One Thousand and One Maidens
by Christine E. Schulze
He woke, panting, his heart racing.
The dream had certainly seemed real, yet it must have been just that. Just a dream. She wasn’t the type to steal and then make up childish stories of fanciful creatures making her do things. Even in her childlikeness, she carried a calm maturity.
Besides, when she entered her garden the next day, the Fluff lingered nowhere in sight.
He sat for a long time though, before the dawn, while her gentle breath lingered on, echoing the peacefulness of her sleep. He sat staring at the garden, wondering what exactly he’d landed himself in. He was happier than he could recollect in a long, long time. Still, he wondered... was it possible she held a more powerful, stranger pull over him than he over her? Was she capable herself of such undeniable magics?
He jumped as she took his hand.
“Today, we must visit the unicorns again. They have something I need, something I have been seeking a long time.”
He turned towards her. “What? What do you seek?”
She laughed, lightly but impishly; her eyes gleaming with their greedy sparkle. “You will see...”
Then she swept him up to the sky, and once more they danced upon the clouds, surfed upon the wind. She commanded the trees who sacrificed their leaves so they could play a little game, hopping from one immense leaf to each other, indulging in their own private game of tag. Until she commanded sharply, “Stop! They are here...”
The purifiers thundered towards them, a spray of water raining from their pure white bodies and silver hooves. Lightning crackled, curling like the prongs of a crown from the tips of their majestic horns. Thunder drummed beneath their hooves as the clouds gathered, releasing the torrents of the fresh rain they created...
“See there!” she shouted, shaking him harshly, jerking him in the right direction. “The one with the blue eyes? It is him — he holds the treasure I seek, the thing that I need!”
“And how are we to get it from him?” he asked, snickering, feeling a rush of adrenalin taking him as he remembered last night’s feat. He had already realized they must still lie lost in her world of dreams, for he sensed another such venture coming on.
“How?” he echoed. “How will we plan this seamless robbery?”
“Kill him,” she hissed.
He stared at her. Hard. Shadows gathered beneath her eyes which blackened, their silver clouds darkening into billowing orbs of impenetrable storms and smoke. It was as though some demon traded their eyes for hers, corrupting her fair face with a cold stare.
“Kill him,” she nearly snarled.
He flinched. The pain set in already. He must move soon — or else she must relinquish her command. But her stare, unblinking, was as the undead’s — incapable of dying, of fading, at least until their hunger had been temporarily satiated...
He stalled as long as he could, holding out against the terrifying inevitable.
Then, with a cry of rage and torment, he sprang.
His body burst into flames, and with it, that of the unicorn. But while the pure creature writhed and screamed in agony, the djinn gloried in the fire, gloried in the relief and the ecstasy with which its powers consumed him, banishing all knowing of the horrible crime he had committed. The fire spurred him into a high not bestowed him in so long; the flames intensified, morphing from red to blue, heightening his pleasure and the unicorn’s pain...
They catapulted towards the ground. Landing hard, the fire vanished.
Of a sudden, he realized where he was, what he had done. He stumbled in his attempt to remove himself from the unicorn’s back, but the flesh and blood was a boiling, sticky ooze. Suppressing the vomit, he wrenched himself from the creature and threw off his stinking robe, half-covering the mangled corpse.
The sight made him want to heave, but he could not tear away from its atrocity. He did not care for unicorns himself, but he knew in many worlds — Fairie especially — that they were considered sacred. He did not wish to know what torture might befall him for committing such a crime. For, ironically, the one gift djinns were blessed with was that which caused pain. If their master died of natural causes, the djinn would live on, return to the cave until a new master chose them. But if tortured, the djinn would feel their master’s suffering. And if killed, the djinn’s life would end too.
“Cut a gash in the stomach.”
He gagged. Then he closed his eyes, feeling every muscle, even the tiniest ripple, repulsed at the sound of her voice, its unspeakable commands. He held very still, willing himself not to lunge at her, ending her and his life in one, short movement...
“Slice it open; I need to get inside...”
He bent over, procured a knife, and completed the deed...
Then he ran.
He knew he couldn’t run far, but he needed to get away from that hateful scene...
It must all be a dream. He still must be dreaming. It was all a dream, just like before...
As the chains began to dig at his flesh, he stopped. Looking up, he scowled, hissing frustration. The log bridge arched before him, though the gumnuts had shut their petals tight, as if fearing and mourning the evil lingering so close to their abode. The lake glimmered darkly beyond. Of course; why should he think himself capable of escaping her presence?
And then, the sealing declaration of the realness of his fate. The fluff, hopping amongst the gumnuts, ignorant, lost in a bliss he could not enter because of that creature’s presence, of its undeniable realness...
He scoffed as her siren’s voice echoed closer. Its innocence returned, but he could no longer feel its warmth, purity, comfort. It was tainted, she was tainted — and he was tainted for yet loving her...
Her footsteps padded lightly against the moss, then stopped.
“Munya, what have you done... what have I done?”
