USURPERS 3. The Witch: Crushed by Sadness
Added On: January 23, 2013 9:45 pm
Type: Prose
Community Series: MOTU Modern
USURPERS

Written by: M. Lawson Humble

3. The Witch: Crushed by Sadness


The witch sat in her lonely chambers, regretting the choices she had made that led her to this sad, loveless life. Willing to bear the silence no longer, using her dark powers, she began to create life. She had performed this incantation many times. Too many times. And although the results were always the same- crushing disappointment and death, she knew, after this time, if she ultimately failed, she would try again.

“Come,” she said, summoning a small gray rat to her. “Come and be my daughter.” The rat obeyed and climbed into the black-nailed yellow-skinned palm of the lonely witch. Their eyes met. “Yes,” she said with a smile. “Yes. You will do.”

The witch sat the rat back down upon the rough, cracked stones on the well-worn floor. The witch raised her thin, though well-defined arms to the ceiling and began to chant. A deep warmth- the heat of life ignited the very air itself and filled her chambers. At times like these- times of creation, the witch was fulfilled. Confident. Happy.

The rat began to change. Its black eyes split open, making way for the large, watery vermillion eyes that pushed out from within its splitting, splintering skull. Its hair fell out and its skin stretched. The pitch of its terrible agonized squeaking slowly changed into the confused, urgent cries of an infant. The rat’s legs lengthened and its long-clawed toes turned into plump pink fingers and plump pink toes. And finally, surrounded by blood, wet skin, and singed rat hair, lay a perfect babe.

The witch collapsed, exhausted, but elated. Her daughter was born. Her companion. Her friend. Her life. She walked over to the baby and picked her up. She was a small thing, but her cries were strong and lusty- her mother’s daughter.

“Shall I name this one?” thought the witch. Although her every instinct screamed for her to not do such a thing again, she ignored her own wise counsel. “Illumina,” she whispered as she pressed the babe to her breast. My light. I name you after she who would have been very dear to you… were things otherwise. Illumina. My child.”

Many months passed in happy seclusion as the witch and her daughter delighted in one another’s company. Illumina learned quickly, for she grew fast. In weeks, she could speak her mother’s name.

And then, on one day, as they shared the witch’s bed, entwined in a tender embrace, warmed by the blazing fire in the hearth, comforted by the natural herbal smells that wafted lazily from the boiling cast iron cauldron hanging above the flames, Illumina spoke in a sweet musical voice full of joy and wonder. “Mother?” she asked. “Were you always as you are?”

The witch pulled her daughter closer and said in a sleepy voice, “How so, sweet? What do you mean?”

“Were you always old?”

Laughing, the witch replied, “No. No, I was not always old. Once, I was like you. A girl.”

“Tell me. Please?” The incredibly beautiful, long-lashed eyes of Illumina bore into the witch with frightening intensity, urging her mother to submit to her will.

Pride swelled in the witch’s heart. “Of course, my sweet. How could I ever deny you?” Illumina smiled as her mother began. “I was born, my daughter, very much in the manner of your own birth, within the strong walls of an ancient castle that rose high above the battered, windswept plains of Zalesia on one side, and the unforgiving rocky shores that kissed the edge of the frigid Crystal Sea on the other.”

…………………

“Daughter,” said the man. “Evelyn. Come back to me.”

The girl jerked awake with a start. “I… I’m sorry, father,” she murmured in a voice thick with sleep.

Her father laughed his warm laugh. “Am I really so dry? Or is my voice such a comfort to you that you have no choice but to submit to slumber when I speak?”

“I’m sorry. I was up late.”

“And what were you doing, may I ask? What activity was so important that it ruined today’s lessons?”

“Reading, father,” she answered obediently.

The man nodded seriously. “Very well. You are forgiven. That is indeed a worthy pursuit. What, may I ask, were you reading?”

“Legends. Prophecies. Tales of paths to powers.”

“You are your father’s daughter, Evelyn. I thank the dark gods for that.” He smiled again. “Go. Go now.” He shooed her with fur-lined, black-gloved hands. “You’re free. Poisons and herb-lore can wait until tomorrow.”

