A Touch of Madness

Chrysanthemum dropped from Storm’s back as soon as the steed came to a stop. She lay on the cold stone floor, shivering, hands frozen and unable to come out of their claw shape. She did not cry. Her breathing was steady, if shallow, as she stared up at the roof of the cave. No questions, no words. Just the wizard’s eyes and the sound of his legion voice: what possessed you to stay with me?

Storm lay down next to Chrysanthemum. It did not generate body heat, but its movement made the little girl stir. With difficulty, she coaxed her fingers into activity, pulled magic out of the air and wove herself a thick wool blanket and a scarf. How long do you think we’ll have to live out here? she thought at Storm - talking out loud seemed wrong. Storm didn’t respond.

The girl wrapped herself in wool and sat against Storm’s flank. She had learned it was unsafe to sleep in the cold like this, but she was so tired. To rouse herself, she started to paint a small construct. Like she was shaping clay, she poked and prodded the air in front of her, green magic trailing from her fingers. When she was done, she blew on it as if to remove sawdust, and it came to life out of a shimmering haze - a man, six inches tall.

He bowed to her, removing his top hat. She smiled and he began to dance with an imaginary partner to imaginary music.

Slowly, her smile faded. The little construct waltzed as smoothly as if her soft blanket were made of solid marble, hopped down to the rock floor and picked up a leaf to stand in for his partner. Chrysanthemum watched him sadly until the spell frayed and fell apart and the man dissolved.

Storm nudged her. She had almost fallen asleep. Chrysanthemum rubbed her eyes. She pulled at the magic fabric of her blanket, reshaped it into a long coat which she donned. Wearily, she climbed onto Storm’s back, let the hound take her out of the cave and hopefully to somewhere safe and warm.

A Touch of Madness

Chrysanthemum flinched at the sound of the door opening. It had been four days since she had come to the fortress - three days since she had last moved from the back corner of the room. The little sorceress was trying to recover - she still felt ill and weak from her long trek over the mountains and her exertion previous, and she was still terrified of the halls outside. He said if I stayed in here I would be safe, she thought as she fought the urge to sit up and identify her visitor. The monsters won’t come in here.

But the monsters weren’t the only thing she had to be afraid of, and the walls of her room wouldn’t keep him at bay. The wizard came in to check on her sporadically - sometimes only twice a day, sometimes a dozen times in an hour - and he never said a word to her, never even crossed the room to look; only sighed with varying measures of exasperation and anger when he saw that the smoke hound was still sitting guard, and he left.

The only things in the castle that didn’t frighten her were the human servants. They were beautiful, calm, and silent, and they brought her food and water three times a day.

Chrysanthemum flinched again as a sigh hissed across the room. So her visitor was the wizard again. She stayed tense, waiting for him to leave again. But instead of echoing out into the hall, his footsteps began to sound closer and closer. He was coming over to her little shelter. Her guard dog started to rumble at the intrusion. Chrysanthemum pulled the blankets over her head.

A Touch of Madness



Chrysanthemum was disappointed at first by the dry, bland spread before her, but she couldn’t stop herself from stuffing her mouth as quickly as possible a moment later. After days of hardly more than grass and water, the dried fruits and meat could have been the finest roast that HE had ever presented to her.

After several minutes of eating, her mouth dried out and she was left with a mouthful of dry food that she couldn’t swallow. She pawed through the baskets and packages but there was not a water flask to be seen. She was still starving - she started to feel her eyes well up. Thwarted when she was so close to finally feeling somewhat healthy again.

She stood up and wandered about the room, looking for an urn, a washbasin, a leaky spot in the ceiling - anything that might help. But there was nothing. She sat down on the floor and the tears started to flow; she made little snuffling noises through her nose but she refused to open her mouth and relinquish the dry food in defeat - not when she was still so hungry.

Ithiano stared at the girl in shock when she started crying again. Cheeks stuffed with food that she refused to spit out, fat tears trickled down her cheeks as she stared at the floor on which she sat. The smoke hound watched her curiously, and then at its master, giving him a look that looked almost accusatory. Utterly perplexed, Ithiano couldn’t imagine what the child could want. He had heard its stomach growling in its sleep, so he gave it food, and even a new dress and a bed, as well as a guardian. Thoroughly uncomfortable, Ithiano stood up and sidled towards the door, and froze in his tracks when the teary eyes locked onto his form. 

