Born of Darkness
The light had been taken from me or so I assumed. In the deeper recesses of my mind, I could almost recall a time when sight was possible. I did not doubt many years had since passed, but just how many was anyone's guess.
I paced the confines of my enclosure as I had every day in memorable history. I had awoken here many years ago, or was it centuries? I could recall no specific circumstance to explain my current predicament, unless I was dead and this was hell. I remembered nothing before my incarceration, not even my own name or what type of creature I might be. What little I could glean from tactile sense, told me I had two arms, two legs and a head. I had known other creatures that met the description, but was unable to recall their name.
Much of that time is a blank to me. I spent countless hours searching, prodding and prying at every inch of the stone walls that entombed me. In retrospect, for at least some of that time, I was not entirely lucid, which was to be expected, considering.
When I finally became bored with my investigations, I would pace the enclosure and try to remember. Visions of the past flitted through my mind, but none stayed with me long enough to grasp. Fragments of experiences that might have been mine, occasionally came to me and then were gone just as suddenly. I knew that I should have been scared, upset, or dare I say enraged. Yet my emotions seemed to have deserted me as well. I was left with one thing only. The burning desire to understand.
I tried desperately to draw some kind of conclusion from what little I knew. I thought in words, which meant I spoke at least one language, though I couldn't name it. I couldn't recall eating or drinking either, but that was impossible. Nothing could survive without sustenance.
Nor did I grow tired, no matter how many hours I spent examining the insignificant details of the stonework. It didn't make sense. I ran my fingers through my short hair, wondering why it hadn't grown during my years of imprisonment. That was the only thing of which I was certain. Someone had placed me here.
I latched onto the fact, strained furiously to remember even the smallest clue as to what I had done to deserve such punishment, but my mind was as much a prison as the surrounding walls. Each day my routine continued unaltered. Each attempt was met with failure.
At times, I would grow increasingly frustrated with my amnesia and I would resume my explorations, often violently. This, my only surrender to emotion, was largely wasted. I remember more than once beating the stone walls with my fists, as if I could pound my way through by will alone, only stopping when the pain became too great.
Finally, calmer, I would continue to feel along the walls, the floor and even the ceiling, which I could reach by standing on my toes. Indeed, the area was so small that if there had been an exit, I'd have long since found it. Yet I knew if I abandoned hope, if I allowed despair to set in, it would surely become hell. As long as I kept trying, there was a chance.
Then one day, my hand fell upon a smooth metal protrusion that had never before been there. It had to be new, though how that was possible, I couldn't begin to guess. I wrapped my hand tightly around its coolness, fearing it might fade from existence should I release my grasp. I rotated the object and pushed. The door swung outward.
For a moment, brilliance as intense as the darkness assailed me and blinded me just as effectively. The world exploded into sound. I could hear the wind, the birds, the rustle of leaves. I could smell grass and wood smoke, though the latter gave me a moment of caution. I wondered why. Only then did I realize I missed the sounds and scents of the world as much as the sights.
My eyes stung. When I raised a hand to my face, I could feel the tears. Voices in the distance told me I might not be alone for long. Part of me wanted to embrace the newcomers, but my intuition screamed danger. I turned, still virtually blind, and ran, hands extended before me so as to avoid collision.
After a time, the landscape was a faded blur and I knew vision would return. I stopped running long enough to kneel down and run my hands through the grass. I felt tears form anew, as I sunk my fingers deep into the soil. There was something besides stone in the universe.
I dared not wait long. By the time I could again hear voices, I could see reasonably well, though my head still throbbed. I took off again, amazed at how fast I was able to move. The miles fell away as I ran, naked and barefoot over the grassy hills. Twice I cut my foot on sharp stones, but the pain was as wonderful as the rest of it. I vowed then that they would never take me alive again. Whoever they were.
At length, I came upon a small village. I hid behind a tree and watched the townsfolk go about their business. I was wondering what to do next, when the sound of hooves striking stone caught my attention.
