|Holy the Dark
Author: lookingwest PM
His vampire witch magic knows the memories in your blood. Second drafting of I Never Said I Was Brave.Rated: Fiction T - English - Romance/Fantasy - Chapters: 14 - Words: 44,052 - Reviews: 139 - Favs: 15 - Follows: 20 - Updated: 04-18-13 - Published: 01-20-13 - id: 3093748
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Holy the Dark
They catch me and spin me human with a hex that rips and tears like nettles and barbs against my bone. They take my clothes and pull my hair. They bruise my eye, and my lower lip splits and swells. Blood pours into my mouth until I choke. A tooth works loose. I try to shape and the hex works tighter until I'm drowning, gasping, spitting up blood. My skin shades in yellows and deep purples. Two press me down into the concrete, scraping my cut cheek into the dirt. One straddles across my shoulders and works my fist open, digging his stubby nails into my knuckles until the skin tears. My breath comes in quick pants, constricted by the weight on top of me. I sob and whine. I want them to kill me, but what they do is much worse. Squirming underneath them, only horror subdues me. The one across my shoulders pries open my fist and forces a heavy silver ring down the middle finger of my left hand.
Then together, they lift from me, done and proud.
Numbness passes into my limbs. I turn my head towards the four grinning witches that have done this to me, unblinking and wishing I were dead. They are men with bright eyes and humming dark magic that winds and rips invisible across my skin. They taunt me, they taunt my goddess, and they taunt my people. Then after awhile they fear I'm dead. They circle me until one comes near. I flinch as he kicks me in my gut, knocking the wind from my lungs. His magic presses into me, a restrictive coil. They get the reaction they want as my shaper reflexes respond.
I try to take another form.
The pain is white hot, searing across my bone and muscle and joints. I can't breathe. The ring binds me human and now something breaks painful across not just my body, but my mind. I might go mad. I gasp for air until I can scream. Then I scream and scream and convulse. My shaper reflexes continue in rapid succession and I can't control it. I try to shape, I try to shape—each time the pain cuts deeper and deeper until I'm hunched fetal and screaming without sound. There is no sound because the pain eats everything inside of me until there is nothing left but cowardice.
In every life we experience a single moment that strips us clean and reveals what we really are.
I've been stripped clean.
I was once many great and terrible things.
Now no past lover of mine would recognize me. Blood dries onto my skin and matted hair until it itches and flakes. My natural form was always tall and lithe but now I've lost weight and spirit so I'm always hunching over. I have a new habit of squinting, my natural vision blurred with bad sight. My voice is always hoarse now—it never has enough time to mend because I'm always begging or holding back sobs.
Each day imprisoned by witches proves a miserable routine. I wake shuddering and clenching in pangs from the silver ring that binds my shaper magic. These pangs take hold whenever I'm startled or scared, which is often. The pain spasms and grinds my bone. It brings me to my knees or worse—sometimes I pass out unable to bear it. I hardly sleep for fear of waking. Humiliation and pride severed long ago, I do nothing but beg when I can. I kiss boots and eat any food thrown to me. I'm treated like an animal and spooked for laughs. I try and try but the cursed ring won't budge from my finger.
The witches keep me alive and use me as a translator for my first language. Sometimes the things I translate are useful and I'm rewarded for these rare instances, allowed more food or warmer clothes. But most of the things I translate are useless—dribbled lists of supplies, letters to loved ones, or badly written verse. I'm punished for these, startled more often so it causes suffering. They restrict my food or leave me shivering without blankets.
Kept in an old human jail cage in near darkness, I have only one companion whose corrupted presence makes sleeping soundly an impossibility.
In the first two days I didn't see him. I only knew there was something in the cage next to mine, something that never moved and never made a sound. But soon the witches came during the night, waking me with a start followed by a gripping ache and pinch in my limbs. I cried out, muffled in my blanket, and was soon wide awake. Something hissing and heavy was thrown into the cage next to mine.
Shapers and witches are not the only ones with magic in our dark country.
I could tell the thing thrown into the cage was a vampire by the way it moved, jittery and trembling. Half naked and starved it reached for me across the bars, grinning mad, its face gaunt and skeletal in the one small florescent emergency light. It begged me to come close, it promised it wouldn't hurt me. I pressed myself into the opposite wall, drawing my thin blanket around my shoulders.
Then I felt magic ripple the dark.
Witch magic is felt and never seen, save for rare instances when the mind tries to grapple with its synesthesia, desperate to create a visual. In these instances magic might appear as distorted air like heat rising in waves from a long paved road, but normally other senses, whether taste or touch or sound, will draw conclusions to make it known.
It occurred to me, as the vampire turned and peered into the shadows of its own cell, that the stifling atmosphere I'd felt in the jail the past two days wasn't my anxiety, but magic. Two whole days it worked into my skin and seeped slowly without my knowledge because I couldn't imagine magic as emotion. But now I felt it as if for the first time. It twitched to life in the jail, and my throat started to burn.
I gasped and found it hurt to breathe.
In horror, I watched as the vampire trying to claw at me was dragged into deeper shadow.
