Robert E. Parkin is a writer of Young Adult Fantasy and Science Fiction works and graduate of Suny Oneonta with a major in Mass Communications and Media Studies. Robert has enjoyed the creation of fictitious worlds and characters since an early age thanks to his exposure to many mediums of story telling throughout his educational career. His wish to light the imaginations of young readers with his work has always been one of his top goals. Robert promises dark tales with high stakes, but not without characters we can all full in love with. Robert lives in New York with his close friends, family, and not enough time in the day to write.
BLIGHTED The Summoning
Everything was quiet. The dark room glinted and shimmered as refracted streaks of light sliced the blackness clinging to the surroundings like ink. The room was grand—massive. The long hallway looked to stretch for miles, as if its length represented its complete disregard for limitations. The floor and walls were covered in silver metal. The tiled floor sparkled as if never blemished by any taint or living entity. Columns of brilliant craftsmanship lined the length of the hall as they climbed to the ceiling about three stories high. It was incredible. Breathtaking, but… Not made by man. The light grazed a throne of silver sitting atop ascending stairs of white marble. The stairs extended the full width of the vast hall, looking to have been carved and polished to shine as if pearls. A lone girl sat—smiling. “Could it be…” She was too small for the throne, only taking up a little over half the seat. The throne itself stood like a metallic gargoyle, its structure reminiscent of symmetric blades that fanned out like a giant wing span. Yet there the girl sat, humming as she kicked her feet and gazed at her open hand. She wore a strange blindfold over her eyes. An odd symbol of a golden eye was etched into her black fold that blended into her dark hair, no longer than the nape of her neck. The eye hummed and glowed, looking almost mechanical in nature. It blinked several times. She giggled. “I think I found one.” Her hand sprang open, causing a dark swirl of pulsing energy to appear. The dark matter looked to move and throb like a beating heart as it took the shape of a deformed circle. “Yes, I think she will do nicely.” A sudden noise split the throne room. It was an eerie squeaking sound, like wet skin being dragged along glass. It was coming from behind the throne, within the cover of shadow, where no light dared to touch. “Another sacrifice for your amusement?” The voice boomed, echoing through the metal halls. The girl smirked. “Not this one. I do believe I’ve found the perfect fit.” Her sneer grew. “She is a prime candidate.” “Most intriguing. This one sounds promising, yes?” the dark voice inquired. The girl nodded. “Indeed. I think the stage will be perfect for the child, wouldn’t you agree?” she said with a venomous sweetness while looking up. The disturbing squeaking noise came again. “Yes, I do believe fresh conflict is needed to rekindle the dwindling fires. I’m looking forward to it.” The girl let slip another giggle. “Well then, shall we call for her?” The voice chuckled. It was a deep laugh, grand, and powerful. The girl looked forward as the golden eye on her blindfold blinked, and began to glow brighter. She smirked as she held out her hand. “Thy slumber ends, rise before your master.”
[CH:01] Touch of Decay
For Cecilia Mara, nothing made sense. Just seconds ago she was lying on her bed reading a book. It was something she looked to do any chance she got. Getting lost in the stories of grand quests and epic characters was a release from the daily tribulations plaguing her. She was free to imagine, free to dream. The worlds were always so colorful and grand as she followed the stories with a pleasant smile, cried when proud and strong characters died, laughed when the comedy was rich and genuine, and felt alive as her heartbeat raced during scenes of passion. All of it was a fleeting afterthought now. What she faced was nothing like anything she had ever seen or read before. She had heard the phrase “falling down the rabbit hole,” but what laid before her as she floated in a torrent of blinding, green light, was something far more uninviting. “What is this?!” she cried as tears welled up in her eyes. There was no wind. Her tears were fresh from pure terror. The vortex churned and pulsed as she continued to fall further and further into the spiraling mix of light. She saw she was getting closer to its center. She wanted to run away, but no matter how much she kicked, she could never find her footing. It was like she was skydiving, stuck forever in freefall. She no longer could look and sealed her eyes shut. She curled up into a ball and hugged her knees to her chest as her long, dark hair twirled behind her. It’s just a dream. A nightmare. It’ll be over soon. I’ll wake up, and I’ll be on my bed, with my book, and everything will be fine. She repeated this to herself over and over, trying to reassure herself. You’ve dealt with worse, Cecilia. You’ve endured. You can beat this. This is nothing. She clenched herself tighter, willing with all her being to wake up from this endless decent. She had to be strong. She was strong. Like she said, this was nothing. “I’m not her.” No sooner did the words exit her mouth did she feel the cold sensation of metal on her face. Her eyes snapped open in alarm. She scrambled to her feet in a panic as she started gasping for breath as if recovering from near drowning. She wasn’t aware of holding her breath this entire time. Lights streamed and flickered around her like thin blades, reflecting off the silver surfaces all around her. She couldn’t tell where the blades of light were coming from, but it was the least of her worries. She