I turned toward the source of the sound. The road was a white snake, slithering through a green field. The riders, there were two of them, were dressed in armor. The combination of their stern expressions, the urgency with which they pushed their steeds and the white smoke that rose as they passed, told me everything I needed to know. They were soldiers. They were looking for me.
I waited for them to pass, before approaching the houses. I knew I was taking a chance, but needed to know more than I now did. I hoped the riders would possess some of the answers.
Almost immediately the soldiers were beset by a swarm of people. Men, women and even children emerged from houses and shops, drawing close around them. I didn't worry about being seen. The townsfolk were distracted by the soldiers.
I crept closer, hiding myself in a nearby alley. A strong voice rose above the murmur of the crowd. "Good people, hear me. For many generations the Prince of Darkness has been imprisoned in a tomb of solid rock. Until today. Once more the Destroyer walks the world, trailing a wake of death and despair. As long as he is free, you and your families are in grave danger."
As I listened, I felt my heart pound. There had to be some mistake. How could I be the Prince of Darkness? I edged forward to peer around the corner. The soldiers had dismounted and were standing in a circle of humanity. Humanity. They were called humans. I looked down at myself, studying each detail of my body. I too looked human. And yet, could a human have existed so long without food? Wouldn't a human's hair have grown over the course of time? Wouldn't a human feel fatigue?
Even as I posed the questions, at least one of the answers came to me. I was not human, though what else I might be, I couldn't guess. The soldiers had come by road, so I knew they hadn't been tracking me. Which meant there were riders going to every town, warning the populace. It was a pity I felt far less dangerous than they seemed to think I was.
Soon I moved on, fearful if I tarried too long, I would be discovered. I managed to steal clothes from a laundry basket on someone's porch. Fortunately, everyone in town seemed to be at the gathering.
As I turned to leave, a woman's voice stopped me. "If you're going to steal clothing, at least take something that fits."
I turned slowly. The woman was smiling, but there was a sadness in her eyes. She wasn't exactly pretty, and yet there was a certain strength about her that bespoke a beauty deeper and far more appealing.
I looked at her guiltily. She walked across the porch and down the three wooden steps, until she stood before me. At first glance, I had thought she was young, but now I wasn't certain. I stood my ground and returned her stare. After all, what did the Prince of Darkness have to fear?
"You're welcome to them if you want. They're old clothes. I guess you need them more than I."
I tried to detect sarcasm in her voice, but there was none. "I'm sorry. I would pay if I could." I thought it strange the Prince of Darkness should have a conscience.
During the next few moments, an odd silence fell on us. It was not an uncomfortable moment filled with indecision, but rather a mutual recognition of a thing that could never be put into words- the decision for one being to trust another and the appreciation returned for that trust. Immediately after, the woman smiled gently. "Why don't you come in? I have a pot of stew already on the fire."
I was tempted by the offer. Then I thought about the soldiers and the crowd and knew I should move on. It was only a matter of time before the woman heard the news and what then would she think? I turned toward her, ready to decline the offer. She stared at me expectantly. To my surprise, I accepted the invitation. Though I knew I was increasing my peril, I'd been lonely for too long and it might be a long time before I would be able to dine with another woman.
Her name was Celeste and she possessed a number of qualities that endeared her to me immediately, though I was very much aware that loneliness might well be affecting my judgment. She was intelligent, witty, kind and yet possessed a strength that is all too seldom seen in women. It was the kind of calm that one finds in the great wise men, once they have discovered their own inner worth.
The meal was basic, but palatable. Our conversation lasted well into the night, long after she'd cleared the table of dishes. I knew I should leave, but found myself caught in the moment. I didn't want the evening to end.
I'd let her do most of the talking, since I couldn't remember my past. I wondered how long it would be before she would question my seeming reluctance to speak. Finally it came up.
"So, do you want to tell me about it?" The change of subject was so abrupt, I was momentarily speechless. Finally I found my voice.
