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Mortem ad Figuram Mutante
Lecah stood in the doorway of her childhood home. She could still see it as it was before that fateful day. Closing her eyes, she imagined everything. The halls brightly lit with torches, the smell of her mother’s cooking wafting from room to room. She pictured her sister, Adelfi, playing with her dolls on the floor of the den, her blonde braids bobbing with enthusiasm. Lecah’s baby brother, Egan, as he tugged at the seam of their mother’s dress and sat quietly, sucking his thumb. All the while, Kora, their mother, stirred the large pot on the stove in the kitchen. Lecah could almost hear the echoes of the bellowing laughter from her father Galen outside of the heavy wooden doors as he and Lecah’s eldest brother, Thanos, returned from their day of hunting. Lecah’s own room as it had been, filled with books and toys.
The fantasy faded quickly as a flock of birds tore from the forest behind her. Now all that stood was the front room, with its scorched walls and caved roof surrounded by piles of rubble. It was the first time she had been back since the day of burning, but she needed to see what was left. She needed to strengthen her resolve. She had two shots at destroying the demon that destroyed her home and her life; but she needed assistance for one, the aid of her own kin. She prayed silently that her plea would not fall on deaf, unforgiving ears. Sliding a single dark leather glove onto her left hand, Lecah mounted her horse leaned forward and whispered “Ride, Amesi. Ride,” and they disappeared into the forest.
Lecah tore through the forest while keeping the scorched house at the front of her mind. She reached the house at the edge of the forest, beside the river. She watched this house from afar many times, but not until now did she dare approach. She feared their judgment more than the monster she came here to destroy.
“Thanos, I need your help,” Lecah said as she leapt down from the saddle. He looks tired, she thought. And aged.
“Quiet Lecah! You’ll wake the baby,” Thanos said in a harsh whisper as he directed her toward the garden. The open petals of the ipomoeas gleamed dimly in the moonlight. Lecah sat beside them on a wooden bench and stared out across the hills.
“How’s mother?” Lecah ventured.
"The same. She eats very little and sleeps a lot and spends her waking hours at the loom. Just sitting, she hasn’t made anything in years. The old tapestry we rescued just sits there with her and neither one of them ever changes. You could see her if you wanted to, she doesn’t blame you anymore.”
“No, I know her. She is my mother too; Kora of Anel does not forgive. Do you remember when I left the stable door unlocked? How she never let it go? She brought it up at every opportunity and never trusted me again. Or when I broke the mirror? Oh, the way she yelled.” bit Lecah.
“Lecah, that was seven years ago!”
“And seven years bad luck since. Besides, this is so much bigger…”Thanos reached out and patted his sister on the back. Lecah stared coldly into the distance “I went home today, you know. The front hall is still standing."
“Lecah, I can't help you now, you know that." Thanos said softly.
“The hinges are rusty but the oaken doors still stand as though they could keep out the cold-"
“I have a wife and child now, Lecah, darling."
“And the robbers and thieves and the demons. As if those great doors could still protect the house and Egan, and Adelfi, and Papou..."
“You could stop this. Settle down, get married, start a family. Lecah of Armódia, this does not all rest upon your shoulders."
“Thanos, if only she could understand that I did not do it! It wasn’t my fa-“
“Lecah! Stop this! I beg you! You are delusional! If you would just accept the blame we might be able to move on. The damage you have done to this family is unbelievable! And those people in the next village over? Why them, Lecah? What did they do to deserve the chaos you inflicted upon them? You are the only one destroying your life not some fictional demon you made up in your head!” shouted Thanos, standing and lifting up his hand as if to strike. The cry of an infant from within the house broke the tension of the night. Thanos and Lecah sat in shocked silence as the cry echoed in their ears. A cool wind blew, chilling them to the bone.
“You will not help me will you, Paidi mou," Lecah said quietly, defeated.
Thanos simply shook his head, his face full of sorrow and his eye looking far beyond where Lecah sat. “Go.”
They rose, exiting the garden without speaking. All of the hedges were neat and trimmed, and the flowers were tended and well kept. The wailing stopped leaving the garden still, peaceful, tame and precise. I could never belong here anyway; Lecah thought to herself, no matter how bright the dutiful, headstrong sun shines, he can never calm the unruly wind.
From the other side of the river, Lecah watched the lights go out in Thanos’s home. "He still doesn't believe me, Amesi. He still thinks it was really me, which is why he will not help. He says that I have nothing left to fight. We know better, do we not, Amesi? I have no need for forgiveness." As the last light went out, Lecah could see them in her mind's eye. Lying in bed, sleeping unrestfully just like every night since the burning. The moon, fully risen now, glistened on the rushing river. Lecah hovered at the riverbank for a moment, wondering if they were right. This is why she had gone back to the scene; if she stopped now, it would keep happening to others. Other families would feel their suffering. "Ride, Amesi. Ride."
