When the Devil fathers a daughter, a maniacal she-demon named Natalia. All of Russia knows her as the Shadow Princess. She is a bloodthirsty, yet heartbreakingly beautiful. For decades, she's stalked the Taiga Forest in northern Siberia, killing all who trespass on her 'kingdom'. Rated T for violence and lots of blood. Enjoy, my lovelies! :)
The Shadow Princess
Deep in the Taiga Forest, the shadows never disappear. When the moon shines, the shadows deepen as the silver moonlight accents them, and when the sun filters through the boughs of the black pines, the shadows grow as black as night in contrast to the golden rays. And travelers that trek through this night-black forest are gambling with their lives, for every so often, a flash of pale skin, or green eyes, burns from the shadows. Any Russian who glimpses these rare flashes of life is lucky to be alive, for any who sight the Shadow Princess are marked for certain death.
The Shadow Princess is the child of the Devil Himself, made to carry out His evil deeds. She resides in the heart of the Taiga Forest, and from there she takes the lives of the fools that venture there. Her beauty surpasses that of any mortal's; her long, black hair falls in a straight, soft river to her lower back, her green eyes sparkle with dark merriment, and her alabaster skin seems to burn with a blinding white light. Many say that it is impossible to be as lovely as the Shadow Princess. This is, of course, her greatest weapon, as she uses it to lure foolish men and women to their deaths. The Devil blessed her with extraordinary speed and stealth, a voice that resembles that of a Siren's song, and a long, curved knife with a black blade, a cruelly sharp weapon known as the Obsidian Scythe. She is a cold, bloodthirsty she-demon with razor sharp fangs, and her Father's temper. Her Russian mother named her Natalia, a good Christian name, praying that she would not follow the will of the Dark One that created her. However, her prayers went unanswered, and Natalia, the maniacal she-demon, was set loose upon the Taiga.
Natalia streaked through the shadows, her eyes shimmering like the stone they so resembled. They were bright with excitement, as she could smell him. The farmer, Ivan, who tilled the land on the outskirts of her domain, was wandering through the shadowy trees, drunker than a sailor at port. She could smell him: the sweat that flowed from his pores, the tears that fell from his eyes, and the fear that rolled off of him in waves. And the wine. Oh, yes, that beautiful, sweet wine. The drunken ones were entertaining; they forgot that she was stronger, faster than them, forgot the legends. Some tried to run, some tried to fight. Each of them died, torn apart by the Obsidian Scythe. And Natalia would laugh, each time, her eyes sparkling with cruel mirth as she watched the life pour out of them in a sticky, crimson river. She loved this, the hunting and the mind games she played with them.
Ivan had stumbled into a tree; the dull thud echoed through the otherwise still forest. Natalia grinned; this one was drunker than she thought. Oh, yes, yes this would be fun. She slowed her pace as he came into view. Stowing the blade beneath her black cloak, she put on a concerned façade, and stepped from the shadows, thus beginning the hunt.
"Sir? Sir, are you alright?" Natalia laughed inwardly at the innocent, bell-chime voice her Father had given her. Ivan looked up at her, his eyes watery and glazed from alcohol.
"W-what? Oh… hello, lass… I'm p-perfectly well, no need to worry… I just seem to have… bumped m-my head…" His voice had that dreamy, faraway tone that stemmed from too much cheap wine.
"Now, you just rest her, mister, and I'll fetch you something for it," Natalia turned as if to leave.
"N-no, wait-t… You needn't g-go through-h all that trouble, lass… I-I'm a b-b-big, st-strong m-m-man…. I-I'll be f-fine…" he stammered, lurching awkwardly to his feet. Natalia turned back to face him.
"Well, in that case, you ought to go home, sir, or you'll catch something." She took a step closer to him. Ivan's eyes bulged from their sockets; he may have been a drunken man, but he was a man still, and the fact that an attractive woman was standing this close to him was having quite an affect. Natalia smiled, her blood-red lips revealing pearly-white teeth. Ivan stepped closer to her, and then shouted in shock. One moment, he was about to touch her; the next, he was pinned to the tree by his throat. Natalia was still smiling, but it was malicious now, instead of friendly. Ivan squirmed helplessly in her iron grip, and she pulled the Obsidian Scythe from within her cloak.
"You're a fool. You drink yourself into oblivion, and you forget the legends, the tales, the warnings… You forget me. You know who I am, beggar, I know you do. Everybody knows me…" she prompted in her lovely voice that now dripped with scornful mirth.
"The Sh-Shadow P-P-Princess…" Natalia laughed at the fear that quaked in his voice.
"You're right to fear me, mortal. Send my love to my Father, won't you?" And with that, the knife drove deep into his side. Crimson blood sprayed from the wound, and when she released his body, Ivan crumpled to the ground. The blood gushed from his body, staining the snow that surrounded him scarlet. Natalia stood over him, laughing, her knife dripping with blood, and her head thrown back in a manic fit of joy…
…Princess Elena scampered up the closest pine tree, and stood upon the highest branch, her hand clinging to the trunk as the wind whipped at her long, brunette hair.
