Saturday, January 2, 2021

SHORT STORY: The Most Powerful Magic

Percival walked through the woods; his bindle once again slung over his shoulder.  It was a familiar sensation – his few meagre possessions and he – upon an uncertain road once more.  Though he reasoned that such frequent changes were an intrinsic part of the life he’d chosen, acknowledging that fact never rendered the weight of bidding farewell any lighter.  Along his journey, he’d been fortunate to don many guises: labourer, housekeeper, apple picker and layabout. A vagabond open to the smiling fortunes of the universe, he typically made his livelihood at the behest of strangers, who, more often than not, received him with kindness.

In response his itinerant existence, Percival had developed a cavalier attitude toward his life, accepting that which came his way with near monastic serenity.  His most recent diversion had seen him take up with a fearful scarecrow.  Though he had imagined staying with the fellow a while longer, his stay was cut short when the scarecrow (and his house) disappeared under peculiar circumstances.  Their next-door neighbour had been little help in piecing together precisely what had occurred.  An elderly woman, she spun a fantastical tale that Percival thought more a product of senility than actual fact.  Still, he felt badly for his scarecrow friend. 

Poor Raymond – frightened of his own shadow, he thought as he wordlessly wished his absent friend well. 

He hoped to see him again, perhaps one day, further down the proverbial road.  In spite of his temporary stability evaporating, Percival found travelling a bracing endeavour.  It was a life he’d selected after watching his parents march through their own unhappy union.  The road ahead was both a real-world construct (sometimes a quite literal beaten path) as well as a metaphor for the future.  Growth and forward momentum were essential to Percival’s philosophy, and he was insistent upon growing to his fullest extent.  Much like his time at the house with Raymond, he was sure that life would not fail to present him with his next adventure.

Soon enough, the universe obliged, in the form of a scream – a piercing cry for help from up ahead.  More priest than mercenary, and plenty capable of fear, Percival overrode the flash of apprehension that rose within him and moved briskly towards the direction of the distress.

The cry for help was coming from a human girl, no more than ten years old, rapidly moving towards him as fast as she could ambulate.  Bearing a satchel slung across her chest, the girl’s feet pelted across the uneven ground.  Percival recognised her desperate strides.  Free from self-consciousness, she cast her spindly arms and legs about as though her life depended on it.  As the girl grew closer, he could see the cause of her wild abandon.

Trailing behind were four giant figures whose very bodies seemed to cut a swathe of destruction through the woods as they moved.  They were the Sisterhood of the Face – soldiers about whom Percival had only a cursory understanding.  Well known throughout the kingdom, the Sisterhood carried a well-earned reputation as ruthless warriors.  Human women of vigorous proportions, they donned featureless metal helmets welded permanently onto their faces as a mark of their dedication.  Seeing through a narrow slit, the heavy masks only added to their terrifying presence, causing them to appear faceless and inhuman.

The girl dove into Percival’s arms, half collapsing from exhaustion.  He caught her as her knees buckled, his own head whipping round to hear the sound of a spear strike the ground only a few feet away.  The angry projectile had only narrowly missed them both.

“Stand aside, rat, or my sisters and I will tear you apart like bread!”, bellowed the largest of the women whose body armour distinguished herself from the others with a bloody red stripe. 

Even from underneath the mask, her booming voice inspired apprehension.  Percival had heard that the Sisterhood’s fervour was near religious, and that they were skilled in the deadly arts, so he proceeded cautiously.

“Who are you to demand this poor child’s life?”, he asked, his voice quavering as he maneuvered his body between the girl and the giant women.

“I am Primus, head Archon of the Sisterhood of the Face.  I have orders to retrieve this creature”.

Primus’s harsh tongue stood in stark contrast to the girl that presently cowered behind Percival.  Despite being barefoot and dressed only in her nightgown, she faced danger with a quiet composure that Percival could only envy.  His heart was pounding, yet the girl seemed stoic.  Still, she was unmistakably a child, with innocent eyes not yet soiled by cynicism, commerce or any form of carnal knowledge.

