”Ai! Charísa pai Aleuther,
E phuel eutherámon hapax,
Pakroutu é moreis
Didokimae tu diastreph
Mor í, kakomae mortribos,
Di meno hwaet, aioneis.
Charísa stood before her father, clenching her fists, driving her fingernails into her palms until the blood welled and ran, dripping onto her skirt. It did not show on the dark red velvet, and her father, the Prince of the Aleuther, remained oblivious to the rage that burned within his eldest child.
“You persecute an innocent guest,” she said. “Elsía has harmed no mortal.”
“Yet Sebastoes has banished him from Hosiotos,” Prince Eupherel said. “Therefore we of Madra ought to shy from his presence. He is an Elinróme, my daughter, an exceedingly powerful Seraph. I know you were friendly with him when he visited us. He charms you with his deep understanding of rocks and creatures and green growing things. But he is dangerous, a rebel. Have nothing to do with him. I forbid it.”
Charísa stood still for a moment, trembling. Then she turned and ran, holding her gown so it would not trip her, the wounds on her palms burning against the velvet. No elf-maiden ever contradicted her elders. It would not be wise for Charísa to so announce her rebellion. Better to surprise them, catch them all off their guard, and so conquer easily.
You will be powerful, my darling, murmured the golden voice against her shell-thin ear. When you join me, all of Madra will tremble at your feet, you beautiful daughter of the Elves.
“I come to you, Elsía,” she whispered.
She paused and glanced back at her father in his woodland throne room, partly hidden from her by the leaves and branches. Eupherel loved her fiercely. He loved all of his children, but Charísa most specially, perhaps because he sensed something fragile in her, something always on edge, easily tipped this way or that. She felt that love and turned toward it as an opening rosebud turned toward the sun.
A sharp pain shot through her palms, and Charísa lifted her hands to inspect the damage. Eight small crescent cuts, they still seeped wine-dark liquid against the pale flesh. As she watched, Elsía’s golden presence glowed in the wounds, burning gently. When the fire subsided, the cuts were gone.
Charísa lifted her skirt and ran. Her heart sang in fierce triumph. I come to you, my winter love, my golden master, Elsía, greatest of the Elinrómi. I am your disciple, body and soul. I come to you.
She ran up the forest path, then abandoned it to climb the foothills of Mount Numira, the Red-Crowned. Her silk slippers tore as she raced over bracken and bramble and jagged rock. Had she glanced at her white feet, she would have seen Elsía’s dark gold wash over them continually, healing the cuts and scrapes as they appeared. She felt no pain.
Elsía stood on the mountainside, waiting. His new physical body, bound to him on banishment from the High Realm, was slender and tall, fair as a straight young zadron tree. Sebastoes had that much mercy, and it was little enough. Elsía’s greeting smile was brilliant, his dark eyes bright, as he took her in his arms.
“You are my daughter, now,” he whispered, his cheek against hers. “You belong to me.”
A thrill pulsed through Charísa’s body. His voice was different since his expulsion from Hosiotos. No longer was it breathy and distant, the strong echoing voice of an Elinróme. Elsía’s new voice was earthy and rich, spicy and hot, like forbidden meat roasted over a gold-smelter’s furnace.
“You are not the first disciple to join me,” he murmured, his tongue tracing her ear, hot and wet as new-spilt blood. His arms pressed her painfully close. “Would you like to see the others?”
She closed her eyes. “Yes, Master Elsía.”
“Then, look, little elf-girl.” By the arm he jerked her around to face the west. They stood above the Bluewood on Mount Numira’s slope, looking down on the forest beginning to glow as sunset deepened.
“No.” Elsía grabbed her chin and forced it upward. “Look not to the lowly forest. That is your home no longer. Forget that you ever loved it! Remember only that it rejected me, and hate every tree, every root and branch and leaf, for my sake.”
Charísa trembled. “Yes, master. Where should I look?”
“To the sky, elf! To the sky!”
Charísa lifted her eyes and gasped. Scores of Elinrómi flew there, swirling in and out amongst each other, dancing, laughing, swinging their swords. The filled the sky with gold from horizon to horizon. And these were no ordinary Elinrómi, the gentle visitors Charísa had welcomed to her father’s home thousands of times. These Elinrómi had a core of darkness in the gold, a danger, an excitement. Their laughter was shrill and harsh, though still ringing and beautiful. Their faces were lovely, but subtly marred.
Charísa understood suddenly. They had all been banished. They, too, were bound to Madra now.
“How many?” she breathed.
“A third.” Elsía’s beautiful new voice was dark with pride and humiliation. “A third of all the hosts of Hosiotos. All the Elinrómi who saw that I was correct, that the arrogance of the High King can no longer be borne by any who stand on two feet or travel between the worlds.”
Her hands tightened convulsively on his newly-material arm. “Oh, my master. I am sorry beyond words. And proud beyond the telling, in any tongue of Madra.”
Elsía laughed and swept her into his arms, bending low to bite her neck. “That Holy Fool! He thinks He has diminished me, but He has made me greater! I am the Prince of the Air!”
