David B. Corder
The stone hall was cold and dim, with a sputtering torch only every few yards or so. Footsteps echoed through the shadows as a woman passed through the hall, her walk strong and confident. Her eyes were keen and looked straight ahead, as if they saw something that they wanted and she strode towards it.
She came to a heavy wooden door, and with a quick wave of her hand, it swung open. She walked through, and with another flicker of her fingers shut it behind her. The room was circular and bore a basin in the center that stood on a small pillar. Aside from that, the room was empty except for a large window that looked out into the night.
She left the window, walked over to the basin and stared into it. To the untrained eye, there was nothing special about the water. But she could see a face beneath its surface; one that was not her own. It stared at her for an instant then faded into green meadows that stretched for miles and miles. She could see two people running across the grass, circling each other as if they were playing a game of tag. Slowly, the image faded, and all she saw was a patch of dirt with a single post protruding from it.
There was a quick stab of pain in her heart, and she shut her eyes. She buried it quickly. There was no room for weakness. When she opened her eyes, there was nothing in the water but the reflection of her own face. Taking a knife from her belt, she sliced her palm, her face empty of reaction. A thin line of red appeared in the middle of her hand and she squeezed. Tiny droplets splashed into the basin, dyeing it a pale red.
“Aedus. I summon you.”
For a moment there was no movement save for the swirling of her blood in the water. Then the water blackened and burst into yellow flame. The woman stepped back, clutching the knife as the flame rose to the ceiling. Within the fire she could see the silhouette of a shadow. The voice that echoed through the room sent chills down her spine, though she did her best to not let it show.
“Who summons me?” said the voice.
The woman spoke. “I, Tarja.”
The fire flickered and danced. “Tarja….yes. Your magic has been trying to take something from me. Trying.”
“Then you know what it is I am after,” she said.
“Your meager spells won’t be enough to take it.”
She glared at the pillar of fire. “Then what will?”
The flame dissipated and all was quiet. She approached the basin and looked in, only to find it calm and even clear of her blood. Feeling anger rising inside her, she almost tossed the basin across the room until she saw the water start to change. There was a house surrounded by trees. The image changed and she saw amber eyes that stared at her coldly. They were like the eyes of a wolf.
“The Eyes of Nasandar,” she breathed.
“You know of them,” spoke Aedus.
Tarja gripped the edges of the basin until her knuckles turned white. “My master told me of them once. They are an old magic, older than most of the Earth’s forests and mountains. They grant immense strength to whoever possesses them. But I thought they disappeared over a century ago.”
“Is that what your master told you, before you plunged a cursed dagger into his heart while he slumbered?”
Tarja didn’t reply and her bones quaked as Aedus’s laugh echoed throughout the room. “I know what you have done in order to get where you are now, little sorceress.”
She ignored him, still staring at the image of the eyes that seemed to pierce to her core. “What do you want?”
“Find the owner of the eyes and take them from him. Give them to me and you will receive what you wish.”
Tarja felt anger rise in her again. “You would use me as a pawn for your own dirty work?”
The eyes faded and Tarja jerked back just in time. The pillar of fire roared to life again and Aedus’s voice shook the room. “Watch your tone with me, whelp. I’ve shown you enough kindness by even considering a deal with you.”
Tarja’s anger still growled inside her, but she restrained herself. She had to do this. “Then give me the power I need to obtain what you ask. Give me the shadow power.”
“Are you sure?” the shadow flame said. “Magic this dark will cost you much.”
“I know what it will cost me,” Tarja said. “And I’m willing to pay the price.”
She stared at the shadow within the flames for a moment before Aedus answered. “Very well. Your wish is my command.”
A shadowy hand wreathed in fire reached from the pillar and grasped her wrist. Tarja cried out in agony as the hell fire seared her skin. After an unbearable few seconds, both the hand and the pillar of flame vanished. On her wrist was branded a wicked symbol that resembled a skull engulfed in flame. The pain was intense, and Tarja took deep breaths through clenched teeth.
“Whatever it takes,” she said.
Through much seer work, and an intricate web of potent spells, Tarja was able to locate the owner of the eyes. She was able to send him a message through the veil of time and space to come to her castle. She had a proposition for him.
A few nights later, Tarja looked down from the window of her circular chamber to the road that led from the castle to the edges of the forest. She was expecting to see a horse soon, bearing a rider.
“What do you want, witch?”
Startled, but not altogether surprised, Tarja turned to see two gleams of light in the shadows by the door. His entrance impressed her. But it also concerned her.
