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In general, I do like your work quite a lot. Your model is a very lovely woman, and it's an authentic type of beauty. I also like the s...

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In any recording of events, any number of details may be left out, thought to be minor or inconsequential by the one writing. In thinking back to some of the details I've left out so far, I realize that I have become jaded. Things that in themselves would have others writing and going on the talk show circuit for the remainder of their natural lives have faded into the background of other things to me.

One such event that comes to mind took place shortly after our initial meeting of Joshua and his friends. While Simon and I were eating at a restaurant in Old Town, he picked a solitary person out of the crowd by his thought patterns – a serial killer.

Simon took a strange offense at the thought of this serial killer – not the natural aversion one has to such activities, but instead... well, in retrospect, it was sort of how a professional may look down at an amateur or dabbler. That's a moderately disturbing thought. I believe it was the killer's delusions which had irritated Simon so. Simon never has had much patience for those he saw as narcissistic or delusional.

As for what happened, well, use your imagination. Simon was a skilled necromancer, and this was a serial killer he was following around. I had mixed feelings about his tactics at the time, but now I can't help smiling at his occasional sense of mischief. Perhaps I will write more on that one at a later time.

Another such example would be a time that we staked out an abandoned open-pit mine overnight. The place had a reputation for demonic hauntings. Some had speculated that these hauntings were the actual reason the mining had stopped. In truth, however, it had simply stopped being economically feasible for the company operating it. Still, though – the stories coming from there did make our ears prick up. At some point late in the night or early in the morning, the scenery around us slowly began to change until instead of an abandoned open-pit mine, we were in the middle of a forest straight out of fairy tales. We both felt a profound sense of depression when we saw the forest, a sort of depression that communicates “never again” or “gone forever.”

Some time later, Simon explained that the haunting was likely from an elemental spirit, displaced by the ruin of the area to which it had designated itself the guardian. It is from this experience from which I draw most of my understanding of elemental spirits.

While that experience was profound, I would find it difficult to dedicate more than a couple paragraphs in passing to it. While somehow being profound, it was but a minor detail to a much larger picture. Simon and I chased ghosts and hunted what many would call demons. We sought out knowledge that had been hidden or forgotten for millennia. We've seen what lies beyond, and much of what lies in-between. The extraordinary had almost become the same as the mundane for me. I began to see the world in a different way with various little bits of hidden magicks now in plain sight.

For his part, Simon had told me that he was impressed with my progress. He said that I was extraordinarily clever, and that my skill in the arcane was developing much faster than he had expected. I found necromancy to be particularly intriguing, although I was rather shy about it. I suppose that in a way, it made me feel sort of like a pushy telemarketer calling during dinner, though rather more profound.

Simon found my shyness amusing and kept pushing me. “You command them,” he would say. “You don't ask them for favors.”

“It just feels weird,” I said. “Waking up the dead and ordering them around. I mean, is there anything wrong in particular with trying to at least show them kindness?”

Simon regarded me for a moment. “Not in particular, no. But you must also remember that the dead do not think like the living. In general, they do not care about things such as respect and kindness. They also may be quick to seize a perceived opportunity and turn on you.”

I often thought back to the cat that Joshua had butchered. I remembered its fear when I initially trapped its spirit, but then its eagerness when I calmed it and pointed it back to Joshua.

Speaking of the cat, its spirit was now coming to me with increasing regularity. I actually found myself looking forward to its visits. Sometimes it would simply watch me from a distance, sometimes it would curl up in my lap and quietly purr. Never while Simon was around, though. It seemed to have a strong aversion to Simon.

I also found myself drinking somewhat less. I still very much had a taste for Irish whiskey, and I still would sometimes fall asleep in an alcohol induced stupor, but it was becoming a less common occurrence. Not necessarily out of conscious effort – I just felt less inclined to do so. Perhaps it did me good to effectively wipe my childhood home out of existence. Maybe that fire took some of my childhood with it. I imagine that for many, that's a depressing thought... but for myself, numb oblivion is perhaps the best I can hope for.

***

So, this brings us more or less up to date. Simon was becoming more and more frustrated with our search for the strange one who assisted Joshua and the others in raising a demon. He was asking me every day about my dreams, and when I told him that I'd dreamed of nothing remarkable, he would ask me again about my past dreams. I suppose I understood why he did it, but I still found it intrusive. I figured that much of what my dreams told me was intended for me alone, and I wanted to keep it that way.

As his initial frustration mellowed, he occupied himself with more frivolous things that he found entertaining. One example I can think of would be a new age author and healer who was in town to promote his newest book. Simon sat patiently through the speech, then quite easily made a fool of the writer during the question and answer portion. He always managed to come off as polite, but still somehow cutting. I almost felt sorry for the writer. Almost.

Eventually, Halloween came. I'm not sure what I had been expecting, but so far, the night had been uneventful. Simon and I sat in his library drinking whiskey and reading. Outside, there was a chill wind that came and went in gusts.

I remember that night fairly well still. The night seemed full of restless energy, but I could not think of anything worthwhile to do with that energy. Nevermind that Simon was a Magus and I his apprentice, and this being the night in which the veil between the two worlds was at its thinnest. For lack of anything better, I was reading Poe, and was in the middle of the Masque of the Red Death as Simon gazed at me thoughtfully.

“Michael, have you ever wondered how it is you will meet your demise?” Simon asked then.

“Kind of, I guess,” I answered. “Not sure how much serious thought I've given it.”

“What if I told you that I could show you your death?” he asked.

“I'd be skeptical, unless I believed you were about to kill me,” I answered. “I've never been one to believe in there being a set future.”

“Yes, certainly we do have free will, but we also have paths and purposes,” he said. “It is those that determine our final outcome, whether for better or for worse.”

“Isn't that contradictory?” I asked.

“Let me give you an example – if the death you are shown is the ocean, what does that mean?” he asked.

“Drowning, I guess,” I answered.

“That's a likelihood,” he said with a nod. “But what led up to it? Were you on a voyage and overtaken by a storm? Were you tied up in chains and thrown into the ocean? Were you tempted into the depths by bare-breasted sirens? Or maybe you just foolishly stumbled off a pier?”

“So, you can show me my death, but not the circumstances?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said. “One can learn much about himself through the experience.”

“What's involved?” I asked, my interest piqued.

“Simply looking into a mirror,” Simon answered. “A rather specific mirror at an old friend's shop, to be fair.”

***

Simon drove me to an area downtown. Not the part that says, “this is where the action is,” but instead the part that says “things have kind of moved on from here.” The ones who hadn't moved on from here mostly lived in the perpetual gray of the chemicals that made their lives more bearable. Simon parked his car in the pale, dead glow of a mercury gas streetlamp. He then led me into a narrow alleyway between small apartment buildings – apartments that made my old one seem light, cheery, and luxurious by comparison.

We continued down the alleyway past a number of other buildings, many abandoned. It all felt surreal, somehow. In the distance, I sometimes heard music or police sirens, but the loudest sound in that alleyway was our own footsteps. Finally, we came to a single, unobtrusive door illuminated in the red-orange glow of a sodium vapor lamp. Simon shook the door open from its worn frame and we stepped inside. In it was a long hallway. There was not much remarkable about it – the floor was concrete, the walls were white, and the light was sickly. There was something about that hallway that was profoundly depressing. Somehow, it communicated the despair of those outside whose only concern was to seek chemical numbness.

At the end of the hallway, there was a metal door – not especially heavy, nor did it stand out significantly from the other doors in that hallway. In my mind, I heard a faint whisper, then I heard a lock click. Simon opened the door.

Inside was an occult shop such as we only see in the movies. The light was a dim golden-red color, the shelves were filled with every manner of curiosities imaginable, and there was in the air a strange incense – one that seemed somehow familiar, but I could not imagine where I may possibly have recognized it from.

Further inside sat an old man dressed in somewhat traditional Asian garb, drinking tea. He quickly took notice of us and got up.

“Simon, my old friend,” he said with genuine pleasure.

“Aditya,” Simon acknowledged. “It's been far too long.”

“And who is this one?” Aditya asked, looking at me with intrigue. “He carries a great weight with him, it seems.”

“This would be Michael,” Simon said. “He's my apprentice.”

“A worthy one, I think,” Aditya said. “You'll want him to look into the black mirror, of course?”

“Of course,” Simon answered.

Aditya bowed his head and held out his hand.

“After all this time, Aditya?”

“Apologies, Simon,” he answered. “Business is still business, after all.”

Simon grumbled as he pulled out his wallet.

