Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The ghostly procession

They approached me before dinner.
"What's wrong?" I looked in some surprise at the two faces staring so solemnly at me.
Guashen spoke up first, "I had a dream," and looking at his twin sister's pale face, he quickly amended, "and so did she. We had the same dream."
I froze, a chill running up my spine and lodging in my head so that every word I spoke seemed forced through stiff lips. "What kind of dream?"
I tried to be casual about it, but that immediately reminded me of my dreams.

I had dreamt of an old gentleman who lived with us in the same inn. He had, out of the blue, came to my room.
When I didn't move to invite him into my room, he merely cupped my face with his hands and spoke gently against my ear. What he said stopped me in the act of slapping his hands away.
"Two will die."
"What?" I recoiled in shock.
"Two will die, but you will be triumphant in the end if you keep them together."
He dropped his hands and left before I could ask more, a sad smile flickering along his lips.

Shaking my head slightly to clear the cobwebs, I focused on the four faces before me.
"Xuana and I shared a dream. We dreamed that we were all dead."
Before he could continue, Xuana burst out in a low but urgent whisper: "We were all dead because Antow betrayed us! He left us in some sort of maze and we all died!"
Eising and Yiya blanched and hurriedly shushed her.
I swallowed my fear and asked, "Did you tell the grownups?"
"No!" They chorused, their voices tight with despair.
"What will we do if we can't tell the grownups? Antow's taking us to the ruins tomorrow night."
Xuana's voice almost cracked on the last word and I hurriedly took her in my arms, patting her back awkwardly.
"It will be ok."
Looking at the various looks of disbelief on their face, I hurriedly amended myself. "It will be very hard and very dangerous, but we will be ok in the end. Most of us, anyways."
Taking a deep breath, I decided to tell them about my dreams. There was no point in pretending that they had all suddenly had the same nightmare for no reason.
"I dreamed that he took us to the ruins and left us there, saying that it was fun and he would see when we got out again. The parents started in first, and the ghosts followed. They waited until we split up and then picked us off one by one."
Motioning for them to wait, I continued. "I thought it was just a bad dream because, you know, going to ruins in the middle of the night is a creepy idea, right? Then I dreamed of this old man who came to my room and told me that 'two will die, but you will survive triumphant'".
"Two will die?" Yiya bit her lip. "Which two?"
I shrugged, "I have no idea. I don't even know if we can really prevent them from dying."
"We need to tell the others. Even if they don't believe us, they need to know. "
"Yes. The grownups will definitely not believe us -- and they're going to be the ones in the most danger. But I think that the other kids will believe us." I wondered briefly about my brother and Xina, but ruthlessly quashed the thought.
I waited until they had left my room before I started looking for my knives.

As we had thought, the parents just laughed indulgently at us when we suggested not going to the ruins in the middle of the night. I was beginning to think that they might be under his spell. Nothing Antow did could be wrong in their eyes, or so it seemed. Berhan had shown up briefly before I went to sleep the previous night, sliding the paper door open and flashing me a view of his knives in his bandolier before leaving again. I walked out the front door of the inn with my parents, trying to get them to stay home, when a bloodcurdling scream rang out.
"Xuana!" I lurched towards her, then looked back at my parents, torn.

Thursday, May 1, 2008


There are times when the restlessness will not be contained. When there's this burning rage that refuses to subside simply because there is no outlet.
I watched as the arrow thudded into the target, noting how it was slightly off center. I plucked another arrow out of the quiver beside my feet, nocked it to the string, sighted and then let loose.
They called it the rage. Queen's rage.
I laughed under my breath as I thought about what they had said, dismissive of what they had told me. It was ludicrous to take them seriously when they told me that the rage must find an outlet or...
Or else. Or else what? I had shrugged recklessly, daring them to do their worst. It was my own body, it was folly to think that I would ever lose control.
I laughed again, loosed another arrow at the target, and cursed as it went off into the brush. Suddenly, the world tilted sideways and I found myself sprawled in a tangle on the ground. I propped myself up with one hand, looking curiously at how my left hand shook when I raised it to block out the sun that seemed to be shining directly into my eyes.
A large hand wrapped around my forearm, the other twining around my waist to boost me up. Irritation washed over me and I slapped his hands away, shifting to stand by myself. I could almost feel his confusion, which made me even angrier for some reason.
I picked up the bow, smoothing my hands over its glossy surface, trying to bring my emotions under control, but the more I tried to tamp things down, the angrier I got. After a couple of minutes, it was all I could do to not swing the bow in his direction and send a couple of arrows his way.
"What's wrong?"
I glared at the hands that he stretched out to me, attempting to take my bow and the arrow I held clenched in my hand, only dimly realizing that I had it pointed straight at his abdomen.
"What's wrong?" I laughed, hearing it echo through the rage filled haze that blurred everything.
"Don't ask. Don't you even dare ask," I swung the bow aside and let the arrow loose into the dirt beside his boots. "All I ever wanted was a chance -- but there was precious few of those, weren't there? You, and everyone else -- all of you grimacing behind your masks. Don't think I didn't hear about how they wished that Helena had become queen. That I didn't know that everyone was just waiting for the poor, ignorant off-worlder to trip up. "
"My queen,"
I cut him off before he could even start, "No, no, just stop. Stop." I dropped the bow and pressed my hands over my temples, where a migraine was starting to build up momentum. I saw him start towards me again and I whirled away from him. "Stay away. Don't touch me."
Another burst of pain speared through my head and I dropped to my knees, rocking back and forth with the beat of my heart. Through the misty edges of my sight I saw him approach again. This time I raised my hand, triggered the spell-ring, and looked at how he beat his fists against the ward with satisfaction before succumbing to the dark.