Shiela watched as the man dressed in a plain black tunic wiped off the sweat from Anjelia’s face. He dipped the cloth in lukewarm water in a bucket by the bed and repeated the action.
“Is the baby breathing?” he asked. His voice held authority despite its softness.
Shiela looked down at the baby she was holding in her arms. Anjelia’s son.
“He’s …” Shiela’s eyes widened as she realized that the baby in her arm was as still as a statue. “He’s not breathing.”
The man turned to her and gazed at the baby. “He will.”
In her arms, Shiela felt the baby’s chest heave as it took in its first breath. She was too dumbstruck with wonder – or was it terror? – to say anything. This man had appeared out of nowhere on their front door that night. Anjelia had gone into labour and Shiela had just sent Blanche to summon the village’s midwives when the knock had come on the door.
“I can help,” was all the man had said.
And Shiela had let him enter. She didn’t know why.
“Can I hold him?”
Shiela started at the voice. The man was now standing in front of her, arms outstretched and a disarming smile on his face. Without thinking, she handed him the baby.
“His father was a Hesh. How ironic,” he said, holding the baby.
Shiela gasped at the mention of Anjelia’s husband’s race. “How do you know that?”
“You too have a Hesh husband. That would make your soon-to-be son a half Hesh too. To think they’d be born to the race they were killed by,” he replied, ignoring her earlier question.
“What-what are you talking about?”
The man ignored her question again. He walked to the bed and lay the baby down beside his mother who had passed out from too much exertion.
“I’m afraid I can’t explain. It would only confuse you further.” He paused, a look of contemplation on his pale face illuminated by the lamps hanging from the wall. He kneeled down and rested his hand over the newborn baby’s chest. “Tell your sons that my promise to them is fulfilled. Here on forward, they are on their own.”
He stood up and took in a deep breath. “I’m needed elsewhere. I can hear them calling me.”
He turned and stood facing Shiela.
“I’ll take my leave then,” he said, grabbing both her hands.
Shiela felt a sudden wave of heat around her hands which passed as soon as it had appeared. Letting her hands go, he walked to the door and opened it. There was a sudden rush of wind as he passed through the door and then … noise.
Shiela hadn’t realized how quiet it had been inside the room while the man had been in there.
On the bed, Anjelia let out a sigh and opened her eyes.
From the door entered several women, all of them their neighbours, with towels and buckets of water.
“Lay the sheets at the foot of the bed!” one was shouting.
“What’s taking Blanche so long?” another said.
“Quick we need to … heavens! Whose is that baby?”
“Shiela! What in heaven’s name happened? When did Anjelia deliver?”
“Wasn’t she screaming in pain a minute ago?”
Had time stopped when the man had been in here? Who was he?
Ignoring the women, she rushed out of the room to the living room just in time to see the front door close. Throwing the door open, she looked around frantically for the man.
In the distance!
A receding figure in white.
But hadn’t he been wearing black?
No, the white was a cloak. He must have been wearing black underneath. Had he been wearing that cloak when she had first opened that door? She couldn’t remember.
She ran up to figure, overtaking him and then turning around to face him.
“Who are you?” she managed to speak between gasps.
“A passer-by,” he answered with a smile, his expression unfaltering. “Would you happen to know where Delia lives? She is a short woman with a loud voice and small eyes.”
There were many questions that Shiela wanted to ask the man. Instead, she found herself pointing her finger towards the house where Delia lived.
“Thank you,” the man said then turned and walked in the direction Shiela had pointed. His white cloak fluttered in the wind.
And when Shiela blinked, he had vanished.
She felt cold.
Then she felt weightless.
She was being carried. She could feel strong arms underneath her shoulders and legs. They were big arms, each easily the size of her own tiny, frail body.
She tried to open her eyes but was too tired to lift her eyelids.
Her body ached.
Her head hurt.
She felt as if she was drowning, unable to breath. Her chest burned in agony as it screamed for air, as it filled with ice cold water …
That was the last thing she remembered.
The only thing she remembered.
No, there was one other thing she remembered. Her name. She was Arlene.