“Oh no”, exclaimed the girl, her voice soft and breathy. 

She rushed over to where Primus’s spear had landed and knelt before a snake that had inadvertently bisected by it.  Unafraid, the girl picked up the two halves of the serpent and sorrowfully held them in her hands.  Through her violent act, Primus had stolen something that was not hers to take – a life.

“The time for empty words has ended!”, announced Primus clapping her gloved hands together, “Sisters, take them both!”.

The other three large women advanced on Percival and the girl, but not before the little child could surreptitiously scoop up both halves of the dead snake and collect them in her satchel.

“Be careful with her!”, shouted Percival as the women placed a pair of heavy shackles on the little girl, then slapped a similar set upon his own wrists.

“Have a care, rat”, cautioned Primus, “Lest I take you for my supper”.

Rapidly realising that Primus was not a woman to be trifled with, Percival wondered where they were taking him and the girl as they frog marched them both through the woods.

“Where are we headed?”, asked Percival, summoning some courage.  Primus glared at him through the narrow slit in her helmet.

“If I had my druthers?  To the guillotine.  Fortunately, I am bound by duty.  I will bring you before Allozade.  He will decide your fate”. 

Percival’s eyes met the girl’s a few times during their journey, her expression one of silent contrition, shame for having embroiled him in such an unpleasant circumstance.  Without conversation, the party trudged through the woods for about an hour before the tree line subsided revealing a small town comprised of a straight road with shops and buildings on either side.  Percival took in the scene, noting the many people casually going about their business.

At one end of the street a group of children, both boys and girls, kicked about a leather ball.  One of the boys ventured too close to the returning party, when Primus forcefully seized the small child by his arm.

“Go and fetch Allozade”, she barked, clearly a command rather than a request.  Mortified, the boy obeyed, scurrying off into a nearby building.  A few moments later, he emerged with an old man in tow.

“Master Allozade”, began Primus, her tone now reverent, “I bring back the beast after she fled from her keep”.

Presenting her two trophies in full view of the town, Primus stood straight, her sisters filed neatly behind her.  Were her face visible, her expression would have been that of a hunting dog, proudly presenting its quarry.

“Excellent work, Primus.  I know not how she fled this time”, the old man said examining the shackled child with disdain. “And who is this?” he queried after casting his milky eyes upon Percival.  Done protesting, Percival simply glared at the man in quiet defiance.

“Some type of rat man, Master.  I suspect him of being in league with the beast”, reported Primus.

“Nonsense.  Just look at him.  He is a man of the road, not a keeper of monsters”.

Percival stayed silent.  He wasn’t often given to anger, but on this occasion, he could not resist indulging.  Above all he detested bullies, and he sensed that he was most assuredly in their presence, now.

“Return the girl to her place, and unshackle this one, post haste!”, ordered the old man, “I would speak with him alone”.

As Percival was escorted away, the little girl caught a glimpse of her reflection in one of the shop windows and saw something terrible looking back at her.


“Magic”, began the old man, his voice twisting to conjure a sense of mystique as he paced about the small wood panelled room where Percival had been taken.

“What is magic?”, he asked, mostly to himself, “Magic is the bedrock of our town.  It is songs and stories and incantations, secret words and ritual, passed down by generations of my family.  This is a community sheathed in magic, and you have arrived at a most fortuitous time young wanderer”.

“It seems your magic does not yet encompass compassion”, replied Percival, his wrists still raw from the shackles recently removed.

“You must forgive the Sisterhood.  I’m afraid subtlety has not yet made their acquaintance”.

The magician shuffled about his quarters, absent-mindedly opening drawers and cabinets as he searched for some unknown object.  As he did so, Percival drank in his surroundings: an unremarkable table and chairs surrounded by feathers, crystals, star charts and many other magical accoutrements he’d never seen the like of.

Percival was still unclear on his status - prisoner or tentative guest?  A few scant moments ago, he’d been restrained against his will, and was dubious of the magician’s intent.  Still, he was a far more palatable alternative to that awful Primus. 

