Readers will recognize this story as a project I tackled last year and inevitably put away do to frustration. Well, I'm back with it, and finally working out the kinks that had me hung up about it in the first place. If you guys would like me to post more, please consider leaving a review!


"I am Isis, Speaker of Spells, Mistress of Magic."

Meneith's lamp cast its flickering glow out across the curtains. Coaxed by the the breeze blowing in off the river, the tiny flame stretched towards the stranger standing in the courtyard.

The visitor's face was dirty and sharp and as beautiful as it was savage. Creases as deep as canyons formed above her long nose when her lips curled—a smile as much as a sneer. The woman's gaunt face cut through the darkness, and her belly, protruding with the unborn child she carried, stretched her tattered linen dress to bursting.

Hair, long and ebony, fell over her shoulders in snarls. Eyes glinted like polished coals beneath her sharp brow, colorless save the reflection of Meneith's lamplight dancing in her irises.

In her hand—her filthy, perfect hand—she bore a single lotus, her only possession. Once again the stranger raised her hand, offering up her flower, and Meneith saw it better. The blossom was the color of moonlight and the size of a platters. Dew like glass beads clung to its petals, quivering when the woman's arm shook.

"For your hospitality, I offer this lotus." Her smile stretched ear to ear, dimpling her cheeks and revealing her teeth. In the firelight they glittered like gold. "It will bloom in perpetuity. That I promise."

Meneith drew her heavy shawl close as a cold fist took hold of her stomach. The woman was a witch.

When at last she spoke, her words came in a rattling burst, sounding little more than a plaintive bleat of a lost lamb. "What do you want?"

The stranger's smile dropped from her dark lips, and the reflecting pools of her eyes ignited with some inner heat. The hand offering the lotus wavered, and as it drooped, Meneith's heart sank with it.

"What do you think I want?" asked the woman as she stroked her belly.

Meneith couldn't answer. The woman's flat expression and ember-colored eyes robbed her of words.

In the resulting silence the stranger slid out from the courtyard's shadow and glided forwards across the flagstone. Her feet were the color of dried mud, and starting at her toes, scratches encircled her ankles like strings of ivy. The hem of her dress was soaked a handbreadth deep in midge-infested muck.

Then, like goslings chasing after their mother hen, the scorpions scurried into the light after her.

Meneith nearly fell as she jumped backwards and tripped over her feet. She steadied herself against the limestone column at her side, but where her nails dug for purchase, they found none. Scared she might fall if she tried running, she froze instead.

The creatures were borne straight from the dark, lifeless waters of the abyss. The size of piglets, the scorpions scuttled over one another in their haste. They held their claws aloft as they battled for position at their mistress's feet, and their stingers swayed over armored backs. The barbs stabbing and slashing the darkness were as long as a finger and sharper than any lady's needle.

Meneith knew them even from afar—deadly fat-tailed scorpions. The sight of the woman's retinue killed the last of the queen's charitable notions. "C-come no closer! Stay away!"

And the stranger obeyed, halting mid-stride with an expression of such boiling ferocity that Meneith immediately regretted the demand.

The proffered lotus dropped to the woman's side. The lamp's dancing flame fled her eyes, leaving them flat and dark. Again she grabbed her belly, shielding her unborn child rom Meneith's shrill refusal.

The women were quiet as they stared at one another across the twenty foot distance between them. The wind drew out the curtains, as if the gods themselves were holding their breath in anticipation. Only the scorpions, their spindly legs clacking against the flagstone as they tumbled over the strange woman's feet, were oblivious to the prohibitive silence choking the palace.

At last the woman spoke, "I am Isis, Mistress of Magic and Speaker of Spells." Her jaw clenched, she added in a clipped tone, "I come seeking hospitality."

Meneith heard the warning in the woman's tone, but her eyes were drawn instead to the hissing scorpions at her heels. Their shining black armor clinked and their angry claws snapped as they jockeyed for the place closest to their mistress's soiled toes.

A stutter bubbled up through her constricted throat, "Wh-what a-a-are you?"