held her hands close to her chest. Everything around her felt so vast and endless. “H-hello?” Her voice echoed across the walls. She cursed to herself after realizing how stupid she was. Why is the first thing someone thinks to do in a dark, eerie place is to say “Hello” like a freaking idiot! Her own self-ridicule didn’t last, when fear crippled her ability to breathe. Her heart raced as a blade of light sliced over her and down the long hallway where she stood, stopping just before ascending stairs of white. The stairs were broad and extended the full width of the hallway, stopping only where massive columns appeared supporting a large balcony. That’s when Cecilia saw the throne and had the very breath sucked out of her when she caught the sight of the lone girl. A sudden burst of light occurred, blinding Cecilia as she hid behind her arms. The flash didn’t last long and soon dimmed to a light glow. When she removed her arms, and her eyes adjusted, seven glowing lights of white flame lingered above the area, illuminating the massive throne room. Cecilia hadn’t even taken in the seven archways atop the balcony as she was too focused on the girl now before her. She didn’t look any older than her. Seventeen, maybe eighteen at best. Her body started to shiver as she took in the girl’s strange appearance. She had a short bob cut of black hair and wore a matching blindfold over her eyes. To add to her strange attire, she wore open-toed heels that looked like barbed wire, but with long black socks up to her thighs. Her, black, strapless dress was short in the front and touched the tiled floor at the back, draping over the throne’s seat as she crossed her legs. Averting her eyes, Cecilia felt embarrassed seeing a flash of the girl’s underwear. Black and lacy. A little too adult for a girl not looking much older than herself. The girl was smiling. She bobbed her leg as it balanced on her opposite knee as she ran her hands along the throne’s sharp armrests. Cecilia was amazed the blade-like design didn’t cut through her milky skin and stain the throne crimson. Cecilia swallowed. She couldn’t take her eyes off the girl. Though looking like a gothic princess, she couldn’t help but think. She’s so pretty…Very pretty. Cecilia’s eyes fell upon the girl’s necklace. It stood out among the coils of chains and jewelry she wore along her thin arms and dress. It was a strange, gold necklace with an orange gemstone at its center. It pulsed with warm light, almost hypnotically. The girl’s cheerful smile grew. “Welcome child. I hope the journey here wasn’t too turbulent.” Cecilia almost gasped, hoping in vain that she was still dreaming, and what was before her was just a bizarre illustration her imagination created. However, with each passing second, her heart raced faster and faster, her head felt dizzy, and she couldn’t catch her breath. More and more, she was coming to the horrifying realization of how this wasn’t a dream. “Y-you’re real?” she uttered almost in shock. “See what you have done now, Blythe? You’ve frightened the poor thing with your sloppy summoning again.” “What was that?!” Cecilia cried out. The girl muffled a laugh. “Oh don’t mind him. Jasper is just critical about every little thing.” “Only when your performance is in need of feedback,” spoke the booming voice again. The girl puffed out her cheeks but returned to smiling as she looked down on the terrified girl before her. “Forgive me, child, I haven’t introduced myself. My name is Blythe, though I suppose most people would know me as, The Golden-Eyed Witch,” she said in an almost purring voice. Cecilia broke out in a cold sweat as Blythe’s words echoed among the grand walls around her. “A-a witch?” she choked out, struggling to find the will to stand, much less the will to run for her life. “No need to be frightened,” she assured her as she waved her hand, causing several of her bracelets and chains to clink and jingle. “I didn’t bring you here to kill you…” Cecilia’s heart stopped. Blythe had trailed off, as if realizing she perhaps misspoke. Her smile returned as she peered down at Cecilia and rose up from the large silver throne. She shuddered. Still, despite her fear, Cecilia was in awe of the girl before her. Blythe’s dress fell around her hips and gave her a stunning level of maturity despite looking so young. However, the way her heels echoed with each contact with the steel floor made Cecilia wince with fear. “Tell me, Cecilia Mara, have you ever wished to leave your world?” She said these words so simply, like it was nothing, never losing her pure smile. How does she know my name? Cecilia tried to take a step back, but couldn’t muster taking her eyes off Blythe as she came closer to Cecilia. “The girl is terrified, Blythe. Look, she can’t even speak. Perhaps these pleasantries are pointless, wouldn’t you agree?” The dark voice boomed and echoed once again. Cecilia flinched, nearly causing her knees to buckle. Blythe sighed. “It’s you she’s afraid of, Jasper. Just be quiet for now.” A sudden sound penetrated Cecilia’s body, running chills up her spine. It was the sound of something being dragged along a dampened surface. It squeaked suddenly and then cease. Cecilia heard another noise. It startled her so much she nearly jumped out of her skin. It sounded like a pipe bursting. She almost wet herself in fear. Blythe lost her pleasant expression for the first time and scowled. “Jasper! Enough!” Blythe bellowed as she slammed her heel down on the floor. Cecilia froze. The echo was deafening. Still, what caused her to shutter was the golden eye burning along Blythe’s blindfold. At first glance, it was nothing more than a glowing symbol, but the more Cecilia looked at it, the more cybernetic it appeared. She thought she saw a pattern of lines within the eye like a