This is my first attempt of writing a novel so this should be interesting. I'll try to post a chapter once a month. Anyway, enjoy! Please write any critiques and review in this thread and not in my MtM one please. :)
To make things easier, I have made a blog to archive my stories.
PS I'll try to make the other chapters not that long as the first chapter. :sweat
- Chapter 1: Kejuta - "The blood of the gods is nourishment for the land"
- Chapter 2: Pendance - "Don't be so reckless!"
- Chapter 3: Aundra - "Like time, magic is infinite"
- Chapter 4: Marika - "My role is to guide the Seeker"
- Chapter 5: Lanskas - "Well, that was unexpected"
- Chapter 6: Oraji - "Please tell me that you know the difference between an apple and a pear"
- Chapter 7: Zentran - "Why should I help the humans who are terrified of me?"
- Chapter 8: Hessin - "So this is our burden"
- Chapter 9: Alethea - "What else can I do?"
- Chapter 10: Torryn & Weiss - "Friends are meaningless" | Part II | Part III | Part IV
- Chapter 11: Shintra - "Love can easily be transformed into hate" | Part II | Part III | Part IV
- Chapter 12: Resphyr - "In dreams, no one dies" | Part II
- Epilogue: "It has begun"
- Side Story: Welcome Home
Chapter 1: Kejuta - "The blood of the gods is nourishment for the land"
Kejuta turned to look at the speaker and slowly nodded. She knew that the time has come again when her captors needed her to do her duty. Based on the conversations she overheard from the other slaves, she figured that the crops were dying once again. Knowing the Merzakians, they were praying futilely to their beloved goddess for a miracle, which will never come. Don't they realize that the gods had forsaken them over several centuries ago? Kejuta couldn't help herself but smile bitterly over that fact. Not to mention the fact that they...
One of the Merzakians cleared his throat and she realized that they were giving her an impatient and stern glare. Kejuta just ignored him and continued to braid her daughter's hair. They wouldn't dare punish her; she was too precious to them after all. After she tied a ribbon in Adia's hair, she kissed her daughter's forehead and whispered, "Take care of Pendance, okay?" Adia nodded to show that she understood and went to her little brother, who looked at his mother with solemn eyes. The woman looked sadly at her; it has been three years now. Adia whose joyful voice brought a smile to everyone's face hasn't spoken ever since that incident.
She wished that her husband was here to keep an eye on the children. Thesben was most likely working in the fields or tending the animals. Who wouldn't blame him? He hated this part as much as she does. "When your father comes back, tell him that that dinner is done already but it's needed to be heated up," she reminded Adia. “Oh, do you have my necklace for safekeeping?” Her daughter put her hand in her apron pocket and held out a red pedant necklace to show her that it was safe. Then she put it back in her pocket again and patted it.
Kejuta tried her best to make it seem like a normal, typical day but it was pointless effort. Nevertheless, she and her children put up the facade just to hide the fact that they were scared. Giving them a kiss one last time, she walked toward the group of men and nodded to show that she was ready. Then they walked out of the door without looking back.
The procession continued quietly on its way to the destination. They walked past by the slaves' quarters and the fields where the crops were being harvested. Kejuta noticed that people, who were in the lodgings, were discreetly peeking through the raggedy curtains while those working in the field turned to look at them as they walked by. However, as soon as they realized that they were spotted, they quickly looked away as if they were worried that one glance from her will curse them. She pretended that she didn't notice their reactions; it has been that way for thirteen years now so she has gotten used to it. Even though she didn't want to admit it, Kejuta was still bothered by it. Luckily, her children haven't experienced any discrimination from their fellow colleagues... yet, but then she and her husband did their best to ensure that.
The journey continued that way until they reached their destination - a crumbling stone foundation of a once-renown temple. According to legend, the Merzakian enemy, the Purians, burned down the building when they invaded the country around a millennium years ago. The guards led her to the center of the temple where the High Priest awaited for them. In spite the fact the ground was arid and cracked due to the lack of rain; a patch of flowers with white leaves and stems was able to survive. But then, there was something different about those flowers - they glow a pale white light, which gave her a comforting and peaceful feeling whenever Kejuta walked in them, and they didn't need the usual nutrients that other plants needed to live.
When everything was in place, the High Priest began the ceremony. "Oh, Great Goddess!" he beseeched as he raised his hands toward the heavens. "Please hear your people to whom you promised..." Kejuta tuned the man out; she had heard that spiel so many times now that she memorized it by heart. From what Thesben told her, a priestess called the Maiden was supposed to perform the ceremony. However, the Maiden was a follower of Puria so the Merzakians would attempt to kidnap her and force her to follow Merzak through tactics that had been lost. The bitter fight continued for several centuries until one day, the 43rd Maiden claimed that she has received a vision from Puria. According to her, the patron goddess was weary of fighting so she commanded her people to move east to a place where they wouldn't be bothered though in Thesben's opinion, the Maiden was probably tired of the attempted kidnapping so she used that excuse to convince her people. Of course, they listened to her and that night, they left without a trace much to the dismay of the Merzakians.
"Please open your heart and listen to our cries, Great Goddess! We are mere insects compare to you." the priest pleaded in a loud voice. Kejuta sighed irritatingly. The old man loved to hear himself talk. Looking up at the sky, she estimated that it was nearly thirty minutes now. At this rate, she would probably be home by midnight - not in time to tuck her children to bed.
"For the gods' sake, got on with it," she grumbled. As if he had heard her, the priest quickly finished his prayers, which was still reminding Merzak about her promises to her people. Then the priest turned around and walked her; he clasped a dagger so tightly in his hand that the knuckles were white. As she lifted her head up, Kejuta swallowed nervously in spite of herself. The priest soon stood right in front of her and without warning, slit her throat before she could even react. Falling toward the ground, the woman that this was the twenty-second times she has died.
This was the part that she dreaded the most - the dream of her past. It always began when she first arrived as a prisoner in the Merzakian town.
She was twenty-five years old when the Merzakians attacked her village. They had caught her people by surprise and easily defeated the men who tried to defend the village in vain. After killing off any defiant captives and burning down the town, the invaders tied the prisoners together with rope and led them away.
The Merzakian soldiers had dragged their newest prisoners into the village. When she first arrived, Kejuta felt scared but at the same time, relieved. At least none of her family will have to suffer; her mother died during childbirth while her little sister died soon after and her father was killed fighting off the Merzakians when they attacked her hometown. In a way, they were lucky.
Soon, the Merzakians separated them into groups; Kejuta assumed that they didn't want any people from the same village together to ensure that they wouldn't dare to start a revolt. Afterward, they led the groups to the slave quarters where they were taken to different lodgings. Her group's new home was located near to the stone wall, which protected the village from invaders. "Get settled in, maggots," one of the Merzakian guards sneered as he shoved them into the building. "This will be your home for a very long time."
Her fellow captives quickly found empty beds and placed what little belongings that they had left on them. Among strangers, Kejuta felt uncomfortable as she walked down the aisle looking for a place. She noticed an empty bed at the corner and walked over there. Plopping onto the bed, she wondered to herself what was in store for her. "Hi, I see that you're one of the newest 'recruits," a voice said. Startled, Kejuta opened her eyes to see a young man with brown hair and eyes looking at her.
"My name is Thesben," he introduced himself as he offered his hand. "I was from the village of Cront. What's your name and where are you from?" She sat up on her bed and shyly pulled her hair behind her ears. He has a beautiful smile and seemed friendly. Blushing, she answered as she shook his hand, "I'm Kejuta and my village was called Alethesia."
The young man frowned slightly when he heard it. "Alethesia?" he pondered. "I thought they have tan skin and dark hair, but you have pale skin and strawberry blonde hair."
"It's because one of my ancestors was not originally from the village," Kejuta blurted quickly. "According to my grandmother, he arrived in the village with his sister. He told the villagers that they came from a place far from there and that they wanted to escape from a religious war. Apparently, his sister was traumatized from the war so he decided to flee even though it would mean death for him. After hearing his story, the villagers pitied them and took them in. After a while, my ancestor settled down and married one of the village girls. As for his sister, she was taken care of by the village until her death."
