Warm Blood in the Mirrors
by Jack Mellanby
Elegance leapt through the sandy hole into a world of glass and light.
Sunlight, reflected on him from the mirrors coating the tunnel like
scales, filled his body with a warmth stronger even than that of the
desert. Every inch of him was bathed in its blaze, and he gave his tail
an experimental twitch. It tore through the air like a sword. He
smiled. In this light, nothing could harm him.
His mate Beauty followed, her lithe body streaming through the air
before her claws clacked against the ground. She stumbled a little,
then recovered, so fast her body blurred even in Elegance’s
“I heard grunting before I leapt,” she said, eyes flicking this way and
that as if she expected enemies to leap from one of the multifaceted
side-passages. “They’re not far behind us.”
Elegance, caressed her face with his long tail, gliding it across her smooth scales.
“They won’t catch us. We’re faster than they are.”
She nodded, and Elegance leaned forward into a sprint, the muscles of
his legs rippling in rhythm beneath his skin. The sound of talons on
glass echoed around the tunnel, and along the walls a thousand copies
ran with him, and a thousand and one Beauties ran behind him. The
mirrors reflected her long arms and legs, clean scales, needle sharp
back spines, and sleek fang filled jaws without the slightest
The perfection of the mirrors, their flawless circularity and
unblemished smoothness, was something beyond the current abilities of
the True People -- Elegance’s people -- although they must have made
it, for who else needed sunlight so badly? No one knew why it had been
built either. But Elegance, drawing on long forgotten texts and ancient
myths, had developed a conclusion. Beyond these mirrored corridors lay
the Alterer, an artefact with the power to change one’s very metabolic
A flash of movement into one of the side passages sent Elegance’s heart
pounding. He stopped and stared, third eyelid blinking. Down the
mirrored passage were reflections of a hand, but not the hand of a True
Person. The hand of a savage, covered in hair, not scales, with fingers
terminating in blunt nails. It slunk to the edge of every mirror and
“Curse it!” he hissed. “They got here before us.”
Beauty licked her eyes and hefted her gun from her belt, a nearly
half-metre tube of iron with a flint mechanism above the trigger. The
pinnacle of the True People’s technology.
“There must be more than one,” she said. “They’re scouted out all the
side passages, I bet. They’re waiting for us to wander somewhere they
can ambush us easily. The one you just saw must have been a scout.”
“No.” Elegance shook his head. “Not all the side-passages. There’ll be
half a dozen at most, else we’d have seen their signs as we crossed the
Beauty frowned, scepticism clear. “Then what should we do? Should we chase down that one?”
Elegance rested his hand on the stock of his own gun, considering. If
they hunted them down one by one, it would be safer than waiting to be
ambushed by a group -- far safer. One the other hand, they didn't have
“Let’s keep going,” he said, and flowed back into his sprint. He felt
like a kite, one blown by the immense power of the sun in place of the
wind. A power he had no control over.
And one whose light was failing his people.
The corridor twisted left, and the pair’s reflections elongated and
blurred on the twisting mirrors. It widened into an enormous chamber,
at the end of which a honeycomb of passages spread out before the pair,
glittering stairs leading to each one like frosted spiderwebs.
“Hang on,” said Elegance, pulling a scroll of shiny paper from his belt. “According to my research...”
He ran a claw along the circles denoting the separate passages. Some
were marked with a red cross -- death passages, according to ancient
rumour. Others were marked with squares, denoting dead ends, and one,
right in the centre of the wall was marked with green. He searched for
it in the honeycomb. There. It was tight and unassuming, but he had no
choice but to trust his map. If the pair walked through there, they
would find the Alterer waiting for them.
And with its power, save their species.
“Savage!” yelped Beauty, and Elegance spun around to see where she
waved her gun. On the wall, a the reflection of a Savage disappeared in
slow motion. At the corner of his right eye, another movement appeared.
Hot sunlight flooding through his arteries, Elegance drew his gun,
aimed, fired. A cloud of stinging smoke enveloped him, and the
honeycomb of mirrors flashed green. The savage’s hairy body fell from a
hole near the ceiling, blood spraying in a wheel as it spun to the
floor, where it thumped down dead.
“Let’s go!” shouted Beauty. “Which passage is it?”
Elegance glanced at the map again before stuffing it back in his belt.