Standing no more than five feet tall, he was by far the oldest human that Percival had ever seen.  Shocks of snow-white hair emerged intermittently from the rumpled flat cap upon his head and a velvet cloak concealed a body that Percival suspected was far from robust.

“Forgive me”, he said, casting both hands skyward, “My name is Allozade.  Town magician”.

“Percival”, he replied in kind as he shook the old man’s bony hand, “I have no talent or skill of which to boast, other than my character and a persistent case of wanderlust”.

“We don’t get many of…your kind…visiting the town these days”, he equivocated haltingly as he opened yet another drawer and finally located the pipe he’d been searching so doggedly for.

“My…kind?”, asked Percival, hoping Allozade had not issued an unfortunate slander.

The magician deftly filled his pipe with practiced expertise and began filling the room with rich plumes of tobacco smoke.  Percival could now feel the old magician’s eyes upon him, scrutinising his rodential features.  It was true, in his brief time in the town square, he hadn’t noticed any other non-humans at all.  It was uncommon to say the least.  Skill and a willingness to work together was the typical criteria for most towns and villages in the kingdom.  Communities were diverse mixtures of sentient creatures, coexisting peaceably.  By contrast, this place was far more homogenous.

“Tell me, what were you doing in the company of the beast?”, Allozade asked, waving away his earlier remark.

“You mean the little girl?”, Percival replied, “I wasn’t doing anything, really.  She simply ran towards me, arms akimbo, pleading for assistance.  I followed my most basic instincts and cast my arms around her.  The far greater danger came from your metal faced constable who I think will not be satisfied ‘till she has tasted blood”.

“Your assessment of my Primus is not inaccurate, but do not be deceived, young traveller, for she is no mere girl.  She is a beast - an obscenity – born from a mother’s loin, but not from nature.  She’s unlike any creature my magic can fathom.  Do you not see the broken skin?  The rotting teeth?  In truth I am not certain how you could bear to look upon her face, let alone walk beside her!”

“But…she is only a girl.  Precocious of course, but isn’t that the way of all children?  How can you disparage one so innocent?”.

“She is a beast!”, roared Allozade, “With foul features and a dark manner about her.  She has been the root of many a malady and misfortune in this town.  Accordingly, it was decided that such a beast would spend the remainder of her days in the holding cell in the station house of the constabulary.  It was the most humane solution”.

Humane?  Are you mad?  She’s not a beast, but a little girl! As far as I can see, besides profaning her name, she does not stand accused of any specific crime or misdeed.  I do not wish to make trouble for you magician, but I intend to free her.  My conscience will permit not less”.

His posture straightening, Allozade’s tone suddenly became sharp, “I’m afraid I cannot allow that”, he stated flatly. 

“My days remaining may not be many in number, but while I am head magician, I have a sacred duty to safeguard this town from evil”.  His tone abated, “Though you are, of course, free to enjoy the amenities of our community”, he added as an insincere smile split his face.

In spite of the literal meaning of his words, Allozade offered his town’s hospitality begrudgingly.  Percival felt neither welcome nor comfortable.  His keen sense of self-preservation prevailing, he resolved to depart as soon as was practical – and he intended to take the poor girl with him.  After his terse encounter with the old magician had ended in a polite stalemate, he walked the main street, admiring the small selection of shops and residences. 

Though he was not naturally predisposed to paranoia, Percival bore a sneaking suspicion that the magician would be keeping a keen eye on his movements.  If he wanted to liberate the girl, then guile and finesse would be required. 

Casually ambling down the street, he began to perceive a growing unease from the townsfolk.  Cutting a path through the people as he walked, they stared at him with a curious mix of fascination and fear.  Other bystanders offered more deliberate expressions.  Had their eyes been daggers themselves, Percival would have surely found himself impaled by their open contempt – a dislike for the unlike.

