torrent, and when it struck me I could no longer see its source, or its evil.

As it surrounded me, arcs of lavender, violet and silver white light streaked around the cosmic hole. I said a small and silent prayer, hoping the deity of us all might hear, and act on my behalf.

Then I knew no more.

 

*****************

The voice behind me was no longer a chorus. “You’re finally awake.”

I turned to see the comely form of a demoness, radiating a seductive malevolence.

“Who are you?” My mouth was dry, and the words took some effort to form.

She laughed, as if I’d made a joke she truly thought was funny; her body swayed and undulated as she walked toward me.

“The proper question is, what am I? “

Putting one hand on my shoulder and the other around my waist, she leaned over and put her mouth next to my ear. Around her, the scent of honeysuckle warred with that of burnt flesh.

“I am every secret, twisted thought you ever possessed. I am the soul of your conscience, and know you better than you know yourself.”

I sought to run, but she pulled me in tighter, her voice breaking down my resistance.

“I am the fanged serpent with the honeyed tongue in the garden, on my belly under the moonless sky, hearing the vibrations of those who seek my life.

“I am the web of man’s violent lust for the unattainable, except in the recesses of his imagination. There are multitudes still writhing in my strands, never to be free.

“I am Khaalida, the fantasy of nightmares.”

She stepped back from me, her hand on my chest. “Will you not embrace me, on your own behalf?”

My eyes grew warm, my breath shuddery. I wanted to move her hand, but my strength was as a wilted stem.

“You would so burden me?” I replied.

“You were called to us. To serve us. We watched you run, and we followed, hunted, for many years. You were wily, and filled your time as our power faded. There were times we struck, but you managed to escape.”

She took my hand in both of hers, stepping in close. “You’ve run long enough. We’ve hunted you long enough. The days grow short, the trail more difficult.

“We need you, now.”

I shook my head, extricated my hand. “I’m sorry.”

She sighed, but it was not one of resignation. “The time for regret is past; the time for excuses, done. What will you do with all you have to say? Leave it unsaid?”

Lifting my chin on her fingers, she wiped a tear with the pad of her thumb. “What will you do with me?”

There would be no getting away from her.

“I will embrace you.”

She sighed, but it was not in relief. “Every part?”

“Every part.”

She pulled me close, and faded inside of me. If there was a sensation such as excruciating bliss, I felt it then.

“I love you,” she said.

I wept. “And I, you. We’ll be together, always.”

“Not always happy,” she admonished, “but always together.”

I felt her smile, and I did too.

The strains of a lone violin echoed in the distance, and the darkness dissolved, nestling deep inside of me, sheltered from the pattering rain, and the dark words smeared beneath the water that dripped like ashen tears from the paper.

I was outside, and never remembered leaving.

“Khaalida…”

Together.

 

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Nechama’s Journey

From the time I was small, the land was dark. Vines grew with nettles, and leaves with fine thorns. Even its flowers lack color, a pallid vibrancy unpleasing to the eye.

My childhood home was dark, full of candles, with shades drawn and shadows painting our walls.

There was mother’s room, too. But mother was gone now, and father forbid me to enter it.

“Why?”

He glared at me in silence that would brook no further insolent questions, and walked out of my room, slamming the door.

But I was only a child, and his glaring authority only turned my childish curiosity to unhealthy obsession. What don’t you want me to see, father?

  He always took the key with him when he left.

He hired a nanny for me, daft as she was strict, but she was prone to drink, and more often than not I’d find her sleeping; not being old enough to take advantage of it, I said nothing to father.

I made attempts to pick the lock when he was gone, and nanny was in her cups; one day she caught me at it.

“Eh, girl. What’s this wickedness?”

I’m ashamed of how easily the lie and tears came to me: “It’s father. He’s mean: he locked my dolls in here, and I can’t play with them now.”

She seemed to be thinking, the glass in her hand sloshing a bit as she watched me cry, then she seemed to make up her mind.

“A girl oughtta have ‘er dolls. I’ll let you in, but it’ll be our secret, eh?”

I smiled, hugging her, almost making her drop her drink. “Thanks, Nan. You’re the best…

She took my arms from her legs. “A’right, child. No need t’get mushy, eh?”