She smiled. "For starters, how about your name."
I had been so distracted by her radiant personality, I had not remembered to introduce myself. I could have made up a name, of course, but that would have been breaking the unspoken agreement between us. "I don't remember."
She looked at me and nodded, as if I had verified a fact she had already guessed. Along with her other strengths, she was perceptive. "Are you in some kind of trouble?"
I looked her right in the eyes. "I don't know, but I think there's something I should tell you." I stopped. What should I tell her? I wasn't really human? "There are soldiers looking for me."
I swallowed. "They say I'm the Prince of Darkness."
Celeste fought back laughter. "Is that so?" Illogically, I felt a bit indignant at her reaction. Was it so impossible? Then relief washed over me. I had told her. If she chose not to accept the tale, it was fine by me.
"Tell me, why would the Prince of Darkness need to steal clothes? Why would he look at me like a child caught with his hand in the cookie jar, when discovered?"
Those were very good questions. Why indeed? "I told you. I don't remember. I can't tell you who I am or why I was imprisoned. I can't even explain how I escaped. I can say if I stay with you, your life may become somewhat more hectic." I watched her closely for a reaction.
For a time, she looked thoughtful. Then a smile lit her face. "I could say you're my cousin from out of town. I could call you Raven, my Dark Prince. No one would have to know the truth."
"And if one of the soldiers should recognize me?"
She sighed and shrugged. "You don't need to decide tonight. It's getting late and you need rest." I didn't tell her I wasn't tired. I nodded, stood and stretched. Our mutual reluctance became a tangible thing. Would I be staying the night and if so, in her bed? The question of sleeping arrangements hung in the air between us. I waited for her to speak. Whatever else, the decision was hers to make.
"It has been a long time since I've had a man in my bed. I imagine it has been longer for you."
I smiled. "I don't suspect I've ever had a man in my bed." She chuckled and the tension between us faded. She held out her hand and I took it. That night, perhaps because I could remember no others, Celeste was the only woman in the world. After that night, I knew I could not leave Celeste. Not because of our new found intimacy, but because I was drawn to her in a way I couldn't explain. Perhaps in the same way a moth is attracted to a candle flame. I just hoped I wouldn't get burned.
Many days passed in rapid succession. I kept the name Raven and whenever anyone inquired as to my identity, Celeste introduced me as a childhood friend who had come to visit. Many an eyebrow was raised as the two of us walked away, though in public we gave people no reason to gossip. We spent every waking hour together. The physical passion between us was only a small part of our relationship. The only frustration in my life was the inability to uncover my past.
Dreams were a nightly occurrence, though I couldn't remember them upon awakening. Sometimes I would cry out. Whenever I opened my eyes, Celeste was there.
Those first weeks with Celeste have blurred into one long day in my mind. In fact, I can extract no single experience from that time, save one. And I remember it as I remember her. Fondly, but not without a sense of wonder.
Celeste and I were walking in the woods a short distance from her house. It was a beautiful afternoon. The sun was just warm enough and the wind just cool enough to make our stroll most pleasant. Birds were singing in the distance and all was well with the world, when ahead on the ground, I saw a rabbit. I stopped. When she noticed, Celeste did the same.
We looked and it stared back at us. I thought it would run at some point, but it didn't. It sat calmly as if waiting for something. Celeste smiled. "I haven't had rabbit for a long time."
I was startled at the comment. It was as if she were trying to bait me to kill the creature, though I couldn't imagine why. I looked at her and she returned my gaze with unfeigned innocence. Could it be my imagination?
I turned to regard the rabbit and it me. For a time nothing happened. Then it moved toward me. I knelt down and stood completely still, until the rabbit placed it's paws upon my boots. I tentatively reached out my hand. When it didn't move, I stroked its head.
"Looks like you've made a friend."
I looked up at her. "Rabbits don't behave this way."
"This one did." She was smiling. "What will it be? Stew for dinner?"
