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My Muse

By Mystichawk All Rights Reserved ©

Horror / Fantasy

Chapter 1

Brightness. That was the first thing I remember.

White fire, shining radiance, blinding me and forcing me to close my eyes. Even with my lids closed the light poured in, making ribbons of rainbow colors dance across my vision and strange shapes that I didn't know the names for. I couldn't see, I couldn't hear, or see, or smell anything. It was like all of my senses had been shut off, save one.

I could feel.

I felt softness beneath my hands and turned my head to feel the soft, gentle fuzz of grass against my cheek. I inhaled, but I couldn't detect any scents. I wanted to open my eyes, but the dancing shapes and rainbows were still there, so I didn't. I just laid there, immobile, for a long time. I heard nothing, said nothing. I just laid there, wishing I could stay like this forever.

But, of course, I couldn't.

When the rainbows faded away and the shapes melded into the blackness of my eyelids, I knew it was safe to open them again. I did and was astounded by what I saw. I was lying in a golden field covered in buttercups and peppered with white daisies. There was a blanket of yellow roses laid over me and when I sat up, the blanket slid off of me like it was silk. I stared, first at the roses, then at my own hands which had lifted off the ground when I had sat up.

My skin was a burnished bronze, like a shiny penny, but slightly darker in tint and shade. I stared at my fingernails and at my pals, trying to figure out what country I might be from. India maybe? Or Egypt? The names just came to me and had no idea where they were or what kinds of people lived there.

I sat there, wondering who I was and how I had gotten there for the longest time, then I dropped my hands. The only way I would find out where I was was to look around. I tried to rise to my feet, but I was unsteady and ended up falling on my stomach and crushing a patch of innocent buttercups. I cursed in a language I didn't know I knew and tried to stand once again. This time I succeeded and balanced precariously on my two wobbly bare feet, trying to regain my sense of balance. I felt like I'm been there for years.

As I waited for my balance and coordination to return, I stared around at the sweet golden field. It stretched on for miles, and I couldn't see anything else in front of me or to my sides. Just blue skies and miles upon miles of yellow flowers. I sighed. This place, wherever it was, must be a kind of paradise. Just blue sky, and flowers. Perfect, alone, and peaceful. I inhaled. With my waking, my senses had flooded back and now I could smell the sweet flowers, taste the breeze, hear the sound of birds singing and laughter!


I turned around slowly, trying to keep myself upright. In the center of the field behind me, dancing and romping around with a little brown dog. She had a wreath of golden flowers garlanded in her hair and her dog had them in it's fur, twisted and braided. The girl had pale skin and golden, shining hair. When she turned towards me and called for her dog, I could see she had sky-blue eyes underneath her long bangs.

"Sayzay!" the girl called, patting her knees. "Come on girl!" She was wearing a white dress that was had a yellow silk ribbon tied around her middle. She was barefoot, just like me. Sayzay came and jumped on her, barking happily and trying to lick her mistress. I took a hesitant step forward and called out to the girl. "Hello?"

The little girl, she couldn't have been more than five or six, ignored me and fell back against the ground, laughing and rolling around with her dog. I was witnessing pure happiness here and I knew I should let the girl be, that I had plenty of time to figure out who I was and where I was, but something in the back of my head told me no, you don't have time.

"Little girl please, can you tell me where I am?" I asked, taking another step forward.

The girl capered on, oblivious to my words. She started trying to preform a cartwheel and tumbled to her knees each time. She didn't get discouraged though. She just kept trying and trying.

If it were me, I thought absentmindedly as I sat back down amongst the flowers, I would try something different for a bit. Dancing, maybe, or going a hand-stand. That way she won't get tired out from all that turning.

As soon as I thought this, the little girl stood up from her latest tumble and said, "I'm tired of cartwheeling! Sayzay, why don't we dance?" And she proceeded to move her little body and shake her hands, laughing and singing in a strange language I didn't know. She jumped and twirled, spinning and laughing. She was so happy it made my heart ache.

I watched her for I don't know how long. The girl and her dog, blissfully happy. Not a care in the world. And all the time I watched her frolicking the world around me didn't change a bit. The light above me remained burning in the sky, and the flowers which she trod underfoot sprouted back up as vital as if they were made of rubber.

I noticed a flicker of movement out of the corner of my eye. There was someone else here with us. I turned. A tall, slender woman was stepping out of a tear in the shimmering light, like an angel descended from the heavens. She wore a cornflower-blue dress which ran fine with veins of gold and green, swinging around the hem and up the bodice like leaves. On her brow was a crown of blue flowers. Her hair gleamed like freshly polished obsidian in the bright sunlight, casting an eerie glow over her visage.

"Excuse me, do you know me?" I asked the woman, staring up at her.

She ignored me.

I sighed, apparently these two were deaf. I got up and tried to tap the woman on the shoulder, but my hand went right through. I jerked back, clutching my hand.

"What- Who are you? Where am I?" I said, staring from the little girl to the woman.

I was ignored again.

"Please, lady, speak to me!" I begged, reaching for the woman's shoulder again but it went right through again. I tried again and again, each time getting more distressed. "Please!" I was nearly crying now. "PLEASE! Someone TALK TO ME!"


"Why won't you talk to me?!"

Not a single word.

I broke down and began to sob. Salty tears flowed down my cheeks and I beat my hands against the earth, begging someone to speak to me.

Suddenly, the little girl stopped dancing around and stared straight at the woman in blue, as if seeing her for the first time.

"Who. . . who are you?" she asked, taking a step back.

The woman in blue smiled and beckoned for the dog to come to her. It did, wagging its tail and when it reached her it began to lick the woman's outstretched hand.

"My name is Gaia. You know me as Mother Earth." She said.

I stopped crying and raised my head. "M- Mother Earth?"

The little girl mimicked my question.

"Yes my dear, Mother Earth." The woman said, walking towards the little girl. The little dog followed. "I've been watching you. You are a very special child, no?"

The girl shrugged.

"Oh, come now. I've seen you when you're out in the forest. Every time you see something wrong with the leafs or if you see an animal hurt, you always try to take care of it and make sure it lives. That is a kind thing to do."

That's a humane thing to do, I thought.

"It's humane." The little girl said.

The woman smiled. "That is a very good word for it."

I blinked. Had the little girl just said what I was thinking?

"Yes. And I like the little animals. I try to take care of them." The girl said, smiling shyly.

The woman smiled back. "Well, I'd like to do something to thank you for your consideration."

The girl's smile widened. "Really? Like what?"

The woman shrugged. "Anything you like. It's rare that I'm seen by mortals anymore and I'd like to do something nice to one of my few remaining believers."

The little girl frowned, thinking.

If it were me, I thought almost subconsciously, I'd ask for the earth around my town or village to enrich and for the crops of the village to strengthen tenfold. That wouldn't be a selfish wish.

The girl raised her head. She has a smile on her face.

"I know what I want!" She said triumphantly. "I want the ground around here to be perfect for growing crops and for us to have the best crops ever for the next few years!"

Mother Earth blinked, surprised. "Really?"

"Our village is suffering from food shortages," The girl replied. "I don't want anyone to die of starvation."

Mother Earth bowed. "You are a generous and kind girl. It is done. For the next twenty years, your village crops with strengthen tenfold and your farms with enrich like never before!"

I blinked. "Did she just say. . ." I whispered.

The girl shouted with glee. "Thank you, thank you!" She said, running at Gaia to give her a hug. The old woman accepted the hug and I felt my eyes begin to water. I wanted to feel another person's touch and, before I could stop myself I lurched to my feet and ran at the girl and woman. Of course, I went right through them.

"Please!" I screamed, dropping to my knees and staring up at the sky with tears streaming down my face. "Please! Where am I? WHO am I?"

You are the Muse.

I blinked, staring up at the cloudless sky. There was a voice speaking in my mind. It was a calm voice. A female voice, not unlike that of the woman in blue and yet much older, with much more power layered within it.

"Who are you?" I yelled, trying to get to my feet but failing.

I am Æther.

I didn't have the strength to yell any more. I sank to my knees, staring up at the unrelenting sky. "And...who am I?"

You are the Muse.

I began to cry again. This Æther was answering none of my questions. "What is a Muse?" I asked. "Where am I? Why can't anyone touch me?!"

But there was nothing.

Not a single sound.

And ever since then, I've been alone.