circuit board. Then, the golden eye locked onto her, and blinked. Reflex and instinct took over. She ran. She didn’t even know where she got the strength. She bolted into the darkness, gasping for air as her lungs screamed. Fresh tears streamed down her face in sheer terror. She wanted no more of this. She wanted this nightmare to end. Why? Why was this happening to her? It was the only question bouncing around in her head as she clawed at the darkness, and dived further into the black abyss. Wake up! Wake up, Cecilia! Without realizing it, her eyes were clenched shut, and upon opening them, saw a single glimmer of light ahead. Her heart raced with excitement. She pushed herself harder, willing her legs that felt like rubber to reach her salvation; her freedom from this dark world. She would wake up on her bed, reading her book, and everything would be normal. Everything would be fine. The light grew and grew with each stride. With tears still falling down her reddened cheeks, she was consumed by the light and felt the unmistakable sensation of-- Cold steel. She had tripped, falling face first down on the hard tile. Her eyes burst open as her palms touched the cold floor, reflecting her horrified expression back at her. Cecilia looked up, hoping beyond hope, that what she was about to see, wasn’t really there. “So, are you done running?” asked a very bored girl with a glowing gold eye. “Stay away from me!” Cecilia shrieked. Blythe sighed. “I have to say, you are definitely the most hysterical of them yet. Some were even glad and excited to be brought here.” She frowned, her golden eye blinking several times. “But you, you’re terrified. You want nothing more than to return to your boring, stagnant world. There, you’re free to escape from all your troubles by getting lost in your books.” Cecilia shrunk at the scornful tone Blythe now used. It made her feel like a cornered cockroach, unable to crawl back to its filthy corner. “It baffles me. Nothing awaits you back in your world, so why would you so adamantly reject me and my wondrous proposal?” she said, now starting to descend the white steps. “You call yourself ‘strong,’ and say you can ‘endure,’ but at the end of the day, you’re just as weak and pathetic as the next fool.” Her heels slammed down on another step. She had almost descended the stairway now. Cecilia could only shiver in abject horror, crying like a lost child. “Are you so lost you honestly think your struggle makes you stronger than those around you? Do you think being isolated and cut off from the world hardens your resolve?” She clicked her tongue in disgust. Blythe slammed her heel down one last time as she reached the same level as Cecilia, making her jump in surprise. Nothing could make her to look up from the floor. “I was going to be reasonable this time. With the others I focused too much on my own amusement, and didn’t think about being practical.” She spoke in an even tone, but a heavy aura of loathing was layered on top of her words as she looked at her black nails. She now stared down at Cecilia. “Answer insect. Have you ever wished to leave your world?” she asked again in a calm, but venomous tone. Cecilia couldn’t lift her head as she sat on the cold floor in tears. Her whole body twitched and shuddered before the terrifying creature above her. She wasn’t a gothic princess anymore, she was a monster. Impatient, Blythe slammed her heel down again. “Answer me brat!” “Now who’s scaring her?” “Silence, Jasper!” Cecilia quivered as the echoes bombarded her. She felt like her head was going to split from all the pressure that was being pushed upon her. It was unbearable. Her body felt like it was breaking. Something gave way, but it wasn’t death that found Cecilia. There was a change, and Cecilia knew Blythe noticed it too. “Y-yes,” she uttered, gaining strength with each breath. A toxic smile crept along Blythe’s black lips as she took a single step closer to Cecilia. “What was that? I couldn’t quite hear you.” Cecilia shot her head up and glared at Blythe. Fresh tears were falling down her face, but there was no terror anymore. She was filled with rage. “Yes! I’ve always wanted to leave my world! I hate it! I hate everything in it and everyone on it! There, are you happy?!” Blythe let out a shrill laugh, a laugh capable of making the dead squirm. That’s when Cecilia saw them. Four, long fangs of varying length were paired atop Blythe’s mouth where her canine teeth should be. Each set of the paired fangs gleamed as her smile grew with her laughter. This sight made Cecilia lose the nerve she had mustered in her outburst. “Finally! You’re finally being honest with me,” she said as her eye began to shine. Cecilia couldn’t hide her fear. Nothing changed the fact she was still petrified. Even in her outburst, she couldn’t stop shaking. “Now, we can proceed.” Blythe held out a hand. Cecilia watched in surprise as a swirling nexus of black plasma began to dance atop Blythe’s open palm. The shifting energy pulsed and contorted, taking shape like some curved serpent. “I’ve decided that you will be my masterpiece.” She clasped down onto the plasma and from the bursting nexus appeared a curved dagger of black steel. The blade’s serrated edge looked like mutated shark’s teeth. Its cross guard was covered in silver, and its black grip fit snuggly in Blythe’s hand. A golden eye was etched at the bottom of the pommel; it stared at Cecilia with menace. The most dazzling feature of the dagger was a solitary, brilliant jade emerald at the center of the cross guard. Cecilia quivered as Blythe swung the dagger, before lowering it to her hip. “W-what are you going to do to me?” she asked trying to collect any courage—if any was left. Blythe sneered, flashing her fangs. “Stand up,” she commanded. Instinct took over. Somewhere