The shops themselves were a pedestrian affair, a tailor, a cooper.  Strolling past the tavern, he considered entering - such places had typically brought him pleasure in the past - but he could not shirk his honour and place pleasures before obligation.  The image of a child unfairly imprisoned offended him.

I wonder why they consider her a beast? he mused as he finally stopped before a storefront that caught his attention.  Inscribed upon the entrance was a word that he did not know:

LIBER’, read the sign, rendered in elegant font. 

Seeing that the place appeared open, Percival pulled open the door and entered. 

As his nose and lungs beheld the musty scent of paper and parchment, he realised that this store did not contain merchandise, rather an impressive array of books. Books arranged on oak shelves that lined the walls and filled every vacant space.  Organised and neatly filed together, Percival had never seen so many books in his life and did not know that such a great number of them could gather in one place.  In his youth, he’d had cause to study a book or two, and his parents owned a dozen or so, but to Percival books had always signified wealth and refinement.

“Hello”, came a silky female voice from across the room.

Percival turned to see a woman sat at a desk in the centre of the store, as though she herself were the epicenter of the immense collection.

“I’m sorry, you caught me unaware”, replied Percival, instantaneously self-conscious and powerfully stricken by the woman’s beauty.

About forty years of age, she rose from her desk and approached him.  Percival had rarely entertained notions of human beauty, but there was something about this particular specimen that he found bewitching.  It wasn’t just her velvet tone or chocolate hair; it was the alluring way she moved - her motions fluid and her dusky eyes fixated upon his.  She drew herself near and gently ran her hand across his face, savouring the sensation of his soft fur against her hand.

“You are very handsome”, she stated simply with a coy smile.

Initially speechless, Percival fumbled a half muttered “Thank you” as the enigmatic woman inspected him, apparently pleased with what she saw.  It had been a long while since any person had regarded him as an object of desire, and Percival could do no more but be flattered at the prospect.

“I don’t think I can readily recall one of your kind regarding me in such a manner”, he breathed, surprised by the breadth of his own excitement.

“I’ve spent more time with books than with people”, she began, moving back towards her desk, “And besides, similarity is not required for the appreciation of beauty, nor attraction”.

She now sat back down; her legs crossed over each other confidently as Percival took a few more tentative steps into the library.

“What is your name, rat, and what does it mean?”

“Percival.  And I do not know what it means.  It was given to me by my parents”

“Names are powerful totems.  You should not be so ignorant of your own.  My name is Soraya.  It means ‘princess’”.

“Are you the keeper of these books?”

“Yes.  I watch over them, by duty and by choice, but my services are rarely required these days.  This town has no appetite for books, let alone the knowledge contained therein.”

“What kind of knowledge?”

“All manner of things”, Soraya whispered, her eyes widening with excitement, “How to repair the injured body, instruction on words and numbers, ancient lore of plants and herbs.  Useful knowledge contained within, if only anyone cared to open them.  Instead, our young boys while away their years in the tavern and our girls encase themselves in steel and join the sisterhood.  Philistines the lot of them, drunk on superstition and the ramblings of that old charlatan”.

Percival looked quizzical.

“I take it you’ve already met with our esteemed magician?”, she asked sarcastically as she spoke his name through gritted teeth.

“Yes.  He said my visit was fortuitous.  Why would he say that?”

At that moment the clarion call of a bell rang out throughout the town, its noise reverberating through the walls of the building into the pit of Percival’s stomach.  Through the library window he could see people abruptly stop whatever they were doing and begin to form a congregation around the magician’s quarters where a small dais had been set up.

“I think you’re about to find out”, said Soraya with a raised eyebrow as she stood up from her desk and collected Percival.  The two walked out into the street towards the gathering crowd.  Interlocking her arm with his, Soraya began whispering into Percival’s ear in a low, conspiratorial tone.

“Another one of Allozade’s pointless affairs, no doubt.  The old man is withering and refuses to accept the ruling of time.  He is obsessed with magic and ritual, and has fashioned them into the official fiction of this place”.