***

I was led by Aditya and Simon down a long hallway dimly lit in an eerie red light. There was a strange sense of being watched from all directions as we walked in silence, as though unseen forces eagerly awaited my seeing my fate.

As we walked, I began to wonder if I actually wanted to see my death after all. Would it change anything? It seemed like something most people would think they wanted to know, but a little frightening in reality.

Finally, we came to a door made of ornately carved wood accented with red fabric panes. I looked to Simon and Aditya.

“This is as far as I can go,” Simon said. “What's in there is for your eyes alone.”

Aditya opened the door and bowed his head, gesturing for me to go inside. Wary, but unable to resist my curiosity, I stepped into the room, the door closing silently behind me. Incense smoke hung thick in the air, the room dimly lit in golden light and draped in red. Ahead of me sat a large, flat, polished slab of obsidian. Not sure what to expect, I walked toward the slab, which I had guessed was the black mirror.

For what seemed several minutes, nothing happened. Then I noticed slowly, subtly, the flat surface facing me began to lighten into a cloudy gray. Dark shapes began to move in the gray mist, eventually coalescing into one form. Hazy at first, the form began to take shape.

The shape was distinctly that of a woman, although no features beyond her silhouette were apparent. She seemed to somehow embody everything I wanted in a woman. She seemed to me somehow to be the incarnation of love and desire, although perhaps it makes no sense for me to say so purely from a silhouette. Nonetheless, it seemed to speak more to my mind than it did to my eyes. In fact, even immediately following this vision, I could at best only give a vague physical description of the shape I saw in the mirror. I would not have recognized anyone who fit that silhouette. I am guessing that the mirror only used imagery to make it easier for the mind to accept what it was being fed.

The shape in the mirror began to fade, and so did the mist, leaving behind a simple slab of polished black obsidian. I suddenly felt light-headed, and my legs weak. I collapsed to my knees, which as it turned out were padded by pillows on the floor I had not previously been aware of.

“Greetings, apprentice,” said a woman's voice somewhere behind me.

I turned to look, but my vision was distorted. The room almost seemed to writhe around me, and I felt a faint sense of vertigo. But I did notice the silhouette of a woman rising from a divan. Her movements had a peculiarly ghost-like quality to them. “Who are you?” I asked, trying to shake the feeling of vertigo and regain my senses.

“You'll regain your senses with time,” she assured me. “As for who I am, I am the Guardian.”

“Guardian?” I repeated dumbly.

“Your guardian, at least for the time being,” she purred, moving closer to me. She was truly a strikingly beautiful woman, dressed in traditional Eastern garb, much like Aditya had been. Hers however, while ornate, seemed also to be more functional. She also wore a strange sword tucked under her sash.

“Why do I need a guardian?” I asked.

She crouched to my level. Her face was now inches from mine, wearing a slight mysterious smile. I could only guess at what her thoughts may have been. The small space of air between us was feeling very warm. She gently took my chin in her long, graceful fingers, and turned my face back to the mirror. Instantly, I launched myself backward away from the mirror. There were in it now a number of dark shapes that seemed human only in the vaguest sense of the word. Their shapes were of the long-dead – emaciated and distorted, with vacant, hungry expressions as they clawed desperately at the mirror, doing their best to try to break through at me.

“It's not often they get that worked up,” the woman said, seeming impressed. “You must have something they really want.”

“They wouldn't be the first ones,” I said, thinking back to my encounter with the skin walkers.

“They will not be the last, either,” she said. “You are a strong one, I think. Very handsome, too.”

There was something about her voice, about her mannerisms, even her fragrance, that had an intoxicating effect on me. I found myself very much wanting to impress her, to know more about her, but I could think of no dignified way to broach the subject. I could only dumbly follow her lead. At the same time, alarm bells went off in my head, remembering what the mirror had showed me. It would be a cruel irony if my guardian from what lurks in the mirror was to be my death.

“My name is Maya,” she said. “Come, I will lead you back to the others.”

***

I felt as though I were sleepwalking through a dream. Maya herself still seemed somehow ethereal and ghost-like. Her wrist was gently linked through the bend in my elbow as we walked in silence. I felt as though there were so much I wanted to ask her, but I didn't know where to start. All too soon though, we were back in the main part of the store where Aditya and Simon sat having tea.

Aditya gave Maya a stern look. “I see you've met my daughter,” he told me. “I hope she didn't bother you, but she is necessary to ensure... certain elements stay on the proper side of the mirror.”

Just then, I briefly felt Maya's sharp nails dig into my arms. “How is your tea, my father?” she said in a voice that seemed simultaneously subservient and bitterly mocking, walking toward him.

“Your wit is becoming dull and tiresome,” Aditya said pointedly.

“No, father,” she said. “My wits, like my kris, are always bright and sharp.”

Simon gestured for me to exit with him as the two stood staring coldly at each other.

“What was that all about?” I asked when we were outside.

“Maya is young and she is restless,” he answered. “Aditya has very specific ideas about how a daughter should be, and she is not living up to them.”

***

We made the drive back home in silence. I was still feeling as though I'd been drugged, and Simon seemed more or less aware of it. Idly, I wondered what he saw in his turn in front of the mirror. He quietly walked me up the stairs and to my bedroom.

“You can tell me what you saw in the morning,” he said. “For some reason, looking into that mirror takes a lot out of a person.”

As I fell asleep, I vaguely remember the ghost cat lightly jumping onto my bed, laying on my chest, and purring me to sleep as it stared at me intently with its green eyes.

***

I was in the room with the mirror again. No one else was there, and there was no way out of it. “Michael...” my name was called in a musical female voice.

Slowly, I gravitated to the mirror. In it was again the female figure, but it had begun to take on more distinct features, until in that mirror stood the incarnation of all my desires. Slowly, I recognized her – the Midnight Haired Woman from my dreams.

“Are you my death?” I asked her.

“I am also your life,” she answered.

“Who are you?” I asked.

“Life and death,” she said. “Is that not enough?”

“How can I find you?” I asked.

“When the time is right, I will find you,” she answered.

I woke up to the cat growling, its tail lashing side to side. It seemed to be looking past me, its eyes wide and ears laid back. I looked behind me, but saw nothing. The cat then let out one angry sounding meow, then ran into a shadowy corner where I continued to hear it emit a low growl. I got up to look out the window to see if something outside might have spooked the cat. I found it a very interesting thing that a ghost cat could be scared so.

Looking down in the golden-red light of the street lights, I saw a lone figure straddling a black racing motorcycle. While I was feeling more lucid than I was earlier, I could not get any particular sense from the lone figure outside. It was certainly strange however that the person should be simply sitting in front of Simon's house for so long. Maybe they were the one who spooked the cat. Feeling a little uneasy myself, I put on a t-shirt and jeans along with boots, and tucked my sword under my jacket before going outside.

As I walked outside, I could feel the figure staring at me, making no move. When I got within ten yards, the figure removed the helmet, and I recognized Maya.

“Why did you follow me?” I asked.

“It's part of the service,” she said.

“What service?” I asked.

“With the mirror,” she said. “Remember, I am your guardian.”

“Do I still need one?”

Her eyes flashed in irritation.

“I'm not complaining,” I said quickly. “I was just caught off guard. There's a lot going on that I don't understand.”

“Indeed there is,” she said, her voice still having a hint of flint in it. “Come with me.”

I began walking toward my Firebird.

“What are you doing?” she said. “I said to come with me.” She gestured to the seat behind her on her motorcycle.

“Oh, umm... okay,” I said. I didn't trust motorcycles, and the thought of sitting on something that was barely a seat even in purely technical terms didn't appeal to me, but Maya hadn't left much room for argument. Awkwardly, I got onto the motorcycle behind her, noting that she still wore her peculiar short sword. I fumbled around to find something to hold onto, causing a heavy sigh from Maya, who then took both my arms and put them around her waist. A quick rev of the engine, then we were off.

***

Although I had begun to feel more lucid since the experience with the mirror, being near Maya had once again caused me to feel intoxicated much as I had immediately after the mirror. The city lights went by in a blur as she nimbly maneuvered between cars. Even as she drove the motorcycle, I noticed a faint, pleasant fragrance of jasmine and lavender coming from her.

Eventually, we came into the downtown area not far from where the shop was. Maya rolled her motorcycle to a stop in front of some depressing-looking apartments. After chaining her bike to a light pole, she led me into one of the apartments.

The apartment she led me into was nothing such as the exterior led me to believe. All the walls were draped luxuriously in red velvet and silk. Incense hung in the air. Maya stepped behind a privacy screen to change out of her riding leathers, and when she came back out from behind it was dressed in a kimono.