Evelyn smiled and stood to embrace her father. He entirely smothered her with his comforting bulk and toyed with her long, silver braid as she pressed into him. He had lovingly caressed her bound hair in this manner for as long as she could remember, and although this special gesture was small, it was incredibly meaningful to them both.

The light of the day was searing and bright. Evelyn preferred the dark, for her pale yellow skin way very sensitive, but on occasion, she would don her black velvet cloak, trimmed with purple satin, pull up her hood against the biting wind and walk down the rocky path to the salty sea below.

It was here where she daydreamed. Her dreams were simple. All she every wanted was everything. To be feared, loved, to live forever. To rule over all lesser beings who lived their tiny lives circling their tiny stars. To rule all dimensions. Simple. To share her divine light with them all. By force, if necessary. Simple. For that fate was her path. Chosen for her by her father. His entire life was to be spent preparing her for ascension. In fact, she was created for that very purpose. But this fate was not fated to be.

The girl returned to the castle. “Father?” she called. “I have returned.” She searched out his favorite rooms- the study, the library, the laboratory, but he was not to be found. She grew uneasy and longed for his comforting embrace. Only in his presence did she feel complete, grounded, balanced.

She searched the castle and the surrounding grounds for two days without sleep. There was no sign of him. He was simply gone. She never saw him again.

Time passed, and Evelyn grew. Alone, she grew. Alone, she flowered into womanhood. And in her solitude, her heart grew hard, and her vermillion eyes grew cold.

Scarcely did a day pass wherein she did not attempt to recreate her father’s face in her mind’s eye. She rarely succeeded though, and soon, he became faceless to her. But she no longer cried for him, she had no more tears left to shed. Or so she thought.

“The Witch of Zalesia,” they called her. The villagers- the small ugly people with their short lives and small brains feared her. They respected her. They paid homage to her, sacrificed to her, and in return, she protected them in her own way. But they did not love her. Nor she them.

She had loved her father though. She tried hard to remember this fact as the years stretched, but her heart was empty. The memories of love were the memories of another life.

And then came the alchemist. He had descended upon the villagers who lived and cowered in the long shadows of her castle one black day like a ravenous plague. What he did with the villagers- used them for, she never knew, but they were murdered to a man. Executed. To a woman. To a child.

With her own eyes, she saw their lifeless bodies piled in a lonely pit, a grand feast for their own pigs. And as she listened to the snuffle of the obscenely huge swine as they gorged themselves on the raw muscles and quivering fat of men, the alchemist appeared beside her.

The witch did not turn her head, but asked, “What have you done to my people?”

“Do you mourn for them? Miss them?” he asked by way of reply.

She inhaled, filling her lungs with the rank smell of death and the pungent tang of disease. “No. But I will miss their tributes.”

The alchemist laughed. As he laughed, he entwined his strong fingers around her own. His fingers. So much like her father’s. Shocked by the bold touch, but strangely exhilarated and unexpectedly receptive, she looked upon his face. His laugh was high, carefree and pretty. His magnetic face was beautiful. It was also stern and intense. But most of all, beautiful. His dark blue skin seemed to glow from within, as if a star from above resided in the core of his being. And from that day forth, the witch was trapped. She did not resist him. She denied him nothing. Not her lands, nor her treasure, nor the knowledge passed down to her by her father in secrecy. Nor her own body. She denied him nothing. And happily.

For his part, he taught her well. She was an eager student and hungered for new knowledge after living alone for so long. In a handful of years, her power had increased a hundred fold. And she lived happily for a time, alone with he whom she loved, lording over a countryside of moldy corpses and bleached bones.

“Evelyn. My love,” said the alchemist one violet evening as they both bathed in a scorching hot spring, their bodies illuminated by the eerie reflected light of the colorful night-planets in the vast blackening sky.

The steam rose and parted, revealing the witch’s lovely face. The sounds of the pounding Crystal Sea provided a whispering chorus to her words as she replied. “Yes, Keldor?”

“I fear I must leave you come the morn.”

“Why?” She rose from the water suddenly, and the alchemist gasped, overwhelmed by her magnificence.