“That one!” he cried, jerking a claw at it. They darted up the steps,
as scratching and grunting sounds poured down from the ceiling. Hairy
heads poked out of holes and mirrors reflected a dozen beast-faces
around the cavern, each one with fangs peeled back in slight variations
of the same snarl. Elegance resisted flicking a couple shots back; he
didn't have bullets to waste.
The passage approached, ringed by sunlight and twisted reflections, then disappeared.
“Wha--” began Elegance, and turned his head sideways. Beauty was gone. Everything was. The world was black.
Then Beauty’s arms were around his waist and throwing him to the ground
as a dozen spears whizzed overhead and clattered off glass.
“They’ve blocked the passage with some sort of sheet!” she yelled,
dragging him down the steps and firing off a shot that shattered a
mirror in the distance.
Elegance’s pupils dilated and the black world turned to dark grey. An
enormous fabric hung over the passage they’d come through, with only
the faintest glow penetrating its folds.
How had the savages woven it? As far as he knew, the only thing they
could make were spears and axes. Clothes were beyond them -- not that
they needed them with their thick hair. They had advanced then, perhaps
copying from the settlements of sluggish, sun-robbed God’s People
they’d overrun as the climate cooled.
Now it was the tunnel that cooled, and Elegance could feel the heat
leak from his muscles. Without the energy of the sun, his body would
soon shut down as if for the night.
A dozen roars echoed, along with the clattering of spears being drawn and doubtless aimed.
“Quickly!” shouted Beauty, firing another shot before ducking under the
delicate staircase to reload. “We’ll take turns firing.”
Mind spinning with implications, Elegance drew his own gun and aimed,
but his muscles didn't respond properly. He was used to acting with
radiant energy filling his every cell, not pouring out his pores like
water from a punctured skin, and the lead ball snapped past a hairy
head instead of into it.
“Damn!” he shouted. He jabbed at the reload lever -- stiffer than he
remembered. Another spear smacked into a mirror beside him, right
between one of his dim reflection’s eyes.
“They can't tell the reflections from the real,” he mumbled. “They
can't tell!” He fired his shot, this time through a savage’s heart,
then grabbed Beauty's forearm. “Get up the stairs, while we still have
Her fanged mouth hung open for a second in surprise, then she nodded.
They rushed up the stairs, Elegance's legs protesting for the first
time in three months, and through the tunnel. Angry shouts and the dark
blurs of reflections followed them.
Elegance didn’t let go of his mate's arm as they ran. He did not want
to lose her.. Out of all the seasonal females he'd been with, Beauty
was the most intelligent and fierce. He'd be sad when the passions died
and they left each other.
“How far to go?” she asked.
“Best not to think about that. We'll make it to the Alterer, don't worry.”
He could feel her pull on his arm getting heavier, and felt his own
body failing too. Black drowsiness cloaked the top of his eyes as his
body decided night had fallen.
“Not far,” he whispered to himself, although he had no idea if that was
true. The grunts of the savages, sounding almost like language, grew
closer by the minute.
A faint glow appeared, and the tunnel blossomed into a sphere, a glass
scaled bubble a hundred metres across. Elegance watched himself in each
mirror, bent over and chest expanding and contracting as he puffed.
“We made it,” said Elegance. A grunting shout echoed past them. “Come on!”
Sluggishness eating through his limbs and into his chest, he forced
himself forward to the faintly pulsing light. The air chilled as it
flowed over his skin, and the shouts of the savages sent waves of fear
and nausea right through his body.
“There it is,” said Beauty, her voice a quiet hiss. Elegance licked his eyes.
The Alterer was a sphere of red and gold, pulsing like the heart of the
sun. Within it lay the same power the savages had -- the power for a
being to create its own heat, its own energy. If Elegance could seize
it, and spread its power to all the True People, no longer would they
have cause to fear the lengthening winters and the cold, light-stealing
clouds that came with them.
A gentle push came at his shoulder, and a hiss with it.
“Go on,” said Beauty. “You must take it. They’re almost on us!”
A roar came from the entrance to the sphere, and a hundred images of
the savages followed it. Elegance could almost feel their foul breath
gather from the reflections and he gagged, head lightening.
No! He shook his drowsy head. Towards the Alterer! The whistle of
spears came, and he summoned the last dregs of strength in his legs to
leap. The Alterer expanded in his vision as Beauty screamed agony, and
he took the artefact in both hands.
Heat and life and pure energy flooded into every capillary as he leapt
through it. Then he was on the ground, and Alterer lay inside his
chest, a red glow illuminating the flesh and ribs around his heart. He
touched his hand there and for the first time in history, warmth came
from within a True Person’s own blood. He had done it.
