A young girl is tormented by ghostly dreams.
Do stars dream? Do they wish for things we will never understand? We can never know. But there are those, legends of old, which do. They hear the stars weep and curse. It is those people who must prevail when no one else can.
The memories occurred erratically, broken fragments flitting through her mind. Like casual dust motes as they moved, twisted and glided within the movement of air. It was always the thirteen menacing figures, swathed completely in cloth, which haunted her constantly. Their mysteries and forgotten secrets echoed with every one of her heartbeats as they thudded within her chest. She had been having the dreams for a while now and still she felt no closer to understanding what it all meant. But as the storm broached the horizon, she felt the tide of time and history move and swell. Something was coming that was bigger than anything the world had seen. Soon, she worried, it would begin and then she would long for those days of peace that hid behind her.
These flowing thoughts belonged to a young woman named Ariane as she stood, poised, observing the angry storm clouds. She had taken a quick swim in the lake of Orionith and now stood in the shallow water, elegant and alert. A cold current sped through the water, kissing, soothing and caressing her toes as they dug into the soft sand of the shore. The great freshwater lake stretched out before her, its surface reflected the image of the sky. It was a body of water that filled a deep crater as it slumbered in the shadow of a great mountain. The huge, snow tipped mountain that lay directly before her, graced and dominated the horizon. She stared contemplatively across the horizon as the sun bled into the patched blue sky. She was considering her nightly dreams again as she had done many a time in the past year.
The sun had begun to sink, casting a brilliant aura of colour across the clouds that streaked across the fading blue blanket. It reminded Ariane of a canvas her mother would paint. The red and orange light succumbed to the darkening blue as the sun sank below the majestic mountains of Orionith, the namesake of the village in which Ariane resided. The dark clouds that gathered on the horizon were stained crimson red and resembled great battleships high and mighty, awaiting the call of war. A call that Ariane felt would come soon.
Her long auburn hair whipped in a chilling wind that originated from the East. Gentle haunting voices rose and fell upon the air, reminding her of the voices that called in her dreams, begging her to help but terrifying her so at the same time. The visions, she endured while she slept, troubled her as the images of the Swords and their haunting apparitions swathed in cloth burnt themselves upon her eyelids. There were greater, more powerful elements lodged in her brain but the harder she tried to grasp hold of them, the more they slipped through her fingers like grains of sand. The scenes of battle frightened her and she feared that the Gods that ruled their worlds had chosen her as a Seer. It was considered as a privilege to act as pawns to the Gods. Were she to rebel, it would mean banishment, to be sent into the scorching desert from where none returned. Denial of one’s fate was almost considered as treacherous as blasphemy.
Ariane’s thoughts were broken by a cry, far away on the horizon. The howl rose and soared upon the wind as it echoed across the mountain's face before fading away with the sun. She watched as finally the globe of orange sank beneath the water and darkness finally stretched its long fingers across the blackened sky.
Ariane glanced once more at the beautiful scene before her. The lake stretched across towards the foot of the mountain, as it rose gently before swelling greatly to its mighty peak where none, save Orion, the founder of their village, had climbed. On the left side of the peak was a great vale where grass was a delicate green, soft beneath the foot. Herds of sheep and cows grazed there in the long, hot summer days. Further ahead lay a large green forest where warm springs burst through the earth into small rock pools.
Under the dense canopy of this forest, Ariane had spent many a day lingering and dreaming. She recalled all the hours spent in the trees watching the clouds float past in the sky as she cried quietly to herself, her tears were a mystery to her mother and father. Loneliness worked its way inside her when she sat alone, causing her heart to ache within her adolescent chest. The coolness of the forest, the song of the birds and the smell of the pines had overridden her senses and awoken a deep longing inside her.
