Posted on April 29, 2005 by Flames
Part of an ongoing tale in the world of Conspiracy of Shadows.
Written by Monica Valentinelli
Risla twisted and turned as she slept on the hard ground, her thoughts hunting for answers to Malik’s words. How could she convince anyone that she was the one that would fulfill prophecies? And even if she had the second sight, she wasn’t sure she could speak false about foreseeing the future. Truly, she was anything but blessed. When she told Malik this, he not only reminded her how many people were relying on this belief, but that some people would lay their lives down for such a person.
“We must get to the Great Bath,” Malik had said to her. “And soon.”
It puzzled her that she could never remember to ask him about the Great Bath. Her thoughts ran in circles as an unfamiliar high-pitched voice prodded at the fringes of Risla’s dreams.
“My life can be measured in hours,
I serve by being devoured.
Thin, I am quick,
Fat, I am slow,
Wind is my foe.”
The feminine voice taunted Risla’s mind, forcing her awake. Forcing her to listen as the voice spoke rhythmic words in her head.
“I don’t have eyes,
But once I did see.
Once I had thoughts,
But now I am white and empty.”
More rhymes pushed at her mind’s edge, flickering in the shadows of her dreams. The insatiable high-pitched voice shook Risla’s worries free, consuming her. Instinctively, her mind shrouded itself from another barrage of words. Her body stirred, flinging her arms wide. Malik awoke, startled to hear words spoken from her mouth that were not her own.
“I am the black child of a white father
a wingless bird, flying even to the clouds of heaven.
I give birth to tears of mourning in pupils that meet me
even though there is no cause for grief,
and at once on my birth I am dissolved into air.Malik, be aware.”
At the sound of his name, Malik calmly sat up and wished his mistress would have chosen a different method of communication. If his mistress chose to infect Risla, no doubt it meant she was a more important pawn than he originally believed. What he didn’t know, however, is what the riddles meant. Something important must have happened, of that much he could be certain. Malik looked around him, wondering if others were listening. Satisfied, he sat back down.
“Yes, Mistress. I am listening to your wise words,” he said as he bowed his head in respect.
“No legs have I to dance,
No lungs have I to breathe,
No life have I to live or die
And yet I do all three.This beast killed one of our number.”
“What do I do? Find the beast?” Malik asked.
The tinny voice coming from Risla laughed. It grew louder, chanting unintelligible words that echoed throughout the forest sending waves of panic into the night air. Malik felt the promise of chaos comforting, as though he would be protected by it.
As the voice died on the night’s unnatural wind, it uttered the words, “She must believe.”
* * *
Risla twisted and turned as she slept on the hard ground, her thoughts hunting for answers to Malik’s words. To pretend to be his consort was a fate worse than that which she had left. Even if she cared for him, she wasn’t sure she could be a lover to another man. Truly, she was anything but in love with him. When she told Malik this, he reminded her that this was for her own safety.
She wondered why she forgot to ask him why it must be her. The thought died in her mind as she woke up from a sharp pain in her belly. She turned to the campfire and heaved her stomach’s meager contents into it. The mixture of bile and smoke reeked.
Malik offered her a hand. “Will you be alright?”
Risla nodded and then turned to wretch empty, shuddering breaths.
Kneeling, he asked her if she was with child.
Risla turned to him and froze. “I beg your pardon?”
“Why else would you be sick? And on such a glorious morning!”
She held her spit back in her mouth, and forcibly laid one hand on top of the other. Her body trembled in the rising, warm light as a hammer pounded against the inside of her skull. Her thoughts betrayed her to an inky blackness, melting into searing pain as her pain passed into safe unconsciousness.
Without a word or kind gesture, Malik threw Risla’s body over Challenger and began to walk toward town. He hoped that her encounter last night would not damage her too greatly. To lose her now would be damned inconvenient.
* * *
Malik, escorting Challenger and Risla, came upon the town’s boundary by midday. He was glad that his human eyes could see the magical boundary, for it meant that his mistress had a hand in its workings. He smiled, remembering her unnatural beauty. Truly, she was a goddess.
As they came upon the village a gentle fog surrounded them, its light touch pulling them closer. Tops of thatched houses and humble streets came into Malik’s view. A cobblestone well sat at the center of the town. As he reached closer, he could see that someone that someone was coming to greet him.
