Holy the Dark
by lookingwest


Achitophel

They catch me and draw me human with a hex that rips and tears like nettles and barbs against my bone. They claw my totem and they 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.

They watch me try to run, then laugh and yank me back into the road.

My skin shades in yellows and deep purples.

Two hold me down, press me into the concrete. My cut cheek scrapes with dirt. Another 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. I squirm underneath them until horror stops me. The one across my shoulders pries open my fist. He forces a heavy silver ring down the middle finger of my left hand.

I wait, feel numbness into my limbs.

They lift from me and I turn my head towards them. They're all men with bright eyes and humming magic, the kind of magic that kicks you in the teeth when you're down. I blink, wishing I were dead. Together they circle and they taunt me. They taunt my goddess, and they taunt my people.

After awhile they fear I'm dead and 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: my shaper reflexes respond. I try to take on my totem shape.

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 gasp for air until I can scream. Then I scream and I scream. I can't control my reflex. I try to shape, I try to shape—each time the pain cuts deeper and deeper until I'm hunched fetal and making noise without sound. There's no sound because the pain eats everything inside of me until there's almost nothing left.

In every life we experience a single moment that strips us clean and reveals what we really are.

I've been stripped clean.

I'm a coward.

They string me along and show me off. Their leader makes me speak. I can't keep from crying, I say: "Please, let me die." He grins. He tells me to say it in shaper. "I know," I say in shaper, "the wind tells you'll kill me." Their leader hands me parchment scrawled with my native language and tells me to read it to him in Angle. I squint and my hands won't stop shaking. I read it in Angle. He looks pleased. Then he leaves and we wait. The witches stare and I think to hide my groin with my cupped hands. I sway, straining to keep my weight shifted on my good leg.

The lighting is rigged electric and it flickers when their leader reappears. It casts deep shadows where their magics hide. The leader's holding a book in his hands and has a cigarette hanging from his mouth. He tells me they found this book on a human woman just the night before, while they were cleansing the city of vampires. He describes how he's been honored with cleansing the city upon the return of the witch king and their people once they'd finally exterminated shapers from the northern woodlands.

He gives a long pause and I only stare, unblinking, unhearing.

Then he holds out the book and takes the cigarette from his mouth. When I reach I grimace. The muscles in my arms are raw and strained. But then I'm feeling the book's spine, where decorated binding threads run in paralleled lines—I run my bloody hand over its hard cover. The front pages mark it as a first edition, and my finger smudges the stamp from the shaper city imprinted into the upper corner. Margot, says the title page. My memories blur, whirl up in me and cause my throat to sore. I know every word by my heart. Achitophel Majwer. Fox.

The leader leans and when he exhales, smoke billows the first page of verse. He wants to know what it says.

"It's a book of long poetry, an epic, a narrative," I say, hoarse.

He rubs his stubbled chin and he takes it from me. He looks at the title page and pronounces it Mar-go. Then he throws it to one of the watching witches. "Rip it up," he tells them, "it's just propaganda trash." He wants me to agree with him.

I agree with him, tears leaking from my swollen lids. "Please, brij," I say, "let me die."

He shakes his head. "Translator," he says, and he taps my forehead. His cigarette ashes onto the floor.

They bring me into a jail drenched in magic that ripples in the shadows when we enter. It sticks thick on my skin like humidity. Witch magic is never really seen except in rare instances when it shivers like mirages of heat. But that's only when the mind plays tricks, trying to give sight to something that isn't really there. Magic feels like tasting the color of a bruise. Like seeing the sound of a scream. I know right away something's strange: they've put one of their own in here. They've jailed another witch.

"What goes bump in the night, little fox?" they tease.

Then I see starving vampires reaching from the bars of cages, skeletons in rags, rotting skin and haunting grins. I imagine them tearing me limb from limb and I wonder just how long it would take until I could finally die and let go of all this hurt. Some of them start to fight over me, peel each other from the bars, snap and snarl. I think of how I was once many great and terrible things. Now no past lover of mine would recognize me. The blood drying onto my skin and spattered in my matted hair starts to itch. My natural form was always tall, tanned and lithe, but after years of desertion I've lost weight and I'm always hunching. The vampires blur in a harsh white light, and my vision crinkles around the edges.

But they don't feed me to the vampires.

They pull me to the end of the jail row and they push me against the outside of the corner cage's bars while they search for keys. The corner cage is darkest and the magic is thickest. I hardly keep myself standing. When I inhale I inhale the low hum of ill witch magic and it spreads through my insides and pours out my caked wounds.

I stagger just as something catches at my arm and for a moment I think something has me—my breath hitches—but then its grip slacks when I fall in a jolt of panic that sends me backing across the floor, peering into the blurry shadow.

I catch my full glimpse of him: his hair and his face are soaked in blood and his hands are chalked with ash. His eyes are full deep browns with an eerie glow of crawling magic. Witches always have bright eyes no matter how dark. I watch his smirk edge madness, and I glimpse his fangs when he grins, his mouth bloodied, dangerous. He puts one bony finger to his lips and slinks with his back to me, turned into the deepest corner where he hunches as I stare with my shock leaving me immobile.

The stench comes all at once and my eyes water. They have to drag me into my own cage because I can't move or accept what they've kept caught in the corner cage. A witch turned vampire; a monster far worse than I could've imagined. I've seen things during this war between my people and the witches, terrible things that jolt me awake and shape me human and scared. But I've never seen anything like my jail mate. I'm so still I'm not shaking anymore. When I inhale, I keep inhaling his wounded magic, clouding invisible and loose in the air. It won't shake from me. Witch magic is never seen. You can only feel it like hearing the taste of your blood in your mouth. His magic is sick and I don't want to wonder on how he came to be; I don't want to wonder on why.

After a long time of listening to him hunched in his corner making strange noises, I recognize what I hear are eating sounds. The noise of tearing dead skin and blood sucked from tendon and muscle...

When my eyes adjust I can see an arm in the shadows, strewn and half stripped down to the white of the bone.

I close my eyes. But the sound won't go away, and I'm left alone with him in the dark.


Revised: 5 Sept 2013 - cut about 1,000 words, condensed, took out the majority of exposition, shortened Kit's jail time, re-situated reader in medias res

Pronunciation: Ah-kit-o-fell (Kit for short, and he's male)

(C) EMSL (lookingwest) 2009-2013 (id423768); protected under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. I will not hesitate to file a DCMA infringement report if my work is stolen or posted elsewhere without my permission. (I do not own my cover art, found via wehearit)