What happened after Rekema made her wear the headpiece was hazy to Mari. Rekema had made many demands and orders through Mari, so many that Mari couldn’t keep up, not with the everlasting fog around her mind. She remembered the men; Rekema called them guards. Rekema had them take Dainan and the men who talked to him away. Mari couldn’t remember where. Before she could dwell on it, Rekema had Mari follow some of the guards up a flight of stairs. More orders were given, and Mari found herself in a room that reminded her of the cottage, only larger and cleaner. Rekema let go of Mari, and she stumbled to the bed. She barely pulled herself onto it. Her eyes couldn’t stay open; she couldn’t even move her legs or arms to get into a more comfortable position. She fell asleep to the excited chatter of the Seven.
Mari didn’t dream. Never. Not once in her life did she remember one at least. Muraad had said it was because she had nothing to dream of. She had everything she wanted. At least, Muraad said so. She had never been exposed to anything she could dread. Mari thought it was true, even if she wasn’t sure what dread was. Nothing desired, nothing dreaded, nothing dreamed. Why should she dream? Why should she see anything in those strange, lost hours of the night?
That night, Mari discovered the dream of dread. The nightmare.
With a quick breath, Mari’s eyes flew open as she convulsed. She moved as if trying to tear herself in two. She couldn’t help but let out a short grunt when she hit the floor, even though her throat burned in protest. Mari heard a flurry of movement.
“What are you doing?”
Mari saw Mallory and Meeko standing above her; Meeko hung behind his twin, covering a laugh.
Mari’s throat felt raw and scraped, even if she had an answer, she wouldn’t have wanted to risk using her voice. She pushed herself into a sitting position, wincing at the soreness in her arms.
“Okay, you two back up,” Muraad stepped into Mari’s line of sight. Mari sighed, smiling slightly.
Mallory huffed, but stepped back, forcing Meeko back as well. Muraad tilted his head, and with a quick hand gesture, Mari was pulled to her feet.
Mari fell back onto the bed. Muraad sat next to her, “So, you finally woke up.”
Mari blinked and tried to clear her throat. Muraad pointed to a table in the middle of the room, saying something about taking control while she was unconscious to get it for when she woke up. There was a tray of odd looking food. She forced herself over there and tore into the food. In seconds, it was gone. She coughed, forcing it down. Once done, she grabbed the glass with one hand, supporting herself on the table with the other. She drank like she hadn’t seen water in months. It spilled down her face, onto her neck, and stained the torn collar of her dress.
“Don’t choke,” Mallory called out.
Mari pulled the glass away from her mouth, bowing her head. She hobbled back to the bed, ignoring Meeko’s giggles. Her voice came out rasped and harsh as she coughed, “Was I asleep for long?”
“Two days.” Meeko jumped onto the bed and towered over her.
Mari glanced up, “I’m sorry.”
Meeko pulled on her hair, jerking her head to the side. “I’m not the one upset.”
Muraad scowled and pushed him off the bed. “Go tell Rekema that Mari’s up.”
Meeko stuck his tongue out and screwed up his eyes. “Whatever you say.”
The small boy disappeared, but his twin stayed. Muraad turned and glared. “Go with him.”
She threw up her hands, rolling her eyes. “If you absolutely insist.”
The girl had gone.
“Get up, you’re filthy. You need to wash your hands and face.” Mari turned to Muraad. He ruffled her hair, and at her blank look, he turned her around. “Over there on the dresser.”
Mari stood up and let Muraad point her to a bowl of water with a square piece of cloth next to it. She walked up to the strange chest. It was a dresser, according to Muraad. The dresser had an odd, clear, reflective material on the wall behind it. She ducked her head, picking up a rag and wetting it. She shrugged off the strange furniture and focused on removing the reds, grays, and browns from her skin. Once she was done, she wiped her face dry with her sleeve. Without looking at her reflection, Mari turned to Muraad.
“So, pet.” Muraad leaned against the pillows. Mari sat at the edge of the bed. He crossed his legs. “You going to tell me about your first dream?”
“I thought…” Mari looked at her hands, still seeing flecks of red under her nails. She frowned, barely lifting her eyes, “But, you said I do not desire anything, so I do not dream anything.”
