Nightmares have plagued Melee Taria all her life--and then she learns they are memories.
Nearly every night of my life, especially since moving back, I have witnessed the same murders over and over again in my dreams.
In the first nightmare, I am young girl--maybe five. Harsh voices coming from outside the rocking wagon wake me up. I sit up and peek over the top of jars to see a braided-haired man in crimson robes cinched at the waist. Armored men holding double-sided axes and spears surround him. They are dressed in ancient-looking armor and copper helmets with a high ridge running down the center.
In the odd way that dreams give you knowledge, I know the man they encircle is my Father. "Stand down!" He demands.
Two warm hands yank me down into the wagon. A woman pulls me close to her side behind ceramic jars and motions me to be silent. She is enfolded in beautiful blue robes that set her wide, sapphire eyes on fire. As the harsh voices continue barking, the concerned lines around her mouth grow deeper. She pulls me into her chest and covers my ears. In that moment, I know her as my mother. I can hear her heartbeat racing but her movements are calm and controlled.
Suddenly, my dream-mother lets me go. I can hear my dream-father snapping at the men--his voice short in panic--as she slips a necklace over her head. It is a wooden pendant on a black string in the shape of what appears to be a slanted number five inside a spiked sun. She drops the string over my head.
"Just in case," she whispers. Her voice flutters like a dove. "You must never lose this. It is your legacy.”
"This is your last chance!" I hear my dream-Father snap. "Drop your weapons or pay the price." "You are defenseless, old man!" The ringleader shouts. "Take him out! Find the woman!"
Chaos erupts around the wagon. The soldiers charge forward with spears lowered, as my father snaps his hands in towards his body. The men flanking his sides trip forward and skid across the ground. The horse in the front rears and jolts the wagon backwards, blocking my view.
My dream-mother plants a kiss on my forehead before leaping over the jars to join the fray. From the clear sky, lightning erupts. The concussions throw me back down and I hear cracking wood--the horse has broken free. I scramble over the pile of jars just in time to see lightning strike one soldier. He convulses inside his armor. I smell burnt flesh in the air.
A man charges my dream-mother from behind, but she slides around faster than a breath of air, grabs the handle of his ax and wrenches him weightless overhead. He lands on his neck, which pops. He lies still.
My dream-father swirls his arms in a complicated pattern over the ground. Rocks pellet a brigade of charging men. They all collapse onto their knees.
Voices roar down the hillside. From behind rocks and olive trees, droves of copper-plated soldiers rush at us like landslide. I am too shocked by their thunder and clanking to be afraid. There are so many. My dream-mother sees them. As she pushes lightning into a charging brigade, she looks at me. Her sleeves are blackened and have curled up to her elbows. I barely hear her over the din--she is shouting a name I can't make out, but I know it is mine. She commands me to run and hide. A path appears in my mind for me to follow.
My feet move without thought. Up and over the side of the wagon, I am running up a path snaking around a steep hillside. Explosions rip trees around me, sending up dust and dirt that hides me as I run. I hear voices shouting around me, and the roar of terrified screams and clanking armor. Finally, high on the mountainside, above the rushing soldiers, I find a small place between two boulders to hide. From there, I can see what has happened.
The men, by sheer numbers, have overwhelmed my dream parents. I peek just in time to see a knife slice across my Father's throat. My scream bubbles out but is lost in the battle noise. They are still fighting my Mother, but there are so many...too many. She is taken with an axe from behind. It is then that my eyes grow foggy with tears.
From the fog of this first nightmare of my parents dying, I descend without pause into the second nightmare. Suddenly it’s not tears obscuring my vision, but dense smoke.
Someone rakes their nails into my arm. I twist around to see a terrified young girl. She has blood oozing down the side of her face from a wound on her temple and her hair is coated with ash. Her heart-shaped face has gone pale as she pulls me, shouting my name over and over.
"Come on!" She screams. "Run!"
A piercing wail rips the air. An explosion pushes us off our feet and into the gravel. Someone runs over our tangled limbs and steps on my leg before continuing on. The girl scrambles to her feet. She pulls me across the ground.
"Hurry! Get up, get up, get up!" Her tears mingle with the blood pouring down her face.
I use my free arm to tear her fingers off. I bat her failing hands away and manage to grab her wrists to stop her from latching onto me.
"I'm the only one that can save them!" I scream. She violently shakes her head. "Only me, Naomeh! Now go!" "No!"
"Go!" I scream at her. I push at her and suddenly she is gone. She has vanished and I know that I have sent her away.
