Freebie Mondays: Mirror Mirror On the Wall (Part 2)

Freebie Mondays: Mirror Mirror On the Wall (Part 2)

Some time ago, I wrote a random picture prompt called Mirror Mirror on the Wall that kicked off my Darkling Faerie tales series. I always wanted to come back and revisit that story with a part 2, and now I finally have.

I wrote this story on stream late last year!
. . .

After the circular mirror adorning one wall of her prison went blank, Shayith melted onto the bed pushed against the far wall and allowed despair to claim her. As far as she could tell, there wasn’t much to her new ‘home’ aside from the walls, the bed, a small corridor and a bathing chamber she could use to relieve herself. The whole thing was lit by a series of torches that had been eerie green when she entered, but seemed to cycle through a series of warm and cool colors – perhaps indicating the change of day and night.

With no way to pass time, and no activities to hand, Shayith simply stared at the space where the smooth ceiling met the featureless wall and counted. She counted until she hit a number somewhere in the area of three thousand two hundred and fifty six before she lost count and decided it wasn’t worth starting over.

In truth, it didn’t seem to be worth doing much of anything. There was nothing resembling a kitchen in her prison. And even if there had been, there was no food stock. It was probably only a matter of a few short days before she died of starvation, and she didn’t imagine they would be pleasant days.

Logic dictated that the prison must hold everything she needed to survive. After all, the old queen who had stolen her body had apparently survived for several centuries within these four walls. Yet the old queen also claimed she was magical, which might account for her survival.

Shayith was simple and plain, barely even capable of serving the role of a noble daughter she had been born and trained into. She didn’t dare hope that some magic would spark in her veins and allow her to take control of her situation.

Perhaps she should simply accept the inevitable.

But the more she thought about it, she realized it was not simple enough for the queen alone to have been magical. After all, there were rules to this dungeon. The queen had to trick her into interacting with it a certain way in order to gain her freedom.

Therefore, if Shayith was able to determine the laws which governed this new space, she might at least be able to make herself more comfortable.

Her stomach rumbled. She wasn’t sure how long she had been here. Aside from all her counting, the only thing that changed was the torch moving from eerie green to dim blue.

She put one hand on her stomach, silently willing her organs to cooperate with her, though she knew the aching cramp growing beneath her fingers was only going to get worse.

With a sigh, she hoisted herself into a sitting position and stared at the full-length circular mirror that adorned the empty wall. In its inert state, it was almost indistinguishable from the wall that held it, aside for a thick oval outline that cast a small shadow on the surface behind it.

“Mirror, mirror on the wall,” she muttered bitterly, though she doubted the old incantation would do much without the power of the witch behind it, “is there something I can eat inside this hall?”

Distant light sparked within the oval. It swirled once, then died away. It was so quick, so sudden, that Shayith convinced herself she must have imagined it. But then the torchlight flared, changing from dim blue to bright orange, and she noticed a shape at the foot of the mirror.

It turned out to be a tray bearing a small silver dish covered by a polished dome. When she lifted the dome, she found food steaming beneath it. A simple yet hearty meal of soup and bread.

Still not entirely sure she hadn’t dreamed the whole thing, Shayith lifted the tray onto her lap, set the dome aside and tasted a spoonful of the soup. It was rich and spicy. It tasted of wild game and root vegetables, and the meat was tender enough that it almost melted in her mouth.

With a soft, appreciative sound, she shoveled spoonful after spoonful into her mouth, until the void in her stomach slackened. It was hard not to gobble it all without regard for decorum – since there was no one to see her now – but the food was so delicious, it seemed worth savoring.

When she finished with the stew, she broke the still warm bread into small pieces and used it to sop up every drop of gravy left in the bowl. She licked her fingers afterward, then set the tray back at the base of the mirror – mostly because she didn’t know what else she was supposed to do with it.

Aside from the reassurance that she wasn’t going to waste away in this horrible place, the meal gave Shayith a revelation: the mirror was the key to this place.

It should have been blindingly obvious, considering it was how she ended up here, but Shayith had never considered herself particularly bright.

No sooner had she set the tray aside than did the torches gutter and return to their soft blue. With a shrug, Shayith settled back on the bed, curled the covers around her and tried to rest her fevered mind.

Sleep did not come. Instead she thought of a dozen queries she would like to set to the mirror. She needed to determine the limitations on the magical artifact. It seemed obvious that she would not be able to ask for a doorway, for example, since the witch hadn’t been able to escape until outside forces became involved. But she might be able to ask for more furniture, some books to read, a notepad for taking notes, something – anything – to help her pass the time without losing her mind.