Percival watched as the obedient crowd all flocked towards Allozade, who emerged in a resplendent red robe, waving incense that smelled of sage and blue bark.  Flanking him on either side were two members of the Sisterhood of the Face, each one appearing involuntarily expressionless in their helmet.  As more of Allozade’s entourage fussed about him, he intoned an otherworldly incantation in a language Percival did not recognise.  Upon the dais was a bubbling cauldron of unspecified liquid, into which he then peeled off the red leaves of a Calamander tree, causing a plume of pungent smoke to rise.  Unimpressed, Soraya rolled her eyes at the elaborate spectacle.

“I wonder why he was so afraid of that little girl?” wondered Percival aloud.  He turned to see Soraya’s gaze upon him, her expression suddenly electric.

“The girl?  She is here?”

“Yes, the poor lamb is apparently locked away in the constabulary.  She beseeched me for assistance but we were set upon too quickly”.

Percival could see that this news had come as a surprise to Soraya whose eyes darted back and forth as her mind rapidly began considering her next action.

“Come”, she began, both hands clasping Percival’s shoulder, “We must use this moment wisely and free her”.

Though Percival’s morals mostly prevented him from interfering too deeply in the affairs of others, he’d been unable to shake the image of the frightened girl from his mind.  Her imprisonment seemed unjust – what crime could she possibly stand accused of at such a tender age?  This was mainly why he did not object when Soraya dragged him through the crowd of people and snuck into the empty offices of the constabulary.  The holding cells were located in the rear, down a featureless corridor.

Sat by herself, clutching her satchel, the little girl waited patiently inside one of the cells, her cherubic features obscured by iron bars.  She looked up to see Percival and Soraya enter quietly and her face softened with an expression of recognition.

“Do not worry small one – we mean to free you”, she whispered, but the little girl’s smile soon dissolved as she looked past her would be liberators and saw a sight which caused a wave of panic to spread across her face.

Primus – standing motionless in the corner, observing the fumbled jailbreak through her faceless mask – waiting for the right moment to reveal her presence.

“At last, little rat”, she spoke, “I have an excuse with which to do you harm”.


Percival, Soraya and the little girl sat quietly in the holding cell.  Only a few feet wide, the featureless room contained only a stone slab for sitting and sleeping and a nondescript wooden bucket for answering nature’s requirements.  Soraya looked rueful, her downcast expression marring her comely features.

“I regret that my impulse was so foolhardy.  I did not intend for you to be drawn into strife”, she apologised to Percival, “And you little one”, she began, now addressing the girl, “I have failed you not once but twice”.

“Do not be sad, Soraya.  The fault is not yours”, she offered kindly.

Percival found himself pleased at the sound of the little girl’s voice.  It was reassuring to hear her speak, if only for confirmation that her spirit had not been hammered down by incarceration.

Failed you twice?  Percival thought, as he arrived at sudden realisation.

“Then it was you who released her in the first place”, he whispered to Soraya.

“You are correct”, she began, “I only wished for her to flee this awful place.  The people here permit themselves to see her only one way.  Perhaps eyes belonging to others would see her as something else.  Something other than a beast”.

Their exchange was interrupted by the sound of the door to the hallway to the cells, and the noise of footsteps moving slowly towards them.  A female figure appeared, her face and head sheathed by a head covering which she drew back to reveal a middle-aged woman bearing a pointy face marked by lifetime of anger.

“Mother”, breathed the little girl, expressing both surprise and terror.

“That’s right”, said the woman, “I thought I smelled your foul stench”.

The little girl’s eyes fell to the floor as her mother’s words struck her like jagged rocks.

“We do not mean cause offence, merely correct the injustice of this poor child behind bars”, came Percival as he stood to squarely face the lady.  From her demeanour, it was clear that she was brimming with a barely contained rage at the sight of her daughter.

Child?”, the woman scoffed, “That’s a lark.  I used to see her as such as well, unwanted though she was, I welcomed the miracle of birth.  But day by day, as she caused my burden to grow, I watched her skin blacken and her shadow grow longer”.