“Because I must,” he managed to say as his eyes feasted. “Not because I wish.”

The witch looked to the stars. “The last time I loved a man,” she said sadly, “he disappeared from my life. You will be no different.”

“I will return,” replied Keldor in a soothing voice. “I am not your father.”

She leaned over, kissing first his brow, then the points of his ears, then his dark, full lips. “No.” She reentered the steaming water. “You’re not.”

An hour later, still submerged in the hot spring and entwined in the arms of her lover, the witch asked, “Do you truly love me?”

Scarcely a beat of their synchronized hearts passed before he answered with certainty, “Yes.”

Evelyn considered his reply, and then asked, “And when you return? Will you love me still?”

“I will.”

“Promise it.”

The alchemist- Keldor smiled. He pushed he witch away gently and stood slowly, helping her to her feet as well. “Come to the castle.”

She obeyed.

Keldor led his love to the sanctuary. Standing before the stern iconography of her cruel gods, he lifted two knives- one with a deep purple hilt- one gold, from the surface of a massive stone altar. He gave the witch the knife with the purple hilt. Smiling, Keldor carved a strange series of symbols into the soft, porous stone of the altar. “Do you see?” he asked the witch, indicating the symbols. The flames of a thousand candles immediately ignited, banishing the darkness from the sanctuary.

“Yes.”

“That, my love, is my promise. It is a promise more binding than fleeting words. It is my promise to you that we will never be parted. When I return, we shall be together. For all time.”

“I’d like that,” she whispered softly. Her short silver hair dripped diamonds of water down the curves of her body until they were absorbed into the stones beneath their bare feet and further down into the roots of the ancient castle.

“Then carve. Carve the spell of binding into my chest. And I shall do the same to you.”

Far from fear or revulsion, with breathless excitement, the witch consented. Soon, they were both bleeding. They embraced, pressing their weeping wounds together. They stood like this, before the altar and before the hard eyes of their gods for several minutes before sinking to the floor in love, covered in blood and intoxicated by magic.

As he promised, years later, the alchemist returned to the witch. But he returned changed. His face was no longer his own. It was the face of cold death- the face of a specter. A monster.

His appearance, however, did not trouble her as much as his manner. He was cold. Cruel. Dismissive. One day, she asked him, “Do you still love me?”

Scarcely a discordant vibration of their no-longer synchronized hearts passed before he answered with certainty, “No.”

Evelyn crumbled and collapsed in agonizing sadness. “Then go,” she sobbed after a time. “Leave my home. Leave my lands. Leave Zalesia.”

The man who was once Keldor knelt before the witch. A horrible smile sprung to his ghoulish face and the glowing ruby embers that were now his eyes flickered. With skeletal hands caressing her tenderly, the alchemist slowly and gently pushed aside her outer clothes. Evelyn shuddered and hoped against hope that her lover had returned. But no. He laid a frigid hand upon her chest- upon the symbols written in flesh and whispered, “These scars will never fade, witch. Though I no longer have need of you or your body, I have great need of your power. You are mine. Bound to me for all time. My slave. Subservient. For eternity.”

He left her then, but only for a time. Throughout the long years, with unbearable frequency, he called upon her, treating her cruelly, using her, draining her. Draining her… killing her…

…………………

“Mother? Are you crying?”

Evelyn pulled her daughter close. “Illumina. My sweet Illumina. Yes. Yes I am. I… I’m surprised that I still have tears to shed.”

“I hate him, mother.”

Despite her sadness, Evelyn laughed. “I know, my dear. I know. After all, you are a part of me.”

“Mother? Will you never be allowed to reclaim your birthright? Will you never be allowed to ascend as queen of all there is?”

The witch sighed. “Upon his death, my love. With you by my side, one day perhaps, upon his death.”

Illumina smiled. Her mother smiled.

They lay in happy silence for a time. But the peace they shared was not to last.

“What is that sound?”

“Oh, Illumina. I fear that the others have returned.”

“Another defeat?”

Evelyn nodded. “It appears so. Why would this time be any different?”

The shouts and curses of unleashed violence soon rose to a pitch impossible to ignore. After the sounds had ceased, Evelyn groaned. “What is it, mother?”