He leapt into the sky, carrying her with him. Charísa gasped and clung to his neck. Elsía laughed like a thunderstorm, turning in the air, his great dark golden wings unfurling from his shoulders like battle flags, beating at the sunset. “Charísa pai Aleuther! Let me teach you a new tongue, one not of Madra. Let me teach you to walk in the high places where ordinary Elinrómi dare not tread. Let me teach you to delve deeper than any rock-born dwarf.”
“Do, Prince Elsía!” she cried above the roaring laughter of the host about them. “Teach me all you know!”
“Oh, that is too much, little elf-girl.” Elsía laughed, tossed her screaming above the mountain, and dove to catch her. “Call me Elsía no more, for that means ‘son of the High One.’ I belong to Him no more, as you no longer belong to your clan, and cannot be called Charísa pai Aleuther.”
“Yes, Prince.” She gasped, clinging to his arms with rigid hands. Her fingernails did not penetrate the supple new skin, no matter how she pressed. “What shall I call you now?”
“I am the Eater of Souls!” The Prince of the Air shot into the sky, higher and higher, a dark golden comet trailing all the Elinrómi of his host, who chased him laughing above the clouds. “I am Kataphage! I have eaten your soul, little elf-girl, and I will spit you out, remade in my image. What a beautiful little witch you are!”
Witch. Charísa mouthed the new word, tasting it, feeling it on her tongue. It was bold, exciting and strong, and it intoxicated her. She laughed long and loud and harsh, just as the rest of her master’s disciples roared their angry joy at the star-pricked indigo sky.
“I am a witch!” she cried. She gazed up into his face, watching with delight as his ordinary mortal features transmuted into something richer and mightier, the golden light deepening as the sun disappeared into the Western Sea.
“The world is young and fair, and I am a witch!” she screamed, laughing as he dropped her, and the darkening Elinrómi all about caught her, and tossed her from one to another, bellowing their harsh pleasure as their hands bruised her.
The hands throwing and catching Charísa were transforming as the face of their master had, becoming bent and sharp, claws of metal and stone. They tore her flesh, and she laughed, waiting for her Prince’s golden light to heal her. “Give me a new name, Prince Kataphage!” she cried, delighting in the pain, in the falling, in the darkening sky and changing forms all about her. All the world was strange and new, and she was the first mortal disciple of the most powerful creature in all of existence.
“A new name, yes!” Kataphage had grown as he changed, bursting his mortal garments, and he dove to take her from the air, his hands rough. He cradled her in his tree-sized arms as if she were a babe, and breathed heat into her face.
“You are the Witch of Power, the Witch Ryoo! You will rule the desert and the swamp, and none will stand against you. My Katamobi will obey you, you will take your own clan as slaves, and you will drive all of the countries of Men into such deep despair that they will die for sorrow.”
“Yes, Prince Kataphage!” The Witch Ryoo laughed, gripping his arms with terror-strong fingers. “I will do all you bid!”
He chuckled deep and fierce. “Yes, you will.”
The Prince dropped from the sky with the speed of a stone and the grace of a leaf, and landed on Mount Numira’s peak, bare rock in the moonlight. “Look to the west, dear witch!”
She looked, and gazed upon her erstwhile home, the farmlands of the Men, the western shore, and the far-off sparkling sea.
“Now look to the east!”
She looked, and saw the green, fertile countries of Viara and Verdain, homeland of the Elves, who were no longer her people. Farther east, the land grew barren and empty, and the bog raised its stench. Beyond that were more mountains, yet unnamed in this young world.
“It is all yours, Witch! You will raise your right hand, and Verdain will die in drought and pestilence. You will raise your left hand, and Viara will perish in the raw wind of the sandstorm. Raise both hands, and the as-yet unmade kingdoms of Men will fall weeping to their knees. Clap your hands, and my black armies will rush to do your bidding.”
Ryoo laughed, seeing it happen, watching the great lands as far as she could see crumble to dust at the snap of her fingers. “When, Prince Kataphage, when?”
“When you are ready, little elf-girl. When I am done with you. When I have eaten your soul and chewed and gnawed until every drop of nourishment has been sucked from you, and you are a dry shell, empty of all life but what I care to give you.”
She looked up into his beast-like face and felt the last touch of fear on her heart. “Is that the only way?”
He shrugged like a wolf, red eyes burning. “You could leave me, go back to your father and serve Sebastoes. You will be ordinary for all of your long days, which will be much shorter than the time I can give you to live on Madra. You will never again know what it is to fall from the sky into a Katamobe’s arms. You will never stand on a mountaintop and know that you can do whatever you like with anything you see. You will never taste power.”
Charísa pai Aleuther nodded, and forgot that she had ever borne that name. “I am your disciple, Prince Kataphage. Do as you wish with me.”
He laughed in utter delight. “Oh, I will, sweet little witch. I will.” He seized her in his arms again and flew into the dark sky. “I will take you out of this world, and give it all to you again.”
Ryoo clung to her master’s fur and smiled, not knowing that she had changed, as well, and she smiled with blood-red lips, her black eyes glittering in the starlight.
”Ai! Charísa of the Aleuther,
The clan who once was free,
You listened to the dark one
And let him turn you
To darkness, terrible dark paths,
And there you will remain, forever.”
--unknown bard of the Bluewood
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