Princess Sophia was a teenage bitch. There is no polite or easy way to say it, so why not blurt it out?
Let the hating run free; amen.
Spoiling a child was an excellent way to create a broken one. Sometimes, a child has to hear the word no; it is only two letters, and it does them good. When Sophia had craved something, she had got something. When she wanted to go on holiday, she had been gifted the keys to a remote land. This was why, when she demanded, at sixteen, to be allowed her own house and grounds, she found it quite shocking when her parents said no. She stormed from the throne room and to the castle attic. The attic was her space, her private place where nobody else went. She stood alone in her jeans and blouse and looked at the mirror.
The mirror had been built and crafted in the old times from Elden wood. It was, she thought, quite an impossible thing: ancient, older than anyone could know. Possibly even older than the castle itself. If it was so old, she mused, then how was it so perfectly formed? She had mirrors of her own, made by the finest craftsmen in the world, and yet not one was as smooth as this. This mirror had not one blemish. Even after all this time, the surface had no scuffs or smudges.
The mirror had one purpose, and that purpose was to be the jail for the Demoness Lilith. Now, you may ask yourself the question, and we all have, why keep the mirror? Magic always comes at a price. Each world is different. Some have magic, and some do not. Some have many monsters, but all have some. This world was in many ways like our own, but it had magic and some monsters. Many monsters were long since gone, defeated in battles or dead from extinction. Without their mother on hand for support, what else would they do? The mirror had to be stored somewhere, and where else other than the capital castle? That was the price; humanity had to keep it. It was a price her jailer had been happy with; he had (mostly) liked humanity. It had been forgotten over the ages, as was planned. A mythical thing linked to a tale that many (now) did not believe. Had it been a better time for the kingdom, it may have ended in a museum, but it had not. It ended up in the castle loft, where Sophia now stood, staring at it.
It was said, in the days of olde, that Lilith had forged the pathways between the worlds, using her trees as roots. Roots that burrowed from one world to the next. She liked trees; it was one of the few things she liked no matter what world she visited. Trees planted roots in one world and spread to all others. And what is not to enjoy about trees? She could have used many other things, but trees seemed the easiest. They were sentient but not self-aware in the way many other candidates were. Cats can see multiple worlds, not quite in the same way, but close enough for what she needed. But have you ever tried to get a cat to do what you want? It’s a pain in the arse, and the few times she tried it, the results had been unpredictable. No, she had decided, trees were best, easy to use and looked the part. Lilith’s view of the universe was a tremendous, vast openness, with each world floating in it. Each a drop of sand in a vast ocean. Connected by a series of roots spawned from cursed trees of her makings, it looked pretty majestic, even if she said so herself. A spiderweb of worlds all linked with roots.
Then Merlin came along. Meddlesome magic man Merlin. Long before he would create the legend that was Arthur, he had summoned a dragon and trapped Lilith in this damned mirror. Serpent’s breath, the charm of death and life, thy omen of making. The chant of making. (Anál nathrach, orth’ bháis’s bethad, do chél dénmha).
Pompous little twerp, who was he to say what Lilith could or could not do? There is an infinite number of worlds to see! What did it matter if she used a few for her own gains? By being there, she had probably spawned another world! There were always going to be others. In some, she had explored; in others, she had played and had fun (Lilith enjoys her games), and in others, she had learnt.
The brat, Sophia, looked into the mirror, and Lilith looked back out at her. Like the book she once read in one world, she was through the looking glass.
Sophia knew the story behind the mirror, and how the great wizard Marlon (as she was taught) had captured the Demoness. She did not believe a word of it when she found the mirror, safely stored away in the basement, long since forgotten. The myth was now confined to children’s books and memories. What was once a tale to be feared had become a tale to tell and forget, nothing but a children’s story. The mirror had called out to her; it pleaded to be broken. She still did not believe it could be Lilith, but what if it was magical? Sophia thought. What if it could do what she wanted? Magic mirrors had also been in the old tales and were not always bad. Sophia, however, had her ideas about what to do with the mirror. If the voice in the mirror wanted to be free, to escape, then first it would have to help her. So, she asked it for help, and the voice of the mirror obliged. What did it matter, Sophia thought, if she did not keep her end of the deal? Maybe she would, maybe she would not.
