She is old, older than the hills. She has lived fifty times the lifespan of a mortal man, and in those uncounted millennia has seen the rivers change position in their beds, great kingdoms rise and fall to dust, and the relentless ocean rising to swallow what once was a green and pleasant land. The ruined statues were replaced with coffins long ago; as the years grew so too did her power, and her resentment at the Gods and what they had wrought. When she was still merely a girl, newly brought back from the underworld and yet still aglow with the white light and purity that had made her such a favourite of the temple priests, she once tried to hurl herself over the tower's edge in despair, unable to take the loneliness and the dark power she could feel festering within her breast any longer.
The woman the girl has become would never dream of such weakness. For the resurrection to be completed she must live on, and so live on she does. And if there is guilt there, staring at her from out of the past with eyes the fierce blue of an autumn afternoon, she takes little notice of it, brushing such unimportant thoughts aside as she wields her borrowed magic at the top of the tower. Why should she feel guilty, thinking of those eyes? Is that not the very reason she does what she does, why she has done everything? Not for her own sake alone does the Queen of the Darkened Lands accomplish these deeds, gods above no. Hers is a loftier goal, if an almost equally selfish one.
Once upon a time she believed herself immortal, and the thought had nearly ripped the heart from her chest. Now it feels as though the years are seconds, the decades mere minutes flashing by sickeningly fast. There has never been enough time, she reflects, watching the dark shape take a definite form as she speaks ruinous, guttural words over the cage. But if this works ... then perhaps ... perhaps ...
A formless hand, black as the pit, reaches out from the depths of the dripping ink-dark, and for a brief moment mind-images assail the shadow empress, strong ones. As clear as day she sees a pool of light open at the bottom of the tower, a darkened hand clawing at the lip for a fraction of a moment before it disappears forever into the white. Then the vision is gone again, her eyes clear, and all she can see is the pale figure before her, huddled in a fetal position on the floor of the cage.
For the first time in five thousand years the woman smiles.
Many, many years ago, it is said, there was once a girl with an unnatural life, spirited back from the gods by a desperate lovesick suitor. *(More story goes here)*
The years passed and worked their ill on the man; eventually he grew old, as we all must one day do, and died, leaving the girl – still seemingly untouched by the hand of time, unlike her lover – to fend for herself once again in a land visited only by hawks and the North Wind. At this second sundering the girl went quite mad, foreseeing nothing but an eternity without his smile, an eon without his embrace. This was the moment the darkness inside of her had been waiting for. The thing she had been harbouring like a parasite saw her tears, sensed her weakness, and pounced upon her soul with blackened, seeking claws.
It spoke, whispering in the maiden's ear with a voice lessened in power but not persuasiveness. The way would be exceedingly long and difficult, it said, but if she did what it instructed, if she accomplished the task set out before her, it would mean an eventual reunion. Of course, there might be a price to pay, this much was true, but then there always was, wasn't there?
She did not hesitate nor falter. Without so much as a flinch the girl accepted the demon's deal, and if she came to regret it in later years – the endless isolation, the dark power clouding her mind and body beyond repair, the parade of imprisoned children she had been tasked with destroying, unlike her love and yet still seemingly carrying some essential essence that was of him – she gave no sign of this. They had to die to make her master whole again; they had to die to bring the scattered shards of her beloved's soul back together so the devil-god could fulfill its end of the ancient pact. This was what it told her, and this was what she chose to believe. Whether it was true or not, none can say.
Her guilt peered out at her from under hair the colour of fall leaves, but as the years passed it became more and more easy to ignore, and more and more easy to simply not care.
Sometimes she watches the girl-golem she has come to call her 'daughter' from afar, for the entire expanse of the castle is but an extension of her great will and nothing occurs within its dusty halls that the Queen does not know about or foresee. The crumbling corridors are her arms, the shadows that choke them her ever-searching fingers. If any mortal man dared venture into the fortress without permission, all she would have to do is tighten her grip to make sure he never entertained such foolhardy curiosity again.
Strangely enough, this has never yet happened.
Years have blinked by in what seems like the infinitesimal moments between the beating of a moth's wing. The girl has never left her cage since the stormy night of her creation; the Queen comes sometimes to speak with her, to teach her the ancient language of the monarch's long-dead civilization, but this is the only human interaction she ever has. She was not made to speak to others, nor to have a mind of her own. Dangerous traits indeed, to put into what is little more than a glorified container.
Never the less, when one creates life, that life has a tendency to grow a will of its own, and so the Queen watches, even when there is precious little to observe. Most of the time the child sits in the centre of her prison without moving or looking about, huddled in a strangely familiar position. The only time she shows any significant interest in anything at all is when doves land at her aerie; the little white birds that sometimes settle on her head or outstretched hand seem to be the girl's greatest joy in life. When they finally fly away she always looks after them with a pained, confused wistfulness, and for reasons she cannot put her finger on this alarms the Queen more than anything else she has seen her successor do.
The girl's dreams are full of white flashing wings beating the air, bearing her away from this prison that is the only world she has ever known.
Her mother's dreams are of wings as well, gathered fluttering about an altar long since crumbled to fine dust, but always they change to black smoke, saving her from a death she longs for even as she leaps.
And so the decades pass.
With each generation she grows stronger in her power, and closer to her goal. With each generation her body becomes more and more corrupted, failing her even as the coffins fill and the prize comes within reach. When the final vessel is obtained she will transfer her consciousness to the girl's body, but for now she must wait and be patient.
*(The final bits)*