Thesben nodded when he heard her story. "I see," he said. "That explained it. I noticed that the Merzakians were looking at you curiously. It's probably because you look similar to them or the long gone Purians. Maybe your ancestor was a Purian; I highly doubt a Merzakian will be willing to leave home. Well, Kejuta, I guess we're going to get know more about each other in the upcoming days since we're stuck in this rut. I'll most likely see you in the fields so see ya!" He turned around and waved without looking back as he walked away.
"See you tomorrow then," Kejuta replied softly. She felt herself smiling; she had made a friend so at least she won't feel that lonely in this imprisonment. Since there was nothing else to do, she lowered herself back to bed and after a few restless hours, she managed to fall asleep.
The next day, she began her work in the farming fields. Striking the rocky soil with her trowel, Kejuta thought to herself that the job was pointless. The famine has been going on for several years now. She pulled up a tiny onion and sighed. It looked like this earth is going on its last run. Tossing the vegetable into her satchel, she suddenly noticed three guards walking through the fields. Confused, she and the other new slaves stopped what they were doing and watched the scene.
The guards stood in front of an old, feeble man who was on his knees. "Congratulations, old man," one of the guards mocked as he roughly pulled the man up his feet. "You've been chosen." The old man's eyes widened with fear as he sputtered to protest, but another guard kneed him in the stomach before he could even say a word. Then the Merzakians dragged the weaken man away while everyone watched helplessly.
After watching what happened, Kejuta turned to some of the experienced workers whom she befriended. "What's going on?" she asked them quietly as they worked. Resma, a slender woman with black hair, glanced around scrupulously to make sure that the slave drivers weren't watching before replying, "He's going to be offered as a sacrifice to their goddess, Merzak." She spat on the ground as soon as she named the goddess; Kejuta almost forgot that Resma was a follower of Versen.
"Why?" she inquired curiously. She didn't know how the other clans worship their gods but then her village didn't have a preference to a god or goddess. Petite Pilur rolled her eyes as she explained, "Those simple-minded idiots believed that if they sacrificed a person, Merzak will hear their prayers and provide them with a good harvest. You would think after a hundred tries with no successes, they would have the bright idea that it doesn't work."
All of a sudden, a scream was heard throughout the village but it was abruptly ended. "May his soul find peace," Mathes, a red-haired young man, murmured in a prayer as he continued digging indifferently. However, Kejuta was shaken by it that she stopped what she was doing. "What are you doing!?" Resma hissed. "Keep working! Do you want to get punished!?" Kejuta shove her trowel hastily into the ground and looked for more vegetables. She wanted to know why was Resma so heartless after hearing that man's scream, but she kept her mouth shut. Her colleague didn't seem like she wanted to talk more on the matter so she kept herself busy.[/i]
"So how was your first day?" Thesben asked when he sat on the edge of her bed. Kejuta rolled over to face him; she has been lying on her bed ever since she came back from work. The scream of that old man still haunted her. The look on her face must be telling because he said understandably, "Not good, huh?" She gave him a slight nod and turned around to face the wall. She didn't feel like talking at all today.
Kejuta felt his hands rubbed her back. "Hey, I heard what happened. Do you want to talk about it?" She wanted to tell him no, but instead she found herself sitting up and asking him, "How do you deal with it?"
The young man scratched his head, which she later found to be an endearing habit of his, as he thought about it. "You know, that's a tough question," he admitted. "I was pretty alarmed when I first saw that too. I guess since it has happened so many times that I've been here that I pretty much got used to it unfortunately." He gave her an apologetic look as he sheepishly continued, "The other slaves are pretty upset about what happened to that old man but at the same time, they're relieved that it wasn't them. No one really wants to die after all."
She nodded to show that she understood what he was saying. "But still..." she murmured as she leaned her head against his shoulder, “I can't forget the way he looked as he was being dragged away and that scream..." She shuddered. "It's so barbaric what they're doing!" Thesben just continued to rub her back while listening to her talk. Her telling him about her feelings made Kejuta feel much better about the whole thing. It was nice to have someone to talk to.
Their quiet conversation lasted until late into night. Soon they talked about their family and reminisced about their childhoods. During their conversation, Kejuta was shocked to found out that Thesben's mother was chosen as a sacrifice a week after she arrived in the Merzakian town and that she put up a brave face because she didn't want her son to worry. Likewise, Thesben was very intrigued to find out that she rarely got sick or injured even though she was a risk taker. They would have chatted more, but people were starting to blow out the candles to get ready for bed.
"I guess we should rest since we'll have a busy day tomorrow," Thesben coughed embarrassingly as he stood up. Kejuta followed suit and held his right hand. "Yeah, we should," she said as she pulled a strand of hair behind her left ear. "Umm... I enjoyed our talk so if you don't mind... could we have it again tomorrow night?"
The young man smiled. "I would love to," he replied. "I'll see you again tomorrow then. Well, good night!" He gave her hand a squeeze before heading off to his bed. Kejuta waved goodbye to him and then lay down to bed. Talking to him has lessened the fear inside her. Her eyes began to feel droopy and soon she fell asleep.
For the next year, Kejuta and Thesben had their nightly talks in which they talked about their day, their fears, their hopes, and dreams. Then, one night, Thesben asked out of the blues, "Hey, Kejuta, how do you feel about me?"
She looked at him speechlessly before she could sputter, "Wh-what did you just ask?" Patiently Thesben repeated his question and waited for her answer. Her feelings? Toward him? She really enjoyed his company and his affable personality. Not to mention he was very patient and supportive of her whenever she felt depressed or lonely. "I really... enjoy having you around," a blushing Kejuta finally replied. “Why do you ask?”
Upon hearing those words, he gave a look of relief. “It’s because I feel the same way as well,” he confessed. “If you don’t mind me for being nosy, but I have two questions. First, do you like me as a close friend?”
Kejuta smiled and answered, “Of course.” She felt herself blushing for some reason so she hid her face behind her hair. “Next?”
Thesben took a deep breath and inquired, “Do you like me more than a close friend?”
“Yes, I do,” she blurted out without thinking. She covered her mouth in surprise. Oh gods, what was she saying? What if he doesn’t like her that way? “Ummm… why are you asking these questions?”
He placed his hands on her and gave her a warm smile. “It’s because I feel the same way too,” he explained. “Kej, after spending times with you, I realize that I…” he gulped and continued, “I really care for you! If it’s all right with you, may I spend a little more time getting to know you?”
“You mean be a couple?” Kejuta squeaked and he nodded. “I-I don’t know what to say! This is so unexpected!”
“Please say ‘yes,’ he pleaded, which caused her to laugh. His puppy eyes look was so adorable that she couldn’t resist.
She finally declared, “Yes, I want to be with you. Are you happy now?” He responded by kissing her on her lips; she could still feel the warm presence of his mouth on her lips after he pulled away from her. It was a nice sensation and she didn’t want to forget it. Before he could react, she placed her arms around him and kissed him in return.
Despite the fact that they couldn’t see each other during the day due to the harsh work condition, the two lovebirds continued to see each other during the nights and talked. During their conversation, they would hold each other’s hands and give each other a peck on the cheek a couple of times. Other times, they would just sit there and contemplated; both didn’t feel like talking at all, which was fine. Sometimes, they just needed some private times to think.
Another year has passed when Thesben asked a random question, “Kejuta, do you still feel the same way about me?”
Kejuta frowned. “Of course, silly,” she teased. “I always enjoy having you around.”
"That's good," Thesben smiled and ventured, "And would you enjoy my company if we're with each other for the rest of our lives?"
Kejuta gaped. "Are you implying what I think you're implying?"