"Elena, get down from there! You'll fall, and break your neck, and I do not wish to explain that to Father!" Elena looked down through the boughs, a peaceful smile upon her fair face.
"Do calm yourself, Yelena, I'm coming!" she called back to her sister as she bounded back down to earth. Her twin, Princess Yelena, jumped back as Elena landed gracefully on the ground in front of her, spraying her with snow.
"Honestly, Elena, I can never comprehend what you so enjoy about climbing trees. I'd be ever so afraid to look down at the Earth from so high," Yelena remarked as the sisters continued their walk. Elena gave her sister a bored look, and rolled her eyes, but didn't reply. As they strolled through the snow-covered forest, the scurrying sounds of their stewardess, Katalina, could be heard in the silence. Elena gazed fondly around at the trees, inhaling their fresh scent. She'd always loved the Taiga, with its tall black pines, branches heavy cones and furred with white snow. It was just so… peaceful here.
A stiff wind ruffled the girls' dresses and blew back their hair. Above them, the sky was growing dark with snow-laden clouds.
"Pardon my saying this, your Graces, but perhaps we should be heading back? Your father would be very displeased if you were caught out in a storm," Katalina called from behind them. Elena glanced at Yelena; her sister's eyes were studying the sky, which was indeed darkening with snow-laden clouds.
"I believe we could stay for awhile longer without consequence. We've only been out for a few moments; it would be a waste of a trip to leave now," Yelena replied. Elena grinned, and gave a little hop of excitement. Yelena flashed her a disparaging look, and Elena flinched, ashamed. Her late mother's voice rang in her head, recalling how she was often scolded for her outgoing, boyish ways.
'Calm yourself, Elena. That behavior is not at all befitting of a czar's daughter. Show some respect!' Elena cringed at her mother's irritated tone as it echoed through her thoughts. She was right, however. If she was the czar's daughter, she ought to show some respect and dignity. Straightening her posture, Elena continued on with the graceful, elegant gait of royalty. After all, nobody questions a monarch…
… Hours passed, and still the storm had not come. The threesome had stopped to rest beneath a particularly thick-boughed pine. Katalina pulled out her knitting, and worked to pass the time. Yelena read a book, and Elena lounged in a branch far above their heads. The wind brushed through the thick undergrowth, rustling the leaves and sending the snow that had rested upon them into the air. Elena shivered slightly; it was getting rather cold. Perhaps they should head back… No. It had taken a lot for Elena to convince her father to let them come here. She wasn't about to throw all of that away because she was a bit chilled. Nearby, a bush rustled rather loudly. Elena gave a start, and nearly fell from her perch. She tried to tell herself that it was only the wind, but she realized with a jolt that the forest had gone still. She scrambled down the trunk, and the three huddled together, staring at the plant with wide eyes. There was a flash of something metallic… and then Yelena had fallen to the ground, blood spraying from around the knife that was buried deep in her chest. Katalina dove behind the tree, gasping in terror. Elena went to follow her, but was stopped in her tracks as something sharp pierced the skin on her back with a dull thud. She fell to the earth, writhing in pain and horror, feeling the sticky blood stain her dress. Darkness began to close in on her vision. Just as she was about to give in to the suffocating black, something rolled her onto her back. As her blurry eyes focussed in on the face, she found herself staring into a pair of cold, intelligent eyes. The Shadow Princess.
"No…" she tried to scream, but it came out as only a breathless gasp. She couldn't breathe, couldn't feel anything.
And then she was gone…
... "What?" Czar Vladimir shouted. Grief twisted in his stomach like a snake. Elena and Yelena, dead?
"How can this be? What happened, girl?" he growled at Katalina, who cowered at his feet. Her rosy cheeks were wet with tears as she recounted the tale. Once she'd finished, Vladimir realized that there was no way that she could be lying.
"No… not my daughters… not my beautiful daughters…!" he whispered, his voice cracking as he buried his face in his hands. That was how he remained for a few moments, allowing his grief to pour out of him. Then, he straightened himself, and called out for Aleksandr, the captain of the Imperial Army.
"Take all the troops, and go to the Taiga," he commanded once the captain stood before him.
"And what, your Grace, is our purpose there?" Aleksandr asked, almost tentatively.
"Avenge my daughters. Kill the Shadow Princess."…
… Natalia had seen the servant girl hide, and had seen her run away once her charges lay dead in their own blood, but had let her go. Now, she was hiding from the full force of the Russian army. Curse the girl.
Never before had Natalia doubted that she could take down whatever prey crossed her path. But usually it was drunken farmers, or unlucky travelers, or the like. Now, she had a whole army to take care of. Curse her weakness for royal blood. And curse that girl. Curse her to the hottest depths of her Father's realm.
