28. Dying Light: Reborn

The ghostly shape approaches, a pale and colorless image of herself walking down the footpath, coming to her where she lay gasping for breath. Her heavy lungs will not scream, and her tired limbs will not flee. The doppelganger smiles, the lips pulling back as if the very skin of her face were drying out, being stretched tighter and tighter about the skull.

“Come with me,” she hears her own voice call in a high playful tone, calling from that dreadful apparition though the duplicate’s lips give no sign of movement. The creature reaches out a pale, bloodless hand toward Tachi. As those slim fingers draw closer and closer to her, Tachi tries to force out some note, some slight magic, to fight off this deathly ambassador. No music comes, but above her, lifeless on her deathbed, her body gurgles, coughing a little splatter of blood from her lungs. She can almost feel a crimson bead’s gradual descent from the corner of her lips down her cheek.

Reflexively, her hand shoots to her face, trying to wipe away the stain. The motion frees her from her shocked paralysis, and she pulls her weak legs under herself. Slowly, leaning against the little wall, the priestess climbs to her feet. Holding onto those white stones for support, Tachi stares down the pale imitation.

Its open hand still held out toward the dying priestess, the doppelganger repeats, “Come with me.”

The dark jungle spreads everywhere now, enveloping all but what lies behind the wall of her childhood. Thick bramble, impenetrable to the eyes, and tall trees covering the skies, casts darkness all around. But for the radiant light of the abbey, that memory of a childhood so dear, the shadows overwhelm all.

A little brown hand, still sticky, envelopes Tachi’s thumb. Looking down, she sees the little girl in the oversized garment of an acolyte, staring up at her with big, brown, wondering eyes. The child pulls itself up onto the wall, its little feet kicking in the air as it surmounts the border between the two worlds. Sitting by Tachi, hugging her arm, the little girl sticks out its tongue at the terrible future, the pale image of death.

“I don’t want to go inside,” the child proclaims. “I’m having too much fun.” Then tightening its hold upon Tachi’s arm, “We’re not done yet.”

The frozen smile of the doppelganger does not change, but the eyes squint slightly, the head turning upon the little girl.

“And you are?” asks the image.

“I’m the real Tachi!” the child says, sitting up a little.

“Funny,” the creature says, “You don’t look like her.”

A red, rosy light begins circling the child, enveloping both itself and Tachi. A strength pours into Tachi’s body. The doppelganger retreats, its outstretched hand falling to its side.

“You’re dead already,” it proclaims, the shadows growing around the image of Tachi. Dark streaks run along the floor, stretching out toward the priestess. Without warning, Tachi sees a cloud of green sparks alight from her chest, meeting the encroaching darkness. Exploding in yellow bursts, the light defends from the black fingers of death. Deeper in the surrounding jungle, the doppelganger resides, fading into the shadows.

“You cannot escape,” Tachi hears the imitation of her voice whisper.

The image of herself has all but disappeared into the deep forest, only an outline exists, a shadow against shadows. Heat builds inside her, her eyes burning. Suddenly, white streaks of lightening flash from her eyes, striking at the darkness. Blinded by the brilliance, she feels herself falling and falling. . .

 

Blearily, she rubs her face. Glancing at the ceiling, Tachi watches the flickering lamplight play with the shadows. A loud snoring draws her from her musings, and she turns towards the other cot where the shepherd lays.

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