It was midnight in Texas. I was in the bedroom of a ten-year-old boy with brown hair and an unnatural love of spiders.

Now, before you go jumping to conclusions I'll tell you right now: I'm not a creeper or anything. I just like walking around in people's homes- seeing the loving pictures tacked to the walls of happy families on vacations or magnetized to the fridge or the personal affects people kept around their house (sometimes very very amusing affects,). I mean, it's not like people actually see me, so what's the harm?

Walking around in people's homes was an odd habit of mine, but I never stayed too long. I preferred isolation. At least when I was by myself, I never got passed-through, which I hated! It made me feel all cold and clammy, if a spirit can feel cold and clammy. Still, the feeling annoyed the crud out of me and so, to avoid it I kept to myself. Still, once in a while I couldn't resist sneaking into a human's home to take a look around. And when I did, it was usually worth it.

I was sitting on the thick black-topped desk, looking out a window. It was a large window, big enough for a small child to hop in through. Certainly big enough for me, even if I couldn't fade through walls. A boy laid in a bed across the room from me, dreaming about riding a gigantic tarantula in a rodeo. One of the more original ideas I've seen around here.

I slid off the desk, keeping my eyes on the vision dancing above the boy's head. An authentic cowboy gallon-hat sat atop his head while the gigantic tarantula bucked and kicked, spitting webbing everywhere within the confines of the orb. I grinned. "Ride 'em cowboy."

My job here was done. I had given the maker of this dream his allotment of inspiration for the dreams tonight and it was time for me to head back to my regular haunt. I live in a small, abandoned house near the edge of the town. Very stereotypical I know, especially considering that I'm sort of a ghost, but I like it. I've lived there for quite a while. Texas is my favorite state, and the U.S my favorite country. They're such an imaginative bunch, and only a fraction if it is due to me. That's pretty good for humans.

I woke up in what history calls the birthplace of civilization. Babylon. A maelstrom of new ideas, new concepts. All needing someone to regulate them. That was my duty. My birthright. Babylon was a beautiful place. All rich, terracotta houses and earthenwares. Vibrant colors, languages, new things being born every day. It was like heaven to an excited immortal child. And the years meant nothing to me. They all passed in a blur of creations and inventions, each making me happier than the last. Of course there were plenty of failures. More failures than successes some times. But it was all of their learning process.

As time wore on I started to see patterns. Times would appear when I was so over-worked from running all around the world that I would fall onto my straw mat or wooden floorboards or wherever I was sleeping at the time and be out like a light before I hit the ground. That would last for about a hundred years or so, then they would turn to fighting and mindlessly slaughtering each other. The first time it happened I was horrified. And I blamed myself. Perhaps I hadn't given them enough ideas and they had gotten bored. But I couldn't stop the bloodshed. I watched, flitting through the battlefields, trying to impart the inspiration to stop this mindless fighting! But that was one seed which would not take.

Then, when all the blood had finally cleared and I was left looking down at the bodies, only then would the seed take root and the survivors would realize their mistakes and try to fix what had been broken. But it always came back around.

Time wore on and I started to see. It's a never-ending circle, despite how many years I've been I've been fighting for them. From the moment I was thrown into this insane world. I've not been on any side- the whole world is my responsibility. And there for my problem. When I give someone an idea, it sticks. Always. Most of them I try to make good ones, but every so often a profoundly stupid one slips through and I have to deal with the consequences. I learned that new ideas are what keeps this world as peaceful as it's been the last few hundred years. In the short slumps between great ages, things tend to get ugly. So I'm constantly kept on my toes, trying to think of new inspiration to impart on them and keep them occupied. I practically had to hand the Japanese the communism thing on a silver platter. And of course, in typical ungrateful human fashion they took a perfectly innocent idea and turned it ugly. I have to deal with that too. It's a thankless job.

Sometimes I think they're like babies. Little children, incapable of forming their own ideas without help from me. And when I do give them ideas they turn them dark and cruel. It all comes back to being more than them. I don't like it and I would give almost anything to give it up, but it's times like this when that almost is just too damn strong.

I smiled at the spider-riding cowboy. "Almost." Then I headed home.

I only sleep for a few hours a day. There's far too much to do. The rest of the time I spend flying around on the back of the wind- whom I have become good friends with by the way –exploring the world and sharing my inspiration with everyone that needs it. Spirits, humans, even animals. The amount of times I've showed a kitten how to climb up or jump down from a counter top to get at treats… oh it makes me smile.

When I reached home, the first thing I did was run a bath. Spirit or not, luxury was key. I had to pamper myself a bit, since no one else was going to do it. It was a drastic but well-worth while release of stress and helped me keep my sanity.

Sinking into the water which was as hot as lava was as welcome an experience as lying on a futon and sleeping for a million years. I let out an ah and sighed contentedly. The hot water opens my pores like floodgates, washing out all the bile and gunk from my skin, leaving it shining. Though I might be a spirit, I still have to keep good hygiene.

After my bath, I headed to my bed and slept for a couple of hours. Dreamless sleep. The Sandman never visits me in return for the inspiration I give him. Freeloader. The nightmare lords don't even grace my mind with their presence.

Time passes.

As the decades grow and accumulate, I start to see things a little differently. They aren't babies. Babies have no concept of right and wrong. Neither do they, but in that same effect babies cannot judge or base opinions on hate and fear. They do this to the letter. Humans. The most inhumane race on the planet. What irony.

The slump was over. The inventing was over. Now, the only inventions were new war machines. Idea were pouring out faster than ever from their minds, but they were all the wrong ideas. Fear what you don't understand. Hate what you fear. I was lost. I was scared. Bombs were dropping on monuments I had seen being erected centuries earlier. Paris. And American towns. My heart ached. I imparted more than a few ideas on mass-burials and graveyard plots. I cried.

And then I resolved to fix it.

I spent nearly five years running around the world, whispering thoughts into the minds of so-called leaders. I was trying to get them to see their errs but they practically ignored me. They only listened to what they wanted to hear. They were the editor, I realized one night as I sat on the edge of the white-house's balcony. They were the editor of my writings. My thoughts. They cherry-picked the best parts that would benefit them and threw out anything else. Did this mean the end?

No. It meant the beginning.

There was an election in America. I don't pay attention to names. Just another bureaucrat that ignores my council.

I abandoned the politicians and tried to work on the minds of the common. Inventors, ushering in clean energy solutions and bio-electrical engineering. That had been a fad for about a year and a half now. Implants that allow for internet access and wireless signal to be conducted through the body. Prosthetic limbs with circuitry matrixes, capable of anything from crushing any object to independent motion. The implants fed on human batteries, powering themselves like leeches, sucking the lifeblood from their hosts.

At first, my plan worked. Clean energy was a wide-spread phenomenon. Windmills were set up all over the world, dams revamped to draw hydro-electrical power without harming the local wildlife. The great power of the monsoons were harnessed along the banks of the great rivers of India which soon-after became another economic powerhouse. Nearly the entire world had electricity.

Then the glory hounds- big rig oil companies which knew they were about to be shut down for good once the clean energy movement began, got wise and bought out the entire industry, sharing their stocks and all manner of nonsense to get a piece of the action. Clean energy became tainted. The smog that had covered Beijing had just barely began to clear before the oilers used their massive company stocks to start ramping up production of cars that used recycled sea water and more electronics than ever before. The output from machines alone was enough to swamp all of China in a massive cloud. The entire country was evacuated. All in all, the entire clean crisis took nine months. Just enough time for a monster to be born.

I wore myself dead into the ground, flying back and forth across the globe. I was desperately trying to get someone- anyone to listen to me. The spirits weren't any help. Most of them had either been given back to Æther or retired- their ilk not needed. No, it was in humans I needed to put my trust.

Thousands died. From exposure to toxic fumes, from starvation, from cold. A world full of technology and it still wasn't enough to combat these issues which had dogged their race since the beginning of time. I wept. Oh how I wept. My tears flowed fast and free, staining the ground until I had no more left to give. Then the world turned on itself. It blamed other people for its mistakes and the wars began. I fought alongside the human race as best I could, whispering ideas of peace and compromise into the ears of the soldiers who truly didn't want to fight. It worked. They marched up from the trenches, straight into the enemy's encampment and laid down their arms in surrender.

