Two women circled each other warily in the circle of torchlight, the rain hurtling down from the heavens to patter off the cobbled stones as the seething tongues of light from the torches hissed and sputtered around them. Sepherina raised her weary head and met the other woman’s gaze. Waves of dark hair cascaded over the woman’s shoulders framing a delicately beautiful face. She was dressed in dark leather tooled in silver and moved in and out of the shadows with an assured, feline grace. Naea. Her Naea. How had it come to this? Where had everything gone so wrong? Somewhere in the back of her mind Sepherina screamed in frustration as the thing that had taken Naea’s body stared back at her with cold, uncaring eyes and smiled.
“You follow me like a lapdog Sepherina. Did it ever occur to you that I do not want to be saved?”
Sepherina blinked, and frowned, watching the other woman warily as the corner of Naea’s mouth curled into a mocking half-smile.
“Do you always know what is best Sepherina? Is that what you believe?”
Sepherina opened her mouth, desperately trying to find the right words, words that hovered tantalizingly out of reach somewhere in the recesses of her mind.
“Naea… I…. I’m sorry. I was too late…”
The other woman barked a bitter laugh.
“Sorry? You seek forgiveness for your sins Sepherina, do not bandy words with me. You do not exist in order to be understood, but to understand. You fumble through life, directionless, clinging to the Light – your hope of salvation, as if it could save you. I will tell you the truth of your existence Sepherina. You die, and there is… nothing. There is no meaning, no greater purpose; no grand and noble endeavor, only darkness. This is what waits for our child. She has simply ceased to be, fading like a cloud that has outwept its rain, and everything that was her has passed from this world.”
Sepherina shook her head furiously, the rain tumbling from her hair to the floor as she fought to keep her failing dream alive.
“No… that is not true. I tried to save you Naea, from yourself, I tried! But there is still hope for you. Despite all you have done, despite all your sins you can return to the Light. XXXX may be lost to us but we can start again… I… I… still love you.”
As Sepherina’s voice faded into a whimper, Naea smiled and began to chant in a hollow, mocking voice.
Peace, peace! She is not dead, she doth not sleep -
She hath awakened from the dream of life -
‘Tis we, who lost in stormy visions, keep
With phantoms an unprofitable strife,
She has outsoared the shadow of our night;
Envy and calumny and hate and pain,
And that unrest which men miscall delight,
Can touch her not and torture not again;
From the contagion of the world’s slow stain
She is secure, and now can never mourn
A heart grown cold, a head grown grey in vain;
Nor when the spirit’s self has ceased to burn,
With sparkles ashes load an unlamented urn.
Do you still believe those words you wrote so long ago Sepherina? Does that litany still mean something to you after all you have seen? Your lover forever lost to the darkness and your daughter murdered before your eyes. Did you never think to connect the two, or do those conjured words still shield you from the truth? So many possibilities, so much potential and yet you allow yourself to be blinded by love. It never occurred to you that I might be responsible? That by following me you damned yourself? You went willingly into the darkness my love. Everything that has transpired is of your doing, whether you admit it to yourself or not.”
Sepherina trembled in the night, reeling as the foundations of her existence came tumbling down around her. The colour faded from her cheeks, and she seemed for all the world as a dying body clinging desperately to life, or a body already dead, fiercely trembling as it dies back into life. Naea smiled in the gloom, the flickering torchlight swathing her face with an eerie crimson glow as she watched Sepherina unravel.
“It is such a quiet thing to fall, isn’t it Sepherina? To turn around and realize that all hope of salvation is lost to you. To weep alone in the night until life has past you by and your love is nothing but an echo on the winds of time.”
Suddenly Naea was in front of her, her hand closing around Sepherina’s throat as if she had simply not bothered with the intervening space. She lifted Sepherina easily off the floor and stared into her eyes, a mocking smile on her face. Her dark hair caught the light as it tumbled over her shoulders, her soft, exotic scent dancing through Sepherina’s mind as she struggled to draw breath.
“She is gone now, yes? The woman you loved. You look at me, inside her body and think that she can be saved; as if I was an infection that could be expelled. You cannot save her Sepherina. There is nothing left to save.”
Smiling, Naea tenderly brushed a strand of coppery hair away from Sepherina’s eyes and kissed her softly as rumbles of distant thunder howled into the night.
“She is gone” Naea whispered in Sepherina’s ear. “And soon, you will be too.”
Naea opened her hand and watched as Sepherina collapsed bonelessly to the ground, broken and weeping uncontrollably. Then, as the last torch winked out of existence, Naea turned her back on Sepherina for the final time and faded into the night like a dream.