Moonlight illuminated the pale face of the young girl as she flitted like a ghost between the columns of the temple. She was barefoot, but the paving stones still held the remaining warmth of the day. The night was still, the quiet only broken by the song of a lone cicada somewhere in the distance. She looked around her to make sure she was unobserved, then darted across the open courtyard to a column on the opposite side. She stood now with the back against the stonework, the solid gravity of the structure in stark contrast to her slim waif-like form. Assured now that no-one had seen her, she left the safety of her hiding place and passed through the doorway leading to the inner temple, a space which she knew she was prohibited from entering. She paused briefly to let her eyes become adjusted to the sudden gloom, then set off quickly along the corridor. She had seen plans for the temple, so she knew where she was heading, even though she hadn’t been here before. She took a turning to the right and then to the left, keeping to the shadows. The residence of the high priest lay up ahead, so she slowed her pace now. She shouldn’t be here, and risked punishment for entering this domain, but she had to try. She had to plead with the high priest for her uncle’s sake. She knew he was fair though, and would listen to her, despite her trespass.
The priest was kneeling before a small alter decorated with strange ornate artefacts, but stood up now when he heard the girl approaching. He wore the ceremonial robes, heavy garments of deep crimson, and around his neck hung the medallion of the sun god, his sign of office. He was not old, and when he spoke, his voice was rich and warm.
“You shouldn’t be here, Tamara,” he said gently, “you know it is forbidden for anyone outside the priesthood to enter these walls. What brings you here?”
The girl flung herself to the floor at the priest’s feet, her long dark hair falling about her face. “Forgive me lord, but I come to beg for my uncle. He has been taken captive by the guard, but he is innocent of any crime. Please, you must allow him to go free!” She looked up now into the luminous eyes of the priest, looking for some sign of compassion.
“Freedom or forgiveness is not mine to give,” replied the priest. “Your uncle stands accused, and he will be judged by a power greater than mine.”
The girl stood up now to face him, her eyes glistening with tears. “Please, is there nothing you can do?”
“There is nothing I can do,” repeated the priest, “the mirror will decide.”
The heat of the midday sun bore down on the procession as it wound its way along the dusty road towards the temple complex. At it’s head was the high priest, accompanied by lesser servants of the sun god who matched his stride, chanting continuously and low in an arcane and heavy tongue. The prisoner followed, hanging his head as he walked, flanked to his left and right by heavily armed guards. Following the procession at a respectful distance was a small gathering of townsfolk, fearful, but at the same time curious as to what was going to happen. Amongst them was Tamara, walking with her head held high, her eyes never leaving the prisoner.
The procession now entered the temple grounds, walking over the shimmering flagstones in between the imposing sandstone columns. They passed the small courtyard and buildings which made up the residence of the high priest, continuing till they came to the wide steps and imposing frontage of the main temple. They climbed the steps without breaking step, walking down a wide entranceway adorned with rows of doors on either side before entering a large hall, illuminated on all sides by torches held in brackets at regular intervals along the high walls. Dominating the rear of the hall was huge mirror, as tall as two men and as wide as the half the hall. The mirror was mounted on a low dais, flanked with flickering torches. To one side stood a large ornate gong, and it was to this that one of the sun god’s servants made their way now. He struck the gong once, and a deep resonant chime reverberated around the hall, rebounding from wall to wall. When the last echoes had died away, the hall was left in utmost stillness.
The mirror reflected perfectly the hall and the people in it. The prisoner was taken before the mirror, his haggard face reflected cruelly in the silvered glass. The high priest stood before the prisoner, and read from a parchment.
“You are charged with entering the sacred chamber, and drinking from the water of life. How do you plead?”
“It’s a lie!” cried the man. “Please, I’m innocent, I’ve never been near the sacred chamber!”
“We shall see,” replied the priest, and struck his staff down once onto the hard stone floor. The mirror shimmered and the image changed. Instead of reflecting the hall and the people, it now showed a small dim room. In the middle of the room was a pool, fed with water from an ornate fountain in the wall. A man, clearly the prisoner, entered the room, looking around quickly before kneeling down by the pool and taking a long draft.
A murmur sounded around the hall as the image faded and the hall came back into view. The priest hung his head sadly. “The mirror has spoken!” he intoned. The guards dragged the pleading prisoner in front of the mirror and threw him into the glass. Instead of shattering, the man passed through the mirror and landed in the image on the other side of the glass.
“No!” screamed Tamara, watching in despair as red smoke billowed up inside the mirror, and unseen hands dragged the man out of view.
