Rebella took me through the castle and to a hall. It had an arched ceiling that lent it all an air of grandeur, except that was wasted, for the hall seemed to have lost anything worth mentioning. It was empty, really. There was a throne, guards, but the walls were bare. The throne was a stone seat, but it had pockets and chunks missing from it, as if gems had been pried off it. Rebella’s sister was pacing before the throne, and before here were ‘them’.
Oh, I could recognize them alright. There were three of them. They weren’t the same ones as had been sent after me before, but they had an air of familiarity to them, what with their polarized fleece winter coats and thick snow boots. They wore reflective sunglasses, hats, and lots, lots, of guns.
“I found her,” announced Rebella, dragging me into the hall after her. With a haughty tip of the head, she presented me to ‘them’. “Here you go.”
“How do we know it’s really her?” asked the man who was standing in the front of the other two.
“That’s not our problem,” said Rebella sharply. “You should have known what you were looking for.”
The man tilted his head to the side, and I wondered if Rebella was about to earn herself a hole in the head. Did I want that to happen?
The closest ‘them’ took a grip on my shoulder and wrenched me to their side. He held up a device to my shoulder, and it beeped. He nodded to the others.
“We’re going,” said the head one to the Queen. She nodded, obviously relieved.
“Have a nice trip,” said Rebella with a smirk.
The goons looked at her. I was beginning to sweat. My stomach was doing flips in my chest. I was cold, hot, and wanted to be done with murder – if I could bring myself to do it.
Where was my anger? Where was that blood-infused strength? I didn’t have it now.
They dragged me after them, marching out of the hall. My heart was pounding in my throat. The world flickered on and off, and I was just registering glimpses of what was around me. It was all happening too fast. I wanted to stop, to pause, but it was all too much.
They loaded me onto a snowmobile where they should have been riding horses. Servants watched earnestly. I felt a cold knot in my stomach, and I was trembling.
The engines revved. Servants startled away, and we zoomed off.
The city flashed by, the cold wind slapping and biting me in the face. It brought me back to life.
I was going to die, I realized. Or worse. These people meant business – and I realized I had two options ahead of me.
Screw Rebella, I could go with these ‘them’ and settle things once and for all. I could go to their nest, their boss, and slay him.
Slay him? I was rattled from that thought by the foreign-ness of it. Who was that, thinking that in my head?
But now I was cool, calm, and unafraid. I felt composed, ready. Beneath it all was a boiling anger, a power that was just waiting to surface. I was there.
As I realized the presence of this… presence? Within myself, it slipped back over my mind.
Coldly, I thought again of my options. I could kill them in their nest. Slay their chieftain. Or I could slay these ones and flee. Flee again! I was tired and sick of running. But did I have a choice? Was I strong enough, at one, to defeat them in their nest? Would they let me close enough to utterly destroy them?
They first gates, those of the castle, whizzed past. Horses and people were now jostling out of the way. We had to slow, and that gave me precious time.
Two paths, so clear, lay before me. All involved death and bloodshed, but I was settled for that. It was nothing to me now, just another consequence of life. But was there a third path?
Lage, I thought. I swallowed his card.
Nagging, in the back of my mind, I knew that meant something enormous. Gigantic. Could I call upon him like these other spirits? Would I be able to summon him to my aid? I was not sure, and certainly did not know how.
Then there was Ekundayo’s necklace. But what good was that? I dismissed it almost as swiftly as it had come up.
No, two paths it was. Which one?
Guards rushed, people screamed, and we were at the final gates. The guards watched nervously, and we whizzed past them. The warm stench of the city was now gone, and we were out in the biting cold. Snow churned up around us.
Now, a voice called out within me. It called, if such a thing was possible, through my chest. From the stone, I realized coldly.
Rebella, you bitch, I thought. You’re watching me.
Distantly, I heard her laugh. Come back to me, she ordered.
I held my stillness. I was still not sure which path I was to take. In fact, I was beginning to drift towards the first. Not only because it was delayed action, but because I wanted things to end. Let me have closure. Let me close this chapter.
The forest, black trees on a white background, it all went by within the deafening roar of the machines. A familiar dolmen appeared, then grew in the distance. Beside it stood Lage, wrapped in his cloak with a spattering of snow atop his shoulders.
The snowmobiles drew to a jarring halt before the dolmens. “Here,” said the goon in charge. “We pay the toll.” He drew a pouch from his pocket and handed it to Lage. Lage, looking tired and drawn, accepted the pouch. He pried it open and looked within.
I heard a strange whispering, the cries of souls on the wind, and felt a sense of whimsical homesickness. How I missed having my own souls, being paid my own tributes.
Shoved off the snowmobile, I returned to my senses. I was just a kid, a teen. Fear seized me. Cold bit through me. In a flash I wondered at what was happening in my mind – what was this presence taking over me?
But then I was cool again. Controlled. I rose to my feet as the goons, the soldier I realized they must be, dismounted their snow machines.
My eyes met Lage’s. In a flash I knew he didn’t want this. He would help me – if he could.
Then help, you bastard, I thought. And he heard me. He lifted his head, holding up the bag. Cleared his throat.
The goons looked at him. It was a fleeting distraction, but it was enough.
In one fluid motion, I drew the gun from the holster of the guards’ hip. Bang, bang, bang. I heard the shots, but didn’t so much register what was happening. In a blink, I heard yells. Heard the almost silent thud of the gun hitting the ground. Felt the touch of the dagger in my hand.
I came to, wiping my dagger clean on their clothes. Lage stood there still, the bag now closed in his hands. Three heads lay at my feet, still bearing their sunglasses. Should I keep them? Did I want these souls as mine?
“Thank you,” I heard myself say to Lage. I turned to him.
“Who are you?” he asked softly.
I felt humor come over me. I laughed, and the voice was jarring. Again, I shifted. Panic swelled over me. Was I-? Who was this in me? What was this feeling of – otherness?
But then it slipped back over me. I was calm, controlled. I held out a hand. “Give me those souls,” I demanded. Not that I needed the food. But a girl likes an army, doesn’t she?