Far away, past all the beauty, lay the harsh desert that burnt and destroyed all whom ventured there. Only once had Ariane ever been there and she remembered all too vividly the intense heat. Ariane remembered gazing across at the endless stretch of yellow; it seemed to her that ghosts danced on the horizon. They had seemed to silently scream to her, beckoning to her before burning away under the unwavering gaze of the sun. She remembered tugging on her father’s cloak trying to direct his attention at the figures crying in the distance, only to discover they had gone, melting away in the heat. Forever stranded in the burning milieu.
Ariane turned away, uneasy and shivering at memories that sent chills dancing down her spine, before she began the journey across a small grassy plan towards the small stone building that her mother and father had built twenty three years ago in anticipation of the birth of their first child. It was uncommon that a woman her age would live at home with her parents still and yet, here she lingered. She was strange to the men of her tribe, unknown and unapproachable. Her strong grey eyes were calculating, always absorbing the situation around her. Men found her threatening and she was rarely approached for marriage. And so, her loneliness continued on, along with the sense that there was more to life than the small village in which she resided. She couldn’t deny that she enjoyed the comfort of her parents’ home but the time was coming for her to leave. The abode in which she now stood contained three separate rooms and was constructed from the stones that lay to the South in the Scorialian gorge. It was a distance off and was no longer used for the tales that accompanied the gorge. There was much bad history there for the Orionith tribe. As Ariane had entered her home, the trees had begun to sway and wrestle with the oncoming wind. The storm was encroaching closer and closer.
“Mother?” She called out tentatively; her parents had been out with the rest of the hunters, preparing for the storms that would shake Orionith for five days. They were required, as they were every year, to accumulate enough food for the villagers to endure within the Great Hall for five days, possibly longer depending on the severity of the storm. As Ariane stood in the doorway, she heard the building wind ripping through the trees and a flair of fear snaked its way along her spine. Again, she sensed that intense feeling in the pit of her stomach that often accompanied a massive event. It felt almost as if there were hundreds of butterflies all squirming and crawling about in her gut. Turning in the doorway, she began to squint against the darkening sky but was unable to see anything beyond the swell of the grass upon the hills. Just as she was about to turn away and head in doors, she heard their calls for her. A smile danced across her face and upon further inspection, she saw her parents coming across the plain, their two figures silhouetted against the dusk sky. Storm clouds pitched themselves across the blackness, bubbling with rain, thunder and lightning, moving ever so swiftly towards their small village.
“Ariane, why were you not with Labeth and Ferion? Where were you today?” Her mother asked as she reached up a blood stained hand to smooth down Ariane’s rampant windswept hair. She was referring to two of Ariane’s hunting friends who had been helping with the collection of food. Ariane’s mother watched her carefully with the same coloured eyes as her daughter. Although her mother, Bridgette, had white blonde hair, she wore it in a similar fashion to Ariane and the resemblance was clear. Ariane had acquired her father’s frantic red-brown hair and it trailed over half way down her back. Her eyes were set into a keen face and her cupid bow lips were often curled into a soft smile. She was tall, like her mother and father, and strong with it. Another reason the men feared her. She was also stubborn and independent. She despised the girls that stayed at home all day tending to the clothes and the food. There was little surprise on her mother’s face when Ariane revealed where she had been instead.
“I went up to the Virgithian hills to watch the coming storm. It looks worse this year, the clouds are higher and darker than ever. Did you bring excess supplies just in case it should last longer?” She replied, smiling at her mother’s worry, fighting against her own concern that etching a hole in her heart.
“Yes, the Priestess has already warned us. We have gathered enough supplies to get us through the next two weeks; Gods forbid it should last any longer than that! Thankfully the harvest was very good this year, as was the hunting. Come, we should pack and get to the Great Hall before the storm arrives.” Bridgette sighed, as reluctant to pack herself away into the Hall as her daughter was. She loved her freedom, the feeling of the wind in her hair when she rode her horse at dawn or when the feeling of the sun’s fading rays delicately kissing her skin farewell. Five days shut up in the Great Hall was enough but the prospect of more almost drove her to insanity.