She could hear a man speaking nearby. What was he saying? She couldn’t understand the language he was speaking.
She felt two hands on her chest.
She screamed when the hands suddenly grew hot. Energy and pain surged through her body. She could hear cracks coming from within her body. Was it her bones? Her limbs felt like they were being seared by white hot iron rods and her head felt as if it was being crushed a large boulder.
Then suddenly the pain was gone, replaced by a numbness in her body. The hands left her chest.
“Nod if you can understand me,” a voice said.
The language … it wasn’t the language she knew. But she understood what the voice had said. How?
She nodded her head slowly, eyes still closed.
“This is the language of the Itey’s,” the voice said, as if reading her mind. “I taught your mind their language because you will be living with them. I wish I could take you to the humans but I’m afraid they would burn you given your current state.”
My current state? What did the voice mean? Arlene wanted answers. But she was too tired to speak, to ask the questions she wanted answered.
“I see your mind has been damaged. You don’t remember anything?”
Arlene shook her head.
“I suppose it is best that you have forgotten. Your old memories would have burdened you too much.”
“What do we call her?” a new voice spoke. It was deep and growly, a stark contrast to the soft yet firm voice that had been speaking to her.
She felt warm fingers touch her temple. It was there for a moment and then gone.
“Her name is Arlene,” the soft voice said.
How had the voice known her name? More questions.
“Arlene? It’s a strange name,” the rougher voice said.
“It’s a common name where she’s from.”
“And where is that?”
“It’s where I come from,” the voice answered, his volume lower.
She could feel the rougher voice hesitate. “You did not tell us she was holy. We have been handling her like she was just another human.”
The voice ignored the statement. “Teach her your ways. While healing her I changed her body so that she can adapt to the cold here.”
“Don’t worry. She shall live among us as our own. We will take care of her as we do our children.”
She could hear scraping sounds coming from the ground. The voice, the man it belonged to. Had he been kneeling before her all this time? Yet, the voice has sounded as if it had come from some distance away.
“I cannot say with certainty but there may come a time when two humans will come seeking her. Or she will go out to seek them. Let them meet each other. And, if she wishes to go, let her.”
Although she still felt cold, she could feel her strength returning to her body. She forced her eyelids open.
A man stood over her, white cloak fluttering about in the cold wind.
He smiled at her.
“This world has been cruel to you. I hope you can find it in yourself to forgive it.
“I am sorry I could not do anything more for you. I am forbidden to interfere with worlds that are not my own. And I have already interfered with this one too much. This is all I can do. Here on, you are on your own.
A strong light emanated from the man standing over her. The glare was too strong for her eyes that had been weakened by prolonged darkness.
Almecho sat precariously on the roof, his legs dangling over the edge. In his hands he held the amulet gifted to him by his father two years earlier on Almecho’s 50th birthday.
And then, the dreams had started.
He didn’t know what triggered it. Sometimes it happened twice in a week and sometimes it didn’t happen for several months.
It wasn’t a nightmare. Nor was it a particularly good one. It was just a plain dream. He would find himself standing before a towering white figure with its white wings spread out as far as Almecho’s eyes could see. He could never discern the figure’s exact shape; all he knew was that it was huge and had two wings. It would always say the same four words to him in a firm and commanding voice.
‘Ammaj arag andip urah.’
And then the beast (was it a beast?) would get attacked by an identical beast, but black instead of white. They would roar and scuffle with each other, their blows a deafening thunder to Almecho’s ears. And in the midst, the black beast would see him and focus his attention on him.
Almecho always turned and ran at that point. He felt afraid under the black beasts’ gaze as it ran towards him.
He was in an empty field. The grounds were cracked with lava flowing in them. And yet, he never felt any heat. How could I? Almecho thought to himself. It was a dream.
And the black beast would cry out in a gravelly voice:
‘Andip ial ammaj aragan.’
It would continue shouting the words until the white beast crashed into it. There would one final loud scream – Almecho never knew whom it belonged to – and then he would wake up.
He would wake up perfectly calm, the events of the dream fresh in his mind. He would not feel afraid.