"I do not want to fight." He said, repeating my words. "This isn't our fault. It is the fault of humanity, that we should stoop so low to try and kill our own kind over what did and did not happen. Millions died this way. I will not see my men or I die the same way in a pointless battle."

They were gunned down before he had even finished his speech.

I wept. The battle was over. I had lost.

It took ten long years. Ten long, tiring years for me to finally understand. But I did understand.

I was sitting in that boy's bedroom in Texas. You remember, the cowboy with the spider. I was looking at the empty bed and wondering. How had this world changed so much from the ancient days? Why couldn't there be peace? The boy had died some time ago. Killed by a child-gunman on his way to second period in his middle school. I saw the funeral. Whispered some nice words into the pastor's ear for him.

As I sat there, looking at the empty bed, it finally dawned on me. I realized what my problem was. Like a bolt from the blue, understanding flashed across my face. I was trying to accept responsibility for the acts of billions of people because I gave them the ideas behind the massacre. Of course it really was my fault, but they didn't know that. How could I accept such a thing on such a vast scale when I'm the only one that knows about it? It was pointless.

"Nothing is ever pointless child."

I hadn't seen the shadow looming over me. I was too wrapped up in my own melancholy. I spun around. Standing behind me, resting against the window-frame, was a tall, black woman. Her hair was long and shimmering, falling around her exposed shoulders and trailing down the sides of her face like an azure water-fall. It was the color of twilight sky on the edge of the horizon, farthest from the light. Dark, foreboding. And yet entrancing. Nearly black but not quite, especially when the moonlight from outside caught it.

I didn't know wither to scream or run. The fact that someone could see me totally escaped my grasp until she spoke again. Her voice was kind. Quiet. Familiar.

"Don't you recognize me?" She asked, tilting her head to the side slightly. Her ripple of blue hair fell with her head, lolling languidly.

I shook my head, stunned. "You can see me."

"Of course. You are one of my children, after all."

My mouth was dry. Every fiber of my being radiated magical energy, drawing power form the woman. "Are you…" I could barely speak the words aloud. "Are you Æther?" Could it really be?

The woman laughed. It was not a pleasant sound. "That's precious." She said, taking a few steps towards me. Her dark violet dress rippled in the gloom and suddenly she didn't seem so nice. "No my dear, I am not Æther. My my, you are a naive one aren't you? Thinking that the all-mother would come down from her celestial domain to visit you. She barely even talks to us anymore, and certainly wouldn't waste her words on a half-spirit like you."

"Wh-what do you mean?"

"I mean, the spirit realm is finished. Finite, kaput. The whole realm in chaos." She started pacing. "Humans are killing themselves by the droves, all of the major spirits have either died or been replaced by new ones that haven't a clue what's going on. Father Time, Myself, and Mother Nature are the only powerful spirits left. Oh, and Black Annis and the other darks but they don't count. They're probably reveling in this."

I watched her pace around the room, ever so lightly. Her footstep didn't make a noise. "Who are you?" I asked again. "What do you want with me?"

At my last question she turned to face me, bright green eyes glittering. "Isn't it obvious?" She asked, grinning darkly. "You're the one who caused all this bloodshed and turmoil, Muse." She spat my name. "You and you damn bio-engineering, your vaccines, and your clean water. You gave the humans the ideas that sparked this century. You took away our source of life, Muse. It was all you!" Faster than I could blink she had my by the throat. I felt myself being lifted up into the air. "You need to pay, Muse."

I don't cower easily. I kicked her in the stomach. She staggered back, winded but only for a second. "Don't you think I've paid enough?!" I snarled, crouching down in a defensive position, should she try and come at me again. "Millennia without anyone seeing me?! Nearly dying each time someone walks through me?"

"Perks of the job kid." She replied, unsheathing a pair of wicked black blades. "Now, hold still. The others want me to take you alive."

"Like hell!" I dove for the window. The streets were rain-soaked. Climates had shifted so drastically it was raining in Texas, in July. I never made it. She caught me in a net of shimmering white spider web-like cables and I fell unconscious. The last thing I saw was her face, grinning cruelly.


I woke up in a cage, suspended from the ceiling. Cold metal bit into my flesh. My eyelids fluttered open to the sight of blinding light. I shut them again, moaning.

"Looks like our pigeon is up."

I knew that voice.

Turning my face away from the light, I covered my head with one arm so that I could openly look down below me. There she was, standing below me as bold as brass. Her hair was braided and she looked like she was going to a fancy dress ball.

"You." I snarled, trying to shift my weight but the metal of my cage had a sharp edge to it.

"Me." She replied evenly. "I must say, you took your time. Nature was going to have to shock you with a lightning bolt to make sure you were still alive." She nodded to her left.

Her gaze drew my attention to the two other people in the room. A young man, with bronze skin and dark brown hair, wearing a tan trench coat over a blue shirt and khakis. Beside him was an old woman who had the air of once looking very beautiful, but was now a shriveled old hag of a spirit. Her hair was silvery white and her green dress was mottled with mold and patches and tears. The viney bodice curling around her thin frame seemed to be mace from riverweeds that had grown brown and old. I assumed this was Mother Nature, warped and twisted from all the pollution.

I looked away from her, guilt gnawing at my heart. "Where am I?" I demanded. "What is this place?"

"This is my home." The young man said, his voice cold and emotionless. More like a machine than anything. "I live here."

"Who are you?!" I almost screamed. "If you're going to kidnap me than at least allow me the luxury of knowing your names!"

The woman stepped forward. Her voice was once again kind, and as soft as silk. "Yes, my apologies. I did forget to introduce myself, didn't I?" Her hands lifted, pools of emerald green mist pouring from her fingertips. There was no need of show of power here. I could practically feel the energy radiating from her, even though I was so far away. "I am Hecate, mistress of that which is arcane, dark and deadly and old and rotten." She announced in a grandiose voice. "My powers stretch past the realms of nightmares and into the deadly arts."

I winced. Hecate. Now I know why I didn't remember her. I had seen the goddess with three faces a few times over my years as a spirit, but only in her child-form. This was the matron. The mother. The crone would come next, perhaps in a thousand years or so. If she manages to live that long.

"Why aren't you in Rook?" I asked. She rarely strayed from her tower-home unless an incredibly powerful sorceress was rising or the dead were coming back to life. Hecate was selfish that way, only helping when it met her needs as well. But she was prideful, and that I could work with.

Hecate sent a bolt of lightning towards me. It ricocheted off the bars of the cage once, then slammed into me. My body enveloped it like saving grace. Pain, unimaginable pain coursed through. My fingers twitched. The scent of burning hair, clinging to my nostrils. Scorched skin, and smoldering clothes.

"You!" She screamed, hurling another bolt at me but this one fell short. "YOU ARE WHY I'M NOT RESTING PEACEFULLY IN MY TOWER YOU LITTLE DEMON! My realm was once as strong as Time's is here, but then you came along with your science and engineering and brought me down! Magic wasn't needed in the world and as a result I nearly died!" Another bolt. This one hit me and I screamed. She screamed louder. "But do you know what? My magic saved me! It brought me a cure and I used it to save others! Nature and Time are alive because of me!"

I shook my head, grasping at the bars so tightly my hands bled. "No." I hissed, bringing my face as close to the bars as I dared. "They aren't. Look at them. Time isn't a living thing anymore. He's just a clockwork toy."

"YOU'RE WRONG!" She screamed and her roar turned into a jet of blue flame, catching my hair alight. Within minutes it was burned away and I lay on the bottom of my cage, crying and screaming, clawing at my scalp to rid myself of the embers.

"Nature's forest sanctuary was ripped to pieces by bull-dozers long ago," Hecate snarled up at me. "Torn apart from the world. She was destitute. I took her in. ME! We fled to Anansi's cave but the spider-queen had died with her husband long ago. She paused. Her voice had been slowly fading from a scream into a quiet, reminiscent whisper. "Only Time's clock tower now remains. The last Great Spirit Dwelling." She told me quietly.

My body felt like it had been dipped in lava. And not in the good way. Moving hurt. Breathing hurt. I would heal, but not for a long time.

"How?" I managed to croak from my place at the bottom of my cage. I was looking through the bottom bars at her, my dark eyes boring into hers. "How did you manage to stay alive?"

That sadistic grin crept back over her face. She tilted her face upwards to look at me and covered her mouth with her hand, masking her words from the others. "I killed a nightmare lord." She told me quietly, as if she were telling a great secret. "Killed him, stole his blood and preformed a blood reparation for fear."