He just gave a chuckle and confessed, "Yes, I'm asking if you want to marry me. I wanted to propose to you but didn't want to make it too sapp-" Before he could finish, Kejuta flung her arms around to embrace him.
"Of course, you idiot!" she cried. This was the happiest day of her life! "Oh, but we need to tell the others and determine the date..."
Thesben gave her a sly look and told her, "In fact, they've already known. As for the wedding date, would tonight be fine with you?" She smiled and gave him a peck on the lip as an answer. "Well then, shall we begin?" he asked as he helped her to her feet.
The ceremony was very simple and small. Resma and Pilur placed tiny white flowers in her hair and fussed over her, making sure she looked "pretty enough" for the groom. Since she didn't have her father to walk her down the aisle, an old man graciously offered to do so and they walked gracefully down to the center of the room where Thesben awaited. Then the leader, who was usually the oldest person in the quarter, presided over the wedding. "Would you, Thesben, accept Kejuta as your wife? Would you protect her, provide for her, and love her for the rest of your life?"
"I do," he replied and then the leader turned to new bride.
"And do you, Kejuta, accept Thesben as your husband? Would you tend the household, bear his children, and love him for the rest of your life?" he inquired. Kejuta turned to look at her beloved's face and saw love in his eyes so she knew her answer.
"Yes, I do," she confirmed in a firm voice. Nodding approvingly, the head of the slave quarter declared, "May the gods bless this happy union and may this couple enjoy eternal bliss!" After the words were said, Thesben and Kejuta kissed each other on the lips while everyone cheered. Soon everyone came over to congratulate the newlyweds, who beamed with joy and gratefully accepted their well wishes. In spite of the hardship that they have experienced, Kejuta realized that this occasion was important to everyone - for just one moment, they could forget about the situation that they're in and instead, focused on a happy time.
They celebrated until the sky grew dark. As people slowly went back to their beds to prepare for tomorrow, the happy couple was still talking softly to each other. "This will be one of the happiest memories in my life!" Kejuta sighed blissfully as she leaned her head on her husband's shoulder. She didn't want the day to end but unfortunately, there was nothing she could do about it.
"One of them?" her husband teased. "What do you mean by that?" Kejuta just smirked at him as she twirled her finger on his chest. "Oh, you know..." she replied slyly as she stuck her tongue at him and he gave her a big grin.
"Too bad we won't have any privacy," he lamented. "Perhaps if we kick everyone out..." They laughed - it would nearly be impossible since the guards would make sure that never happened. '"Well, I guess we should go to bed then." They walked over to their beds, which were pushed together, and laid down (Kejuta made a mental note to thank the person whose bed was next to her because he switched places with Thesben). As she lay contently with Thesben's arms wrapped around her, Kejuta thought to herself that nothing will ruin their happiness.
A week has passed since then and the daily routine began once again. Pulling up a shriveled up beet, Kejuta worried about how the latest harvest was supposed to feed the Merzakians and the slaves. At this rate, there will be a lot of starving people this winter. She has overheard both sides grumbling about it and a slave revolt may be imminent based on the spreading rumors. The slave masters might have heard the gossip as well because they would immediately punish anyone who dares protest against them even if it was something minor.
Soon she heard footsteps storming through the fields. It was that time again. Thesben was right - after a while, she's gotten used to the ritual and ignored the pleas from the chosen sacrifices. She hated herself because of it. Her past self would probably be disgusted by her. Kejuta kept on working when she noticed shadows covered her. She looked up from what she was doing and dread filled her heart when she realized that the group of Merzakians was standing right in front of her.
"Congratulations," one of them announced with a smirk on his face. "You've been chosen to be the next sacrifice. You should be honored. In fact, consider this as a belated wedding gift." She wanted to scream in protest but no words came out of her mouth. Horrifying terror kept her frozen to the spot. The guards just laughed at her pitiful display and quickly grabbed her arms. As they pulled her away, Kejuta thought she heard yelling behind her.
She turned her head and saw that her husband was chasing after them. "Let her go, you bastards!" Thesben screamed desperately as he tried to evade the slave drivers. Unfortunately, they managed to tackle him down and restrain him. Some of them began to beat him up due to his insubordination. "Learn your place, maggot!" one of them lectured as he kicked Thesben in the stomach.
"Thesben..." she whispered. Seeing him that way snapped her back from her stupor and she began to struggle against her captors. However, they were a lot stronger than she so her efforts were in vain. The guards just proceeded to walk away without even a flinch as they ignored her resistance. They marched onward to their destination passing by the dried up crops and stone houses. During the journey, Kejuta noticed that the most of the slaves lowered their faces to avoid looking at her though a few gave her a sympathetic look and murmured a prayer for her soul.
Finally the procession stopped. Even though it seemed to last for hours to Kejuta, the walk was only ten minutes. She examined around her new surroundings. They were on a field with dried grass and right in front of them was a crumbling foundation, which she later learned to be an ancient temple. The Merzakians then dragged her through the entryway where three men were waiting for them at the center of the room. "Is she the latest sacrifice?" the oldest man asked. The others nodded so the man stated, "Then let's us begin. As the High Priest, I will assume command right now."
The man turned around and faced an altar, which was made out of slab of rocks layered haphazardly on top of each other. He was shouting some words aloud, but Kejuta couldn't hear anything. She knew that she was there physically but she felt like she was someplace else. In a way, she was having an out-of-body experience. Knowing that she was going to die, she could only watch helplessly while waiting for her demise.
"Oh, Great Goddess, please accept the sacrifice that has been offered to you," the High Priest announced and turned to face her. He was holding a blood-stained dagger. Kejuta flinched and subconsciously stepped back as the old man approached her; the guards who stood behind her blocked her way unfortunately. "No... stay away," she pleaded but her words fell to deaf ears. The stone-faced priest stared down at her and without hesitation, he grabbed her by her hair. Pulling her head back, he placed the dagger on her throat and slashed across her neck in a blink of an eye.
She could hear the waves crashing against the shore. Opening her eyes, she realized that she was on a beach. Was this a dream? Kejuta pulled herself up and glanced around. This wasn't Alethesia, that's for sure. "Where am I?" she wondered aloud. She stood up and decided to walk around the area to find some clues. Maybe she is in the Land of the Dead? Though she thought it would look different based on the stories that her grandmother told her. That was when she noticed something strange in the waters.
Something or some things were glowing a mile off shores. It was too foggy so she waddled in the water to get a closer look. Thirteen golden flames floated above the water and seemed to glow brighter when she came closer. Suddenly she heard a voice in her head saying:
"THOU SHALT SEEK THESE FLAMES AND BIND THEM TOGETHER"
Kejuta spun her head around looking for the source of the voice but saw nothing. "What do you mean by that?" she shouted but nothing answered. She then felt a hot sensation on her face and turned to see that the flames were burning brighter. She was able to shield her face in time before the flames erupted. The last thing Kejuta saw was a flash of light.
She opened her eyes and realized that she was on her bed back in the slave quarters. Why was she here? Didn't she die? Kejuta gingerly touched her neck and was surprised that there was not even a scratch on her. How was that even possible!?
Kejuta then felt something wet on her forehead and looked up to see Thesben looking at her worriedly. "Thesben? Why am I still alive?" she asked quietly. "I should be dead! Or was it a nightmare?"
Instead of answering her, he muttered to himself, "I can't believe it. I always thought Grandmother's stories were just myth but..." He turned to look at her intensely; she could almost feel the tension in the air. "I don't know how to say it, but you DID die," he confessed as he scratched his head. "However, something strange happened according to the Merzakians.
"From what they told me, as soon as your body hit the ground, something odd happened. White, glowing flowers sprouted wherever your blood fell, and they seemed to be healing your wound as well. The Merzakians were startled by what they saw and they dragged me over to that place to demand answers. I couldn't answer their questions though when suddenly there was a shout from the fields.
