Samantha Lee’s Picture Choice: 2
Title: For Whom the Bell Tolls
I wake in a strange place, an unfamiliar place. I lay in a bed that is soft and plush with pillows and blankets coloured a deep, rich gold; it is nothing like the bare stone and dirt, the chains and iron that I last remember.
"You're awake." The voice is soft, hushed. I turn my head and see its source; there is a woman standing across the room, her back to me as she stares out the window and fiddles absently with some charm she wears around her neck. It is not a woman I recognize and she is the sort of woman one would remember. She is tiny, not even five feet tall and lithe. Long, blood red hair fading to white at the tips flows down her back in a sleek curtain, the colour all the more vivid against the black of her ball gown. Yes, if I knew her, even in passing, I would recall her but I do not.
"It's raining," she tells me. "I used to like the rain. I used to think that rain was how the world was washed clean, how the past was cleansed. I used to dance in the rain, for hours sometimes, hoping and praying to be made clean, to be made whole again. It never worked, though, and after awhile I gave up. I do not like the rain so much anymore...I think it's come to mean something different to me."
She does not turn around to look at me, does not move at all but for her fingers as they fiddle with her charm. There is something sad and forlorn, something lonely and fragile about her as she stands there in the growing dark and watches the rain fall beyond the window.
I do not recall how I got here. I remember pain, unending pain that just went on and on and on, and I remember darkness and a woman, dark and vicious and cruel, a viper in human-like form, but more beautiful than she had any right to be; a dangerous poison wrapped in lies.
"You're looking too far behind you, mo laoch," the woman murmurs. "You...you need to remember more, remember the end...remember the end so that I...so that I can tell you the beginning."
I think, my memory reaching back, groping in the recesses of my mind seeking answers. I remember the darkness, remember the rattle of chains and the scrape of metal. I remember the woman, the viper, coming to me. There was something...something she told me, something important that made me angry, made me furious. I remember...doing something, something I should not have been able to do.
"No one remembers anymore," the woman says, her voice almost wistful. "They don't remember what was, what used to be. They don't remember what they used to do in the dark, all alone, when their fear was heavy and their need was great. They...they don't remember me."
We called out, I remember. Once, long ago, when we needed help, when there was no one and nothing else, we would reach with our hearts, our souls, our minds for the one person we knew would always, always be there, would always be willing to come, to help. Once, long ago, there was no such thing as being alone. Once, long ago, we called out in the dark and were answered. But that was centuries ago; no one had answered in a very long time.
The woman laughs, the sound light and tinkling, like the chiming of small bells, and she leans forward to press her forehead against the glass. "As I said, mo laoch, no one remembers me. At least...at least not very pleasantly." She falls silent for several minutes and when she finally speaks again, her voice is barely a whisper. "You called out and...and I answered. Keep going. Remember the ending."
I remember the rush of power, the rush of energy that flowed through me. I remember my fury fueling me. I remember the energy opening possibilities, possibilities that had been. I remember the snapping of chains, the taste of freedom, the glory of long forgotten strength, the victory of finally, finally lashing back. I remember a sharp pain and the return of darkness.
"I...I'm sorry," she tells me quietly. "I didn't...I wasn't paying attention, didn't see until it was too late. I...You called and I was rash, I responded too...too quickly, too swiftly."
I frown, not understanding, and she laughs bitterly. "I handled things wrong, so very, very wrong and the cost...oh, mo laoch, I am so, so, so sorry."
Finally, she turns around, revealing her tear-streaked face for the first time. She looks young, so very young, and beautiful as only we can be. Her large eyes are a deep midnight blue sprinkled with twinkling silver stars. Freckles, unheard of for our ilk, are splashed across her small, pert nose. I recognize her now; I know who she is but she is impossible.
"Not impossible," she chides me, "just improbable. I...I made a mistake, mo laoch, a fatal mistake. I...I had to fix it. I'm sorry."
I still do not understand, not until the other man arrives. He is massive, so tall he must be almost double the woman's height with a warrior's physique. A mane of dark patchwork hued hair falls around his shoulders, framing a carefully groomed face too brutish to be consider handsome by most. Ram-like horns protrude from his temples to curl back over the tips of his ears and his eyes burn like fresh embers; he is not human, not by far. I recognize him instantly and how could I not? Centuries ago, his sudden appearance at Court had fueled the gossip mongers for decades afterwards. He had been the first of his kind and for a long time the only one; his mistress' accidental creation. She'd been but a child, her powers still largely unknown - no one could blame her for what happened; no one had even known it possible. The djinn, or former djinn as it were, had been dead eons; she should not have been able to resurrect him, not as she had. But she did and he had been with her, her loyal puppy, ever since.
The woman winces. "Khary, this is not a good time."
"Forgiveness, milady," the wraith, a being more ghost than flesh, murmured, bowing his head. "There is a vampire at the door; Elizaveta is requesting a meeting."
She sighs and rubs at her eyes with one hand, the other still fiddling with her charm. "How much does she know?"
"She suspects his final bout of energy came from you, knows that you took possession of his corpse, and assumes that you have transitioned him back around. Keeley believes that she wishes him returned to her now that he is...viable once more."
There is no warning; the woman snaps, her energy lashing out to throw the wraith back across the room where he crashes into the far wall hard enough to crack the stone. He does not get up. "Elizaveta can burn in the fiery pits of hell for all I care; he was never Aoife's to give, never Elizaveta's to harm, never anyone's but MINE!" Her anger is like a supernova, burning hot and bright and fierce, but gone just as quickly as it begun. She slumps and lets herself go to her knees, her head bowed.
I still do not understand. I do not understand what is wrong with her. I do not understand what is happening. I do not understand where I am. What corpse was it that the wraith spoke? Whose corpse? What transition? Was I injured? Am I here to heal? Am I free? Am I not? Will I have to return to the darkness? To being alone?
The woman laughs, the sound bitter and hollow. "You think you were alone in the dark, mo laoch, alone for so very, very long, with only that - what did you call her? - that viper and her tortures and the darkness but you weren't, you never were alone, not once, not ever. As long as I live, we are never alone. But that night...that night when you needed me most, when you called out from your corner of darkness for help, for guidance...I failed you. I reacted without thinking, without looking and...I made a mistake and then I tried to fix it."
She looks up at me then, through the curtain of her hair, her expression stark. "Your bell tolls, mo laoch; you're mine now."
Behind me, I hear the wraith, her wraith, grunt and groan as he gets to his feet and brushes roughly at his clothes. I hear his footsteps, see him walk across to kneel beside at his mistress' side like an obedient dog. A glance at his face makes it clear her violence has already been forgiven and forgotten. He is hers, to do with as she pleases, speak to as she pleases, command as she pleases. He had been dead once, dead for eons once, until she came and brought him back. She restored him to life, trapped half way between his living and ghostly states, sustained by her energy and bound to her will, to her life. He is hers completely, in a way nothing and no one else is.
And suddenly...suddenly, I understand.
You can read my blog - Calliope's Domain - over at calliopedomain.blogspot.ca