Dainan and Regan had to calm her down before they could start to examine how they would go about stopping the Seven. Regan and Dainan discussed a few ideas, and asked Mari a few questions, but she had no answers. Mari didn’t know what the Seven were trying to accomplish; she couldn’t remember anything. Dainan told her to rest, promising he and Regan would start working on a solution based off what he remembered during his meetings with the Seven. In the meantime, she should sleep, organize her thoughts, and try to remember anything about the Seven that would be useful. Mari willingly did so.
She lay on the bed, shifting through her mess of a mind. She wasn’t sure what would be useful. What was Dainan looking for? What were they even going to do with the information? What could they possibly do to stop the Seven? Mari was the only one who could see, hear, or touch them. The more Mari thought about it, the more she confused herself.
Pushing herself up, she buried her head in her hands. She groaned. Stopping the Seven… Mari had to stop them; she couldn’t take it anymore. What they were doing, people were getting hurt. Mari still saw Regan’s husband still beneath her red hands. She recalled the pain in Dainan’s voice from that day. The wreckage around her was burned into her mind. Her own image stood in front of her, taunting her. Dainan, sitting in the dark, dirty cell, the farthest thing from the king he used to be, all alone.
No, Mari couldn’t let the Seven continue to use her to do that to people. On the other hand, Mari certainly didn’t want to go against them. What choice did she have? They were her life until most recently; they were everything. She couldn’t imagine her life without them. Actually… that wasn’t right. She could imagine her life without them.
She pushed herself off the bed. She needed to talk to Dainan, to get a clearer picture. Mari reached for the door when the pulling returned. Her heart raced in her chest. She scrambled for the bed and made it the second before they arrived.
This time, it was Rekema and Muraad. Mari held her breath, doing her best to appear normal. For once, she didn’t want their attention.
“Let’s get straight to the point,” Rekema said. She walked up to the bed post. With a flick of her wrist, Mari’s body seized up, and her mind hazed over. Her last clear thought was simply that she hoped the water in her eyes didn’t overflow.
“Don’t worry, pet,” Muraad said as Rekema had her put on the crown. “We’re just going to look at some books.”
Books? What were those?
She opened her mouth, but was ushered out the door. What had she been about to ask? She blinked and stumbled down the stairs. The crown shifted, and the guards at the bottom frowned. Her movements were different from normal. Normal… since when had she considered her own movements to be normal? Since when was the Seven’s control not normal?
Her mouth opened, but Rekema’s words came out. “Take me to the library.”
Library? Weren’t they looking for something else? A b—buh—?
“Right this way, Your Majesty,” one of them said.
The four of them, even though to an observer there only seemed to be two, made their way through the halls Mari had become fairly familiar with. Despite that, it didn’t take them long to reach a completely new area Mari had yet to explore; although, to be honest, it didn’t look all that different. It felt different. If Mari hadn’t been under Rekema’s control, she would have shuddered and held her arms.
Rekema and Muraad did not speak the entire way. Mari’s gaze was forced ahead so she could not even see their expressions. While Mari was still poor at deciphering them, all the time she had spent with Dainan had started to help her improve her understanding of expressions. She could have used the practice on the two of them; maybe she would come close to understanding Regan’s odd, withdrawn expressions.
“Here it is, Your Majesty.” The guard stopped in front of a large, ornate door. Mari stumbled out of her thoughts and took it in. Bright, polished metal shined in complicated patterns. This door was second only to the doors of the throne room. What kind of priceless treasures would be in such a room? For if Rekema and Muraad were after it, it could only be something incredibly important.
Mari still couldn’t see Rekema, but she heard Rekema whisper something to Muraad. Mari didn’t catch it as she was forced to push the door open. It creaked and groaned as it slowly swung back.
The sight before her eyes… Mari didn’t understand it, but her legs trembled at the sight. It was magnificent.
The front of the room had several tables with plush chairs around them as well as chairs and long chair like pieces of furniture that seemed to be built to seat multiple people. Beyond the tables, gigantic wooden structures that looked like hollow boxes filled the room. Mari could not even see the back of the room. There was a staircase off to the side that led up to another floor with even more of the hollow boxes. Each of these boxes had strips of wood and on them rested small boxes of a different material and colors. Mari didn’t know what the purpose of them was, but just the sheer amount of them filled her with awe. Dainan must have been the wealthiest kind of all the kingdoms to have so many of those boxes filled with smaller boxes. The smaller boxes must each contain something beautiful, elegant, or precious, and each must be unique to have such a vast quantity. They much also have been of the highest quality; they could only be so because for a kind would have no use for them if they were not valuable.