"One of the slave drivers came sprinting toward us and excitedly proclaimed that the harvest suddenly was bountiful. All of the vegetables and fruits were healthy and ripe. Everyone was so confused by these turns of the events and began to believe that your death was the main influence. We looked down at your body and were shocked to find out that you were breathing again. That was when they assumed that Merzak must have given you as a gift to them. The 'Eternal Sacrifice' is what they're calling you now."
He laughed mirthlessly at those last words; he grabbed the towel from her forehead and placed it in a bowl of water nearby. "Who would have thought the Cursed Ones really do exist?" he mused as he wrung the towel
Kejuta listened in silent shock. "Wait," she finally said. "What do you mean 'Cursed Ones'?"
Her husband stopped what he was doing before replying, "According to my grandmother, our ancestors did something unforgivable - they waged war against the gods. They ultimately failed and the gods, angered about this rebellion, cursed them. They declared that a certain number of their descendants will pay for their crimes. Their descendants will roam the earth for all eternity until the gods are appeased. To let everyone knows who the Cursed Ones are, their blood will cause the earth to bloom. That is what I think happened when I saw those strange flowers."
"What do you mean about the blood part?" she inquired curiously. "Why is my blood special?"
"From what my grandmother told me, the blood of the gods is nourishment for the land because they used their blood to create our world," he explained. "My theory is that since the gods had left us, the Cursed Ones are supposed to take their place until they come back."
"I see..." she said softly. Then a thought came to her head. "Where are the others? Have they come by to see me?" Thesben hesitated and looked away.
While avoiding her eyes, he answered, "Everyone in the quarters is... terrified of you. When they heard what happened, they were fearful that you might spread the curse to them if they even go nearby you. In fact, no one wanted to sleep nearby you, which is why there is a huge space around us. Some of the men even warned me to stay away from you because they worried that I would be cursed."
"And are you afraid of me?" Kejuta asked softly. Her dear husband, whom she loved with all of her heart, confessed, "I don't know. I'm confused on what is going on right now, but I do know that I love you no matter what." He stood up and grabbed the bowl of water. "I'll be back. I need to get some fresh water now."
She wasn't completely satisfied with his answer; it was like he was avoiding the question altogether. In spite of it, something in her heart told her that he was telling the truth that he does love her. That thought comforted her. Maybe she could convince her friends that she was still the same woman and not a danger to anyone despite the strange facts about her blood and immortal status. By the time Thesben came back, she was already asleep.
The next day was the worst day of her life. Kejuta decided to go back to work even though she should spend the day recuperating because she was feeling restless. Not to mention the fact that she needed to talk to her friends to reassure them that she's harmless. As she walked through the now green fields, she noticed that the other slaves scurried away from her and they would stare at her with gaping mouths when they were at a safe distance from her. Trying to ignore them, she pretended that she wasn't bother by their behavior and continued to search for her friends.
Finally, she found them gathering carrots. They were talking and laughing as they plucked the vegetable from the ground. Suddenly, Pilur looked up and saw Kejuta approaching them; she tugged at Mathes's sleeve and pointed at her. Her friends then became quiet and subtle while they continued doing their work. Kejuta waved at them and they returned her wave, albeit halfheartedly. At least they acknowledge me, she thought hopefully and went up to them.
"Hey!" she greeted. "Do you guys need any help?" Instead of answering, they glanced at each other and immediately walked away. Troubled, Kejuta called out to them. "Wait! Where are you guys going? If it's because of what happened, I just want you to kn-"
Resma spurned around so quickly that Kejuta took a step back in surprise. "Listen!" she hissed tersely. "We don't want you to be near us. You're a freak! One of the Cursed Ones! We don't even want to be associated with you so stay away!" With that, her former friends stormed off.
Kejuta just stood there, stunned - even her friends were afraid of her. To make the matters worse, they refused to listen to her when she tried to reassure them. She recalled what her husband had warned her; he was right after all. Everyone in the slave quarters was frightened of her. She felt something wet rolling down her cheeks and upon touching her face, she realized that she was crying.
A strange feeling filled up inside her and it took her awhile to figure out what it was. Even though she was the only Alethesian in the group, she never before felt this isolated. Kneeling down on the ground, she tried to ignore the pain while she dug the dirt. Kejuta felt people staring at her but she didn't care. Right now, she was alone in the world and there was nothing she could do about it.
She was waiting outside the lodging when Thesben arrived back from work. "We need to talk," she told him before he could even open his mouth. He must have noticed that she was upset because he nodded. He glanced at the young Merzakian who was guarding the home but the man just shrugged so they walked to a small clearing where they could talk in privacy. Kejuta was grateful for it because she didn't want any nosy people eavesdrop on their conversation. "So what is it?" Thesben questioned.
Kejuta paused for a moment and finally sighed, "I think I know what you meant by what you said last night. I will understand if you-"
"If I what?" Thesben demanded as his face darkened.
She gave him a pained look. Oh, she loved him so much, but... "I understand if you want to leave me!" she shouted as she pounded her fists against his chest. "Like you said, I'm one of those goddamn 'Cursed Ones'! A freak of nature!"
She expected him to push her away and leave her in her sorrow; instead he grabbed her by the shoulder and shook her. "Leave you!?" he screamed. "Just because you can't die!? I don't give a damn about whether or not you're a 'Cursed One'! You're my wife, first and foremost. Didn't I make a vow to love and protect you for eternity?"
Upon hearing his declaration, she collapsed into his arms and sobbed. How foolish she was to think that he would consider abandoning her! During the whole time, he hugged her until she calmed down. "Listen," he consoled her. "I promise that I will always be here for you. I'm not scared of some stupid curse. In fact, to prove my love for you, I got you something..." He fumbled around in his pocket and pulled out a necklace. It was a simple one: a reddish-brown carnelian pedant with a simple gold chain.
"I had to bribe one of the Merzakians to get that chain," he confessed. "I wanted to give it to you as your wedding gift, but it wasn't ready..." She touched the necklace and picked it up cautiously.
"I love it," she smiled softly. She unclasped the necklace and handed it to him. "If you don't mind, may you put it on me?" she requested shyly. He smiled and did so. They found a large stone and sat down next to each other. The couple gazed up into the sky and watched the star twinkled above them for a couple of minutes.
Leaning against him, Kejuta apologized, "I shouldn't have doubted you. It was just… today was... rough on me."
Thesben nodded and queries, "Do you want to talk about it?" After taking a deep breath, she told him everything that happened in the fields. His expression became grim upon hearing what happened.
“Tch!” he murmured angrily. “Let me have a talk with them and knock some sense into them.” He was about to storm off, but Kejuta grabbed his arm.
“Don’t,” she told him. “It won’t make any difference even if you try. They have already set their own mindset about me and a little ‘talk’ won’t convince them. Besides, you’ll get in trouble for it. Everything will be okay because I know that at least I have you.”
Thesben didn’t seem too pleased with her reason, but he stopped. “I guess you’re right,” he said reluctantly. “Well, how about this? Since those idiotic Merzakians know that I’m your husband, they somewhat revered me. I’ll pull some strings and see if something can be done.”
“Please don’t do anything rash,” she warned him. “If they get punished, they will think it was because of my doing and will blame me for it.”
He just shrugged. “Who say that it involved them? Anyway, I’ll take the blame if they are not happy about it since it will be my idea.” Kejuta wanted to object but decided against it. Thesben could be stubborn as a mule.
“Let’s change the subject to something more cheerful,” she suggested instead. “Speaking of which, how many kids do you want?”
“It’s a baby girl!”
The midwife, Tyleo, happily placed the crying newborn on Kejuta’s chest so the baby could begin suckling. The joyful mother held the baby and gazed at her in awe. It took Thesben and her several tries before she was finally able to conceive. At first, they were discouraged because they thought that maybe she was sterile after being sacrificed for the first time, but when they found out that she was pregnant, that notion was discarded.
Thesben then entered the bedroom by pulling aside the curtain which separated the room from the eating area and kitchen. After his talk with the Merzakians, he told his wife that they decided that she needed a place for herself. It took the Merzakians several months to build it, but the hut was finally completed. It was pretty small but quaint house; there were only two rooms – the kitchen with an eating area and the bedroom. A simple, plain cloth separated the rooms from each other.
