"Miralee, you can't do this!" Corin raced after his sister. "Have you even thought this through?" he asked between breaths. Even after years of chasing after her, he still couldn't keep up with her quick stride. "Please stop for just a second," he pleaded, leaning on the rough cliff face on the side of the road.
Miralee turned around and smirked. "Slowpoke," she muttered.
"I heard that," Corin shot back. "I may be slow, but I can still hear just fine." He stood up straight and took in a deep breath.
Miralee couldn't repress a short laugh before she spoke. Her brother was always making jokes when she was mad at him. His little way of making light of serious situations. It drove her crazy. She cleared her throat, returning to the conversation. "Excellent. Then you'll hear me when I say, 'you won't change my mind.' This is something I have to do."
"Wrong. You don't have to and you know that." His voice was stern.
"Yes I do. I have to make it all stop! She's the only one who can, and you know that."
"But it's suicide! Or didn't you pay attention to the stories Mom and Dad told us?" Corin visibly shuddered.
Miralee rolled her eyes. More of her brother's theatrics. "Of course I did, that's how I know she's capable."
"If she doesn't kill you."
"She wouldn't dare." Miralee started walking again, fast enough to leave Corin lagging behind. He didn't understand. And he never would. The things she'd seen, the things she'd done. They haunted her, tormented her. She couldn't get away from them, no matter how hard she tried.
At first, she tried to stay awake to avoid the nightmares. But her dreams were even more frightening when she was awake; more like hallucinations. It scared her to see the monstrous creatures around her family and in her room. Home was where you felt safe and secure, a place of innocence to return to. But she had turned it into a place of horror and death. All because of one stupid mistake.
"Miralee!" Corin's shout snapped her out of her thoughts. "You were thinking about it again, weren't you?"
She hadn't noticed she had slowed her pace enough to allow him to catch up. "Yeah. Can't help it." She swallowed hard. "It burdens me."
Corin snorted. "Now who's being dramatic? I thought that was my job." He tripped over a loose stone that sent him sprawling on the ground. The gravel pathway let up a scourge of dust as he hit it.
Miralee coughed as she waved away the dust from in front of her face. "Along with being clumsy."
Corin stood up and dusted off coat. "Hey, if it kept you from going to see Anahra, I'd fall down this entire mountain." He looked up into his sister's eyes, the look of deep fear and begging pulsing in his own. They had long since passed the edges of their own realm, where they could protect themselves with magic. Out here, they were little more than helpless; their powers useless under the border spells. "Please just come home with me. We'll figure out another way." He reached for her hand.
Miralee pulled away. "No, I can't go back. It only makes it worse. Seeing you, Mom and Dad, and then seeing...them. It's unbearable! You don't know what I see. Horrible, otherworldly creatures, crawling and clawing about. And hearing the screams, the voices. It's beyond scary. It's...they're...maddening." She was crying now. "They aren't just in my head. They talk to me, tell me to do terrible things, draw me to danger. It pulls me in."
"Then let me pull you out." He grabbed her hand now. "I won't let them hurt you." He paused. "And I can't let Anahra hurt you either."
"I know. You've always looked out for me." Miralee looked straight into her brother's eyes. "And I hope then that you know that I'm sorry."
Suddenly, Miralee pulled down the hand he was holding and launched him behind her. She took of running, up the remainder of the path, towards the top of the mountain, never stopping to look back.
She couldn't let him stop her. This was the only way to save him. She had been resisting the voices since they first appeared. If they ever overtook her, she wouldn't just be putting her family in danger. She'd be putting the entire realm in danger. So she had to do this. She had to protect everyone and everything she loved. Even if it meant giving them all away. So she kept running.
Corin lay stunned on the pathway. His sister's unforeseen blow had knocked the wind out of him. As he rose to his feet again, he looked down the mountain path after her. But she was long gone. There was no chance he would ever catch her now. But he was still going to try. He had to stop her, even if it was the last thing he did.
"My lady, my lady," a small, troll-like creature chanted as he ran through the stone fortress he lived in. "There are two young ones approaching the doors. What are your orders?" His fangs dripped with saliva as he spoke, splattering against the cold stone floor beneath him as he came to a stop before his master.