My eyes widened. "You didn't…"

She clapped her hands and her face briefly morphed into that of a child's, then it switched back, almost like the blinking of an eye. "Oh yes, yes I did. And it worked! My powers returned tenfold! Fear is in such great supply these days you know. Then I did the same for Nature and for Time. It didn't take so well to either of them but at least they're alive and can draw power from something!" That hideous grin widened. "Or someone."

"So that's your plan?" I coughed, grasping the bard of the cage and hauling myself up. "Use me as a battery to fuel yourself for all eternity until the wars end and humanity returns? What makes you think there will be an end?!"

She shrugged. "They all have to die some time. But not you. You won't die…ever." She turned to leave. "Have fun pretty bird. We will be coming back later for our…feeding."

"How can you see me?" The question had burned on my lips for longer than I could recall. I wanted the answer. Now.

She paused on the threshold of a doorway, nearly out of my vision. "What?"

"How can you see me?" I repeated coolly. It wouldn't do to lose my temper now, now with answers in my grasp. "Millions of years and no one, not anyone, spirit or otherwise, has ever been able to see me. Why now?"

She turned back and walked across the room again until she could see me. Staring up at me with dark, cold eyes she replied, "I don't know. I guess you have lost Æther's favor child." And then she left.

Weeks passed. Every day they would come and torture me. Fear was a living thing, Hecate told me once. Just like magic. Both fed off of inspiration and to her, now that she wielded both magics, I was an all-out buffet. And since Fear was living, it learned and understood things. I could grow to learn what to expect if they just beat me mercilessly. And I wouldn't fear it any more after a while. So every day was a fresh new batch of hell.

Hecate started out small; she would take me out of the cage, chain me up like a dog, lower the cage into a pit of hot coals, heat the bars up and then stuff me back in the cage to burn. The screaming made her laugh. Nature just looked on dully. The clockwork Time never spoke.

The next day Hecate lowered me into a pit of snakes and spiders. I'm not afraid of either but the pain from getting bit and the later agony of having the venom work its way out of my system was good enough for Hecate. I was left alone that night, shivering, cold. Dead inside. No will to life. Just fear keeping me from being slaughtered like a cow.

That night I learned I wasn't the only person here. As I tried to sleep I heard screams coming from the door behind which Hecate disappeared every night, when she was finished with me. I ducked my head. So there were other spirits still alive. Being tortured for their fear.

I could have helped them, I thought, fresh tears welling in my eyes. I could have saved them. Another scream, sharp and female. What on earth are they doing in there?

Suddenly, Hecate burst into the room, dragging a body behind her. Time followed with another and Nature trailed lastly. She had no body.

"It seems the Muse has some new room-mates," Hecate told me wickedly, chaining the unconscious person to the wall. Short red hair covered his face and his clothes were tattered. Burns, like brands rippled across his chest. Horse-shoes. Iron.

"Liam…" I breathed, staring in horror.

"Oh I see you've met?" She grabbed the unconscious Leprechaun by his hair, yanking his head up. "Poor dear Liam here refused to join us, you see. And, instead of just killing him we decided to get some use out of him before sending his corpse to Æther."

I couldn't take my eyes off the beaten man. He looked so old… much older than his twenty six human years. Liam what have I done…

Hecate walked over to the other body which Time had chained up. I tore my eyes away from Liam and looked at the other victim. It was a woman. Her skin was moss-green and her blonde hair lay slicked-back against her scalp like a hat. A dryad, I guessed from the bright green blood she was leaking from various cuts all over her body.

"This one here," Hecate shook the dryad. "Was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Liam here is the real catch. Hope you have fun with your playmates!"

She left.

Liam didn't wake up for hours. Occasionally he groaned and moved his head, but barring that there were no signs of life. The dryad didn't make it through the night. She died from sap-loss and internal injuries.

They threw her body in the fire-pit. The sweet, smoky smell knocked me unconscious.

When I woke up, it was to Hecate jolting me with her lightning. "Wake up dear," she cooed. "We have visitors."

I lifted my head which was pounding. The ache was almost more than I could bear but I forced myself to bite back the pain. "Who?" I croaked.

She stood back a few steps and revealed not just one, but four new victims chained to the walls surrounding my cage. Liam was still hanging in front of me. The new victims were younger than both of us. Two children, and two adults. Or so it seemed. All were awake and the children were screaming. I recognized them instantly. The Halloween twins, Sam and Hein. Both dressed in identical Halloween wear, spiders and bats patterning their stockings and shirts. Sam's skirt was ripped and Hein's shirt was torn open, revealing bloodied gashes.

"Monsters," I snarled, rounding on Hecate. "Why would you do this to innocent little children?!"

Hecate scoffed. "Innocent?" She repeated. "These two," She nudged Hein with her clawed finger. He screamed. "have led more children to their deaths on Halloween night than I have killed in millennium. And you call me a monster? They lead them into forests, get them lost, then feed on their souls."

"No!" Sam wailed, struggling against her chains. "No! That's a lie! We're supposed to help kids!"

Hecate silenced her with a sharp crack across the jaw. "SHUT UP!"

"Hecate," spoke one of the adults softly. I turned to look and saw, to my great shock, that it was none other than Eros himself! Hecate's half-brother. His bronze skin mottled with burns, turning him almost piebald. "You don't have to do this. Let us all go free, and we won't come after you. I swear it."

Hecate laughed. "Nice try brother but I don't think so. Why let you all go free and hope I live when I can just keep my completely inexhaustible supply of fear right here?"

Eros's face was dark. "They'll find you, you know," he told her coldly. "He will find you. And when he finds you he will kill you."

A shadow passed over Hecate's face and, for a moment, I swear she looked just a little bit scared herself. Then it passed. She stalked over to her brother and, screaming in rage, raked his chest with her razor-sharp claws. He let out a scream that would've curdled blood.

She caught him by the skin, sharp needles digging into his skin. "If he does find me," she hissed. "Which he won't, it won't really be your problem because you won't be alive to see it!" One more slash for good measure. Then she stalked off.

I waited until I was sure she was gone before speaking. "Who is he?"

Eros jumped a little, startled by my voice. He lifted his head and looked around curiously, though it must've pained him to do so. "Eh? Who's there?"

"I'm here," I told him, waving. "In the cage."

He craned his neck. "Ah I see you know. Who are you kid? Another one of Hecate's prisoners?"

I nodded. "Yes. Like you."

Eros nodded, cracking a grin. "Aye child, like me." He squinted. "Just who are you girl? I don't remember seeing you before. Are you a young spirit?"

I had forgotten that none of the other spirits had seen me before. "No." I answered. "Not a new one. An old one. I kept to myself a lot but I know of you Eros. And I know that Hecate is your sister."

Eros scowled. "She's no sister of mine now. Not after what she's done. Murder, torture of fellow spirits and children. No. Those are offenses I cannot forgive."

"Glad to hear it." I told him. "Because if I manage to get out of here she will be dead within a fortnight that I can promise you. And I wouldn't want to have to kill a sibling as well to stop a revenge vendetta from starting."

A small smile cracked his bloodied face. "Smart child." He commented. "You certainly do sound like an old spirit. What is your creed, child?"

Creed was the street-name for our spiritual responsibility.

"Inspiration." I answered honestly. "I'm the Muse. I was invisible, even to other spirits until a few days ago when Hecate used dark magic to turn me visible."

He frowned. "Invisible to other spirits?"

I nodded. "Yes."


There was silence for a while before I spoke again. All I could hear were the sobs coming from the twins and Liam's heavy breathing. He was still asleep.

"Who is he?"

Eros looked up. "That? He's the Leprechaun. Liam Patrick Connors-"

"Not him. I know Liam. The him you were telling Hecate about. The one you were threatening her with."

He nodded. "Ah, that one. A Nightmare Lord by the name of Jordan."

"What's so special about this Nightmare Lord?" I wondered aloud. "After what she's done, won't they be welcoming her in with open arms?"

"That's not how it works child. Dark spirits are still spirits, bound by their vows not to hurt a human or spirit soul. Not even the dark ones will take her now that she's forsaken her spirit status and killed her own kind."

"And because they are bound more loosely by the codes than other spirits the Nightmare Lords want her dead." I surmised, nodding. That made sense. It wasn't all though.