“What a beautiful village!”
A brown-robed figure walked toward him, almost reverently.
Malik stepped forward, handing him the reins. “Be sure to take good care of them.”
The speechless figure nodded and approached Challenger.
“Remember, Challenger needs to be re-shoed. Only the best blacksmith will do for my horse.”
A feminine hand patted Challenger gently. The horse knelt, and Risla slid onto the unpaved road. Holding out her hand, the figure waved a powerful substance that jerked Risla’s crumpled form back into reality.
“Wh-where am I?”
The woman, swathed in clothing, could only shake her head as if she were in mourning. She put a bandaged finger to her covered lips, and waved her other hand over Risla’s eyes.
A yellow haze burst over Risla’s gaze, coloring her view of the picturesque village. The other woman took Challenger’s reins and backed away, retreating into dim alleyways. Risla carefully found her feet. She recognized that this stranger put herself in harm’s way to show her something. But what? Flowers seemed to sing with the sun’s glow, children’s silvery laughter tinkled through the village even though there was no one to be seen.
Risla looked to Malik for a sign. He stood at the well, a smile beaming upon his face as he talked to…no one. In his one hand he held a cup of some kind, she could not see what he held in his other. Risla approached him gently, wondering if he was well.
Malik turned to her, blood pouring down his face as he drank from the base of a skull. His teeth gleamed white against the dark, staining substance.
Risla could feel something growing with in her, touching every pore in her body.
“What’s wrong?” Malik asked her. “Drink,” he said as he pushed the skull toward her. “It’s good mead.”
Risla’s feet propelled her forward, pushing her to run out of town. She closed her eyes, hoping her feet would fling her to a safer place. Something was horribly wrong here.
“Watch where you’re going!” a high-pitched voice wailed.
Risla opened her eyes to see a figure swathed in rotting bandages. Something dark and oily oozed from its skin. Piercing red eyes framed by grey, stringy hair bored into her mind. A gnarled finger pointed at her.
“Who helped you?” the voice asked.
Risla threw her fist into the foul woman before her. Cords of brown, putrid muscle grasped her fingers. Risla opened her eyes wide, and glared at the sickly beast-thing in front of her. Rage boiled, giving strength to Risla’s tired body. Closing her other fist, she threw it against the oozing face.
“What are you?” the creature asked.
Risla opened her mouth to reply, but found no words. Instead, she withdrew her fist and slammed into the thing’s skull again and again. The creature thrashed. Soon Risla’s slimy fist finally met aging bone. A crack sounded, and the thing fell to the ground with a soft thud. Risla looked upon it, her eyes glowing red with the light of vengeance. She poured her unexpressed mourning into the thing, and ripped its yellow-gray limbs apart. The creature twitched as Risla tore into its decaying flesh, throwing bits of rank meat and bone into a meaty whirlwind.
Sure she was done, Risla stood against the noonday sun. Sweat glistened on her skin. Her heart pounded in her chest, its urgency matching her desire to find…something. Another creature, perhaps? Bowing her head, Risla grinned as she realized she found her new name. She put a finger to her lips, as if she held a great secret. Holding out her hands, she watched as dark-brown blood dripped slowly onto the dusty ground.
She spoke quietly to herself. “Shhh…mustn’t tell Malik. Mustn’t say.”
Hearing Challenger neigh, Risla looked up from her outstretched hands and saw an old man holding Challenger’s reins.
“Who are you?” she asked.
* * *
He should never have let him burn the Church down. Somehow, Albin managed to save him. He wasn’t sure how much use he would be, his blackened skin would take weeks to heal. But, he supposed it was better than being dead. Maybe Albin was forcing him to reflect upon the secrets that he carried. Maybe, just maybe…he was left alive long enough to ensure no one else found those secrets. Maybe he was already dead.
“Healer,” he mumbled. His voice betrayed how sick he felt.
“Tomorrow, I wish to be taken down to the Great Bath. Would you help me?”
The herbalist looked at him in surprise. In this town, priests were not known for their humility. Closing a hand over the priests’ own, it was all the herbalist could do but nod.
With the assurance that someone would assist him, Father Quinton turned carefully on his side and went back to sleep.
To learn more about Conspiracy of Shadows visit the Bob Goat Press website.