Tuesday, July 4, 2017

The Sphinx - Chapter 1

Standing atop the crown of the great green beauty gifted by France to the Americas, she stared down on the world, which had changed so much since the day she’d staged her death on the cliff outside of Thebes. Gone was the time that she had to run and hide, living in the shadows to avoid the attention of the gods. He was no longer a threat to her, having fallen with the others, and she could roam free again.
Those stories, though they worked in her favor, told of her in such a terrible light. A beast, a monster—and of course that was how he would want her to be remembered. That was the entire point of what he’d done to her. Because of his actions, and his selfishness, her light was diminished and replaced by hatred and ugliness. No one would ever know that she was in fact beauty personified, and that because of her beauty she’d been changed. A curse was placed on her, which transformed her appearance into something no one could love. As if that was not enough, he sent her to Thebes, a land not many dared to venture to. All of this for the purpose of stopping the world from finding out about his time with her, to make sure that the one he really intended to be with never knew she existed in his life.
She was done with hiding in the shadows. Centuries had passed, and in that time, her strength had grown a hundred times over. He would be made to face what he’d done to her. If she had to cut down a thousand gods to do it, she would.
A lesser known fact about the sphinx, one that even she herself hadn’t always known, was that when she devoured those who failed to answer her riddle correctly, she absorbed their power. In the beginning, she hadn’t realized just how the act affected her, but over the years of her sentencing, she learned that with each failed response and each meal, she became stronger. It wasn’t until she came face-to-face with a witch disguised as a poor woman, that she learned just how much of a gift this was. The woman was there intending to do what she thought was an act of justice. Her plan was to launch an attack on Cadmus, the King of Thebes, who the old woman said had betrayed his own people to serve an unworthy god.
Once strong enough and confident in the power she had taken, she moved forward with her plans. With the magic she’d stolen, she convinced a riddle traveler who crossed her that he had solved her riddle fair and square, and as punishment for her failure, she could no longer live. It worked. Oedipus, who would eventually become celebrated for many things including ridding Thebes of their pest, went on to be King of Thebes and she was free.
The sphinx thought it unfortunate that the woman was unable to solve her riddle. She would have loved to piss off the god who betrayed her by allowing his precious king to be murdered. It was her curse, however, to require the riddle be answered before she could ever permit a traveler safe passage. The witch, though bold and with great power, was unable to solve it. Though she fought, attempting to use magic to defeat the monster who denied her access to Thebes, she failed and she, too—like those before her—was devoured. After the witch was defeated, the sphinx turned to retreat to her nest to wait for another to dare to approach the boundaries.
With each step, she felt the change in herself as the energy stored in the body of the witch moved throughout her and gave her a high like one she had never experienced before. Content with her full belly, and looking forward to enjoying the high of her meal, she headed back to her claimed space and hoped for an easy night of rest.
A cavern at the base of the mountain had become her home, filled with claimed items she’d collected from those who became meals for her. No reason for good things to go to waste. The inside of the cavern was loaded with jewels and tapestries, clothes she couldn’t dream of wearing, and a corner that held relics she didn’t really care for but would often take her rage out on. The shattered pieces proved to bring her comfort as she used her tail to fashion them in new ways. She stood in front of a mirror, another gift from a traveler that didn’t reflect her entire frame. Each night she looked at her deformed body and with a sigh, she made the useless wish that she could return to her former self. The spell placed on her to hide her beauty was still intact. Each time she passed the mirror and made the wish, her anger grew. It festered inside, building to eruption. How could she be punished in such a way, and simply because she dared to love someone? As she walked away she made the internal request once more. How she longed to see a face she recognized, a face she missed, staring back at her.
          A flicker out of the corner of her eye caused her to turn back to her reflection and find herself, the way she remembered, before he thought it okay to take it away. Sun-kissed skin in milk chocolate tones that shimmered as if dusted with gold and stood in strong complement the thick, dark hair which fell around her frame. Her face was no longer ugly, distorted by magic and anger. Returned were her soft features, alluring plump lips, and eyes reflecting the depths of the ocean. Her body was once again her own—no lion’s frame or eagle wings, no tail that hissed at her when she went too long without feeding. She danced and laughed, happy to have finally broken the curse, but her celebration was short-lived.
As she came down from a leaping twirl that sent her flying in the air, the strong legs of a lion steadied her landing. The change was not lasting, but it was telling. Disappointment was suffocating. How could this be? How could this change not last? Afraid to view herself, but needing to know what she was, she returned to the mirror. As the last of her real face faded away, hidden by the curse again, tears fell from her eyes. Wings wrapped around herself, she did her best to hug away the pain of her defeat. For a moment, she was herself again. For a moment.
Realization hit her. This was a curse, this could be broken and she had proof. For the first time she looked at herself, cursed reflection and all, and there was excitement in her eyes. There was so much more to her than she had ever known; so much that she would not have discovered if not for the one who broke her heart. Quick to realize the advantage that had been given to her, perhaps by chance, she devised a plan. She would not live the rest of her life, shackled by this curse and the god who hoped to keep her hidden. She would find a way to get enough power, enough magic, to rid herself of the curse for good!
While he was celebrated, the one who took away her freedom, lifted by those who worshipped him and the other gods, she retreated into the obscurities of life. She would let him have his praise and continue to keep her existence hidden. It wasn’t as if he would be searching for her. He hadn’t attempted to investigate the reports of her diminishing appearances, or even come when the stories of her death rose to the heavens. Foolish of her, but she hung around, waiting to see if he would. He’d all but forgotten about the woman whose life he’d ruined all for his own selfish means. Her outrage was no longer a crazed display meant to torment those who lived in, or dared to attempt to visit the city of Thebes. She became more strategic in her targets. Those of power, or strength, they were her prey. Magical beings, but no one too high in their ranking. She was playing a long game. Settling for the lesser-thans, and avoiding anyone too powerful, made sure that no unnecessary attention came to her. For the sake of keeping up her appearances, she would still pick off the random traveler here and there. If she went missing, he would send someone else, another beast to replace her, or perhaps to hunt her down. The last thing she needed was for there to be a new monster put in place to ruin her plans.
She lived no more as the sphinx, but she could never be her true self again. The reflection in the mirror, the face she longed for, would still be hidden behind a veil. Only this time it was a veil of her choosing. She could not risk returning to her old visage or the life she had before. She did not want to run into her former lover. There were few others who knew of her, but she feared that he would find her. She created a new identity for herself. The new face was one that could make her smile, and one he would never recognize. She was gone and not one soul mourned her. Not even the one who claimed to have loved her.

          Asa was the name she assumed. Over time, she blended into the thread of humanity, taking on different identities and fading into the background when necessary. It wasn’t hard to stay hidden when no one was looking for you. All she had to do was remain careful, and make sure not to bring too much attention to her dealings. She continued to consume those of power—those who, like her, would not be missed—and with each one, her power grew more. As the gods of Olympus fell, with the human population losing their faith and their idolization for the ones who did more to torment them than to protect them, Asa rejoiced. She would be free of the shadows! She could live the life she desired. She could feed on those who were more powerful. That is exactly what she would do … because unlike everyone else, she was no fool. Faith or not, gods were eternal. They would return, and when they did, she would be ready for them.
Read more in The Fire & Fantasy Boxset