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Inner Beauty

by K Griffin © 2000

The heavy door creaked loudly, protesting against the unaccustomed movement as it opened.  As the door slowly swung open, he lowered his head and stared at the stone floor.  He couldn’t quite bring himself to the point of admitting that whilst he was afraid they had finally come for him, he was almost just as afraid that they hadn’t.  He heard a weak murmur of protest from his cellmate and then the door slammed shut.  He was alone.

This was the first time since his capture that he had been totally alone.  He sat on the hard stone flags that formed the floor of this cell and tried to think, but the cold seemed to have numbed more than his body.  His brain refused to work.  Small sounds magnified in the darkness, echoing eerily until they were impossible to identify.  Rasping, scraping noises from the recesses of the cell conjured up images of nightmare creature with razor sharp claws, but were probably only the rats that still shared his prison.

He’d been in this predicament now for almost three weeks.  Time was easy to count.  He counted it in people.  Each day, another person was removed from the cell.  Each day, the cell got roomier and the food pans held a little less.  It had eventually become apparent that those who left this cell, never returned to it.  He’d fought this unpalatable fact for days, hoping against hope that the next time the door opened, his sister would be returned to him.  She’d been the first to leave.  She’d left with dignity; even managing to catch his eye one last time and smile bravely.  That last glance and the image of her clear grey eyes were still burned into his soul.  That was how he wished to remember her.

Alone in the cell, he closed his eyes and gave an almost audible sigh as a muffled scream rang in his head.  “Keelie,” he whispered softly, “What is it?  What have they done?”  He paused, hoping for an answer, but the screams continued.  The sounds had started soon after she’d been taken away.  At first it had only been little shudders of horror; then whimpers of pain; then finally the full-blown screaming.  He was sure she’d lost her mind under whatever torture these foul captors had inflicted upon her.  He was also sure she was dead because a few days ago the screams had become little more than a muted echo.  He now believed that it was his memory of the screams that haunted him.

He’d always been a loner and more than a little reserved, but the loss of his sister had affected him deeply.  He was now morose and sullen and found it impossible to engage in any light conversation.  It was as though in losing her, he had lost himself.  He’d promised to protect her from all harm and had failed.  He’d refused to even introduce himself to his cellmates, feeling that he was no longer worthy of the family name.  The one time he had come alive had been when the topic of conversation had drifted towards dreams of freedom.  A painful yearning for that freedom had made him speak eloquently about the beauty of the open skies and from that day the people had dubbed him “Skye”.  He’d shrugged and accepted the new name.  It was as good as any and he now had need of a new one.

He’d listened to the various rumours about what purpose or use their captors had for them all.  The guesses became more fantastic as the days passed.  He’d not told them about the screams.  He’d seen no point in adding fuel to the darker surmises.  Now though, as he sat alone in the dark and cold, he wished he’d explored the various theories.  From that first day when they’d been herded into the fortress courtyard and lined up for inspection and sorting, he’d only seen the face of one of his captors.  “Lysis” was the name she had whispered softly in his ear as she trailed a finger over the muscles of his shoulders and arms.  She’d smiled and looked at him then left.  That one gentle touch lingered in his memory.  Her demeanour had been very different to the brutal treatment meted out by the minions of darkness that garrisoned the fortress.  Secure behind their black helms, they made no pretence at humanity in their treatment of the prisoners, or “cattle” as they dubbed them.  A bitter hatred had welled up within him when he had realised that to the troops, the captives were sub-human.

He’d intended to sleep to regain some strength and then formulate some plan for the morrow.  The option of fighting and dying seemed pointless, but he could see no alternative.  He’d considered trying to barter his way to freedom, but could think of nothing that his captives might value.  He did not know them.  He was not of this land and had been simply passing through in an attempt to take his sister to the safety of their mother’s people.  He’d not known that what looked like snowflakes falling from the wintry sky, was really a mystical net that would induce sleep in those it touched.  He’d been captured without a struggle and had indeed been herded like a head of cattle to this compound.