“If you don't mind my asking, why did you bring me here?” I asked.

“To protect you,” she said. “I have been the guardian of those who gaze into the Black Mirror for many years now – since I was twelve years old. I have seen many people step in front of it, each with a different reaction. It is very rare for the spirits of the mirror to behave in such a way as they did with you. It's very rare for them to even reveal themselves such as they have. There are only two other times I've seen them do that. One of those times was with your master, Simon.”

I twitched involuntarily at Simon being referred to as my master. Although I've freely acknowledged such in the past, for some reason, hearing her say it bothered me. Perhaps it was the tone in which she said it. “And the other?”

“The other was myself,” she said.

“What did you see?” I asked without thinking.

She gave me a hard look for a moment, and I felt ashamed for asking. Her gaze softened after a moment, however. “I'll tell you mine if you tell me yours.”

“I saw a woman,” I said.

“Was she pretty?” Maya asked.

“Very,” I said. “The most beautiful I've seen.”

Maya flinched slightly as though shaking off a momentary annoyance. “A betrayal, perhaps,” she said.

“I really don't know,” I admitted. “And I only saw the silhouette. What did you see?”

“Maybe I'll tell you later,” she said as she reclined against me with a slight twist of her body. Without realizing it, my hand found her waist. She sighed contentedly and leaned her head back against my shoulder, giving me view of the soft curves of a breast which had become fully exposed. She either didn't seem to notice or didn't care.

What followed was the most passionate love-making I have ever known. To say that someone makes you feel like a virgin all over again has become a tired cliché, but I'm at a loss to figure another way to describe it. There was nothing casual about it, nothing lazy or sloppy. We worshiped at the altars of each other's bodies, setting every nerve to tingling with the mind still always reeling in anticipation of what would come next. It felt sacred, and I had never known its equal before or since.

***

When Maya returned me to Simon's mansion, the sun was still hiding behind the mountains. The sky was slowly lightening, and the autumn chill was in the air. As she sped off on her motorcycle, my emotions were in a chaos of confusion. What had just happened? Was I in a relationship with Maya? Did I want to be? What would Simon think? Not to mention her father...

She was certainly beautiful, and she was mysterious – perhaps too much so, as I knew almost nothing about her.

I quietly went back inside, went into my bedroom, and went to bed. Simon had stayed up very late the previous night, and would likely be sleeping late. I knew I would be. With luck, he wouldn't know that I had left, and there wouldn't be any questions for me to awkwardly answer.


“Good morning,” Simon greeted me with an ironic smile as I joined him in the kitchen in the early afternoon. “Rough night?”

I felt the blood rushing to my face.

“There's nothing to worry about, Michael,” Simon assured me. “She is a charming young woman... but I wouldn't get my hopes up of it going farther.”

“What do you mean?” I asked, trying to shake off the momentary embarassment.

“What's that phrase the kids are using today?” he asked. “Oh yes, 'I tapped that.' Granted, it was a year or so back.”

It would be a lie to say I wasn't shocked. What did any of it mean? Why had she brought me in and seduced me? It felt almost incestuous knowing that Simon had also had sex with her.

“She is attracted to power,” Simon explained, as though hearing my thoughts. “There's no harm in it, just never allow your feelings to get the better of you.”

***

For most of the day, I read and kept to myself, trying to distract my mind from the events of the previous night. Eventually though, I began to feel restless. I got in my Firebird and drove to the downtown area, where there seemed to be a Día de los Muertos festival going on. The festivals have always intrigued me – the artwork was always colorful and vibrant, and death was celebrated more than feared. There is, I suppose, a certain freedom in death. The ultimate freedom, really. It is the one force that proves just how trivial our conceits and notions of rank and class truly are. In the end, we're all the same.

I wandered the plaza, looking at the vendors as a band called “Whett Phart” performed some ska music, and found myself having fun for what felt like the first time in quite awhile. I remembered my childhood dreams of becoming a rock star, and listening to the live music made me feel a bit wistful for that. Finally feeling some of the heavy thoughts of the day, the week, the month, and maybe even years evaporate, I bought myself a skull mask and a couple cleverly made sugar skulls. I also got myself a very large and messy burrito, and had a seat to take in the sights and sounds as the bands changed. Now one called Duende had taken the stage wearing their own devil masks.

I was then approached by a woman wearing a devil mask. Somehow she seemed familiar, but I couldn't put my finger on it.

“You stand out like a sore thumb, even with your mask on.” It was Maya; she said it almost affectionately as she pulled off her mask.

“That may be the first time I've been told that since I was ten years old,” I commented.

“Others may look for you with their mundane eyes,” she purred. “I look for your energy... and in its way, it quite literally makes you glow.”

“That could be useful to know how to do,” I commented.

“Simon hasn't taught you?”

“No... I mean, I can usually detect a presence, but I can't really distinguish people in a crowd like that.”

“Then I will teach you soon,” she said. “But now, let's dance!”

As I always did when I was near Maya, I felt a strange kind of intoxication. It occurred to me that this may have been some kind of charm she had been using deliberately on me. I remember the books in Wicca saying that such spells were unethical and would backfire. But, I found myself not necessarily minding. It was like a pleasant buzz one gets from drinking. Everything just seems slightly more vivid and surreal, and inhibitions faded.

We danced, I don't know for how long. Everything around us had seemed to pick up a life of its own. The masks seemed more real than the faces under them. It felt magical, and even with her devil mask on, I could see Maya smile knowingly at me.

When the performance was over, we walked around downtown, talking idly. Despite how many people were still around from the performance, the night had a peaceful quality to it.

At one point, Maya stopped suddenly. She scanned the area silently, a hand on the hilt of her sword under her coat. She stood like this for what seemed several minutes. I wanted to ask what was wrong, but my instincts told me not to interrupt her. So, I began silently scanning the area with her. I sensed the edges of it, and it made my veins run cold.

“Michael,” she said tensely. “Are you parked nearby?”

I pointed at my Firebird parked near the church.

“Good,” she said. “Let us calmly and quietly walk to your car.”

We did so, despite my almost overpowering urge to run.

“Now, go!” she shouted.

She didn't have to tell me twice. I briefly saw a glistening, tarry silhouette of a distorted, emaciated figure in my rearview. It reminded me of the shadow figures in the Black Mirror, and it seemed to have risen from the pavement itself. With engine roaring, we were gone.

***

Maya guided me to a place in the desert west of the city near old lava beds. I saw a vague outline of a wide circle in the dirt around us, invisible to the untrained eye.

“What was that?” I asked.

“What did you see?” Maya asked me.

I described the tarry, distorted, and emaciated figure I saw, as though from the Black Mirror.

“Mm,” she said with a nod. “I saw a wolf.”

“Why would you see a wolf? I asked.

“When I looked into the Black Mirror for my own fate, I saw a wolf,” she said.

“So, a wolf is supposed to kill you?”

“The mirror is seldom that literal in its reflections,” she said. “What is your master's family name?”

I rather automatically jumped to Simon's defense. “I'm sure it's not him,” I said quickly.

Maya looked at me with what might have been pity. “Nonetheless, I don't trust him. Or my father. I created a number of safehouses like this for myself where they can't find me.”

“That sounds rough,” I said.

“My father is a cruel man,” she said. “He is interested only in opportunity and ambition. My mother was the opposite, though. She was beautiful, intelligent, and kind. She sought to be one with nature, not to conquer it. My father was drawn to her because of her power. He quickly grew bored with her, and would hit her. She tried to poison his tea once.”

“What happened to her?” I asked.

“My father says she became sick,” Maya said in a flinty tone.

“You don't believe it?”

“If she was, he made her so,” she said, then looked away. “This conversation is depressing me. Please take me home now.”

***

The drive back was made in awkward silence. I wanted to say something, but I wasn't sure what I wanted to say, or how Maya might respond to it. For her part, she only stared out the window the whole way back.

When we got back to her apartment, I walked her up to her door.

“You may come in... if you like,” she said, seeming strangely vulnerable.

I hesitated, remembering what Simon had told me. “Do you do this often?” I asked, immediately regretting my choice of words. “I mean, Simon was telling me...”

Maya's eyes were blazing with fury now. “So what am I to you now? Am I Simon's damaged goods?”

“That's not what I meant at all,” I pleaded.

“My body is my own!” she told me. “What I choose to do with it is my choice alone! Good night, Mister O'Donnell.” She slammed the door.