The night flew by them as the two figures galloped through the thick wood, along the snaking path of the moonlit river. The only sound in the otherwise silent forest was that of hooves pounding the shore. They reached a cottage at the edge of the forest with a thatched roof and squat wooden doors. Smoke billowed into the sky from the brick chimney. Good, Lecah thought, he’s home. She dismounted and tied Amesi to a post near the front door.
Nythe of Magijstar sat beside the hearth, muttering softly to himself. Ingredients flew about the room, adding themselves in perfect portion to the large black pot on the fire. Lecah couldn’t help gasping at the sight, despite having seen him do it a million times. Nythe was a hermit and didn’t particularly like or trust people and it was this mutual philosophy that had drawn two otherwise solitary people together. Nythe was the closest thing to a friend Lecah had ever had and she was the same to him.
“Seeing as Thanos is not with you, I assume he will not be assisting you after all. I suppose we must resort to our second option,” he said with pity. He heaved a great sigh and put down the potions book he had been reading, and with a wave of his hand all the ingredients neatly arranged themselves in the cupboard. “I started it just in case. After all, people are so very unreliable. I prefer books; they never change their content to please a reader. They simply deliver the cold facts,” he said while bustling about the room.
Nythe’s whole house was filled with every book he could get his hands on. In every language he could read and hundreds in languages he still hoped to learn one day. Big ones, small ones, thin as a blade and thick as a brick; books in every subject, littered everywhere. It was possibly the largest library in the world. Lecah had read a good number of them in her research, and they had indeed delivered the cold, hard facts. Lecah and Nythe both knew that Lecah was out of options. “Come here then, it’s almost done.”
Lecah stepped forward to gaze into the cauldron. The scent of béchamel rose from the pot.
“Not that, moros! That’s my supper. This one,” Nythe said, pulling a smaller pot from a coal oven across the room. Instantly the room smelled of magic: the dark, rich scent of burnt wood, cocoa beans, and Atropa Belladonna, deadly nightshade. Lecah shivered, the scent always made her uneasy both with disgust and desire. He pulled off the lid and the liquid inside boiled black as ebony, and then turned the color of quicksilver before settling on clear. The smell dissipated. “Hand me your dagger.”
Leach pulled the blade from its sheath on her hip. It glistened in the fire-lit cottage. She gripped the blade with gloved fingers and offered the handle to Nythe. As he reached to take it, she stopped him and looked into his eyes saying, “Thank you Nythe. You have been a better brother to me than my own blood.”
He shifted his glance as he accepted the weapon, unable to look directly at her. “If you are sure you want to do this I am obliged to aid you.” Nythe slipped the dagger down to its hilt in the now eerily and pristinely transparent liquid.
“You know I have to,” Lecah said so softly it was barely audible. The knife glowed as the liquid dripped off of it. Nythe looked mournfully at her as he whispered a few words that inscribed themselves into the steely edge; Mortem ad figuram mutante.
He cleared his throat as he presented the dagger to Lecah, “You understand what must be done; we have prepared as much as we possibly could have. There will be no charge; you are sacrificing enough for this quest. You are extremely brave Lecah of Armodia, and I hope this brings you the peace you are looking for.” Then he turned away and briskly retreated to the other room. Lecah paused a moment wondering if she should say something else; if there was anything else she could say to the only other human being who really understood her. She stared at the closed door and decided against saying anything more. He hated goodbyes, which was another unspoken reason he never sought the company of other people.
As Lecah emerged from the cottage she could see the sun barley peeking out from behind the mountain, basking the forest in strange orange light. She untied Amesi and reached into her bag to give her a carrot. “Another long ride today, girl. Eat up, you need your strength.” Leach stared out across the horizon at one of the last sunrises she would ever see. Then she mounted and brought her horse around. She glanced long at the cottage and blew a kiss into the wind. With an abrupt motion she leaned forward and cried, “Ride, Amesi. Ride” and they bolted across the dew covered horizon into the sun.
The cold morning cut through them but they dared not rest. Lecah hugged tight to Amesi’s neck. They were used to days like this one, cold and dark, with a long difficult journey ahead. However, the two were never lonely for they always had each other. So they rode long into the night.
Only at dawn did they slow to rest. Lecah lay down beneath an olive tree. “We are going to need rest for tonight, Amesi. We don’t have time to toss and turn.” This was easier said than done of course. Each time Lecah closed her eyes, nightmares plagued her. They were as clear and crisp as if she was still in the moment. Lecah knew it was time to stop running. It was almost over and by this time tomorrow she could sleep peacefully. So she let herself drift away.
The day was closing as Lecah and Amesi rode swiftly through the glen. “Ride, Amesi Ride!” cried Lecah. “Mother will be furious! We’ve already missed supper!” They dashed through the valley, their home still out of sight. Amesi saw it before Lecah did and so she bucked and whinnied. Then Lecah saw it too, the pillar of smoke rising to the sky. “No,” Lecah whispered. “NO!” They doubled their speed; branches scratched and scraped Lecah’s face.