I dash through the smoke. The smell of burning flesh barely registers with my dream-self, but my helpless consciousness wants to vomit. Rubble is strewn across the street and buildings rage with fire. I dodge the dead lying in the street and the panicked survivors running blindly. Shrapnel and brick fly through the air, yet I seem to swat it without thought away from me.
I cut around the corner and my heart drops into my stomach. The smoke has cleared and standing atop a headless statue in the square is an unearthly woman. Her porcelain skin seems more like a cage for the blue lines of energy running under it than real flesh. Her square jaw quirks when she sees me. Her jet black robes have been burned in a few patches, but otherwise she appears untouched and to enjoy the chaos around her.
"I have been waiting for you," She murmurs with a hint of a grin in her pale pink lips. "How does it feel to be the last of Melee Tarias?"
I answer her by stepping back into a defensive stance.
She strikes the first blow from atop her high perch. Her hands cross and uncross rapidly. My dream-self leaps right, moving away from a fierce rush of wind slicing from her hands. It’s an odd sensation--I am dozens of feet away--but somehow my fingers grasp the statue the woman is standing on and yank it off its base.
The pale woman nimbly leaps off as it tumbles to the ground.
“You’re just like your kind--weak. Pathetic. Small-minded. Limited by your lack of knowledge.” She sneers, landing on an overturned cart. My eyes are hunting her, and I don’t hesitate--one snap of my fingers and the cart bursts into flames. Then she’s off to my left and ice daggers whistle toward me. I hit the ground and roll, missing shattering rocks. Reading the vibrations of the earth, I shoot out of the way just as the pale woman reaches one arm high and the wall behind me tumbles down. I roll shoulder over and shoulder and land lightly on my feet.
The battle grows more intense as we do impossible things. She bounds up high overhead and throws lightning at me. My arms come up and disperse it like an annoying fly and I have only to stamp my feet to send shooting jets of boiling water her way.
“There are things I am capable of that you can’t even dream about!” She snarls. She vanishes and re-appears at all points in the square and I hurl everything I can at her--deafening sound waves, the pavement, glass, fire, electricity. As the dream continues, we destroy the square.
“My abilities are far greater than you could ever be! You have no hope of ever besting me!” She taunts me.
I feel her re-appear behind me, atop a fresh heap of rubble. I turn around to see her arcing in a circle. A bright blue ball of crackling energy appears in one hand. My hands go up as though to block it when her free hand pushes forward. I am frozen by an invisible force unable to move. Something chokes the air from me and I can't move my hands to free myself! A cold sweat breaks out across my skin and then the woman hurls the ball at me.
A warm body collides with me, breaking the frozen spell. I twist midair to see a startling pair of emerald eyes boring into me as a young man shoves me out of the way. When the energy rips into his body, he screams and convulses backwards before my eyes. He crashes onto the ground. Energy crackles off his fingertips in sparks. With a last twitch before he lies still, his unmoving eyes open and stare right at me.
He is dead and she laughs joyfully.
This nightmare ends with my body trembling and a new scene unfolding from staring at his body on the ground.
In my final nightmare, I stand on a precipice overlooking a destroyed city inside a wide valley. Most of the fires have burned themselves out, leaving black hulks of crumbled buildings. A jagged scar runs across the center of the valley as though the earth cracked itself open. Nothing stirs in the valley below.
A hand rests on my shoulder. A heavy-shouldered man with his back crumbled over peers at me from a lined and weary face. His blue and green robes are burnt and bloody. A huge welt has swollen one eye and his gray hair is askew.
"I am sorry I failed," I whisper.
"You haven't failed yet," His voice is deeper and calmer than expected from his hunched over frame. "But you will if you stay."
I shake my head vigorously. "I should be staying--I should be one of the guides. I'm the last Melee Taria--"
"And that is why you cannot stay," He interrupts me, but I am still shaking my head. I turn away from him to stare blindly at the destroyed city.
Tears flood my eyes and I open my clutched hand. I hold a yellow topaz pendant inside which rests a miniature figure of a man. I stare at it until the old man covers it with his mottled hand.
"The decision has been made," he says quietly. "This is the best way."
"You said I would have a choice!" I accuse him, stepping back.
"Your choice is to make the most of the life that is ahead of you. Your journey will not be an easy one," He opens his arms wide and bows respectfully to me.
"I can't move on," I sobbed. "I can't do this."
"To embrace life, you must embrace death," He says. His palms rest on the sides of my face and his breath whispers against my ear. "Good life, Carina sha Solora."
Fire sears into my skull and my vision burns white.
I die, and awake screaming.