Tamara snuck back into the great hall at the dead of night. She moved stealthily, keeping to the shadows, but she needn’t have worried as she didn’t encounter anyone, and the hall was blanketed in silence. She didn’t have a plan, she just knew that she had to somehow help her uncle, fight this injustice and if possible free him from the world behind the mirror. The hall was lit now only by the torches standing next to the mirror, the rest consumed by shadow. She approached the mirror cautiously, observing her small reflection against the background of the vast hall. She reached her hand out to touch the mirror, half expecting to meet resistance, but her hand passed through the glass. Encouraged and mortified in equal measure, she held her breath and stepped through.
She noticed the heat first, waves and waves of heat buffeting her from all sides. The hall was lit with an eerie wavering red light, and was a mirror copy of the hall she had entered. She turned back to look at the mirror, and saw her small scared reflection in the flickering light. She reached her hand out once more, but this time met the resistance she was expecting. Now there was no turning back. Carrying only the hope that she might see her uncle again soon, she ran outside under the open sky. The moon here was a blood moon, deep and red, the constellations mirrored and unfamiliar. Where would she find her uncle? She could only think of his residence in the town. Fighting confusion caused by the oppressive heat and the mirror surroundings, she walked quickly and came upon the house, which lay silent and alone despite her crying out his name. Fearing the worst, she slowly descended the stairs.
She found her uncle sitting in the kitchen, his back against the wall. His eyes registered her as entered, but didn’t utter a sound until she came and knelt down beside him.
“Tamara, by the gods, please let it not be true! What are you doing here, girl?” His voice shook with fear as he looked in horror at his niece.
“I couldn’t leave you here, I’ve come to rescue you!” she cried.
“Then we are both doomed and as good as dead!” mourned her uncle. “This place is evil, ruled by a dragon demon who even now eats at my very soul!”
“How can this be?” she cried aghast. “Have we all been fooled? I cannot leave this place, but maybe I can return and make this known to the high priest. If his eyes are blind to the peril, he must be warned!”
“Yes, go, tell him!” commanded her uncle. “Maybe he can release you. May the gods be with you, child!”
Supressing a sob, she embraced her uncle in a final farewell, then ran outside, stumbling in the stifling heat. With fear in her heart and crushed by a feeling of hopelessness, she ran back towards the temple.
The first light of dawn was creeping over the eastern sky as Tamara reached the temple steps, and the blood moon hung long on the opposite horizon. The first light of day didn’t bring any relief from the oppressive atmosphere of the mirror world. An eerie mist hung over the ground and a baleful red sun cast it’s eye over the barren landscape. Exhausted, Tamara crept into the gloom of the great hall. All was shadow and silence, the space still lit only by the two torches either side of the mirror. She walked up to the mirror now and tried to look through to the other side, but all she could see still was her own small reflection. How would she know when the priest was there, when she wouldn’t even see him? Consumed by the dread weight of despair and drunk with tiredness, she moved back into the shadows, and sank to the ground behind a column.
She awoke with a start to the sound of a great gong reverberating through the hall. Her heart pounding, she looked around the column at the mirror. The scene had changed now, and instead of reflecting the gloom of the mirror world, the torches shone brightly on the opposite side, and the high priest stood in front. She was preparing herself to stand and reveal herself to the priest, when a wave of intense heat and fiery light exploded around her, and she felt the force of a mighty power filling the hall. She could scarcely comprehend what she was witnessing, so great was the presence that was now standing before the mirror on her side. A flickering, changing form which sometimes looked like fire, but also scales and a mighty head and claws. A deep booming laughter reverberated around the hall.
“So, have you come to barter, little priest?” the words seemed to form themselves out of the air.
“Why should I need to barter with you, Omgrund” replied the priest, in a surprisingly calm and smooth voice. “After all, we had a deal, and I hope that you are still respecting it.”
“Oh, we had a deal,” chuckled the beast, “but I must say you are keeping your side very poorly. I asked for worthy souls, but all you are sending me is a feeble drib drab of peasants and farmers. I gave you power in your world, now I want more, and better.”
“As the sphere remains apart, so our bond remains unbroken, and you cannot change the contract” replied the priest. “You will get what I give you, and no more!”
“Then you’d better hope that they remain apart” mocked the creature. He flared up in a swirl of light and heat so bright that Tamara had to cover her face, and then he was gone, and the darkness returned. When she looked up again, she was alone, and the mirror was again just a mirror.
