Freebie Mondays: Mirror Mirror On the Wall

Freebie Mondays: Mirror Mirror On the Wall

This fairy tale based random picture prompt took a dark turn… but I really like how it turned out! So much so, I’m tempted to turn it into a series of fairy tale object stories…

(Find more random picture prompts here!)
. . .

A thick layer of dust covered every surface, illustrating how long it had been since someone wandered into this portion of the palace. The royal family was always building, always expanding the palace wings. And each time they created a newer, more modern living area, they closed off one of the older wings, allowing it to fall into disrepair.

Many of their treasures ultimately ended up here, shoved into the dark recesses of the old wine cellar. Beyond the dust haze cast by her passage, the crates, chests and covered objects provided plenty of places to hide while she waited for the chaos above to blow over. All Shayith need do was kick up a massive whirlwind of settled grime. That way, if anyone came looking for her, all parts of the room would be equally disturbed, no trace of her footprints left to give her away.

She had reason to regret her rash actions when she pulled the first thick canvas away from the bundle of old paintings it protected. So many fine particles flew up her nose and down her throat that a coughing fit bent her double as she labored to expel the tiny intruders.

Her lungs seemed to burn for a small eternity before she finally managed to inhale without freshly scraping her throat. By now, her windpipe felt raw.

She cast about for something she could use to cover her face, but quickly realized she would only be welcoming more of the dust into her lungs if she used anything she found here. At last, she dug a hand into her sole pocket and came away with a tattered cloth handkerchief.

It would have to do.

She bound the small square of cloth across the bottom of her face as best she could, then went about her work. She pulled more canvas coverings from their moorings, throwing more and more grime into the air. Brown snow fluttered thick and heavy about her head and shoulders, but she ignored it. She tried to lift the canvases, to swirl them across her footprints, but they were all too heavy. She would be hard pressed simply to put them back in their original places.

She needed something lighter.

Pressing her makeshift mask tighter against her face, she scanned the dimly lit room through the thick gloom cast by her actions. She might not make much of a regal lady, might not have made a good impression at the ball, but she was certainly good at ruining everything she touched.

Something in the corner caught her eye, a shockingly pristine white cloth that seemed to repel every particle of dust that drew near. That should be light enough to sweep the floor. Then she could put everything back and press herself into a corner.

Granted, if the royal guard were on their way, they would probably come upon her midway through her preparations, but it was too late to turn back now.

Shayith dodged palates and crates as she darted across the room, finally coming to rest beside the white cloth. It was shockingly soft between her fingers – too fine a cotton to have been tossed into a cellar corner – but Shayith didn’t have much time to wonder about it.

She jerked hard to clear the cloth from its mooring. It came free with shocking ease, spilling her onto her rear in the dirt. The fine sequins of her dress were unlikely ever to come clean, but then again she didn’t exactly want to show her face above again after all that had happened.

She waved away the newest flurry of dust particles kicked up by her fall and found herself staring up at a work of art unlike any she had ever seen.

It was a mirror, it’s surface as smooth as a still mountain lake. It seemed to absorb and reflect what little light Shayith had brought with her, suddenly illuminating the room as if it were brightest noon.

As far as she could tell, the surface was unmarred by age or scratches, so perfectly tempered it reflected every detail of the room behind her without a hint of flaw or distortion. Even her face as she rose to more closely examine the treasure seemed razor sharp, cast in sharper relief than any high-quality photograph ever taken by a digital camera, despite the dust still settling behind her.

The mirror’s perfectly circular edge was bordered by fine gold filigree, so delicate and intricate, Shayith feared it might crumble beneath the slightest of pressure. She wasn’t sure what held the mirror against the wall, but the anchor must have been strong for it to hold this long and not shake loose when she pulled away the cloth covering.

The mirror had to be old – it had been down here at least two centuries, maybe even longer. Yet it could have been forged yesterday so clean and crisp were its lines and edges.

Utterly entranced, Shayith found herself reaching for the cloth covering the lower half of her face. Some irrepressible urge to see her whole face drove her to ignore the dust rain still falling behind her.

As soon as the mask fell away, her breath caught in her throat.

For the first time, her image struck her own eyes as beautiful.

All her life, Shayith had been instructed on the fine art of being a lady. She knew how to dress the part, how to paint her face to make it look the part. She knew how to walk and how to talk. She knew how to shift her eyes just so and make interesting shapes with her lips in order to express entire concepts.

But she had never been good at it. Even her mother agreed, her efforts tended to fall quite short. Tonight was supposed to be the night she rose above all that, the night she proved herself worthy. And she had utterly failed to impress. She may as well  have fallen flat on her face in the middle of the dance floor – that might have been kinder.

