One Thousand and One Maidens
by Christine E. Schulze
Alcyb is a cynical Djinn tired of the vanity of life. He is sworn to a Veela, a childlike beauty who soon holds a powerful sway over his heart. Yet she harbors a deep secret and is not what she appears to be...
A pain shot through his chest, close to his right shoulder, like someone pushing a knife slowly through, torturing the flesh, then the muscle and bone. Grasping at the wound, he realized it did not exist. His mind grew fuzzy a few moments before it cleared enough to realize — he was bearing her pain.
Finding new strength, he spurted forward, blanching and cursing as another of the wrenching pains speared his leg. They were torturing her; for a moment, his airways constricted as his strength faltered, threatening to inhale the water he could not breathe. So this is how her demise would come. They would torture her, and by their unbreakable bond, he too would be tortured beyond ability to help her...
No. It could not be. It would not be. The pain continued to wrack his body, forcing him to pause, suspended grotesquely in the water like a tree writhing with the shock of lightning’s cruel grasp. But then he surged on, ever on, until the pale milky white of her glow lured him down that final stretch.
Their screams entwined as the spiral of the twisted, ivory horn pierced so close to her heart which wept a gentle stream of ruby red tears. Touching his chest, at last, her torment had become his reality. Blood. But it would not stop him. His vision blurred; there was only her, floating like a withering star to the bottom of the watery abode.
Her glow reflected upon the six, fish-like giants leering mercilessly at her, blazing eyes announcing their desire to spear her through again and again until those crimson tears fell no more. And something else shimmered, falling from fingers delicate and white like a whispering waterfall...
The gem. That cursed thing, and yet his last hope for the blessing of their reunion. Ignoring the pain, pushing past it, he swam hard. Swam past her delicate, fading body — resisting the desire to touch her was so difficult, but he had to focus. If he truly wanted to help her, he must focus on that cursed but beautiful thing...
The narwals roared, surging all at once. Unicorn-like horns — their deceptive purity glistening full in her natural glow — aimed straight for his heart, prepared to take out that last link to their demise, that final wall standing in the way of completing their mission.
He threw the gem, and it landed in the mouth of one of the beasts, thrust open wide, ready not just to spear but devour its prey. Then he grabbed her hand, shooting down with her and from harm’s way. A groan as the creature swallowed, and then, an explosion of mighty rays of light, extending, consuming its brethren. The light was too great for their shadow, and they were too greatly connected as one shadow for one to exist without the others fading. That is the way of covens of six. As a djinn, he had seen enough evil to know such truths.
At last they emerged, and he broke the surface with her like an angelic dolphin, landing gracefully upon the earth, hugging her close as if cupping the most precious pearl in his arms. Laying her on the ground, he touched her wounds, whispering the ancient words of his people, hoping all was not too late. His breathing came in shallow, unpredictable gasps, blurring his vision and senses, making the needed concentration difficult. But at last it steadied, as did hers...
And she lay before him, smiling, whole, and at last, herself. It was the first time he had seen her as herself, smiling as herself, and he smiled too, releasing a great sigh. The shadow had passed at last.
She sat up, holding him close, arms wrapping like the graceful folds of a lily about his neck. He caressed her with all the tenderness of one holding a lily.
“Thank you,” she breathed, pulling back. The skies of her eyes had cleared completely, shining more brilliantly than the sapphires of the finest sultan’s chambers. “Thank you... and now, at the last, I may tell you the truth — the real truth — about all...”
“No,” he shook his head slowly, taking her hand. “You don’t have to...”
So many other things he wished to say, but he could not, because which to say first? All that mattered was that she was alive, well, happy, and they were finally free together. They were together...
“Yes,” she nodded. “I owe you that much. And I don’t mind now; the shadow is past, and it is just that — a shadow. I need not fear speaking of a shadow...
“The gem. I suppose I should start with the gem...
“I needed the gem from the unicorns, I needed to borrow it to break my spell, to shatter the narwals’ hold on me. The Veela and unicorns of Faerie are so closely bound, that if I could use that gem faceted from the diamonds of their tears, if I could activate its healing powers to cut my ties to the evil and restore my true self and my connection to them...
“I knew the narwals would not let me take it so easily though. I knew they would intervene, make me a danger to the unicorns. So I spoke with the unicorns in advance, and they agreed: if one of theirs needed to sacrifice itself to save one of their beloved Veela and rid their wood of an evil which might lure hapless other innocents astray, then they would...
