This story is by Taija Sensei and was part of our 2017 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the Spring Writing Contest stories here.
My fingers caressed over the glowing purple line, tangibly adoring every measure of my work. It was a thick and infinite strip of light that curved into a complete circle on the antiqued wooden floorboards. Droplets of cold sweat dotted my face, and puffs of exhaustion ventilated through my mouth.
With this, fate would be on my side.
Contained in the circle were a series of evenly spaced out runes and glyphs, a dimmer line traced out a pentagram, and in the center, untouched by all the markings, was an insignia. Under my dress shirt, over my heart, was a tattoo of the same symbol.
“Takoda…” I whispered. It was the name of the person who had told me I couldn’t do it.
A smirk snuck onto my face as the wind in the room began to rise in powerful swirls. My short messy hair kicked up in chaotic waves as I too, rose and stepped back. Serves her right for not believing in me.
I took a moment to marvel at my own creation; a scholar’s level spell, reconstructed and altered by a novice spell-crafter. A magic that would once tie a temporary luck to one’s spirit, now submits a long-term supply of fate-magic to a soul. In other words, my continuous fight against fate would become a co-op alliance.
But what I waited for never came.
Suddenly, the room lost its candle light. “What?” I voiced my confusion. From what I remember of the grimoire, there were no elements of dark magic at play in this spell, nor did I chant the incantations for such a thing. Yet the room before me continued to deteriorate. Light, breathable air, the sense of comfort: all stolen.
I don’t understand. Where did I go wrong? How did I fail?
The badge in the center cracked as a dark energy shot through it. Searing pain tore through my chest. It felt as though my heart were scorched by a very literal heartburn. I was forced down to a knee. Moments later, through a fissure of my pain I saw the forming of a small, pitch black hole at the middle of the circle. It dragged away the insignia into its depths and bloomed outward at a sped up pace. I fell back on my rear in a failed attempt to distance myself, but it was too quick. A floating sensation overcame my body, and then I plummeted before my brain could make sense of it.
Every corner of my body felt as though it were being poisoned by the black nothingness. Whether I was still descending into the abyss or the darkness was slithering up towards me, I couldn’t tell anymore; not even my thoughts were safe from its attack.
Of course I’d find a way to fail this too. Almost everything in my life goes down in ruins. If only I were stronger, this wouldn’t have happened.
I closed my eyes and before I knew it I found my body coiled up in a strange ropey substance like a chair made of webs that spiraled around my limbs. I was held up a bit above the ground in a stony crypt. The air was dusty and rustic as though whatever once lived here had perished long ago. All around, hovering in the soot, were these floating glyphs like the ones on my magic circle, except 3D and asterisk-like. They acted as this room’s only source of light – a faint purple glow with much too little to show.
Leftover pain from the earlier burning sensation still lingered over my chest. It seemed the atmosphere truly had affected my mind. I made no efforts to escape. Motivation to do anything at all had drained away, and although I knew this, I couldn’t fight it.
“You look so scared, so confused. ‘What happened? Where am I?’ I can practically hear your thoughts screaming up at me.”
I whipped my eyes in front of me to a voice much closer than I would have liked. I couldn’t help but shiver and cringe all in one when I saw her.
That was the easiest way to describe the woman speaking to me. She wore an X-shaped black dress that draped in elegant bags over her misty skin. Horns, larger than that of any creature I’ve seen or heard of, protruded from her skull and crossed behind her head. They twisted down, around, and curved back out in front as a sort of demonic tiara. Her eyes too, were exes, slitted and yellow, and deadly and scary. Mopped out on top of her head was a long and wicked spread of shadowy, tangled threads.
What was she? Her skin seemed like a clutter of clouds bunched up and confined together in the shape of a human body. Because of this, a part of me didn’t want to acknowledge that she was really there at all. Maybe she was a ghost or an illusion. That thought was much more comforting than admitting I was staring at a demon…or a demigod.
I didn’t want to look at her for long. At the same time I didn’t trust her current inaction enough to look away.
Where did she come from though? Not a sound of a footstep prepared me for her entry. She just appeared.
With her arms folded neatly into each other, she looked down at me as if judging my soul.
“Did you know,” – I flinched at hearing her voice again – “when you call for magic, using your petty symbols and circles, you are opening a gate to another world and taking what you please… stealing, essentially.” Her eyes narrowed in a deathly manor. “I’m not judging though, every once in a while I like to steal from your world too.”
She’s going to kill me.
Simply being in her presence told me that. Her eyes, her tone, her oppressive pressure acted as a silent message of incoming doom. I ground my teeth. Takoda. I should have listened to her…
“If only…” my voice cracked under her crushing demeanor.