Natalia drew her blade over the flint she'd always carried, her ears delighting in the faint squeal of metal against stone. And, as she sharpened, she contemplated the problem that this situation was presenting her. She'd never faced the possibility that she could be defeated; what would happen to her if she were to die? Natalia allowed the thought to dwell in her mind for but a moment, before she shook her head impatiently. She'd been granted with the gifts she needed to win. She couldn't be beaten. But still… Perhaps, just to be safe, she'd pray to her Father. She'd been told after her birth that, if she ever needed assistance, all she'd ever need to do was to ask.
Yes, she thought, I'll pray to Father; I'll ask him to protect me, to save me if needed. And, as that thought put her mind to rest, she slipped the Obsidian blade back into its sheath, and sat back in the tree she'd been perched in for almost an hour.
"Father… It is your daughter, Natalia. I made an error this morning… And, now, I am worried that it will cost me my life," she murmured, closing her eyes.
"Yes, I saw your mistake, child. I will not lie: it was rather irresponsible of you to let that girl go. But, I think you have learned your lesson, and so I will not punish you for your misdeed." Her Father's voice echoed around her, soft as a breeze, yet loud as a scream as it seemed to pulse around her.
"I was wondering, though…"
"What would happen if you were to fail? Yes, I knew that, one day, you would inquire this of me. My dear child, I gifted you with all the skills you would need to survive, and thrive, within these trees. You are as strong, as fast, as agile as a cat. You can steal through the shadows of the black pines without so much as a rustle, if you so choose. You dazzle men with your unearthly beauty, and your Siren's voice. Use these skills to your advantage, my child. You will find that, by doing so, it is very difficult for you to fall short." Her Father's voice faded away, until it was nothing, and the only sounds in the forest were the winds rustling in the pines.
Natalia opened her eyes, and sighed. She'd used all her skills in the past, and they'd never failed her. But that was when she had faced only a couple unwitting opponents who'd never been anything but prey for her. Now… now, she was faced with a great number of skilled warriors who were coming to find, and kill, her. It was nothing she'd ever experienced before, and she simply could not fathom how she was to succeed. But she had to try, if for no other reason but to make her Father proud. She stood, and sprang from the tree, landing silently on the soft ground below. Straightening up, she removed her cloak from her shoulders, and slung it over a branch. She then squared her shoulders, and slid silently into the shadows. She was ready…
… An hour passed before Natalia heard her adversaries' less-than-graceful approach. The men moved with such unpracticed, heavy strides, and each footstep sounded loud and intrusive to Natalia's sensitive ears. She curled her lip in disgust. What clumsy oafs…
Gliding forward, she stalked next to the column, her footsteps softer than silence. The men didn't notice something was following them, though they were all on edge due to their assignment. Natalia grinned slightly. Perhaps this would be fun.
As the army marched on, Natalia played with the soldiers. She'd rustle a bush, sending a whole line of hardy men scrambling for their weapons. She'd allow them a glimpse of herself, only to disappear like smoke when they investigated it. She could almost taste the fear in the air, and was pleased to know that she was the cause. All along their path, she drove them more and more insane. Finally, they stopped. Their commander, a tall, burly man with broad shoulders, and serious black eyes, turned to face the skittish column.
"We have been moving for hours, and those 'sightings' of the Shadow Princess have all been nothing. Instead of using this tactic, which is far to slow and thunderous, I am splitting us up into four groups. Each of us will go in a separate direction. Shout if you discover the Shadow Princess, and the rest of us will come and find you. Understood?" A murmur of assent rumbled up from the assembled men. Natalia watched, almost fascinated, as they separated into quarters faster than she would have thought possible. They moved out, each marching in a separate direction. Natalia smiled again, and glided after the commanders' group. Time for a little bloodshed…
… "We aren't having any luck, Ivan. Perhaps we should return…"
"No! The Czar trusted us to find out what happened to the army. We will not fail him, Peter, I swear it." Natalia looked up in faint surprise. It had been almost a week since her encounter with the Russian army. The Czar acted quickly, she thought, dimly amused. She decided to follow the scouts, to see their reactions when they found the army.
Natalia had been picking off the commander's men for almost a half day before he'd finally called out a challenge. She'd gladly accepted, and emerged from the trees behind him. Within moments, his head was gone, and the rest of the men fell into chaos. Shouts for help rose up, mingling with the screams of pain, and cries for mercy. Natalia had laughed. She was the Shadow Princess. When did she ever show mercy?
When she'd finished with the army, the forest was bloodstained for miles. Natalia had feasted well that week, and now, she would get the distinct pleasure of watching the scouts dissolve into turmoil as well. She would let them return, however, but not completely unscathed. After all, the Czar would need a clear message of why you should never challenge the Shadow Princess.