Now she found herself reaching for the mirror, tempted to caress the delicate lines of her face reflected on its surface. But her fingers stopped just inches short of the image. She simply could not bring herself to smudge such an elegant artifact.

“Mirror, mirror…” she murmured, the words barely more than an exhaled breath. What stories could you tell if you could talk? This mirror must have belonged to a queen! The question was: which one?

“Care to finish that query?”

The voice seemed to materialize from some great distance. It had no source, but rang clearly through the room, causing Shayith to jump.

She glanced around, frantically searching the room for signs of discovery, but there was no one else here with her.

Her gaze returned to the mirror. Her image still dominated its reflection, her olive skin now streaked with dirt, her almond eyes shining with confusion and awe. Her black hair was gathered into an intricate pattern atop her head, still regal despite all the rest.

But now that she looked closer she saw something else; the faint outline of eyes much sharper and more decorated than her own. She saw the thin line of a nose and the shape of full, voluptuous lips that formed a mischievous grin.

“I’m afraid you need to finish the question, or I won’t be able to answer,” the voice almost seemed to purr.

So this was that mirror! The magic mirror, banished from the palace upon the mad queen’s death.

But why put it here, where any poor sod could stumble upon it? Why not lock it away, bury it or, better yet, break it?

If she were wise, Shayith would turn away, run back to the seeking guard and her disappointed parents, anything that would take her away from this place. But she had never encountered a magical artifact before – much less a magical artifact that could talk!

She swallowed against a small lump in her throat, ignored the pounding of her heart in her ears and recited, “Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest one of all?”

A light chuckle issued from the face in the mirror as it grew more prominent, causing Shayith’s figure to fade into the background. “No doubt that is the question they circulate in the stories. But I’m afraid it doesn’t give me enough information, darling. Would you like to see the fairest person in all the land? The fairest woman? The fairest man?”

Shayith had been under the impression that she merely had to recite the rhyme in order to activate the mirror’s gift, so she merely stared at it, puzzled, as it continued to speak.

“It doesn’t have to be the fairest, you know,” the mirror announced when she didn’t respond. “It could be the strongest. The funniest. The most graceful. What is the fairest anyway? How does one measure that? By looks alone? Or does the heart have something to do with it?”

“I… I thought that’s all you could do,” Shayith admitted at last. “Identify the fairest in the land, that is.”

Again the mirror laughed, a sound like bells chiming in a distant tower. “Oh no, child. Granted, that was all the old queen ever asked me. She was very concerned about her status, you know. But I can do many things. What good is a magic mirror if it can only do one thing?”

Shayith supposed it had a point there. “What… what else can you do?” she asked, breathless, wondering if – perhaps – there was some way this thing could make her the lady she had never been able to be.

Again, the mirror’s full lips formed a grin. Whatever entity lay within the mirror’s surface, Shayith never saw its whole head. She could barely make out the details of its face, the eyes some odd shade of purple cloaked in smoky blue shadows. The lips were rose red, though their edges tended to fade whenever it spoke.

“I can locate people – and objects. Comes with the territory, you know? You have to be able to find the best or the worst if people want to know about them. But that’s only the first half of the process. If you’re interested in the fairest, I could make you the fairest. Why look when you can just as easily become?”

Shayith frowned. “If that’s true, why didn’t the mad queen just ask you to make her the fairest person in the land?”

“Well… she was vain, that one,” the mirror huffed, clearly displeased. “She wanted to achieve her prize all on her own. A waste of my talents, if you ask me. Besides… I suspect she liked being a queen and the fairest more than one or the other.”

“I thought you said you could make her the fairest?” Shayith protested.

Laughter again – was it her imagination or did it sound mocking this time? “Well, of course I could. But I can’t transform the body. I’m an object locator, my dear. I shift the properties of objects between each other.”

Shayith stared blankly, not sure what to make of this answer.

The mirror sighed. “I could put her in the fairest. But then whoever had been fairest would have been queen.”

“Oh…” Understanding dawned across Shayith’s face on the mirror’s surface. Hadn’t it said something about the most graceful? “So… You could make me a real lady?”

“Any lady you like,” the mirror agreed with a wicked grin. “You just need to pick one.” And the image on its surface shifted to that of the ballroom.

Up there, the chaos seemed to have subsided. If there were fewer occupants of the grand ball, Shayith couldn’t tell from this angle. Couples spun across the dance floor. Sequins flashed in the bright light and skirts swished.

