#2069

Alice stands on the dark beach with sword drawn as she watches the figure walking out of the waves. Water streams from Mage’s tangled hair and tattered black garb; the moonlight illuminates her white skin and glitters in her hard green eyes.

Eye.

Alice frowns, studying her enemy more closely. The iris of Mage’s right eye has gone black, and from the edge of her collar some sort of black scar or tattoo creeps up the side of her face like a lightning strike, cutting even through her eye. Though she can’t tell for sure, Alice suspects the black substance originates with the hook which has already transformed Mage’s right hand into sharp black claws. Despite the warm night, Alice shivers.

“Alice…” Mage bows with a flourish of her clawed hand. The movement is almost too grandiose to be purposeful, as if the woman is inebriated. “I’m honored to be greeted by the mighty captain herself. Then again,” she snickers, “there’s no one else on the island to do it, is there?” Alice just sighs. “You’re wasting my time. Did you come to taunt or fight?” Mage mimics the sigh. “Oh Alice, you think you have it all figured out.”

“Taunting it is,” Alice stabs her sword into the sand at her side, then crosses her arms. “Okay, get on with it, it’s the middle of the night and I’m tired.”

“I’m sure you are,” Mage tilts her head and her voice goes light and lilting. “What keeps you here, guarding this empty rock in the middle of the ocean? They’re not coming back. Any of them. They’ve moved on, forgotten who they were, forgotten who you were. Do they call to you in their dreams anymore?” She takes a step toward Alice. “Do they answer your coded letters or leave you sigil graffiti?” Another. “Do they even know you’re still here, still fighting?” And another. “Do they know how tired you are, how alone, how close to giving up?”

“I will keep fighting through my very last breath,” Alice, goaded by the uncomfortable truths in Mage’s words, takes a step forward herself. Her arms drop, hands clenched white. Mage just winks and replies, “You keep telling yourself that. But remember, I don’t need to. I don’t need to kill you. I don’t need to break you. I just need you to see the truth. Once that’s done, this could all be over. You’re the one who keeps it going. You’re the only one who still believes. If you just admitted that it’s done, that he fucked you over and now they’re all gone, this tragic little kingdom in ruins, you could rest.”

“Are you offering a truce?” Alice snorts, partly at the thought but also partly as a sign of bravado. This isn’t like their normal trading of insults. “That’s not like you. Maybe you’re more exhausted than I am. You’re not looking too well these days.”

“I was betrayed too, you know,” Without warning, Mage’s mocking demeanor falls away, replaced by a snarling, teeth-baring anger edged with madness. “It was my home; they were my friends; he was my mentor. Do you think any of them stuck around after he left?” She barks out a laugh. “The ones who wanted something from me did, for a while at least; the rest fucking ghosted. And the ones who were lost, permanently lost – do you think I don’t remember them? That I don’t mourn them?” She shakes her head. “I was not born of the void to oppose you, Alice. I have a past too. Remember that.”

Alice wants to hold onto the anger and adrenaline that push her through these confrontations, but exhaustion wells up and extinguishes what energy she has left. She gestures wearily toward the breaking waves and sheathes her sword. “Go back to your ship, Mage. That hook’s getting the better of you.”

“You will die defending nothing, Alice,” Mage almost spits the prediction with the force of her anger, but her next words are softer. “And it will be such a waste. Don’t you wonder who you are, besides his scapegoat?”

“Goodnight, Mage,” Alice turns and starts back toward the lighthouse. Her nemesis says nothing in return, but her accusations and questions are not so easily dismissed. Alice knows she will get no sleep tonight.

Advertisements

#2054

Alice…

Alice…

Mage’s voice pursues her even in this place where none know her and none who do know her can find her. She is anonymous here, friendless, tetherless – and yet on the edge of sleep, on the verge of waking, still she catches the sibilant whisper in the darkness.

Alice…

It isn’t possible, she tells herself. Not even her creator can find her here, to say nothing of her nemesis. Her fears run wild, that’s all, leftover from the years when paranoia kept her moving and thus safe. Alice’s body long ago learned to expect the hidden dagger, the poisoned ring, the needle in the velvet. Nothing less than constant vigilance keeps a captain alive, and it feels like she has been alive a very, very long time. It’s natural, then, for her instincts to kick at the slightest sound or movement. Many more years must pass before those instantaneous reactions ease.