“He summons me.”

“Why?”

“Speak no more, daughter. Please. Stay here. Out of sight. Hide.”

“But mother, I—“

“Do it!” snapped the witch. Now it was her daughter’s turn to weep. Evelyn pinched the bridge of her proud, aquiline nose. “Oh, Illumina,” she sighed. “I’m sorry, my sweet. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”

Still sobbing quietly into a pillow, Illumina watched her mother leave the beautiful world they had built together for the last time.

In the corridor that led to the throne room of her former lover, the witch nearly retched as the ripe, overpowering smell of one of her fellow warriors struck her like an unexpected blow.

“Move,” she managed to say in an angry exhale while holding her breath. “Your stench nauseates me.”

She pushed passed the beast, taking care not to touch him. And he allowed her passage, but he stopped in his tracks to watch her go.

“Monsters,” thought Evelyn uncomfortably as she left the beast behind, all the while feeling his hungry eyes devouring her. She could taste his desire. “Sickening,” she thought. “Madmen, freaks, and monsters. Why does he surround himself with such creatures? And,” this thought particularly disturbed her, “am I any different?”

“Come in, my dear,” said the alchemist in his best impression of his old voice. The impression served, but it lacked warmth. Such a quality, he found, despite his great skill, was nearly impossible to replicate.

The witch was not fooled by his empty, sweet words. “What do you want?” she asked.

The alchemist sunk deeper into his throne of polished bones and sighed. “Very well. No niceties then. Listen to me carefully.”

“I’m listening.”

“We lost the battle today.”

“No,” she replied.

“No?”

“No. You lost the battle.”

“Very well. Have it your own way. Yes. I lost the battle. I lost my battle. But…” he slowly beat a tattoo on the femur of a long-forgotten hero with his bony finger. The sound was the sound of cannon fire. The witch took a step backward as he continued speaking, his volume rising with every word though he didn’t raise his voice. “But it’s all your fault.”

“My fault?” She eyed him warily. Evelyn did not expect this. “How is the failure of your… idiots- your failure any fault of mine? I was here. I—“

“Precisely.” The alchemist chuckled and his teeth clacked together like dice. “Precisely, my dear. My treacherous witch. If you were not here, hiding from life, from your… duty to me in your chamber, you would have been on the field of battle. Fighting for me. Killing for me. You’re mine, do you understand? No one else can have you. You are mine. Mine alone. Mine.” He paused, musing. “Never again… I have been too kind.” He shook his head. “No. Never again.” He stood. His cloak dripped with the blood of the beast. “No more, witch. No more.” He clapped.

A shockwave knocked Evelyn to her knees. She stood slowly with wild tears of panic welling in her vermillion eyes. Her heart began to race, and she began to breathe heavily, desperate for air. “K… Keldor. Please. No. You wouldn’t.”

“Don’t call me that!” he screamed. “Don’t! You! Dare!”

The bones of the witch vibrated and she moaned. “Please…”

“Say my name,” ordered the alchemist. “My real name.” He paused and screamed, louder this time. “Say! My! Name!”

“No…”

“Say it!” An invisible hand plunged into Evelyn’s open mouth, forcing her tongue to obey. “Say it! Say my name!”

In tears, the witch submitted. She said his name. And the alchemist smiled an evil skeleton-smile as Evelyn sprinted from the throne room, drunk with dread.

“Illumina!” she shouted as she burst into her chambers. The witch knew what she would see, but still, the reality of it forced her to collapse in grief. Her sadness was incalculable. “Illumina,” she whispered stupidly, for she was in shock. “Illumina. Illumina. Illumina.”

But the girl wasn’t there. Her daughter was gone. All that remained upon the warm stones of the sweet-smelling bedchamber where mother and daughter dwelt in fleeting contentment was a small gray mouse with empty eyes and a broken neck.

Evelyn sank to the floor and clutched the dead mouse to her chest. It was still warm. She lay on her back and stared at the ceiling.

Soon thereafter, too soon, the mouse grew stiff and cold. Then it began to decay. In her clutching fingers, the body of the mouse liquefied, became a tiny skeleton, then dust. Then nothing. Nothing remained but the wet stain on her chest.