As she scanned the crowd, the mirror seemed to shift, providing a fresh perspective, and Shayith caught sight of the princess in the background, her golden curls falling about her shoulders in a delicate cascade.

“Her!” Shayith exclaimed, pointing to the figure. Certainly the princess knew how to be a lady; she always seemed picture perfect when she was in public. And if not, what did it matter? No one questioned a princess’s behavior. Perhaps she could even make Shayith something respectable – assuming she ended up in Shayith’s body. That seemed to be how the transfer worked.

The mirror chuckled. “A fine choice, child. Very well. Lean close to me, that’s it. Now set your fingers against my surface. Very good. Now, clear your mind. Allow me to carry you up and out of your body. The transfer will only be disorienting for a moment…”

Shayith did as she was bid, relaxing and focusing on the voice as it filled her ears. She seemed to melt out of her body and into that voice. It filled her, surrounded her, carried her along its dulcet tones.

She felt a gut-wrenching jolt and then a wave of dizziness. When it cleared, Shayith blinked, expecting to find herself back among the music and chatter of the ballroom.

But the room she occupied now was utterly silent. And not just silent, desolate, devoid of decoration. Eerie green light burned in some distant torch sconce. There was a bed behind her and a thread worn chair, but nothing else seemed within easy reach.

She spun in a circle, coming back to her original position. A wide, circular mirror filled most of the near wall. It’s surface was as smooth and pristine as the one she found in the cellar, but it was plain, lacking the delicate golden decoration of the artifact she found.

“Where am I?” she demanded. Her voice echoed back to her as they filled the empty space of the small room. “What’s happened? How do I get to the princess?”

Laughter filled her ears though, again, Shayith couldn’t identify where it came from.

Her face appeared in the mirror, all soft edges and sharp angles. It looked subtly different than before. Calmer, more confident, despite the dirt still marring her cheeks.

“What have you done?” she cried, realizing with a sinking sense of dread that there were no doors or windows in this room, only the mirror and the image of the cellar she had come from.

Her voice barked a laugh as a wicked smile transformed her face. Shayith couldn’t imagine ever looking that way, ever feeling cruel enough to summon such a cold-hearted expression.

“Why, we have switched places, my sweet. That old queen may have been boring, but she was smarter than you. She knew better than to give herself over to a thing of powerful magic. But don’t worry, I’m sure you’ll find someone someday who wants to switch places with you.”

Shayith’s body set her hands on her hips and shook her head before grinning again.

“But I didn’t agree to switch places!” she insisted, fighting a wave of growing despair. “You tricked me!”

“Did I?” her mocking voice replied. She watched her body set one elbow against the opposite arm, then set a thoughtful finger against the base of her chin. “You wanted to be someone other than you were. You wanted your body to be more lady-like than you could make it. Is that not so? Is that not what I have given you?”

Shayith’s mouth fell open in shock.

“Don’t worry, little dear,” the invader said in a sing-song tone. “I will carry you with me so that I can check in from time to time.”

Shayith’s hands moved in a circle around the outside of the mirror, the intricate motions of her fingers just barely visible within her range of view. It was grossly disorienting to watch herself move independently of her own thoughts and desires. But the mirror here seemed only to reflect the outside world, so she had no idea what her new body – if it was a new body – looked like.

Soon the image beyond the mirror shifted. She found herself looking down on her body from a high angle. Behind her, on the floor, the dust had settled in new channels around the abandoned cloth and canvases. As her body shifted, she saw a wide, clean spot on the wall where the mirror once hung.

Though the size of the mirror in her room, and the span of its view, remained the same, she got the impression the mirror in the outside world had changed. Shayith’s body gripped it as if it were a hand mirror.

Again, she grinned. “There we are. Now, you may as well make yourself at home. It will be a long time before you find someone as naive as yourself.”

“But you haven’t told me how to use this thing!” Shayith protested, hoping she could find a way to escape her prison if she kept the woman in her body talking. “How do I locate the things people ask me for?”

“Oh you won’t be able to do that!” The other Shayith laughed. “That magic came from me, love.” And Shayith set her hand against her chest. “I was a powerful sorceress back in my day. Until some damned wizard trapped me in his magic cell.” She clicked her tongue. “It’s a shame he probably isn’t still around, because I would very much like to shove him in there. Which might just let you out.

“Oh well. Anyway, all you have to do is get someone to agree to switch with you. You don’t have to tell them what they’re getting. Perhaps I’ll take pity and leave you somewhere you’ll be easy to find.”

With that, Shayith’s body folded the mirror toward some dark shape and her view of the cellar disappeared. For several seconds, she heard distant humming. Then silence utterly consumed her new home.

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