I wish I could say that everything was alright, Jackie.
But so much has changed – I have changed – in ways that I never thought would happen. And now it can never be undone.
When I was first lost in that black abyss of another dimension, I waited for you to come and rescue me. Really, I did. I didn't go wandering off to explore or find an adventure, I just stayed put and waited. Like a good girl.
Though, perhaps I should have gone wandering - because she found me first.
She was a demon, Jackie – I was no match for her alone, and with no magic. She subdued me easily, threw me in a cage and took me back to what seemed to be a palace, filled with reptilian servants and snake-demons like herself, all subordinate to her.
She was bored, she explained to me. She had ruled a vast empire for millennia, and wanted to be on her own again. But she had put a lot of hard work into conquering her territories, and she didn't want it all to fall apart once she left. She had no children – she had never deemed any man worthy to enough to share her bed. And so she was taking others – any others, mortal or no – to be tested to see if they were strong and powerful enough to succeed her. I was just one in a long line of potential heirs, all of them dead.
For four days I was starved and beaten by her, and then I was dragged away, chained to the wall in a dark chamber. When she closed the door and left me there, the room instantly became suffocating, and I felt a chill go down my spine. It was a familiar feeling – what Uncle would call the willies, the feeling of being surrounded by dark magic. It filled the room, drowning me in it. I was forced to sit in it, absorb it, breathe it in.
I remember hearing a cackle as several dreadful presences came into the room. They were snake-like, and formed of shadow. Shadow spirits, as I heard the she-demon call them later. They attacked me, tormented me. Sometimes I could sense them slipping down my throat or through my nose as I breathed inward, possessing me and rendering my will powerless. Their favorite places to bite me were my arms and shoulders, since I couldn't move them, and every time they bit down, I could feel their venom sinking into my blood. I screamed for so long – I called out for help, for somebody to please, please help me, even though I knew no one would come. I yearned only for release from my torture; the pain was the only thing I could think of.
I don't even know how long I was in there – just that when it was finally over, I was actually glad to see the she-demon's face.
She took me to a new chamber – not the dungeon where I had been kept before, but a clean room, with a bed and bookshelves and a desk. She unchained me, and pointed to a suit of plain black clothes lying on the bed. She told me that I would be wearing them by the time she got back, or she would give me no food or water.
I had no choice, Jackie. I was about to die of thirst.
When she came back, she picked up my old clothes, all I had left of home, and made me watch her burn them in the fireplace.
She told me that her name was Lamia, but that I should refer to her as Mistress, for she was to be my teacher.
I fought back against this, of course. That was when I first learned that insolence would bring me broken bones. Later that night, I would learn that trying to escape meant being whipped.
She had me shadow her every day. I would stand behind her as she went about her business, creating spells and writing legislation – mere municipal matters. As she was holding court or having meetings with her generals, she would have me sit beside her, watching and listening.
It took me a few days to learn not to speak out or to question her authority. I still have the scars.
Over time, as I learned what she considered to be 'good behavior,' she gave me more privileges. I was allowed to sit and eat with her as she took her meals. I was allowed to ask questions, but only about the things she was teaching me about magic and ruling. I would gradually gain more and more liberties, but I still hated her with a fiery passion, with every cell in my body. I would sooner see her die a painful, agonizing death than be proud of me.
Lamia knew it, too. Perhaps she thought my hatred was only proper.
Sometimes, she would put me back in the chamber with the darkness and the evil spirits. The first time she did this, I asked her why.
She must have heard the fear in my voice, because as she was chaining me to the wall, I saw Lamia smile for the first time. It was a terrible, frightening, dreadful smile, yet beautiful, like lightning striking during a storm. I think perhaps she meant it to be comforting, but it was not.
Lamia explained to me that this was not a punishment, but a part of the process of transforming me into a demon like herself. I would have to experience this every six months over the next fifty years.
You see Jackie, I hadn't realized that she expected me to remain with her that long. In the back of my mind, I was still so certain that you'd come to rescue me...
Fifty years is a long time.
So very long...
One day, she told me that I had earned the right to have a name.
"Your new name is Naga," she commanded. "And you are now officially my heir."
Afterwards, I was allowed to speak up during meetings with her generals, suggest courses of action, do research and perform spells on my own. I tried to find a way out, Jackie – I swear I did. But it was no use, and if I ever went too far, she would immediately become suspicious. I had to survive. You understand that, right?
By the time I found out how to travel between dimensions, thirty years had passed – and it was too late to stop the changes. I couldn't pull out the fangs, remove the scales growing on my face – I was becoming a demon.
I remember the first time she made me kill someone. She forced me to choose between killing a child and killing their parents, for a crime none of them was responsible for.
….I don't want to even think about it, Jackie.
Fifty years is a long time.
When I finally looked like her, had all her powers, had learned everything she could teach me – she left. Lamia left without a word of goodbye, scorn, spite, or even apology, as unlikely as that would have been in the first place. And I was left Empress of a sordid land full of demons.
Fifty years is a long time. Somehow, one thousand flew by like they were nothing. How did that happen, Jackie?
I had to expand her empire, Jackie, and I still have to. It was what her generals wanted, what they're always craving, even when they're constantly replaced by a newer generation. It's a sick, never-ending cycle of them coming into power and whinging and demanding more, more, more. And I have to keep them happy, or they will destroy me with their sheer numbers, hunt me down, tear me apart, eat me alive.
I conquered the entire dimension, and moved on to others. It was a long, long time before I found any resembling ours. When I saw you I was delighted – when I saw me, I was terrified.
The secret of who I truly was had long since vanished from the history books, and I was determined to keep it that way. And to you, and my young self, I was just another villain, the Empress Naga. You would have killed me, or sealed me away to go mad. I wouldn't have had it any other way – you wouldn't be my family otherwise.
I have buried you hundreds of times over, Jackie. My own bodies lie dead and rotting in my herbs garden, feeding their hungry, thirsty, evil roots.
I liked to think you would have forgiven me. It kept me sane – gave me a small spark of bittersweet, almost-happiness in this new world of mine. I know that's not true now – not now that I've finally found you. My own Uncle Jackie.
I'm not me anymore – I'm hurting, I'm broken, I'm demon who was once a girl and hasn't felt sunlight on her cheeks in over a thousand years. I can never walk again, I have no legs. Everything smells and tastes wrong. My family was dead to me for a century and a half. My heart has been torn from my chest a thousand times, and I have been made to watch as it was ripped apart and eaten alive. I feel...hollow. I'm a shell – just a shadow of my former self, and an evil one at that.
So no, Jackie, everything is not all right.
Shhhh. Please, don't scream. Just close your eyes – it won't hurt, I promise it won't. I always make sure it doesn't.
Yes, I do. Trust me, it's me, Jade – your own Jade. I wouldn't hurt you.