Krystel rolled over in the large bed. She stretched and yawned, then smiled before opening her eyes. The green–black ceiling confused her. She sat up and looked around. She thought back to the previous day; she could remember herself burning down Beaudale, building a castle made of black emeralds, but it was like she was watching herself from afar. She couldn’t remember being in control of herself. She quickly climbed out of the bed, ignoring how she was still fully dressed, and turned the corner to face the wall–sized mirror. This time her reflection stared back at her, but was still animated on its own.
“What did you do?” Krystel demanded to know, not scared of ‘Mirror Krystel’ anymore.
“Well, good morning to you, too,” Mirror Krystel replied, a snarky look on her face. She looked down, examining her nails. They looked just like Krystel's did, long and black.
“And why do you look like me now?”
She didn't look up from her nails. “So many questions, and you haven’t even had breakfast yet.” Mirror Krystel sighed. “I am the Black Soul. I take your appearance and reflect it back, but I have my own conscience. I just need someone else to continue existing.”
“That’s why you kept you needed me,” Krystel said, starting to understand.
“Exactly,” the Black Soul nodded, annoyed. “I’m now inside your head and that red mushy thing you call a heart. We think and feel the same.”
Krystel folded her arms, annoyed herself. “And yet it’s perfectly normal for us to have a full conversation, through a mirror, as two separate beings.” Her voice was laced with sarcasm.
The Black Soul looked up, smiling. “Thank you for being the first one to actually understand that!” Krystel rolled her eyes and looked away. “Oh, cheer up," the Soul ordered absently. "Judging on your strength and how long you were able to withstand me, we’ll only be together for a few..." she paused, thinking. "Oh, thousand years or so.”
“Thousand years?” Krystel’s eyes went wide as she looked back at her reflection. “I’ll be stuck with you for the next thousand years?”
“Or so,” the Soul repeated, enunciating, a sweet smile on her face. “I’m happy. I only had a few hundred with Mabella; she was too weak to handle this much power. Nothing like what we can do.” Her eyes glistened with a scary kind of hunger for power. Krystel turned away from the mirror, speechless. She shook her head slightly, shocked. "That was a compliment, you know," the Soul said, trying to evoke a bit of conversation from Krystel. "A little 'thank you' would be appreciated."
Krystel turned back to face the Soul. "I don't want to live for a 'few thousand years'. I—"
"Am not going to get any older than this, either," the Soul interrupted, looking Krystel up and down. "The magick freezes you in time," she explained. "You'll be this way until your body's strength runs out and we have to go find the next pathetic little broken heart to curse. That's how it works."
"Your method is terrible," Krystel shot out. "You don't care about who they are or what their life might be like." She glared at her reflection, done playing nice. "You're just a parasite, feeding off of other people. That's why you need someone else to continue living. You're too weak to do it yourself."
"I am not weak!" The Soul screeched. The castle itself shook with her voice. Krystel cringed and covered her ears. "I have more power than anyone in the land ever will!"
Krystel knew it was a bad idea to continue upsetting the Soul, but she did anyway. "You're also insecure."
Krystel interrupted her, feeling it was dangerous but not caring. "And the fact that you keep screaming at me only proves my point." Krystel smirked, just a little. Her counterpart in the mirror was boiling with rage. "How else would you have been created, if you hadn't once been just like every heartbroken girl you've ever found and cursed?"
"Well?" Krystel asked after what seemed to be endless minutes of quiet glaring, raising her eyebrows. "Tell. Me. Where. I'm. Wrong."
The Black Soul let out a long breath that Krystel hadn't known she was holding. "You're going to prove more difficult than all those before you." She narrowed her eyes.
Krystel nodded, taking it for consideration. "I have been told I do that, yes."
The Black Soul shook her head, and walked around, never leaving the edge of the mirror. Krystel went to her vanity and grabbed the chair, pulling it over in front of the mirror to sit. "I was created like that," she finally said, quietly. "Rose. That's what my name was, at the very start of all this, thousands of years ago."
Krystel nodded, and decided to speak gently. She was once a person, she still had thoughts and feelings. She just used her powers the wrong way. "So what do I call you, exactly?" she asked. "Mabella? The Black Soul? Rose, or what?"