Ariane hurried back into the house and gathered up some of her belongings, stuffing them into the rabbit skin bag. She made certain that she’d picked up the notebook where she kept all her dreams and thoughts. The notebook itself had been a gift from one of her few friends. It had come from the Western coasts where great buildings soared into the sky. She had been most thankful for the notebook as she held the hope that one day she would be able to piece together the information gleaned from her dreams and form a conclusion as to the figures that constantly haunted her.
She turned to leave and found her mother standing in the door way, watching her with a caring gaze. She had not been startled, the human body has a presence that can be sensed even when the back is turned.
“Are you alright, Ariane? You seem distant,” her mother sighed, fearing for her daughter. She was always distant, always lost in thought, as if her imagination offered her more than this world ever could. It was this she feared, she longed for grandchildren one day. Ariane was such a sullen girl sometimes and the only time Ariane saw her smile was when she in the company of her family. Her friends, as few and far between as they were, considered themselves lucky if they got more than five words from her in a day.
“Yes, I’m fine, you know the storms make me nervous,” she smiled, trying to reassure her mother, suddenly noting her frailty as she clung to the doorway. The worry in her mother’s eyes, in the way she held herself with her arms around her waist was a clear giveaway that her mother was worried. Her long hair was plaited as usual for the hunting but her eyes, those beautiful grey eyes, were haunted by something more than memories.
“Mother, are you well?” She asked, rushing to her side. Her mother didn’t look surprised at Ariane’s intuition, it was uncanny.
“Yes, there is something deep in my bones that tells me this storm will hit harder than all others, I fear it Ariane. I fear that something is coming to take you away from me,” Ariane’s mother answered, peering at her daughter with tear-flecked eyes.
“Nothing could tear me from you,” she replied, hugging her mother fiercely, encompassed by a strong love for her mother and hating the feeling that suddenly, it was no longer a promise she could keep.
“I know that and yet, I feel that there is something much larger than we and I will have no choice but to let you go,” Bridgette continued, stroking her daughter’s hair.
“Come, we will be late and they will not let us in,” Ariane smiled, brushing her tears from her eyes before her mother could see her anguish.
Ariane and her mother made their way into the centre room of the house and, together with Ariane’s father; they began the short walk towards the Great Hall.
“So you think the storm will be larger this year?” Her father, Nathan, enquired.
“Yes, if you look at the formation of the clouds, they are bigger, heavier than last year. It might just be my imagination of course,” she smiled, her eyes gazing in admiration at the castles of nature that heralded above their heads. Her smile was thin for within her heart, she fought again as the fear once again threatened to overwhelm her. The angry, dark clouds were like chariots of rain and hail as they sped towards the hall.
Ariane lingered outside right up until the very last minute before the storm struck. She felt strange, not like herself. Her body shook and her heart raced as her thoughts returned to her dreams, the strange Swords and the figures encased in the white muslin cloth. Her mind flicked over the images of the great battles that raged in the sky and the chaos that reigned. The wind whipped her hair around her face and she heard voices once again, crying with the vapour that was carried within the swell of air.
“Ariane, come inside, the storm is here!” Her friend, Jeryan grasped her wrist and tugged her inside the Great Hall.
The Great Hall had been made with the last of the rock from the Sagitae gorges that lay far beyond the borders of the tribe. It had been brought with the villagers whilst the evacuation from their last village had occurred, hundreds of years ago. The gorge had been left to the ghosts, the people were terrified of the vengeful spirits that chased away all those who had strayed there. Haunting tales were told of the gorge with its irate shadows that were known to tear at your hair and body. Nobody could remember who the ghosts might have been.
Ariane’s thoughts snapped violently back to the present. People congregated in groups of seven to ten and Ariane, led by Jeryan, was pulled towards her friends. Although for Ariane, friends was used in the loosest term possible but for a while Ariane could lose herself in the chatter and excitement surrounding her whilst she continued to ponder the violent storm that now raged outside. It seemed almost like an omen that it was heavier and more violent this year. The storm seemed so reminiscent of the storms in her dreams.