"That...and they killed an Elder to get her power."

I'll admit, that made me wince. I knew she had killed a Nightmare Lord and took his blood to fuel her vile experiments, but I didn't know just how had it was. "Which one?"


"Damn. He was one of the strongest."

Eros nodded. "And now the others want her head on a spike. Before I got captured, there was talk of an invasion."

"On the Time Tower? You've got to be joking." I couldn't conceal my disappointment. "I would have expected better."

"Not on the Tower, no. That would be stupid. The time field would raze them all. They were thinking of an inside job."

Again I was flummoxed. "A red herring?" Somebody would actually allow themselves to get caught, just to break others out of here? "Who would be that stupid?"

Eros smirked. "What about me?"

"Nice try love boat but I know better. You got ambushed, just like Liam and the dead dryad that came with him. What the hell were you doing out there with the twins anyway?"

Eros inclined his head in acknowledgment. "Fair enough. I was taking him to my home in Paris. I've converted the castle there to a bunker for younger, innocent spirits."

"How did you get caught?" I needed to know as much as possible if I was going to plan escape for others now.

"Like you said, ambush. They cornered us. Father Time-"

"The clockwork." I interrupted. "He's not a spirit anymore. Just a mindless automaton."

"The clockwork," Eros amended. "He stopped time around us and we couldn't get free. They carried us, frozen in time, here and chained us all up before unfreezing us and when they did..." he paused. "they did unspeakable things to the children. Things so bad it might almost be preferable to let them die here."

"They won't die." I told him matter of factly. "They're real spirits. The dryad died of her injuries. They won't. They'll just keep healing and healing. Their minds will break before their bodies and when that happens, Hecate will suck their life-force out and trap their souls on this plane as ghosts to serve her."

"I know. Which is why I'm thinking of ending their lives, in case we can't get out of here."

"If should be their choice."

"They're children, they can't make that decision."

"Slit their throats, I don't care. Just don't let them hear you talking to me about it. It's bad enough they're already terrified. Any more fear and Hecate will have a full buffet ready and waiting for her." I replied, setting down in my cage. I needed to think. Liam still wasn't awake.

"You're right."

I was silent.

"What's your name child?"

"I don't have one."

"Everyone has one."

"I was merely given a title."



"Then I will call you M."


"Why not?"

I remained silent for the rest of the night.

The next few days were more like a trail period. Hecate would put me through a thousand different nightmarish scenarios to see which ones I was afraid of the most. I was dropped in the cold sea, forced under water in my cage until I passed out from lack of oxygen; I was left in a burning building- which Hecate knew would work as I hate fire. They didn't come to get me until the ashes were cold; I was chained to a wall and Hecate spent hours slicing away at my skin, testing how long it would take before they would heal. She collected the spilt blood and used it for her vile experiments. Each time I let just enough fear out to keep her sated.

Eventually, she learned that I didn't fear for myself any more, that I was too strong for that, but for the others who had to watch my pain and suffering. That's when the fun really began.

One day, when she was dragging me back into my cage, beaten and bloody one of the twins let out a sob for me and it caught her attention. She swung around.

"What was that pet?"

Sam sniffed. "Please...don't hurt her any more." She pleaded, giving her the big, wide orange eyes.

Hecate grinned, yanking me up by the hair. "Does this make you afraid?" She demanded.

The little girl, not knowing any better, nodded. Her by now greasy black hair bobbing and waving like inky fingers. "Yes." She whispered.

Hecate's grin could have lit up an empty room. "Good." She snarled. "Because what's happening her is exactly what is going to happen to you." And with that, she dragged me by the hair past the twins, Eros and Liam who, by this time had woken up and was watching silently, his eyes clearly wishing he could help, and into the room beyond. A wooden table was set with straps and pulleys. Buckles and braces lines the framework and a huge crank sat like a goblin, its handle wavering unsuredly.

Hecate flung me onto the table. I tried to get away but she quickly grabbed my wrist, hauled off and punched me forcefully across the cheek to make me more complacent and once I lay back, dizzy, she set about fastening me to the table. Once she was done, she stepped back to admire her handiwork.

"You know," she said to me. "Being the Muse, I'm sure you could think up something much more effective than this to bring fear out of people."

I didn't know if she was referring to the table which was obviously an old torture device, or her methods of using the unknown to terrify the children. I remained silent, my eyes shut.

I felt a hand on my chin, squeezing my lips into a pucker as a voice whispered so close my me I felt her breath gracing my exposed lips. "You could help me you know." She told me, squeezing even harder. "We could be partners. You and I. You could help bring this sorry world back to what it was! The Muse and the mistress of Magic. We could make the spirits remember who the real power is! You've been ignored and cast aside for far too long! With this newfound power you could rule those that turned a blind eye to you!"

The entire time she had been speaking I was working up a good spit-ball and when she paused for breath I let fly. She staggered back, cursing and wiping her face.

"I'll make you pay for that you little bitch!" She snarled, stomping over to the controls. Her hands flew to the crank and I felt the straps around my arms and legs tighten drastically. The cranking continued. "See how you like this you little bitch!" She cackled, tightening my straps to much that I wasn't even lying on the table any more, the straps held me so snugly.

Then the pain started. I felt the agonizing, slow pain of an insect being pulled apart, leg my leg. My bones popped out of their sockets. I didn't scream. Only the barest grunts of pain escaped my lips. I would not let her win. Still the straps tightened. My arms and lets were being ripped off my body slowly, force tearing tendons and muscle like tissue paper. I whimpered but didn't scream. Then the skin started giving way. I felt a cold, dark swell of fear settle over me and knew I was going to scream soon unless I did something to stop myself.

So I started laughing. Not happy laughter. Mad, euphoric laughter. Evil laughter. Crazed, insane laughter that made even Hecate shirk back.

"What?!" She screamed, stalking from the crank over to me. She loomed over me as I continued to cackle, my voice reverberating around the smaller room. "What is so funny?!"

I kept on laughing, telling myself that it was for the kids. All of it was the them. "AHAHAHAHAHAHA HAHAHAHAH AH AH AHAHAHAHAHAH HA!"

There was no warning. Suddenly, I felt an earth-shuddering snap and my laughter broke off with a cry of pain while feeling started rushing to my right leg which Hecate had broken with her fist. I hesitated only for a moment, then kept laughing. "HAHAHAHAHAH AH! AH! HAHAHAHAHA!"

She let out a scream of frustration and broke my other leg. "STOP IT!" She roared. "You're supposed to be screaming!"

I laughed in her face. She broke both my radius and ulna on both arms, my right humerus and was working on my left when she finally realized she wasn't going to get anything from me and drew back, disgusted.

"You might be able to laugh your own pain away, Muse," she snarled, getting up into my face again. "But the twins won't be so humorous about their fate I'm sure."

My laughing abruptly stopped. I had potentially condemned them. If I couldn't do the job of making them afraid, Hecate would do it for me.

And so I started screaming.

Hecate faltered. "I haven't done anything to you yet!" She protested. Then an evil grin spread across her face. "Ah, I see. You want to save them the pain and sacrifice yourself as my little voodoo doll. Well, I can tell you that if that's going to happen and if I'm to keep my hands off them, I'm going to need a bit more screaming than that."

I screamed louder. Blood-curdling screams that would make a demon's hair stand on end. She clapped gleefully.

"Yes, yes, much better. Though it won't do to just have you screaming with nothing being done to you. That wouldn't be fair." She picked up a knife and started cutting along my dislocated arm. I screamed real screams. Agonizing, ear-shattering, make you teeth chatter screams that brought a look of childish delight to her face. I felt sick. "Yes, yes, this is much better." She cooed, setting down the knife after a while and smoothing my hair back from my forehead. "Much more life-like."

I stopped screaming just long enough to glare at her. I hissed "Get your hands off me you bitch. I'm only doing this for them. Now put me back in my cage."

Hecate slapped me. "Now now, we've made some real progress today. No use spoiling it all." She tutted. "And you aren't going back to your cage just yet. The healing process is almost as painful as the breaking process from what I've been told."

And so I was forced to lay there, screaming non-stop as the bones and tendons re-knit. Tissue sprouted from wrecked muscle and my body felt like it was on fire for hours and hours. I don't even remember going back to my cell.

I woke up to Liam, speaking to me. "You're very brave, you know." He was saying. "To take such pain for them. It's honorable."