“Yes.” Muraad’s scales caught the light of the room. He sat up, and Mari kept her head bowed. Her stomach rolled, and she wished she hadn’t eaten. Mari couldn’t guarantee it was going to stay in her stomach. Muraad stared at her; she could feel it. “So, something changed. Tell me what you dreamed about.”
“It was dark.” Mari fiddled with the frayed edge of her skirt. “I was outside, in the middle of the uh, city. There were many people around, but they didn’t move, at all. It was just me, and I—”
Mari stopped as she felt a pull on her. A second later, Rekema appeared. She tossed her hair back, and with a smile, she said, “You’re awake, Mari. Perfect, come on, Muraad. We have much to do Underneath.”
Muraad sat up. “Now?”
“Yes, now! All of us need to be there. This is important.” Rekema put a claw on her hip.
Muraad stood up and walked over to her. He spoke softly, but Mari heard him, “And just leave her with no supervision?”
Rekema rolled her eyes. “And who would stay? You trust the twins with her? Balak? Apep? Bidkar? I certainly can’t do it.”
Muraad looked down; he didn’t say anything.
“Face it, Muraad, the only one you trust Mari with is yourself. We’ve left her without us once before, and we’re going to have to do it often, now that everything has begun.” Rekema leaned in, keeping her voice low, and Mari only just heard what she said.
Muraad stepped closer. “What if someone tries a stunt like the one from the throne room?”
Mari wasn’t sure what he meant. Her mind hadn’t been in a good place, so much had happened, and she didn’t know what a stunt was.
“Oh, please. No one is going to come in here, the guards will stop anyone. They’re loyal to us, remember? They don’t have a choice,” Rekema said. Mari thought back to the throne room, straining her mind. Her memories cleared slightly. She remembered a surge of power and realized what Rekema meant. She had put the guards under a spell.
Muraad growled; his scales seemed to multiply across his skin. “Fine, you win.”
Mari stared at the ground, not wanting them to be upset with her for listening. A hand came down and ruffled her hair. She stood up. Murrad couldn’t meet her gaze, “We’ll be off then, but we won’t be gone long. I’ll be back soon.”
Mari swallowed, wishing she could tell them not to go. She remembered the hours sitting in the cottage. Wanting things was strange and new to her, but she knew that was not what she wanted.
Muraad sighed, and stepped backwards. He said, “It’s important, or else I wouldn’t do this. Don’t give that look. It’s for the best.”
Rekema made a noise in her throat. She spoke quickly, “We’ll be back as soon as we can. When we get back, we’ll have lots to do, so just wait.”
Mari nodded. The two disappeared. She pulled her legs up onto the fluffy bed, to begin her wait. Did waiting always begin with a sinking feeling in her stomach? Did it always involve this strange crushing, suffocating sensation? The hollow feeling, the emptiness, how long would it last? She was filled with questions, and she was beginning to believe there were no answers.
* * *
It had only been a few hours since Rekema and Muraad had left, but to Mari it felt like an eternity. She stared at the window, thinking time might go by faster if she watched the sun move. She was wrong, but at least the sky was pretty enough to occupy her attention. The sky had just started to turn a bright orange and red when there was a knock on the door. Everything in her froze. She stared at the door from across the room. Another knock. Mari debated whether or not she should crawl under the bed in case they came in. Could she fit?
“Your Highness?” a voice filtered through the door.
Mari sucked in her breath, digging her fingers into the covers on the bed.
“Are you awake?”
Mari edged away from the direction of the voice.
“I have dinner. I’ll leave the tray out for whenever you’re ready for it,” the voice said, “When you’re done, just set the tray back out here.”
Mari held her breath, straining her ears until the footsteps faded. She waited more, but she couldn’t wait forever. She kept on her toes as she crept across the plush fabric covering part of the floor, opening the door slowly. Mari took a moment to look about before seeing the tray waiting for her, on a table just outside the door. She picked it up; her thin arm wobbled a moment before she steadied the tray with her second. She set it down before hurrying to shut the door. She sighed as she sat down, taking a moment to examine the food. It looked strange to her, but her stomach wasn’t giving her a chance to refuse. After a hesitant first bite, Mari found herself shoveling it down. She had the vague notion of it making her sick, but she didn’t care. She didn’t realize just how hungry she was.