“How are they?” he asked worriedly to the midwife as she was washing her bloodied hands in the water basin. Even though she looked youthful in spite of her graying hair, she was actually sixty-one years old. She was recommended by both the slaves and the Merzakians as being the best midwife out there.
She gave him a reassuring smile and answered, “Both of them are doing well. Congratulations on becoming a father, Thesben.” Drying her hands, she turned to look at Kejuta. “I better leave you three alone so you can bond. If you need anything, you know where to find me.” Waving goodbye, she let herself out of the house.
As she watched Tyleo walked back to the slave quarters, Kejuta noted, “I like her. She’s the only one who is still friendly toward me and doesn’t care that I’m ‘different.’ If we have another child, I hope she will still be around to help.”
Her husband agreed, “She’s a great help all right. By the way, how is the baby?” He knelt down next to her and held out a finger so the baby could grasp it. Her bright blue eyes gazed up curiously at her father while he stroked her silvery blonde hair.
“She’s doing well,” Kejuta beamed as she rocked the baby. Who would have thought something this small can be so wondrous? “In fact, she looks actually like my sister. She even has her eyes and hair.”
Thesben then inquired, “What was your sister’s name?”
“Adia,” she answered. “It means ‘joyful’ in the Alethesian language if I recall correctly.”
“‘Adia’… I like that. Why don’t we name her that?” he suggested.
“I would love that,” she replied kindly. Kejuta handed the newly named baby to her husband who gingerly held her.
Looking into her eyes, he whispered, “Welcome to the world, Adia.”
Just like her namesake, Adia was a happy and outgoing girl. By the time she was six years old, she would follow her mother around while Kejuta worked in the Merzakian chief’s kitchen, where she was transferred after the Merzakians determined that she was too “valuable” to work in the field. Even her new coworkers were not pleased that she was there with them, they were at least courteous to her. It was probably because their masters were close by for them to do anything.
While she was in the kitchen, Adia would sometimes help out by delivering ingredients from the garden or carrying out the food to the grand dining hall where the Merzakians ate. However, most of the times, she would entertain everyone by skipping around the kitchen and singing silly songs about the birds or flowers outside. Her angelic singing voice would bring a smile to everyone’s faces and make the day go by easier. Other times, she would pluck flowers nearby and randomly hand them out to a Merzakian or a slave walking nearby. In other words, everyone adored her.
The Merzakian ladies especially loved her. They would sometimes brush her long, silvery hair, commented on how soft it was, and how envious they were. Sometimes, they would take her into their room and dress her up like a doll. Kejuta knew that Adia always hated it, but she took it in stride because that was what her parents told her to do.
“Maybe you can marry one of our sons, Adia,” they would say wistfully as they played with her. “Then you don’t have to work in the fields or kitchen just like your parents. You would have a nice life.” She would just nodded with a bored look and let them ramble. When Kejuta and Thesben found out about it, they laughed and announced that it would never happen.
One day, Kejuta was dicing up vegetables when she heard a commotion. One of the kitchen slaves exclaimed, “Oh, Adia! Watch where you’re going! You almost caused me to drop a pot of boiling water!” She must have noticed how upset she was because she declared, “What happened? You look pale as a ghost!”
Unexpectedly, she felt something slammed against her back. Looking down, she saw a clearly shaken Adia clutching her waist and crying softly. “What’s wrong, Adia?” she asked, alarmed. It took a while for her to calm down, but her daughter was finally able to tell her what happened.
She was picking up some baby’s breath and wax flowers when she saw a fellow slave walking by. The slave seemed exhausted as she carried a garden hoe back into the shed. Maybe some flowers will cheer her up, Adia decided.
Adia ran up next to the slave, who has black hair matted with sweat. “Here you go!” she beamed as she handed the flowers to the slave.
Instead of being thrilled, the slave tossed the flowers to the ground and trampled them with her feet. Stunned, Adia just stood there while the slave gave her a tirade. “Don’t you dare think some stupid flowers will make my day, you spoiled brat!” she berated. “Just because your mother is so ‘special’ doesn’t give you a right to flaunt how lucky you are to live a privileged life!”
Adia was frightened by this strange woman and she finally got enough strength to hurried away back to her mother. “Go ahead! Run away, you scared little girl! Maybe your mommy and daddy will make everything a-okay!” she heard the woman shouted as she ran away.
She listened to her daughter’s story and frowned. Who could that be?
“It must be Resma,” Dena, who was nearby, determined. “She always complained about you and your family. She thinks you are receiving special treatment since you have your own place to live and now work here instead in the field. We tried to point out that you have extra guards guarding your hut and that you couldn’t even leave the place except for work and when you’re needed to… be killed, but she refused to listen to reason. In my honest opinion, I think she’s jealous that you were able to have a child while she’s sterile.”
Kejuta listened intently. She knew that there would be some slaves who would think that way, but she would have never thought Resma, her former friend, would be one of them. She was surprised to learn that her ex-friend was sterile though; the last thing she heard was that Resma and Mathes got married recently.
Turning to Adia, she comforted her daughter, “Listen, Adia. Sometimes some people are just mean and nothing can cheer them up. Don’t let it get to you, okay?” Adia nodded as she wiped her eyes. “Now, would you like to help me put the diced vegetables in the pot?”
While Adia was helping her with the meal, Kejuta had a nagging feeling that something bad might happened. Resma wouldn’t do anything terrible, right? She didn’t seem like the type who would. Brushing her feeling aside, she focused on the task on hand.
A couple months had passed after that incident and they have forgotten about it. Kejuta, now eighth months pregnant with her second child, was relaxing at home with her daughter. Tyleo has recommended that she should have bed rest until she gives birth. She was pretty content with that since it was getting difficult to waddle around the kitchen with her big belly, but the best part was that she was rarely needed now for the sacrifice ritual.
The Merzakians would usually sacrifice her twice a year (one before the planting period and one before the harvest). However, the earth has been thriving lately that the Merzak’s followers believed that her blood must have replenished the land quite enough that she was no longer needed. Besides, they didn’t want to kill her while she was with child because they didn’t know what the consequences would be if they did.
The door opened. “Daddy!” Adia squealed as she jumped into her daddy’s waiting arms. Thesben swung his daughter around while she shrieked with delight. After he placed Adia back onto the ground, he walked over to Kejuta’s bed and kissed her on her forehead. His once youthful look has been replaced by a mature appearance. There were some bags underneath his eyes and his skin was tanner due to being under the sun the entire day. On the other hand, she hasn’t aged at all – was it the result of being killed the first time?
“And how is the expecting mother?” he murmured as he placed his hand on her belly. Kejuta grimaced as she tried to find a more comfortable position.
“He or she has been kicking all day,” she complained, wincing. “I barely have enough sleep. Adia was such an easy baby compared to this one.”
Thesben patted her shoulder. “At least you only have a month left,” he said. “Too bad you won’t be able to catch up with your sleep though.”
She chuckled. “By the way, how was work today?” Her husband scratched his head before he gave his response.
“Some of the crops have disease and the others are complaining that a few is showing signs of rot,” he told her.
Kejuta became worried. “The crops are dying already?” she asked. Talk about bad timing! She rubbed her belly and mentally wished that the harvest would survive for another month.
Sensing her anxiety, Thesben comforted her, “I talked to the Merzakians and they reassured me that they can wait for a month before you are needed again.”
That gave her some comfort. At least the Merzakians kept their words… majority of the times anyway. “Well, there is nothing that we can do but wait, I guess,” she sighed. Looking out of the window, she prayed wholeheartedly that the earth could survive for another month.
Two weeks has past and none of them thought too much about the harvest. As soon as Kejuta give birth, she would be sacrificed, they’ve agreed. Based on reports that Thesben has heard, the crops were mostly doing well except for a few bad ones here and there. Everything was going according to the plan, it seemed.