I could hear the sound of breaking bone. The cries from the scarified vampire rang high and shrill until it bubbled with guttural noises and went silent. Then there was nothing but the sound of torn flesh, and a gasping rattled breath that drank deeply and sucked veins dry. My mouth hinged in shock for a long time, until I realized my throat no longer burned.
The witches who threw the vampire into the cell were no longer watching. They were gone, leaving me alone with my jail mate.
It was then that I saw the first glimpse of him as he collapsed across the cage floor, his hair and face soaked in blood. He looked towards me once, his eyes dark but illuminated so I could see them fully, twin deep browns. Witches always have bright eyes. He started laughing, and I saw his fangs, sharp and bloodied, before he rolled into a fetal position with his back to me, clutching his sides. After awhile he crawled into the deeper shadow, still laughing like a lunatic as the tide of his magic brought him back to the vampire's corpse. I could see his outlined shape licking skin and chewing bone until there was nothing left but ash.
I didn't sleep that night, or the night after.
My jail mate is a witch—but worse, a vampire. Something corrupted that should never have lived. It's law and respected mercy on both sides of the war to kill any shaper or witch infected with vampirism, and I've never seen or wanted to fathom a survivor. His magic is twisted and wounded, a heavy thing without control or center, using the host of a body with only one drive and one need: blood. It drags across the floor and my skin and constricts like a snake, slow and deliberate. It's a sick thing tortured and swallowed by misery.
I wonder how long he's been here, with a hunger so great it eats anything—even other vampires. I'm no fool and expect him to come for me. I live in constant waiting fear that one day soon his magic will pull me to our shared cage wall and he'll force my arm and feed from it, tearing until I bleed out and die and they find him gnawing on anything left.
Every few days the witches come in the night and feed him vampires. The bags under my gaunt eyes deepen and deepen. As each day passes, the vampiric witch sits closer to our shared cage wall, as if my days are numbering. I don't notice until one day I look and can see him half cast in the emergency light florescent. He has a blanket soaked and dried in blood that he keeps pulled around himself, even over his head, shielding him from the artificial light. He doesn't speak and he doesn't move. He stays serenely still for hours and hours, something I'd never seen any vampire do. His magic, or what's left he has any control over, stays uncomfortable and dormant, until it unfolds and stretches when fed, wounded and disillusioned.
This goes on for weeks.
I start recognizing the names and faces of my captors, the worst of which is their leader Nikolai. Everyone calls him Niki. He wears a constant sneer and always has a cigarette hanging from his big mouth. He's clean shaven and wears a green canvas coat with decorations. He's some general of war I've never heard of and his magic sticks to him like sweat with a mind of its own.
Witch men are bad, but their women are always worse. They send their men off to fight their wars and they stand far away from the chaos. They use men like pawns in a great game. Niki is one such pawn. They say he has a wife and she pulls all his strings. I can't imagine anything worse than him, so his mate is a denied possibility. He's fiercely loyal to the witch king and what remains of the royal family. "You should count yourself lucky, mutt," he says to me on a regular basis, "the king would have your head, but I've found use for you yet!"
Then there's Robbie, who wears glasses I frequently borrow when translating. My eyesight's poor without my ability to shape. I pray to the goddess for him to stand watches as frequently as possible. He never taunts me or wakes me violently when I sleep. He averts his eyes if I cry out. His magic is that way—timid and inward. He confesses his nightmares to me, strange dreams full of myth and the death of his mother. I once brought up the topic of the vampiric witch, hungry for any information, but Robbie only expressed fear and would say nothing more, visibly upset and near tears.
There are almost thirty all together, operating out of a shelled police station in the once human-dominated capital of Cypress. Years ago the witches had their revolution and forced anyone without magic from our solitary country, driving them across the channel and across oceans. It was only a matter of time before they turned on shapers. A war was started, now nearing three years.
There are few humans left now, and most live in strongholds to the north, in self-described utopias too paranoid for their own good. Any humans that didn't evacuate the city in time are no longer human. Cursed by the goddess and birthed by war, vampires rule Cypress now, shrieking in the night, carnivore incarnate, running in packs so large they turn on themselves when they have nothing left to hunt.
As I understand it after weeks of observation—these are Niki's orders: to cleanse the city of Cypress in preparation for the return of the witches, who had lately pushed themselves deeper into shaper territory, busy driving my people into extinction. They were preparing to come home victors of a bloody war.
To uphold their orders, the witches leave in patrols of four or five during the night, venturing into the bowls of the dangerous city to hunt vampires. All return unharmed, save the monster in my shared jail. It was on one of these patrols that they discovered me chasing rats through back alleyways, lost and desperate. The night of my capture bleeds away each time I think on it, until it's almost completely missing, only halved by sensations of anxiety and terror.
Recently Niki has become increasingly agitated. This week is particularly bad, but I pry no answers, hoping for the best—that my people were fighting the witches from the northern shaper cities and holding their own. He forgets to feed me on more than one occasion until it's Robbie who remembers, handing me expired candy bars or sodas after his patrols—foods I throw up later after taking a piss, sick to my stomach from the sugar. Still, I always greedily eat what he gives. I wish him luck on his patrols, quietly and always conscious of being overheard by the vampiric witch who is now closer than ever—leaning into our shared cage wall and huddled in the nearest corner. Robbie never stays long now and his pity surfaces on his expressions when he leaves. He understand what I understand: it's only a matter of time before the monster bleeds me dry.