deep down, Cecilia knew if she didn’t do as she was told, she would die. With what little strength, she pulled herself off the floor, and wobbled to her feet once again. “Now, do you wish for any alterations?” Blythe asked with an eerie smile. Cecilia didn’t understand. “A-alterations?” Blythe nodded. “Yes. Would you like to be taller? Bigger bust? More curves? Longer hair? Better bone structure? You name it.” Cecilia didn’t follow. More to the point, she couldn’t follow. Nothing made sense, and the girl before her just kept talking like she was asking for Cecilia’s favorite color. “A-are you asking about alterations…to me?” Blythe licked her bottom lip as she flashed her white fangs again. “Exactly.” Cecilia was dumbstruck. The request sounded ridiculous. Altering her appearance sounded so foreign, and her brain rejected the idea on reflex. Truth be told, she had never considered herself “pretty.” Being thin was a plus, but Cecilia knew she lacked the “curves” Blythe had gone out of her way to mention. She was also short. Her hair was about the only thing she liked. It was long and black, and she enjoyed maintaining it. Recalling the feeling of her hands running through her soft, silky hair almost brought a smile to her face. The image of her hair faded. She didn’t think she possessed any particular characteristic that drew the attention of others, much less being attractive. She didn’t use designer makeup and she hated dressing up. Blythe drummed her fingers along the dagger in her hand. Her smile was fading, replaced with an expression of impatience. “Well, anything?” Her sneer returned. “Or would you prefer I do it for you?” Cecilia’s head shot up again. “W-wait! I-I don’t know what you exactly mean. I mean, h-how are you going to even do it?” she stuttered, rattled by Blythe’s insistence. She snickered. “Well child, that is quite simple. With this.” She gestured to the dagger in her hand. Cecilia stared, concerned. “H-how is that going to change anything?” Blythe’s eye brightened as her grin reappeared, showing her fangs. “Like this.” Without warning, Blythe flipped the dagger in her hand, held it above her head, and slammed it down into Cecilia’s chest. Thick, warm blood burst from the fresh wound as Cecilia tried to scream, but no sound came. In horror, she could only watch as Blythe pushed the dagger deeper into her chest, pain rushed over her in waves of hot jolts like a thousand bolts of lightning. Her body twitched and convulsed under the strain, but still, not a single cry exited her mouth as she gaped, transfixed. Eyes bulging; blood gushing, she tried to claw at the hand pushing the blade further into her chest. Everything was starting to go blank as her eyes began to roll back into her head. Blythe sneered. She leaned in close and whispered into Cecilia’s ear. Blythe’s hot breath hitting Cecilia’s earlobe made her entire body go rigid. “And now…Awaken.” A torrent of green flame burst from beneath Cecilia as she was consumed by the roaring inferno of jade. Her whole body was numb. She couldn’t speak, she couldn’t move. She could only just…float?! In terror, she realized she was rising into the air as Blythe watched, looking pleased. The flames burned her clothes away, revealing everything to the fiend below her. She was trapped, forced to watch this nightmare play itself out. She heard the sound of bones cracking and a terrible sizzling noise, like her hair was on fire. Wait… Cecilia blinked. Her hair. It was black. However, what she saw within the torrent of flames was indeed her hair whipping around, but of a different color. Green?! It wasn’t a pleasant shade, but a mossy green. A full and vibrant green might have looked okay with proper treatment. Several girls at her school dyed their hair pink and blue before, and she always thought she could have made it look much better, but this, this, was disgusting. All she wanted to do was scream. Tears started to form again, as she shut her eyes. Everything was just horrible and unfair. What did she do to deserve this? There were hundreds of questions Cecilia asked herself as the green inferno continued to swirl and dance around her. “It is complete. My masterpiece.” Cecilia heard Blythe, and before she could open her eyes, her body fell and crashed onto the floor with a resounding thud. She winced, not realizing the dagger used to stab her now laid in front of her. “I took some liberties with the alterations, but I’m sure you will find them quite satisfying,” Blythe mused. Cecilia’s eyes shot open and she scrambled to cover her privates. Her face burned so hot that she feared it would melt off. When she paused long enough to see past her shame, she noticed something odd. Gazing down at her chest, Cecilia’s mouth dropped in shock. “I was going to give you what you mortals call a ‘D cup,’ but I felt a ‘C’ was more fitting, considering the balance and all,” Blythe chimed in again with a light giggle. Cecilia’s face still burned. Her breast had grown, and the rest of her body was so…voluptuous. What did she do to me? Cecilia now noticed her hair. Besides its ugly green color, her hair was now much longer. It reached down her back all the way to the floor, coiling around her legs and feet. She crossed her legs to cover her crotch as she reached out with her free hand and touched her hair. It’s so soft. Though an unsightly color, it was finer and thicker than her hair had ever been. Any richer, and she would have thought it was artificial. Not only that, it smelled like fresh flowers—lilies and daffodils. Cecilia couldn’t help but feel ridiculous. Blythe coughed. “Well, how long are you just going to stay curled up on the cold floor?” The brittle reverie Cecilia had shattered. The flow of the terrible and embarrassing scene before her, continued. “H-how can you say