I left with a strong sense of guilt. It wasn't at all what I meant. I wanted to know if she'd been using me for some reason, as Simon had suggested. There is, however, no delicate way to ask such a thing.

***

The next evening, Simon and I were exploring an old sanitarium. We were exploring each floor, but he seemed preoccupied with finding the basement. I hadn't seen any signs that this facility had a basement, but he insisted that there would be one, and by his talk of it, a large one.

In my peripheral, I kept seeing dark shapes darting around. Sometimes climbing down walls or across ceilings, almost always on all fours. These figures startled me each time I saw them, but Simon seemed to think they were hardly worth noting.

“Bah!” he said distastefully. “Just scavengers.”

“Scavengers?” I asked.

“When something especially ugly has happened at a place, it tends to be filled with minor elementals that feed off the residual energy. They look scary – shadowy with distorted features, sometimes glowing eyes, sometimes rather tall, sometimes scarcely bigger than a rat. Mostly though, they're harmless... unless they're in a feeding frenzy.”

“They look kind of like the things I saw in the black mirror coming after me,” I said.

“They actually are quite similar, to be honest,” Simon said. “In theory, the ones in the mirror are much more dangerous – they're more hungry, and sometimes will go into a sort of feeding frenzy if the right person steps in front of that mirror.”

“Maya said they did with you,” I mentioned.

“Indeed they did,” Simon acknowledged. “Thankfully, they weren't too difficult to shake off. It takes a lot just for them to come to our side of the mirror, and they typically can't.”

“One appeared to Maya and myself last night,” I said.

“Well now, that is unusual,” Simon said. “Then again, you seem to be a rather valuable piece of psychic real estate.”

“Not by choice,” I said with a short laugh.

“On Maya,” Simon then said. “Her style of magick is similar to your own, and she's been at it much longer. Don't necessarily trust her, but learn what you can from her – she is a powerful one.”

“I'm afraid I made her angry with me,” I said.

Simon laughed his rich laugh. “Don't take her mood swings too seriously,” he advised. “I think mostly they're for show.”

After a time, Simon and I split up to search on our own. Eventually, I did find a basement. I decided to look through it on my own before calling Simon over, conjuring a small red orb of light to see by. One of the first things I noticed in the basement was the unusually high number of the scavengers Simon spoke of – black, vaguely humanoid shadows crawling on the floor, the walls, even the ceiling, some with dimly glowing eyes. Outside of the basement, I was seeing only the occasional one, and it was generally from the corner of my eye. These, however... they were in the basement as thick as cockroaches. And they didn't seem to try to hide from me like the other ones did, either. Though not being obvious about it, they seemed to be watching me.

I resisted tensing up my body as one is naturally inclined to do in preparation for a fight, but instead did my best to relax my muscles and to build up my energy in preparation for an attack that felt more inevitable with each step. Finally, it occurred to me to send a thought out to Simon, hoping he would arrive before it was too late.

The scavengers were now stalking me more openly, but making no overt move toward attacking me. They seemed instead to only be watching me for now. It occurred to me that I should leave, but when I turned around, I saw several shadows with glowing eyes blocking my way. Not only was I being watched, but I was being herded, like a cattle to the slaughter.

I came to a large room at the end of the wide corridor. There were many eyes, and they were all on me. While the eyes themselves betrayed no emotion, and there were no faces to speak of, the feeling I sensed was hunger.

“You cause a great commotion for someone so young and inexperienced, apprentice,” a calm voice said.

“One of my many shortcomings, I'm sure,” I commented drily.

A dry chuckle responded. “You're an interesting one. Even with no hope of escape or perhaps even survival, you don't plead or bargain.”

“What do I have to lose?” I asked.

“A great deal more than you realize.” The source of the voice stepped into the sullen red light from my orb. He wore a hooded jacket, and almost none of his features could be seen beyond that. “Are you truly so confident in your abilities?”

Just then, one of the scavengers seemed to silently unfold itself in front of me. It rose to at least eight feet tall, and its arms were similar to that of a mantis.

“It's hungry” the stranger said.

Without a word, I sent a bolt of energy directly into the scavenger. There was a quiet moan as it fell to the ground in a black mist. The other scavengers seemed to be whispering a great deal.

“You've upset them,” the stranger said in an amused tone. “I imagine this will hurt you a great deal.” He walked out of sight as the scavengers began to converge on me.

I sent another, more urgent thought to Simon, hoping he wouldn't be too late... hoping that indeed, there was anything he even could do about the sheer numbers I was now faced with. I drew my sword and concentrated my energy into it until it glowed with a silent blaze.

It started off with two or three of the scavengers attacking me at a time. I was getting a few gashes, but was able to fend them off, several falling to the floor in black mists. Eventually, the attackers came in higher numbers, and I found myself feeling fatigued as it went on. The scavengers were beginning to overwhelm me, the gap between myself and the mass of shadows narrowing.

When I was ready to collapse and surrender from sheer exhaustion, I noticed the gap beginning to grow again. The scavengers were distracted. I was dimly aware of the sound of another sword sheering through air and through shadow.

Eventually, a familiar sword with a jagged blade broke through, followed by Maya. Dressed richly in traditional garb, she barely seemed real. She was every inch a warrior, however, displaying agility and prowess that I had only seen before in movies.

I mustered what strength I had left and again took up my sword, focusing my energy into the blade. I cannot begin to guess at the number of scavengers that had fallen by our blades or bolts of raw energy, but it still was not enough. Again, the scavengers were closing in on us, and things were again looking hopeless.

Then quite suddenly, they stopped. I sensed their fear. There was a deep groan, as though the very earth the building sat on groaned, then the scavengers seemed to suddenly burn from within to embers before fading into the ground in a black mist.

Simon strode almost casually toward Maya and myself, the tap of his cane on the floor clear in the sudden silence. “I apologize for my tardiness,” he said. “I was, however, being led on a merry wild goose chase by our old friend.”

He must have seen me flinch. “You know which one I speak of?”

I nodded. The one who had spoken to me was the one who orchestrated the events with Joshua and his brother. The one that taught them to summon whatever spirit possessed his brother. The one that watched us.

“And you,” he addressed Maya with some amusement. “Still protecting your ward, I see.”

“Of course, magus.” She wore an unreadable smile.

Simon chuckled. “Come, Michael. It's been an eventful night.”

I deliberately fell behind with Maya. “Maya, I'm really sorry about earlier,” I said. “I don't think of you as damaged goods or anything like that. I'm just... really confused, I guess.”

She regarded me briefly, still wearing her enigmatic smile. “That is okay, Michael. Go, join your master.”

There was nothing I could do or say. The walls were up, she may as well have been on the far side of the moon. I no longer felt the pleasant intoxication or even warmth in her presence. Instead, I felt something more akin to an empty space where she stood. To this day, I often wonder how things might have turned out differently had I not asked the stupid questions about her and Simon.

***

Whatever Simon was hoping to find in the basement was apparently not there. Not finding it, or any trace of who I now thought of as the watcher demon, he eventually became impatient and irritable. We eventually went back to his mansion.

I still had no idea what Simon was preoccupied with. Why he questioned me so closely about my dreams. What he was searching for. A wild goose chase, indeed. His hunt for the watcher demon made some sense, at least. That was something more tangible.

And what was my part to be in this all? Was I simply along for the ride? As I lay in bed early that morning with my mind too busy to sleep, the ghost cat silently hopped up onto the bed and gazed at me with sympathy in its eyes. It then nestled itself into the bend of my arm and purred me to sleep.
The Magus - the Black Mirror
Apologies this one took so long for me to churn out, but I hope you find it enjoyable. Needless to say, perhaps, but there is, ahem... a director's cut of sorts ;)
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The sun was setting, but there was no color to it, and although it was late summer, the wind had a certain chill to it. The bonfire gave scant warmth, and even it could not seem to penetrate the bleak, pervading gray of that evening. Without thinking, the woman extended her hand into the fire, feeling its welcoming warmth. She withdrew her hand lingeringly, holding her hand in front of her face to lovingly watch the flames dancing between her unscathed fingers.

“You would do well, Daughter of Brigit, to listen!” the druid snapped peevishly at her. “Our numbers are too small. We cannot take on the cult of Krokpa!”

“They took Aedan from me,” she said numbly. “I care not about their numbers, and I do not ask you to come with me, Aodh.”

“You are too valuable to us, to your people!” Aodh insisted stubbornly, then took a breath. “Please understand, Ena, that this isle is one of our last strongholds. The new religion is taking over, and the cult of Krokpa has positioned themselves well in the new leadership. We barely have the numbers to survive, much less to go on the offensive. We need your protection!”