“This is going to be like looking for a needle in a haystack,” Muraad groaned.
Mari’s thoughts slowly turned. She told herself to ask Dainan about needles and haystacks when she saw him next. Mari wasn’t sure it was important information, but she would rather have too much information than not enough.
“I’m not looking forward to it anymore than you are. But unless you want to deal with the twins or Balak’s antics, I suggest you stop whining and get going,” Rekema said, letting go of Mari. Mari stumbled forward, swaying as her mind cleared. Books! It came back to her; Rekema had said they were looking for books.
“What is happening?” Mari asked, facing both of them.
Neither answered her. Muraad just rolled his shoulders; red scales rolling over his tan skin. “I’m just saying maybe if Bidkar could find something useful to narrow our search, we wouldn’t have to do this.”
“Those scholars aren’t talking, and there’s not much on this kingdom in our archives Underneath, so taking advantage of this library seems to be our only option for the moment. If we don’t find anything soon, we’ll bring Bidkar and try again with the scholars. Unfortunately, while that way may be the easiest option, the higher ups want us to try this first.” Rekema crossed her arms and tossed her hair. “If it were up to me, we would have already finished, but the others have their plans and strategies, with that comes patience, despicable thing it is, it is necessary.”
Their conversation made little sense to Mari, which was nothing new, but this time, Mari took care to try and remember what she could. She wanted to keep a tight grip on it because while it may not make sense at that moment, maybe with Dainan’s help, it would make sense later. There had to be something useful in what they said.
Muraad sighed, “I think you just like the sound of your own voice, but fine. Let’s get started.”
They turned back to her, and Mari kept her face neutral. At their looks, Mari had a feeling that no matter how magnificent those boxes seemed to her, they would turn them into something awful. They certainly had with everything else.
* * *
To Mari’s utter disappointment, the boxes were just filled with something Muraad had called paper. Even more, the papers were covered in strange markings that Mari did not understand. She could not comprehend why they were so important, but Rekema and Muraad had her running about anyway. They had her gathering them and opening them up to certain places as they themselves could not touch them. For some reason, the markings meant something to Rekema and Muraad.
Mari did not know what they were trying to find in the strange markings, and she was given no chance to ask. Muraad would take control and guide her through the shelves, taking books from the shelves and releasing her. Mari would stumble and almost drop the book, once her mind had cleared she’d run the book back to Rekema who would hover over her shoulder, watching as she turned the pages. It wasn’t a fast process, but every so often Rekema would tell her to stop and to return to Muraad.
Mari wasn’t sure how much time had passed when they finally stopped. Her feet throbbed from standing up and rushing about for so long. Rekema never gave her a chance to sit down. She had been fetching so many books that she could barely see over the pile of books that had been stacked across the table.
“Muraad! Here, come look!” Rekema said, looking up from the most recent book Mari had been flipping through. A moment later, Muraad came rushing out from behind one of the bookshelves. Rekema leaned over Mari’s shoulder, pointing to a section of the markings. Muraad leaned over Mari’s other shoulder, blocking part of the page from her sight. His eyes darted about the page, easily understanding whatever the strange markings were meant to communicate.
Muraad straightened up and grabbed Rekema by the shoulders. They took a step away from Mari. He beamed up at her. “Just like we thought.”
Rekema smirked, tossing her hair. “Exactly like we predicted! It’s perfect, just like I said it would be! Oh, I can’t wait to shove this in their stupid faces for ever doubting me!”
Mari had no idea what was happening, but she had a sinking feeling it was important. She moved closer as if shortening the distance could give her understanding. Mari narrowed her eyes, and put her finger on the page, tracing the markings. They meant nothing to her, but she tried to cram the image of the page and the markings into her mind. She glanced at the cover, committing it to memory as well. The book was rather large, and its cover was a deep reddish brown with gold markings on it.
A hand crashed down on her head, ruffling her hair. She jumped, dropping the book. A deep chuckle hit her ears, and she glanced up. “Don’t worry about the book, pet, we still have a few more things to take care of, but we’ll tell you what you need to know later.”
Need to know? What about what she wanted to know? Why did they get to decide what she needed to know? Mari wondered, what are they doing? What aren’t they telling her? Why aren’t they telling her?
Muraad pulled her hair back, and she continued to stare at him. Her face was blank, but her mind was a storm. She was screaming, but he couldn’t hear. What was she to the Seven? She had a family once, like Dainan did; she must have, so when did that change? How did she come into the Seven’s possession? And why? What was her purpose as the only one who could see them? What did they want? Why her?