Kejuta remembered that night quite well. Her family and she were eating dinner when suddenly there was a pounding on the door. Alarmed, Thesben went over to the door to open it. He was immediately slammed to the side as a group of Merzakian soldiers barged into the house. “What is the meaning of this!?” she demanded as she stood up to confront them.
“There’s no time,” one of the Merzakians growled. “We heard disturbing report that all of the crops have been spoiled – even the ones we salvaged!” Kejuta and Thesben’s mouths dropped. How was that even possible?
“Please wait!” Thesben begged as they walked toward her. “Her expectant date is almost here! Can’t you just be patient for a few more days?”
“We’re not interested in your wife, old man,” another Merzakian explained. “We want her.” Instead of grabbing Kejuta, two of the men grabbed… Adia. The girl became frightened and started kicking and screaming.
For a quick second, a shocked Kejuta stood there before trying to stop them. Unfortunately, a couple of Merzakians held her back. “Let her go!” she screamed as tears fell down. “She’s only a child! Take me instead!”
She noticed that Thesben was also trying to reach for Adia as well. “Damnit!” he cursed. “Why her!?”
The Merzakians looked at each other uncomfortably before someone finally answered, “We’ve heard that she would make a great alternate since her mother’s blood should flow in her as well. If it works, then our harvest can be saved. If not…” He shifted his feet before heading out of the door abruptly. The others quickly followed.
The last image she saw of Adia on that dreadful night was that she was stretching her arm toward her father and her fingers barely touching his as she was swept away. “Mommy! Daddy!” Adia shrieked while she was kicking and clawing. Kejuta could still hear the screams in her nightmare.
The next thing she remembered was that her water broke. Collapsing onto the ground, she barely heard someone shouting, “Shit! Someone get the midwife! She’s going into labor!”
By the time Thesben came back with Adia, Kejuta was holding a baby boy. After placing Adia in her bed, he went over to his wife. “How is she?” she overheard him asked Tyleo worriedly. The midwife shook her head sadly.
“She’s still the same,” she answered. “She refused to acknowledge her son and just sat on her bed. She hasn’t talked at all since what happened to poor Adia.” She hesitated before continuing, “How is that poor child?”
Thesben glanced at his daughter. “She’s fine,” he replied. “She’s just like her mother – she can’t die.” Upon hearing the news, Tyleo gasped but looked away awkwardly. Who couldn’t blame her? She probably didn’t know whether or not to be relieved that she didn’t die or be sympathetic because she is one of the “Cursed Ones”.
“If it brings any closure,” the midwife cleared her throat, “the other slaves found out who told the Merzakians that terrible rumor about your daughter. From what I’ve heard, Resma was the culprit. Apparently, she was jealous of your wife and decided to make her suffer by using Adia.”
Kejuta’s husband gripped his fists tightly and cussed out her former friend. He turned to leave but Tyleo’s firm voice stopped him. “I know what you’re thinking, but don’t bother,” she informed him. “The other slaves have already punished her. Even though most of them feared your wife, they still love Adia. After all, she is your daughter, too.”
Rustling from the bed nearby told them that Adia was stirring. Thesben rushed over to her and held her hand. “Adia?” he whispered. “Baby, how are you doing?”
Adia slowly opened her eyes and looked at her father. She began to speak but no words came out of her mouth. The only sounds were some squeaks. Frowning, Tyleo went over to examine her. “What’s wrong with her?” an apprehensive Thesben questioned. “This never happened with Kej!”
“I think the experience of being killed put her into a state of shock,” the midwife theorized, shaking her head. “She could talk but the whole ordeal traumatized her greatly that she subconsciously refused to do so. I don’t know if she will ever talk again. It will be her own decision if she wants to talk or not. There is nothing that neither of us can do about it unfortunately.”
“She will always be the same,” she finally said aloud. Startled, they turned to see that Kejuta was talking though she has a faraway look in her eyes. Thesben cautiously walked toward her and sat down beside her.
“What do you mean?” he asked.
Without looking at him, Kejuta grieved, “She will never die and age. She will always look like seven years old as the years go by.” Finally looking at her son who has chestnut brown hair and brown eyes just like his father, she announced, “His name will be Pendance because he will only bring sorrow to us.”
Thesben then asked, “Why is that?”
She looked at him and with tears in her eyes, informed him, “Because they’re going to do the same to him just like they did to Adia.” Afterward, she turned to face the window and became silent once more.
Something must have snapped inside him. “Please keep an eye on them, Tyleo,” he ordered the midwife. Without waiting for her response, he left his house and slammed the door. She could hear his confronting one of the guards and demanding, “I need to meet with your chief right now!”
He didn’t come back until late in the afternoon. By then, Tyleo was finishing cleaning up the dishes. It took some encouragement, but Kejuta managed to eat and feed the baby as well.
“What happened?” the midwife interrogated. “You have me worried sick! I imagined the worst case scenario and thought it was so irresponsible of you to leave your wife and children behind. What if you have gotten yourself killed?
“Relax, Tyleo,” he convinced her. “Nothing of the sort happened. I just had a little ‘chat’ with the Merzakian leaders.”
He went over to Kejuta and knelt before her. “Hey, Kej,” he murmured. “The Merzakians has a preposition and they want to know if you’ll agree.” He waited for her reply but she didn’t say anything so he continued, “They agreed not to use our children as sacrifice as long as you agree to be sacrificed twice every year.”
“Why?” she demanded. “How would we know that they’ll keep their promise unlike the last time?”
Thesben replied, “I think they would this time. They seemed uncomfortable with the fact that they just killed a child. Not to mention the fact that their wives were vivid about what they did. Anyway, they said that you can take as long as you want to de-”
“Tell them that I agree to their deal,” Kejuta answered quickly. “As a mother, I would rather die than let any of my children be harmed.”
Nodding, her husband said, “I understand. I’ll let them know about your decision then.” He kissed his wife and children before he left again.
That was when the dream ends. Waking up, she found herself back in her bed. Thesben was sitting on the chair next to her and watching her intently. “How long have I been asleep?” she asked.
“It’s past midnight now,” he replied and held her hand. “The kids are asleep right now. They wanted to stay up until you wake up, but they fell asleep around nine o’clock. We have considerate children, huh?” He turned his head slightly to point out the sleeping bundle in the bed nearby. After having Pendance, they decided not to have any more children since they didn’t want to risk having another child being immortal, and it was also a painful reminder of what happened to Adia.
“Of course we do. We raised them right after all.” She smiled as she scooted over to let Thesben lay next to her. Placing his arms around her body, she snuggled in his warmth of his body. “Anyway, how was work?” she asked.
“Typical,” he shrugged. “The harvest is still thriving and we have plenty of food to go around.” Kejuta frowned at his response. It was as if he was hiding something from her, but she decided not to question him more about it.
“We should get some rest,” she said instead. “We’re going to have a busy day tomorrow. Well, good night.”
After a while, she could hear Thesben breathing softly, which told her that he was asleep. Rather than falling asleep, she lay awake the whole time and watched the embers in the fireplace died out.
"Tell us the story of how the world was created again, Dad," Pendance begged as Kejuta tucked his sister and him in bed. Her husband smiled amusingly. The young boy always loved that story and asked for it a dozen times. It also helped that Thesben was a great storyteller.
"All right," he said gently as he sat on the edge of the bed. "This story was told to me by my mother, whose mother told her and so forth and so forth. Anyway, some of the gods' names have been lost due to the passage of time, but I'll try my best to recall them.
"A long time ago, eight deities gathered together and agreed to create a world to set their creations in. Each of them offered a drop of blood, which was collected into a small cup. Using their powers, the gods changed the mixture into a sphere, which became the foundation of our world. Then each god and goddess gave gifts for this new creation. Puria gave the world plants so that it would be covered with beauty while Merzak made the beasts to roam the land. Fuera gave the world water and Neria created the merfolk. Versen developed human beings whose thoughts and actions were their own. Aerius created the angels - winged ones that fly throughout the heavens. Duermon in turn formed the demons - pale-skinned humans with eyes that glistened like gems. When all was finished, the last goddess gave life to all of her brothers and sisters' creations.