that when you just tried to kill me and burned off all my clothes?!” Blythe let out another shrill laugh. “Oh, of course. My deepest apologies. Allow me to fix that.” She snapped her finger. Without any warning, several sections of Cecilia’s body were covered in the black plasma from before. It was like being groped by eels. She wanted to vomit. Moments later, the sick feeling along her body ceased and she soon found she had been at least given something to wear. What disturbed her upon taking in the outfit Blythe gave her was just how much skin was still showing. “What is this?! I might as well be naked!” she exclaimed as she tried to get to her feet, but stumbled and fell. “Easy there, sweetheart. I gave you seven inches to supplement that pitiful five-foot-nothing of a height you had before. Your balance is going to be a bit off till you get used to it,” she teased. Cecilia pulled her legs under her and managed to get to her feet. Her knees bobbled and bowed as if she were just learning to walk in heels for the first time. As she stood though, she got an even better look at her new figure. Just like Blythe said, she was taller. She had such long and sublime limbs that were neither scrawny nor pudgy. On the contrary; she was toned and had hips. She couldn’t resist running her hands up along her sides and along her butt as she took in the sight that was her new body. She couldn’t believe it. Her stomach was also flat, and her skin was a pearly white that almost glittered in the light. It was so smooth to the touch she thought her fingers would disappear into her own body as she poked and probed her sides and stomach. I look, amazing. Her gaping mouth must have been amusing to Blythe because she started to snicker. “See, you do like it.” Cecilia shot her a violent glare, but as if waking up from a trance, she covered herself with her arms, still feeling embarrassed. After all, all she was given to wear was a pair of tiny shorts and a frilly tang top so short that she felt a chill from under her breasts. “W-what is your game? I thought you stabbed me or was that just a trick—” Her eyes fell and saw the dagger at her feet. It was still covered in fresh blood. A sharp, cold feeling spread out from her chest. The image of Blythe stabbing her was easily recalled in her mind, but yet, there was no wound. Not even a scar. Cecilia looked back up at Blythe. “W-what have you done to me?” she asked almost pleadingly. Blythe smiled as she turned on her heel. “You could say that I’ve freed you from your earthly shackles, but that isn’t quite true.” She turned her head to glance back at Cecilia. “After all, I brought you here with a purpose in mind.” Cecilia shook off a chill. “And what is that?” Blythe spun around as she leaped up several steps toward the throne above. She carried the same, sweet, aura when Cecilia had first seen her. At the very least, she wasn’t being aggressive—for now. “You’re going to take part in a little experiment, or was it more a game…?” she said as she held a finger to her chin. “Well, it doesn’t matter either way,” she soon concluded, dismissing her own words as if it was too much effort to bother with. She cleared her throat. “Simply put, Cecilia Mara, you have been cursed.” Cecilia starred confused. “What?” Blythe groaned. “None of you have ever been good at this part.” She let out a sigh as she took a breath. “Like the others that came before you, you have been given a certain ‘gift’ if you will. A unique talent that is exclusive to you. With this newfound power, you are to take part in a large-scale—” She smiled as her eye glowed brighter, looking quite pleased with herself. “—‘behavioral study,’ on a little world I have designated. With me so far?” she asked with a wink from her golden eye. Cecilia shook her head feeling numb all over. How could she even begin to figure out where to start asking questions? Blythe let out a loud groan again. “Perhaps it isn’t the girl’s lack of understanding, but your needlessly cryptic explanation that is the problem, Blythe.” Cecilia was jolted back to her senses upon hearing the dark voice that echo from all corners of the walls. It had slipped her mind that there was another presence lurking in the shadows. Blythe scowled. “If I wanted your opinion, I would have asked for it, Jasper.” The ominous voice chuckled with a deep echo. “You know you get it anyway, one way or another.” Cecilia could have sworn she saw Blythe’s golden eye roll around in her blindfold. “Fine, then I will be more direct.” Cecilia found herself bracing her body in fear of what Blythe might do next. After all, she had already been stabbed, stripped naked, and transformed before her very eyes. At this point, anything was possible. “You read a lot books, right? So you’ve heard the tale of King Midas, yes?” Cecilia nodded but worried where this was leading. “Yes…the cursed king that turned everything he touched to gold.” Blythe clapped her hands in excitement. “Wonderful! Then this makes the explanation that much easier.” Cecilia didn’t like Blythe’s ecstatic expression. The witch was enjoying this—a lot. It all felt too much like she was a caged animal forced to be on display for children. More like one very sadistic child, she thought as she felt the hairs on the back of her neck going erect with warning. Blythe continued her whimsical explanation, arms held out for effect. “Like King Midas’ touch that turned everything to gold, you have been given a similar power.” Her smile curled into a sneer as she ran her tongue along her fangs. Cecilia stood rooted, forgetting her embarrassment of the outfit she was in. Now, all she felt was the prickling feeling of dread running up along her body as if her very bones were being chilled. She looked down at her own hand. Her palms were wet with sweat from the