Accipiter G. Goshawk
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He wasn’t quite sure how long they walked. All he knew was that the firm grip of Lady Krix’s hand calmed him; she was an island of serenity in the odd spiralling corridors of his past life.
“Here we are,” she said softly, leading him to a familiar door. “Be cautious: Yersch will try to protect its hold over you. Remember, you are far stronger than it is…have faith in yourself. I will be here to aid you, if need be.”
She smiled warmly and held his gaze, causing him to blush a little.
“I…thank you lady Krix. I can’t…I’m eternally grateful; when all this is over I’ll be sure to-”
She placed a finger over his lips, silencing his confused babbling.
“There will be time to talk later. For now, steel yourself: we are going in.”
The door opened with a wave of her hand and Thorn felt himself being dragged through, twisting as if he were in the heart of a maelstrom.
“Thorn dear? Have you seen my scarlet band? I simply must find it…I’m seeing the girls later and I want to be perfect!”
He shook his head groggily and stood up, feeling unnaturally light. His mother’s voice continued its singsong questioning as she danced lightly from one room to the other, searching.
“So this was your childhood?” Portia asked peering over his mother’s shoulder at the odd mix of objects spread out on the dresser.
“As I remember it, yes,” he murmured, staring blankly at the younger version of himself that had just come dashing from another room. Dark hair sat on his head in a messy mop-like heap, and he appeared to be covered in countless scrapes and bruises.
“It seems that you already enjoyed climbing and jumping off things,” said Lady Krix fondly.
“I did, but I was never really given a choice…,” he murmured darkly, following his mother through to the kitchen. Portia’s brow furrowed at the odd remark, but then her eyes widened when she caught sight of the pantry.
“I don’t understand,” she said, glancing back and forth between the kitchen and the bedroom. “You don’t seem poor; your mother appears to have had more than enough money to buy clothes and jewellery. And yet you had to find food on the streets?”
“She was sick,” murmured Thorn, caressing his mother’s cheek with an ethereal hand. “She was obsessed with her appearance; she spent all her money to care for it. She…she hated herself.”
The last words were choked. In an instant Portia was beside him, holding his hand once more.
“What happened to her?” she asked gently.
“She wasted away years ago, losing herself in her obsession. She thought she was too fat, too wrinkly…in the end the doctors couldn’t help her.” He sobbed, staring at the small child standing behind the beautiful woman who was now combing her hair.
“I’m sorry Thorn.”
Portia held him for a moment, suspending the memory and leaving them floating in a healing nothingness.
“I…I’m ready,” he snuffled, pulling himself up to his full height.
“Onwards then,” she said squeezing his hand encouragingly.
The scene started up again. His mother found the scarlet band and arranged it fetchingly in her hair, staring at herself in a simple silver hand-mirror. Then she left, patting young Thorn on the head as she went. The door closed and the house immediately grew darker, more twisted.
“He’s here,” hissed Thorn worriedly, glancing left and right.
“Ignore it. Concentrate on the memory.”
The calm words roused him from his terror and once again, he focused on the past version of himself. Young Thorn was now staring intently at his mother’s dresser, his eyes fixed on a small opal pendant lying on a heap of other bijoux. Slowly, the child crept forward and hesitantly, pocketed the jewel.
Immediately, the room turned dark and Yersch’s grating voice roared from all around them, sending memory-Thorn scuttling for a far corner.
“Thief! I saw you, you little rat! You are pitiful and vile, the worst refuse of humanity. How dare you steal from your own mother! Come forward, wretch, so that I might gaze into the eyes of a criminal!”
The silver mirror on the dresser glowed ominously and Thorn sighed heavily as his younger-self moved –almost unwillingly- towards the dresser. Small hands picked up the mirror and stared within, captivated by the smoke-demon’s roiling form.
“Hello, worm,” Yersch growled hungrily. “By your actions you have damned yourself; normally I would take your soul as payment and send you to the bowels of Hell,” –young Thorn paled visibly and trembled- “but I am a magnanimous demon. Let us make a contract, mortal: in exchange for my mercy, you must serve me. I will put my considerable powers at your disposal, and you shall use your particular skillset to repay me for not taking your soul. When I consider your debt fulfilled, you will be free to live out your existence. Should you refuse…well…”
The surface of the mirror burst into flames and horrific cries ripped through the room. Portia gasped in horror, as the child howled, unable to let go of the mirror, unable to look away.
“Do we have an agreement?” whispered the demon softly.
Thorn nodded, and immediately the room grew light, as the demon retreated to the other side of the mirror.
“Good. Now rest, thief. I will have work for you on the morrow,” crooned Yersch softly, leaving the child to face the prospect of a life of servitude.
The memory faded and they were back in the alley. Thorn leaned against a wall, sweating profusely. A small bottle was proffered in his direction and he drank its contents gratefully.
“That should help return some of your strength,” came the Law-masters’ calm voice. The elf stood up and moved towards Portia.
“Have you found it?”