All these questions… Questions without answers. She wanted to know the answers, but more than that… there was one question Mari needed answered more than the others. It was far more important; could she live without the answer? Mari did not think she could; the not knowing tore at her heart. It made her want to throw up. More than any other question Mari had come up with before, Mari had to know… Who was she?
“Muraad,” Rekema said, pointing at the book, “I’m going ahead. Clean up here and put this book somewhere safe. When you’re done, take Mari to the room and join me.”
Muraad nodded, and with a pulling on Mari’s being, Rekema was gone. Mari’s spine straightened as Muraad lifted his hands. The moment before it happened, Mari knew it was coming. She knew why he was about to do it; it would be far easier for him to use her than to let her do it on her own. In that moment, Mari scrambled to hold onto her memories. She buried them to where she hoped they would not be touched when her mind shattered once they were done. Her mind clouded, and she could no longer remember what she had just buried in her memories. It was important, so what was left of herself decided to leave it be for later.
Together, Mari and Muraad put the books back where they belonged. Yet again, Mari lost track of time until they came to the last book. The red brown book with the gold markings was in her hands. Muraad directed her up the stairs to the second floor. Mari did not get a moment to marvel at how many more shelves there were up there. Muraad glanced around before steering Mari toward the back corner. She blinked, but saw where they were headed. In the back of the room, there were a few chests sitting out. Muraad sent a jolt of power through her hand, and she watched herself crush the lock on one of the chests. It clattered to the ground. Mari watched her hands shuffle through the other strange papers and objects in the chest before burying the book beneath them all.
As Muraad stood her up again with a flick of his hands, Mari continued to stare at the book even though it was out of sight. He walked her out of the room; the guard who had brought them had stayed. Muraad ignored any attempt the guard made to try and help. Not that the guard tried more than twice; the guards had become used to Mari wandering about by herself. As long as she did nothing to them, they were content to leave alone. It relieved Mari in a way, not having to explain or use words, but it also bothered her. Was she truly only insignificant that the only time anyone paid attention was when she wasn’t herself? She didn’t count Dainan. He was locked up in a cell all alone. She had forced him to notice her. She was certain he wouldn’t have paid any attention were their circumstances different.
She stumbled into her room, alone. She blinked and vaguely recalled Muraad’s departure. There was some hair rustling, a goodbye, and a time frame. He said a few days.
Mari lay on her bed sighing. Her legs groaned from all the running about she had done, and her arms refused to move any higher than her waist. As much as she wanted to see Dainan, she decided it would be best to wait until the next day. She did not want to have to travel all the way back to that room, a library was it? And after that, travel to the dungeon and then up the stairs to her room. Mari could do it, but she had made enough exhausted trips to Dainan that she knew how much she did not want to. Not to mention, Mari was certain Dainan would tell her she should rest instead.
She glanced at her reflection, watching it follow her as she tilted her head. It was decided. She would go to see Dainan later, but before she subjected herself to her nightmare. There was a question. She had no one to answer, but she had to ask.
She pushed herself off the bed, forcing down the soreness in her limbs. She winced as her arms strained to pull herself onto the dresser. She wobbled, almost falling and almost bringing the dresser down onto her. Mari breathed out as she safely made it to the top of the dresser. She settled herself on her knees and stared herself down.
What was it? Was it in her face? Did that hold the answers? Did no one notice her because she had a forgettable face? How could that be? She looked different from most of the other humans she had seen. Was it because she was different? Plain? What made a face plain? Was it simply little things like the curve of her jaw? Sunken cheeks? The dark curved skin under her eyes? Or was it her eyes? The gray, lifeless color? Did that define her? Her eyes, her face? Did they hold the answer to the question no one could answer for her? If she just looked hard enough, could she find the answers etched into skin?
Mari lifted her hand and ran it over her face, closing her eyes. She let her fingers drag. She had them trace across every part of her face, every bump, every line, the grime on her skin. Mari wondered if her touch would bring her any closer to the answer.
Her head dipped, and Mari woke herself up in order to keep her balance. She rubbed her eyes and slid the crown off her head. She set it beside her and took one last look. What a mystery.
Mari slowly climbed down, not wanting to nearly tip it over again. She shivered as her feet touched the cold ground. She swayed as she walked to the bed. Mari rolled onto the soft covers and buried her head in them, unable to fight off the nightmare any longer.
She couldn’t help but whisper, “Who am I?”
It was quiet. No one answered. It was painfully quiet.