“And I need to avenge Aedan,” Ena said.

Aodh sighed in frustration. “Maybe when the Arch Druid returns, we'll discuss it with him,” he said. “Until then, keep your head down!”

***

Ena walked dejectedly through the woods. Aedan was the only thing she had in her life – the only person that seemed to want to understand her. She would give anything to again be enveloped in his warm red and violet aura.

Her peculiar bond with fire had earned her the title of “Daughter of Brigit” among the druids, but the title seemed largely meaningless to her – she did not know the goddess better, or feel any closer to her than any other person on the isle. Indeed, she had never felt further and more isolated from the goddess. Additionally, the title did not grant her any privileges. Instead, it seemed to tie her down with duties that seemed equally meaningless.

“You don't have to obey them, you know,” a soft, even timid, voice startled her. It was Dubheasa. Tendrils of her bright green aura crept their way into Ena's field of vision almost as timidly as Dubheasa's voice. Like Ena, Dubheasa had strange gifts. However, those of Dubheasa were more macabre and profoundly disturbing. She had timidly offered to re-animate Aedan when his lifeless body drifted in seemingly of its own will on a boat with the Krokpa shroud mockingly covering his face.

“What choice do I have?” Ena asked as Dubheasa stepped from the shadows, her blindfolded face looking eerie in the moonlight.

“You have the same choice anyone else does, Ena,” Dubheasa said simply. “Obey, or follow your own instincts.”

“It's not that simple,” Ena protested. “They need me.”

“If that's your belief, then why ask leave of them to begin with?” Dubheasa asked. “You knew what they would say. Do you take pleasure from running yourself into a wall?”

“Stop!” Ena pleaded.

“It is perhaps easier for me to imagine such disobedience,” Dubheasa said. “In old times, my people were highly revered for our gifts. But the old ways are fading, decaying... even from within. Even the druids are mere shadows of their former selves! And the once-revered understanding of the life-cycle has been dissected to only acknowledge the favorable parts, and my people, the People of the Dead, have been shunned to the outskirts of society. Among some, my mere presence is an act of disobedience.”

She was right, of course. The druids she knew in today's world in no way seemed to match up with druids from tales of the past. Were these truly the same druids who would have impressed the Tuatha de Danann with their magic and wisdom and received their gifts? No, the druids of today seemed more like place-holders. Even the old stories were changing, being watered down, and losing their meaning.

“The druids no longer understand the meaning of balance,” Dubheasa spat contemptuously. “That is why they grow feeble. That is why they can no longer achieve such greatness as they once did. And the Christians are no better! They believe in absolutes, and include themselves in those absolutes. They arrogantly believe they serve absolute good, and because of that, they are deceived - deceived by their own arrogance as well as by the Krokpa cult!”

“You're right,” Ena said numbly.

“Then you'll help me?” Dubheasa asked.

“No,” Ena said. “I cannot. I have responsibilities. You know I can't.”

“This is our responsibility!” Dubheasa hissed. “You and I are Children of the Tuatha. We can chase out this threat and restore balance!”

“I'm sorry, Dubheasa, but no,” Ena said as she turned and walked back to the village as Dubheasa stared after her in frustration.

***

Ena jumped to alertness from her sleep. She could not guess at what woke her, or what hour it was, but all outside of her hut was still and quiet. She realized then that she felt a strong sense of being watched. Without thinking of it, all her muscles locked her into something resembling paralysis. Afraid to so much as twitch a finger, she listened for the faintest sound, watched for the faintest movement, and braced against the faintest touch.

She lay like this for what seemed an eternity. Then her nostrils began to fill with the reek of a charnel house. Slowly, the hut filled with a faint green phosphorescent mist.

Ena was terrified, using all her strength and willpower to remain perfectly still and to not let out a scream.

She then heard a scream that at once seemed distant and very close. Then silence. Then another scream, closer this time. Was the isle being invaded, and were those the screams of her friends, those she was supposed to protect, being slaughtered? She felt a desperate shame at the thought, but still could not will herself to move a single muscle.

Another agonized scream, this one sounding as though it were only feet away from her.

“Ena...” she heard a weak, but familiar voice. “Help me, Ena.”

“Aedan!” Ena cried. “Where are you?”

Another scream, this one undeniably his own. “Please, help me...”

“Aedan!” she cried again. “I'm here, come to me!”

But Aedan was gone. As was the mist. As was the charnel house reek. Desperately, Ena scanned the room. She then saw a pale shape in the shadows near the door.

“Dubheasa!” she screamed in rage. A fiery wraith appeared and seemed to materialize into the shape of a dog.

“Ena,” Dubheasa said apprehensively. “Call off your hound.”

“Give me one reason I should,” Ena challenged her.

“Don't be a fool!” Dubheasa hissed. “What I showed you may have been illusion, but it was truth!”

“Sounds like a sick joke to me,” Ena said. The hound snarled, flames dripping from its mouth as it stepped closer to Dubheasa.

“Where do you think the Krokpa cult gets their power?” Dubheasa said quickly.

“What do you mean?” Ena said, still not making any move to call her hound off.

“We Children of the Tuatha are few in number,” she said. “The cult of Krokpa is very large, though. Yet, it seems as though they all have powers, do they not?”

“What are you getting at?”

Dubheasa stepped closer to Ena, ignoring for a moment the confused, but still snarling hound. “They obtain their power from enslaving the dead!” she spat.

“No!” Ena exclaimed at the thought of Aedan's spirit being forced to serve that cult. The hound let out a vaguely disappointed whine while glancing to her, then evaporated into a brief burst of flames.

***

Ena had regained some of her composure. Dubheasa's illusion had all seemed so real, and Dubheasa insisted that it was truth, even if only an illusion to Ena.

“The dead have been restless as of late,” Dubheasa said as she paced restlessly in the hut. “At first, their whispers were difficult to hear. One might mistake it as a zephyr creeping through the leaves. The restless whispering continued though, and gave me a name: Krokpa.”

“Who is Krokpa?” Ena asked.

“A fading memory,” Dubheasa said shortly. “Gods are not invincible. If they are forgotten, they fade, and will cease to exist. Sometimes, though... sometimes they whisper into the ears of those who would listen. Lunatics, mostly. They whisper and whisper and whisper, persistent and impossible to entirely ignore, like the buzzing of a fly in one's ear. Then it begins to make sense to the lunatic. The lunatic must do as the whispers command.”

“Just as the dead whisper into your ears,” Ena said, somewhat snidely. “Does that mean you are a lunatic?”

Dubheasa laughed shortly. “I make no claim of sanity, Daughter of Brigit. I've often myself questioned it. I do not, however, question my lucidity. When I first bound my eyes with this cloth, it was in hopes of not seeing the shades that at all times surrounded me. They persisted, though – told me things that no living person could know, and most living people would not even want to know. Yet now, I wear this blindfold not in hopes of blinding myself to those shades that once frightened me, but to give myself better clarity and to block the distracting mundane light. And, I guarantee you that I can separate the whisper of a human spirit from that of a dying god.”

“So, I guess we let the others know we're going in the morning,” Ena said.

“No,” Dubheasa said firmly. “We leave tonight!”

“But...” Ena began to object.

“There is no time to argue,” Dubheasa said bluntly. “And they would only try to stop us. Things could get... messy at that point.”

***

Despite Dubheasa's objections, Ena did leave a note for the Arch Druid, simply reading, “we have gone to stop the Krokpa cult. Join us if you will... if not, we're going just the same.”

Although the boats were guarded, Dubheasa somehow influenced the guard to take no notice of them as they took a small boat and quietly left the isle.

As they went, it slowly dawned on Ena that something wasn't quite right. This was, by far, the quietest boat ride she had ever been on. The motion was too smooth and constant. The sail billowed outward, but did not flap or boom in the wind. Indeed, the only wind she felt was that which they were going into, and the only sound she heard was the small boat's prow knifing through the water. The boat seemed almost to glide.

Behind her, Dubheasa wore a serene smile. “Fear not, Daughter of Brigit, we are in good hands.”

“I think I'm starting to understand why people are afraid of your kind,” Ena said with a shudder.

“Fear of the unknown is for the simple of mind,” Dubheasa sniffed.