She howled then. Like an animal gripped by disease and madness, she howled. She couldn’t even remember how she got there, but in one moment, she was in her chambers, and in the next, the witch was standing before the throne of the alchemist with burning hatred swirling in her vermillion eyes. “I did not send for you.”

Evelyn attacked him then. But the effort was all in vain. She only succeeded in breaking her elegant fingers upon the invisible barrier of protection he suddenly summoned.

Then she tore her clothes. She removed and threw her helm at the one whom she once loved with all of her heart. It smashed on the barrier and rolled away. She spoke low. “How… how could you do this to me? Again… You’ve done it to me again. She was my… daughter. Illumina was my daughter. Why?”

The alchemist shrugged. A smug look was written across his skeletal features. “I need not explain myself to you, of all people. Now go. Leave me. I will forgive this one… miscalculation on your part, but cross me again, disobey me, attack me, and I promise: It will not go well for you. It—“

“My daughter! My daughter… She was mine. To love. To keep me warm. To live for. To die for if necessary. How can you do this to me? You are evil. Cruel.” As she spoke, the witch paced frantically and gestured wildly.

“Have I pretended otherwise? Oh.” He snapped his fingers. “And you are barren now. Did you know that? No more magic babies for you.”

“Cruelty…” she rasped in a detached voice. “Cruelty…” Her voice was tight, and then it exploded. “Your cruelty knows no bounds!” The alchemist remained silent. The witch continued. “You love me no longer. I know that, but… to honor what we once shared, send me away. I never want to see you again. Please. But mark me… Keldor,” she punched him with the name, “if you do force me to stay, one day, I will find a way to kill you. By all the dark gods, I promise this.” Still, the alchemist kept his council. “Answer me.” He did not. “Allow me to leave.” She was sobbing now. “Why don’t you allow me to leave!” she screamed before collapsing at the foot of the throne.

Like a smirking statue, the alchemist remained silent. The witch began to weep again, softer now. The hot tears fell like rain and mixed with the cooling blood of the beast that was splattered all around the grim throne room.

The alchemist had heard enough. “Leave. Me,” he said.

Evelyn looked up. “Just say my name, Keldor. And have pity. Please. Say my name, and perhaps you will remember the warmth we once shared.” Her plea was met with bored indifference. “Keldor, please, Keldor, please,” she repeated in a strained whisper. “Keldor, please, say it, say it, say it… Say my name!”

“No,” he replied. “Witch.”

And then Evelyn ran from the murderer of her children. Blinded by grief, she ran back to her empty life. On her way out, she saw the cybernetic madman lurking in the shadows. But she did not care what he had heard. She no longer cared about anything.

As soon as she reached her chambers, she began to cry fresh tears. And after a time, the witch knew not how long, without warning, a blazing supernatural fire sprang to life in the stone hearth of her bedchamber.

The white flames spoke. “Your oath to the alchemist was foolishly made, was it not?”

The witch stood suddenly. Peering into the fire, she demanded, “Who are you?”

“No one.”

“Then leave me to my grief, no one.”

“But I can free you.”

Several heartbeats passed before she spoke. “From my oath?”

“From your oath.”

“You have this power?”

“I do.”

The witch sat down and crossed her legs in front of the hearth. Her tears evaporated in the heat. “What,” she asked, “is to be the cost?”

“No cost,” answered the flames with a rocky voice.

“Do not take me for a fool, stranger. There’s always a cost. What is it?” The flames snorted like a boar. “You must live with the consequences of your choice. That is cost enough.”

Evelyn considered her options. “Very well,” she said cautiously. “If… if you release me from my oath, I will be free to leave the Mountain of Snakes? Free to leave him?”

“You will. But you won’t.”

“I won’t?”

“No. You will kill him first.

“Yes.” The witch smiled, leaning closer to the fire. Her long, black eyelashes singed. “Yes. I will kill him first.”

The flames smiled. “Of course you will. Now.” Another snort. “You are free. You are free to do what you must. Go now. Go. Kill.

End of Part Three.
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