I looked down at the creature and felt pity. Did she expect me to kill it? If I didn't, what would she say? I rose suddenly and it broke into a run, until it disappeared into the tall grass by the side of the road. Celeste looked at me, eyes shining.
"Would you mind explaining what just happened?"
She smiled broadly. "I just proved that you weren't the Prince of Darkness. I knew you couldn't kill a trusting animal in cold blood. But I'm not certain that you did."
"You were testing me," I said, accusingly.
"I was teaching you. You needed to see it."
I would have replied then, but she was right. I still had no idea who I was, and therefore couldn't be completely sure of who I wasn't. Until that moment.
"How did you become so smart?"
"I was taught by the best."
"Who?" I asked.
"The last man who loved me."
"What was he like?"
"That would be telling. You don't really want to hear about him, do you?" She smiled, mischievously.
"Yes I do. I want to know everything about you. Who was he?"
She leaned against me, as we continued walking. "Actually, he was just like you."
"That means you're not going to tell me."
"That means I'm not going to tell you."
Our walk continued in silence. For a time, I thought about what had
just happened. Celeste had been right. Until that moment, I hadn't really
known that I wasn't the Prince of Darkness. Now I was certain. For if I
were, I would certainly have had no trouble killing a rabbit. I still didn't
know what I was, but at least I knew what I wasn't. As I walked, I found
myself trying to come to terms with the burning sensation of restlessness
that never quite left me.
One night, several weeks later, I awoke with an image still burning brightly in my mind. Celeste, sensitive to the nightly episodes, sat up a few moments later. She reached out a comforting hand, but I batted it away. I had to concentrate.
She watched closely, confident enough in my love for her to remain unaffected by my actions. Finally, I spoke. "A castle on a hill. The surrounding area is barren, rocky. There are mountains in the distance. Four towers frame the castle, reaching high into the sky. There is a moat about it. The drawbridge is up. The courtyard seems to be enclosed in a bubble of crystal."
Celeste drew a long breath. "The dwelling of the Duke of Winterrush, a sorcerer of no small skill. His castle is far from here."
"I have to go there."
Celeste leaned forward and clung to me. "I'll go with you. I can show you the way."
"It may be dangerous."
"I am no stranger to peril. And I do not wish to live without you by my side. If we perish, it will be together."
I had no doubt she meant the words. I clasped her tightly and
stroked her hair. "Neither of us shall die." I closed my eyes
and prayed it would be so.
We set out two mornings later. Each of us carried a pack filled with provisions, as we walked along the road, heading south. On either side, wide-boled trees reached toward the sky, their branches and leaves blocking out the sun, except for a brief period around midday. Even without the sun, the humidity made it hot. By mid afternoon, we were bathed in sweat. At the other end of the road, many days distant lay Korash, the city of flame.
We moved steadily, resting infrequently in spite of the heat. I was driven by my need to know; Celeste by her love for me. Towards dusk, the sound of hooves reached us. While there was no reason to believe they had anything to do with me, I was certain they did. I quickened my pace, but said nothing. Many minutes later on a straight stretch of road, I turned and saw them. Five armored soldiers on horseback and something else.
The creatures looked almost like wolves, but they were about the size of small bears. Even across the distance between us, I could see the whiteness of their fangs, dripping with saliva. It was a hunting party and I was the quarry. Beside me, Celeste gasped. "Death-dogs."
I wasted no time. I scooped her up and threw her over my shoulder. A surprised yelp was the only protest. I took off down the road.
The sound of a horn echoed through the woods. The approaching twilight lengthened the shadows, giving a dreamlike quality to the chase. I moved as quickly as I could, but between the weight of Celeste and both packs, the dogs gained steadily. The fact that they made no noise only meant I couldn't tell how far back they were, and I was moving too fast to check. As I ran, I ignored the temptation to slow and look behind me. Surely they would have caught me by now. I was about to do so, when Celeste screamed.
