Kneeling by the light that beamed in a soft corona about her, not quite an aura, setting her prayer shawl and priestess gown alight, hair coiled about her head like an ebon halo, I came through the door and held my breath at the vision.
Above her was a monster, weeping in rage, his muscles bunched, his thick and heavy neck holding up his massive head and horns.
Her whispered fervent prayer was binding him, and the axe just shuddered in his trembling hands.
“Xantara, is this one yours?”
She didn’t turn, or give answer, or acknowledge I was there.
The monster turned its head, regarded me with pleading in his soulless eyes.
“You were going to kill her; I can’t allow that, and you deserve your punishment.”
At my refusal of intercession, it redoubled its effort, but Xantara never wavered; I could hear the reverberating sibilance of her foreign, arcane tongue, long vanished from these walls, long banished from these shores.
No one else knew she was here, for no one else could see her.
The colors in the stained glass windows deepened with the dying light, and the candles flared a little brighter as the power of her prayer began to manifest, and the muscled monstrosity that would have taken her head, and probably mine, seemed surprised to find its neck cleaved clean through, almost as if with the very axe it carried, and the knobbed head tumbled in ponderous slowness, to crack on the black marble floor.
Its body listed like a great old dying tree, and shattered the great oak table where the ceremonial cups and candles were, cracking and splintering it like a ruined spine.
The dust cloud was massive, and dark, acrid, smoking blood seethed across the marble, hissing and pitting it as it puddle and pooled.
She stood up and looked at me, as if the creature she’d just slain was nothing more than a reed blown over in the wind.
“Good evening, Mitre Harkin. I’m…sorry…about the mess. I’ll clean it.”
“It’s alright, Xantara. There’s no one here but the two of us, anyway. It’s no great matter.”
She smoothed her gown as she approached.
“They keep coming after me.”
“I’m afraid they won’t stop; your powers have grown.”
“I’ve thought to renounce them.”
“Your powers? You mustn’t.”
“We’ve been over this, my child. You are the protector.”
“It’s the job of the gods to protect us.”
“Don’t laugh at me, Mitre.”
“I’m not, my dear. I’m laughing at the innocence of your youth as it concerns the gods; they choose their servants, not always willingly. Truth be told, not even always wisely.”
“Are you now saying—?“
“I’m saying, Xantara, that your role in the events to unfold is irreplaceable, and unfortunately for you, irrevocable.”
She sighed, and even in her forlorn state, was rife with divine sweetness.
“You will help guide me though, won’t you Mitre?”
“I will ever be here for you, Xantara; you have my word.”
She nodded, a tear running from her eye.
I took the corner of my prayer shawl, and dabbed it away.
“I must be going,” she said.
“I understand.” The demons didn’t regard the time of day, and she was tired. Rest replenished her powers, and exhaustion weakened them.
But she hesitated.
I inclined my head, inviting her to continue.
“Can you make it so I don’t have to kneel and pray so long?”
I thought it over; that would mean facing the Council, making them aware of her existence, or believing me insane, for which the consequences would be immediate, and final.
“You know I can’t appeal to them without revealing your presence.”
“I know, but I’m tired of hiding. Perhaps I will reveal it to them myself.”
I shook my head.
“Xantara, they will pull you from both sides like quartering horses.”
I put my hand on her cheek, and she leaned into it.
“If rest comes so uneasy to you now, child, imagine it never coming at all. They will use you until your very essence is a husk, and they will toss it in the fire, and forget you, taking the credit for your victory.”
She placed her hand over mine, removed it, but held it.
“My dear Mitre, always so wise.”
I chuckled, and she smiled. It was beatific.
“My innocence again?”
“Yes. Go, my child. The hour grows late.”
“Overmorrow, I will return.”
“I await the welcome vision. Farewell, Xantara.”
She gave a small, endearing curtsy. “Farewell, Mitre Harkin.”
Truth be told, I should have been afraid of such burgeoning power in the hands, heart, and mind of one so untried (for there was no fear in her at all), but I was not, and would have cause to regret it later.
Looking back to where the monster had fallen, there was no trace of severed flesh or steaming blood, and no thick hafted weapon to leave behind the threat of death.
It was as if she’d merely stopped praying, and was now leaving.
I turned back toward the doors.
She seemed to glide down the black marble path, the temple doors parted of themselves, and in the last rays of the sun, she faded like an unfulfilled wish that never came true.