Tamara leant back against the pillar, her mind a maelstrom of confusion. The priest was a traitor, she had heard it all. He had made a deal with the demon, and he was sacrificing innocent souls to feed his own power. Her uncle. He had sacrificed her uncle to the beast. Rage and helplessness welled up inside her, and she let her tears run freely. She was trapped here, inside this evil mirror world, and now there was nothing she could do. She would receive no help from the priest, and the demon would surely find her.
After her tears had passed, her mind cleared a little, and she thought back to what she had heard. What had they meant about the sphere? Was there something that could break the bond of the demon and release her uncle? Something clicked then in her mind, and she thought back to when she had visited the high priest in his room. There had been several ornate artefacts on the alter, and had not one of these been hemispherical in shape? She thought more on this, and was convinced now of what she remembered. But what use was that, even if that was part of the sphere? She was stuck here, and couldn’t reach the priest’s room any more. But then gasped and sat up straight, her mind racing. This world was a mirror of her own world, so surely there must be the priest’s room here too? And would it have the same artefacts mirrored on the alter? She leapt up, her body infused with new energy as the hope surged within her, and ran out of the temple hall to the inner courtyard which contained the priest’s room.
She scanned the alter quickly, and saw it at once – a heavy silver hemisphere engraved with delicate patterns, and in the centre on the inside face a single green eye, which stared at her with lifelike intensity. The object seemed to vibrate faintly as she held it, and she could feel the vibrations enter her body, so that it seemed like the object was becoming a part or her. Could this also be a key? Wasting no time, she ran back to the temple hall and up to the mirror. Trusting her intuition, she took a deep breath and stepped through the mirror.
She gasped as her body passed through, and she entered back into her own reality. Now she was sure of what she had to do break the demon’s bond and defeat the high priest. But she still had to be cautious. Keeping again to the shadows and edges of the hall, she crept outside. The heat of the blazing sun hit her as soon as she stepped into the open air, and she shielded her eyes to stop her from being dazzled. She saw no-one, so she ran quickly again to the small inner courtyard. It seemed like a lifetime ago that she was here in the moonlight, pleading with the high priest for her uncle’s life. Now it was different. She moved quickly into the temple building and along the corridor, right then left, and into the priest’s room and made for the alter. There! It was there in the same place. She snatched up the hemisphere, feeling the power surge through her.
“Tamara!” The shocked voice of the priest cried out. She wheeled around – in her haste, she hadn’t seen that the priest was also in the room. She met the priest’s eyes, and she saw how suddenly the shock was replaced with fear as he registered what she was carrying. “Tamara, no...!”
Tamara was the first to react. She leapt from the alter and ran as fast as she could out of the building. She could hear the priest calling the guards, could hear the sound of footsteps behind her. Without looking back, she ran to the temple hall and up to the great mirror. She gasped as she saw the mirror. It was lit up in a fiery light, and the demon was swirling like a dervish, casting fire and light in all directions. The priest and the guards ran into the hall behind her, and all stopped, stunned at the display in the mirror.
“Tamara, stop! You don’t understand!” cried the priest.
“I understand enough!” replied the girl. Feeling the power course within her, she brought the two halves of the sphere together. A bright flash of light and energy emitted from the sphere as it fused together, expanding and swirling around the hall. A terrible shriek filled the air, and she was blown backwards as the mirror exploded into a million fragments, and a huge wind, warm and malevolent, rushed all around them.
Then there was silence. People lay strewn around on the floor. Tamara picked herself up, the sphere inert and lifeless in her hand. The priest got up, then sank to his knees, his head in his hands.
“What have you done?” he murmured, his head still cradled in his hands.
“I’ve released my uncle, and saved the souls you trapped in the mirror!” she said defiantly.
“No,” he said softly, “you have doomed us all. The demon was trapped in the mirror just as your uncle was. I made a pact with the demon many years ago, ensnaring him in the mirror world, allowing us to lead a peaceful existence. Now he is free, and he will have his revenge.”
Tamara stood, shocked, letting the realisation of what she had done slowly sink in. Outside, darkness drew in although it was midday, and a wave of heat swirled around them. And Tamara knew then that the priest spoke the truth. She had acted out of love for her uncle, but in doing so, she had doomed them all to a hell on earth.
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Phew, just made the deadline! Been really busy lately, but I also struggled for ages with the second half of this story. I changed the ending at the last minute, but I think I'm happy now with how it turned out :-)
Hey Blue! I produce a podcast called Crossroads Cantina, and I need another good fantasy episode. I would love to use this story if you are interested. The website is www.crossroadscantinapodcast.com and my email is firstname.lastname@example.org If you are interested and I can give you more info! (or you can tell me NO WAY- you go away crazy person!! or just no thank you.)
