The Lorelei Signal

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The Goddess of Karrara

Written by Kelly Matsuura / Artwork by Lee Ann Barlow

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From a young age, magick burned within my hands, aching to heal and create. But I was arrogant and impatient. I ignored the rules. I never feared consequences.

 

Am I a god? No, I am flesh and blood, as are all my kin. I am a fire mage of the old Delta clan, people of the fire mountain and ash skies. When the mountain is restless, so are we. When it hungers, we are empty inside until satiation comes.

 

You asked me earlier for a story. Well, I have many stories, I have lived many long years in this world. I will tell you one now while you’re resting, but you must let me tell it in my own way.

 

As a child, I had few friends. My mother kept me isolated, insisting my powers would develop further away from other children. It was important to connect to the land and all nature, she said. To control my fire, I had to be one with it. I learned to walk on the burning coals and hold a steady flame in my open palms.

 

I enjoyed mother’s lessons and my growing skill, yet was lonely for company. One day, while practicing a fire spell of mother’s, my mind wandered, and I pictured a small brown bear like one I had seen a few times by the river. I layered words from the old spell with new ideas and called for that bear to be my friend. To my surprise and joy I awoke from my trance-like state to witness the first fire-shifter of my creation. There was the young bear I had admired, seated back on his hind legs and licking one paw, however its form flickered from solid, natural, to the swirling curls of yellow flames that were distinctive of my clan’s magick.

 

The bear turned my way and held my gaze. I admired the way fire rippled along its fur, across it’s back and down it’s legs, and how the tiniest of flames outlined the bear’s black coal eyes. It opened its mouth and shot a flame my way, but I felt no threat from the creature. He was showing off for me.

 

I walked to him and stroked the top of his head. He responded with the sweetest sound, a cross between a low growl and the purr of a wild cat. He was mine. I laughed then, with my head thrown back, my hair blowing in the wind and my voice echoing through the forest. I had magick like no other. I could make beasts! Living creatures sprung from my own imagination.

 

I would not give up the spell to anyone. This led to months of arguments with Mother, but I was eventually left alone.

 

That all happened a long time ago, however. It is the true beginning, the time when I made the first fire-shifter. But yes, I know that’s not what you want to know. You are only interested in how I made him; the Destroyer.

 

That is a difficult tale to share, even now.

 

No-one ever figured out it was I who had the power to make such a man. People were so fooled, willing to believe any person of magick who claimed to be the creator. I simply sat back and kept my distance from it all and gave up seeing my old fire-shifter familiars for many years—to protect them.

 

Alright, I’ll tell you everything. But only because I’m old and the secret will remain between us. Also, I believe you are the only one strong enough to destroy the Man of Fire once and for all.

 

The fire-bear was uncontrolled; simply willed and sparked to life by my desire for a friend. But the fire-life spell worked over and over, virtually any animal I wanted to make, I could. The fire-shifters were always young though; I assume because when I made the first one, I had specifically wanted a baby bear. They would all grow to full size at a fast rate however, and all behaved as expected for the type of animal they were. I did make a few crossbreeds, but they didn’t survive long.

 

Ok, I’m getting to the man now. Don’t rush me, it isn’t easy to retrace one’s fateful steps.

 

Back then I ran a market stall, selling tonics and simple potions to the village folk. I never took the fire-shifters there; only the members of my clan even knew they existed.

 

One day, a lady in mourning clothes approached me, and asked if I could communicate with the dead. I told her no, I was a fire-witch and had no connection to the underworld. I recommended a few witches, but the woman shook her head. No, they weren’t right for what she wanted.

 

She thanked me for the advice and handed me an envelope. She then disappeared into the crowd and I lost sight of her. New customers approached then, and I forgot about the envelope until I was home that evening.

 

I opened it, expecting a small cash gift, but all it contained was a photograph of a man in fine, gentleman’s robes. Her husband, I had to assume. It was such an odd thing; I had no clue why she had left it with me. I did keep it in my purse for a few weeks, on the chance she returned to the markets to explain, but I didn’t see her again until many months later.

 

I was strangely drawn to the photograph. I looked at his face several times a day, wondering what his name was, what his voice had sounded like, and whether he had been a kind man. He was quite stiff and posed in the picture, but had good features and smooth, thick hair. Handsome.