The woman moved closer, taking hold of the prison bars with both hands as she locked eyes with the little girl, “Our lives would have been better without you, beast of burden!”, she hissed, “And I curse the day I shat you out”.

“That’s quite enough!”, snapped Soraya, weary of the woman’s abuse.

Having expunged the contents of her mind onto the now weeping child, the woman stepped away from the bars and floated down the hallway, but not before firing a parting shot.

“Has she spoken her name yet?”, she asked with a wry smile.

Percival and Soraya looked at each other and realised that despite their indignance at her mistreatment and their noble plan to spring her, they did not know the little girl’s appellation.

“Her name is Disease.  I named her so because she was the cause of my dis-ease”.  And with that thorny remark and a swish of her robes, the woman left, leaving stunned silence in her wake.

“Is it true?  Your name?”, Soraya asked the girl.

“Yes”, she replied sheepishly, “I dare not speak it aloud”.

“Is that the reason the townsfolk claim to see you in beastly form?”, asked Percival.

“I do not know; they merely call me a beast and have done so since I was an infant.  They say my skin is black and that my face is put on sideways with seven eyes and fifteen mouths”.

As she spoke, the girl reached into her satchel and extracted the two halves of the snake that had been killed by Primus’ spear.  Soraya grimaced, for the sorry carcass was a gruesome sight.  Holding the two pieces together, the girl closed her eyes and inhaled deeply as she concentrated upon the dead animal.  A moment later, the serpent reanimated, whole again and with no sign of injury.   

“Astonishing”, gasped Soraya.

“Be careful”, cautioned Percival, “Snakes can be deadly”.

“Not to me”, said the girl, “When I look into his eyes, I can feel the heartbeat of all creation”.

The girl unhanded the snake who happily slithered away, disappearing through the bars of the cell.

“This must be it”, reasoned Soraya, “Your gift of healing.  This is the truth beneath the people’s fear of you”.

“If that is fact, then we must leave this place”, Percival knelt before the girl, lowering himself to meet her eyes, “I bring tidings from happier places – free from scorn.  I know this because I have been there and known their kindness for myself.  We can leave this town – together if you wish – and you need never be a beast again”.

The girl beamed at him, hearing the earnestness of his tone.  She rose and nonchalantly moved to the cell door.  Placing her hand upon its fastened iron lock, she closed her eyes just as she had done with the snake.  A soft “clunk” could be heard from inside the lock as the door swung open.

“If you could do that the entire time, then why do you stay caged?”, Soraya asked the girl, incredulous.

“The people’s iron bars do not cage me so much as their words”.


Outside the constabulary building Percival, Soraya and the girl were pleased to see the assembled crowd’s attention was still directed towards the small platform where the magician was busily incanting.  Soraya threw her arms around the girl and whispered crucial instructions:

“You must leave here at once.  If you travel eastward past the old mill you will come to my brother’s house.  Tell him I have sent you.  He will provide you with a hardy steed and provisions for a few days”.

“Beast!”, shouted an old woman, causing others in the crowd to turn and face the three fugitives, “Beast!”, the crone called out again, pointing at the girl with a haggard index finger.

Of the assembled group whose attention had been caught, among them was the girl’s mother.

“Disease!”, she spat, her tone razor sharp.

Just then a great gasp went up from the crowd, originating from those closest to the incantation.  Unbeknownst to Percival and Soraya, Allozade had paused – mid sentence – and was tightly grasping at his chest with both hands.  He fell forward, his face contorting in agony as all eyes were quickly diverted by the old man’s distress.  Primus and the members of the Sisterhood snapped into action, surrounding him as the mass rushed forward to gawk at the occurrence.  Moving gracefully through the crowd, Soraya approached the stage with Percival – now clasping the little girl’s hand – trailing behind her.  The sight of the girl, brazenly moving about in the open made the townspeople bristle.  Recoiling, they moved aside, making a clear path through which she could pass.  Conscious and now laid upon his back, Allozade’s face had grown pale and his breathing shallow.