Opening one bleary eye, I gazed down at him. His red hair glistened, just like the others with sweat and caked on blood. He didn't know I was awake.

"I would do the same, if Hecate gave me the choice."

"You're wasting your time Liam," Eros told him. "She's out cold. Probably dead. Even spirits can't survive that kind of torment for days on end."

"She's alive," Liam insisted. "I can see her breathing up there. Why do they keep her up there anyway?"

Eros shrugged. "Because She's Hecate's favorite plaything. Who knows! I just want to get her down and out of here, same as you and the twins."

Liam sighed tiredly. "You and I both know that's never going to happen." He told the spirit of love seriously. "We're going to fade here, all of us. And a new batch of spirits will be brought in to feed that monster's lust for power."

Eros silenced him with a death-glare. "We won't get out of here if you keep talking about it like that!" He reprimanded, glancing the way of the twins who were still on the opposite side of the room and as such unable to head anything.

"He's right you know." I said. My voice was dry and croaky. It hurt to breathe.

Both of then looked up. Liam smiled. "Hey there little'un, glad to still see you among the living."

"I'm not." I said seriously.

His smile faltered. "What?"

"I'm not glad I'm still among the living. But I am glad you are."

The two men exchanged glanced and chose to ignore my comment. "How are you feeling?" Eros asked.

"Like all my bones were pulled form their sockets and then broken." There was no sarcasm in my voice.

Eros winced. Liam played it straight with a mask-like face.

"Listen, I know what you've been through for their sakes." He told me. "And I thank you for what you've done. But you don't need to suffer any more. We have a plan."

"Oh?" I asked. "And what is that?"

There was no hesitation. "We wait until they leave to go to get more people, then my luck will break the chains and we'll be able to all get out of here!"

"The iron stops your powers." I told him. "Try again."

"My luck is a part of me," Liam countered. "It's not a power. And while the iron hurts, it doesn't hurt my powers that much."

He was lying. I knew it.

"You can come with us. Be free once again."

I didn't answer him.

Liam tried his escape attempt the following week. I watched as he wriggled out of his chains but his luck didn't hold for much longer. He was trying to use a rock to break Eros's chains when they came back. Hecate slit his throat without thinking and he lay bleeding on the ground. The twins screamed. Eros cursed. I watched.

Hecate screamed at them to be silent, then glared at Eros. "I suppose this was your idea brother?"

Eros swore. "No, it was Liam. But I would have gladly gone along with it, just to keep these children out of your reach."

She hit him. Hard. His head snapped back and he spat blood back in her face. She wiped it off and hit him again. And again. And again. Then, when he was knocked unconscious she unchained him and dragged him from the room. I had to listen to him screaming for hours and hours before they were suddenly cut short. I strained, hearing a gurgling and then silence. She had obviously decapitated him. That was the only way to permanently kill a spirit that I knew of.

Then she started taking her rage out on the twins. I was already too beaten down to be of any use to her. She wanted to hurt something. Something that would scream for her. I spent hours and hours sleeping. Ignoring the screams. I wasn't ready to escape yet. I needed more time.

She spent hours torturing the twins. One of them broke quickly, though I couldn't tell which as they were in a different room. Only one's screams lasted until the very end. She didn't kill him though. I could tell by the self-satisfied way Hecate strode into the room hours later.

"Well," she said in the falsest sweet voice I've ever heard. "I think it's about time to get you some new playmates."

She didn't tell me what she had done with the child. I didn't ask, though occasionally I would catch a glimpse of a shade, following her around. She had a perverse thing for children it seemed. Maybe those tales about her and Black Annis were true.

I expected her to be gone for a few days. The clockwork and Nature kept an eye on me. When she came back, she was dragging only one body. An older man, dark of skin and hair. His hair hung long over his face, tangled, matted with blood as nearly dreads.

She chained him up and left. He was unconscious, or so it seemed. Once she left his head snapped up and he looked around. This one was different. I could tell. He was more predator than prey. His black pants and long, black shirt was ripped a little- enough to expose sculpted muscles underneath.

"Who's up there?" His voice was cold, calculating. And angry.


"Who're you?"

"The Muse. What about you?"

He deigned to answer.

"How did they trap you?"

"They didn't. I let her catch me."

"You're the mole? You don't look like much."

"I'm not supposed to."

An underplayer, like myself. Quaint.

She waited one whole day before coming to see us. She waved cheekily at me, smiling as she passed beneath me and stood in front of the newcomer. I've elected, in lack of his name, to call him Obsidian.

Hecate asked Obsidian a lot of questions, none of which he answered. Not like me then, I thought. I would've answered. Then again, he probably has things to lose. Not like me. Then she lowered my cage and dragged me to the other room to see if I was still scared. She made a few cuts, nothing momentous I didn't scream. Broke a few of my fingers. They healed quickly. It was as if the broken bones understood that it would keep happening and as a result, grew back stronger each time. What doesn't kill you and all that, I suppose.

She finished, disgusted and threw me back in my cage. When she left, Obsidian asked, "Are we the only ones here?"

I spat blood. The ruby red droplets slowly fell to the ground. "Yes. The only other beings here are beyond help. You missed the boat. There were four more."


"They died. She killed them."

"Damn. How long have you been here?"

"Longer than I care to look back on." I replied.

"And you want to get out?"


"Do you want Hecate to die?"

"I want her to suffer."

He laughed. "Well, as the Muse I'm sure you'll be able to think up plenty of ways to do that. But you haven't been able to get out of here yet."

"I'm getting there."

He laughed again. "I like you child. I think I'll help you get out of here."

"You do that. It'll be a change of pace."

Obsidian tried to escape immediately. The next day, I woke to the feeling of a hand on my mouth. I didn't fight. I knew that wasn't her hand. It was his.

"Surprised?" Obsidian asked, his dark gray eyes sparkling with his own private mirth as he uncovered my lips. He was kneeling in front of me. I was out of my cage. Nature lay on the ground, her neck snapped. Clockwork was scattered in pieces of cloth, false skin and gears across the floor. Aww damn. I slept through it.

I shook my head. "No. Nothing surprises me. Not anymore." He held out a hand to me and I took it. My feet were unsteady and slightly off-centered but I could stand. "Where is she?"

He shrugged. "She's out. Don't know where. Don't know when she'll be back. But we should get out of here before that happens. Did you know she never even bothered to lock the cage door?"

I nodded. I knew.

"Then why didn't you try to leave before?"

"I had people who I owed. Now they're dead and I'm free of debt." I replied.

He nodded, understanding blood-debt. "Will you come with me?"

"To where?" I was curious, though I had no intention of leaving this place.

"Dark Hollow Haven."

I quirked an eyebrow. "A Nightmare Lord? I wouldn't have guessed."

He shrugged. "The days of long, billowy cloaks and fangs are long behind us. These days the Lords opt for a more...modern and ethnic look. So, will you come with me?"

I shook my head. "No. There is something I need to do to Hecate first. Then I will come with you. I want to help. But I can help more by putting her away where she can't hurt anybody."

He shook his head. "I wouldn't delve into that. The remaining Elders have a plan to seal her away, but it's going to take time."

I shrugged. "My way only takes a few minutes." I turned my back on him. "Where is the Haven located?"

"Through the shadow-voids. I'm the only one that can take you to it."

"If you want me, stick around." I replied. "But stay out of sight. It's not going to be pretty when she shows up."

He did as I asked, sticking to the shadows and blending in almost seamlessly like a true Nightmare Lord. He had to be a couple thousand years old. Too damn young for me.

Eh, maybe not to young. I reflected as I explored my much larger cage. This building- the Time Tower, previous home of Father Time, certainly lived up to its name. A gigantic clock-tower made form shimmering glass, gold and bronze spires and bricks. Obsidian numbers set into an ivory face, facing the east as I could see when I walked outside. It looked almost pretty. But here and there I could see hints of darkness. Corruption. Death. Flowers didn't bloom within fifty feet of the foundations. The ground was dark. Lifeless. Ivy curled into brittle fingertips on the brick face and no sunlight shone near us.