“I think they were willing to make such a sacrifice also because they needed a Veela anyways to keep the gem safe for when the heroes came...”
“So the heroes are coming here?” he asked hopefully.
Her nod confirmed it. “Yes; they are traveling across the twelve kingdoms of Fairie even now, collecting the gems that will eternally dispel that Spirit that wishes to use its powers to dominate the underworld — and in doing so upset the balance of the overworld, destroying Fairie. When the heroes’ mission is complete, enemies like the narwals will no longer be a worry.”
“You need not worry anymore ever now,” he breathed, stepping forward, towering close above her. Placing one hand as tenderly as dew kissing new grass upon the small of her back, he drew her closer. The other hand danced on her cheek, lightly as morning’s first zephyr. The fingers trickled down to her chin, and he drew her sunshine lips towards his.
Her voice pitied. Her eyes halted. No. No, the nightmare was supposed to end here, end with the final screech of the narwals, end when he took her into his arms and bore her to the surface. No, she could not extend it. He could not bear another lifetime of nightmares...
“Alcyb...” She stretched up her hand. The fingertips brushed his skin with a warmth false like velveteen; her touch was sincere, but its tenderness was not — only its pity. “Alcyb, in being released from the narwals’ grasp, I realize many things. One of those things is that while I love you very dearly as a friend... nothing more can really exist between us. I would just be using you now, even as I think I used you then, out of loneliness and so you would continue to be kind to me. I think I was used to having to obey the narwals’ every whim in order to gain their favor... and it may take me a while to heal in that respect...
“But to do so, my heart must be free. The wood is free of evil — for now — and I desire that I should remain free as well. To do that, I must be free of all attachments — free to be myself, to discover who I am, before attaching to another. Do you understand?”
Her words were soft as a zephyr yet cut him like an icy wind. Her freckles, close enough to reach out and kiss him, mock him, slapped him hard across the face. He nodded but did not really comprehend. He had always been attached to someone, save in ignorant sleep. It was the nature of a djinn to be attached. It was an innate desire, even when he loathed it at times...
“I’m sorry.” She smiled apologetically, as she might at a young child whose candy she had just stolen away.
He continued nodding. But he was not a child to be toyed with. He was a powerful spirit. He never realized it before, though he always knew it was so. But now, in seeing his power and boldness manifested in her rescue, he felt the power pulsing through him more vibrantly than before. And she would feel it too. He would twist tradition; if her life tied necessarily to his, then it would be tied as he wanted it to be; he would take control. He, for once in his miserable existence, would dominate the weaker. He would become her master.
He felt the same darkness that took her eyes when he slew the unicorn creep so easily into his eyes, filling him with a sudden, wondrous hunger.
Now she sounded like the child. Small. Frightened. Inescapably vulnerable.
She took a step back. The movement pushed him over the edge, and he lunged.
* * *
He had slain his one thousand maidens, where he might have saved them. In saving them, he could have achieved the highest honor known to a djinn. He could have obtained full freedom and many long years to spend that freedom.
But what glory or satisfaction in that? Only to be rejected, ridiculed, unappreciated by one thousand young, self-centered, conniving women as she?
No, instead, he took his vengeance. He determined to slay his thousand.
At first, it was easy; the anger swathed any sense of remorse in its warm, cozy folds.
Then, anger was washed away by sadness, and he mourned the death of each maiden as if each were she.
Eventually though, a hard shell encased his heart until, no longer feeling any twinge of guilt from the killings, he thirsted for them. Thirsted for the game and for new ways to twist it to make the lovely virgins stumble into his wolf den. Just as in fairy tales of old, he found fresh ways to tell them how lovely their eyes were, their laughter, their intelligence. Then, he devoured them...
So now he had slain his one thousand maidens, his rite of passage into the service of Belial, High Demon Over All Devils, as his chief servant. But the weight of guilt did not press upon him. His conscience was as light as the rubies’ effortless, airy aura. After all, it was upon her shoulders the guilt should lie.
As Belial’s hordes and armies cheered, greeting their new commander, he smirked. He wondered where she was now, if she were still sane after enduring many long years of watching him torture those hapless victims. He knew she still lived; Belial granted her to him as his pet for all eternity, even as his passage now granted him all eternity. He let her live, which is why he could enter sweet sleep each night without remorse. Because no blame rested upon his shoulders.
All blame rested instead upon her, upon the One.
Copyright © 2011 by Christine E. Schulze