"Show them in." The calm voice before him answered. "They may bring an opportunity for me." Anahra's voice was smooth yet piercing. It seemed to drown out the other sounds around her; merely one way she demonstrated her power. Her little henchman wobbled away with a bow.
Anahra had been trapped in this realm for far too long, yet her powers had only grown as a result of living in near solitude for the last 300 years or so. And coming towards her now was her key to freedom and glory.
Miralee stood her ground. The witch standing before her was old, very old, in fact. Most of the spells she used were so ancient, there was no one alive today who knew how to undo them. And she had always been fond of the dark magic. Even her appearance seemed to emulate her fascination with the dark elements.
After what seemed like hours, the witch finally spoke. "Well, isn't this a nice surprise. I wasn't expecting any visitors." The sound of her voice sent chills up Miralee's spine. "Especially not you," she continued.
She was standing directly in front of Miralee now. The fortress she lived in was dark and cold. Even so, Miralee could see just what an imposing figure Anahra was. She was tall and slender, and moved gracefully, almost like a phantom. Her long, jet-black hair was sleek and straight, and draped over her like a cape. Her eyes were the eyes of a wolf, gray and slightly frosted over. Her skin was entirely white, and she was dressed in some sort of suit. It looked like a combination of fur and leather, the pieces both mismatched and impossible to identify.
Miralee found herself wondering where she had amassed such a quantity of strange pelts. Finally, Miralee spoke, "I've come with a request."
"Oh, of that I'm sure." Anahra began to walk around the girl, slowly taking in every detail about her.
Miralee hated this. It made her feel exposed and vulnerable. She decided to get this over quickly. No time for formalities. "I need some memories erased."
"I see," she let out a long and dramatic sigh, "and what memories would these be?" As she walked around behind Miralee, she reached out her hand and swept her hair to her back, giving the girl a strange sensation. The witch was in her head already. "You have a lovely family," she mused, almost to herself. "Why didn't you tell me about them the last time you were here?"
"To protect them." Miralee's eyes were fixated on Anahra's.
"You needn't worry, pet. I wouldn't dream of harming your dear little ones. Your parents care deeply for you. Not as much as your elder brother, though. He's near, isn't he?" She was touching her arms with two clammy, clawed hands.
"Corin, you'd better stay far away," Miralee was thinking.
"Perhaps it's your family you wish to leave?" the witch offered, a sickening smile on her face.
"NO!" Miralee pulled away from her grasp. "The powers you gave me. You didn't warn me of the ghosts." She stared at Anahra, who was still circling her.
"Oh, but I did, deary. I told you with them would come visions, didn't I?"
"You never said they would be visions of you, and of your disgusting hoard of followers."
"Didn't I?" She clicked her tongue, feigning guilt. "I guess I must've forgotten that little detail. My apologies."
"I didn't come all this way for an apology. I want the visions stopped."
"You know I'm forbidden from returning to my old ways," Anahra sneered.
"And I also know that you never listen to anyone."
The witch laughed, a shrieking, cackling laugh that shook the stone around her. Somewhere Miralee could hear rocks tumbling.
"Very, very true, deary. Well, then I'd like to discuss how you intend to repay me for this act of service."
"I brought this." Miralee held up her hand. In it was a silver chain necklace, with a light blue pendant hanging from it. The jewel was legendary, said to grant the wearer protection from mortal's weapons. She knew Anahra would not be able to resist. She was descended from the Glawackus, a mythical creature who roamed the forests until hunted to near extinction. A power like that would allow her to exact revenge on some of the people and other creatures who destroyed her family. But deep within this cavernous prison, Miralee reasoned, she couldn't do any harm.
Anahra eyed the beautiful jewel, her ravenous smile growing. "Deal!" she shouted enthusiastically as she snatched the necklace from Miralee's grip.
As the witch led Miralee through the tunnels and paths of her home, she began to tell her side of the many stories which circulated about the other realms.
"You know, long before I was unjustly sentenced to wither away in this ghastly place, I was your mother's dearest friend. She trusted me with her life. And people came to me from all over the realm for help with their pain and struggles. I was a hero."
"Yeah, until you decided all that glory and heroism wasn't enough and tried to use the dark magic to swindle those who came to you."