thought of what terrible fate Blythe had cursed her with. She knew how the story of King Midas went, but did Midas get his curse through a creature known as the Golden-Eyed Witch? No. Whatever the curse was, Cecilia knew it was going to be worse than whatever she was imagining. To make things even more problematic, she had a very active imagination. Blythe then snapped both her fingers as the seven flickering flames of light above grew in size and intensity. “You’ve been given the power of decay. Anything you physically touch will wither, and die.” Her words gave rise to a penetrating echo that struck Cecilia over and over again. She could only stare like a statue, wishing she had misheard the creature before her. It was a lie, she told herself. It can’t be true. She refused to think that such a curse would be put on her. Why would anyone be so cruel? “Having trouble over there? Stunned speechless aren’t you?” Blythe asked as she placed her hands on her hips, making her jewelry clatter and sing. Cecilia looked up at her. Her eyes quivered as her mouth hung agape. She tried to speak, but it took several tries before any sound came out. Her throat felt so dry. “Y-you’re lying…” she barely managed. Blythe bared her fangs in a horrible smile. “Am I? Am I really?” Cecilia’s heart stopped as her legs gave out once more. She sat hunched over the tiled floor, staring at her altered reflection. She didn’t even recognize herself anymore. Even her bone structure had been changed, and her eyes were a deep, shade of green. No one would even know it was her who now possessed a body which would be the envy of both men and women. Even with her mossy hair, she couldn’t refute it. It wasn’t worth it. Not in the least. Her eyes welled with tears. She cursed herself for being such a wimp, but who would blame her? As if anyone would be able to remain calm while standing here and not feel terrified to the point of tears. None of this made sense, but this was now her reality. She balled her hands into fists as her fear shifted, and boiled into fury. Keeping her head down, she brought herself to her feet once more and lifted up her head. Fresh tears still fell down her cheeks, but her emerald eyes didn’t quiver. They burned. Blythe stood her ground, giggling. “My, now that is a look I have yet to see.” “Change me back.” Blythe almost looked surprised, but more out of intrigue than shock. “I don’t want this. I don’t want anything to do with you and your twisted game. Change me back, now!” she roared as she took a step forward. Even Cecilia was impressed in how much her voice carried. Maybe it was her fear coming full circle, or maybe she felt she had nothing to lose at this point. Either way, she was done crying and whimpering. She knew what it was like to endure and hold back; to live life bombarded with stares and whispers. She did her best to remain quiet, bowed her head, and tried to ignore it all. Not anymore. To hell with it. “Did you hear me, you vile snake?!” Blythe’s intrigued smile vanished. A sudden calm rushed over her that Cecilia didn’t expect. She didn’t display an aura of hostility, nor one of pleasure. She just stood there, looking down on her. She spoke moments later. “I heard you, and I will do no such thing. You have only one choice before you, and that is to be part of this ‘twisted game,’ as you so eloquently put it,” she said with a half smile. Cecilia gritted her teeth. “Fine then. You said you gave me the power of decay right?” Her eyes blazed as she stared up at Blythe. Blythe threw her head back and laughed, as if divining Cecilia’s intentions. The laugh was so shrill and powerful Cecilia almost lost her nerve. Wasting no time, she lunged forward with her arms outstretched, aiming for the horrid girl’s throat. Cecilia didn’t get two steps before her face smashed to the floor. An intense pressure pressed hard all around her body as everything around her vibrated and shook. She felt like her bones were being turned to dust as the pressure continued to climb, causing her to vomit. What! What is-- The force coming down on her intensified and crushed out all the air in her lungs. She heard and felt her bones breaking as she cried out in pain. Every joint, every disc in her spine snapped. She could feel all her bones break like brittle china. Blood gushed from her mangled body, the pain causing her to vomit more. As her eyes began to roll back into her head, she knew she was about to die. She could have never known death would hurt this much. Then it all stopped. The pressure ceased, and just like that, she felt her body reform as if rewinding. Not even blood stains on the floor remained. She gasped for air and coughed upon her windpipe opening at last. Sweat poured down her face. She heaved in breath after breath as she stared at her petrified expression through the tiles beneath her. Her eyes were so wide and sunken she thought they would burst out of her skull. “While unexpected, this at least makes it easier to explain the laws and rules that govern your new body and power,” Blythe said in her usual, sweet tone, laced with poison. Cecilia looked up, but couldn’t muster a response. Her body felt so heavy and beaten. Not to mention, she was still trying to catch her breath. “Now,” Blythe said while clapping her hands together. Upon pulling her hands apart, a golden scroll appeared. It glistened and glittered as it hovered before Blythe. “For starters, if you haven’t already realized, your body is now immortal. While your pain sensors have been dulled, it will only make you not feel scrapes and sprains. Anything more, like for example, being crushed by gravity till you are a bloody pulp, will still be painful,” she added with a wink of her eye that might have been cute if she didn’t look so demonic at that moment. Blythe recalling