The Space Witch, by Schuyler Hernstrom

His friends and allies lie scattered and dead about the base of the Black Pyramid, having given their lives to protect its cosmic secrets! Attalse alone now stands between the dreaded Space Witch and her desire to usher in an endless darkness!

With a heavy heart, Attalse surveyed the battlefield. His comrades lay dead alongside their foes, the terrible revenants, those raised by the Space Witch to fight under her black banner. Only Attalse remained. His crystal armor, proof against spell or beam, was chipped in twoscore places. Through a dozen minor wounds his blood seeped, dark red against the spatters of his foes’ black ichor.

His brothers looked peaceful now, as when in repose around the barrack’s pleasant gardens, reciting verse for each other’s amusement. At his back was the Black Pyramid. The twin-star suns were sinking behind it. The pyramid’s shadow crept across the ground, a blanket of night to cover those resting in eternal slumber.

The feeling of being watched pulled him from his black reverie.

There across the field, the Space Witch stood in her chariot, glaring. With a snap of the reins, the steeds pulled, spitting purple flame from their haunches.

Attalse sheathed his sword at her approach and slung his beam-spitter across his broad back. She was naked but for a fluttering black cloak, her blue-white skin brilliant against its oily darkness. Her black high boots trod the bloody ground as she alit.

The warrior steeled himself against the charm of her voice as she spoke.

“Attalse, is it not? I watched you rally your men along the north ridge. It was a stirring sight, you at the fore, cutting a swathe through my ranks. But in the end, the numbers told.”

“But I still stand. And all your husks lay broken.”

She smiled with full lips, painted deep indigo, parting just enough to expose the sharp points of her teeth.

“You are all that remains. The spells marked to destroy me have gone with your Sorcerer into the void. And chivalry prevents you from striking me. I have won.”

“Though I may not strike you, I will not give way.” Attalse’s back stiffened as he pushed his helmet up to expose his face in the manner of the old hoplites. He met the Witch’s gaze, his deep set blue eyes fixed on hers, swirling orbs of deep green. Her black hair was loose under her elaborate cowl, stirring slightly in the breeze as seaweed might underneath gentle waves.

She laughed icy chimes which, carried by the dusty wind, echoed like music in the valleys.

“We are at an impasse. I am in no danger from your blade, and you are safe from my spells while your armor remains intact. And I imagine you are unwilling to break your oaths.”

Attalse’s expression was grim. “You are correct.”

“And I am unwilling to break mine.” The Witch placed her hands on her hips, shaking her head as she thought.

The warrior scoffed. “What oaths does the Space Witch swear?”

She wore an irritated expression as she replied, “Foolish man. Night whispers in my ear this very moment. I bear fealty to things which you cannot imagine. All throughout the universe are shadow and fog. Their caress envelopes me. Their love is a tonic against mortality. Their power is my well, to draw from as I please.”

Attalse’s face adopted a quizzical look.

“Is your form a bewitchment? Are you, in fact, female? One of your stature would seem to be beyond such considerations.”

“Have you ever had a nightmare, warrior?”

“Yes, of course.”

“Then you have known children born from my womb.”

The Space Witch drummed her fingers against her smooth thigh while her other hand massaged her pointed chin. Her eyes gleamed with sudden inspiration.

“It shall be a test of willpower!”

She strutted forward confidently and continued:

“If your cause is so just, your heart so pure, then it should be nothing for you to withstand my kiss, noble warrior. If you should, I will consign myself to the void for one thousand times one thousand years.”

The warrior spared a glance behind him. There the pyramid sat, bathed in orange and purple as the suns descended. Within its labyrinthine chambers lay the secret that would enable the witch to undo the balance that had governed the universe for the last hundred billion years. He felt weak with exhaustion and fear. It was not supposed to be like this. His brothers and the Sorcerer were to have conquered this menace together. But he was alone. There was nothing to do but accept her challenge.

Attalse nodded.

The Witch smiled, full mouth twisted in wicked glee. She pushed his helmet back further until it fell to the ground. Her long nails teased the dark curls, still matted with sweat from the battle, which fell to his shoulders.

He bent forward and their lips found each other.

He was a man like any other and had known love and lust. But now, he understood the lure of the dark. He felt the desperate hunger of wolves hunting under moonlight. He felt the comfort of envelopment, submission to a formless totality. The weight of eternity was forged to the desperate desire common to all life, now a hammer to beat upon his soul for all time. He felt his soul slip to a place beyond recall.

But as he fell away, for the briefest of moments, the pyramid appeared before his mind’s eye.

An eternity later, the kiss came to an end. The Space Witch stepped back as her eyes slowly opened. Her face showed unexpected displeasure. The warrior had not stepped forward to follow her.

“Impossible! You have defeated me!”

With an angry flourish of her cloak she turned and mounted her chariot, pointing the steeds to where no light had ever reached. In a moment she was gone from view.

“No, I haven’t,” Attalse whispered to no one.

He lay on the battlefield and let the lingering weight of the kiss carry him to where he could rejoin his fallen brothers.

Schuyler Hernstrom’s work has appeared in Heroic Fantasy Quarterly and LORE Magazine. He lives and works in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He can be reached at hernstrom at gmail dot com.

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