Warning: this scene contains violence and death, including violence to a child, as well as depictions of fire and burning and disturbing imagery.
30th of the Lilac’s Bloom, 2007 D.C.E
Ayvartan Empire, Adjar Dominance — City of Bada Aso
“Leave me alone! Leave me alone!”
Desperate panting and crying broke the silence of the midnight streets.
Hurtling through empty alleys and desolate roads, a small girl fled from phantoms.
All of her instincts screamed for her to run and hide.
Her every step was dogged by a creeping, malevolent cold and shadow.
In hurting, she had experience far beyond her years. She had a keen sense of danger.
She sought glimpses of the enemy over her shoulder, above her head, and in every clay brick wall surrounding her in the tight streets of Bada Aso’s old quarter. She could see nothing. There was almost no light. With the moon clouded over, the only illumination came from beams between cracks in old doors and dim candlelight from bedroom windows.
Despite what her eyes told her, she felt the creature’s evil presence everywhere.
Like eyes watching her, the burden of a gaze, the bearing of a hateful judgment.
Closer and closer it came and she felt the weight shaking her legs and bowing her back.
Through the nondescript streets Madiha Nakar dashed, her location and bearing unknown, clutching her satchel against her chest. Though she felt chills across her skin she knew the night to be warm and moist and without breeze. Her white beret would have flown from her head otherwise. It was the creature that made it cold. A lanky figure, all arms, covered in a tattered cloak, its face covered by an eerie mask. It wasn’t human — it wasn’t anything.
Taking a blind corner she found a trash bin in an alley leading to the old plaza. Mustering all of her strength, she seized it by one of its handles and pushed it, spilling the contents behind her in a crashing of bottles, a rustling of old paper. She resumed her flight; moments later she heard, briefly, the crunching of glass and the stirring of paper once more.
It was still there.
A spectre made half-substantial, or perhaps, flesh trapped between worlds.
Madiha charged out of the alley and ran toward the center of the old plaza. A wide, empty green field housing the skeletal remains of a stone temple, it was said the plaza had been the site of the first brick laid on the first building made by the ancient Adjar culture. Now it was utterly forgotten — there was not even a plaque to commemorate the deteriorating rock. Madiha rushed behind a crude waist-high rock wall and crouched.
She was surrounded by ranks of rocky pillars in varying states of decay.
More importantly, there was an old torch affixed to one of the stones.
Holding her breath and fighting back her tears, she laid down her satchel.
From it she withdrew the revolver Daksha had given her.
Five rounds; she hadn’t looked in some time, but she just knew.
A cold and airless breeze blew her way, stirring nothing but the fire inside her.
She felt the ghastly presence draw nearer, clutching at her heart.
Scratching on the grass; sifting dust as the creature stepped over the old rock.
Shuffling of fabric as beast shifted its hideous, emaciated form under its cloak.
Sucking noise as the monster sniffed into what long-decayed organ passed for its nostrils.
Closer, and closer, she felt the creature’s weight in the surroundings.
Her shivering worsened, the cold was stifling, she wanted to scream.
Madiha leaped to her feet and swiped her hand at the torch.
In an instant the fire inside her lit the dead fire in the wax and rags.
Amid the old temple the shadows retreated, leaving only one in their midst.
Stunned by the torch, the Majini retched, raising its arms and drawing back, its upper body bending away from the flame directly overhead while its lower body remained abominably rooted into place. Ashes from the sudden fire fell on the creature’s cloak and burned through it leaving tiny red rings that bled finger-width columns of black gas.
Unleashing a primal, soundless roar, the creature righted its ragged sock-like body and hurled itself toward Madiha, arms thrashing around it as if attached to a spinning wheel.
She felt the scream not by any perceivable noise but by a shuddering in her chest.
Reeling, Madiha retaliated with a shot that grazed the Majini’s barely extant shoulder.
She missed; she never missed.
Leaping over the wall it swiped, one of its arms grabbing her by the neck and scooping her off the floor with primal strength. Madiha thought her head would pop off her body, and she felt an intense pain; almost reflexively, within the next instant, she used what she knew of her abilities to push herself and remain balanced in the creature’s grip, preventing her body from swinging opposite her neck. Another hand then quickly seized her waist and belly.
Like the unhinging jaws of a snake, the creature’s black, emaciated hands extended and expanded and looped around her as if custom-fit to throttle her neck and body specifically.
From under the cloak one final arm extended behind the monster’s back.
It seized her satchel, and withdrew a letter.
Its neck snapped, and its face descended to her own.
In the middle of its mask was a smaller, fist-sized depiction of a silver face.
She saw the eyes on this tiny face moving. The larger eyes on the mask did not.
She saw its nostrils flare and felt a force pulling on her.
Her arms hung limp, still holding the gun. Did it understand the danger of it?
Did it just not fear?
It surveyed her, stretching its neck to look her up and down.
She felt colder than ever, a chill penetrating through her skin wherever it touched.
Her mind was growing hazy and numb.
Bending its limbs and head in unnatural ways, the Majini raised the letter over its shoulder.
Guttural noises issued from its neck as if it was trying to read the name.
Madiha remembered the address and directions.
She heard Daksha’s voice in her head. Deliver this to Lena. It is vital for us.
Would she ever make good on that promise?
She was just a child? What could she do?
As the Majini tightened its grip, she felt as if her soul was leaking from her mouth.
Cold and alone in this abandoned place; would she die here?
It simply could not be.
More than anything she didn’t want to fail; she wasn’t just some stupid kid.
She wanted to be a Zaidi. She wanted to be a socialist. She wanted them to win.
She felt the fire spark inside her.
Madiha unleashed her own soundless, primal cry.
Thinking fast she exerted her mind’s secrets and pushed on the Majini’s hands and both of them tore to pieces that flew in every direction, as if blown from within by a grenade. The Majini’s twisted form instantly righted itself and lifted its arms and its head to the heavens, screeching, now with sound, recognizing the agony that had been inflicted upon it.
Madiha landed clumsily on the floor and drew on the fire rather than the pushing.
Red lines flashed briefly from under her clothes, and sparks flew out of her fingertips.
From the palm of her hand a long red dart flew into the center of the Majini’s cloak.
Soon as it touched the monster its entire thrashing body caught fire.
From its remaining limb, Madiha snatched the letter, grabbed her satchel, and took off.
Behind her the burning creature wailed and screamed with mortal agony.
Madiha vanished into the night, running for her life without ever looking back.
She vanished into the concealing gloom of the underworld, but she knew deep inside her quivering little heart that her war with these living shadows was only beginning.
Throughout her quest to free the Ayvartans from tyranny, they would dog her every step.