 

After about a month of this, I grew tired of the situation. Thoughts of the man and the image of his face burned in my mind and distracted me from more important things. On impulse one night, I tossed the photograph into the cooking fire and recited a few words of a resting spell for the dead. I hadn’t known the man at all, and I doubted my words reached him, but it had felt right at the time.

 

What I didn’t know however, was that the photograph itself was already spelled—to link the image of the man to a witch capable of bringing him to life again. And that was all I could think about from that moment onwards. I became utterly obsessed with him—still not knowing his name, remember—to the point where I could think of no-one else, and could never have a restful sleep.

 

No, no, it wasn’t a love spell. He belonged to Radya, I was simply chosen to burn for his physical presence in the world because of my talent for making fire-creatures.

 

Radya? Forgive me, yes, she was the woman in mourning. She also did the linking spell herself, as it turned out. She wasn’t very powerful at magick, nowhere near my capability, but she was creative with the little magick she could access. As angry as I was she had involved me and so deceitfully, I had to admire her cunning in the matter.

 

Back to the man. I fought off the longing for several weeks, trying to reverse the linking spell too, but had no success. I started seeing him around me, like a ghost. He wasn’t there, but he wouldn’t disappear either. He never spoke. How I ached to hear his voice in the room, to know what he sounded like and what he enjoyed talking about.

 

I was spelled to want this, you understand, yet was fully aware that it wasn’t my true desire. Still, when you are stuck in a spell like this, it is so intrusive and controlling in your life, there’s nothing to be done. In the end, I rationalized it was just a lonely, mediocre witch wanting her husband back beside her. It didn’t seem dangerous by any means. I envisioned making the fire-version of him and taking him to her, then I’d be done with them both.

 

Well of course I was foolish! Go to any village in this realm and they have witnessed the Destroyer’s wrath in one form of another. He wasn’t like the animals I created—they were all new spirits and peaceful. Even the carnivores were placid, having no need to eat real food. They all existed to be companions and be loyal yet had no desires of their own.

 

The man should have been the same, just a flamed physical replica of the husband Radya couldn’t forget. He wasn’t supposed to have a real personality at all. But someone or something came from the spirit world when I did the fire-life spell. Something never seen before in this world.

 

Yes, he was born a child, just like the animals. I tracked down Rayda in Foxglove Valley and took him to her. She was overjoyed, and not in the least upset when I drained all her magick. I stayed a short time and she told me a little about her husband. His name was Dinaf, or was it Dinall? I’m not sure now. It was a long time ago and not important in the overall story.

 

Anyway, I left, satisfied I was done with it all. The linking spell was gone, and I looked forward to being myself again. I did wonder how long it had taken for the man to grow full-size, or even if he had. He was my first fire-person, and I had warned Rayda he might not survive long.

 

You know a lot of this next part: how the fire-man grew with a hunger for human flesh. He would enter a village just as the sun was rising, and every hut would be burned to the ground by night fall. The poor villagers would then be found, mere bones and ash. A few surviving witnesses saw him eating people though, as they screamed from the flames on their skin and watched their loved ones dying around them. He was ruthless and indiscriminate.

 

Word spread quickly of this demon. The devil himself, they said. As soon as I heard, I packed a bag and headed here to talk with two teenagers who had managed to flee and find safety. Karrara is one of the few lasting communities in this region with castle walls, so it was not surprising that so many other people sought shelter here as well.

 

I told no-one I had made the creature. Instead, I offered my aid in locating him and thought it would be a simple matter to kill him. Unfortunately, he and I had a connection. I could find the direction he had walked, but he then knew I was following him, and I could not gain on him. I could also not get close enough to set any kind of holding spell on him either. Finding myself at a dead end, I returned to Rayda’s house. There at least, I thought I could learn more about her husband and if there was any cause for his violence to be understood.

 

She was a pile of bones too. His first victim, most likely. Her death proved to me the man had only her husband’s face, but there was no trace of soul in the creature I had made for her.

 

What’s that, dear? Yes, I did say you might be able to stop him, but that is a discussion for another day. When you are stronger. You really should sleep now.

 

All right, one last question.

 

The Destroyer disappeared for a few years. Even I lost connection with him for some of that time. I knew he was still alive out there somewhere though. A creature like that would not be killed easily, and if another witch had succeeded in ending him, I would have felt it. That’s just how magick works.