A Savage yelled in triumph and Elegance whipped his head around to see
Beauty lying on the floor, a spear through her lower leg. Half a dozen
scavengers ran towards her, crude clubs and axes raised high. They did
not feel the cold, not were their muscles hampered from lack of
sunlight and warmth.
“No!” screamed Elegance, and he drew his gun.
A crack echoed in the chamber as he pulled the trigger, and a savage’s
chest exploded. He pulled it again, and killed another. The hairy
beasts faltered, brows narrowing in almost comical confusion.
“That’s right!” yelled Elegance. “Your stupid trick won’t work anymore!
Idiots! Do you have any idea what we sought down here? The same
miserable power that resides in you, that’s what!”
The savages bared thick teeth and charged. There was no time to reload,
so Elegance wielded the gun like a club and smashed the arms of the
nearest savage before splitting its skull in half. Grey and red sludge
splashed out, some splatting Elegance’s face. He blinked it away, and a
stone blade came to the corner of his vision -- death ten centimetres
from his eyes. He ducked and smashed the savage between the legs. It
howled; that part of biology was the same for both species. He felled
another, the blow sending a shiver up his arms. The remaining savages
backed away, eyes portals into their terror-struck souls.
“Elegance...” said Beauty, her voice thick like someone on the edge of
sleep or death. No! Not death, the spear was only through her leg.
Elegance knelt beside her, and lay his hand on her face. Like rushing
water from an eternal spring, the gift of the Alterer flowed into her,
and her eyelids peeled back.
“Wake up,” he said.
A brown blur sped at Elegance’s face, and green flash and a crack
knocked it from the sky. Beauty stood up, acrid smoke pouring from her
gun. The savage who’d thrown the spear backed away with his eyes wide
in awe. Another flash, another boom, and its guts were exploded from
“Run away!” shouted Elegance. “Your species has lost! We have your power now!”
Without understanding his words, they spun around. Their footsteps
disappeared back through the tunnel, along with their thousand
Beauty extracted the spear from her leg, pale meat pouring blood before she wrapped a bandage tight around it.
“Are you alright?” asked Elegance.
“I’m fine,” she said. “Though I might need some help getting back.”
Elegance put an arm around her shoulder and they walked. Her shoulders
felt warm -- not the burning warmth of the sun, but a softer warmth
that soothed his beating heart and buzzing fingertips. Sleep fell from
They left the chamber, went through the passage in the hall of stairs
and approached the savages’ sheet. Hints of light jabbing through gaps
like tiny needles, forcing the pair to blink.
Elegance frowned. “The light... it’s different.”
“No. I think we’re different,” replied Beauty.
She took his hand from her shoulder and gently pushed him forward.
“You reloaded your gun, didn't you?”
He shrugged. “I don’t think I’ll need it,” he said, but checked it anyway, then brushed past the sheet.
Its rough hair was coarse against his scales, and the smell of dead
animal washed over him. He stepped past, and burning light spread
across his skin, white like a flame, subsuming his body. He snapped his
eyes shut and cried out. He needed to breath, but even the air was hot.
It was like being wrapped so that nothing could leave through his skin,
only enter it. His knees smacked against the floor before he even
realised he was kneeling, and he cried out.
“Elegance?” came the voice of his mate. She brushed through the sheet and gave her own shout. “God above!”
Elegance forced himself to stand, his legs heavy and head spinning.
“I suppose we knew this would happen, didn't we?” he said, wincing as
he sucked in burning air. “Now we’ve thrown away our need of the sun,
it won’t be our ally anymore.”
“Not all will accept the gift we are bringing back,” said Beauty, shading her eyes.
“Perhaps not. But many will, and it will be those ones who will lead
the True People to victory. Our world is changing, and we must change
with it. Our ancestors knew this, and it is our job to trust them. And
make sure others trust them.”
Beauty snaked her arm around him and squeezed. It felt hot and sticky,
but at the same time, very pleasant. “Yes,” she said. “But you are
thinking too far ahead. First we have to get back.”
Elegance smiled. It would be a long, hard journey. But as he looked at
the two of them, standing strong in the mirrors all around, he knew
they would succeed.
They would spread the gift and save their people.
© 2020 Jack Mellanby
Bio: Jack Mellanby is a young writer from New Zealand currently
residing in Japan, and has been obsessed with fantasy ever since his
father read him The Hobbit at age three.
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