“Is… something wrong with the food?” he asked, reaching behind him to blindly search for the door handle. He saw the girl’s throat work, but her cheeks were still puffed with food. Frowning, the pulled the door open and poked his head outside. There were no servants near enough for him to call do, as he’d ordered them to leave the girl alone. He counted this as a blessing, for it gave him an excuse to leave the child to her meal. He glanced back at her, still sitting dejectedly on the floor with the smoke hound curled almost protectively around her, and turned to leave. “I will have someone check on you in one hour,” he growled, pulling the door shut behind him to rid himself of that sad, teary stare. Relieved, he slumped back against the door for a moment. The Voices purred with delight at the girl’s distress, and at Ithiano’s discomfort. Shut up, he hissed.

Chrysanthemum watched him leave in disbelief. It was almost as if, after going through the trouble of getting her a room and a meal, he didn’t even actually care if she was comfortable or not.

She quickly formulated a plan. With all the stubborn petulance she could muster, she sat in the curve of the smoke hound’s body until her tears dried and her mouth finally produced enough saliva to allow her to swallow. Then she stood up, awkwardly waddled over to the bed where all the food was still sitting, and ripped a long strip from one of the thin towels in which the cheese had been wrapped. It became a sash for her too-big dress so it would fit correctly and stop chafing. Then, she packed what food would fit into one of the baskets.

The young sorceress put her ear against the crack in the door to make sure her new guardian had left. There was no sound from the hall. She slowly opened the door with one hand, slowly crept out into the open. There was nobody to be seen.

The smoke hound crept out behind her, tail between its legs, head down, ears back. It was hard to tell beneath its swirling shadowy shell, but it seemed to be shaking. They were disobeying the wizard, and it knew what that meant if they were to be caught.

Chrysanthemum patted it on the side of the neck. “Don’t be scared,” she said. “He wouldn’t hurt us. I mean, yeah he didn’t give me any water, but he doesn’t seem like a mean guy.” She started walking. “He reminds me a little bit of… of him.”

The smoke hound followed hesitantly, not sharing its charge’s confidence in their master.

Ithiano said nothing as he watched Chrysanthemum struggle to get out of her chair. She looked like a stranger. Where was the young girl full of wonder and excitement - the teenager full of false maturity and wisdom - the woman full of love and life?
  Where had his little sister gone?
  “Chrysanthemum?” he said cautiously.
  The old woman settled back in her chair with a sigh. “I don’t think I can make it, Ithiano. You’ll have to work without me today.”
  “I don’t understand.”
  Chrysanthemum looked up at him fondly. “I got old, Ithiano,” she sighed. “That’s what happens to the rest of us.”
  Ithiano shook his head slowly. Age didn’t happen overnight. He tried to remember a single time she had shown weariness but there was no precedent. It was like whiplash. “There must be something in the Grimoire to cure you,” he said, turning to leave, to retrieve his book of spells.
  He stopped, turned back to her. Knobby fingers beckoned him over to her chair. He held her hand the way he always did. It felt like her hand. But it couldn’t be.
  “Ithiano, I want you to promise me something.”
  “Anything, my little flower.”
  “When I die,” she said, closing her eyes, “and I will, eventually, though I’ve got a few more years to go… When I die, I want you to put me in the ground, and let that be the end of it. Leave that book out of this.”
  “No, Ithiano. I’m serious about this. You and I both know what would happen. I don’t want to become one of your experiments…” She cupped his cheek in her hand. Her skin was as warm and rough as it ever was. “Promise?”
  Ithiano put his other hand over hers, trying to decide whether to tell her the truth.
  “…I promise.”


Chrysanthemum took Ithiano’s face in her hands - sitting propped against a stone, he was as tall as she was standing. He was still conscious, barely, and he looked at her with a drunken grin on his face. She frowned, looked up at the battle, then back at him again. “You’re certainly not gonna be any help,” she muttered, fixing his coat and hair.

It’s just you and me in the wreckage of the world…
That must be so confusing for a little girl,
And I know you’re going to need me here with you -
But I’m losing myself
And I’m afraid you’re going to lose me too

This magic keeps me alive,
But it’s making me crazy;
And I need to save you,
But who’s going to save me?
Please forgive me for whatever I do
When I don’t remember you

I’m gonna feel myself slipping away…
I can’t remember what it made me say,
but I remember you gave me a look -
I swear it wasn’t me it was the book

This magic keeps me alive,
But it’s making me crazy;
And I need to save you,
But who’s going to save me?
Please forgive me for whatever I do
When I don’t remember you

Please forgive me for whatever I do
When I don’t remember you…

Woah wait I actually finished a piece after I posted the work-in-progress?