“Did Merion tell you what we saw down at the gorge today?” Jeryan broke through the loud chatter within the group. His confident blue eyes challenged anyone to turn him down his right to speak. There was silence from the group; Jeryan was known for his tall stories. Ariane broke the silence.
“No, what did you see?” a tone of exasperation in her voice.
“A ghost. As clear as the storm rumbles now!” He burst excitably. Eyes rolled and sighs were heard.
“What did it look like?” Ariane asked, ignoring the murmurs of her friends. A trickle of cold dread inched its way down her spine, leaving goose bumps upon the flesh it touched.
“I didn’t see it at first but then I practically walked through it and that’s when I noticed it!” Jeryan said, rubbing his arms, chasing away the same chill that echoed in Ariane.
“It was covered in this weird cloth stuff, all wrapped up in it except for a bit that had fallen away over its eye. It was hideous to look at! You felt like you were falling backward when you looked into that eye,” Merion shivered violently.
“And it had a Sword. We only saw the scabbard but it screamed at us to leave. It shouted after us, ‘The Thirteen shall awaken soon’. I’ve never run so hard in my life!” Jeryan cried and a hurt look appeared in his eyes when people began to laugh.
“I’m been serious! Ariane, tell them!” He turned to her, eagerness and a call for help written on his face.
“Tell them what? It’s probable you saw a ghost, there is always talk of them around the gorge,” she agreed, wondering what he could have been referring to.
“No, about your dreams!” He said, his words causing anger to surge within him, stirring up the fervent wish that she hadn’t mentioned it to him.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she said and turned on her heel, seeking refuge from the group’s chatter with her mother and father as they sat together talking about the day’s hunting and the storm. Settling her tired body by her mother’s feet, she felt hurt that something she’d said in secret had ended up been blurted out in front of everyone. He hadn’t actually told them what they were about but he had made it perfectly obvious they were connected. Her mother reached out to stroke her hair as she so often did when they were sat at home in the living area.
Ariane’s mind drifted off, why would ghosts from the past, the Thirteen, be at the gorge? Ariane sighed, the mysteries eluded her. Figures from history, dead. Why wouldn’t they stay dead? What was so important that they had to invade the mind of a nineteen year old girl and torment her sleep? Ariane’s eye focused on her group, Merion kept looking over at her and as she watched, the younger girl made her way over to Ariane and sat down opposite her.
“I’m sorry about Jeryan, you know he can be an idiot when he’s the centre of attention,” Merion smiled and stretched out her hand to her friend. Ariane took it, a timid smile on her face. Her friend’s hair was a brilliant red that shone faintly even when there was little light. Her grey eyes blinked at Ariane, waiting.
“I’m sorry Merion; I don’t want to tell you about my dreams. I don’t want to seem crazy.”
“You wouldn’t. Please? I’m worried about you. The ghost scared me enough. I’d hate for you to dreaming of them, what peace is there in that?” She smiled a look of such pleading in her eyes.
“Them? Who said there was more than one?” Ariane’s ears pricked up. Staring at Jeryan’s back, maybe he had told them after all.
“He only told me, no one else. Please Ariane, why do you never let people get close?” Merion sighed. But Ariane shook her head, unwilling to share anything now. She felt betrayed and her anger resurfaced.
“I want to write, please, go back to the group, I’ll come later,” she replied, standing and turning away from the wounded look upon the girl’s face as she too stood and walked away. Breathing heavily and holding back tears, Ariane lay down on her animal skin and pulled her notebook out. Furiously, she began to scrawl her thoughts onto the pages.
Soon people began to settle down, wrapping themselves up in their cloaks and then in their blankets. Quiet murmurs continued but most were content to say nothing. Hundreds of eyes stared upwards at the ceiling, picturing the rain that against the roof. Ears heard the thunder the growled in the sky following the vicious slashes of lightning. Ariane could not close her eyes, the thunder and lightning reminded her of her dreams and the cold fingers of dread never left her.