She used a hairpin, and the lock clicked open. Given her addiction, she probably practiced on liquor cabinets and doors in other homes all the time.  I thought she’d go in and see there were no dolls, but she didn’t.

“Come get me when you’re done, girl. Don’t forget.”

“I won’t, Nan.” I made as if to hug her again, and she scooted away.

******************

Inside, more darkness: sparse, dark window shades covered with thick dark curtains, the room furnished in fluted, elegant, black furniture, and planks of dark wood on the walls. It seemed more a cellar bedroom than a part of the rest of the house.

I shuddered. There was absolutely no relief, no break of color or light anywhere to be seen.

Then I saw it, framed in the branches of a long- neglected plant, the glass beginning to shimmer and brighten.

A mirror. As soon as I saw it, I knew that’s why father kept me out of here, but it was a chance for me to see what I looked like, so I mimicked Nan in my head: What’s a girl to do, eh?

As I drew close, I began to cry as soon as I saw what was taking shape inside the glass. Westering sunlight laced through wispy clouds, broken up in spots of yellow and blue, the shadows of distant hills silhouetted in the distance, a calm lake leading to a lonely shore.

That’s where mother went; that’s why she left.

I looked back at the open door, heard father come in. He saw Nan sleeping, and yelled at her as she blubbered her apologies. Fearing the worst, he came running up the stairs.

It’s now or never, Nechama. Surely, he’ll punish you…

I reached out my hand, felt the warm breeze skim over the water, making small ripples,  saw the sunlight on my skin, felt its heat as bright lights burst and laced through the dark branches that held the mirror.

My body was fading, the lights on the branches extending, lacing around me, over my arms and legs, surrounding my head like a halo of stars.

Goodbye father…

      He saw me step through, and I turned at the sound of his voice calling mother’s name as he ran toward me, but it was too late.

The glass began to cloud over.

He sank to his knees, putting his face in his hands, his sobs of grief breaking my heart, breaking the mirror, breaking our bond.

Forever.

 

(MirrorMirroronthewall: Original art by Shadowheart69)

Inspired Bye

I couldn’t finish digging her grave.
Everything was sore: hands, legs, and my arms trembling from an adrenaline crash and the damp, rich, heavy soil.
I couldn’t stop crying, and my face was a mass of unpleasant liquids.
I couldn’t stop apologizing either, though she was already gone.
There’d be no cairn, for the land seemed devoid of stones, yet I would not leave her to the scavengers.
You don’t have to stay. The voice in my mind sounded muffled and far away, as if her spirit spoke through a thick veil.
“If I don’t stay,” I replied, “you don’t rest.”
I don’t want to rest.
That piqued my curiosity. “What do you want?”
For us to change places.
“You want me to die?
Yes.
“Why?”
So I might live.
“You’re the one who got sick on the journey.”
Yes, but you’re the reason. I traveled to look for you.
“To kill me?”
Yes. You shouldn’t have left me.
“You knew I wasn’t staying, Alisyn. You know I couldn’t.”
She said nothing for a while; she lay there, just looking up at me with those sightless eyes. I thought for sure I’d closed them, but I couldn’t honestly remember.
I tried to start covering her again, but the soil was so heavy. I couldn’t lift it to throw dirt on her face, to cover her eyes.
“I could still use my hands.” Scooping some soil, I began walking toward the top of the grave, and stumbled, as if something had pushed me from behind. The dirt flew, landing on her stomach, covering her hands.
Come rest with me.
“I don’t need rest.” I stayed on my knees, my hands resting on my thighs. “I need sleep.”
Come, then, and sleep.
“Not of that kind. You’re dead.”
Because of you.
“Stop saying that!”
She whispered it. Because of you. Come rest with me.
Something tugged at my sleeve. I snatched my arm away and swung at nothing, getting to my feet.
I tried to look away, and when I couldn’t, to walk away. I could do neither.
Rest. Rest, and start again.
“That’s not what you mean. You mean to have me in there with you!”
It’s peaceful here. When you leave, no one else will ever come here. You once said you loved me. Come here, if you do.
“You said you loved me too. If that were true, you wouldn’t ask me to do that.”
But that is why I’m asking. I want you with me forever.
Something shoved me from behind. I turned and wildly struck at nothing again, but the shove knocked me off balance; I was right at the edge of the grave, and reflexes made me lean the other way to regain my balance, which I did just in time.
What a willful man you are. A selfish man. I never knew.
“You did, Alisyn. You did, but you couldn’t accept it. It’s why…why I left.”
And now you’re here. I forgive you.
“I did nothing wrong. I didn’t ask you to come after me .” I was on the very edge of patience.
But you knew I would. You knew, but you couldn’t accept it. You can’t accept it even now.
I couldn’t pass up the opportunity for sarcasm: “And now you’re here.”
Sitting on the edge of the grave, I dangled my feet inside, over her body; I looked unafraid at the unseeing eyes that looked right through me.
I loved you. I love you still. Come, rest beside me.
I felt hands begin to rub my calves, finger spreading, massaging; as they moved, small wakes of pulsing light outlined them, leaving pieces of soil behind.
If I tried to stand, they would seize me; tears flowed afresh, and I didn’t bother trying to stop them.
“No. I want to live.”
What is life alone?
“Mine, to live as I please.”
Where’s the good in that? What’s the legacy of that?
The unseen hands moved to my shoulder; the ripples of light pulsed a bit slower, and dimmer. I closed my eyes as they spread a pleasant warmth through me.
“I know what you’re trying to do, Alisyn. Stop it.”
She laughed. You stop me.
Another surge of adrenaline came, and I slid back, fighting the languor that turned my bones to lead; I managed to make it to all fours, then fell on my side fighting for breath.
The hands took advantage, and rolled me, with no effort, into the grave to land on top of her.
Panicked, my eyes wide and darting, looking anywhere but into hers, I tried to find a purchase to stand up and climb out, but only managed to wriggle like a worm in the deadly fingers of a ten- year old.
“Alisyn, let me go.”
No, you selfish, willful man; I can’t trade life with you, but for once, I will be selfish and demanding:
You will stay with me.
As my vision darkened, I looked one last time into her face.
Her eyes were closed, and her dirt covered hands slipped into mine.

