Rosana looked around a place unlike any she had ever seen before. It was a colorless, strange landscape, and utterly still. No breeze ruffled the gray leaves in the ghostly trees, nothing marred the mirror smooth surface of a puddle beside her feet. What growth there was looked stunted and strange. It was a barren land devoid of life.
But she had to correct that assessment when she saw a humanoid figure moving in the distance. She called out, but her voice was oddly muted as if the air itself swallowed the sound. The figure did not respond to her so she hurried after it.
“Wait!” she called out. “Where am I?”
The figure turned and filmy gray swirled around what turned out to be a woman. It wasn’t exactly a dress clothing her; ‘twas more like wisps of fog wrapping around the woman’s tall form.
“Who are you?” dream-Rosana asked her.
“I am she known as the Mistress of Fate.”
Rosana gasped. Everyone had heard of her. ‘Twas said to be her who allowed prophecies to pass through the Veil of Time. “Where is this place?”
The Mistress looked about and murmured cryptically, “It is where it is..”
“You are said to reside in the Void. Where people go when they die their final death.”
“Is death final?” the woman asked vaguely.
“Of course it is.”
“Very certain you are of the ways of this place,” the woman sighed around a hint of a smile. But it, too, faded quickly into the transparency of her gray-toned skin. The woman turned and began gliding forward once more. Rosana could not see feet nor legs under the Mistress’s fog-skirt and was not certain the ghostly figure even had limbs as she passed over the dead, gray ground. Rosana tagged along, trotting to keep up with the tall woman’s passage.
After a few minutes of jogging behind the Mistress, Rosana panted, “Where are you going?”
“To the Throne.”
“What throne? Who sits upon it?”
“The Black Throne. Abaddon sits upon it, of course. He is lord and master of all these lands.”
The Mistress picked up speed until Rosana was having to run outright to keep up with her. Finally, she cried out, “Please. Could you slow down a bit?”
The Mistress glanced back, her gray wisps of hair swirling across her pearly gray face. “Take my hand, child.”
Rosana reached out to grasp the bony fingers and gasped as the cold gripped hers. It felt like no hand she had ever touched before—insubstantial, yet squeezing her flesh tightly.
“Ahh. You are of the Lost Children of Ymir.”
“I beg your pardon?” Rosana responded, confused.
“Patience, child. Before too much longer, you shall find your home. But it will not be the same as you left it, I fear.”
What on Urth was the Mistress talking about? Her home was the Heart. She’d come to the guild of healers as a baby and been raised as one of them. Nobody knew who her parents had been. Who was this Ymir fellow, then, and how had his children been lost?
Of a sudden, she was moving rapidly across the landscape, floating above it the same way the lady was. In the distance, a castle became visible upon a rise. It was low and unimpressive, however. Rosana was disappointed. She’d been looking forward to seeing a magnificent palace. But as they raced forward like clouds scudding before a storm, she realized that Abaddon’s castle was enormous and they were merely far from it.
Indeed, the walls grew higher and higher as they neared the rise. They were made of grim, black stone that reflected no light off its surface. The tops of the walls were crenellated,but no other adornment relieved the forbidding façade.
By the time the Mistress slowed, the walls towered over Rosana. They passed through a massive arched doorway and into a gigantic complex of rooms all built of the same black stone. Dim torches relieved the darkness but did nothing to dispel the unearthly chill of the place.
Was this a hall of Death? Had the Mistress brought her here to die? “Why am I here?” Rosana ventured to ask aloud.
“For you I have a prophecy.”
When the Lady did not continue, she prompted, “What is it?”
“A message. Every king needs his crown.”
Rosana frowned. Of course, kings needed crowns. It was how people knew who they were. Before she could ask the Mistress what it meant, the gray lady moved away rapidly as if intimately familiar with this place. Other gray figures moved silently through the place, many acknowledging her with a bow or a courtesy, but she spoke to none of them. She merely dragged Rosana forward with her, that cold grip upon her hand implacable and unshakable.
A humongous hall opened up before them, and even the Mistress slowed a bit as she entered. At the far end, Rosana spied a massive pile of stone that, as they drew closer, resolved itself into a gigantic dais with a throne perched atop it.
They drew closer, and Rosana spied a male figure seated upon the throne. He seemed more substantial than the other people they’d run across in this place. They reached the base of the throne, and Rosana was shocked when the Mistress started up the steps without pause.
The male figure wore a jagged black crown upon his head. His hair was black and lank around his face. And his eyes—
–She drew a sharp breath at the unbearable grief in them. The pain there was so great she had to look away lest her hear heart burst from the strain of witnessing such agony.
“Brother,” the Mistress sighed.
“Sister,” the king replied on a terrible gust of breath that barely sounded human.
“How is she?” the Mistress asked.
“The same. Always the same.”
“Ahh.” Rosana looked at her escort. The Mistress sounded nearly as sad as the king. The Mistress and the King stared at one another for a long time in silence. Rosana got the feeling an entire conversation was taking place between them.
Finally, the Mistress said aloud, “It is not really she.”
“I know,” the King snapped with a good deal of ire. “But the shadow of my love is better than nothing.”
“The Hollow is not your wife,” The Mistress replied forcefully. “My sister was never evil and twisted like this corrupt echo of her. It is an illusion you love.”
“I know.” The king’s grief was so overpowering that Rosana felt tears streaming down her cheeks at merely being in the presence of it. “And yet, I cannot help myself.”
The Mistress cried out passionately, “You cannot help us all if you will not let her go.”
A shudder passed through Rosana. The emotions these beings flung at one another were almost more than she could bear.
The king half-rose out of his throne. “Never!” he roared. “Begone!”
Categories: Free Shorts