And he didn’t know why.
He had read countless books on dreams he could find in the village library. He had travelled to the big town a week away to search for answers in their library. The only one whom he had confided in was his friend Seth and the town healer who had tried to find a cure for his reoccurring dream.
Almecho leaned back, supporting his weight with his arms, and stared up at the night sky. He would be fifty-three years old soon. He had yet to marry though that wasn’t bad. His father had married when he was a hundred and four. Almecho had been born when his father was a hundred and thirteen.
Almecho still had plenty of time.
Especially to understand the dream.
What did it mean? Had his father ever had them while in possession of the amulet? Who were the two figures, one white and one black?
What did their words mean?
He had no answers.
The drawbridge lowered as the small party of figures dressed in black and red garb led by a woman. Unlike those who followed her, she wore clothes that was entirely white. Her dress had no sleeves and, where it would have generally flowed to her feet, she had cut it off at her thighs for greater mobility when performing her tasks.
For her name was Diana and she was an assassin for Lord Rachhas.
The party crossed the drawbridge and entered the castle guarded by knights in dark red armours and bearing the insignia of the Rachhas kingdom. These were trained warriors though they stood no chance against Diana in a solo battle. She could easily slay them through the openings in their armours. She had been trained by the great Ovlas after all.
After walking through a maze of marble corridors, they finally entered a large hall. At the end of the large hall sat Lord Rachhas himself on a throne.
“My dear Diana! I knew you could accomplish the task I set you to!” he exclaimed.
Diana kneeled before Rachhas, as did the party that was at her heels. She untied a small pouch that was tied to her waistband and held it in front of the emperor.
“Open it,” he commanded.
Diana looked up in confusion. “But my lord–”
“I have conversed with our master. The power of the orbs have begun to awaken.”
“Does that mean it’s time?”
“For our master’s arrival? No, not yet. But he wants us to prepare. Open the pouch. Hold the orb. Claim its power for yourself. Starting today, I want you to train yourself in the abilities the orb will grant you. I want you to master it.
“Now, go ahead take what he has granted you!”
Silently, Diana opened the pouch, revealing a small round white stone, the size of an orange, polished to perfection. It shone brightly under the hall’s lights, casting inverted images of Rachhas, Diana, and those in the hall on it.
She grabbed the orb using her right hand.
The stone was incredibly smooth, so much so that she would have lost her grip and dropped it had it not, for some strange reason, remained firmly in her hand’s grip.
For a moment nothing happened. Then, the stone began to glow.
“What do you feel Diana?” Rachhas asked.
“I don’t feel anything. I … it’s cold. It’s … I can hear the wind. A storm blowing. It’s … it’s …”
She began screaming.
Rachhas and the ones who had been following her instinctively backed away. The guards in the hall moved forward, hands on the hilt of the swords they carried.
“Stay back!” Rachhas commanded.
The guards stopped where they stood but their grip on their sword did not relax.
The light emanating from the stone turned to a thin wisp. As Diana continued to scream, the wisp left the stone and entered her open mouth.
Then, she suddenly stopped screaming.
The stone’s glow had dimmed considerably, much of it having transferred to Diana. Instead of the stone, it was her eyes now that shone with white light.
The stone then stopped glowing, as did her eyes. But something within her had changed. She could feel it.
“Well?” Rachhas asked with anticipation.
Diana stood up. Whirling around, she threw a punch in the air at the party behind her. A powerful gust of wind blew forward from her fist, knocking the figures in white several feet away. Some crashed into the stone walls while others dropped on the floor with loud thuds.
She turned to face Rachhas.
“What are your orders, Lord?” she asked, bowing to Rachhas.
“For now, I want you to perfect your new abilities. Conquest will soon follow. And eventually, once we have all the orbs, we revive our master.”
Diana bowed again.
Then turning around, she exited the hall.
Rachhas watched her leave. Her apprentices whom she’d just knocked down scrambled after her. He sat down on his throne after they had left and the guards had closed the door. He sank down on the cushion and let out a deep breath.
Everything was coming together at last.