They pulled to a halt just beyond the forest. Burning, everything was burning. A column of fire rose from the back of the house as Lecah ran towards it. She saw Thanos drag her mother out of the house and her father rush into the depths of the burning building. Moving as quickly as she could, it was all she could do to reach them, to help them. All of a sudden she froze. In the midst of the chaos, at the center of everything she saw a familiar outline masked by the embers and the smoke. Standing there, plain as day, was a figure that could not possibly be real. As the smoke cleared the figure became infinitely more apparent and equally bizarre. Lecah’s heart filled with terror as she recognized the figure as herself.
But it couldn’t be her because here she was standing ten feet away, so what was it? What could steal her likeness in that way? The figured looked up, smiled darkly at her, and then disappeared into the obscurity of the gray haze. While watching the fires ravage what she once called home, a grim thought struck her. “Where are Egan and Adelfi?” she cried and broke into a sprint. She had nearly reached the doorway when she felt strong arms wrap around her waist and pull her back. “No!” she screamed out, bursting into tears. “Egan! Adelfi! Matakia mou !”
“Thanos do not let her go! She’ll only do more harm,” shouted Galen as he ran back into the children’s room. Lecah reached out to grab hold of him and only caught his left hand. He pulled away leaving her with his thick, leather glove in her hand. He vanished again. Moments late,r the roof caved and the walls collapsed. Thanos released her and bolted toward the house.
“How could you?” Kora said coldly and quietly, standing shock still. She unable to otherwise react. “How could you devastate everything you love like this? You have destroyed my family. This dirty putana is no daughter of mine.” Lecah could not wrap her head around what had just occurred. Lecah took Amesi and fled knowing full well that until she understood what had happened, her family could never believe her. Racing blindly away, smoke and tears burning her eyes she flicked the reigns and ran away.
Lecah awoke from the nightmare she had dreamt a thousand times and lived every day. She kissed the back of the leather glove. “I am so sorry, father,” she whispered into the midday sky. “I love you.” She packed up her things, saddled Amesi and set off on the last length of her journey.
At the top of the hill stood a grove of tall, ancient trees in a perfect circle. Lecah approached with caution, stopped a foot from the tree line and dismounted. She turned to stroke Amesi’s muzzle. “Go home. You know the way, girl. Our family needs you.” The horse shook her great head and grunted. Lecah smiled grimly, “it will be alright. Ride, Amesi. Ride.” With that she firmly smacked the horse’s hind sending her galloping homeward.
Lecah watched her go before entering the ring of trees. At the center was a small, undisturbed pond so still and perfect it was if a piece of the sky had fallen to Earth. Lecah sat beside it and leaned over; her own reflection peered back. It was different than she remembered, thinner, sicklier and older. “Kalais of Tisskia, the changer of the shadows. I have you at last.” Lecah said. Her reflection mimicked her movement but her face distorted into a wicked sneer.
Her reflection laughed at her maliciously. “You cannot destroy me Lecah of Armódia. I have imprinted on you. I am a part of you.”
“You think that I do not understand that? After you stole my form and wreaked havoc on my family and the neighboring towns?”
“When you strike, you will slash only water.”
“It has taken me seven long years to figure out how to find, capture and kill you. It took several just to find out who you are. It is hard to find factual reports when everyone you’ve imprinted on is deemed crazy or dangerous. Please do not insult me. I will not disturb the pool of mirrors; it will only release you. Long have I avoided pools, mirrors and polished metal; anywhere you can get a perfect reflection to crawl out of. I keep my dagger dirty and sheathed so you may not escape. This is the one place in the world where I can gaze upon my own reflection without letting you lose upon the people and things I love. This ring of trees is filled with old magic. Almost as old as you are.”
“Well, you certainly have done your research. You do know quite a bit about me, dear Lecah.” Kalais sneered. “Well I know everything about you. I have been with you since you shattered that mirror seven years ago. The broken relationship you had with your mother, the headstrong loyalty your eldest brother had to his father and family and the undying love you had for your precious baby twins. I followed you everywhere, learning as much as I could then I hit you where it would hurt the most.I murdered your family then I destroyed your reputation.”
“I know. I’ve done more than read about it, I’ve lived it every day,” Lecah replied. “But for as much as I have learned I still have one question: why?”
Kalais stared deep into Lecah’s eyes causing the hair on the back of her arms to stand on end and her fingertips to shake. “Because,” the demon whispered, “it was fun.”
Tears of rage filled Lecah’s eyes, “I aim to end this once and for all.” Lecah inhaled deeply and brought to mind the images of her family. They will keep me strong. “Egan, Adelfi, Galen…my father. I will see you soon.” She raised her dagger high, watching her reflection do the same. Mortem ad figuram mutante; death to the figure changer. With both hands on the hilt Lecah gave a great cry and plunged it deep into her chest. Blood poored from her breast and soaked that single leather glove; all that was left of her father. There was a high pitched shriek as the pool filled with a dark, viscous, red liquid. The deed was finally done: Kalais was destroyed and her family avenged. With that Lecah heaved a great sigh and lay down. After five years of wakeful nights, Lecah of Armódia could finally rest in peace.