I turned and the Death-Dogs were almost upon us. I swung her down, casting my eyes about for anything that might be used as a weapon. There was nothing. Celeste stood beside me, waiting for them to attack.
The largest, a hideous beast with blue-gray fur and silver eyes leapt into the air. It sailed toward me, teeth bared. I stood for a moment, then stiffened. Pain shot through my head, blinding me. My vision returned just in time to see it fade from existence. The others, seeing their leader vanish, came to a halt. Celeste stared at me. "What did you do?"
My entire body burned, as if I were on fire. "I didn't do anything."
She shook her head. "I saw. Your eyes rolled backwards and the thing was gone."
I wanted desperately to deny it, but knew she was right. I wondered how this new circumstance would affect our relationship. A quick glance told me I had nothing to worry about. Whatever I was, Celeste still loved me. I turned my attention to the rest of the creatures. They looked uncertain, raising their snouts occasionally to sniff the air. I walked toward them and they dropped their heads in a gesture of submission. To my own amazement, I walked calmly into their midst. They simply watched. The sound of horses brought me up short. Five riders approached, none of which looked happy. They reined up a short distance away.
After a brief, whispered conference, one rode forward an additional few steps. He started speaking as soon as his horse slowed to a halt. "Greetings, Dark One."
I inclined my head, but said nothing.
"It is my instructions to invite you and the lady to dine with my master, the Earl of Riverhead. He assures you safe passage. He wishes only a parley."
From the corner of my eye, I could see Celeste step forward. My peripheral vision was good enough to see her shake her head. Not that I needed her warning to know it was a trap. I responded to the invitation with a single word. "Kill."
The death-dogs charged forward. Men cursed, horses whinnied and reared. Two of the riders were thrown. The others turned and fled, pursued by the giant canines. I ran down one of the horses. Not far away, I could hear numerous screams, amidst the sound of bones cracking. I did not have to look to know the outcome of the event. Though I was saddened by the decision, I did not regret it. I returned with the mount to the place where Celeste stood waiting. I did not know what to say.
To my surprise, she smiled and hugged me briefly. Before I even asked if she could ride, she swung herself on the back of the beast. The sounds of background carnage were already fading. Celeste started down the road and I moved to keep up.
As I ran, I found myself wondering about the woman with whom I traveled. How many others would have reacted so calmly to my newfound powers? Did she know more about me than she let on, or was her love for me so strong that in her eyes I could do no wrong? As much as I hated to admit it, the incident made me just a bit more wary. Perhaps in time, I would come to understand the woman that I loved.
I had no trouble keeping pace with the horse. Celeste must have know I would be able to, though I couldn't imagine how. As it was late, we didn't travel much further that day.
Later, as Celeste slept, I found myself watching her and then I was
certain. She knew something she was not telling me, though I couldn't imagine
what it was. Eventually I drifted into a deep sleep that for the
first time in my memory was uninterrupted by dreams.
With the help of our newly acquired steed, we reached the City of Flame late the next day. We found accommodation in a small inn on the outskirts of town. The room was clean, but small. It didn't matter. I didn't expect to be spending much time there anyway.
Celeste started to unpack our meager possessions, while I paced the room. The restlessness that had once been a seed, had spread to the very core of my being, as if being in the vicinity of my destination was somehow affecting me. Somehow I knew what I had to do.
I watched her work for a few minutes, before speaking. "I want you to stay here and wait for me."
She shook her head, but didn't turn. "I've been waiting for you all my life."
I expected the reaction, but I couldn't back down. "Celeste, listen to me. I love you. You know that. I will be back, I promise."
She remained unconvinced. She stopped what she was doing and walked over to me. "I have been the recipient of more than one broken promise in my life."
"Don't you trust me?"
"Of course, I do."
"Then listen to me. I can't explain how I know this, but somewhere nearby are the answers for which I've been searching. I can feel it in my bones. And you can't help me where I'm going."