Slow and steady, that was what Lilith had planned. Bait, hook and then slow with the reeling. “I want a pony. How can I get one?” the brat asked. Of course you do; how very original, Lilith thought. This thought was quickly followed by the realisation that she was a princess; she must have access to hundreds of the damned things. Kids; she’d never understood them, not that she would want to. Still, your wish is my command and all that, yadda yadda yadda. “Well, we will need a simple spell,” Lilith replied.
“I can’t do that. Magic is not real, and it is banned!” Sophia said, like she was talking to one of her many staff. Lilith rolled her eyes inside of the mirror. Sophia could only see herself in the mirror. Lilith saw out as if it were a window. It was better that way; had Sophia been able to see Lilith, she may not have been so malleable. Was she, the great Lilith, dealing with the stupid or the naïve? Probably both. “If magic is not real,” Lilith countered, “then why, my dear, is it banned?” Lilith continued, “And Yet here we are in a place with no magic, and you are talking to a mirror. Ask yourself, are you mad, or is magic real?” Then she added, “If magic is not real, what is the harm anyway?”
She observed critical decisions had led to the creation of new worlds. A world where she had never existed had no actual monsters. A world without myth and legend that had no known magic, and so on. She had also considered that at the centre of it all was one world, the starting point; this was her theory. The world where someone had once sat and decided — maybe this was her thinking on the matter — to kill someone, and it had spawned a second. One world where they had committed murder and a second where they had not. This world she considered her ‘prime’.
This world had developed and now was inhabited by billions of humans. They all ran around like ants on an anthill, reproducing exponentially. Maybe the world would pop? What then? What of the other worlds? She did not know the answer, but what questions these were! This world, this starting point, had a phrase she had grown to love, ”Fuck it.” Princess Sophia ran from the room as Lilith contemplated this, confused at the idea that if magic exists, why ban it? “Fuck it,” Lilith muttered to herself in anger as the door of the attic room slammed shut.
Thankfully for Lilith, the following day, the Princess came back. A deal was struck, and Lilith told her the ingredients needed and how to mix and deploy them. It was a one-time potion, she warned. It would work but once, so be sure to ask for what your heart truly desires.
Sophia collected the ingredients, mixed them and prepared to slip them into his drink. They were easy to find, with a dash of her blood as the ultimate step. A quick pinprick, a squeezing of the thumb, and the task was completed. She was a princess, and if she wanted a pony, who was he to deny her that? Supper came and went, her father having his usual glass of wine at the end of the evening. When he was distracted elsewhere, ogling the cleavage of some staff, she had slipped the concoction into his wine and then watched as he drank every last drop. Then she asked him again, and he said he would consider it. That night, she dreamt of ponies. The following day, her father bought her one.
Days passed before she revisited the mirror. “It worked, it worked,” she exclaimed, screaming as loudly as a chicken caught by a fox. Of course it worked, you stupid child. I told you it would, and if there is one thing I don’t do, it is tell lies! Lilith thought. What she said, however, was, “I know my child. Now, it is only fair that you release me.” Lilith knew what she agreed. What Lilith had not counted on was what the Princess had wanted. “I think not,” said the Princess, full of herself. “First, you shall help me some more.”
Help you some more? I’ll rip your damn head off and feed it to the great unknowing! I shall pull your spine out, lick the blood from it and then wear it like a fucking scarf! A SPARF! I shall call it a Sparf. A fucking Princess Sparf! More, MORE! Who are you, Oliver Cocking Twist?!
Lilith sighed deeply under her breath and bit her tongue. “So be it,” she said. The holidays came and went. Sophia had seen a dress she wanted, and so it was hers. A man, so she had got him, regardless of whomever it may have harmed. Instead of nagging at her mother and father, she now went to the mirror. Finally, Sophia wanted to leave and have her own place in the world; Lilith refused. “But you can’t,” the Princess protested.