"I've never particularly cared," she answered carelessly, going back to examining her nails.
Krystel nodded again, but continued with her questions. "If you were the first, what number am I?"
"Twelve," she answered quickly, giving a huff of air. "Now, please, no more questions. Go get some breakfast for yourself. We are on a time limit here."
"I'm sorry," Krystel chuckled, not moving, "I have a few thousand years with you, and we're on a time limit?" She looked around in disbelief, a small smile on her face. "What kind of curse are you?"
"The kind that's on a quest," Rose snapped.
Krystel looked back, still not believing. "What sort of quest could you possibly be on? It's not like you have anyone to get revenge on. You haven't been in your own body in thousands of years—you said that yourself."
"I'm going after the person that made me into this," Rose started explaining, obviously tired of this conversation. "He had many different... consorts." The word came out through clenched teeth. "I'm hunting them down, along with all his offspring."
"You have got to be kidding me." Krystel closed her eyes and breathed out. This was ridiculous. An ancient evil superpower killed her love, his family, and her in order to get transferred into her, then took advantage of her feelings to burn down her entire hometown, and was the same ancient evil superpower that was trying to dispose of people who were long since dead? The idea was laughable. She shook her head and looked down slightly. "That's impossible. You can't do that."
"And why not, pray tell?" Rose asked, annoyed. She crossed her arms across her chest and looked at the girl intently.
Krystel looked up, smiling widely. "You think that you can hunt down and kill every single person he could have been with, along with the possible children he had with them?" She let out a hollow laugh. "There's no way even you could possibly do that! There's no way to that out. These people have been dead for thousands of years; you could have gotten all of them with number two, and you'd never know!" Krystel looked Rose dead in the eyes and calmly yet firmly said her next line. "You're just as pathetic as the rest of us."
Rose's eyes turned red with anger. She had had enough of Krystel, and they had only been together for a day and a half. From behind her the black threads fanned out, spreading everywhere in the room. The room was enveloped in darkness. Krystel stayed put, holding her head high. She wasn't scared, not anymore. She had as much power as the Soul did, simply because the Soul was inside of her. That made her just as dangerous and just as neutral.
"What exactly are you planning on doing?" she asked calmly. "I'm not scared, and you can't hurt me. You'd be hurting yourself, and that would be counterproductive to your supposed ultimate goal."
"You do not understand the measures of your situation," Rose said, but with a chorus of voices accompanying her.
"No!" Krystel stood and yelled. The room immediately lightened as the threads flew to Krystel. She held up one hand and absorbed them all. The room lightened again, and Krystel smirked at the stunned reflection. "You do not understand exactly who you've tried to possess. I will not be controlled."
The Black Soul only glared, her eyes narrow. "Then what, exactly, do you plan to do?" all the voices echoed loudly.
Krystel took a deep breath, then smiled that same, wicked smile. "I am going to end you." She turned on her heel and left the room, not looking at the mirror again.
She walked down the hallway with purpose, like she knew exactly where she was going. Truthfully she was coming down from the power high she had just experienced. Never in her mind did she believe she was capable of doing something to that extent, nor did she ever think the Black Soul would let her do something of that magnitude. Unless…
"I actually have the power to do it," Krystel whispered, "and it knows that." She smiled in happy triumph, before realizing the power of her statement. She had a threat, but empty threats never did anything. Krystel would actually have to figure out a way to end the Curse of the Black Soul.
She walked around her new castle, thinking, trying not to speak out loud too much, just in case the Soul could hear her. But even if she could, Krystel thought, it's not like she could do anything. "All I have to do is stay strong, stronger than her. I'll be fine that way."
As Krystel thought about how to destroy the Black Soul in her new castle, far away in the land, a different set of problems were presenting themselves.
* * *
King Johnathan was pacing back and forth inside his quarters. Word of Beaudale's destruction had just reached him, along with the rumors. Many were saying that the Black Rose Witch had reappeared and caused the damage. In truth, she would be the only one who could do it in such a speedy manner. Johnathan had never wanted to believe in the stories, but now they seemed irrefutable. The last town to be destroyed in Aritia was Rossason, and that had been centuries before when the first tales of the Black Rose Witch had begun.