“I would prefer we conducted our business in the light,” she replied coolly.
Shadow melted from him as he stepped forward. Dark hair fell around his sharp face, and he stood with a relaxed but arrogant posture. He did not smile, and she thought him to be almost impassive. They stared at each other for a moment, his intense wolf-like eyes burning into hers.
She kept her composure as she walked towards him. “I suppose introductions are in order. I’m—”
“I know who you are,” he said and walked past her, coming to the window and staring out it. His hands were behind his back. “Tarja. Your name is quite famous around these lands, you know. Sorceress, Destroyer, Violent Angel. Caster of illusions on even the wisest elders. Slayer of monsters.” He turned to face her, a faint smile on his lips. “Why, I even heard a tale that you enjoy children for breakfast.”
“Actually, it’s biscuits with strawberry jam. But I have been known to scare a child or two.”
He chuckled and looked around the circular chamber. “I must say, for a lady of your beauty, this chamber is quite…empty. I would expect more lavish furnishings.”
“I am not one for cozy arm chairs,” she said.
“Ah,” he said. “But we all need comfort; we all have desires that would make our lives more pleasurable.” He walked over to the basin and looked in for a moment, as if he was contemplating something. Then suddenly he made a sound of disgust. “Bah, not even filled with wine? If this is your idea of hospitality towards your guests, I’m afraid I won’t be staying much longer.”
She snapped her fingers and a small wooden table appeared with two chairs. On the table were two silver goblets and a bottle of wine. There was also a small plate of crackers.
“Is this better?” she asked.
He grinned, flashing sharp canines. “Much better.” They sat opposite each other, and as she poured the wine, he popped a cracker into his mouth. Then he beamed. “Delicious!” She was silent as she handed him his glass. He took it and sighed. “Ah, now this is hospitality. So, my dear Tarja, how can I be of assistance to you?”
“I need you to help me kill someone,” she said.
“And who would that be?”
He took a long draught from his glass. “You can’t be serious?”
Her face was stone.
He looked at her for another moment then leaned back and let out a howl of laughter. “Aedus is a demon. Demons aren’t easily slain, and I don’t imagine I want to tangle with one. What purpose do you have for wanting to kill him?”
“He has something I want,” she said.
His eyes gleamed. “Ah, so there is a desire that you have, eh, Lovely? What is it?”
“That doesn’t concern you. All you need to know is that I want you to help me kill him.”
He rose from the chair and walked back to the window, his glass still in his hand. “But what do you have to offer in return?”
She placed a bag on the table. “Gold.”
He laughed again and took another swig from the glass. “Gold? Lovely, I have no use for gold. You see, for me, gold is mundane. Oh no, no, no, no, you would have to pay me with something much more valuable.”
“What do you want?”
“First off, the truth.”
Tarja blinked. “The truth?”
“You see, Tarja, I know that you are lying. You don’t want me to kill Aedus at all.”
She scowled at him, her body tense. “What are you talking about?”
His eyes flashed. “Fool, you don’t think I know about the poison? I can smell it in the wine!” The glass shattered in his hand and its shards skittered across the stone floor. She jumped back from her chair as he flipped the table between them, scattering the plate of crackers. “As if something so moronic could actually kill me. Do you have any idea how obvious this entire ruse is? I know what you want, sorceress!”
She stood silent, hands at the ready to cast a spell if need be.
He rubbed a thumb across his lips, staring at her. Then he sneered. “You want my eyes. You know what they really are.”
Still she said nothing.
“Well, let me tell you this. They can’t help you. They won’t increase your power.”
“An increase in my power isn’t what I want,” she said at last.
“Someone who was taken from me.”
“You mean a lover.” He shook his head, his hair a wild mane. “I heard a rumor,” he said, smiling. “That you started on your path to witchcraft after your village was burned to the ground. Was all you learned just for revenge?”
“So I thought at the time,” she admitted.
“And now you would use those powers to be reunited with the one you love.”
Her silence and the look in her eyes was answer enough. He scowled. “But why do you need my eyes? A resurrection spell doesn’t require such an ingredient. You just need a human sacrifice. And for you, those are easy enough to come by.”
“It’s because of what killed him.”
“And what killed him?”
Her face darkened, and her voice fell to a deadly whisper. “Aedus.”
There was a flicker of understanding in his eyes. “Ah.”
“I’m sure you know the story. Aedus captures the souls of his victims and tortures them for eternity. The plane on which he keeps those souls is unreachable by normal means of magic. So I contacted him and made him a deal.”
