Apollymi avatarSeries: Original, "Mirror Doll"-verse
Genre: Dark-ish, alternate history, fantasy
Word Count: 7,817
Status: incomplete

It was the first he'd ever seen her eyes open. Despite everything that was going on, all he could concentrate on were her eyes. They were bright red, the color of freshly spilled blood, contrasting sharply with her hair, which was the color of the desert that surrounded them. When he'd first seen her three years ago, her appearance had been quite a shock to him: the paleness of her skin, the yellow of her hair, the strange markings on her body. He should have expected her eyes to be equally alarming.

When he'd first seen her, he'd thought she was terrifying, the strange woman with the odd coloring that the slavers called "Nefer". He'd thought then that she was a spirit or a goddess sent down for some unknown purpose. It had scared him to see a human being sitting as slumped and lifeless as a broken toy. Of course, he'd still been a bit naive then and hadn't realized Nefer was a slaver's dream come true. She looked unusual, she was completely compliant, she didn't fight back, and her spirit seemed beyond broken. An older boy in the group told him once that the Master had found her wandering around the desert in a daze years ago when the Master was still in his prime, that she was the Master's first slave and the money he made letting men have her for a few hours was how he'd bought the rest of them. But that had to be untrue because she couldn't be nearly that old.

Of course, he'd been picked up in much the same way and probably for much the same reason. His mother had been a runaway slave herself, and while he'd never known his father, he definitely had not gotten his strange hair from his mother. From the moment the Master had found him, he'd been charged with Nefer's upkeep. At the time, she had barely been eating and was either unwilling or unable to care for herself. So it had been his job to brush her hair, spoon food into her mouth, treat the injuries various men had inflicted on her, and most everything else she had required. He'd grown to be rather fond of her, especially in the last two and a half years, when she'd begun to respond to him. At first it was small after he'd been caring for her about six months, perhaps a half-smile or turning her head towards him when he spoke, but more recently she'd progressed to holding him on her lap as his mother used to and humming a song he didn't recognize or letting him sleep next to her after the men left. Those he liked; they were soothing and peaceful and always made him feel better, something he was grateful for because lately some of the same men who paid the Master to have her for a few hours had begun to take an interest in him as well.

Tonight was the first time she'd opened her eyes though. He hadn't ever been in the same room when one of the men took her before either. He'd seen a good deal of money change hands between this man and the Master, and he'd been sent in along with Nefer, bound, and left in the corner. Nefer had been unusually subdued, even for her. When the man had finished with her, though, he'd turned his attention towards him. The man had bodily lifted him and he'd cried out -- and Nefer's blood-red eyes had snapped open, all the hatred in Kehmet held in them.

She was moving slowly, but she made it to her feet and hoarsely spoken words he didn't know. The way she said them sounded like both an order and a threat, and as the man dropped him roughly to the ground, he could tell he didn't like it. Maybe the man knew what she was saying or maybe he didn't, but he wasn't happy.

Nefer took an unsteady step forward; she wasn't used to walking on her own without his lead anymore. The man growled and crossed the room, hitting her across the cheek. She staggered, a hand coming up to cover the reddening mark, before her eyes narrowed and she struck her own blow in return, punching him in the throat. The man choked and wheezed and fell to his knees, and then she delivered the final blow, placing one hand on the man's forehead and one on the back of his head and twisting sharply. A loud crack echoed through the room, and the man slumped lifelessly to the floor.

She stepped over the corpse and over to him, kneeling down to work on unknotting the ropes holding him and continuing to speak in that strange other language. Her talking sounded a lot like her humming, very musical, he noted.

Finally she had the last knot undone. The ropes fell off, and he jumped to his feet, rubbing at the abrasions on his wrists from the rope. She took his hands and held them so she could examine the injuries. She spoke, and this time it was definitely a question. She looked from his wrists back up to his face and asked again. "I'm all right," he answered, trying to put as much reassurance in his voice as he could. Apparently, it was not enough because she started patting him lightly, looking for other injuries. His breath caught in his throat when she found a set of three-day-old bruises across his back, but he shook his head and gave her hand a light tug. "We need to go before the Master comes. He won't be happy the man is dead." Or that she'd woken up either, he thought to himself, but there was no reason to try to tell her that now.