She stared at me for a long time. "I do believe you. It's just that we've had such a short time together. If I were to lose you..."
"You're not going to lose me. When I'm done, I will return. I swear it."
She stared at me for a long time. "Just be careful, that's all."
"I won't be long." I kissed her gently on the lips and turned
toward the door. I left the room without looking back.
Though I couldn't remember ever being there, I somehow knew the way to Castle Winterrush. I ran through the crowded streets, oblivious to everything but my need to move. Once through the south gate, I ran even faster. The woods on this side of the city were more dense than that had been in the north, though the trees weren't as thick. Still, the branches above formed an interlocking network the kept the sun from me, which was fortunate, considering how hot it had become.
An hour later, against a curtain of mountains stood my objective, exactly as I'd seen it in my dreams. I slowed now and approached with greater caution. I scanned the area with eyes sharper than any human's. There were far more guards than would seem necessary, some in the open, others hidden. Someone had been expecting me.
I moved forward, using my superior senses to avoid detection. Only once did I come too close to one of the hidden guards. We noticed each other at the same time. I snapped the man's neck without thinking about it. I could afford no alarm this early in the game.
I made it to the moat, undetected. Without even looking, I knew that the waters below would be stocked with the most horrible carnivores the Duke could find. A single glance confirmed my suspicion. Even I could not enter those waters and expect to live.
I looked across. The distance was perhaps a hundred feet. To this day, I don't really know what possessed me to do what I did next. I backed up and ran, jumping as hard as I could. To my astonishment, the leap carried me clear across the water. I slammed into the castle wall and fell to the ground. As I slowly climbed to my feet, I tried to understand what was happening. What the hell was I?
I shook off the thought and turned my attention to my surroundings. I stood on a narrow lip of land that surrounded the castle. To my left but out of sight, the drawbridge was open. Unfortunately, the portcullis was down. There would be no way to gain entrance from there.
I looked up at the windows far above me. No human could make that climb without falling to his death. Of course, no human could have jumped the moat either. I began to examine the wall more closely.
There were imperfections in the stonework that I had not at first noticed. Places where the mortar was rotted, or the stones were cracked would provide the necessary hand holds, though I wouldn't be able to fit my feet into any of them. I scrutinized the wall for a long time, before I started to climb.
With the strength of my hands and in some cases only my fingers, I was
somehow able to pull myself up. I kept expecting to hear a shout,
when one of the guards finally noticed me. For some reason,
it never happened. By the time I pulled myself into one of the windows
several stories up, my arms ached from the strain.
I lay there panting, finally feeling tired for the first time in memory. I waited until my breath returned before looking around. I was in a small room that might have been servants' quarters. Fortunately, it was not occupied at present. I didn't relish taking another life.
I took a deep breath before opening the door and stepping into the hallway. Then I increased my speed.
I moved quickly through castle corridors, never once questioning my destination. I was now certain I'd never been here before. Something was guiding me. I was surprised to find that I couldn't hear the sound of my boots as they struck the stone floor. Several times I passed people, but none noticed me and I knew I was invisible.
I made my way to ground level and below into the extensive underground vaults that lay coiled beneath the structure, like a sleeping serpent. Though it was dark, I was able to see. I continued onward until I felt the presence of the others. Then I slowed to a walk.
I sent my vision forward, around the corner. There were twelve of them, tense with waiting. I almost recognized a few and once again cursed my amnesia. They were wizards, all of them. Even through the art of far-seeing, I could sense the waves of power roll off them. They had been there since the news of my escape.
I smiled and shook my head. Not this time. I walked up to a wall and touched it, almost shuddering at the feel of stone in darkness. I pushed my hand forward and it sank slowly into solid rock. I kept pushing until my entire body was immersed. I passed easily through the wall, into a room with a single locked door. The mages, I knew, stood just outside.