Trial by Combat

He sat on that enormous throne, cloaked in inky shadows, gazing down at me with eyes full of starlight, silver-white, penetrating much more than darkness.

I couldn’t stop trembling under that patient, terrible gaze.

“Do you know why I summoned you?” His deep voice reverberated in the high ceiling and bounced of the stone walls surrounding us.

“N-n-no.” I wanted to say more, to protest, but I was shaking so much I didn’t want to risk stammering too. I put the tip of my tongue on the roof of my mouth and swallowed what I wanted to say.

“They told me that you wish to leave. Is that true?”

The lie was on my tongue, but not before the blush was on my cheek.

I said nothing.

He leaned forward, terrible visage close to me, putrid and scarred, and th oozing  a pungent liquid that had ribbons of blood laced through it.

“Have I not been a good master?”

“No master of another man, no matter how beneficent, is good.”

He raised a brow, and let out a wheezing laugh.

“I’ve always admired you for not going down without a fight. But rest assured, Laras, you are well on the way down.”

“I’ve heard enough,” I said, straightening despite the pain in my back, enduring the pain of the whip scars that broke open and wept, hissing as it trailed across my skin.

Venom.

“It wasn’t enough I called you ‘king,’ but you wanted ‘master’ as well. I can’t give you that.”

The pain brought me to my knees, in spite of my will. “I won’t give you that.”

I passed out.

****************

Perfumed ministrations roused me, and the sound of muted flutes.

He left me alive.

Someone was watching me, coming into focus, thinly clad, with large eyes that observed me with a blend of curiosity and the desire to kill.

“Your Highness?”

“Nailah, to you.”

She pulled me up by the thick braid I wore, and I braced for the pain, but there was none.

“I begged him for your traitorous life, Fihr. And because he refuses me nothing, he granted it.”

She wrapped my braid around her fist, and kissed me hard.

I tried to break it, but she grabbed me and held harder.

I gave in, and against my better judgment, kissed her back; her moan of triumph led to other things, and my first waking hours were occupied for a time.

*****************

They came for me in the morning, not bothering to knock, startling the princess as they plucked me from her bed like a feather, struck me to the floor, stomped me into it, and carried me out to the barracks.

A test, and I failed.

