This story is by Eileen Wu and was part of our 2016 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the Winter Writing Contest stories here.
I didn’t know why I was running.
All I knew was that my kingdom was being burned down, and that my mother’s only wish was for me to flee.
I made my way down the dungeon stairway,and stopped. Someone was there waiting for me.
Among the flames, a silhouette stood. As if obeying the silhouette, the flames grew wilder. And then, the fire turned into hands that grabbed at me.
I swiftly dodged the hand, which crashed into a nearby window. The glass shattered, and a million crystal shards scattered onto the floor.
Before my brain even reacted, I was hit, right in the chest. The breath was knocked out of me as I flew back into the broken glass.
Slowly, I tried to get up but quickly realized how futile it was when I had to bite my lip to keep from crying out. Sharp pain lanced through my head and colorful spots flashed in front of my eyes. There was too much smoke in my lungs, and it hurt to cough it out. If I had to die, I would. These were my last thoughts before my conscience simply gave away, and I found myself enveloped in darkness.
I woke to a stranger, staring at me. He had lustrous bronze hair,and deep, mesmerizing ocean blue eyes, with flecks of silvery light throughout.
“Hello there,” he said in a smooth voice, lips barely moving. “I’m Jax.”
“I’m Lilith,” I replied weakly.
He frowned and took a deep breath before speaking in a quiet tone, “ Don’t be alarmed, Lilith, but… I’m afraid you won’t live much longer. The smoke you inhaled during the battle was toxic, and will soon spread to your heart.
For a long moment, I was speechless. “You can’t be serious,” I muttered at last.
“I’m deadly serious, you hear me,?” He replied harshly.
As I realized what this meant, panic started settling in. I couldn’t die now! I tried to take a deep breath, but found that I couldn’t.
Suddenly, my throat tightened. My lungs felt useless. It was like the air around me was devoid of oxygen. My ribs heaved up and down but no benefit came. I cried out in panic, as my lungs screamed for air.
Instantly, Jax was by my side. He took his hands and cupped my face in them. Then, face inches from mine, he whispered, “ Breathe, Lilith. Breathe.”
It was amazing how quickly the fear disappeared. I breathed in his scent, which was minty and cool. In an instant, the tightness in my throat disappeared and slowly, with shaky breaths, my breathing returned to normal.
“You’ll have to be careful,” he warned, “the poison is hurting you more than I predicted.”
With that, he helped me out of bed and strode to the door. “Let’s take a walk,” he suggested, “It’ll help clear your lungs.”
I stood at the edge of the mountains in awe. They were covered with a rug of trees, green, yellow, and orange. From carved rocky outcrops, waterfalls drifted like curtains of silver, and in the fields were the amber glint of rivers.
Jax sat at the edge of the cliff, letting his legs dangle over the side. He patted the area next to him and motioned for me to come over.
Cautiously, I made my way over to him, and took a seat. I was never one to be afraid of heights, and now was no exception.
I sighed contently as I stared off into the horizon. “Your world is so different from mine.”
“In a good way?”
We sat in silence for a while. Then, Jax spoke suddenly, “Do you believe in magic, Lilith?”
I gave him a small smile. “Once upon a time, perhaps.”
“But, magic is all around you! Just look at me!”
“Jax… I don’t want to seem rude, but what exactly are you?”
Jax’s smile was pained when he spoke, “Half human, half animal. A monster. Don’t ask me how. Perhaps it could be called a mix of science and magic.”
“How does the animal thing… work?” I persisted.
Jax stood silently and raised his head to stare at the pale moon. The flecks of silver in his eyes flashed brighter and suddenly, mist shrouded around him.
When it had cleared, I saw, in his place, a wolf. He looked like an illusion, so perfect and godlike. I would never have guessed the man who was behind it.
Days turned into weeks as I spent time with Jax. Everyday was something new and exciting for me. Every moment I spent with him was happy. I knew my people were disgusted by Jax’s kind. They believed that humans should remain human. But Jax, he was more human than any man I have ever known.
All throughout this time, I couldn’t help but remember Jax’s claim that magic was real. I surely didn’t believe him, but sometimes, as I watched his mystical transformation, a part of me truly did believe it.
Then came the day it all ended.
It was another winter morning. Jax and I were strolling around in the snow, when a quartet of men came out from behind trees.
One of them spoke. “The Master expects you to arrive at Sapphire Cave at midnight.” Then without another word, they retreated.
As soon as the men disappeared I searched into Jax’s eyes anxiously. “What does he mean?” I asked. “Who is the Master?”
Jax’s eyes narrowed. “My father.”
Midnight came much too soon, and I was too nervous to be sleepy. I still had no idea what was going on.
We arrived at Sapphire Cave promptly at midnight, and a man was there waiting for us. He had the same angelic features as Jax, except his eyes were coal black.
“Ah, Princess Lilith,” he greeted. “I have been waiting for you.”
“What do you want?” I asked, trying to keep my voice even.
The man raised an eyebrow. “Has Jax not told you?” When I shook my head no, the man smiled.
“Well then, the story is quite simple. I was in love with a girl, Sapphire. I named this cave after her, actually. But your people disagreed with our relationship, and decided that it would be best to kill me. Of course, my dear Sapphire sacrificed herself for me, and so, I lived unhappily ever after.
The way he said it, it sounded like he didn’t care much, but I could see that a part of him was broken.
“I need your moonstone pendant to bring back Sapphire, and I also need you. A life for a life, that is how the magic works. “
Before I knew what I was doing, My hands were around my neck, untying the necklace. I handed it to him. “Here.”
The man looked baffled. “There is no catch?”
“No,“I sighed. “I believe that evil isn’t born, it’s made, and I want to undo the evil in your heart. I won’t live long anyway. You poisoned me with your magic smoke.”
For a moment, everyone in the cave was silent.
Then, Jax ran over and cried, “No Lilith!”
“It’s okay,” I whispered back, my voice breaking.
I knocked the moonstone out of the Master’s hands. The stone fell silently to the floor and cracked.
Then, a blinding light followed. I knew what I had to do. I stepped into the light, but not before looking at Jax one more time and saying, “I love you.”
Somehow, I found myself in the arms of Jax.
If this was heaven I would gladly take it.
“Lilith?” Came a voice.
I sat up. Immediately, the breath left my lips, and suddenly, it felt as if my lungs were on fire. I screamed, but Jax was one step ahead of me.He leaned in and pressed his soft lips against mine.
My heart stopped, and I let our embrace last for a second before pulling away.
“What happened?” I ask.
Jax answered slowly, as if not believing it himself. “You reminded my father so much of Sapphire, he couldn’t watch you die. He said that your heart was as pure as hers, and,” Jax frowned, “ that our love reminded him of his own with Sapphire.”
“We destroyed the moonstone, and saved you but….” he broke off.
“What is it?” I asked.
“Your condition is worse. The poison is spreading to your heart faster than ever. You’re going to die!”
There was a moment of silence, and then, hesitantly, I began.
“Jax, after I’m gone, I want you to move on. But please promise that you will never, ever, forget about me.”
Jax’s face was pained, and there was a hint of exasperation in his voice when he spoke, “Lilith, I’m sorry, but I can’t move on. I just can’t. Just know that I choose you. And I’ll keep choosing you over and over again. Without a pause, without a doubt, in a heartbeat; I’ll never stop choosing you.”