In the room's center sat a silver box, locked with a large iron padlock. I approached, only now aware that it was the contents of the box that had been calling me. I knelt before it, grasped the lock in my right hand and twisted. At first it held, but as I continued to increase pressure, it bent, then shattered, sending fragments of flying metal in every direction. I looked down at what was left of the misshapen lump, then dropped it, no longer interested.
I placed my hands on the chest, hesitating only momentarily before opening it. I found myself holding my breath. The lid swung open easily. A small glowing orb floated inside, pulsing with energy. I was immediately captivated by its golden brilliance. I stood helpless while it rose, drifting slowly closer to my head. It disappeared from sight as it entered me.
For a moment, pain greater than any I'd ever felt, suffused me. I stiffened and through great force of will, did not cry out. Then the moment passed and I knew. The box contained my missing memory and it all came back to me.
Once, I had walked among the gods. I was a demi-god myself, child of Theros, the god of darkness, and a mortal woman. I found myself fascinated with the world of men, and though many of the gods had warned me against it, I continued to frequent the physical plane. It was there I met Celeste. I fell in love with her immediately and though it was forbidden, used my powers to grant her eternal youth. She would never die a natural death. As punishment for my crime, I was exiled from the god plane, which was fine by me. I had Celeste by my side.
At first, life was good. Celeste and I lived together, loved together and laughed together. I was as happy as I had ever been. For a time, our love flourished and the world was a place of wonder. If only it could have remained so.
It became harder and harder to keep my identity secret. Not that anyone knew who I was, but it was easy to guess I wasn't human. All it took was a few suspicious wizards to bring the matter to the attention of the council. More powerful men began to take an interest in me.
At first I stood up to them, not believing that there was anything mere mortals could do to me. Until, I became linked to the prophecy of the Destroyer, the Dark One who would lay waste to the world.
The arch-wizards united against me. In a battle that rocked the world, they stole my memory and locked it in the box. Because I was a demi-god they could not kill me, nor could they destroy my essence. The only option open to them was to destroy as much of my mind as they could and imprison me. This is what they did, but they could only hold me for so long.
Eventually, my mind regenerated. Over the course of time, it became strong enough to manipulate reality. My desire to escape was so strong, I was able to accomplish it subconsciously, not just this time, but every time. And suddenly I knew. This sad state of affairs had been going on for thousands of years.
Each time I was caught, Celeste would stay in the vicinity, waiting until the day of my freedom. The wizards dare not touch her, for even in captivity, they feared my wrath. As soon as I escaped, I would be drawn to her and we would begin our love anew. Celeste lived for those few months together, until the box, once again, would call to me. The wizards would wait for me to come and we would join in battle.
I could leave without confronting them, but it wouldn't matter. They would find me again, just as they did each time. I would kill one or two, perhaps more, before they managed to subdue me. And Celeste would be left waiting.
It was that single fact that fueled my anger more than anything else. Celeste had waited a hundred years or more to be with me, each and every time it happened. Considering my gift to her, she could not have a relationship with a mortal. He would age and die and she would be left alone. How many times must she have tried, before giving up to wait for my return? How many times had I done this to her? This time, it had to end.
If only I could convince the wizards I was not the destroyer of legend. Alas, it was not possible. Even if they wanted to believe me, they could not chance it. Therein lay the irony. They might yet drive me to be the entity they most feared.
I floated straight up through the floors of the castle. The mages were already aware that I had found a way around them, but were too late to do anything about it. I made it to ground level and then outside. I continued in this fashion, until I was back in Korash.
I floated unseen through the streets until I located our room. I willed myself there, passing through the wall as if it weren't there. Celeste lay on the bed, face down on the tearstained pillow. I had done this to her. Not the mages. Me. I solidified and sat beside her. She looked at me and smiled. "You're back."
I nodded. "And I'm never going away again."
She shook her head, tears forming anew in her eyes. "How can you say that? You know sooner or later, they'll find us. They always do."
"Not this time. Come."
She stood and I took her hand. Again I faded into the cracks between reality, taking her with me this time. She had never before traveled this way, and I could sense her wonder, but also the beginnings of dread. She thought and I read her mind. What are you going to do?
