Outer Flower, 56

Room of Blood

Elymas on throne

“I thought as much,” she conceded, good naturedly. “Let’s try this.” She spoke something, hiding the motion of her hands, and then jabbed openly, as if she were directing musicians in the market square. “Yes, this!”

The rushes stayed lit though the walls began making wet, bubbling sounds, ceasing when the fluids ran free. It was blood, of course, he recognized the smell, although she’d cleverly concealed the source. He sat frozen in his chair as the pool grew wider and deeper, lapping against the first step of the dais. It was all visual deception, he knew, but what a deception it was! She was quite inventive with the monsters skimming just below the surface. They swam slow and near, as if for perusal. A blunt nosed shark, an eel, a huge flat fish that swam sideways. Elymas watched in fascination as the shark tore into it like a loaf.

Truth be told, Elymas was impressed. He’d done the same thing with sharp beaked birds, creating an illusion that had terrified cleaners away from his secret room years ago; none had approached since. But the skill and precision of the shark’s biting — no, it was the expression of the fish — he had yet to match.

Impressed, yes, but unafraid. He knew she couldn’t possibly have the resources to hold it in place for long.

shapes swam beneath surface

And he was right. Suddenly, the room cleared, and she was looking at him wide-eyed, like a child waiting to be praised. Pity she would have to die. Her skill had been her downfall. He could let no one this talented walk out alive.

“Wonderful, simply wonderful.” Elymas let out a sigh that sounded quite heartfelt. “But I can match that.”

“I thought as much,” she said. And then. “Very well. Once more.”

“I don’t have time.”

“Really?” Her brow arched. It was a menace of an arch, and he remembered the third knot, the one she wouldn’t name. “Oh, very well, but be brisk. I have business.”

He’d barely sat back when it began. The warm stickiness, a rivulet down his chest. No blood shadows this time but real blood. His blood, and it was flowing fast. As he felt his life ebb away, Elymas also felt the longing for life of all his victims.

No!!!” he shouted. “I concede.”

However, the deception, which had turned out to be no deception at all, remained. His robe was soaked with blood, his blood, which puddled below the throne. He watched as a stream separated itself and began a slow drip over the dais.

He was going to faint. No, he was going to die soon.

“My lady, please,” he managed to croak. “I believe . . .

“You believe what, Earth Skyll? That life is hard? That ice is cold? That a flower waits to bloom?” She laughed. Even in the direst of circumstances, her laughter held a trill. “You believe what?”

“Please,” he managed, holding out an arm, sticky with blood. “I believe . . . you.”

“And what is it you believe?” By the Tuel himself, Elymas thought, if he lived, he’d kill her, making jokes while his life was a stake.

“I believe you are Rizla.” Surprising, now that he’d decided to say it, how easily he spoke her name.

Seconds, precious seconds ticked by as she gazed into his eyes. “Yes, you do,” she said, and again muttered something he didn’t understand, followed by a clap.

The sound hadn’t stopped echoing when he found himself uncut, unbleeding, and dry. There was not even a stench in the air.

For a moment he was tempted to doubt.

One look at the witch and the temptation was gone.

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