Written for and winner of the December 2010 Writing Challenge Contest from Fractured Illusion's forum The Review Game.
Once, when the world was still only slightly flawed, it was common to venture into the dark, sinister corners of the world to fight the demons of men. It was an era of incarnation of sin, when monsters waited at the fringes, biding their time for when some hapless creature would stumble upon them and inadvertently take them back to their homes to spread the disease of iniquity. It was noble to dedicate one's life to keeping sin from foraying into the world of humankind. It was dangerous, for temptation always eventually took those who chose to devote everything to protecting the world safe from damnation. It was a fate chosen only by the young, for only youth can believe that it can do no wrong, that it is immortal. It is only the young that do not know the folly of wanting to conquer a million sins.
When he saw her the first time, she was in the middle of a metal forest, preparing tea. A lyre lay in the hollow of an iron tree's roots; a small fire lashed at the kettle next to the table in the small clearing. She did not wear shoes, and as he recalled how only fools went barefoot, he pitied her, for fools should always be pitied. Her hair was long and dark and wild and matched the tilt of her auburn eyes, all abandon and freedom and wicked.
"I've been waiting for you," she said. "Come drink with me."
Leaves crumpled and crinkled under his boots, the color of twisted copper. He was so taken aback that he could not refuse. She poured the tea into a cracked tin cannikin, and it tasted like wandering. He could not resist cupful after cupful, drinking greedily this meager offering of peace. He was breathless when she tilted the empty teapot to show him there was nothing left, a wry smile on her wine-red lips. He remembered what he had come to do, but he could not remember how to do it. His eyes wandered to the roots of the iron tree, to the instrument that so begged to belong in the crook of an angel's arm and words came, unbidden, to his lips,
"Can you play for me?"
With a sinful little grin she took the lyre to her breast and sat on the the leaves, legs folded primly beneath her. She strummed the strings with a bone plectrum, winding a melody that was like butterflies and the footfalls of the cat.
He was enthralled.
Night folded the woods into a treacherous place that he could not trust even his own heartbeat. His own life could betray him to the snap of the predator's bite. His eyes remained vigilant in the darkness, and he mused that light reflected in his eyes the same strange way they did with wolves.
She slept like a fox. There simply was no other way to describe it. He imagined - perhaps even expected - she grew a bushy tail, that her face turned pointed and whiskered, that her dark hair coiled into scarlet fur. He did not sleep that night, for he, like anyone wise, knew that one should never fall asleep in the presence of a fox.
At dawn, he blinked seven times, nodded twice; and when he turned to where she had been slumbering, she was no longer there. Table, kettle, cup and lyre, all gone.
He hunted her like the woodsman a doe. He tried to forget the heady taste of earth and lust that had been so well-captured in that cup: the sound of delicately fluttering wings and graceful poise. He tried to forget what ungodliness felt like.
He found her again, a year of searching later. I remember you, she seemed to say with her hands. She was wilder now, torn and tattered at the hems. She seemed scattered and vague, her eyes constantly moving - never still, never at peace - and it seemed only fitting (he withdraws) that her mouth press against his (he is frightened). It seemed only sensible that he let her gather herself through him (she lets her clothes fall to her feet), tuck those corners into their respective places (there is silence) and tie everything into neat little knots (her hand reaches out to touch his neck) so that they could be carefully put in order (he does not fear her anymore). He learned, in the midst of this melting flesh, that she had a way with not saying words. She let her fingers do all the talking.
It was quiet in the small hours, with only the distant rush of air brushing the surface of the world to disturb the silence. It was then that she would move to comb back her tumbling hair with her hands, her back turned to his semi-slumbering form. Her skin changed colors when she thought he wasn't looking, and he never said anything. Instead, he watched the play of hummingbird hues dance across her back and was entranced.
Time passed. He did not utter the words he had been sworn to say. Instead, he did the exact opposite.
"Come back to civilization," he said. The words came like dreams to a sleeper, inevitable and unpredictable, tainted with an oblivious untruth. "Come to the city with me."
She smiled, wide and vicious-predatory. Easy to envision the same expression on the jaws of a ravenous wolf, but he could not forget the innocence of the color of birds when she would stretch, how her shoulders seemed to become wings of their own, splashed with blue and red and green.
When he took her to his people, they withdrew from her, for they were frightened. She walked, still barefoot, on a floor of stone and fine wood that was wholly foreign to her. Her hackles rose and her gaze was proud, for with only her eyes she dared all of them to spit on her face as she would have had anyone laughed. Then she let her clothes fall to her feet, and there was silence. She reached a hand out to touch his neck, and he knew that vivid shades of scarlet and lime and cerulean writhed along her skin. His people did not fear her then.
Her breath rustles in the air and tastes like what it is to stray from the path; lands delicious on the tongue bitter like the orange rind and just as vivid. Everyone's eyes are fixed on her now, and they are full of adoration, they are adoring, they venerate her. She laughs like a jackal and dances like a crow; she flickers in the light, reminiscent of water bending to wind, and how the sun takes its chance to blind everything with beauty by crossing the surface of a rippling sea or river. She belongs to the city, they say. She must have come from the depths of this society, this sort of mankind, it becomes her -
Just as how she has become the saint of the fuck, forever etched in the halls of his mind, and he begins to worship her. He knows he isn't the only one; he could sense the rise of his people, how they all had a heretic reverence for this heretic woman - and how ironic it was, to canonize a witch, and oh! how so unholy.
It is then they begin to fall. It is there they forget that fools should be pitied, not exalted. This is how they forgot that one must never fall asleep in the presence of a fox.
She eats all of them alive. There is no struggle. They dwindle in number, one by one, each corpse sprawled across stone and fine wooden floors, and as anyone could have expected, she has saved him for last (he suspects many of his people must be jealous, dead though they are). She comes for him, wild and sinful twisted in her auburn eyes, tangled in her dark, long hair.
He does not hide. He does not run.
"I remember you," she smiles at him.
He imagines - perhaps even expects - gore to be smeared upon her face, blood dribbling from her lips, fresh from the hunt and the kill and the fuck; he imagines and expects her to moan and rock and scream, shameless and sluttish like the whore she always was and will be - no, no, he sees her all abandon and freedom and wicked, a million different colors spiraling about her body, and he simply cannot remember anything but butterfly melodies, songs that were so very like the footfalls of the cat. But finally, he cannot shake the impression that he has fucked the devil's jester. He is going to fuck the devil's jester.
Her mouth closes on his skin.
He closes his eyes.
He does not withdraw, though he is frightened. Her clothes fall to their feet. There is silence. They reach out to touch their neck. They do not fear.