A thing I should have done long ago.
I floated over Castle Winterrush and into the mountains beyond. Far below, the great wizards sensed my presence, but in my current form, could do nothing to stop me. I kept going higher and further into the mountains, until we finally alit on a ledge overlooking the castle and the city beyond it.
"Raven, you're not going to do this."
I looked at her. "Have you a better suggestion? Do you want to wait another hundred years to see me again?"
She shook her head. "No. But you can't destroy the world. We've discussed this before."
"And we've tried every other option. This is all that's left to me."
I turned from her and began to prepare a spell that would release a force greater than the world had ever seen. She came toward me. "Stop it. It's not worth it."
I continued, driven by the futility of the situation. I would finally be able to spend my life with Celeste. As I continued, my concentration grew into a fierce thing. Nothing could stop me as I spiraled in on the grand finale of the summons. After a time, even Celeste's protests dissolved into the background. I felt the universe tense, as if preparing for calamity. Below, the countless living beings were completely unaware of impending doom. I was at the brink of the precipice and then I fell forward.
A wave of pure magic was born and flowed forth, ripping all life from its path. I was on my knees, only barely able to hold my own against the maelstrom. The wind rose to an eerie keen, perfect accompaniment for Armageddon. As I knelt there, the screams of the masses formed around me, penetrated me, but by then, I couldn't have stopped it if I'd wanted to. There was nothing to do but weather the storm.
For hours it continued, searing flesh, tearing deep gashes in the surface of the world, setting the seas aboil. When it finally died, the world was a steaming ball of sludge, rotating slowly in space. Nothing walked on land, flew through the air or swam in the sea. All that remained of life stood on a small ledge in the mountains. I turned and looked for Celeste. She was gone. I rose unsteadily and made my way to where she'd stood. I looked over the edge and she was there. She hadn't been touched by the spell, but had decided to take her own life, rather than to see the horrible thing that our love had wrought.
I threw back my head and released a scream of pain that ripped through the empty world with a force of its own. There was no one to hear. No one to comfort me in my time of need.
For how long I stood thus, I can not say, before I heard him behind me. I turned.
He stood there, a look of sympathy on his shadowed face. Theros, my father, stood on the ledge. I tried to speak, but emotion made a mute of me. He didn't have to hear my words. He knew them. He was a god. When he spoke, it was with compassion and wisdom. "Now you see why it is forbidden to grant immortality to humans. They can never be like us. They can never shed their attachment to the world that bore them."
I nodded, finally understanding. "That's why you exiled me. To teach me a lesson."
"That is why you were exiled. I am certain it is a mistake you will never repeat."
I looked one last time at the body of Celeste, lying crushed at the base of the cliff. Then I raised my head to regard the smoking remains of the world. It was all such a waste. If only I had been more clear headed. If only I had exercised more restraint. If only I had listened to her. My father put an arm around my shoulder and led me back to the god-plane. Still in shock, I followed.
I have lived many centuries since that day and never does a night pass
where I do not see the image of her body, lying in a lifeless heap.
I return again and again to the memory of our final moments together.
I now know the price of my sins...an eternity of loneliness. For
though I have searched world upon world, I have never found, and may never
find, another soul as flawless as the memory of my Celeste.
Steve Lazarowitz lives in Brooklyn, NY with his wife, his eleven year old daughter and enough animals to make a grown man cry. His work has appeared in numerous on-line zines including AnotherRealm, Exodus, Twilight Times, The Dragonsclaw Showcase (which he edits), Jackhammer, Dream Forge, Aphelion, Titan and A Little Read Writer Hood. In addition, release of his short story anthology A Creative Edge: Tales of Speculations is immanent. Steve has written numerous reviews for SFSITE and has recently signed on as the SF and Fantasy editor for Twilight Times Books.
This page last updated 1-24-99.
graphic by Max
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