She must have dozed at some point. She woke to the soft tickle of warm light against the backs of her eyelids, and cracked her eyes open to find the torches had adopted a bright purple glow. She wondered if this represented morning, or if the torches merely changed color at regular intervals. Perhaps they might even react to her moods – they certainly brightened when she needed to see.

But those were all things she could test later. First, she needed to focus on the mirror.

She started with a simple breakfast query, this time asking the mirror for food without speaking a rhyme. It seemed slightly slower to respond but eventually spit out another steaming tray that held an omelet and toast.

Next, she asked for a notepad, this time using the mirror, mirror incantation to get the oval’s attention, though it took her several minutes to come up with a way to rhyme wall with a writing utensil. Eventually she asked for something with which to scrawl, and the mirror provided a lined notebook and black pen.

Once she had a way to record her evidence, Shayith dug in with new queries, asking at first for vague, general things. Eventually she discovered that she could ask for specific things – such as a bagel instead of any old breakfast. Or a cup of coffee with a specific amount of milk and sugar added – convenient, to say the least. She didn’t even actually need to make the queries rhyme – a welcome relief – so long as she told the mirror she was talking to it.

And talk to the mirror she did. After all, she had no one else to talk to. When it became clear that she could ask for just about any household object or food item, she switched tactics.

She was afraid to ask for a door, afraid that would make the mirror stop working for some length of time. So instead she asked for windows. She asked the mirror to show her places. Once again, she started with generic queries, asking to see forests, rivers or roads. These windows never stayed open for very long, but they did give her small previews of the outside world, a small amount of insight into how time turned beyond the realm in which she was trapped.

This must have been part of the witch’s original punishment. Combined with her ability to find whatever she liked with her magic, her captor must have been reminding her that she could look all she wanted but never touch.

At first, Shayith didn’t mind the solitude of her prison. Once she found the controls for the mirror and gained the ability to look upon certain places, she almost enjoyed the escape from the regular day-to-day burdens heaped upon her shoulders by disappointed family members. She asked the mirror for a comfortable arm chair, a reading lamp and a stack of books. She spent hours lounging with hot coffee or tea with a book open on her lap and the mirror displaying the distant rustling of trees in some forest haven.

At night – or what passed for it – when the torches dimmed, she asked the mirror to show her a rainstorm and used the sound to lull her off to sleep.

For a little while, her prison became a paradise in which she dwelt unfettered by the expectations that made her flee the fancy ball to the depths of the palace where the magic mirror hung. She reveled in the solitude, in the ability to do whatever she liked for as long as she liked.

But after what she calculated had been a few months, her joy for the solitude of her haven soured. She grew tired of looking at trees when she could not walk the paths that wove among them. She hated that she could not stretch an arm through the mirror and feel the rain drip over her fingers. Nor could she stick her head through the oval to feel the cool drops across her face, though she often pressed her cheek to the image displayed in the oval and tried to recall what it felt like.

Her haven became a prison again, stale and unchanging. She longed for a chance to play a game that required a second player, or to discuss the books she had spent the last several weeks studying. She even missed her mother’s overbearing presence at the breakfast table and her brothers constantly wrestling with each other in the corridors that made up their mansion. She wanted to take tea with her girlfriends at the shop down the street and browse the wares in the merchant windows instead of having to summon everything to her room by grace of memory.

The mirror could show her things when she asked for them. But true to the words of her captor, it didn’t seem able to find an unspecific item. She couldn’t ask for the library catalog, for example, though she could ask for individual books. This limited her exploration to things she was already aware of, had already experienced or heard about. It meant that nothing new could enter her life. So this little vacation from expectation was about to become dreadfully boring.

As soon as she had this revelation, it seemed to crush her beneath its weight. Everywhere she looked, she found new reminders that she was trapped in a tiny prison with only the limits of her imagination to offer sanctuary. And it turned out she wasn’t nearly as imaginative as she once believed.

“My, my,” a prim voice announced on the heels of a series of tongue clicks. “What have we here? This is not at all what I expected to see.”

The voice was so thick with displeasure, Shayith was sure at first that it was her mother. She sat bolt upright in bed and cast the covers off of her, certain she had finally awakened in her room to a lecture about being late to breakfast.

Instead she found the shambles of her prison – unkempt because she no longer saw a reason to tidy it. Books were strewn about the floor in piles, some of which had been knocked over. Clothing had been crumpled and shoved beneath the base of the bed, though several wrinkled articles still peeked out of the shadows. The remains of meals were always sent back into the mirror, but notebook pages marked with all manner of notes were strewn about the floor as well as the small desk that had been shoved into one corner.

If her mother really had been peering through the mirror, she’d have had plenty to say.

Instead, Shayith looked upon the face of an unfamiliar middle-aged woman. Her hair was golden brown and fell in gentle waves across her shoulders. Her face was weathered, but only wrinkled in the corners of her eyes and mouth when she scrunched them to express distaste.