He trembled, holding his head, squeezing hard as if to evaporate the swirls of memory clogging his mind, as did the call of the bird overhead, now an eerie proclamation of his mother’s warnings come to pass. But louder still in that stark quiet, the bird’s call stirred the memories, their now too-real, too-tangible strands weaving webs around his now-tortured mind, around his heart and their love, stifling, choking, dissipating all he’d thought he held so protected in his young, tender hands...
“Munya,” he forced the words, holding back the vomit pooling in the back of his throat. “Munya, you lied to me...”
“No,” her light, lilting, child-like voice breathed. He could hardly stand that voice; could it show no signs of comprehending the evil its spell had ensnared him into?! “No, Alcyb, I did not lie to you. Not once. When I told you I could make all your wildest dreams come to life, that was true. When I told you we might embark on some adventures, the ends of which you might not fancy, that was true. When I told you no one whom you loved or held dear would be harmed, that was true. When I told you—”
“No! Stop!” He whirled to glare, eyes pleading her to end the madness even as he squeezed more fervently, vainly trying to force the memories away. He both loathed and yet helplessly loved. It is that love which gave him no choice but to follow her, but... even those words of hers were true.
He had a choice. Always. Even if he thought all only a dream. And he hated her for being so right. She didn’t lie; every golden line slipping from her tongue like the sweetest honey was true. And yet, somehow, she had deceived him. He saw too clearly now and wondered how he could see nothing before. Probably some trick of her dream world...
She tilted her head in that curious way he adored. Only now the gesture was grotesque, like a puppet’s head drooping, waiting for him to pull the strings and launch them back into the cruel dream of them. But no more. He would not be used like that again. Still, he wondered...
“Why, Munya? What was the point?”
“This...” She answered quickly, presenting a gem shimmering with bands of red, gold, and a blue as vibrant as her eyes. The crest of the Virgyn unicorns, the purifiers...
“Munya... how... why?”
“The narwals,” she whispers. “The narwals made me do it...”
The whisper was so subtle he barely caught it, like a breeze at the end of its dying breath. He sensed the smallest flicker of possible... something, some feeling undefined. His eyes roamed up to carefully study hers...
Their cerulean sheath is like an ocean carefully hiding unsought, unfound treasures within their depths...
No. There was nothing...
Blank and still as glass waters.
“No!” he shouted. “No more of your lies!”
He whirled away, preparing to slide down the root and out of sight.
“NO!” she shrieked at the top of her lungs, like one in gravest peril. He froze, stumbling, though he did not turn yet, his heart pounding, his feet locked in place, his mind jarred by the awful sound.
“THEY ARE REAL! THEY MADE ME! THE NARWALS MADE ME DO IT!”
He wanted to squeeze his head now to make it stop. The hideous, torturing noise. Suddenly, he remembered too strongly his love for her. Maybe she is crazy. Maybe she is a liar and a murderer and a thief. But he only ever wanted to help her, comfort her. Maybe he still could, now — at least in this moment — quiet the screams culminating like an organ’s screeching, building chords.
All ceased and lay still. Abruptly. He turned.
He surfed down the crimson slime. Moss-caked feet painted a trail of vivid red as he races to the bank of the river. Staring into the glass lake, still and unreadable as her eyes. Then, the slightest movement. A bubble rose to the top. In its reflection, like a crystal ball, he saw her eyes. Wide. Unveiled terror. Accusing. Urging. Like oceans he wished could surge back to him, drown him in their eerily strong waves again. If only he could see them, touch them, hold them...
They sank down into the blackness. She was gone. The dream was gone — and left only a sleepless nightmare in its stead.
There was naught to do but face that nightmare. Even as he stared into the empty orifice that was the lake — her prison — he felt it. Jolts of pain, subtle yet stinging like poison, shooting through his ankle, rippling up through his legs, his stomach, his legs, soon to consume his whole body.
The only thing to do was to jump, to swim after her. This creature whom he still loved yet loathed because of how she had — though unwillingly — abused his gift. At least she was truly worth saving. At least he would not regret the thought of her constant companionship once he had saved her, as he had regretted such an act so many times in the past.
He dove in, surging with the strength of his lineage through the depths, pushing back wall after wall of water as if each were comprised of the mere fluff of the clouds from which those walls once hailed. He was of the Piscean race. He was born for swimming. Nor need he worry about drowning — Veela can breathe indefinitely underwater, and so, vicariously, she granted him the shield he needed to rescue her.
He wished he had her eyes, though. The black depths could not consume him, but he could not see well enough to find her. His fingers rippled, grappling for some signs of heading in the right direction. Then, scraping against something sharp, he cursed. Reaching out, he fingered the tree branch — no, a root. And a surface smooth and bumpy all at once.
He entered a tunnel made of earth, set right beneath the forest floor. He wondered how many times he unknowingly passed over this horror, skipped over it so lightly and merrily with her. He shuddered, anger and sickness flooding him, and propelled himself onward.
Copyright © 2011 by Christine E. Schulze