“I can, and I have. I owe you nothing,” Lilith replied and blanked the mirror. The Princess now only saw a shimmering sea of mercury; silver waves moved from the centre to the edge. Lilith could still see out, and she watched. This fish had proven harder to catch and squirmier than she had thought. Sometimes, you have to take a gamble.
Sophia stomped out of the room and vowed never to go back. “Damn you, mirror. Damn you to the outer realms of the Estrad Seal!” she screamed as she left. Like most times with the Princess, her defiance would not last long. Had she not grown tired of things so quickly, she probably would not have been in this situation. There is a lesson to be learned here: be grateful for what you have.
A few moons passed, and she found herself, once again, standing in front of the mirror. Looking in at it, she asked, “Tell me what I need to do?”
And Lilith told her.
Breaking a cursed object is never easy. Breaking one cursed by the power needed to hold Lilith could only be done one way. If there was a will, there was a way, and Sophia stood in front of the giant oak tree on the castle grounds. The tree had always given her the creeps; she did not know why, but maybe this was the reason. It was not meant to be. It was a portal tree. A gateway to another world the voice in the mirror had told her. It was older than almost everything in this world. It would allow her access to the prime world, and she would find what she needed to break the spell on the prime.
What she could not know, for how could she, was that this particular tree had been used by the wizard Merlin (or Marlon as she knew him). She would depart from this world and end up in the starting world, in the village of Tintagel. She checked her bag and had all the tools she had been told she would need. She stood before the tree and said the chant precisely as she had been told. The mirror had said one for the tree and one for the cave.
The tree groaned and creaked, its old limbs and bark having to move in ways it had not done for centuries. Then slowly, it opened up, showing Sophia deep darkness, a black that felt like it was sucking in all the colour from the world. It almost felt alive. She took a deep breath, closed her eyes, and stepped forward into the darkness.
As is often the case, it was raining in Cornwall. It was just her luck that she had not dressed for the weather. Still, she did not plan on staying here for long. This was not a holiday, that would come later. Sophia walked from the tree and turned to look at it. It looked precisely the same as it had in her world, but this was not the same place. She knew that instantly. The air was dirty and smelt strange, almost a burning smell; the fumes were deeply unpleasant. The castle stood atop the hill, meaning the cave was by the shoreline. She let her eyes follow the great blue sea, and then she saw the beach and the cave at the end of the coastline.
She wandered along the coast and took in the breeze. This was better, she thought as she sauntered with the golden sand below her feet. The sea breeze was refreshing, and it also blew away the fumes that she had first encountered, leaving the fresh, salty smell of the sea air. How could anyone live in this world? she wondered. They must all be suffocating! The cave was open, and she walked inside.
At the end of the cave, there was a solid wall. Sophia had been told to expect this and to chant the second spell. She said it perfectly, and the stone appeared in the cavern’s centre. It had forced its way up through the ground right before her eyes, pushing the sand and rock from the cave bed to one side. The stone was smaller than she had imagined, barely three feet square, with a slit in the top where the sword had once sat. The sword of legend across so many worlds. Had the sword been here, she would have been a happy bunny. Who needed a mirror when you had the one sword of kings and queens?
The stone had long lost most of its magic. This was a world where magic was on its last legs. The stone was dying its last; the ability to use what power it had, only held by a rare few. Sophia removed the hammer and chisel from her bag and then positioned the chisel on the stone. She hit it with all her might. She brought the hammer down with an almighty thwack. The stone may have lost most of its magic but still held some. A stone that was not enchanted would have let a large chunk fall away. She had hit it hard enough. This one allowed a few pea-sized stones to fall. It was enough; she did not need a sizeable chunk. It was not the size that mattered, she chuckled to herself, it was how you used it. She picked up the tiny stones and repeated the spell; the large stone vanished before her eyes, sucked back into the underworld, the land beneath her feet. She returned to the tree and away from this strange, stinky land.
It was winter back in her world, and the frosty crispness of the air hit her the instant she emerged from the tree. Sophia had not noticed it in the other direction. She checked her bag, half-expecting the small stones to have vanished, but they had not. She had three of them. She held them in her hand before dropping them back into the bag. Only one would be needed. She headed back upstairs and back to the loft and mirror. The mirror glowed in front of her. A shine illuminated from the silvery metal that it seemed to hold deep within. “Do you have what I asked?” Lilith asked her.
