When I’d first met Aicha, I had seriously doubted she would ever laugh again. During the Second World War, the magically gifted walked a fine line – as evidence of the Axis atrocities mounted, we’d wanted to help the Allied Forces, but also quickly realised we were priority targets for capture by the Germans and their own blond-hair, bat-shit crazy blue-eyed mages. Nobody doubted that this would have zero positive outcome for any prisoner – they weren’t exactly the sort to have a chinwag over tea and biscuits – so we created a form of magical Resistance. Raids, mainly, doing our best to liberate other magical beings from captivity. We also did what we could to both help the Allied effort (supplying information leaks or anonymous tips after we’d dealt with any Talent in play) whilst also taking any magical opponents off the playing field.
La Rochelle was one of the last points in Europe to fall, almost one year after the D-Day landings. Despite an enormous appetite to repel the Germans, and their continued efforts to use its naval base for sojourns against Allied ships, someone higher up made the decision to lay siege to the city instead of retaking it by force. A siege which was about as effective as storing piss in a paper bag, as the German forces broke it on a weekly basis by implausibly impossible to intercept supply planes. After several months of this, to say our suspicions were high was an understatement. I was the closest active mage, so when the information made its way through the network, I decided to go and take a closer look.
The magical imbuements on the city walls were like Bastille Day fireworks when viewed through the Sight. The occult energy in them created an atmosphere of impermeability and dissuasion sufficiently strong to motivate the generals assessing it to leave it be. Having slipped through the pitch-dark streets in the silence of a night leaden with misery and fear, I had made my way towards the docks. Compared to the cowed avenues and darkened windows, my destination seemed a hive of activity.
I’d searched long and hard, ducking and hiding from SS soldiers and citizens alike. I tried to rely on physical stealth rather than ethereal capabilities to avoid, or where necessary, dispatch any encountered opposition rather than my usual ‘run in and kick the shit out of everything until I die’ tactic. Hey, I can be subtle sometimes. Especially when there are Nazi wizards about. I hate Nazi wizards, even now.
After a gruelling, bone-wearying night of stealth and death, I’d found a key enemy, a high-ranking German scientist who had Talent to spare. I was miserable to my core after five years of uncovering atrocities and mayhem sowed by Talented Aryan shitbags like him. When I eventually broke him on the pier of the port, lightning crackling and leaping from strut to strut, the ocean-blown rain slicking my clothes to my exhausted form, I was neither kind nor merciful. I left him spread in pieces across the wharf, not yet dead, his dying cries echoing in my ears as I descended into the base. The sound brought a smile to my face.
When I blew the doors of the final lab off its hinges, I already felt I’d been beyond lenient with him. In fact, I was sorely tempted to resurrect him, just so I could kick him repeatedly in the private parts before killing him all over again. Countless rare, sentient creatures were only still there as dismembered parts, including some I’d counted as friends across my many lives. There had been centaur children, separated in two halves, each kept alive in agonising pain by dark crafted combinations of technology and magic. I’d found a low-level Talented magician, Gregory Noble, beloved throughout the community for his simpleness and generosity.
Looking back now, I think he was probably somewhere on the autistic scale, but that had never limited him. He’d always helped others, swift to offer lodgings and a meal, passing his time weaving minor miracles for his local village without ever letting them know what he was up to. He had been scalped, electrodes pile-driven into his cerebrum. They’d been repeatedly forcing him to cast the same flame summoning spell through shocks delivered straight into his cortex, recording which brain regions were engaged during the summoning. When I closed his eyes, there was nothing left of the man who’d offered me many a simple stew and a straw bed and never asked for anything in return. I’d never be able to repay his kindness now.
In the last lab, I found her. The scientist who oversaw her captivity was not Talented, but I’m not sure I’d consider him truly human, considering the depraved experiments he’d been conducting. When I arrived, he had been polishing her top vertebrae with acid, inhibiting its regrowth to package up her head for transportation. We suspected afterwards that a U-boat escape before starting it up all over again in South America had been their plan.