The inside of the clock-tower was much more impressive. The wooden bar which held my cage was part of the balance beams which criss-srossed up and down the tower, making it look like a massive sheet of shoots and ladders. Hecate had a massive room just underneath the clockworks. Nature had a pavilion outside and Clockwork had a small, cramped space inside the mechanism where he could tend to his duties. There was another room, presumably the room where the time-strands were kept but that was locked with a blood-barrier, probably put there by Father Time himself. I didn't try to go in. Instead I busied myself reading Hecate's vast about of books on spells, curses, hexes and all manner of dark demonicy, trying to think of what fresh hell to enact on her in recompense for all the lives she had taken.

Hecate returned hours later. She screamed upon seeing the chains hanging uselessly from the wall and screamed still louder when she saw my empty cage. I stepped out from my hiding place.

"Aww, what will all that caterwauling you would think you missed me."

She spun around and a bolt of lightning hit me full in the chest. I didn't flinch. Protection runes spattered over my skin, inked in scars and blood. Dark magic coursed through my veins. Fight fire with fire.

My hand lifted. She flew across the room, slamming into a window. It didn't do anything but wind her. She screamed gleefully and summoned weapons out of the torture room, hurling the blades at me. I ducked and dodged, letting a few of them hit their mark. They didn't hurt. Nothing hurt.

"Why aren't you gone?" She demanded, spinning around like a dancer, hurling more fire and lighting from her fingertips. "You were free. Why didn't you leave you twisted little freak?!"

I raised an eyebrow. "I'm twisted?"

She screamed again, hurling everything from daggers to poisonous snakes at me. I danced around it all, getting closer and closer to her. She was backed up against the wall. Obsidian didn't come to help me because I didn't need it but I could feel him watching.

My hand crackled with bright blue flame and I screamed a word of power, catching her dress alight. It burned white-hot and she screamed, but she still didn't stop fighting. The area surrounding her body was a maelstrom of whirling chaos. Winds buffeted her. She had stolen Nature's magic. Discarded weapons flew back into her hands like a tape being rewound. She had stolen some of Time's magic too. Greeeat.

"You know," I told her calmly as I ducked one of her bolts of red fire. "I hope you know that you've beaten me. Just a bit."

Hecate ignored me and screamed a word of power. A pulse of energy shot towards me. I dodged, letting only a fraction graze my skin but it was enough to make my eyes roll back into my head. Gods above it was like being set on fire from the inside!

I screamed and that gave me more strength. I fell to my knees. She loomed over me, grabbed me by my tattered t-shirt, holding a burning fist up to my face. I felt the flesh melting from my face and I screamed. My skin was streaming, molten, down the incline of my cheek and I felt every single lick of the flames. But the fight wasn't out of me yet. I kicked her squarely in the gut. Hecate staggered back, right into the center of the circle I had drawn during the hours we had been waiting.

Immediately, the barrier sprang up. A net of red and gold fire ropped from empty space down on her. Out of reflex, her hands rose to try and stop the net but contact scalded them and she screamed, whipping them back to her sides. It drove her to her knees and the fire pressed down on her, causing her to scream more.

"WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?!"" She roared, thrashing and kicking as the net pressed closer and closer, mummifying her in a cocoon of molten flesh and cloth.

"What have I done to nullify you powers or what have I done to enact this barrier?" I asked, conversationally. My face was still stinging.

Hecate continued to thrash and scream obscenities.

"Well, I've always thought that irony was a good source of inspiration. And what's more ironic than using magic to stop a sorceress?"

She had stopped thrashing. The fire had reduced what was left of her skin to nothing but charred flesh. Tears were streaming down her face and there was terror in her eyes.

"Kill me." She whispered it softly, as if she expected me to actually do it. "Kill me now. Avenge yourself."

I shook my head, kneeling at the edge of the circle of runes. "No. I'm not going to kill you. That would, of course, be too easy. I know I know, stereotypical. Heroine usually lets the villain live their life out because good guys don't kill. But we both know I'm no good guy Hecate."

"So you will kill me?"

"I didn't say that." I stood. "No, I won't kill you." But I didn't tell her what I would do.

Obsidian and I left the clock-tower not long after. On the way to Dark Hollow, I learned his real name was Daven. He had been apprenticed to the Nightmare Lord Hecate had killed and had vowed to avenge him.

"I don't know a lot about magic," Daven admitted as we set fire to the tower. Burn the evidence. Always. "So I haven't a clue what you did to her. All I know is you chanted something and then she disappeared. I trust you," he added when I gave him a look. "But I just want to know. Wherever you sent her, I hope she is suffering."

I nodded as the match dropped from my fingertips, immediately setting the oil-soaked floor ablaze. "Oh yes, she is." I promised him. He seemed to still want details. But I didn't tell him until we were both well-away from the burning tower. I erected a barrier, keeping the flame exclusively in the tower. Embers flickered away from the blaze and fizzled lifelessly when they hit it. "I love irony." I told him, as I did so. "It's something which, in all my years of living, has never failed to make me smile."

He watched me silently, waiting.

"Irony's base is that the simplest things may seem so complex, and visa versa." I continued. "Do you really want to know what I did to her?"

He nodded.

I pulled a tiny book form my pocket. One of her spellbooks, stolen. "Here. Read that."

He read it. "Damn." He remarked. "Even I wouldn't have thought of this."

"And that's not the half of it." I replied. "I didn't just trap her inside her own head. I trapped her in a pocket dimension, detached from time. On a time-loop."

His eyes widened. "You're a blood-thirsty malicious little thing, aren't you?"

I shrugged. "Inspiration is often evil. I think I've come to terms with that at this point."

We made it back to Dark Hollow pretty quickly. It was full of demons and dark spirits. But since I was with Daven they didn't attack me on-sight. He vouched for me just long enough to get us in to meet the remaining Elders. Death was there, other Nightmare Lords, the dream-maker, the twin lunar dieties, Black Annis, Krampus, Baba Yaga, and some of the old gods, stirred from their rest. And one woman that I did not recognize. Until I did.

"Æther." Who else could she be, dressed in a star-lit dress like the cosmos themselves had been used in the stitching?

She looked up. Her face was younger than I expected but when she spoke, it was the same voice.

"I see you succeeded Daven."

I scowled. All this torture, all these years of ignoring me and providing no help, even when I was at the end of my tether and the first time I speak to her the bitch ignores me? I think not.

"You will speak to me Æther." I told her. Some of the other spirits gasped at my audacity but I felt I deserved it after all these years."

"I will," she agreed. "But not now. Were there any other survivors? Did you manage to save Mother Nature and Father Time?"

"YOU WILL SPEAK TO ME!" Power unleashed in my fingertips, arcing across the room to catch Æther in a tight grip. She broke through it as easily as if it were spiderwebbing. "In a moment dear. I'm quite busy now." She said, dismissing me with a wave of her hand. "Now, were there any survivors-" I sent a jet of fire at her. It didn't do anything. She just kept talking. "-Daven? Anything at all?"

This was... this was cruel. After all this time, seeing her face to face, and she still didn't care?

"WHAT AM I TO YOU?!" I roared, stepping right up to her. "AM I A PAWN?! A TOY?! A PERSON?! WHAT?!"

She raised an eyebrow. "Right now you're a little girl throwing a fit in the middle of a room full of adults." She told me humorously. "Now, you can either wait your turn like the others or go to your room to sulk. It's your choice."

I was running on autopilot at this point, so I had no choice in my next action. I flipped her off and turned on my heel, stalking off. I could feel their eyes on the back of my head as I left the building. Daven jogged after me just long enough to show me where I could stay, then he headed back to talk to Æther.

I was summoned back to the main meeting area only three hours after my banishment from that same room. The same amount of people were there. All standing around, watching from under cloaks or with apprehensive gazes. Daven was there too.

"I must admit," Æther said as I walked forward. A hot bath, medical attention for my numerous cuts and injuries over the last few months and food had improved my disposition. My face was still a mass of burn scars and knife cuts, but I felt no pain. The food was merely an icing on the cake. The bath was merely my way of pampering myself. And bloody hell I deserved it. "I expected you to be gone by now. You don't like to stay in one place for long, do you Caroline?"

I stopped dead. "Is that my name?" I asked, carefully keeping my voice steady. "I don't recognize it."

"No, of course you don't. Because I didn't tell it to you." She answered, waving a dismissive hand and then beckoning me forward. "We have a viewing orb, stolen from the archives of Alexandria before it sank. If you give permission we would like to see what you have done with the anti-spirit known as Hecate."

I shrugged. "Go ahead. Though I must warn you if you're squeamish I would avert your eyes."

