He supposed he would always be cast in this light. A villainous figure upsetting the naïve tranquility of the small towns and cities he would be sent to. Oh, how he envied the unenlightened. The folk who had seen but not understood the consequences of humans playing gods and of divine agency disrupting these affairs. Sure, there were always traces of witchcraft woven into stories the villagers would whisper at the inns. Tales of wonder-working and the occult only spoken about amongst the locals when the sun would sit high in the sky. But such is the way of simple folk. With no absolute, physical proof of certainty, they remain steadfast in their faith and ignore what, in all its brutal honesty, is staring them straight in the face.
Her name is Cassandra, the one I’ve been sent to collect. I pursue her carefully and with a precise intention. I call upon my senses to determine her strength, her will, her force. I notice how she interacts with the villagers. Watch how her beautiful face carefully emotes the exact measure of practiced concern. How her willowy shape imitates their movements and reflects them back. How infuriatingly clever she is. I hear her listen to them. Sharing their stories of discontent, like she’s an anchor for their ships about to crash upon the rocks, their distress imminent. I can feel her manipulating their impassioned burning into something else. Something darker. I close my eyes and smell her sigh, like a gentle stem of lavender giving off the barest hint of calming scent. She is cunning in her craft. I do not need to imagine her lovely face sharing a smile for her patron, placing a soothing hand upon their shoulder. It looks like kindness. Feels like it and tastes like it. But I see her truly. I see her shadow sister always behind her with hell in her eyes and a leer on her lips.
Today, there is a small gathering of folk at the marketplace. I calmly make my way through the tents full of the village’s wares, careful not to appear too anything. I hear a young woman lamenting to Cassandra. Practically in tears recalling the events of the night before. “I buried the sand dollar in the field in front of his house, just like you recommended, and sprinkled the powder you gave me under my pillow. I don’t know what I did wrong!” Cassandra softly held the girl while she wept. Any observer would be touched by such a compassionate moment. Her face creased with concern, she wiped the girl’s tears and gently urged her to complete her telling of the night’s events, like she did not already know. Did not already relish another relationship turned sour. Did not dance with delight in the moonlight over a dispute that ended in fisticuffs between the young girl’s father and her hopeful lover. Cassandra’s shadow sister, her constant hovering companion, was becoming more visible, more tangible, more dangerous, straddling the line between our world and theirs, her face split ear to ear with the most dreadful grin, made all the more terrible for Cassandra’s false niceties, flawlessly playing her part while acting as the eager conduit.
I skirted around the pair of women and began to look through the tent’s meager offerings. Nothing too ostensibly occult. Some herbs with listed medicinal properties, a few innocuous trinkets, some artfully painted stones shaped into frogs with comically bulging eyeballs, some tasteful hand-sewn blankets, neatly trimmed candles inset into what I imagined was a clever nightlight, and some handsomely elegant copper pots. While my hands were occupied with examining the intentionally ineffective charms, my mind was busy breaking down the vibrations around me. Peeling apart the indiscernible layers of this realm. I could hear the woman sniffling and Cassandra offering to make her something more potent, if, of course, the price was right. I could hear the sizzle of meat on a spit a few tents over and the grunts of men hauling items off their carts. A few more focused breaths and I could smell the shit of the horses, the stink of man an overpowering, acrid aroma. I could taste the paprika-spiced nuts permeating the marketplace. Could feel the stale, stagnant air all around me. Could begin to sense the long-buried bones beneath the earth and detect traces of spirits left behind to rot with their withering corporeal husks. And then, as I knew I would, I began to hear it. A congregation of whispers. A nonsensical gibberish. A low, unintelligible voice straining to be heard through the vail.
Ahh, there you are.
Can you see me as I see you? I cast myself into both realms. Both here and there, summoned and summoning.
As it so often does, my otherworldly link between both sides has caused a stir amongst the throng. The sun has been cast behind the clouds and what was a windless day has become a series of gusts around me and my cloak alone. A swirling vortex commands the attention of everyone. Of her. Of both of them.
“Cassandra,” my voice booms on both sides. “You have betrayed the sanctity of your calling. You have invoked a force that has been banished from this realm and you do so willingly. Deceitfully. Surrender your shadow self or you, too, shall be banished.”
I take a forceful breath. I knew what I looked like, knew how this would appear to them. Cassandra, predictably, took the path of innocence. Looked for all her part a confused, young woman. The townsfolk, though shaken, gathered around her. Began forming a circle around their disarming, beloved neighbor. A particularly brave adolescent brandished an iron pitchfork at me with what intention, I do not know.
“Cassandra,” I repeated. “This farce has gone on long enough. Come with me and we can sever this evil from you. No one need be harmed.”
I saw Cassandra’s eye narrow then pull her face back into its frightened façade. I watched as her shadow sister, her twisted dual entity, stared straight at me, and smiled.
And so mote it be. Even with my specially honed practice of magical skills and abilities, I knew this one would be unpleasant. And I also knew I’d be cast so quickly from this little city afterwards. Banished forever without preamble. Without them knowing I had just exercised a literal demon right out from under them. Would they ever contribute my appearance to their town being set back into neutral? Would they know it was Cassandra’s very presence that exacerbated all their day to day problems? Of course not. For she was a lovely, kindly natured woman who only sought to help them with their struggles of infertility and of the alarming number of discordances within families. And who was I? A lone stranger. A figure clad in black with a face not fit for anything but scowling.
I will always be the villain of their story, even though they have no idea that I am, and always will be, their inescapable hero.