Throughout the years she had only been a nuisance: a crazed girl who refused to follow the laws, only killing a few people every now and again for either crossing her path the wrong way, or out of sheer boredom. Somehow the tale had stayed alive all these years, though Johnathan had not heard very much about her growing up. People told stories of when she was active and strong, but it seemed that she had disappeared while Johnathan grew. Now here he was, a full grown man, king of all the land, and the witch had reappeared.
He shook his head and sat down, trying to think of what to do. The Black Rose Witch was supposedly back, and Aritia was up in an uproar – especially those cities and towns who depended on some sort of trade with Beaudale. He looked over the report one of his scouts had brought back to him. The entire town had been burned to the ground, there was nothing left but a black fountain and the classic symbol of the Witch: a burning rose on the ground. No one had made it out but a single child, a little girl, the one who reported this all to the scout. Johnathan shook his head again. There was no way Beaudale would ever be considered habitable for a very long time, thousands of years at least.
The child had come back to the palace with the scout. She was resting in the maids' living quarters for the time being. Johnathan did not want to push her too hard for information on what happened that night, though finally he had gotten a name from her.
"Selene, sir," she said quietly, her voice sounding strangely like soft bells. Her hair was long, and had a natural wave to it, though its silver–ish color gave it and her a magical sort of appearance. She was small – she could not have been older than five, or six at the most. Her eyes astounded everyone the most. They were a very clear lavender, as if they had decided that simply being blue was too dull.
Her appearance alone was enough to make those around her feel uneasy, but she acted rather strange as well. Her voice was never raised above a loud whisper, and she was constantly looking around, fascinated at every little crack in the wall and word being spoken. One could tell that she had a secret to tell, even for her young age. Indeed, the scout did not believe her tale of the burning village at first, though a quick horse ride soon proved her true. Still, with all the worry that seemed to come with her, Johnathan felt the need to contact the Royal Seer, Matthias
He was old and wise, as all the Seers in Aritia were, though he was much gentler than some of the others. As Royal Seer, he attended to the king and those in his court directly, and was Head Councilman of the Seers throughout all the land. Matthias’s word was close to law.
He knocked on Johnathan's door twice, before entering. "You called, Your Highness?" his scratchy voice said, and cheeky smile on his face. Johnathan was the third king Matthias had served. Johnathan was much like his father in many ways, including his dependence on the Seer.
Johnathan sighed, not meeting the Seer's gaze. "Grave news, Seer. Beaudale has been––"
"Yes, yes," Matthias waved it off. "I know of it. Terrible tragedy, it is." He took a few steps in and sat down on a chair facing the king. "But there is another reason I am here now, yes?"
"Yes," Johnathan nodded. "The only survivor, a young child, is––"
"Selene," the Seer smiled. "A darling child she is, I am certain of it." He gave Johnathan a pointed look. "Yet you have your issues with her. You think there is something she is hiding."
The king was growing tired of the back and forth between them. "Will you meet with her?" he asked, skipping over formalities.
Matthias's smile grew gentle. "Of course, Majesty." He stood and made his way to the door. He stopped right before and turned back. "Though may I ask what exactly you are trying to find from her?"
Johnathan arose with him. "She is hiding something, everyone can tell. She is a strange one. I simply want to know what." He gestured to the door, signaling to the Seer to move forward. "Please."
Matthias laughed, and began walking. Johnathan followed beside him. "You want to know if the Witch has disguised herself as this child, is that it?" Johnathan didn't answer, looking forward. The Seer laughed again, a raspy sound. "Sire, you would know if the Witch was here. She would have killed you rather quickly."
"You find the death of your ruling sovereign amusing?" the king asked, a touch of spite in his words.
"I find your similarities with your father amusing," Matthias replied. "He too was wary of anyone who didn't quite look right."
"Yes, well," Johnathan said, "at least I do not have them thrown in the dungeon." His pace quickened.
"Calm down, Sire," Matthias said, falling behind the king. "I am too old to walk from my home to yours and back. Not to mention yours is far larger."
Johnathan stopped short. He turned to the Seer, and as calmly as he could manage, said, "Look, I do appreciate your willingness to work here, and I do understand that there are times where I may not be the best to work with, but I have far too many things to worry about, and for whatever the reason this child is at the top of my list. Please, just come and talk to her, and ease the fears of my servants."