The demon woman smiled. “If only.” she repeated.
Next, she streaked a hand through her frizzy hair, starting from her forehead, to the back of her crown and onward. Her arm passed narrowly between her cheek and the horns at her side as she tucked the gathered locks behind her pointed ears. In a faster sweep, she practically threw strands of her hair at me. The stroke she made turned her nappy hair into a straight and silky elegance.
As the ends brushed my face I breathed in the smell of ashes, and then I didn’t breathe at all. I was given an instant and brutal reassurance that her body was not an illusion.
Shortly after running her hand through her straightened hair, she drove it towards my neck, strangling away at my windpipes. The moment she did, all the strange tendrils that shackled me in place, disintegrated, but a far greater threat now trapped me.
I grabbed at her wrist and fingers to get her off, but she was ridiculously strong. Where my grasp shook, hers was firm and secured. I coughed out my pain – or as much as I could.
She mocked my efforts: “If only I had magic life would be easier. If only I had money, life would be easier. If only this enemy wasn’t in front of me, life would be easier. Oh, if only, if only, IF ONLY!”
With every shout she brandished, I felt weaker and she seemed bigger. Her previously average-sized nails stretched in length and dug into the back of my neck. I felt the blood trickle down and seep into my collar. Aside from her raising voice, there was a terrible high-pitched ringing in my head now.
She spat her next words: “All you humans say the exact same thing.” – The odd lights in the room began to pulse off and on. – “If only I could see! If only I could breathe!” – The hand I had wrapped around her wrist dwindled back. – “If only I could live my dreams! Life would be oh-so-much easier!”
She wasn’t getting bigger; I was infantizing.
“You people just take and take and even get, and yet, you’re never satisfied. When will you learn nothing you ransack from this place will help you? You could run to any realm you please and steal everything you think you need and still find the same answer. Life will never be easier. Life sucks for everyone; it always has, and always will.”
My consciousness began to slip. Her lecture, and growing anger mixed in with the indecisive lights were not helping. I was becoming a child now. Her assault had lost me my age. All that was left was a powerless and frail kid with no hope of surviving such an attack.
How did it come to this?
~ ~ ~
The demon hadn’t noticed when her victim blacked out or when a gate opened up in her void-like domain. She continued sucking the life away and continued her rant, pulling the limp body closer to her frame.
“-You constantly look for inexistent solutions to your never-ending problems. Pitiful, pitiful, annoying creatures! You beings can’t do anything right. Your only purpose is to hunger and starve for more, to feed off each other’s happiness, and leech off one another’s joy. All you’re good for is your suffering. All you’re worth is your pain-”
“You’re wrong!” Takoda’s shout echoed from above moments before she sliced through the demon’s vaporous arm with an intricately woven dagger. Upon landing, she crouched down and caught the child-version of her best friend, leaving the flying limb unattended. In the same motion, after a lightning fast spin, Takoda made a horizontal swipe towards the beast’s gut, expecting to either kill or distance the creature. Instead, her weapon clashed heavily against an unseen barrier.
The two shared a moment of eye contact. Then Takoda dashed away with a careful grasp on her resting friend; the feathers in her hair brushed playfully down on their diminished heart. The demon woman glared from her decapitated hand to the new enemy.
Takoda took the opportunity to straighten up. “We may not be able to take care of ourselves on our own. We may seem pitiful and small, individually. But with the help of others we are strong. It’s through support that we overcome our obstacles. Through our bonds we find something worth fighting for… something worth being strong for,” Takoda scanned up and down the demon as if looking for a soul. “I truly feel sorry for you if you cannot see that.”
Spiked shadows shot from the hole in her arm to the hand on the floor. Once attached, the demon flung the hand towards Takoda with a wielding power of a mace-user. Takoda crouched out of the way and placed her daggered hand on the floor. All the lights in the air zipped down to her palm and shaped into a magic circle.
The circle rose from the floor with the two humans on top and hung there for a moment. The demon had a blistering rage that strung tightly around the air she stood in. By the time her hand was reattached, it looked like she wanted nothing more than to tear Takoda into shards of sorrow, leaving behind only residues of regret.
But she didn’t. She let them live. Takoda couldn’t help but wonder why.
“Perhaps if you had someone to fight for, you wouldn’t feel the way you do.” Said Takoda, in finality.
The magic circle platform ascended, risen up by a geyser of glyphs. The dark woman’s mouth peeled at the corner into a nasty snarl. Still she did not attack, not verbally nor physically. They continued staring at one another, even through the magic circle’s crystally pane, until Takoda was climbing into a new light above and the demon sunk into the growing dark below.