The music erupted from her violin like lava spewed from an exploding volcano. It shook the room and everyone in it. Their eyes widened. Their mouths dropped. Glasses of wine fell to the ground, spilling red liquid on the brown mahogany floorboards, mixing with shards of broken glass.
Her fingers were tremulous yet bold as they danced along the finely wrought strings of her violin in a pizzicato style. Like a spider along its web, her fingers frolicked across its four tender strings, caressing each one with the tenderness of a mother her child.
The violin was part of her. An extension of her very self. It pulsed with life.
The music of a thousand years of human civilization captured in a wooden stringed instrument. Granted a soul by a master artist.
In her mind’s eye, she danced with the siren song of her music. Her tempo was fast and bold like a river rushing down a mountain, hurling itself off a cliff in a waterfall. Light mixing with water, splitting into a dozen colors arrayed on the side of a rock wall. The water crashing violently into the ocean below in a rapid melody of colorful sounds.
She switched her hold, rotating her wrist smoothly like a player in a celestial orchestra. Flitting her wrist, she drew her bow from its hold along her waist and drew it straight along the strings of her violin. It sang a long, drawn-out note. C sharp.
The audience breathed. She would allow them this gentle reprieve. This small moment of relief. She hadn’t even gotten to the good part yet. She drew her bow. Slow but sure. Flitting her wrist, she played. Not fast but merciful. Sympathetic even. Drawing them in.
The music turned simple, easy-going. Like a stroll through a country pasture on a beautiful summer’s day. Birds chirping. Wagons rolling. Horses stomping. The smell of green grass and a bouquet of fresh flowers. The taste of poached eggs and a home fries. Music for the people.
Her audience leaned back. Relieved. A few sipped their wine. Country songs. Their lips curled, and a few chuckled. She was only mortal. Her music couldn’t possibly be that good. Anyone could impress with a few lucky strokes, played at just the right time. She was good, for sure. But not a prodigy. Not a god.
She would show them.
In an instant, she flipped her bow to its reverse side, drawing its rough wooden edge along the strings of her instrument. The friction of the draw caused several audience members to shoot up in their seats, straightening their backs.
Sharp sounds. Like the bite of a wolf.
Her song turned violent. The cacophony of battle. Soldiers flayed alive. Swords crossed. The taste of blood on the lips. Battle waged by armies clashing in the dead of night. Starry skies blotted out by a flurry of arrows like a flock of locusts.
They gasped. Clenched their fists. Clutched their seats. One man shouted curses before catching himself taking the Great One’s name in vain.
The strings of the violin burned red hot as did her bow. Her face was focused. Each note counted.
A single spark dropped from her string, falling to the ground beneath her feet.
“Fire,” they shouted. “Get out.”
She played on. Fire at her feet. Fire in her hands. The violin burned within her hands. The wooden edge of her bow heated with each draw.
They stood up, climbing on top of one another, like a mindless stampede. Clambering for escape.
She played on. Smoke rising from her burning bow, forming a gray cloud near the ceiling of the room. The fire seared her hand and her cheeks. Her music was all that mattered. It was alive.
The audience pounded on the doors. Locked. No escape. There was nowhere to run. No way out.
“Help,” they said. “Help. The witch has trapped us. She’s killed us all.” Their faces held looks of utter shock. Perfect fear. Their lives flashed before their eyes. Families, children, relatives. Their births and now their deaths.
She continued on, sparks flying from her bowstrings with each pull. The smell of cooked meat, seared on one side, tender on the other. Her hands. Blood dripped from her burning hands as she played, falling into the violin’s opening like the transfusion of blood into a dying man.
With each drop, her music came to life. It took hold of her, captured her spirit, transfigured her soul. She became the music even as her body burned.
“Let us go, witch,” they said. A man with a steak knife ran at her as she played. His face wild with the insanity of a trapped animal. Willing to cut off its own limbs to survive.
As he ran, she burst into flames. Taking the form of a flame elemental. Enflamed by blood. Mercifully, she ignored the man.
He passed through her fiery body, unharmed. Like a solid passing through a cloud of gas. She was a ghost.
Their eyes widened in amazement. What was she? Who was this creature, this goddess? What power did she hold?
Her music continued, shifting again. Calm, tranquil. Not like a country stroll. Not this time. This was more like the calmness at the end of the world. The end of life. Stillness. A passing. Death itself.
Her strokes were somber and melancholic. They were like vultures encircling a dying man. Waiting to take their turn in the circle of life, before the worms and rodents had their fill.
Each stroke was black, growing more silent with each draw. Her eyes turned black within, and her lips formed a line.
The audience stood with their backs toward the wall. The man with the knife let go. The small eating utensil clanged as it hit the wood floor.
Her song ended. There was no grand finale. No final burst of power. This was a quiet death. One that blended with the silence of the eternal.
The flames engulfing her body extinguished themselves. Her form emerged – normal. Her tailored suit and white cuffed sleeves looked as if they had been untouched, unscorched. As if nothing had happened. The four strings of her violin were perfectly strung. Her bow in mint condition. The smooth wood of her violin gleamed, reflecting the fire from the hearth nearby.
The audience members were back at their seats. Their backs were not against the wall, and no one was standing. The man who had clutched a steak knife was seated as if nothing had happened.
Yet she could read it on their faces. Their shock. Their fear. Her music had touched their very souls.
After several uncertain moments, one man slowly clapped. He stood up. “Illusionist,” he said. “Grand, absolutely grand.”
Another five members of the audience stood up and joined their praise with his. A woman held up her glass of wine as if to toast. “Bravo,” she said.
“She’s brilliant,” they said. “Magnificient. Breathtaking. Stunning.”
A standing ovation they gave her. For her music. Her illusions that touched their souls. Her songs that told a story. A story of life and death.
Yet it was all an illusion to them. Theatre. Stories to please and entertain. Nothing with real meaning. Not something that was real.
No, if it had been real it would have been unthinkable. Utterly objectionable. Wrong. But it was all a farce. An illusion. A grand entertainment. Unlike they had ever seen in their short lives.
“A master illusionists,” they called her. They clambered forward to greet her. To thank her for her performance and offer her money for future songs, to offer her patronages, sums of gold to perform before kings and emperors. Talent such as hers should be heard by the whole world they said.
She bowed low and made her exit. For her, this was just a test. A test that she could still perform. After all it had been a thousand years. A thousand years in storage, hidden away.
They were right, in a way. She was an illusionist. Just not the kind of illusionist they thought.
The man with the steak knife bent over in his seat to pick up the instrument from the wood floor below. He jerked back as he touched it.
The metal was searing hot.
She smirked as she caught sight of him from the corner of her eye. Walking off stage, she made her way to her room where she could be alone. Where she could think.
Then she removed her illusion.