It was gone far too soon, but once it was, she set both of the trays back outside, like she was told, as always. She couldn’t get back inside the room fast enough, shutting the door quietly, but quickly. Once done, she ran back to her bed to resume waiting.
She continued like that for the next few days. She would sit on the bed, eat an hour after food was brought, resume waiting, go to sleep until the dream that made her sick woke her up, and continue waiting.
Mari had slept two times before she dared to do anything different. One afternoon, she did more than use the window to check the time of day. She slid off the bed and placed her hand on the clear material. It was cold, and she pulled back her hand immediately, but still peered out. All the people, walking in the city; they were so small, so far away.
She stepped closer, seeing a large wall circle the city. A section of it was broken, and it was devoid. She could see people everywhere else except for by the broken section of wall. Mari grunted, grabbing at her head. Images of people running away filled her mind. Cries rang in her ears. Houses around her were broken, destroyed. Were people trapped under them?
She choked on air, burying her head further into her hands. Mari shook her head, stumbling backwards. The images wouldn’t fade. People weren’t moving. They stayed on the ground with a stillness that made Mari want to move. A scream started to build in her throat. She grabbed at her arms, digging her nails into them. She kept her eyes closed, but felt small drops of blood roll down her arms. It wasn’t until her feet tangled underneath her that she realized she had been backing away.
She grunted and rubbed her head as she sat up. The images started to fade, leaving her head pounding. As she forced herself back onto her feet, Mari kept her eyes away from the window. She crawled onto the bed, not bothering to think about what had just happened. Her head hurt too much. She buried her face into the covers, letting sleep take her.
Over the course of the next few days, Mari explored her new room. She would lie on the floor fabric, running her fingers over it simply because she liked how soft and warm it was. After one of her meals, she started picking at the smooth, bright material that lined the already smooth wooden chairs, finding it to cool to the touch. Not long after that, she gathered her courage one day and pulled open a set of door. She didn’t quite expect it to be filled with clothes. Did someone really need all of them? Did they wear different ones for different reasons? All of them were strange to her, but she took a liking to a large white shirt. It might as well have been a dress on her it was so big. It was made of fabric far softer than her normal dress. She found it to be more comfortable to sleep in now that she was prone to waking up in a cold sweat.
It was the seventh morning when Mari forced herself to inspect the dresser. She went through the small boxes, finding more clothes. She didn’t quite understand the use of all of them. Some of them seemed to be made to go over a pair of feet, but Mari was not so adventurous as to try them. To her delight, Mari did find more white shirts in one of the boxes. There was one box with many small objects, including the headpiece. Mari figured that when Muraad used her while unconscious he also put it there. She left that box alone, having no desire to go through it like she did with the others. She stood up, taking a breath, and she stared at herself in the reflective piece. Mari wasn’t surprised with what she saw. She was well aware of herself and what other people would see when looking at her. While there was much beyond her understanding, she wasn’t stupid.
Mari paused. There was one thing she didn’t know about herself. She leaned in and widened her eyes. All the Seven had such distinct eye colors; she wanted to know hers. She crawled onto the dresser to see clearly, staring at her eyes to be sure. Gray stared back at her. She felt disappointed. She thought it was a dull and lifeless color. She had hoped her eyes would match Rekema’s pink, or Muraad’s purple, or even Mallory’s blue.
Sitting back down, Mari wondered if gray eyes were a human thing.
She didn’t have long to consider it as she felt a pulling on her, and she leapt to her feet. The Seven were coming back! She grabbed the bedpost, trying to steady herself, but was unable to stop herself from rocking on her feet.
The Seven appeared before her. Rekema immediately took control. Mari’s mind started to fog over once more. She staggered, unused to the sensation after being without it for the past few days. Rekema had Mari go into the dresser and put on the headpiece. She said to Mari, “We’ve got work to do, and no time to waste.”
Mari was more than relieved and excited to have them back, but the gleam in Rekema’s and the others’ eyes suddenly made Mari happy to have gray eyes.