“Let’s get you cleaned up properly M’lady. Old Pia has the room settled with jasmine and lavender burning and fresh cloths for your wounds. Kester’s daughter, Thia will sit with you while I run fresh waters for a bath. Lady Kitin, please stand guard at her door, Master Kriton is working his magics around the boundaries.”
The small child, Thia, was seated on a tiny bench with a small rag doll. Pallia studied her - thin, gaunt, somehow worn and weary, unlike any child she’d seen before. Ah, the girl whose picture she saw on the altar downstairs. Pallia wondered what ailed the child. Thia approached her, silent and graceful as the catlings that lived at Temple. The child pressed her small hand ever so lightly on Pallia’s shoulder and shook her head sadly. Thia’s gaze was piercing, full of sorrow as she shook her head again her hand firm on Pallia’s shoulder.
You are quite stronger than you appear child, be calm, I am a priestess of Muna.
The child raised an eyebrow and a chilling grin crept across her face, taking with it all innocence. A few wild hairs fell into her face, Thia shook them away and looked into Pallia’s eyes.
I do not fear you, Prietess. The voice in Pallia’s head was older than Thia’s should have been, wise but edged with bitterness that only a grown woman should know.
You can hear me?
The odd child nodded.
Yet you did not sip the tonic did you?
No, I have been like this always. The small creature looked at her with wide, sad, gray eyes and shook her head again, loosing more hairs in the process. The snow white locks framed her face in a wild fray, her skin grayish and drawn over high cheekbones. Are you brave, Lady Pallia? Do you fear what grows in the Darkness?
Pallia looked kindly at the little one and offered a weak smile. The child simply stared back in silence. There is nothing to fear in the dark, I have lived in it all the annuals of my life. Do you fear the dark, Thia?
I do not speak of the dark of night, I want to know if you fear Darkness.
Pallia stared at the child, oddly unable to break eye contact. I do not understand you, Thia. Why do you speak in riddles?
I will show you, Lady Pallia, if you can bear it. Look closer, my eyes are peculiar, no?
There was something odd about her eyes, gray at first look but on closer inspection they began to swirl like clouds during a storm, and then Pallia was falling….
she landed in the middle of a snow drift. Pallia stood and brushed herself off. She turned round and looked in every direction for some indication of where she stood. The only light came from the moon above and it was scattered by the blowing snow, little more than an eerie glow in the blizzard. She heard a sound and walked toward it, moving through the snow as it bit her cheeks and eyelids, the cold numbing her feet and legs. A flicker of light became visible on the horizon, then another, and Pallia realized it was a group of torches. Her pace increased as dreams of fire and food gave life to her near-frozen limbs. The scene before Pallia came into focus, several strange creatures, each smaller than a child but stout and strangely dressed with some type of armor over their breasts. She realized they were guiding people who were bound by the hands and chained at the feet. Leading the entire procession was an enormous beast. Pallia stopped and clasped a frozen hand over her mouth to choke back a scream. It was larger than anything Pallia had ever seen, covered in a coarse black hair and clothed in a long robe under a metallic vest. Upon the Beast’s head was a crown of sorts, horned and covered in black ooze that dripped into the snow with each step. The Beast turned and shouted in a foreign tongue the people clearly did not understand; they cowered and clung to each other, near naked and emaciated. Pallia looked over the captives for faces she might know, but none stood out. They were all shaved bald and it was difficult to discern men from women. Then, one person near the front turned toward her. Pallia inhaled sharply, backpedaled in the snow and stifled another scream. The hostage’s sunken eyes bored into hers and she knew the face - her own. The doppelganger recognized her in turn, smiled in the most gruesome manner and yelled at Pallia “See what you have done? This is your future now, look what you become!”
The Beast snarled at Bald Pallia, reached within his robes and withdrew a weapon – a long rope with several small silver orbs on the ends of a dozen or so tendrils. Pallia watched in horror as the Beast raised his whip and brought it down; the tendrils ensnared her ankle and sent droplets of blood into the snow around her doppelganger.
She screamed - it died in her throat as a door flew open and the scene vanished. Cold sweat beads formed along her browline as Pallia took in her surroundings. Pallid violet flicker of candlelight against caryn wood paneling, comfortable warm bed, and Thia back on her bench in the corner, playing with her doll.