She shook her head and retorted something sharply, tugging him to try to look at his back. "No!" he shot back, stepping away, grabbing her dress, and tossing it at her. "We have to go!" he continued, pointing at the door. For a split second, she stared at him in confusion then roughly pulled the material over her head. The Master had had a new one like it made special for her every year, fearing what the desert sun would do to his prize's skin, so it covered her from her shoulders to her ankles and had long sleeves and a hood, which she pulled her hair into and covered her head with. To be safe, though, he tore the man's robes up and made them both veils that he draped over their heads and wrapped around their necks and faces, thus hiding the bite marks on her throat. It wouldn't do for the Master to recognize them, after all; he didn't want either of them to get in trouble for this.

He pulled soft-soled shoes onto his feet and grabbed up the pair the Master'd had made for her. Out of three years' worth of habit, he put them on her feet and tugged her to stand. She shot him a questioning glance as she stood up straighter than he'd ever seen her do, and he blinked once in surprise. He hadn't realized she was so much taller than she'd seemed when slumped.

"Let's go, Nefer," he goaded, pulling her along towards the door. Once there, they stopped long
enough for him to look outside and be certain they wouldn't be spotted. "It's safe. Let's get out of here."

"All right."He nearly fell over in shock, whipping around to stare at her. She shook her head, looking a bit sheepish, and continued in her heavily accented, broken version of his language, "The words are there, but... I'm not sure what they all mean. No time now. Let's go, before he gets here."

* * * * *

Escape proved to be a nerve-wracking but not too difficult endeavor. Apparently animals liked Nefer when she was awake, as the guard dogs didn't bark at them and one of the Master's horses stood by docilely while she helped him up on its bare back then swung herself up behind him. She wrapped an arm around his waist, holding him in place, and leaned forward to whisper something in her strange language to the horse. It took off like an arrow from a bow, and he cried out in alarm, frantically grabbing onto her arm with one hand and the horse's mane with the other.

She sat back and spoke to him this time. "Sorry. I asked him to get us away fast."

"When did you start speaking my language?" he had to ask, shifting so that the horse's spine didn't hurt quite as much. It was true she'd stopped this man this time, but she hadn't been there to stop the ones before tonight. He wished she'd found a blanket for the horse's back, but there hadn't been time. Besides, no matter how much it was hurting him, it had to be hurting her as well, and she wasn't even batting an eyelash at the pain, so no matter how much he wanted to cry, he would be strong and hold it back. Talking had always been his favorite distraction from pain, and if she could answer now, that was more the better. "Have you been learning it all this time?"

"Part of the time. I've been listening to the people talking around me." She chuckled faintly. "It's mostly you I've heard talking."

"Why did you wake up now?"

She was silent for a moment in thought, and he waited till she finally spoke again. "I'm not really sure. I just know I'm awake."

"What if you go back to sleep again, Nef -- Is that really your name? I wouldn't think it is because you don't look like any of the people of our country. What's your real name?"

There was another pause. "I don't... remember my real name. I don't remember much of anything." She eased her hold on his waist, keeping the arm tucked around him but lifting her hand an inch or two away from him to stare at it. "My body remembers how to do things, and I remember parts of my own language, but the rest of me is just lost." Her fingers clasped back in his robes again, and she offered him a soft look with just her eyes. "So you can call me whatever you'd like."

"What is 'sister' in your people's language?" he asked. For some reason, he felt a little nervous asking.

"I think... njika."

"Njika," he repeated, trying the odd word out on his tongue. It felt strange to say, but in a way, he liked it. It fit her. "May I call you that?"

"Certainly." He didn't have to look up at her to see she was beaming in satisfaction. "What do I call you then, njiki?"

So sister was njika and brother must be njiki, he decided to himself. Her language was too strange, after all. "My name is Amon."

She nodded once and pulled him up closer to her in a more comfortable position, so that he was sitting on one of her legs instead of the horse itself. "Get some rest then, Amon. I want to get us as far away from there as possible."

"We're going to ride through the night?"

She nodded once. "And as much of the day as we can as well. The more distance between us and him," she practically spat the word, "the better."

"You mean the Master?"

"You don't have to call him that anymore. We are no man's slaves, and we will never be again."

Ne -- Njika sounded so confident, like she already knew this to be a fact. It was reassuring. He turned slightly to rest his head against her body, eyes drifting closed.

* * * * *

She glanced down. The boy was asleep already. He'd clearly been beyond exhausted. Despite his insistence otherwise, she could tell he was hurt, and when they'd put more of a safe distance between them and the bastard, she fully intended to check him over. The longer she was awake, the more things were coming back to her -- as long as she didn't push for the knowledge. Already a few healing spells were floating around in her mind.