Meneith was a queen, ruler in her dead husband's stead, regent until her son was old enough to claim the throne for himself. She was supreme in these lands, and this woman was naught but a simple beggar. And yet the stranger could humble her with a single, condescending smirk. Who was this woman, that she could speak and glide with a regality even Meneith—a true queen—could not emulate?

For a second time the woman held up the lotus, as if its beauty might distract from the many-legged creatures accompanying it.

"I have explained all that is necessary. I have already asked for that which should have been unquestioningly offered. So I will ask again: Will you permit me into your home, or must I take myself and my offering to another?"

"But your scorpions—"

The smirk washed from the witch's face, replaced by a frown so deep wrinkles formed at the corners of her flat eyes. Her tapered fingers tensed around the delicate stem of the lotus, and her other hand, resting upon the crest of her belly, dug into the cloth.

"Scorpions or no, my question still stands."

Meneith's eyes darted from the woman's face to the monsters at her feet. She thought of her son in the moments before she answered. Her darling son, who was even now asleep in his cradle. The scorpions if admitted would go to him, drawn by his warmth, and then they would sting him in the night.

Her voice cracking, Meneith at last drew the courage to answer the woman's request. "I c-cannot have them in my—"

"So you would deny me entry?"

Meneith hugged the column, but the cold stone lent her no strength. "I'm sorry."

"Then I have my answer. I will take myself and my gifts elsewhere."

And just like that, the feral woman was gone, swallowed by the very darkness that had conjured her. Her companions followed in her wake, clattering and venting their own fury into the slashing of their barbed telsons and the clapping of their slender claws.

Meneith fell bodily against the column, her heart a swollen mass in a chest too small to contain it. She covered the thundering organ with a clammy palm.

"Sia," croaked the queen. Summoning her voice, she called again, "Sia!"

The lady's maid was there in a moment, helping Meneith to her feet. The stout woman steadied the oil lamp in the queen's quaking hand before she could slop it down the front of her nightgown.

Hidden by the darkness, the scorpions' spiny limbs tapped and jangled. They're lingering, Meneith realized, terror piercing her heart. Even after their wild-haired tamer had left, the scorpions haunted her, hidden beneath night's inky covers.

Why did they tarry? What was their purpose?

Meneith rubbed her chest, struggling to bring warmth back into her cold breast. She licked her dry lips and felt her racing heart through her sweaty dress. Leaning against her speechless maid, she asked, "Where is my son?"

"Asleep, my lady. Just as you left him."

Her words were still echoing in the entrance hall when the courtyard fell silent. The following hush howled in Meneith's ears, louder than the scorpions had ever been.

Her throat constricting, the queen hoisted the lamp higher. The blackness was complete, however, and the wick's tiny flame could do little to penetrate the oppressive gloom. Of all nights, the stranger had come on the new moon.

"Something's wrong," she whispered. She spun, and the oil sloshed carelessly in its saucer. Desperation flooded her legs with strength as she shoved past her maid.

"Something's wrong."

She plunged back inside her late husband's palace, barrelling down wide, smoky corridors. Her feet traced their well-worn path through labyrinthine corridors, past empty halls, and across stone as cold as frost.

Her feet pounded the brick and her tiny lamp was soon extinguished by the oil lapping over the wick. With each step she took, her world became a little more blurred and a little more obscure.

Because she knew. Deep down, she knew.

With a shriek, she stormed into her son's room, already too late to spare him.

There she found it, one of the witch's fat-tailed scorpions crawling from the child's pram. Dropping to the brick, the monster was skittering for the veranda by the time Meneith reached her son's cradle.

Darkness swallowed the vengeful scorpion as it had done for all the others. Within seconds the creature was gone, it's cruel task complete.

The baby wailed as his cheeks turned the shade of a ripe fig. The sting in his arm swelled and puckered, oozing putridness with each beat of the infant's weakening heart.

The child writhed, and the mother, cradling her beloved son to her heaving chest, sobbed into the fringe of soft hair coating his bloated, purple head.

It was her fault, she knew. Her fault.

And in the long night that followed, the palace attendants couldn't say who had cried loudest, the poisoned son or the mourning mother.

So it goes. Please let me know what you thought and if you would like me to post more chapters! In a nutshell, review, I want to hear from you!