“My eyes for your lover’s soul.” He shook his head. “It all makes sense. I’m afraid however that you won’t be able to take them. They’re more than you can handle. Besides, I’m rather attached to them.”
“Easily fixed.” Her hands flickered together and a jet of flame shot out at him. He spun wildly and the fire soared past him, shattering the glass window behind him.
He grinned, his amber eyes gleaming. “You manipulate fire? Isn’t that ironic, considering that’s what took your lover?”
“Shut up.” Another jet of flame shot from her hands but he was as quick as a shadow. He ducked and rolled then sprang at Tarja. Her eyes grew wide and the sound of flesh being torn ripped through the room.
Blood poured down her cheek and onto her chin and neck from three gashes on her cheek. She felt the shock of being wounded worse than the actual pain. She had placed protective wards on herself; he shouldn’t have been able to break through them.
He was now on the other side of the room, his leap taking him past her when he attacked. Claws like lethal blades now extended from his hand where his fingers should have been. His eyes were now hot amber coals, glowing and fierce. His tongue licked her blood from his claws as if it was a sweet syrup.
“You are going to regret ever trifling with me, my Lovely.”
Her body went cold as his form began to change. His muscles expanded, his hair blanched white, and fur started to sprout on his skin. His eyes were now amber flame and he loomed over her by five feet.
“I thought you were just…” she said in awe.
The beast before her cackled. “Just what? A man? No Lovely, I am not a man—I am a god!”
He leapt forward and adrenaline took over Tarja’s body. She dodged just as he brought down his huge fists. They slammed into the floor and turned the spot into a pile of rubble. Once again, she opened her palm and fire shot at him. The flames engulfed him and she smirked to herself. Beast or no beast, she had got him.
The flame dissipated and Tarja felt her heart drop. There were no burns on his body at all. He sped at her and grabbed the front of her vest; again, her enchantments did nothing to shield her. “You are done for, wench.”
Tarja felt herself hurled through the air. She only had an instant to mutter an incantation that created an invisible shield around her body as she crashed through the ceiling. All she could see was a world of spinning bricks before her eyes, then she felt something clamp down on her leg. She was being spun around in midair, and then she was thrown downward like a meteor. She let out a cry as she landed on her back. The sound of both bone and stone cracking filled her ears. She was lucky; if she had not whispered her spell the impact would have killed her.
There were stars above her, looking down on her in contempt from their dark blue tarp in the sky. She could hear them. You’re weak, they said. You were too weak to save him when the village was attacked. Even now with all your spells and magic, you’re still weak.
There was the sound of stone being crunched under foot, and he stood over her, leering down at her with a toothy grin. “I told you, Lovely. You shouldn’t have messed with me. I’m too powerful.” He reached down and grasped her around her throat and lifted her as if she were a sack of potatoes. “And you…you’re too weak.”
Her eyes flashed and she drew a dagger from her belt and stabbed his forearm. He howled and dropped her. She landed in a crouch, whispering another incantation.
“Oh no you don’t!” The beast lashed out with his leg, but was halted by a sudden mass of black.
The beast gasped through clench teeth. He couldn’t move his leg. “Shadow magic?”
Tarja backed away, holding her blade in front of her, dripping with his blood. On her wrist, the symbol of the fiery skull was glowing. “Courtesy of Aedus.”
Despite his situation, he smirked. “It doesn’t matter if I kill you. You’re already damned, aren’t you?”
“I promised myself a long time ago I would get what I want no matter what the price.” Her eyes were cold. “Even the price of my soul.”
Her fingers danced in the air and the shadow that held him elongated and started wrapping itself around his leg. Other tendrils of shadow emerged from the darkness and snaked themselves around the beast’s ankles, wrists, waist, and throat. He tried to resist, but slowly he was lowered to his knees, completely incapacitated.
Tarja came towards him and got close to his face. She looked into the beast’s eyes, gently stroking the beast’s shoulder. Her fingers slid upward and tied themselves into his coarse snow- white hair. “I want to thank you for this,” she said softly. “Because of you, I can see my love again.”
He snarled in her face and she removed her hand from him. “Trust me, witch. You will regret taking my eyes.”
She stared at him blankly before she placed her fingertips around the curve of his left eye ball. “Trust me, beast. I will not.”