At least, that’s what Alice tells herself. Still, in her more vulnerable moments she touches the scars left by Mage’s wicked hook and wonders if some of the madwoman’s darkness has infected her too. She has seen how the weapon slowly fuses itself with the sorceress, twisting from a single silver curve to black claws long and sharp as obsidian. Can whatever it is – curse, infection, parasite – help Mage track her beyond the realms of the universe, or perhaps connect them on a higher level entirely? Does a little chip of those talons sleep beneath her skin even now, waiting for an opportune moment to spread its roots and begin its takeover as well?

In the darkness she gives a small sob, half laughter and half wild desperation. Would it be ironic if in the end she became the thing against which she fought and lost so much? And if she did finally return to the island, half-monster or not, would there be anyone to greet her anyway?

Alice…

#2005

Her family exiled her.
Her friends betrayed her.
The ocean embraced her.

She glides through the frigid water with ease, all shark-smile mouth and long, pale limbs that seem to shift as they sway, maybe arms and legs one moment, maybe tentacles the next, maybe both. The waves whisper to her as they break against the moonlit shore and she replies with a bubbling giggle and a fluid gesture toward land. All around her sinuous body she feels the water respond, heaving and fluctuating as the waves gain momentum until their roaring breakers bury the beach and smash against the road beyond.

She surfaces, looks for her next target. Grins.

The lighthouse.

She is small and yet her tentacled limbs seem endless as they snake through the water and wrap themselves around the weathered tower. Fluid muscles tense and tug; old brick groans and cracks beneath the force. Then with a thunderous grinding the entire structure splinters and collapses, falling outwards into the water in a shower of stone and dust. She gleefully rides the resulting tidal wave as it overtakes the beach, then the road, and smashes into the little town beyond. She then rides the wave as it sucks back out to sea, weaving between thrashing bodies and tumbling debris.

#1920

They have forgotten much about her since she first came to the island. How she did not wash up on the beach, like so many others, but walked straight out of the waves like a queen from her throne. How when she arrived her hair had been so long it trailed on the ground, and she cut it only later when she took up ship and hook. How she told them what she was called, in other lands, but they gave her the name she bears now. How she had never been young, there on that island of perpetual youth, and thus had never truly belonged. How she had not needed the island – not its promises of friendship and family, safety and solace, redemption and rebirth – and therefore she saw through its glamours to the bare bones beneath. They have forgotten these things, and imagine her story to be like all the others’. Yet she needed no home, she wanted no king, and if any had asked the cards they would have foretold her arrival in crumbling towers and falling swords.

#1849

“Well, well, well… isn’t this a surprise. Hello, Alice. How nice of you to visit my little prison in the sub-sub-sub basement. I hope it wasn’t too far of a walk for you.”

“I don’t have time to swap antagonism wrapped in false pleasantries, Mage.”

“Funny, because I have all the time in the worlds.”

“This was a terrible idea. I don’t know what I was thinking.”

“You need my help, hmm?”

“…yes.”

“Things must be bad, then, very bad. Who is it? Or what?”

“We don’t know yet. It leaves no useful evidence at the… scene. Just remains.”

“Ooh, a mystery. I’m intrigued.”

“This isn’t a game! People are dying–”

“–boooring–”

“–and you might be able to help. As nauseous as it makes me to say it. So… will you?”

“Quid pro quo, ‘Ah-leese’. You haven’t said what’s in this for me.”

“I guess it’s too much to hope you just feel like doing something good for a change?”

“Aww. That’s cute. No. This place is boring.”

“I can see about getting you some books, maybe–”

“I want a shark. With legs. I want a crocodile shark.”

“No.”

“Just a regular shark?”

“No sharks!”

“What about just a crocodile, then, only it has a machine gun strapped to its–”

“Again, this was a terrible idea. What a waste of time. Have fun being alone in your prison.”

“Wait, wait. Fine, show me what you’ve got there and I’ll see if it’s interesting enough. We can talk trades later. I am pretty serious about the crocodile shark though.”

“I hate you so much.”

#1782

“Azula”

mad daughter of a hungry empire
loveless and lightning-souled
if darkness be your only companion
then let darkness be your crown

broken child of a tainted bloodline
motherless and fueled by rage
if fear and awe be your only shield
then let fear and awe be your blades