"However, they realized that the animals and humans would overpopulate the world so the last god suggests giving their creations lifespans. Each god would tell him how long they wish for their creations to life. Versen wanted up to 100 years for his; Aerius, up to 700 years for hers; Duermon, up to 750 years for his; and Neria, up to 900 years for hers. Upon hearing that decisions, the last god granted their wishes and the world was finally completed. The gods decided to name their creation, Samara.
"Afterward some of the gods and goddesses came before their creations and taught them how to live in their new home. Puria taught them how to grow crops, Merzak taught them how to hunt, Fuera showed them how to fish, and Versen taught them the art of crafts. Soon humans divided themselves based on whom they worshiped. Followers of Merzak were called Merzakians, Puria's followers were called Purians, and so forth. The angels became known as Aerians while the demons took the name of their creator and the merfolk are known as Neriads. Before long, most of the creations were able to perform magic, which was taught by a new goddess who was born on this world.”
The young boy then bombarded his father with questions, “Then what happened? Why is there no magic anymore? How come we don’t see the Aerains or the Duermons around here?”
"Well, everything was right in the world. Unfortunately, the humans, Aerians, Duermons, and Neriads began to take their creators for granted and started to rebel. They waged war against the gods and their followers. They battled for several centuries but in the end, the gods won. However, it was at a huge cost. The gods were mortally wounded and before they disappear, they punished their creations. They separated the land into different continents and created barriers to hinder travels. Magic would no longer exist in the world as well. Lastly, they decreed that certain descendants will be cursed. They will become immortal like their creators and their blood will provide life to the land. They will watch helplessly while everyone around them die and they will continue living until the day that the gods are appeased."
Pendance listened intently before finally asking, "So are Mommy and Adia two of the cursed descendants?" Kejuta and Thesben glanced at each other hesitantly before he answered, "I'm not sure."
"Why not?" her son persisted, "Both of them cannot die and none of them have aged at all ever since they were sacrificed! Why are they being punished for something for our great-great-great... lot of greats grandparents' actions!?"
"Hush now," Kejuta admonished as she brushed Pendance's hair with her fingers. "You can't go to sleep if you're getting agitated. You shouldn't dwell on questions that cannot be answered." To be honest, she thought a lot about those questions as well but she didn't want anyone to know what she was feeling. Her son opened his mouth to protest but quickly shut it when he saw her stern look. Adia just observed the whole scene from her bed and smiled much to her parents' amusement. Pendance might be too curious but at least he knew how to make his big sister smile.
As her son lay down and started to close his eyes, he mumbled, "Good night, Mom. Good night, Dad. Good night, Adia." His sister blew kisses to everyone to signal good night. Then Thesben and Kejuta kissed the children on their foreheads and blew out the candles. "Good night," they whispered softly as they drew the curtains separating the room from the kitchen.
“Pen is such an inquisitive boy, isn’t he?” she observed as she handed a cup of hot tea to Thesben. He just nodded and drank his tea. Sitting across from him, she asked, “Is there something wrong? You seem to be pondering something.”
Sighing, he scratched his head and admitted, “I was thinking about what Pen said about how it was unfair that you and Adia are being punished and I agreed that it isn’t right. The thing is that I can’t do a damn thing about it!”
“Is that what bothering you?” she asked softly. It has been three months since she was last killed and she knew that in two months, she will need to get ready again.
“Yes!” he pounded the table with his fists so hard that the tea spilled over the edge of the cup. “Here I am supposed to be a man who supposed to protect his wife and children and I can’t do a damn thing about it! I have to watch while you are being led to your slaughter. Do you know how I feel when I couldn’t do anything to save Adia from that fate!? I wanted to kill that bitch Resma but Tyleo knocked some sense into me. Every day I feel helpless and uncertain because I’m stuck in this situation where there is nothing I can do to help my family!”
Kejuta looked at her anguished husband and went over to hug him. “We’re doing the best we can,” she comforted him. “Didn’t you convince the Merzakians not to harm our children? Isn’t that good enough?”
He shook his head. “But still…” A scream from the bedroom interrupted their conversation. Startled, they rushed over to the bedroom to find Pen crying while Adia was patting his back.
“What’s wrong?” Kejuta asked while she sat next to her son. Adia signed back to her, He was having a nightmare.
“A nightmare?” Thesben pondered. “Do you remember what it was about?”
Pen shook his head, but he recalled, “I don’t remember except something terrible happened to daddy. I think daddy was dead!”
“There, there, little guy,” Thesben hugged him. “I’m alive. See? I’m right in front of you. That scary dream isn’t real at all!”
Nodding, he sniffled and asked slyly, “Umm… may I have a nice cup of warm milk to help me sleep then?”
Kejuta gave him a stern look but relented, “Okay, I’ll bring you a cup. Adia, would you like one as well?”
Yes, please, Adia gestured. After giving them each a cup of milk and tucking them back to bed again, Kejuta and Thesben went back to the kitchen.
“Do you still want to talk about it?” she asked. Thesben just shook his head.
“No, I’m fine right now,” he replied. “I just wanted to vent, that’s all.” He suddenly stood up. “I’m going to take a walk to cool my head. You don’t have to stay up and wait for me.” Giving her a peck on the cheek, he left the hut.
Kejuta watched him walked the dark path outside the window and disappeared. He has been doing that a lot lately, she thought. After half an hour of waiting, she stood up and poured the now cold tea away. Blowing out the candle, she went straight to bed. She didn’t know when her husband came back, but the next day, he was sleeping right next to her.
She should have known that Thesben was up to something. If she has listened to her hunch, she would have put a stop to it.
On that fateful day, she was preparing for the ritual. The snow was melting, which means that the planting season is approaching. She had requested that they began the ceremony earlier in the day because she didn’t want to miss eating dinner with her family and they luckily granted that request.
After taking off her necklace and placing it on the side table next to her bed, she inspected herself to make sure that she looked presentable. She could hear some noises in the dining area. “Pen,” she called out, “you’re being too noisy! Why don’t you set up the table for dinner tonight?”
Only her son was in the house right now. Thesben was in the field and Adia was with the Merzakian ladies. Since her daughter doesn’t age anymore, the woman now viewed her as a doll of some sort and liked to dress her up. It irritated her, but she held her tongue since she didn’t have a position of power to stop them.
Kejuta then entered the kitchen and went to inspect the piece of beef that was slowly cooking. Meat was considered a luxury item to the slaves, but the Merzakians were more willing to give her a meager piece because of her “gift.” By the time she got back, it should be cooked.
She noticed that Pen was looking out the window as if he was looking for something. “What are you looking for?” she asked curiously as she stirred the vegetable soup.
Without turning around, he answered, “The fairies. Adia told me that she could see fairies flying around the village and picking up something.”
Amused, Kejuta prodded, “And what do these fairies look like?”
“She said that they have wings like butterflies and that they have pointy ears,” he described. “She also mentioned that they were carrying a pole with a lantern dangling from it and that they were surrounded by a pale, glowing light.”
“And where exactly did she see them?” she inquired.
Pendance bit his lips before finally answering, “She usually sees them nearby a person or animal that is dying. Isn’t that odd? I thought they would be fluttering around flowers or something. Oh, may I go to the barn? Adia told me that the cat is going to give birth today.”
“How does she know that?” Kejuta replied in disbelief. “The cat might have her kittens tomorrow.”
Her son just shrugged. “I don’t know,” he admitted, “but she always predicted everyone’s birth correctly so she should be right on this one. So may I?”
Sighing, she consented, “All right, but you need to fix something first.” Pointing to the table, she continued, “You only set three plates; you need four.”
Her son gave her a confused look. “But we only need three today,” he replied.