Her silent screams had been incapable of sound because of missing lungs. Her eyes were filled with the weight of the horrors they’d forced on her. It was truly terrible. Had she been capable, I think she would’ve committed suicide straight away when I freed her. But Aicha Kandicha is unkillable.
Aicha had been born a few hundred years before me, in el Jadida, Morocco, lucky to be in the most enlightened part of the World. Loath to speak even to me of her past, I’ve only been able to pull together the most basic of details. A leader of the Doukkala tribe when their reputation as both farmers and scholars was unsurpassed, education and innovation were her strengths, and she increased the prosperity of the coastal region. That progress made them an enticing prize for raiding barbarians, a difficult proposition for an intrinsically peaceful people. When faced with a Portuguese raid of significant numeric strength, Aicha had been both the architect and the honeypot of the defenders’ trap.
Setting out alone along the coast, she infiltrated their camp, portraying herself as a willing collaborator. She seduced their pirate leader and several of his key lieutenants before they had captured the first of the neighbouring villages. Persuaded that she was nothing but a local, gold-digging harlot, they’d been delighted to accept Aicha’s false intel on el Jadida’s ingress points during pillow talk.
Each man threw in their addition to the plan, convinced the ideas planted by Aicha had been their own. Marching from camp at daybreak with a small team of their strongest soldiers, they walked straight into a trap that she and the town’s warriors had laid. They overwhelmed the invaders, publicly executing them. They returned their headless remains to a now leaderless Portuguese militia, who retreated seawards to known safety. An early lesson for the world entire to never mess with Aicha when death is on the line.
Comparatively enlightened did not equal perfect, however, and her willingness to use her physical attributes to protect her people didn’t mean they loved her for it. Dark words started following her about, and before long the rumours were flying about she was a sorceress. Half-hidden evil eye gestures accompanied her wherever she walked. By the time she left, escaping eastwards from bitter judgement, and the normal shitty result that has for clever, headstrong women, tales of her as a demonic djinn preceded her.
Where she wandered afterwards, I don’t know, nor will I ever, because she will never reveal it to any living soul. For, somewhere, somehow, she came across the Aab-El-Hayat, the Waters of Life, taking up a role as its protector for a while. Granted eternal youth, eventually she continued across the enlightened world of the time, through Africa and Egypt and into modern day Lebanon. She met the Druze, an Islamic splinter group, whose core tenets were remarkably similar to the Cathars.
She sheltered amongst the Druze for a long time, hailed as an al-Uqqal, or Knowledgeable Initiate. At some point, she left in search of further knowledge of batin, or the esoteric. She still identifies as Druze even now, although based on my knowledge of most offshoots of the world’s main religions, I’m pretty sure they all include “Do not kill anyone who looks at you funny with extreme prejudice”, or words to that effect, at least. Still, I was hardly the person to be pointing fingers for religious backsliding. I’m not sure my fellow Perfects would have looked kindly on me scaring the living bejesus out of somebody for information, even if they were a shit wizard. As they’d all been dead for eight hundred years, I wasn’t going to let it bother me too much.
Anyhow, point is I don’t know much about Aicha’s travels prior to the Second World War, just the bare bones of the story. My intelligence on Aicha begins with her capture, an early prize of those German esoteric-hunting SS Squads.
Whether from pride or the unresolved trauma, she’s never told me how they caught her. She is the single most phenomenal warrior I have ever had the good fortune to fight alongside, so they must have used a fuck-ton of magic, combined with surprise and overwhelming odds. That’s a fuck-nine-hundred-and-seven-point-one-eight-five-kilogrammes of magic, if you prefer to think metrically, by the way.
However it occurred, they took her prisoner in Eastern Europe during early Spring of 1940. The next five years were a brutal masterclass in just how much of a bunch of sickening arseholes we can be as a species, and why deciding to evolve from single cell amoebas may not have been the smartest move ever made. Five years of unending torture.
There are some universal truths that can be held as objective in our world – water is wet, fire is hot, any sentence prefaced with ‘I don’t mean to be rude but’ definitely will be, and everyone breaks under torture. Except she didn’t. Sure, they found she was immortal, and that it was due to the Aab El Hayat, and they brought to bear every sadistic trick in the book, trying to crack her open for that most desirable piece of information.
