The priestess found herself in utter darkness. The lamp had died and taken the world with it. Yet, one image still remained, burned in her mind, the dead, smiling face, the face that had been her face, her own self, declaring in their shared voice: “You’re dead.”
Tachi would have screamed, had she the breath, but she was suffocating, suffocating as her lungs filled with blood. With a loud creaking of hinges, bright white light flooded the room. Behind her, the door had fallen inward, and through it glorious day was shining. The room changed in the glow, the cots, the lamp, the doppelganger were all gone, all replaced, as the darkness melted away into a familiar countryside.
Before her an old, well-remembered, plastered wall reached up to her waist. It was topped by a series of interlocked white stones, all unique and natural in shape, all perfectly fitting together like a jigsaw puzzle, all in their place. Looking down on this, she saw, dotting the flattened surface of the pale rocks, spots of brownish batter. Gazing upon these, she watched as a few lazy bubbles pushed their way out of a cookie, slowly bulging and spreading only to burst in one sudden moment.
And as the pastries rose, a little brown hand, adorably fat as only a child’s hand can be, stretched its small fingers into the unseen gooey treat, smearing the uncooked cake as it pulled a chunk away, disappearing back around the other side of the wall. Tachi waited, and the hand returned, sticky chunks of the batter wetly running between those little brown fingers which continued searching for another forbidden morsel.
“Gotcha!” Tachi called, as she grabbed the thief.
However, the hand was far too wet to gain a great hold of, and with a squeal, the child slithered from her grasp. Tachi could hear the retreating sound of unsure feet pounding the sidewalk. She smiled, remembering the days she’d similarly hide from discovery, staying close to the wall hoping no one could see her.
The problem was, she’d always laugh, giggling when she’d thought she’d made it. Tachi could hear the little uncontrolled chirps escaping the child; they were calling to her. She softly followed after the sound, tiptoeing silently upon the girl.
Putting her hip against the wall, the priestess slowly leaned, peering over the other side. The girl was an acolyte, dressed in hand-me-down robes some two sized too big. She remembered the uncomfortable clothes well, remembered pulling the sleeves up to her elbows only to have them fall back down over her hands. But, you had to wear the garb. Those were the rules.
The girl didn’t seem to notice Tachi, or anything. She was curled up in a little bundle, somewhat like a cat, seemingly fallen asleep. Little sparks danced around the child, like faery circles. Every color which could be imagined floated in the air above the girl. The harsh and deep reds of the Rose Order, the soft violets and blues of her own, the sharp white of the high priests, and colors no order claimed, yellows and greens, all played in gentle rhythm surrounding the dozing thief.
In silence, the child had made all this, created a pantheon of light without singing a single note. Tachi thought to add to the display, share in the wonder, but as soon as she tried to vocalize her song, she felt the horrible gurgling weight in her lungs oppressing her voice. She remembered she was dying.
Collapsing into the wall as her knees suddenly became as firm as the uncooked batter, she sat in the dust of the earth, staring down a small trail leading into a great dark forest. It was more a rut than a path, unpaved but by the continual use of others who had trammeled their way into the darkness before. It lead into impenetrable shadows which, in the very act of looking at them, seemed to grow closer.
And standing at the border between these worlds, the familiar world of her home and this strange creeping jungle, was herself, the pale and smiling image of herself, waving for her to come.