With a squeeze and a quick jerk, she tore out his eye and he released a ghastly howl. Before he could finish his cry, her hand flew to the other eye and removed it as well. As he cried out in agony, she looked at the eyes in her hand. They were like little round balls, with red pulsing veins and black dots surrounded by a circle of startling amber. Before her, the beast slowly transformed back into a man. His hair darkened, the fur receded, and the claws sheathed themselves.
He panted, dark red tears streaming from gaping holes in his skull. He turned his head every which way, as if he were trying to look around. “What’s going on? I can’t see! Why can’t I see?”
She looked at him dully. “Your whimpering is annoying. I no longer have any use for you.” She raised her hand and slowly contracted her fingers as if she were squeezing something. The shadow ropes started to constrict themselves making his muscles and veins bulge under his skin and slowly choking the life out of him.
“Stop,” he gasped. “What are you doing? Please! Have mercy!”
She showed none. Her fingers squeezed together into a fist and his body flew apart, splattering the stone with gore. Some of it splashed on her face, but she took no heed.
She left the pieces where they were and dropped through the hole in the roof back into the circular chamber. She walked to the basin. She wiped blood from the gashes on her cheek and dipped her fingers in the water. “Aedus.”
She had barely taken her hand back when the basin came to life with fire. The same shadow formed itself within the flames and the same voice sounded again. “Tarja. I take it you have succeeded?”
Tarja opened her hand where the eyes rested. There was chuckle that sounded like the rumbling of hell. “Good, good my child. Now give them to me and your beloved will return to you.”
“I have your word?” she asked.
“Of course, child. Once I make a deal, I always fulfill my bargain. Just toss them into the fire.”
Tarja looked at the flame then at the eyes. Smiling to herself, she tossed the eyeballs into the hot flame.
They disappeared and the flame seemed to twist violently. The faster it spun, the blacker it became until it was no longer fire but smoke. It continued to spin like a savage tornado, making Tarja’s hair fly wildly about her face. Then it began to slow, until finally it vanished.
Tarja’s heart leapt into her throat.
A man stood naked in front of the basin, his head bowed and eyes closed as if he were sleeping. She approached him slowly, as if she were afraid that he would vanish at any moment.
“Felan?” she whispered.
“Tarja,” he murmured without raising his head.
She rushed at him and wrapped her arms around him. It was his body. His scent. All those things that had been missing for all the long years, those memories that drove her mad every night. After all this time, after all the bloodshed, she finally had him.
She kissed his mouth then lifted his head gently with her hands. “Let me see your eyes.”
He did and her body went cold. They were not the sky blue she remembered. They were amber.
Felan sneered and flashed sharp canines. His hand, suddenly clawed, tore through all her protective enchantments, through cloth, through her flesh and bone, right out her back. His arm came through one end and out the other and in his hand was her heart. He whispered in her ear softly, “I told you that you would regret taking my eyes, my Lovely.”
As the last light faded from her eyes, she whispered his name slowly. “Felan.”
He brought his arm back and her body collapsed to the floor. “Sorry, Lovely. Felan is no longer here.” His eyes wandered over his blood-splattered body and he looked into the basin at his reflection. He smiled at himself. “Finally, a body without a soul.”
“It was quite ingenious when you think about it,” said a voice.
Felan turned around. Tarja was on her feet and looking at him, blood pouring from the open hole in her chest. “You get a soulless body so that you have full control, and I get the wench’s soul.” She grinned. “Everyone’s happy.”
Felan grinned. “Except for Felan and Tarja.” He looked at the heart in his hand. “They won’t be happy for a very long time.”
“At least they’re together,” she said. “However, I don’t think Felan will be too happy to learn what his once-beloved has become. She will suffer on a whole different plane of torture than he ever will.”
Felan sneered as the thought passed through his mind. “Well, I thank you, Old Friend. Once again your debt is paid.”
Her face fell. “You best be careful. Don’t forget you could fall as easily into my debt as I have into yours.”
“Of course. But I always do my best to avoid it.” He gave a toothy grin.
She rolled her eyes. “I’m done here. Enjoy your new body.”
Felan bowed his head. “Until next time.”
Tarja fell again to the floor with a dull thud. She stared with glassy eyes at his feet. Looking at the heart, he took a bite from it as if it were an apple. He spat it out and threw the heart across the room. It hit the wall with a sickening splat. “You were a poor deluded soul, weren’t you?” he said to Tarja’s corpse. She didn’t answer, and he cracked his neck. “Well, good-bye for now my Lovely. Enjoy your stay with Aedus.” And with that, he opened the door and left the chamber, leaving Tarja’s cold dead body on the floor, her blood forming a crimson pool around her.