Anahra dismissed her statement with a wave of her hand. "A simple misunderstanding. The work I did was invaluable. I just took what I deserved." She led Miralee through a small archway. "Just through here."
They were now in a large room, surprisingly well-lit by a number of candles. The candles were in the corners of the room, melted together so much that they more resembled piles of lumpy wax than actual candles. Tables and bookshelves made of stone lined the walls, and were covered in books, paper, quills, and bottles of ink...or it at least looked like ink. Smoke swirled up to a small hole in the ceiling, where a small beam of natural light struggled to peek through.
Anahra gestured towards a stool in the center of the room. "Sit." As Miralee obeyed the witch, she could hear the voices coming again. Her hands instinctively covered her hears and she hunched over, trying to shut them out.
The witch bent down to her, "I guess I shall begin." She had put some sort of headdress on, and now placed her right hand on Miralee's forehead. It felt cold and scaly. In her left hand she cupped the girl's chin. "Look into my eyes," she commanded, "and think of the horrors you want to forget, and give them to me. You must give them to me willingly, or this will not work."
For the first time, Miralee tried to recall the monsters. She forced herself to remember the past she had been pushing away for so long. Deciding to seek her own adventure had been her first mistake. Not telling anyone where she was going had been her second mistake. Trusting a stranger had been her worst mistake. Never again would she take someone at his word.
She remembered listening intently to the stranger's words. How they mesmerized her, fooling her into a blind trust. In her defense, he was an imp, a very deceptive creature. But still, she allowed herself to be ruined by his spell. In exchange for a lock of her hair, he'd grant her the power to see into the future. Miralee was enthralled. What she could do with such a power! Prevent disasters, win wars, keep peace throughout the realm. And it only cost some of her hair.
Had she known this imp worked for Anahra, she never would have so much as glanced in his direction. After they had made their deal, he had taken her here, to Anahra's prison to be given the promised power. It had been a strange experience then, just like now. At first her new powers were just as she'd hoped. She could see disaster before it struck, warn people of danger, assist in negotiations between villages within the realm. As an elder in the realm, she held much authority.
But then the nightmares came. Soon all she could see were visions of Anahra and her followers, pets really, pouring over the walls surrounding the realm, right outside her home. They kept coming, thousands of them, destroying everything in their path. They spoke to her as they neared her, telling her of things she would do to those she loved most, the very ones she was trying to now protect. She saw it every day and every night. It never stopped. And it was horrifying. Even more horrifying was the realization that it would happen. That one day, this would in fact come to pass. But Miralee could worry about that later. All she needed now was freedom from the terrors. Then she could try to find a way to stop it from happening.
As the witch chanted something in an unrecognizable dialect, She could feel the memories fading. She felt both the sting and the relief. She closed her eyes and let them go.
Suddenly, Miralee was in a cell. It was dark, damp, and cold. She sat up. The floor she had been lying on was covered in dirt and dust that now coated her skin. She tried to remember how she had gotten here. She tried to remember how long she had been sleeping. She tried to remember her own name. But nothing came. Nothing made sense. Where in the world was she? She leaped up and grabbed onto the bars containing her. "Help!" she called out, "Somebody! Anybody! Is someone there? I need to get out of here! I don't belong here! Please!"
A low, gruff laugh broke through the darkness. "Why deary," the voice began, "don't you worry. You're right; you don't belong here. And I have every intention of escorting you home."
"Who are you?" Miralee asked in a shaky voice.
"The person who, by saving you, shall restore my master's former glory! I just need to do one thing first." A large beast which crept up to the cell, striking each bar with what looked like a human bone. The beast towered over Miralee, long, black fangs hanging out of its mouth. It walked upright, almost. It's long arms dangled to the floor and horns stuck out from his head. His eyes were a bright, glowing yellow. Miralee jerked back in terror.
"What are you?" she barely whispered.
"Now, that, dear one, is entirely a matter of opinion."
Corin was thrashing wildly, madly. He had just run for what seemed like miles. His sister was through this door, no doubt in serious danger. And he wasn't going to stop at anything to save her. He kept clawing at the branches covering the door. There were only a few left. Once in, he had no idea what he would do. All he knew was that he was leaving with his sister, or not at all.