The day was full of rigorous training, and I was the target; fighting to the point of numbness, I prevailed over most of them, not having been trained in their way. I drew more blood than I spilled, which angered them more.

The sun was westering when I cried out; “How much more do you need from me?”

Call me ‘master.’ Say it, and know peace once again.

Every part of me hurt, every heartbeat an effort, every breath a trip uphill with a large stone to keep in front of me. He wanted it at every cost, and it would cost me nothing.

And everything.

I shook my head.

They began shouting curses at me now, but with a glimmer of grudging admiration in their eyes; nevertheless, they would redouble their efforts to break me now, before sunset.

I was fighting on instinct and adrenaline now, and soon there would be nothing left.

I was bleeding, and never felt the cuts, pummeled, and never felt the blows, but I remained standing, shaking on legs that wanted nothing more than to kneel, the word ‘master’ thick on my tongue like sour ale mixed with blood, and maybe a tooth or two.

I spat, and with that, my wavering ended.

I would rather die.

The sun was a red rind on the horizon when the last form broke from the ranks, moving unlike any of the others.

She was thinly clad, but well armed, and moved like a hunting cat in her prime.

I’d made love to her repeatedly only hours before. “Nailah…”

She was crying now, tears glimmering in the crepuscular gloom.

She took her stance. “Yield, Fihr; don’t be a fool. Yield now, and come back to bed. Say the word.”

Say the word, and be the most favored among them all.

Say the word, and know the comfort of a woman’s sheathe. I will let her have you, and give you men to fight your battles, and women to do your bidding. She is but the jewel in the crown I offer you.

“YIELD!” she screamed.

I saw the soldiers around us gaping in disbelief at my hesitation, saw the silver -white stars begin dotting the cobalt sky. Those eyes from the throne…

I heard the wind soughing among the trees.

Saw the last of the red sun’s rays reflected in the water on her cheeks, making them look bloody.

The memory of her scent, her arms, her kiss, and the things she did with her lips and hands flooded back into my mind.

It was so simple to say, and no one would know.

“Yield, please.” She sobbed this time, not wanting to kill me.

He was behind it, I knew, as surely as I knew my name.

“Yield.” Her voice was lowering with resignation as I hesitated.

Drop the sword, and all is forgiven…

“Yield, my darling. Please.

My own tears hot against my cheeks, I shook my head, and took my final stance.

Her cry of rage at my rejection tore my heart, and with all the last- stand vengeance of the defeated firing her eyes with hate, she charged.

 

 

 