One late afternoon Niki orders me from my cage. I'm always glad to get away from the stifling atmosphere of corrupted vampiric magic. It clings to me, and if I didn't know any better, hates to see me go. It makes it as far as the door this time, until it pulls apart and folds back into the jail.
I'm led through the wide open expanse of the lobby floor and then into old offices. Every witch I pass tries to scare me into shaping. It works the first time and I manage to stay standing, jaw clenched through the pain. Each time it happens I think I'm prepared for it, but I never am. My shaper magic is sore and bled raw, and the ache follows me to Niki's office.
He wastes no time. "Morning mutt, sleep well?"
I say nothing and keep my eyes averted, but when I steal a side-glance I notice he's holding a book and leaning back against the edge of his desk.
He catches my look. "We found a human last night and she had this on her," he says. "So we want to know what it says. Catch!"
He throws it at me. I flinch as it hits my shoulder and lands heavy on the floor. Pain wraps tight and I'm glad for an excuse to go to my knees. I pick up the book, feeling its spine—hardcover and shaper bound. A first edition, as I come to find when I check the front pages, the stamp from the capital shaper city imprinted into the upper corner. I stand slowly and dare to smell it, inhaling as deeply as I can without appearing obvious. The scent brings tears to my eyes. I turn the first few pages, now shaking, until I see the title page.
Margot, it says, Achitophel a'Majwer.
"Well?" says Niki, inhaling his cigarette and blowing the smoke into my face. "What is it?"
I know he knows what it is, but I answer him because I must. "It's a book of verse," I say hoarsely. "An epic called Mar-got."
He rips the book from my hands and pages through it. I try not to appear interested, but look over his shoulder and catch the glimpses of numbered lines. "The great epicMargot written by the traitor Achitophel, eh?" he says sneering. He finds the title page. "The shaper who fled when the war came—who kept calling for the extinction of witches? Margot. Propaganda trash about a woman who brings the witches to their knees—complete shaper bullshit, don't you agree?"
He turns on me and I know he's waiting for an answer. For a moment, I think he knows who I am. Terror grips me so fast I recoil, expecting him to attack.
"Don't you agree?" he repeats. He glowers.
"I agree," I say, weak.
He hands the book back to me. "Destroy it," he says.
"What?" I tremble.
"Shred it, rip it up! Tear out the pages, yeah, mutt? Now!"
I start tearing the front pages on hurried command without thought, but as the pieces I've torn drift to the floor something deep inside me starts to slow my hand. I look up at Niki, seeking leave.
"I want every page torn." He grins. "And before leaving you'll spit on it." His magic slinks around me, enjoying my suffering. "I've heard this book's even banned by the shapers, so you shouldn't feel bad, eh? Now it'll be in its rightful place—under my boot."
I keep tearing. I was once many great and terrible things, but brave was never one of them. I'm shamed and a coward and so I don't defy Niki, I don't stare at him coldly with stoicism and hate. I weep silently and stay submissive. Each set of pages I rip from the binding rips something inside of me too.
He watches until he's bored and calls another witch inside. "Send out a patrol to the neighborhoods around 41st street, and find the human, brother. I want her alive. She'll help boost moral—and she's the perfect gift for the prince when we've finished with her."
I'm holding back sobs, my throat in pressured soreness as I let the wrecked book fall from my hands onto the floor.
"Now spit on it," says Niki.
My tears sting the cut on my lip and cheek. I spit and I feel like I'll be sick.
He calls someone in to escort me back to my cage and shows no intention of cleaning up the mess, walking his muddy boots through the torn pages as he follows us into the lobby.
Grimacing, corrupted magic welcomes me in the jail and makes my ears ring. It presses close and won't leave me alone. I want to walk it off, but I'm afraid to move with the vampire so close, leaning into the bars with temptation. His magic could turn on me at any moment, hex me, burrow in so deep it could twist out my guts. I tolerate and hold in my sickness, sitting stiff on my bed slab. Slowly, I unfold a piece of a page I'd saved, un-crinkling it from my fist.
For the first time since captured, I feel an unsettling stare and look to see the vampire peeking from his blanket. His magic twitches.
I avert my eyes, barely meeting his, and a chill passes over me. I accept his stare. I'm ready to die.
"I wrote poetry once," I share in a hoarse mumble.
I scour the saved fragmented verses and read them over and over until my eyelids droop and I go limp from exhaustion, letting the vampiric magic eat into me, sinking deep down into my stuck bones and my own wounded magic that once made me shaper.
But instead of twisting me towards death, the vampiric magic seems to pull me down into a dream, where I am young again and in my first lover's arms.
Pronunciation: Ah-kit-o-fell (Kit for short)
(C) Emily S. Lundgren (lookingwest) 2009-2012 (id423768); protected under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License; view via my profile link. (Cover photo of Sid & Nancy, I do not own any of the cover art on my fiction)