“Who-?” Shayith exclaimed as she struggled free of the last layer of blanket tangle so she could stumble toward the mirror.

This was the first person she had seen other than her captor since the day of her arrival. In fact, the old queen promised to take the other half of the mirror with her so that she could torment Shayith in the weeks to come, which she assumed meant she would be unable to communicate with anyone else.

“Who indeed?” the woman in the mirror sneered, casting Shayith a down-the-nose glance of the sort her mother had long since perfected. “Sisters!” the woman added. She clapped her hands, making the exclamation even sharper, and two other faces pressed closes to the edge of the mirror.

One was nearly as young as Shayith. Her hair fell about her shoulders in a series of fiery ringlets, and her eyes were a bright, shining green. The other was an older woman whose face was gently creased with wrinkles. Her graying hair had been gathered into a braid that fell across one of her shoulders. She made a soft, inquisitive sound, then shared a glance with the other members of the small council.

“My name is Shayith,” she said quickly, fearing she would lose her only chance for outside communication if she did not explain before the three women vanished. “I’ve been trapped here for maybe three months? The old queen tricked me.”

“I thought you said this mirror was fool-proof?” the woman in the middle snarled, and this time her icy gaze fell on the older woman hovering beside her right arm.

“I said it was clever,” the older woman corrected, raising one finger in front of her. “I never said it couldn’t be tampered with.”

“I suppose we should be happy it lasted as long as it did,” the younger woman chimed in. “Several centuries isn’t a bad record for a sorceress as powerful as that old queen.”

The woman in the middle snorted and set her hands on her hips. “Well, this simply won’t do,” she declared. “Foolish or not, we can’t justify holding an innocent mortal in a place like this.”

“So you’re going to let me go?” Shayith breathed. She dashed the last few feet to the mirror and pressed her hands against its cool surface. “You’ll take me back home?”

“That is the ultimate goal,” the older woman agreed with a sage nod.

“Unfortunately, it is not as simple as removing you from your current occupation.” The young woman looked a little sheepish when she said this and even managed to sound slightly apologetic.

“Indeed, the magic works a certain way,” the woman in the middle grumbled. “That is to say that the current occupant can only vacate the cell when another enters.”

“Why can’t one of you come in here?” Shayith pouted. “If you built this place, you must be able to turn it off. Or make better use of its magic. Or something.” She started speaking with conviction but, by the end, she thought she sounded weak and foolish – as always. A sentiment reinforced when all three women laughed.

“My dear, none of us is foolish enough to enter a place specifically designed to dampen magic.” The woman in the middle really did sound like her mother. Perhaps it was more of an age-related tone than Shayith had ever realized.

“But we will help you get out,” the young woman promised. She even pressed her palm flat against the opposite side of the mirror in line with where Shayith’s rested.

It pained Shayith greatly that she couldn’t feel anything despite the fact that the hand seemed to hover mere inches from hers. Their help seemed rather useless if she was going to have to remain here for an indefinite period of time. But since she had no other options, Shayith sniffled and said, “How will you do that?”

“By helping you return the proper occupant of this prison to her rightful place.” The woman in the middle sniffed. “But in order to do that, you’re going to have to help us.”

“Me?” Shayith squeaked. “How in blazes am I supposed to do that?”

“You’ll have to use the magic of the mirror,” the older woman explained, her voice shockingly gentle and soothing. “Otherwise, we have no way of knowing where to look for our quarry.”

“But I have no idea how to use the mirror outside of asking for bits and bobs,” Shayith protested. She sensed that the conversation was drawing to its natural close. In a matter of moments, these three odd women would disappear again, and she would be all alone with no one to talk to and no way to reconnect the call – as it were.

The middle-aged woman made a point of sweeping Shayith’s surroundings with her gaze before pinning her in the center of a stern look. “You seem to have a good enough grasp as far as I’m concerned,” she declared.

And that appeared to be that.

“All you have to do is find the queen,” the young woman reiterated with an encouraging smile.

“We’ll contact you at the next full moon,” the older woman added.

Then the middle woman raised her hand and made a circular motion. In a moment, all three women vanished.

Shayith gasped, then lifted her right hand and slammed her fist into the mirror’s surface.

Her stomach dropped. She was certain she struck the glass with enough force to crack it. But when she stepped back, it still seemed pristine. Blank, but pristine.

She fell to her knees and buried her head in her hands, allowing tears to flow freely from her cheeks. It was her own foolish fault she was stuck here, but now she had been set an impossible task by three total strangers! If she didn’t figure out what they meant about using the mirror’s magic, she’d be stuck here forever with no chance of resuming her old life.

She didn’t even know where to start!

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