They sliced her to pieces until she resembled a pile of pulled pork; they super-heated her skull until her brain boiled within; they hooked her up like Loki himself and poured steady drips of acid into her eyeballs, set to drop in just as they regrew. For three months solid. Nothing could get the information from her. Eventually, they decided she’d magically sealed her tongue and moved onto other, equally horrific experiments; trying to grow clones from her by slicing her down to minuscule pieces (all of them died except the one that regrew); timing how fast she would regenerate after the incinerator she’d been dropped into was switched off; and other such charming examples of just how twisted human ingenuity can be, when we really set our mind to it.
Personally, knowing Aicha, I think her strength of will may be her most extraordinary and superhuman aspect, and I don’t think that comes from any sorcery she might have studied over her very long life. I think it comes from her, and I think her surviving five years of continuous torment with any of her humanity intact is tribute to that beyond all measure. I’ve died many, many times in some agonising conditions, but the pain has always ended, and I’ve had the chance to breathe, to live and fuck up all over again. The unending suffering she went through was more than my mind would have been able to take.
She didn’t speak for several years after I freed her but stayed close by my side. Her presence, though, wasn’t that of the trauma victim one might expect. She was a brooding silent Valkyrie, ready to rain fiery destruction down upon her enemies. And as we were friends, my enemies automatically became her enemies. Sorry, previously against me and now very, very dead enemies.
She accepted no quarter from me either. When I first returned to the South-West with her in tow, I tried to minimise my involvement in the Supernatural community, letting others carry some of the responsibilities I had previously shouldered, outside of protecting my territory. This entailed keeping more wayward members in line and resolving downright dangerous ones more permanently. One way or the other. My intention was to allow her space to heal, but when she clocked onto my actions (or lack thereof), and realised she caused it, her fury needed no words to be scorchingly clear. There were various half-valued knick-knacks and minor home comforts that had literally combusted under the weight of her incendiary rage. I stopped treating her with kid gloves after that and let her find her own form of therapy as my bodyguard and protector.
The only time she left my side was to visit the cinema. Whenever a new film came to town, she would head to Le Rio on the Rue Montardy. It was a private affair, but if she really loved something she saw, she’d drag me down there for a second viewing. For her, the magic of the silver screen was miraculous; for me, the miracle was seeing that rigid grip relax temporarily, reading the wonder and delight in her eyes. She still goes to the same cinema whenever they show anything that catches her fancy, although it now operates under the name of the American Cosmograph. I don’t think that childlike delight has ever diminished.
As the Nuremberg Trials completed, and we got word of secret deals due to ‘research opportunities’ for leading Third Reich scientists and strategists, her daily countenance passed from thunderous to positively cyclonic. One morning I woke to find a note, its elegant flowing lettering a holdover of Arabic appreciation for the art of calligraphy. It said just two words – Gone Hunting.
It was several more years before I saw her again. Word reached my ears of those on the preternatural side of life who had been active in, or sympathetic to, the Aryan cause simply disappearing. Sometimes it was a messy public affair, with shredded corpses left scattered amongst their ill-gotten belongings. Sometimes it was ice-cold silent removals, where walking down a crowded street a target simply vanished, never to be heard of again.
When I awoke to find her eating toast and watching the small black and white telly I’d bought in hopes she’d return, she’d have appeared unchanged by her absence to most observers. Only I could spot any signs of healing, having seen her at her most vulnerable and watched her rebuild herself as an immovable force after. Moments that felt pregnant with the possibility for cataclysmic destruction previously, like passing the butter, were now dialled back just enough, to the point where you felt survival might still be in on the cards if you passed her the margarine instead. The righteous anger had been appeased, at least partially. To anyone else, she would have seemed still a portrait of ironclad self-control. I compared the new Aicha to the one who had left, and she seemed positively languid.
So, to see her laughing genuine gut-busting belly laughs now, almost eighty years since I freed her, was a gift that brought a lump to my throat. Time as the great healer was in evidence once more. Though, killing fucking Nazis is always a bonus.