Pride told him “Fight and die like a man”.  Fear told him “Fight and die swiftly rather than suffer the same fate as Keelie”.  Hatred and anger however, sent another message, “Endure, and seek revenge”.  He was still undecided when the door creaked and scraped its way open across the stone floor.  He hesitated and lost any chance of taking the initiative.  He looked up in time to see the snowy net again floating in the air.  Unable to avoid it in the confines of the cell, he felt its cold embrace and knew that to endure was now his only option.  Even as his senses dulled and sleep overtook him, he seemed to see the dark beauty named Lysis, smiling at him.  He slumped to the floor in a dreamless stupor.

When he eventually regained consciousness, he presumed he was in a new part of the fortress, a high part of the fortress.  He faced a wide-open window.  After weeks in the dungeons, he could now see the sky.  It was overcast and grey and icy blasts of wind swept in through the open window, but he still stared at it with a deep hungry longing.  He seemed to be hanging suspended in the middle of the room, swaying a little in the breeze like a wind chime.  They’d labelled the captives, cattle, and now he believed them.  Something bound his whole body, holding him immobile.  He felt like a carcass in a slaughterhouse, awaiting the next stage of butchering.  He struggled to swing himself around to view another portion of the room, but the movement caused a piercing pain to stab through his shoulder blades.  He gasped as the agony continued even after he stopped moving.  A sweat broke out on his forehead and a drop trickled its way down his face.  At least he was still alive, but totally immobilised and the pain was so intense that he wondered if he truly did hang from a hook driven into his back.  A soft voice spoke from behind him, “Good. You are alive.”

He knew the voice, and he recognised her touch when a finger traced the path of the drop of sweat and gently wiped his face clean.  She moved into his view and for the first time, he looked past the smile.  He watched as the elegant hand was raised and a little pink tongue darted out from between red lips to lick the salty sweat from her finger.  She seemed to taste and consider it.  Her movements were languid and casual and almost hypnotic.  He saw her lips form the words before his ears even registered that she had spoken.  “Good, its pain, not fear that makes you react.  You have no need to fear me”, she said softly and her dark eyes were now fixed on his face as she continued,  “I am Lysis and I am here to ease the pain as your wish is granted. You wished to feel the freedom of the sky?  You shall soar on the winds and you shall own the skies.  The blood of the golden dragon shall grant you this power”.

She walked around him and by some mechanism lowered him to the ground.  He felt her unwrap the shroud slightly and her fingers touched his bare back.  This time he couldn’t stifle the scream as the pain knifed through him.  She laughed and replaced the wrapping and again winched him high into the air.  She snapped her fingers and a scuttling noise responded.  It was then that he saw the other occupant of this room.  It was a giant spider.  “Keep the bandages fresh”, commanded Lysis. The spider seemed to understand because once Lysis had left the room it began a slow patrol around and around his suspended body.  He finally realised that what bound him so still and tight were millions of strands of sticky spider web.

The days that followed became a monotonous routine of pain and boredom.  Occasionally Lysis would visit him and her gentle touch would bring more pain.  She confused him.  One moment she would be slicing his back open to release built up poisons and blood and the next she would be caressing his face, crooning soft lullabies and whispering stories of ancient powers and dreams.  All the while he could feel the golden blood eating into his body.  He could feel its fire as it consumed his own red human blood and he could feel time slowing as his metabolism slowed and changed.  He could also feel pain as chitinous scales began to grow into his back and the little buds of newly forming leathery wings sprouted from his shoulder blades.  She was turning him into a monster but she was the one person in this place that he did not hate.

The spider though, did hate Lysis.  It was totally bound to her will by some unknown force, but Skye could sense its hate and see the fine hairs that covered its bulbous body bristle, whenever Lysis entered the room.  Little droplets of poison glistened on its fangs whenever it looked at her.  Lysis would simply laugh and pet its huge body before turning to her tasks.