Ena tried to relax, leaning back and looking into the night sky. She had met a few others like herself and Dubheasa in the past – people with control over a given element. She had never met one quite like Dubheasa, though. Even among the few People of the Dead, she stood out. None of the others had quite the casual and seemingly absolute control over an element as did she. While the People of the Dead were in fact mages of the element of earth, there seemed to be among them an agreement to not exercise direct power over their element, as it would cause too much destruction. Instead, they focused their powers in the direction of the life cycle. Arguably, the People of the Dead had become the most powerful among the Children of the Tuatha. For this fact, there had always been a wary sort of respect for them. But, there is often a thin line between respect and fear, and with the changes that had been taking place in the hearts and minds of the people, respect was dangerously losing ground to fear.

***

As they came nearer to shore, Dubheasa's mood changed. She no longer laughed or even smiled, but instead wore a countenance of anger and horror. She said nothing, and the silence seemed somehow in itself oppressive.

Their boat quietly ran aground. The two stepped out on the beach.

“May the shite of Balor himself fill their accursed mouths!” Dubheasa swore suddenly. “I will see to it myself that their leader hangs by his own entrails.”

“What is it?” Ena asked fearfully. Such an outburst was contrary to Dubheasa's nature.

“They hunt the Children of the Tuatha now,” she spat. “Aedan's death was meant to lure us out. You, most specifically!”

“Are you certain?” Ena demanded.

“Yes, Daughter of Brigit,” she said as she seemed to frantically scan the area. Her behavior was as though she were hearing hundreds of urgent voices all at once.

“But why me?” Ena asked desperately. She now felt as though the blood of her beloved was on her own hands.

“You, Daughter of Brigit, control the most primal force of all – fire!” Dubheasa answered. “They intend to enslave your soul and to take that power from you.”

“We have to go back!” Ena exclaimed. “We walked into a trap!”

“Do you not care about their murdering Aedan?” Dubheasa accused. “Or of your fellow Children of the Tuatha?”

“I'm just saying that we should go back and get help,” Ena said desperately. She was in a state of total confusion. With her being held in honor as a Daughter of Brigit, she had lived a very sheltered life. She knew of her powers at least on an intellectual level, but not often in practice other than in ceremonial functions.

“And what do you suppose they'll do?” Dubheasa hissed contemptuously. “Remember that they forbade you from doing exactly what you were in the process of doing?”

“But they didn't know about this!” Ena screamed at her.

“Oh?” Dubheasa questioned in a mocking tone.

“What is it that you know?” Ena asked warily.

“It is nothing,” Dubheasa said dismissively as she starting walking further inland.

“Dubheasa!” Ena screamed, a wall of flame erupting in front of Dubheasa.

Dubheasa turned and looked at Ena straight in the face. “Now is not the time for such childishness, Daughter of Brigit,” she said coldly.

“With due respect, I am not the one withholding information,” Ena said.

“And what is it you would do with any information I would give you?” Dubheasa said. “Run and tell someone you see as an authority and let it be off your hands and mind? You truly are a child!”

“I am no child!” Ena snapped. “You are no older than I.”

“In your mind, you are a child,” Dubheasa continued coldly. “You trust those who claim authority as a child trusts their parents.”

“I'm questioning you, am I not?” Ena pointed out.

“Because you see me as an equal... or less, I suspect,” Dubheasa pointed out. “That is bullying, not questioning... and you do so only because you know that few, if any, would defend me. The interesting thing about my position however is that one learns to survive!” She seemed to concentrate for a moment, and where she had been standing was now a black dust settling to the ground that seemed to still faintly carry some of her features.

“I'm going to do this, Daughter of Brigit,” came Dubheasa's voice from the other side of the wall of flame. “With or without your help.” She then turned and continued on.

“Dubheasa!” Ena shouted as her flames died down. But Dubheasa had already disappeared into the woods and wasn't looking back. Ena looked around her, agonized with indecision. Part of her wanted to take the boat back to the island and forget that this ever happened. But, she wasn't sure she could navigate her way back, and Dubheasa obviously knew something that she wasn't going to tell her. The thought of what could be waiting for her at the island gave her the chills, and standing alone in this cove certainly wasn't any safer. Gritting her teeth and swallowing her pride, she decided the safest place to be was with Dubheasa.

***

The two had been quiet when Ena rejoined Dubheasa, Dubheasa barely acknowledging her presence. Ena had no idea as to where they might be going, and she did not dare break the uncomfortable silence between Dubheasa and herself by asking. But, Dubheasa seemed to know where she was going, and Ena made herself accept that for the time being.

As they walked, she thought about what Dubheasa had told her. Did she truly think of Dubheasa as being inferior as Dubheasa had accused? She considered the way she spoke to the other as well as her actions. In truth, aside from a time when a group of Roman soldiers had attempted to rape her as she was trying to flee her village, she had never used her powers against another person aside from Dubheasa. And Dubheasa was not the only person who had upset her, but she was more accustomed to the other acting timid, and even meek.

Now Dubheasa seemed to be in her element. Maybe it was the lack of other people – she had been shunned to the outskirts of their society, even as it deteriorated. The druids were never quite openly hostile toward her, but obviously were uncomfortable, and Ena could not recall any specific reason why Dubheasa should be treated so. She had always seemed kind, if more than a little strange.

Ena, for her own part, had always felt powerless despite her control over the element of fire. The druids were always protective of her, and even more so when her parents were killed by Romans. She carried a title which in theory gave her great power and respect, but she felt more like a decoration, and was always overruled when she tried to assert herself.

In truth, Dubheasa's timid demeanor had made Ena feel like she was the only one that she could order around. Yet now, Dubheasa had openly defied her without a second thought, and in doing so had demonstrated that she is every bit as powerful as Ena, and much wiser and more resourceful.

“Dubheasa – wait,” Ena said just before Dubheasa stepped into a clearing.

Dubheasa turned and regarded her silently from the edge of the woods.

“I... I realize I've been unfair to you,” Ena admitted. “It's just... I'm scared. I think I always have been. I'm always told that I'm a savior to the people, but in truth, I don't feel it. The people are fading, and I don't know how to stop it – no one has told me how I can stop it, and I just keep getting overruled when I suggest anything.”

“Thank you,” Dubheasa said warmly. Ena realized it was the first time she could remember seeing an actual smile on Dubheasa's lips. “My apologies if I've been overly harsh to you. In truth, I envy you – you are loved whereas I am feared, and only a madman would believe the two to be in any sense interchangeable. Even my family was quick to abandon me.”

“Well... I can be your family, if you want,” Ena suggested with a shy shrug.

“Sisters, then,” Dubheasa said with a smile. Although the body language was subtle, Dubheasa seemed as though a large weight had been lifted from her. Ena felt a pang in suddenly realizing how lonely Dubheasa must have truly been.

When they stepped into the clearing, Ena saw a number of mounds and immediately knew that Dubheasa had led her to a graveyard. She was trying to trust her friend, but this was difficult – it had always been ground into her that she should never enter a graveyard with one of the People of the Dead, and that particular rule had always seemed to make sense to her. It did not help that she was now watching as Dubheasa danced with a skeleton she had just raised from one of the mounds.

“Um, I'm trying to trust you, but what are we doing here?” Ena asked apprehensively.

“We are very close to the Krokpa cult's temple, if you want to call it that,” Dubheasa sniffed. She seemed in almost a giddy mood. “We need a messenger for the Christians, and they're used to following a dead man,” she continued. Then she turned and bowed to the skeleton, who bowed in turn. “You dance marvelously,” she said in a playfully exaggerated tone.

“We're bringing the dead into this?” Ena exclaimed in horror.

Dubheasa shrugged. “Why not?” She then looked at the skeleton. “You don't mind, do you?” The skeleton then shrugged its approval.

“Okay...” Ena said helplessly as she stared at the skeleton. “Let's just get this done with.”

Dubheasa gestured to the skeleton, who then took off running at an inhuman speed. Ena thought she could hear a dusty cackle of a laugh coming back on the wind as it went.

***

The Krokpa temple was crudely dug into the ground between two hills and mostly in ruins, appearing to have originally belonged to the Mithras cult the Romans had brought with them. Dubheasa and Ena both wore cloaks in a dark blue color to camoflauge themselves into the night and moved silently toward the temple, coming at it from the side. As they got closer, Dubheasa suddenly gasped and doubled over, throwing a hand to the ground to steady herself.

“Are you okay?” Ena said in a startled whisper.

Dubheasa held one arm across her chest as though she'd been sliced open. She stood a little unsteadily. “I'm fine,” she answered a little weakly. “Ena, I don't think you want to see what's in there. You don't need to continue with me.” It was very rare that Dubheasa addressed her by her name rather than title.

“I came this far with you, I'm helping you,” Ena said.