“Don’t forget that I’m going to eat dinner too,” she reminded him but he shook his head.
“But dad won’t here tonight,” he argued. Now it was her turn to be confused.
“Did your dad tell you something that he forgot to mention to me?” she questioned. Pendance shook his head and gave her an odd look.
“I don’t know, but I have a strange feeling that something bad will happen to dad so he won’t be able to eat dinner with us,” he confessed. Kejuta began to worry; she recalled her son’s nightmare two months ago. She had asked him about it, but he didn’t remember anything even the fact that he woke up screaming. Was he having a premonition?
Clearing her throat, she ordered, “I don’t care. Just add one more plate and then you can go.” Grumbling, Pendance went over to the shelf and did what she asked. As she watched him set up the table, she felt the nagging feeling of dread in her heart.
The ceremony began without a hitch. A bored Kejuta stood there while the High Priest once again said his spiel. When will it ever end?
Abruptly, there were screams in the field. Alarmed, everyone stopped what he or she was doing and stared at the direction of the screams. Smokes were drifting into the skies and the smell of fire filled the air. “What’s going on there?” one of the Merzakian soldiers wondered nervously.
As if to answer his question, a multitude of slaves carrying tools as weapons came storming into view. A bewildered Kejuta immediately recognized the person who was leading the charge – Thesben. Recalling her conversation with him on that night, she realized what he meant. He was so ashamed about the fact that he couldn’t protect his family that he decided to do something so dangerous. That would also explain his late walks and his vague replies whenever she asked him about his day.
She needed to stop him before he and the others get killed. Kejuta tried to run toward the angry mob, but the soldiers restrained her. “Stop it, Thesben!” she begged. “You’re going to get yourself killed!”
“Someone, call the guards quickly!” the High Priest yelled as he came toward her with the knife. “Everyone else, try to prevent these blasted savages from reaching here while I finished the ceremony!” He pulled her head up while she was trying to resist and placing the dagger on her neck, cut it opened. Her last vision was of Thesben running toward her as a wave of Merzakian reinforcement arrived to clash against the rebels.
No, not this dream again! Not now! She tried desperately to force herself to wake up. My husband needs me! She pleaded with herself. Just wake up!
However, the dream continued until the part where she was in that unfamiliar beach. The thirteen golden flames still lingered in the water, but the voice had a different command:
AWAKEN THY POWER AND CHANGE THY WORLD’S FATE
Change the world’s fate? What does he mean by that? Before she could ask her question, a flash of light burst from the sky and engulfed the scenery.
Kejuta slowly opened her eyes and found herself back in her bed. The sun beaming from the sky told her that it was almost noon. She lay there motionlessly until a sudden thought occurred to her. Thesben! She literally jumped out of the bed but was pushed back by gentle hands.
Tyleo looked relieved to see her awake. “Thank goodness!” she exclaimed. “I thought you would never wake up. You’ve been asleep for nearly two days now.”
The panicked woman ignored her. “Where are my husband and children?” Kejuta demanded. “Are they safe?”
“Your children are safe and are playing quietly in the next room,” the midwife reassured her. “Unfortunately, your husband is locked up in the prisons right now for insubordination.”
Kejuta felt a lump in her throat and was afraid to ask her next question, “What happened while I was asleep?”
Her friend sighed wearily as she wiped the tears from her eyes. “I’ll try my best to explain from the very beginning. Your husband had convinced the other slaves to revolt against their slave masters a year ago. For the past few months, they would secretly sharpen their tools so that they can use it as weapons. As for the date when the rebellion should occur, Thesben decided it will be the day of your sacrifice since he reasoned that most of the Merzakians will be occupied during that time and that they would be too surprised to react.
“He was proven partial right on that fact. On his signal, they quickly overcame the slave drivers on the field and charge toward the village. Unfortunately, no one expected the Merzakians to be so resilient. The Merzakian army swiftly arrived and clashed with the slaves. Due to their superior weapons and armors, the Merzakians easily defeated the rebellions. Most of them were killed and others have been captured. Right now there is an ongoing trial though everyone knows the result already.”
“And what was the decision?” a horrified Kejuta whispered.
The midwife gulped and announced, “Everyone who was involved in the rebellion will be executed. Any boy over the age of 14 will be killed as well to make an example of what happened if anyone of us decided to revolt against them again. However, they are still deciding on what to do with Thesben since he was the ringleader.”
Hearing that, Kejuta became more frightened. “I need to see him,” she decided as she climbed out of her bed. However, a scared Tyleo jumped in her way.
“I don’t think it would be a good idea, Kejuta,” she recommended. “Right now, your family is the most hated family among the slaves. They blamed you and your husband for what happened, and they want your blood. That’s why there is heightened security around your home. I was only allowed to see you since the Merzakians know that I wouldn’t harm you.”
“Is that why we’re in chains?” Kejuta whispered. She glanced down at the chains that tightly wrapped around her arms and body.
Tyleo looked at her incredulously. “Chains? What are you doing about?” she wondered. It was Kejuta’s turn to be confused.
“Don’t you see them?” she examined Tyleo’s chains and noticed that while there were several chains around the midwife, they were much looser. Tyleo shook her head and muttered to herself that maybe the young woman was in shock.
“Maybe you should have a cup of tea to calm your nerves,” the midwife suggested as she sat Kejuta down on a chair. “I’ll make one for myself as well.”
She just nodded and pondered about the chains. They seemed to disappear into the sky and had no ends. Curious, she touched a tiny chain on Tyleo’s body and saw a vision. In it, she saw that the midwife decided to make herself chamomile tea. Now even more curious, she touched the chain next to it and this time, Tyleo wanted black tea instead.
She could hear Tyleo’s muttering to herself as the latter speculated on what tea to make. Kejuta decided to break the first chain to see what happened. “Ah, I’ll just make myself black tea then,” she overheard the midwife announced.
Kejuta then recalled the voice in her dream. Was this what he meant when he told her to change the world’s fate? Was that her power – to control people’s destinies with her own bare hands? If it was possible, could she save her husband then?
Suddenly, she heard shouting from outside and stood up to look out the winder. What she saw caused her to hold her breath. The Merzakian soldiers were dragging her badly beaten husband from the prison to the Merzakian chief’s home. Along the way, slaves and Merzakians would jeer at him and tossed rotten fruits and vegetables at him. Her heart broke seeing him that way. Maybe there is a way to help him, but there were only two chains on him.
Taking a deep breath, she grasped the first one and saw that in this one, the Merzakians decided to give him a swift death and killed him immediately after sentencing him. They also forbid him from saying goodbye to his family. She pulled herself away before she could see him about to be beheaded.
Shaken, she reluctantly held the last chain and was even more horrified at what she witnessed. The Merzakians have ruled to give him a slow and torturous death. His screams rang inside her head as he slowly was dismembered one finger at a time. Then it was his toes and next his fingers. However, he was able to see his wife and children and told them goodbye.
Kejuta wanted to cry aloud. Damnit, she couldn’t save him at all! How useful is this newfound power if it can’t do anything to rescue Thesben from a terrible fate?
Immediately she pulled herself back together and thought quickly. What if she broke both chains at once? However, she found out that both chains refused to budge, which meant that she could only break one chain at a time. How frustrating!
“Hey, I think they’re going to make a decision soon,” a soldier outside told his buddy. “Want to bet on their decision?”
That was then she recognized the fact that she was in charge of her husband’s death. Which one should she decide? Kill him quickly so he wouldn’t feel the pain even though that would mean that she would never see him again? Or let him die slowly so he could see his family one last time even if his body was so mutilated?
CHOOSE. CHOOSE. CHOOSE.
That voice echoed in her head as she held both chains in her hand. What to choose?
“They’re announcing it right now!” the soldier exclaimed excitedly as a prominent man went on a makeshift podium and began to open his mouth.
Screaming, Kejuta squeezed her eyes shut as she broke a chain and made her decision.