“I do,” Sophia replied.
“Then do what I ask,” Lilith ordered. Sophia had no intention of setting this creature free without striking a deal. She knew she was potentially dealing with a demoness, hell (maybe), the first demon, or so the stories told. She still did not believe, not really, but why take an unnecessary risk? She was going to protect herself first. “You have said you never lie.” This was not a question; it was a statement.
Oh, for the love of all things evil, here we go, Lilith thought. “It is true; I do not lie,” and it was somewhat true. Why would she lie when she could avoid or misdirect? Besides, she had said, ‘do not’, not, ‘can not’. “Anything we agree on now, you will keep your word?” Sophia asked.
“My word is my bond. It is all I have,” Lilith had replied, disguisedly sweetly.
“Then I have two conditions.” Lilith had been about to ask her to name them, but Sophia continued. “One, I want to be free to do what I want. I don’t want anyone in this castle to look for me. Two, I never want to see, hear, feel, or sense you or any of your minions again or anyone connected with you. After this point, you must never attempt to contact, harm, or otherwise interfere with my life.”
Had she been less selfish and less of a bitch, she probably would have thought to protect at least her world, if not all the others. Unfortunately, as we know, she was spoilt and only ever thought of herself.
Lilith would hold herself to what she promised. She would give her word occasionally, and she would make deals often. She always did it carefully. She knew how to handle this; she would give the Princess precisely what she wanted. She had to wait. Too soon, and the little shit might smell the trap. Take too long, and knowing the little brat, she’d get bored and leave. Such is the attention span of youth.
Sophia waited. Lilith counted down in her head from fifteen. She wanted to give the illusion that she was thinking it over. “You have my word,” she finally said. Sophia took one stone from her bag and threw it at the mirror.
There was no force involved. She did not need to throw it hard; the slightest contact would be enough. The mirror cracked the second the stone touched it, splitting in two straight down the middle. A small bolt of black lightning struck down at the very centre of the silvery pane. The brilliant metallic look vanished. It left only a cracked, clear pane of glass. The Elden wood behind it still looked as good as new. Sophia waited, expecting the worst. The moment the stone had touched the mirror, she had thought it a bad idea, but nothing happened.
Then the castle shook, then the ground, and finally the world.
Sophia dashed down the castle stairs once the shaking had stopped. She needed to see what had happened. She had to see what she had done. Horror filled her mind and body. It sucked her soul into the lowest part of her belly and held it there. Massive tree branches had breached the castle walls and windows, impaling people upon them. They were hanging from the branches like Christmas decorations on a tree. Blood dripped along the branches and onto the floor. The drips held a brutal and painful fascination.
Sophia rushed into the throne room, and she found the same. Her parents and everyone else hung from the branches that had penetrated the walls. Parts were on the floor, and parts were entangled from where the trees had entered. The lifeless bodies were draped with blood running down their clothes. The drip-drip of the blood was maddening. It seemed to echo and be amplified by the old stone walls. A reminder in full Dolby ATMOS of what she had unleashed. The drips and drops bounced from the walls to her ears and back. Sophia looked at her parents and tried to scream. No sound emerged. Her vocal cords were paralysed by shock. She then remembered something her father had once said. She had been playing, climbing trees, and he caught her as she had fallen. “You’ll be the death of me, young lady,” he said. And she had been. This time, the scream came; it came fast and loud. It was still insufficient to dampen the dripping noises that seemed to holiday in her head.
The world shook once more, suddenly covered in a blanket of darkness. Outside, the world had been covered in trees, each reaching as far as Sophia could see. The trees stretched over roads, holding each other like humans with linked hands at a May Day fete. They had blanked out the sunlight, allowing only the tiniest haze of light through. Each one was a separate pathway to another world. Now able to be seen by every man, woman and child left in this world. Outside the castle was a branch with a note pinned to it.
“Thank you, Sophia. You will never be bothered by anyone in the castle ever again, as I promised. Also, as agreed, this will be the last you shall see of me.