Thanks Beth, that sounds like fun! I'll be in touch :-)
Loved the story! As others have said, the first paragraph was amazing! Agree with Silver Pen that the dialogue could be a bit smoother, but the world-building and dark twist at the end are absolutely fantastic! As always, excited to read more!
Thanks for your great comments! I've had some really good feedback on this story - now I just have to put it into practice when I write my next one! :-)
Always the hardest part, if you ask me :P. But 100% worth it!
Love how descriptive this is! The dark twist is awesome.
Thank you! Glad you liked it :-)
Interesting story and concept. I like the ending to it, and I also think your story starts off really strong in the first paragraph! I was intrigued right away. For feedback, and this is one I think everyone hears, I'd try to show more and tell less. You seem to rely a lot on adverbs, and I feel like most of the time they can be replaced by something more vivid. For example, the sentence "the torches shone brightly" could be written as "torchlight shone in the high priest's eyes like ____," you know? There are a few others, especially afte...
Thanks very much for your great feedback! I went back over the story, and counted 19 adverbs - not the 100's I was fearing when I read your comment, but that's still too many :-) I think you're right and most of them could be replaced or removed. I've just seen that the story has been approved, so I'm not going to be able to change it this time, but I'll definitely watch out for this in the next stuff I write :-)
As an avid fantasy reader- I look forward to your stories each week, and this one didn't disappoint. Your imagery and worldbuilding are amazing as always, and I felt like I was right there with Tamara. I wish it could have been a bit longer! There are a few parts where descriptions are redundant- for example, the sentence: "the solid gravity of the structure in stark contrast to her slim waif-like form. " She could be either slim or waif-like, and it would still get the imagery across. Honestly though, as a reader, I would only notice ...
Thanks Beth, glad you liked it :-) As for longer - I was only 28 words away from the limit, so I couldn't have packed much more into it. Maybe I'll write a sequel - but I've said that about a few of my stories, and nothing's happened yet! At the moment I'm finding that one story per week is quite challenging, so it may be one every couple of weeks for a while. I know that some authors on Reedsy manage one per day, but I'm so not at that level :-) Thanks for your feedback about the redundancy. I try to write descriptively and also concisely,...
Wow! What an interesting story. I think this is one of the better plots you've written, especially with the captivating twist at the end. You always have such well-written imagery! I think my favorite piece in this story was "Moonlight illuminated the pale face of the young girl as she flitted like a ghost between the columns of the temple. She was barefoot, but the paving stones still held the remaining warmth of the day. The night was still, the quiet only broken by the song of a lone cicada somewhere in the distance." At the beginning. I...
Thanks very much for your great feedback! The opening paragraph is my favourite too - I always save my best lines for the start :-) Yes, that conversation... conversation is my weak point, and something I really must work on! Thanks for your suggestion on how to improve it - I wanted to make the priest sound calm, even though he's facing a demon, but when I read it again, it does sound a little flat. I'll have a think about how I can reword it :-)
Anytime! No pressure to reword it, the story still sounds fine even if the dialogue is a little flat. Keep writing! :)
I do so love a dark turn... one should always be suspicious of the obvious answer! I see that comment you made about Le Guin got you thinking, and your imagery here (well-chosen) has got me interested in picking up The Tombs of Atuan. A good old-fashioned fantasy short, indulgent, complete, and authoritatively told. P.S. I'm ad-libbing a serial based on the one you read, and I already put up a couple of installments this week. Would love if you could check one out!
Thanks! I did re-read the first two Earthsea books after I made that comment, so I guess I'm still under her influence :-)
Wow, this was brilliant. The descriptions, the pacing, and the creativity here is so impressive. I really enjoyed this story. From the first paragraph to the last, I was completely immersed. The ending really surprised me. I expected her to free her uncle, but unleashing pure evil was just so great. I didn't see that coming ;) I think you could write a follow up to this down the road. I'd love to see what happens in this world that you brought to life. I truly enjoyed this, and as always it was a great thrill ride!!! :) :)
Thanks Daniel, glad you enjoyed it :-) I did struggle with the ending - I had originally planned that it would all work out okay, but as I wrote the story it became clear that there couldn't really be a happy ending, so I gave that idea up and let it run to the logical conclusion. I believe I did mention though that the next story would be darker :-)
You did indeed mention your next one would be darker. I think the ending you came up with is really good and fits nicely. I liked this one a lot (you know I like those dark stories). Bravo my friend, looking forward to your next story :)