“Yes, Excellency. It is my understanding that many years ago our friend here, was exposed to a cursed mirror. He’s been forced to steal ever since.”
The Law-master nodded. “It’s as I thought then. Does he understand the nature of his curse yet?”
“I don’t think so, Excellency. I fear that only freedom will bring him clarity.”
“Humph. Very well. Master Shadow-skipper!”
Thorn raised his head and found himself staring into the glowing blue eyes of the Law-master.
“Yes, my lord?”
“Take me to the mirror; it is high time that you were freed of this bond.”
* * *
They stood on the brink of the Pit, looking down at the small silver object placed on the altar before them. As soon as they’d set foot in the cavern, dark energies had begun to pour out of its surface and had tried to slash at them with razor-covered tentacles.
Velirius hadn’t even blinked. With a simple gesture, he’d dissolved the smoky apparitions and had stalked forward, encased in a bubble of pale mist. Thorn and Portia had followed, making sure to remain well within the boundary of his protective spell.
“So this is the source of all your power and misery,” said the Law-master, peering down at the innocuous-looking mirror. A sinister light glinted behind its oxidized surface and Thorn thought he heard a barely-repressed growl echo around them.
“Interesting,” commented Velirius softly, peering into the depths of the sinister object.
“What do you see?” asked Lady Krix, a small hint of worry colouring her voice.
“All the heinous acts I’ve committed, all the people I’ve killed…all my regrets,” murmured the Law-master in a trance-like voice, “all of them twisted to prey on my mind, to force me into a trap. Clever.”
His voice had regained its steel-like quality and the mirror seemed to dull, as it lost its grip on his mind.
“It feeds on guilt and obsession, master Etheren,” he said, motioning Thorn to come closer. “The thing within is not a demon from Hell, but merely a parasite. It tricks you into believing that it has power over your soul and then forces you into a lifetime of servitude to quench its unnatural thirst. I suspect, that your mother was also a victim of its curse; it must have tricked her into believing she had made a deal to remain ever young or beautiful. Then, as time went by, it presented her with a twisted image of herself, forcing her to spend more time and money on her looks.”
Velirius peered at the thief by his side, who was now shaking. “It probably made her feel guilty as well; she was most likely aware of her obsession, but unable to control herself. The creature within the mirror facilitated her vice, ultimately bringing her to destruction. And it will do the same to you, unless you confront the truth.”
“Truth, what truth?” Thorn exclaimed taking a step backwards as smoke began to fill the cavern again.
“It was never Yersch who forced you into stealing,” said Velirius, now hidden by the shadows erupting from the mirror and surrounding Thorn. “It certainly encouraged you, but it has no interest in what you steal. You on the other hand, lost yourself to this vice. Maybe it was the excitement, maybe a secret pleasure…but to be rid of the curse, you must face it and accept that it was your doing. Your responsibility. You cannot keep justifying your actions by telling yourself that Yersch forced you.”
The demon was now climbing out of the mirror and stalking towards Thorn, hissing as it drew closer.
“Ignore the elf. You are mine. You have no choice in the matter. I hold your soul in bondage and you will pay me or burn!”
Fire tinged the shadows and Thorn fell to his knees, lost in a hurricane of darkness and flames.
“I can’t do this!” he yelled over the roar of the smoke-demon’s laugh. “He’s too strong!”
A delicate hand gripped his shoulder firmly and a soft voice pierced the storm, bringing him back to himself.
“You are stronger,” said Portia quietly. “Be free of him. Don’t fight him; accept your actions and let go.”
The calm assurance of her tone did something to his thoughts, and he found himself standing, facing his nightmarish torturer.
“It was me,” he said, staring into Yersch’s dead eyes. “I wanted to steal those things…I couldn’t help myself. I lost myself to guilt, to your manipulations.”
The apparition said nothing, but seemed to shrink and waver. Thorn took a step forward and it stepped back, until soon, the thief was standing above the mirror, his dagger drawn.
“I accept my responsibility. What is done is done; I let go of my guilt and my obsession. I free myself of my lies and yours!”
The dagger plunged downwards and smashed into the silver surface, which shattered and then immediately turned to dust. The shadows left the cavern and the Pit was finally revealed for what it truly was.
“By the gods…,” hissed Portia staring down.
What Thorn had imagined to be a bottomless chasm was no more than a large stone basin in the ground. In it were the countless objects that the thief had stolen throughout the years, now freed from their smoky illusion.
“Perfect,” said the Law-master, as he summoned the Circlet from the pile of gold where it had landed. “This whole venture has been quite satisfactory. Well done Master Thorn; you took the first step in dealing with the demons within. Welcome to the world.”
He strode off into nothingness, fading back to the Imperial Complex and leaving Thorn and Portia awkwardly holding hands.
“I still have a lot of work to do, don’t I?” he asked her heavily, eyeing the huge pile of treasure.
“Yes,” she answered, “but today you took the first step. And I will gladly give you my help, if you’ll take it.”
She smiled at him and for the first time in years, he felt the shadows draw back from his heart.-