the event Cecilia had just endured must have amused her because she began to giggle. Using her irritation as a fuel source, she found her footing once again and moved to speak, but Blythe cut her off as she continued. “Nothing of the designated world you are to be sent to will be able to kill you. That includes, but is not limited to man, any instrument created by man, nature, the elements, disease, wildlife, environment, forces of the given world, and so on.” She glanced over her floating scroll. “With me so far, my little pup?” Cecilia’s eye twitched. “Why are you even bothering? You’re listing everything like some contract as if I need to know these things. Why are you—” “Shut up and pay attention,” Blythe shot. She now appeared reproachful and threatening. Cecilia’s mouth clamped shut without warning. No matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t budge her jaw. Her body then stood in attention as if strings were attached to her body and Blythe was the commanding puppeteer. She stared for several seconds before continuing. “Now that I have your full attention, I will continue.” Cecilia wanted to scream with all her might, but her body refused to listen to her. Again, she was trapped and forced to stand in place and listen to Blythe like a modeled student. Despite her rage, and her willingness to break free from the hold forced upon her, she was still trying to process what little Blythe had told her. Having been told she had an immortal body and nothing would be able to kill her was proving very hard to digest. Why? Why would she give me something like that? Most people would jump for joy at such a gift, but Cecilia knew better. Standing before her was a devil. Whatever she was to be given came at some kind of price. What Blythe was planning by giving her such strange powers, Cecilia didn’t know, and that worried her the most. Blythe’s calm voice broke her from her thoughts. “Now, allow me to speak briefly regarding the rules to your power. Anything you touch directly with any part of your body will be subjected to decay. In other words, direct skin contact will activate the ability and be administered to whatever has come in contact with you be it living or non-living.” She pulled up on the golden scroll as she continued to read down its contents. “And lastly, my personal favorite, the rules regarding your death, but first…” She snapped her finger. Cecilia felt the phantom coils around her release and she was able to stand unrestricted once more. “Provided you are productive in your questions, you are free to ask me anything at this time,” she said with a light snicker. Cecilia wanted to gag. Still, she did have questions. If she was going to be stuck playing this sick game with such a villain, she might as well try to get as much information as she could. “What is this about my death? I thought you said I couldn’t be killed.” Blythe waved her hand and the scroll disappeared, positively giddy. “Oh my, well that question is quite convenient. Not wasting any time beating around the bush I see.” “Shut up and answer the question,” Cecilia found herself spitting with surprising force. Blythe ticked her finger back as she clicked her tongue. “Careful now. There is no need to be rude, or would you prefer to become intimate with the floor again?” Cecilia felt her blood go cold as she began to perspire under the widening grin that flashed those horrid fangs at her. Appearing smug, and quite pleased by Cecilia’s reaction, Blythe answered her question. “I didn’t lie. Where you will be going, nothing will be able to kill you. The only thing that can hurt you, is that,” she said as she pointed to the dagger with Cecilia’s blood smeared all over it. Confusion gripped Cecilia. “That dagger is the only thing that can hurt me you mean?” Blythe laughed. “Yes, and no.” Glowering, she yelled, “Stop toying with me! Just come out and say it!” Blythe’s eye widened as her grin grew. “The only way you can be killed is if you take your own life with that dagger, and that dagger alone.” Cecilia felt a crashing wave of fear rush over her as she now stared at the bloody weapon on the floor. She recoiled as she stared, now unable to take her eyes off it. She shook her head. No…No…Stop… “I guess you could always ‘check out’ early if you want. No harm really, though it would be a shame after I went through the trouble of making look divine,” she said, now looking disappointed. No words could reach Cecilia. She was lost in her own head, replaying one scene from her childhood over and over. The girl she saw was older than her. Cecilia might have been fourteen or fifteen then, and the girl in her memory was at least eighteen. She couldn’t see her face. She wasn’t smiling. Her mouth moved, speaking words softly. “I can’t do it anymore. I’m done.” The girl repeated the words as if a mantra. There was something horrid and dull about her tone. Stop it…No more… Tears had already begun to fall down her cheeks as the image of the girl changed. The scenery now was a tiled, white bathroom. But something was wrong. Very wrong. It was stained red. Cecilia screamed. The shriek was so high pitched that even Blythe winced. All Cecilia could do was hold her head as she fell to her knees. The sheer wail of her scream didn’t waver until her voice cracked and became too hoarse to continue. Why…Even here… She held her face in her hands, just wishing this would all be over. “Then what are you waiting for, Cecilia Mara?” came the toxic words of Blythe. With a flick of her wrist, the dagger sprang from the floor and twirled in the air, before stabbing through the floor, right before Cecilia. Cecilia jumped back as she staggered and fell on her rear. She kept looking up at Blythe and then at the dagger. Every breath was ragged. She could feel her heart pounding