Fourth Interlude: Candidates

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"Very well." Something shiny and black, like tar, crawled its way down the side of the oubliette. "Grab on. I shall lift you up," that voice, sweet honey in the timbres of her words, said.

Colette, with bony hands shaking from weakness, grabbed on. 

All the pain went away, and in its place, a rapturous euphoria filled her flesh, the pleasure of a thousand delights. The delight of sumptuous food, soft silk, the warmth of a fire, the passion of a man, all these things paled in comparison to the ecstasy that overwhelmed her. For once, Colette's mind quieted, numbed by the sheer pleasure. She knew nothing else. 

And then it was ripped from her, leaving her in her rags, on the cold stone, breathing rank air. She curled up, shivering. The world seemed harsh to her senses.

After some time had past -for all Colette knew, it could have been a minte, a day, a year- she rose, unsteady, to face her liberator.

She stared into the eyes of a woman. A ravishingly beautiful woman, slender of limb, wearing an outfit which seemed the opposite of modesty. It looked as if it was made out of a black silk so lustrous and smooth it seemed like liquid, and it clung to the woman's frame like a second skin.

"Who are you?" Colette asked.

"Does it matter?" the woman asked. She loaded over to the table the guards had been using, and grabbed the bottle of wine off it.

"You defeated trained soldiers, and judging by your appearance, you are no warrior," Colette said. "So again I ask, who are you?"

"A myth," the woman said. "A demon, a monster, a deified immortal. Call me Ishta'ana."

Colette frowned. "She is, as you said, a myth. Are you attempting to impersonate her, channel the aspects that she represents? Or do you believe you are her?" Colette frowned.

"A demonstration might assist your belief." Ishta'ana snapped her fingers, and her flesh began to change. First it darkened, becoming like tar, soft and shapeless. It warped and twisted, as if it were clay sculpted by unseen hands, before setting itself. Slowly, color bloomed on its surface as the viscous liquid became flesh.

Instead of a woman, Colette found herself staring at a man, bare chested, nut brown skin covered in muscle, a handsome face, dark eyes studying her. Feelings arose in Colette, desires to grab the man and-

No. She couldn't get distracted by carnal pleasures when she could be free. "I suppose that could be a glamour or some other form of magical verisimilitude," Colette said with a skeptical air.

"Does your skepticism know no bounds?" Ishta'ana asked. She softened and blackened, turning into a voluptuous woman again, only this time, a Tethyd, complete with a tail and large fins. "You are seeking to justify your philosophy instead of seeking what our truth can offer you."

"And what can 'your truth' offer me?" Colette asked.

"To put it simply," Ishta'ana said, morphing back into the first guise she wore, "eternal life. Limitless power."

"You seek to give me something unattainable," Colette said. "Do you judge me a simpleton?" she asked.

Ishta'ana was about to answer before a spearhead erupted from her chest. "Stand against the wall," the guard behind wide-eyed Ishta'ana said, "else you suffer the same fate!"

"Such rudeness!" Ishta'ana turned, still impaled by the spear. "You dare try to harm me?" Her voice was low, dangerous, threatening. "I will not suffer insult!"

Her hand shot out, softening, changing, hardening. The guard tried to back away before a black spear pierced his breastplate and tore a jagged hole where his heart and lungs had been. So. That had been how the first guard had died.

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