"Alright, alright," the Seer agreed, moving around the king and continued on towards the maids' quarters. A bright–eyed maid nearly ran into him as she hurried through the door. She quickly apologized and went on her way. Matthias moved on with the king right behind him.
Selene was sitting in the corner, playing with her doll. She had been cleaned up, and was wearing a very small maid's uniform that was still too big for her. Her dress had been washed and was currently hanging up to dry. Her doll still smelled of fire and smoke, but the child would not relinquish it to be cleaned. She looked up as the two gentlemen came in towards her.
"Selene," King Johnathan started, "this is Matthias, the Royal Seer." Matthias smiled and sat down close to her. "He is going to ask you some questions about what happened last night, okay?" Selene looked Matthias up and down several times, taking in every detail she could about him, before nodding yes.
"How did your hair turn that color, child?" Matthias asked gently.
Selene shrugged. "I do not know. It has always been this color. That is why my name is Selene."
"It does look much like the moonlight," the Seer mused. "Tell me, were your parents kind to you?" Selene looked down. "Ah, I see." He nodded, then looked at Johnathan. "Highness, what you have here is a child born out of wedlock." Johnathan nodded, silently urging the Seer on.
"Do you know who your parents were?" Selene nodded, still looking away. The Seer was about to move on when she spoke.
"My father's name was Alekzandar, and my mother's sounded like it. I lived with Alekzandar; he told the city that they found me in the forest near their home so they decided to take me in. I saw mother often. I was never allowed to call either of them Father or Mother in public or around either of their families. They told me what would happen if anyone found out about me." Matthias listened intently as the little girl spoke. He allowed for a few minutes of silence.
"Selene?" he asked quietly. "Do you know who burned your city down?"
Selene stayed quiet for a very long time. Johnathan looked at the Seer, astounded that he would dare ask the child such a question. Matthias simply waited patiently. Finally, Selene spoke. "Mother's sister," she said. "I do not know her name, but I remember how it happened."
"And how was that?"
Selene looked up. "She was going to get married to someone in the city, but there was a fire in his house and he and his family ended up dying, all of them. After the funeral she ran off, and a few hours after she came back everything was on fire. Alek told me to run away while he would get Mother. I saw her sitting up in a tree, watching everything burn. After I made it out, she made this wall of fire around the city. I kept running, until I ran into the person that brought me here."
Matthias was furious, but he smiled at her, not wanting to upset her. "That is quite the tale you have told. I am surprised you are alright."
Selene interrupted him. "So, what will you do with me?" she asked timidly, clutching her smoky doll to her.
"Well, that is up to His Majesty to decide," Matthias explained. He leaned closer to her and whispered, "But I think I can help him make a good choice in your favor." He winked, then stood up. "Thank you very much, Miss Selene. I am sure I will see you again soon." He smiled one last time, then put his hand on Johnathan's back and directed him out of the quarters. "Are your fears calmed now, Sire?"
Johnathan shook his head. "No. Quite the contrary, actually."
"She has indeed returned, and it seems to be with more power than she has had in a very long time."
"Whoever it is now, wherever she may be hiding, she needs to be found and killed."
"We have been trying to kill her for centuries, Your Highness, since long before the curse had even begun. It is not an easy task. We have lost many good people in these attempts."
"Did not the Seers believe her to be gone years ago? Why has she suddenly reappeared? What does she want?"
Matthias shook his head. "Once, we knew, but that was generations ago. Now it is just a parasite, a curse, moving from one victim to the next."
"When in truth Aritia itself is her victim." Johnathan sighed. There did not seem to be any sort of sound solution. They returned to his quarters and resumed their seats.
"We know how it begins, and how it ends," Matthias said, "but what happens between those two points we know not, and perhaps never will." He stood up. "What I suggest you do next is focus on the child. I know a lovely family in Hallifeld that I am sure would be delighted to have such a charming girl."
"Yes, I suppose," Johnathan responded absently.
"And Her Majesty will be returning very shortly as well. I do not believe she has heard yet of the happenings in Beaudale, but that may be for the best." Matthias left, as silently as he came.
Johnathan still sat and thought. Being a king was hard. He once again prayed that his father was there to help guide him. Heaven knew he could use the help.