in her chest like a maddened drummer. Even her vision was starting to blur. “Well? What are you going to do? I told you how you could end this all right now,” echoed Blythe’s voice as she touched her lips that were breaking into a wide grin. Cecilia almost lost consciousness, but the next few words of Blythe brought her back, like a slingshot. “If this is all you can endure, I guess it would be for the best to just end it here. What a waste,” she said sounding defeated, but very sarcastic. Cecilia’s pulse slowed and her eyes darkened. The new expression she wore made Blythe’s grin grow as she showed her fangs. “No…I won’t let you beat me like this!” Cecilia declared. She then reached down and pulled the dagger out from the floor and hurled it at Blythe with all her strength. Pleased beyond all belief, Blythe held up a hand and stopped the blade dead in midair. Her whole body began to shake as she laughed. “You really are going to be my masterpiece.” She took hold of the dagger and began to descend the stairs once more. “I have to give you credit. I thought for sure you would break. But you see, this was necessary to see if you were ready to handle the weight,” she concluded as if she was apologizing. She leaped off the last stair and landed with poise and elegance before Cecilia. She held out her hand with the dagger. “You see, Cecilia, there is one last thing I haven’t told you.” Cecilia stared with worried eyes as if readying for a sudden strike from Blythe. What is she talking about now? This was a test? “My dear child, your life isn’t your own anymore. It is tied to all the lives that inhabit the world of Veneficia—all 2.2 billion of them.” Cecilia’s mouth dropped. “W-what? Are you saying that if I die…” Blythe nodded. “Yes, everyone will die with you.” She reeled. “Th-that’s crazy! You’re crazy! Why would you do such a thing?!” Blythe’s smile crept along her lips. “What’s important is that you never lose this.” She extended her arm further. “You see, only held by you, can this dagger hurt you.” Her expression then turned serious. Her look alone stilled Cecilia’s heart as Blythe’s eye brightened. “Do you understand now? This dagger holds the power to end your life.” She grinned. “That, however, doesn’t mean someone else can’t ‘assist’ you.” Cecilia’s blood ran cold as her eyes widened. “It looks like your mind is catching up,” she purred, looking quite pleased with herself. Cecilia hesitated at first but reached out to take the dagger. It was still coated in her blood. Her entire hand shook as she leaned in and took hold of the grip. The weapon appeared almost hypnotic as she stared at it. Blythe wasn’t exaggerating. Now, the dagger felt so much heavier. With all the grace of a live concert held in a library, Blythe clapped her hands and the flickering flames above burst out of existence, plunging the throne room into darkness. Cecilia, startled, shifted all around, as she tried to calm her rapid pulse. “Wait! Please! At least give me—” A burst of green light erupted from beneath her as she began to hover in the air like before. “Don’t worry, not even I am that cruel—Well, maybe a little,” came the echoing words of Blythe, far off in the distance. Once again, the dark plasma formed around Cecilia. She winced as she tried to hold back the cold, slimy sensation tightening around her body. The plasma kept on spreading, hugging every part before stopping just below her neck. The plasma then burst to reveal a very constricted outfit of black leather, fitted with several belts along her legs, waist, arms, and chest. She thought it would be hard to move in, but it was surprisingly light and flexible. Though a bit tight, and making her butt and breasts stand out more than she would have wanted, it did cover up her skin. Even her hands were fully encased while still allowing full range of motion to her fingers and wrists. As she stared, a ring of purple fire engulfed her right wrist as a silver bracelet took form. The bracelet had a violet gem at its center. Its light pulses made the gem glow like a beating organ. “I’d explain how these work, but where’s the fun in that?” Blythe said within the darkness, her playful tone grating on Cecilia’s ears. “Hold on! Wait just a minute—” Another ring of purple fire appeared, this time around her neck. Mimicking her bracelet, a silver ornament appeared with the same violet gemstone at its core. A burst of plasma then emitted from the necklace and Cecilia was wrapped in a long, black cloak that fluttered in the blazing pillar of green light. The plasma then dispersed for the last time while leaving a matching hood draped over her head. She also saw that she was fitted with tall boots that rode up to her knees, completing her black outfit. Cecilia stared in bewilderment as she continued to float in place. “This is farewell, Cecilia Mara. I trust you will prove to be more successful than the others that came before you.” Those were Blythe’s final words. “Stop! You haven’t explained that yet! What about those who came before me? How many were there? Are they still alive? Tell me!” Cecilia cried out as she twisted and turned in place, trying to catch a glimpse of anything moving in the infinite darkness. “Answer me!” she bellowed. Hysteria had taken over as she flailed in a vain effort to catch a glimpse of the witch that had done all of this to her. A voice broke through the darkness. “You are her masterpiece. Don’t disappoint her.” Cecilia whirled her head behind her but saw nothing. It was the dark, booming voice. Never once did she ever see who it belonged to. But their words were finite and clear. Don’t fail. The pillar of light than flashed as the circle beneath her began to open up, revealing a clear and grand ocean. Seconds later, Cecilia was falling, and everything turned to white.