The other spirits ignored me and Æther directed me to put my hand on the viewing orb which glowed red at my touch. An image was projected up into the empty sky. Hecate, tied down to a table with chains, while ghosts of her family towered over her, ripping her apart. Eros, Her father Helios who was still alive and watching beside one of the lunar twins, and her mother- some no-name twilight spirit I cannot remember. As well as her other incarnations, the child and the crone. All of them were cutting into her skin with claws or knives.

I smiled, noticing some of the spirit's appalled looks. "But wait, it gets better. Does this thing have sound?"

Æther nodded and suddenly Hecate's screams were echoing throughout the chamber. I winced. "Bloody hell turn the volume down!"

The other spirits shot me dirty looks. I ignored them. The screaming faded until all we could hear was a low humming sound. She was still screaming by the look of terror on her face but we couldn't hear much of it.

"This is what you did to her?" Æther asked, not sounding too impressed. "After all that she's done?"

I folded my arms defensively. "I stuffed her into a pocket-dimension on a time-loop where the only emotion she feels is that of her last moments on earth. Namely, gut-punching spine-ripping terror. And I've cursed her too, so that each time she starts slipping away form that terror, the scene resets and she forgets what's happened previously. She awakens in darkness. Eternal hell, unrelenting. No change whatsoever."

Æther nodded, folding her arms over her chest approvingly. "Now that's torture." The projection vanished and she orb grew dull and lightless. She turned to me. "Now, what to do about you."

I raised an eyebrow. "What to do about me?" I repeated, anxiety rising in my chest.

She unfolded her arms. "You've been tortured to the point of murder. By normal standards, you're no better than her and should be thrown into the void accordingly."

I couldn't believe this. "Are you serious?"

"Would you blame us? You're a loose cannon, willing to do anything. You have nothing tethering you. Not to mention you created this mess to begin with! If not for your dedicated service I would be throwing your sorry hide straight to the void where you would never see daylight again. Such as it is, you will be allowed to live, provided that you will leave the remnants of spiritual society and continue your duties as Muse for what's left of the human race. Maybe you can fix the mess you've made." She sneered at me. "That's all little spirits like you are good for you know. Making messes that we elders have to clean up."

My fists were shaking. "You...ungrateful...selfish bitch!" I roared, my very essence quivering. "I poured my life, my soul and my very existence to you- a being I didn't even know existed for sure until now! Centuries I waited for a sign from you! Millennium I spent helping the humans achieve greatness- my ideas keeping them alive, and for what?! For the final choice wither I live or die to be decided by you? On the basis of everything I've had to do to keep myself alive?! I think not."

"Spare me." Æther retorted. "You weren't even supposed to be created. You were a fluke I chose to let live. A decision I regret massively, in case you couldn't tell."

I was far past livid. This was it. I was done. Ancient and primordial she might be, but I was the source of all inspiration. All that was, is or ever could be. And I decided to let it show.

One blink was all it took. I closed my eyes and let the power wash over me. Stolen magic, from a dead spirit. Fire, white hot and burning like the first flame lit by the heart of a god. It leveled the building, burning away everything down to a subatomic level. Faux flesh disintegrated. Spirits' souls were blasted far past the void and straight into oblivion, to be re-processed by the universe and molded into some form of subterranean ooze. I let Daven live. It wasn't his fault. But everything else within a thousand miles was completely wiped off the face of existence.

When I opened my eyes, I was met with scorched ground as far as the eye could see. No flames, no charred corpses. Nothing like that. Everything had been leveled. I smiled.

"That's better."

Daven, who had been cowering on the ground a few feet away, bolted to his feet. "Better?!" He roared, striding over to me and grabbing me by the shirt. He yanked me up until I felt his hot breath on my face. Maybe letting him live wasn't the best of ideas. "You just killed the only family I had left!"

I shrugged. "Would you prefer it if I had let them all live and then plunge the world into irrevocable darkness?"

He shook me like a bead in a rattle. My eyes rolled back into my head. "I didn't want anyone to die!" He roared, blowing my still-wet hair back form my face. "That's why I rescued you and helped you kill Hecate! I didn't want more spirits to die!"

I shrugged. "She shouldn't have insulted me. Bitch deserved what she got and now the world has a mostly clean slate. Any other spirits that weren't in this room are obviously either too dark, too dead or too weak to be of any importance. I should think you'd be grateful. Now you don't have any competition for Eldership. Now, if you don't get out of my way I will have to kill you."

He stood still and for a moment I was worried I would have to carry out my threat. Then he stepped aside and I took a running leap before flying off into the night.

I would never see him again.

There were spirits left over, and I found them. It took years, but eventually I found them all. Some were good, some had turned dark. I killed them, regardless. Lack of belief had destroyed the majority of spirits in the early years, so it wasn't long before I found myself totally alone once again. I rarely saw humans. The few that were scattered across the globe had become little more than animals, resorting to cannibalism for food. Their hair had grown out and designer jackets had fallen to ruin and loincloths. They didn't even have modesty any more.

Entire cities had fallen. The world was desolate. A wasteland. Buildings crumbled under the weight of their own materials and soon nature itself became unraveled. My inspiration for the humans wasn't enough to keep me going past a year but, since Fear was still an essential part of my existence and meant I could draw it from any source, I survived. In that way and that way only did Hecate save my life. In all other ways, she ended it.

I can safely assume Daven lived on. You can't kill fear, or those dependent on it. But, like I said I never saw him again. I left my planet in search for new things. Life- real life that I could lend my core to. I found it, on a small, blue planet. Most of it was underwater but the bits that weren't had lush green vegetation. Forests glowing trees and plants that gushed nutrients. Perfect for sustaining life. There were caves, nooks, crannies and all sorts of landmasses unfamiliar to me which I learned and grew to adapt to. And there were also people. I became a god to the beings that lived there- small dark-skinned people with light gray fur covering almost the entirety of their bodies except their faces. They were entertaining. I tried not to be a cruel god and only sent minor storms their way when I wanted to be left alone.

The planet grew in mass and so did the beings who inhabited it. Soon they could talk, write, sing and dance. And all because of me. I was their Muse. They even gave me a new name. ØÞÎVœ. It sounded like See-koo-reet, and meant 'the trusted one'.

The people loved me so much. It was hard to see them all die out when the twin stars that provided them light and heat exploded, rendering their planet ash. My body didn't survive and my soul, without someone to collect it, was simply absorbed back into the cosmic energy that shapes the universe.

There were spirits left over, and I found them. It took years, but eventually I found them all. Some were good, some had turned dark. I killed them, regardless. Lack of belief had destroyed the majority of spirits in the early years, so it wasn't long before I found myself totally alone once again. I rarely saw humans. The few that were scattered across the globe had become little more than animals, resorting to cannibalism for food. Their hair had grown out and designer jackets had fallen to ruin and loincloths. They didn't even have modesty any more.

Entire cities had fallen. The world was desolate. A wasteland. Buildings crumbled under the weight of their own materials and soon nature itself became unraveled. My inspiration for the humans wasn't enough to keep me going past a year but, since Fear was still an essential part of my existence and meant I could draw it from any source, I survived. In that way and that way only did Hecate save my life. In all other ways, she ended it.

I can safely assume Daven lived on. You can't kill fear, or those dependent on it. But, like I said I never saw him again. I left my planet in search for new things. Life- real life that I could lend my core to. I found it, on a small, blue planet. Most of it was underwater but the bits that weren't had lush green vegetation. Forests glowing trees and plants that gushed nutrients. Perfect for sustaining life. There were caves, nooks, crannies and all sorts of landmasses unfamiliar to me which I learned and grew to adapt to. And there were also people. I became a god to the beings that lived there- small dark-skinned people with light gray fur covering almost the entirety of their bodies except their faces. They were entertaining. I tried not to be a cruel god and only sent minor storms their way when I wanted to be left alone.

The planet grew in mass and so did the beings who inhabited it. Soon they could talk, write, sing and dance. And all because of me. I was their Muse. They even gave me a new name. ØÞÎVœ. It sounded like See-koo-reet, and meant 'the trusted one'.

The people loved me so much. It was hard to see them all die out when the twin stars that provided them light and heat exploded, rendering their planet ash. My body didn't survive and my soul, without someone to collect it, was simply absorbed back into the cosmic energy that shapes the universe.

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