“It really is not necessary that you see the temple,” Dubheasa almost pleaded. “You can help from back here.”

Even with her blindfold, Dubheasa's horror was plainly apparent on her face. Something horrible had happened. Without another word, Ena continued toward the hill that made one side of the temple.

“Ena!” Dubheasa's hoarse whisper entreated her, but Ena barely heard it as she continued toward the temple. Stealthly, she climbed the hill with Dubheasa close behind her, crouching behind the remnants of a wall.

From inside the temple, Ena could hear a familiar-sounding voice orating. “The Tuatha have left us,” the familiar voice said to those in temple. “When the Romans came, we cried out for their help. But one tribe after another fell under their crimson tide. But, do not despair! In our time of need, Krokpa has called to us!”

“Hail Krokpa!” the others shouted in unison.

“Krokpa gives us strength where others gave empty promises!” the voice continued. “He is the true god! He will drive out the non-believers.”

“Hail Krokpa, the true god and devourer of souls,” the others intoned.

“Who is that speaking?” Ena asked Dubheasa. But Dubheasa didn't answer. Her face was pale. Ena risked a look around the remnants of the wall into the pit that formed the temple. She was shocked to find that most of those in attendance were druids, including the cult leader – who she recognized as being Kynthelig, the Arch Druid.

Dubheasa had been right – she had been naïve. Those she had trusted with her life and those of the people she cared about were the very ones she needed protection from. She felt a seething anger building inside of her.

“Ena, get back!” Dubheasa hissed in a whisper that sounded almost pleading.

But, it was too late. In the back of the temple, she saw a child, barely into his teens hanging by his ankles. His throat had been cut, and a gaping hole in his chest suggested his heart had been removed. It had happened very recently, for his bright blue aura had not completely faded. It was Llyr of the Water People. Ena knew him well – his parents had been friends of her parents, and Llyr as a boy had fallen in love with Ena, his older friend. She would always smile and encourage him when he would bring her little gifts – usually wildflowers. As he had grown older, he showed remarkable intelligence and had come into his powers earlier than most. Although he had stopped pursuing her as a lover as he grew older, they always shared a special bond. Ena thought of herself as a sort of older sister to him.

Now he was dead, his blood drained, his aura fading into nothingness.

Dubheasa had moved herself somewhat further back from Ena, her face apprehensive. Perhaps Ena didn't notice it, but her entire body was now covered in a seething red fire. Without thinking, she descended into the temple, making no attempts to hide herself. Indeed, she would have been impossible to ignore.

“Kynthelig!” she screamed. “Traitor! Oath-breaker! Murderer!”

He obviously was shocked, but quickly regained his composure. “Daughter of Brigit,” he greeted Ena. “I'm truly sorry you had to see this.”

“You apologize that I had to see it, but not for what you've done?” she accused incredulously.

“It was necessary for the survival of our people,”  Kynthelig explained. “Please calm yourself! I'd like to explain if you'll allow me.”

“I have no interest in your explanations,” Ena said, then hurling a single fireball at  Kynthelig. Her only regret in doing so was not giving herself time to kill him in a slower, much more painful way.

To her surprise however, bright blue aura flashed around  Kynthelig's arm, and he casually deflected the fireball. “We really do not have time for this, Daughter of Brigit,” he said. “We need you. We need your power if you would save your people!”

“My power is my own,” she said. “And you are no longer of my people!” She sent a barrage of fire at him, which he deflected again. She continued sending wave after wave of fire at him until a sharp rap on the head knocked her out.

She was only dimly aware of her surroundings when she hit the ground. All the people and the voices seemed distant and abstract.

“Quickly, bind her!” Kynthelig commanded. “We have no time to lose, she may have others with her.”

She felt her wrists and ankles being roughly tied, and she felt herself being dragged to where Llyr's body still hung by its ankles.

Quite suddenly, the air in the temple seemed to change profoundly. The air was filled with a sickly green luminescense, and while it was not cold, she felt a distinct chill.

“It's the witch-woman!” she heard someone exclaim fearfully.

There was a deep groan as though it were of countless restless spirits that seemed to resonate in the very stones around them.

“Fools,” she heard Dubheasa say in a deadly quiet voice. “Your slaves are discontent, it would seem. Did you truly believe that you could gain power through enslaving the dead?”

“Stay back, or we kill the Daughter of Brigit!” Kynthelig threatened. Ena was dimly aware of a dagger at her throat.

Dubheasa threw her head back and laughed. “Alive? Dead? What difference should that make? I'm a necromancer, you idiot! The only thing that ends in death is one's heartbeat... and I have allies on the other side to ensure that things don't end there for those who cross me.”

The green phosphorescence seemed to intensify, and Ena was slowly regaining her senses, but found herself afraid to move. This temple was feeling too far from the world of the living and a little too close to the realm of death. Things were moving in there that had no business doing so. Old, dusty bones were rattling, tattered scraps of unidentifiable flesh were twitching and writhing grotesquely, as though attempting to seek each other out. The room was filled with the now-familiar smell of decay.

Ena heard a rope creaking near her. She shifted her gaze to see Llyr's corpse moving, seeming to try to get loose from its bonds. Then its eyes opened, fixing a milky white gaze on Kynthelig. “I trusted you,” it said in a rattling whisper.

Kynthelig stumbled backward, a wild look of desperate fear in his eyes. “Stop them!” he cried. “Kill the witches!”

The others had their own concerns, however. The ways out of the temple had been blocked with strange vines that did not belong in the living world. Some of the pieces of tattered flesh and the bones had begun to reassemble themselves, the others having no choice but to watch in dreadful anticipation.

Kynthelig seemed to regain some of his composure, and was now glaring at Dubheasa in such a way that his murderous intentions were clear. He then lunged at Dubheasa with a scream, dagger in hand. Dubheasa seemed to meet his glare, but made no move to stop him.

“No!” Ena shouted. Reflexively, she released a bolt of white-hot fire. At the last intstant, Kynthelig tried to stop it, but he either was not strong enough, or was too late. The fire consumed him.

“What's going on here?” She heard an authoritative voice demand from the doorway as the white fire still consumed the disgraced Arch Druid.

“I have to go!” Dubheasa said quickly to Ena and lunged out of sight. Things quickly returned to normal in the temple, if indeed anything in a temple of Krokpa can be called such. Ena looked to the doorway where she saw Christian warriors hacking away at the vines that blocked entry. The vines oozed something that looked disturbingly similar to blood.


The next few hours passed by in something of a haze to Ena. She later wished she was able to disappear the same as had Dubheasa. The Christians had been led back to the temple by the skeleton “demon” that Dubheasa had raised. Apparently, it had terrorized their camp, and having been led back to the Krokpa temple by the skeleton, they leapt to the conclusion that it indeed had been raised by the cult. In seeing the unholy happenings in the temple combined with the undeniable proof of human sacrifice, the Krokpa cultists which they once saw as allies were now more appropriately viewed as the dangerous cult that they truly were. Their leader who aspired to become king issued a proclamation on the spot that anyone who has claimed allegiance to Krokpa were in league with the devil Himself, and were henceforth exiled on pain of death.

On the other hand, the Christians were impressed by her “holy fire,” and believed her to be a messenger of God. During the confusion, Aodh and some of the other druids from her isle of refuge came. She would have expected him to be angry. Instead, he seemed puzzled and confused, even haunted. He also didn't seem to be expecting to see her.

The Christians seemed curious to talk to the druids and to learn more about the Krokpa cult, and as they talked, Ena quietly made her own getaway. She was emotionally and physically exhausted, and wanted to be alone. As she came back into the tree line, a hand caught her arm, and she saw the tell-tale green tendrils of Dubheasa's aura.

“What happened?” Dubheasa asked.

“Why didn't you stay around and find out?” Ena asked a little bitterly.

“They would have me burned,” Dubheasa said. “I somehow don't think the druids would raise too many objections to it, either.”

“We're all on the same side,” Ena objected. “They wouldn't let that happen to you.”

“Do you still believe that?” Dubheasa said, a tone of sadness or pity in her voice.

“Anyway, to make it short, your 'demon' terrorized their camp, they chased it back to the temple, and blamed it all on the cult,” Ena said.

“Everything's a demon to them,” Dubheasa sniffed.

“So, what now?” Ena asked.

“Same thing as always,” Dubheasa shrugged. “Some shows of unity and peace that typically come with having a common enemy, then they start pointing at the other side and claiming them to be in league with the enemy, then all allegiances and friendships are forgotten.”

Dubheasa had said the last part with a slight catch in her voice. “I haven't forgotten anything, my sister,” Ena said.

