There are times, even now, when she calls to me in the darkness.
I turn to look, but no one is there, not even when I light the torches, my footsteps echoing in the catacombs, carried to her by the freezing breezes that blow from every direction.
They are secret, these tombs, and the people above them sleep in innocence.
I alone have been cursed to know their secrets, but they rend my sleep. I hear the voices, the shambling, the clinking of the chains, and moans of the dying, already dead.
Why was I trusted with the keys to this damnation?
I toss, I turn, I drink, I whore, I pray, and yet, sleep proves elusive as the harlot’s love; it comes to play a part, and leaves me with an unfulfilled longing of the soul. The pain and loneliness became unbearable; tomorrow, I would go to the police, and tell of this place, then overmorrow, and overmorrow became a fortnight… my resolve fading with the setting moon and the fading stars.
These were my days, until the night I heard it, knowing it would come on my Name Day: my name, Markandaya, ‘death conqueror,’ whispered in the dark, on the cold, blue lips of an ethereal lover come to torture and kill not my body, but my spirit.
I could no more resist than the tide could fight the moon. The scent of pitch and stale bones combine to twist my guts to knots, but I walk through the pain and cold, little more than substance myself, anchored to a dying world.
“Amaia.” ‘The end,’ in the Old Tongue; it said everything about her, and nothing at all.
She turned the corner, amber eyes catching the torchlight, searing my spirit, beating my mind into madness. She was dead, and had been since I first saw her. The cold emanating from her beat at the flame, and my skin crawled to get away from her reeking, magnificent presence.
“Are you ready, now?” she asked.
“I’ve been ready, vermin. You bait me yet again with death’s promise, but you will send me back. Why do you toy with me?”
She laughed, eyes dancing in the flames. “Because you amuse me.”
I fell to my knees, freezing, sobbing, all pride and dignity fled. “Kill me…”
Her hand caressed my cheek, numbing my jaw. “Are you asking for mercy?”
“Please, Amaia. I beg of you…”
“Convince me that you want to die.”
I placed the torch between us, my hands seeking her throat.
She laughed. “Now squeeze, with all your might.”
I was too malnourished, and only managed to grip her neck the way a baby grips a ball, the pressure too light to do anything more than indent her flesh.
“Is that all?” She slapped me. “Pathetic.”
“Leave me, Markandaya. The secret to my eternal damnation lies within these walls. Find it, and come back when you’re worthy. Wound me, and I will kill you then.”
“You speak riddles, and risk battle, when I ask for death?”
She laughed again. “You are not a worthy adversary, therefore I’m not worried. I’ll summon you whenever I like, and torture you whenever I’m bored. I’ll be here forever, and so will you, unless you find the way to cut me.”
She lifted my chin on her fingers. “How long have we been together?”
I swallowed. “I…I’ve lost count. The days, the nights, they blend…”
“And yet, it is your Name Day again, and I’ve been faithful, have I not?”
“You’ve been evil.”
“That, as well. All have abandoned you, or they lie here with us. No one comes, darling. No one cares, but me.”
“I’d rather you didn’t…”
“And that is why I always will. Find the secret, and your life is your own again. Until then…”
I was in my bed, sitting up, the covers wrapped around me for warmth, my eyes wet, my nose running. I wiped it on the cover, and tried to stop shivering.
The candle in my room was almost finished, so I lit another; sleep would not be granted me tonight, and I couldn’t bear the darkness just now.
Putting my bare feet on the cold floor, I cursed and cried out my torment at the top of my lungs, and beat my fists numb on the frame of my tattered bed. What could rattle, did, with the force of my blows.
Spent, I lay back down, and stared at the ceiling. Killing her would release us both, and she said the key was within these walls. I had to find it, though it meant the end of my life.
And as the shadows of my calling danced on the thin walls, I began to dream of it, a small smile of hope lacing through the grief.
“Amaia.” The End, in the Old Tongue, had now become my prayer.
And somewhere, in the void of the Abyss, a dark god’s eyes opened.