“It looks to be his heart”, diagnosed Soraya, “It has given up.  No spell can heal it.  Allozade is not long for the world.  Soon he’ll return to nature”.

“Silence”, barked Primus who suddenly appeared, enraged that her prisoners had escaped, “I might have known.  The beast and her defenders.  Your words are not welcome here!”.

“Hush, Primus”, snapped Soraya, “You’ll find your mouth an able cage for your tongue if you’d simply close your teeth.  Or are you incapable of thoughts not provided by Allozade?”

Incensed, Primus contained her temper, finding no value in continued sparring.  She issued forth orders to her fellow Sisters, “You – move those people back – allow us some space!  You – run and fetch sage and tallow root so that we might conduct a healing spell!”

Braving the commotion, the little girl stepped forward, separating herself from Percival’s protective grasp.

“I can save him”, she said softly, seeking Percival’s eyes for permission, “If you permit me, I can drag him from the void”.

Even through her mask, Primus’s appeared sceptical.  Soraya too raised a wary brow, certain that such a supernatural demonstration in full view of the entire town would likely result in their execution.

“It’s true”, came Percival, “I have seen her abilities for myself”.

“No!”, yelled Allozade as he gasped for air, “Do not allow that goblin to approach me – I intend to leave this world untouched by blackness! 

Spraying saliva with his words, the old magician seemed ferociously angry, even as his final moment approached him. 

“You have been touched by ignorance, magician.  This girl can save your life”, chided Soraya.

“My magic will save me, in this life, and the hereafter!”

“Your magic is false, Allozade, don’t you see?”, started Percival, “It is words without meaning.  Ritual with no purpose.  You offer sedation to the masses while decrying the very thing you have been complicit in creating”.

Soraya offered Percival a sly grin, impressed by his outburst.  Percival reached out for the little girl’s hand, “When I met her, I knew not her name, and accordingly I saw only a girl.  If she is truly a beast then she is a beast of your own creation.  You deny the simplest magic of all – words”.

Percival looked out upon the crowd and locked eyes with the girl’s mother, “You called this child disease and so that is what she became.  Her name was not given as a blessing but a curse – borne from a mother’s resentment.  She has the ability to bestow life where none exists.  Only a fool would refuse her ministration”.

“No!”, repeated Allozade his desperate grimace twisting even further, “I will not be tainted by agents of the underworld.  Wretched child!  I will denounce you until my final breath!  May you enter the fire and be damned!”

Clutching at his chest once more, Allozade let out an unholy cry as he writhed about the floor as the searing pain of his failing heart sliced through him.  Bearing the items they’d been ordered to retrieve, the Sisterhood formed an iron ring around him as the concerned crowd surged and rushed closer.

“The wheel turns for Allozade”, whispered Soraya to Percival and the girl, “If he craves the void, I say let him have it.  Avail yourself of this distraction and leave as I instructed”.

“But what of you?  Are you not imperilled here?”, replied Percival.

“I think not.  They are backwards but they are my people.  I will remain and tend my books.  With Allozade in his grave perhaps I can one day light the path from ignorance”.

“You have my thanks, Soraya”, said Percival, as he hastily clasped the woman’s hand.

“There is no need of gratitude. To gaze upon your aspect, was no chore”.

With a reassuring smile, Soraya bid farewell to Percival and the girl as they crept away from the crowd.

Thoughts create words, and our words in turn create the universe around us.  If this precept is true, then words themselves are the most powerful magic of all.  Names are also words, and so they themselves determine and forge us in ways we do not always comprehend.  The names our parents give us may be either tribulation or benediction in equal measure.  Conversely, the names we choose ourselves form a covenant with the future and are the shape we willingly choose to assume.

As the two swiftly made their way down the street and further away from the town, the girl caught a glimpse of herself in one of the shop windows.  She paused, momentarily, to look upon the most extraordinary sight she had ever beheld – the image of a little girl – reflected back at her.

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