Pooled dew collects along the cave’s corridor. An algae bouquet coats the passageway. Each hollow splash of my step echoes off greystone walls, ripples beyond the dim narrow hall, and ricochets back to me, its source.
In the distance, the cave floor undulates with motion, an erratic rising and falling in shallow waves like final breaths. Critters skitter by on both sides. Toward me, then fast past.
She's awake. Hungry. Waiting.
My constant forward trek keeps the cave at bay. One moment of rest, of reflection, of regret, and the mud-lined marble floor opens beneath me. No soul ever returned to warn what happens next.
Fear increases my pace. The torch in my left hand flickers, and I adjust my step. Once lost, the flame won’t reignite. And though the burning wood weighs heavy in my grasp, the dread of darkness, true darkness, spurs me to persist. My only hope is to seek The Judge. My only chance is to please Her. The fate of the village depends on it.
So does my soul.
Despite the red fire-dance at the head of my torch, the air chills. Dead cold in the absence of life. My witching hour nears. I am close.
The torch flames whip as I slow; each heated lash flashes a warning. The too-bright light threatens to blind more than the darkness.
At last, I reach the ingress to the cave’s core. My trail ends. The ground beneath my feet rumbles, rolling like an unborn infant shifting within abdomen skin. An invisible blast surrounds me, circular in its unseen form. My torch flame palpitates to a steady throb. Every crack and pop stops.
Soundless in the Silent Ring, double stone doors part before me.
The floor stills.
Three red jewels glow within the sanctum. Summoned by the trigonal light, I creep toward the scarlet beacon. The ground holds my weight, then crumbles beneath each step. Bone-jagged remains gouge my soft soles. Cold ash supplants my torch. Charred dust slips through my fingers. The dim room darkens.
Black vapors wisp through the crimson light, flowing, spreading, binding to the three stones. I sense the doors shut behind me, feel the screams of those who failed before me. The unworthy.
The red trifecta blinks. Sound returns.
The room throbs with a pulse. Liquid trickles unseen. A soft lullaby coaxes me to the light, where the dark mist materialises. Over. Around. Under three savage eyes.
Her eyes assessing me. Her eyes passing judgment. Her eyes locked on mine.
In unison, they burnish in alternating shades: ruby, onyx, molten gold. Then one-by-one they fluctuate, cycling their hues. The song fades. My eyes tear. Hers fix on gold.
Too scared to flee. Too petrified to kneel. Too frightened to break my gaze. I absorb her terrific beauty.
Raven strands, wide and wild, unfurl in impossible wind. Curves form within a sable gown. She levitates, fluid arms extended. My body lifts, mirroring Her elevated pose.
Power stirs within my core. A force compiles in my chest.
My lips part.
Like my eyes, I cannot shut them. Cannot slow my soul’s flow. Cannot stop myself from pouring into Her.
Fecund soil perfumes the air. Heat returns. Vision clears. My eyes sting when I look on Her. Sting more if I look away. Her image holds me captive. I am Hers.
Helpless. Breathless. I accept Her favourable verdict. Fear fades to fulfilment. Strength spreads. Power flows. The empty shell that housed me falls to its skeletal grave. All that was me is within Her.
She is me. I am She.
Author and actress Tonya Todd plunged into Sin City young enough to immerse herself in bright lights, big city, and bigger dreams. Her fiction explores the hues of what drives us all: darkness and light, relationships and desires. Regardless of genre, she is invested in diverse representation in both the literary and cinematic worlds she inhabits. She works at building a strong literary community that celebrates and embraces a variety of voices. Her involvement in the literary, theatre, and filmmaking communities provides a platform to champion marginalised artists.