It was the day when Lysis made her announcement that Skye saw the first overt disobedience from the spider.  He also saw another side to Lysis.  “Tomorrow, we start on my blood,” announced Lysis.  The spider had seemed to shudder and had lunged menacingly at Lysis, who had neatly sidestepped the charge.  She had also reached into a pouch attached to her girdle and flung a dark powder at the spider.  Just as venom had dripped from the spider’s fangs, now it dripped from Lysis’ voice as she almost spat out the words, “You forget that you are mine and tomorrow so shall he be.  He has had to wait longer than most to join us, since we could not dilute the dragon blood, but make no mistake – tomorrow we become one.”  Lysis reached for her dagger, sliced open her own arm and dropped the dagger to grip the cut arm and force the blood to flow freely and quickly.  Blood dripped onto the stone floor and the dust covered spider retreated quickly.  As the blood touched the remnants of black powder, it sizzled and smoked, filling the room with a foul pungent smell.  Lysis dipped her finger in her own blood and traced a pattern in the air using the bloody finger.  She laughed gleefully, then turned and left the room.  Skye watched the spider writhe in agony and it was only as the smoke cleared that he realised that a tattoo was now etched into the spider’s body.  It was an exact replica of the pattern that Lysis had traced in the air.

Skye continued to watch the spider warily after Lysis had left the room.  He was shocked by the power that he’d just seen wielded.  What shocked him most was the glimpse into the reality that was Lysis.  “He will be mine.  We will be one,” she had said.  He realised that she truly had mesmerised him while she worked her dark magic, but now he was awake again.  He studied the spider.  It was still shivering with rage and hate and pain.  Lysis might have thwarted its attack, but she had obviously not cowed it completely.  Skye watched, as the Spider seemed to focus its attention upon his helpless body.  In a slow lumbering walk, it turned and headed towards him.  Its mandibles were clicking threateningly and its fangs were primed with poison.  Perhaps it needed a victim for its rage.  Whatever its motivation, Skye was convinced that it was no longer under Lysis’ control.

It moved out of his field of vision.  He braced himself.  The screaming in his head rose to a fever pitch.  He thought “Keelie, I’ll join you soon”.  He felt rather than saw the slashing sweep of its mandibles as it swept away his cocoon of webbing.  He crashed to the ground and was too stunned by the fall to move quickly.  By the time he had freed his arms the spider was upon him.  Its weight crushed him to the ground and immobilised him just as surely as the web had done previously.  He could feel it stripping away the last of the webbing.  He was sure that any moment its fangs would sink into his flesh.  His hand touched something hard and cold and he realised he had a weapon.  With a desperate surge of strength, he grasped Lysis’ dagger from where it had fallen and slashed the soft round underbelly of this monster.  It teetered above him, but the next slash severed two of its legs.  It tumbled sideways as it lost all balance.  Skye followed it this time and stabbed repeatedly at it, until they were both covered in sticky gore and ooze.  Finally it seemed to stop moving.

Freed from the warm cocoon of the web, the icy wind now knifed through him.  He managed to stand shakily and stared at the grey cold sky.  The window seemed to beckon.  He felt a strange twinge as those new leathery wings unfurled.  This time the pain had meaning and it was an exquisite agony as he slowly stretched the newly formed wings and felt them fill with blood.  He looked back at the room for one last time.  The spider seemed to be still quivering.  Skye walked back, forestalling the flight test a moment longer.  He gingerly poked at the spider with his toe, rolling it over to examine it more carefully.  Even as it rolled, the slashed abdomen split fully in half and Skye recoiled at the horror that was exposed.  Inside, fully encased and imprisoned by the huge lumbering spider shell was the stunted remains of a human body.  Two familiar clear grey eyes looked at him unblinking as a cracked and breaking voice rasped out one faint word “thankyou”.  Then the eyes closed and the quivering ceased.  Her screaming had finally stopped but even as Skye stumbled to the window and launched onto the winds, he knew that now his own never would.

Copyright © 2005 Elusive Dreams Mud. All rights reserved.
For comments or questions, email Klah.
Last updated: May 25, 2005.