Dubheasa stared at her for a moment, then hugged her tightly. “Thank you,” she said simply, then sat on a rock. “You have someone waiting for you.”

In her peripheral, Ena saw a faint green glow, similar to that in the temple when the dead were coming back. Instead of communicating death, this glow seemed somehow to communicate life. Curiously, Ena ventured followed her eyes to the source of the glow.

“Aedan!” she screamed in delight, rushing to embrace him, their auras combining once more.

“I can't stay,” Aedan said. “This is taking a lot out of Dubheasa. I wanted to hold you one last time, though.”

“I've missed you so much,” Ena said, her tears flowing as she pressed her face into his shoulder.

“I've missed you, too,” Aedan said. “We'll be together again some day. You have to be careful, though – things, and people aren't what they seem!”

“What do you mean?” Ena asked.

“Your life is still in danger,” Aedan said, then he quite suddenly began to fade. “Don't be quick to trust anyone! I'll always love you!” Then, he was gone.

***

In the past, Ena had always been obedient and a relative innocent. In one night, Dubheasa had showed her another world – one full of mystery, intrigue, and deceit. She saw things she would never have believed existed in the living world. Cruelty beyond her imagination disguised as good, and deceit and disobedience done for the truer good. She felt much as she did when she stood on the beach after Dubheasa had left to do the mission on her own – to go back was death, to stay was death. She could only go forward with the only friend left that she trusted.
The Children of the Tuatha
So... my girlfriend is herself a very talented writer, but she is sometimes harshly self-critical. She has said a few times that her "mage" novels seem to be set on a purely ridiculous premise. I argued that it's no more so than any other good fantasy story. I also said that if anyone else had written a story on a similar plot line, she'd probably love it. She doubted it.

Challenge accepted!

This is a sort of fan fiction based on my girlfriend's work. It uses none of the same characters, nor does it have the same setting or take place in the same era. But, it uses her concept of mages, as well as a fictional cult that figures moderately strongly into her first novel. And, if you happen to be a literary agent or publisher, yes... she would be delighted to make use of your services :)
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So... lately, I've not been very active on DeviantArt. I think part of it is just a generalized sense of frustration... partly with trying to get my work noticed, and perhaps mostly with things outside the realm of my art.

My time as of late has mostly been consumed with work, with reading, and with helping my girlfriend in editing her novels. My own creative work has been at something of a hiatus - I'll briefly feel strong inspiration to work on my writing, then when I pull up a work in progress or try to start a new project on this flash of inspiration, it seems to slip through my fingers.

In reading, I've lately come to have an obsession with classic horror and occult stories. Currently, I'm reading Doctor Faustus by Thomas Mann, with Shirley Jackson's Haunting of Hill House next on my list. Doctor Faustus has been an interesting, if slow, read. The main character, a composer, seems to struggle with inspiration, feeling as though it's all been done before. It seems even his best works have a sense of mocking parody to them. He can't seem to find any actual satisfaction. Although he is generally regarded as beyond genius and may even seem egotistical to those around him, he actually does have a strange and profound sense of modesty about his own work.

That aside, I've had a question on my mind the past several days. In my own life, the parts of my life I draw the most inspiration from also tend to be the parts that are the most painful. Indeed, they are wounds that never quite seem to scab over. In a paradoxical way, these parts I draw inspiration from... well, the pain from them is what often hinders me as well as inspires me. Perhaps this is why I start on writing what I feel has potential to really be a great novel (a few of them, in fact), but never seem to be able to finish them? Perhaps, more simply, it's just remnants of the crippling depression I suffered in my younger days. While I do know that I am very intelligent, I was, at best, a mediocre student in middle and high school. I would essentially be failing any given class for most of the semester for lack of will and effort, then when it was time for finals, I would ace them to bring my grade up to passing, if sometimes only barely.

Truth be told, I was often suicidal during that time. I would, of course, be accused of faking it to get attention... but no, I don't feel I was faking any of it. I still remember rather vividly a time that I sat in the remnants of a broken mirror, slashing my hands and arms with the shards as my mother yelled at me from the other side of the door, making various insults and threats... among which was a threat to call the police on me, which for whatever reason she chose not to do when I was actually even yelling at her to do so. There was also a time, years later while I was in my early-to-mid twenties, where I finally chose to confront her as an adult for her abuse and for how she had turned the family against me. I ended up jumping out of a moving car to get away from her then, again finding myself suicidal.

People are more than the sum of their experiences, I believe. Certainly, experience is part of it, but we choose how to respond... else, I may have become yet another homicidal maniac shooting up my high school as a result of my experiences. But, the question that's been on my mind for the past several days is what I might be like if my life had not been the hell that it was. Would I be at all inclined toward being an artist beyond the superficial dream of simply being a rock star, having no inspiration other than just the thought of being a rock star? Would I be one of the superficial jerks that I currently loathe? I know that I am moderately outspoken... and of course, that would have the potential to make me even more insufferable. I don't mind that some see me as an insufferable jerk now - people who make snap judgements without even trying to know where it is I come from. Those people, I don't care about. But how might I have been toward those who have gone through the sort of stuff that I have in this life, had my life turned out different? Was it somehow necessary that my life be as hard as it was for me to be a tolerable person as opposed to one of those that makes knee-jerk judgements about myself and those like me? And if so, knowing that, would I have chosen any different?

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desert-druid
Randall
Artist | Hobbyist | Varied
United States
Where can I start? I like to learn all I can about almost anything. As my username suggests, I'm a Celtic pagan. I've always had a fascination with sciences, especially those of biology and epidemiology. I do any kind of art I can, really... whether it be my attempts at song writing, novels and poetry, photography, digital art, mosaics, beer and wine making, or perhaps in the not-too-distant future, painting. That's always been an intimidating one for me, as I've not had the best luck in the past.

I work as a pharmacy tech and live with my wonderful girlfriend, who encourages all my hobbies and interests. I'm very lucky to have her.

I figured I'd add a little about my tastes in art. First of all, my favorite visual artists are Brandon Maldonado and Valery Milovic, the latter's work being what inspired me to pick up a paintbrush again myself. As far as literature, my favorite writers are Neil Gaiman and David and Leigh Eddings. In general, my tastes lean toward the darker stuff, and things that I consider thought-provoking. I also have a strong taste toward mythology, especially that of the Celts. I have a love of the supernatural and the more old-fashioned style occult. I also have a fascination for grand ideas that didn't quite come through... this one works well for me in photography (like urban exploration) or in literature. And while no one can deny the abundance of, um... "eye candy" on deviant art, I generally do not "favorite" nudes unless there is something more to it. Some kind of strong emotion or powerful statement, perhaps. Or a good reference to mythology.

I also admittedly have a bias for visual art created using more traditional methods. Not to say I don't like digital art, but I tend to hold it to a higher standard. There's just something about good, old-fashioned paint on canvas.
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:iconlovelorey:
lovelorey Featured By Owner Jul 30, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
Thanks for the fave, love :tehe: 
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:icontimtehgrey:
TimtehGrey Featured By Owner Jul 27, 2014  Student Writer
Thanks for the fav.
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:icondemonrobber:
demonrobber Featured By Owner Jul 19, 2014
Thanks for the fav! It is much appreciated. Greetings to the United States!
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:icondesert-druid:
desert-druid Featured By Owner Jul 19, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
No prob; nice idea on putting it side-by-side with the art that inspired it. Good poem!
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:icongratteloup:
gratteloup Featured By Owner Jun 5, 2014
Thank you for the Llama back (:, you gave me the King one, awesome (( :
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:iconrotten-alice:
Rotten-Alice Featured By Owner Jun 3, 2014
Thanks for the favourite!
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:icony-n-1-f:
Y-N-1-F Featured By Owner Jun 3, 2014  Hobbyist Interface Designer
Youre-awesome by Y-N-1-F  
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:icondesert-druid:
desert-druid Featured By Owner Jun 3, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
thanks :)
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:icondianabolique:
Dianabolique Featured By Owner May 4, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
:iconsparklesplz::iconhappybirthday1plz::iconhappybirthdayplz2::iconhappybirthdayplz3::iconhappybirthdayplz4::iconsparklesplz:
:iconmv1plz::iconmv2plz::iconmv3plz::iconmv4plz::iconmv5plz::iconmv6plz::iconmv7plz::iconmv8plz:
Have a G R E A T day Randall fill with many wonderful surprises!
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:icondesert-druid:
desert-druid Featured By Owner May 4, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
Thank you :)
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