 

So, many common people went back to their villages and normal lives, but I could never let my guard slip. I knew he’d return when he was hungry again. When he finally did, more people died, however there were more survivors this time too because they knew what he was and what he could do. They were faster to react and take their families away to safety

again.

 

He’s still out there. Hunting. He can’t breach the castle walls here in Karrara, so don’t be afraid. You are safe, protected by the wall, the guards, and my magick shields.

 

Sleep now. You need more time. I’ll be back when you are at full strength.

 

~ * ~

 

Good, you’re awake. You slept for so many days this time, I wasn’t sure you would ever stop growing.

 

Let me look at you. Perfect! My greatest creation yet. Every muscle strong, your eyes hold firm determination. You will dominate him. He will not see your power until it’s too late.

 

Your name is Lora. I’m sorry it took so long for me to choose it. Your name was drawn from the source magick I used in your creation spell. A strong earth name.

 

You see, I realized the error I made in creating the man. I focused only on his image, making a half-person, and this left an empty body for a demon to possess. You are a hybrid of magick. Not pure fire like him and my animals, but a blend of fire and earth. The cost was high to work with the earth mages, they would not help me for naught, but in the end we all want the demon destroyed. I will pay what I must for being his creator.

 

Enough of that. It’s time to take you outside and set you on your path. Come with me now and stay close to my side. Don’t mind the stares of the locals, you are a great wonder to them. Something they don’t understand but have put all their faith in. They will worship you for centuries to come.

 

Ah, you like the world? The sunshine? It is marvelous. I love this land, perhaps more than my home region. Here, the mountains touch the heavens, and the forests are so green! Like dark jade. The waters around here are naturally healing and divine, the best in all these lands.

 

Mind your step here. We’ll first go up to the parapet, so I can show you the outside land and the path you must follow. I’m confident you won’t need much direction though, once you leave the castle walls you will feel him, and he, you. He will head this way and you will go to join with him.

 

Do you understand you’re purpose now? Your life is bound to his, but you have the extra earth magick inside. It will devour you both at the moment of connection. His fire will live no more.

 

I hope you will be born again somewhere. Perhaps with the earth fae, they showed great interest in you at your infant stage. I hope they will protect you in a way I never can.

 

Do not call me Mother. I’ve never done anything to earn that right. Even my beautiful fire animals don’t call me that.

 

Are you ready? I’ll say goodbye to you from here. I want to stay here on the parapet and watch your journey. Enjoy the walk; every step you take in this world. I’m sorry you will only live a few days more yet know that you will save this land and every living creature in it.

 

Join with the Destroyer and save us. Please, Lora. Right my terrible wrong and be the great goddess this land has prayed for.

 

~ * ~

 

It is done. I know you can’t hear me talking to you now, you are returned to dust and I have no magick, but I feel some comfort saying these last words to you as I kneel at your shrine.

 

Many others kneel with me.

 

Everyone in Karrara rushed to the lookouts and parapets to view the incredible orange fire, miles in the distance. We knew what it was, but only I felt the magick drain from you, him, and I. I screamed in agony alongside the two of you, though no flames touched my skin.

 

I think you called me ‘Mother’ again, or was I delusional? I don’t deserve anyone’s respect or love, but if you did call for me in your final seconds, it is a gift I will hold onto.

 

Your shrine is a work of delightful beauty and craftsmanship. I don’t know the local artist’s name, but he is a gifted young man who clearly fell in love with you in the seconds you passed by him on the castle stairs that day. His love for you shines in every curve and groove in the stone he carved in your image. It is a true likeness and will long stand after all of us are gone and a new generation are left to care for this place.

 

Lora, Great Goddess of Karrara, Savior of Fire, and I’ll say this now only because I’m sure you can’t hear it—my daughter. Thank you for your sacrifice. You are divine.

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Kelly Matsuura grew up in Victoria, Australia, but always dreamed she would live abroad. She has lived in China, the USA, and she now lives permanently in Nagoya, Japan.

Kelly’s stories have been published by Harbinger Press, Black Hare Press, A Murder of Storytellers, Ink and Locket Press, and many more. 

As the creator and editor for Insignia Stories, Kelly promotes Asian speculative fiction from writers around the globe, and publishes small ebook anthologies with various Asian fantasy themes.

Connect with Kelly:

Kelly’s blog/website: www.blackwingsandwhitepaper.com

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Twitter: Kelly Matsuura