Children No More

In the late evening light, when shadows lengthened and the realization of what they’d just done began to sink in, the strongest among them laid the logs for the pyre.
By the time they were done, a deep yellow moon filled the sky and the stars played hide and seek among the gold-limned night clouds.
“You’ll light the fire, Elari.”
“Angelus, I can’t.” Her eyes glimmered with unshed tears.
“They’re dead; they’re not coming back.”
“We don’t know that!” She turned her back on him, wiping her eyes on the sleeve of her dress.
Angelus almost slapped her, but that had been the Old Way; they’d have been there to stop him from harming, and killing.
Without them, he would have to be better. He wanted to be better.
Indeed, he needed to be, to lead them into this new age they’d so violently embraced.
Elari turned back to him, brave and sadly defiant, like a wilting flower refusing to accept the inevitability that there’d be no rain.
“They were our parents, Angelus. They protected us. Provided for us. Loved us. And this—“ her sweeping arm took in the high pile, “is how we repay them?”
Angelus was not one easily surprised, but Elari’s standing up to him now, speaking as she did, was a new thing. He had the wry thought that things were already improving for her, and she didn’t know it yet.
It was good to see her do this; he would need someone to rule at his side. She was beautiful, and smart. This new fire kindled in her only added to his attraction; he admitted, to his delight, that he was secretly pleased, but this was no time to indulge it.
“They threw your little brother on the fire, Elari. You wept in my arms for hours. Did you forget?”
His quiet words checked her rising fear; she’d opened her mouth to protest, and found no argument.
***************
Her emotions were raw, her eyes sore from weeping, her voice hoarse from pleading, her knees hurt from kneeling, but her father did not relent.
   “The gods call, and we must answer. It is the Old Way, and we honor the gods and our ancestors.”
    “A god that calls for the new lives he created to be consumed in such a horrid way? You and mother lay together, and made him. He is only just growing, and he deserves –“
   Her father wheeled on her, and just for an instant, she saw the inner struggle; he buried it with an ease that shocked her, and straightened to his full height, her little brother fidgeting in the tightening embrace.
   “You are out of place, child. Don’t presume to speak to me in such a manner. I will hand you over to the Elders Council, and gladly, if you say another word.”
   The thought came to her, oh-so-tempting, that she would bare her ass to the Council.            The old fools would be so shocked and get so randy they wouldn’t know what to do;  she’d seen their surreptitious glances in her direction.
   She stood up, and looked at her father; her words had almost cracked the anvil of his heart, but she’d entreated and abased herself long enough. She simply couldn’t go on.
   Coming toward him, she pried her baby brother from his arms, soothed him, andd took him into the room they shared.
   “I’ll give him back to you for killing,” she said, “when the time comes.”
   When the time came they hunted her with dogs, surrounded her with weapons, anthe squalling infant from her arms.
   She stayed in the forest that night, not caring what happened to her.
   The smell of smoke was faint in the air, the evil god they served making sure she got a whiff of that little body writhing and screaming in the flames.
   She hated her father with all her heart, but there was that moment he almost broke.
   Almost.
*****************
She turned away again, looking at the dark tree line. “No, Angelus. I remember everything.”
“Then you’ll light the fire?” He came to her, put his strong hands on her shoulders; in spite of herself, she leaned against him.
The word was a weight in her throat, and her heart warred with her mind.
Angelus was patient; she had to decide for herself, and then he would know what to do with her.
She nodded.
“Say it, Elari.” He flexed his hands on her shoulders, lending her strength, and pushing her over the edge to the New Way.
She drew a deep, shuddery breath, trembling under his hands.
“Yes.”

Maker

 

   They say nights are quiet, silent even, but that really isn’t so.

    It makes noises of its own.

   Even the seemingly silent glide of the hunting owl whistles keen as wings slice wind, and prey screams before talons crack it open, spilling red life like the contents of a leaky whiskey barrel.

    A late autumn cricket chirped in vain, born too late for mating. It too, will freeze and die in the grass on cooling mornings, no progeny for spring.

    I stared at the wheeling moon and stars, thinking I would stay here. Believing, for a moment, I could.

    “I’ll leave tomorrow.

    The freezing breeze seized and shattered my breath’s vapor.

    My worn cloak had thinned into little more than a long rag full of holes where the cold poked at my legs like children’s fingers.

    I looked all around the cemetery; everyone I knew was here.

    The slaughter of my neighbors and family was swift and thorough.

    Did they know that I was now among them?

    Could they hear my heart, see my breath, and hear the lonely cricket’s solo above the blowing, rustling leaves clattering against the tilted, faded headstones?

    Did their wandering ghosts find it as beautiful as I did?

    I shuddered in anticipation of the change to come when I heard the voice behind me, as if the very air itself had spoken:

    “Are you ready?”

    The anticipation turned to fright, the fright to something I couldn’t name.

     I half turned, seeing him over my shoulder, smelling the loamy earth on my cloak.

    The stink of him was overwhelming; his beauty, unparalleled by anything I would call such.

    I used the headstone I’d sat against to pull myself up, not trusting my legs, then brushed off what autumn detritus didn’t fall on its own, as if appearance mattered now.    I wanted to run screaming, to call him vile things, to spit in his bloody face after I beheaded him.

  No doubt he knew what I was thinking, but he said nothing.

   I fell into the power of his silent, evil presence, quiet and feral; he was an old snake full of intelligent insanity.

    As he watched me struggle with myself, I sensed his patience start to crumble before the slow rise of his anger.

   His deep voice pierced my ears, a spike coated in honey, lethal and sweet, challenging me to defy him, laced with desire to punish me if I did.

   “Are you sure?”

    In the silence of my trembling, looking into the jade and gold of his gleaming eyes, the tatters of my will fell to the cold, hard ground along with my bedraggled cloak.

  “Yes.”

   It slipped from my shoulders with the cares of this world trapped in its filthy folds, and the cricket’s song abruptly ceased.

   My maker held out his hand.

   I went to him.