It was so weird, though. All that was coming back to her, all she was remembering, were more words of her language, spells, and physical attacks. Nothing was there about who she was, how old she was, or where she was from. She knew she was not a native of this country, but even Amon had confirmed that earlier. Whatever her native language was, it was quite different from what was spoken here. She felt old, but she remembered hearing many men telling her how beautiful she was; she didn't even recall what she looked like.

The boy shifted slightly in his sleep, a hand clenching in her makeshift veil, and she adjusted how she was holding him automatically. She remembered him telling her about his mother several times while she was still out of it, and she wondered what had happened to the woman to cause her to leave so young a child in the hands of a slaver. He couldn't have seen more than ten winters, and probably less than that, maybe even as few as seven. She ground her teeth together; one day, she'd go back and kill that man for what he'd put this child through. She didn't know the extent, but she could guess. She had, after all, seen the look in the eyes of the man she'd killed, and she had known what he'd been thinking. She should have made him suffer longer. Trea'd have fed him his own internal organs while he was still breathing, and for Amon's resemblance to Miven, she'd have given him an appetizer of his testicles.

She froze, confusion running through her. Trea? Miven? Those names meant something, but the harder she tried to remember, the further the information ran away. Obviously, they'd been important to her and there was a sense of melancholy attached to their names, but the rest escaped her grasp.

She sighed and whispered to the horse to slow up. They would need to save his strength if they wanted to keep going. She wasn't too sure where they were going, but she knew it was far away from where they were.

She glanced up to the sky, judging where they were by the position of the stars. North... She wasn't sure why, but she definitely needed to go north.

* * * * *

A gentle shaking woke him up. He opened his eyes slowly. It was still dark, but they'd stopped at a small oasis. It amounted to little more than a spring of water, a few trees, some of the scraggliest bits of grass he'd ever seen, and a few small shrubs, but the water looked so cool and inviting, the moonlight sparkling on it.

"Are you awake, Amon?" Njika's voice asked. He could hear amusement in her words.

He yawned. "Have I been asleep long?"

"Not too long. It's almost dawn. Kha found us this place." She leaned over to pet the horse's neck. "It seemed a shame to pass it up. Aren't you thirsty?"

He nodded. "Very." He slid off to land in the sand and run over to the water's edge, kneeling down and nearly ripping off the veil to get a handful of water to his mouth. "That's so good!"

She laughed softly, climbing down and coming over at a more sedate pace, the horse trailing her as she too pulled her makeshift veil back. "Don't drink too fast or you might get sick," she admonished before turning to speak a few words to the animal. It nickered almost as if in response and moved over to eat from one of the grassy spots. She dropped to her knees next to him and palmed a few handfuls of water to her lips.

"What did you tell him?" he asked between sips.

"To eat and drink his fill. I don't know how far it will be to the next of these, so we should all take advantage of it, Kha especially."

"Ka?" She'd named the horse for a person's spirit?

She shook her head. "Kha. It means 'wind' in my people's language." She and he both took a few more drinks before she spoke again. "Do you feel better now?"

He nodded once enthusiastically. "The water really helped."

"And your back?"

He stiffened. "It's getting better." She was silent, watching him thoughtfully. "Really, I'm a lot better now. I'm just a bit sore."

"I think I know some of what was done to you. Is sore the extent of it?" He bit his lower lip and stared at the water, nodding wordlessly.

At her silence, he glanced up at her. She was glaring at her tightly clenched hands where they lay in her lap. She looked so... angry. "Are you mad at me, Njika?"

She looked up, her face abruptly clearing. "No, of course not. Why would you think that?"

"You looked angry."

"Not at you, Amon-bebi. I was just wishing I'd killed him too before we left." She sighed, pulling a piece of hair out from under her hood and twisting it around her fingers. "It's bad enough for a woman to go through, but a child is unforgivable."

"Njika?" he asked. She raised an eyebrow in question. "Are you leaving Kehmet?"

"I... don't know. I do know I have to keep going north, but I'm not sure how far north or how long it will take."

"Can I come with you?" She blinked once, and he rushed to continue, lest she say no. "Just for a little while. I promise I won't be any trouble! I'll help take care of Kha! I'll --"

"Amon," she interrupted, and he closed his mouth with an audible snap. "You're welcome to stay with me as long as you'd like. It may take me years to get where I have to go, though."

He hesitated a moment then blurted out, "I want to know what the secret of your past is. If you'll let me, I want to stay till you know it, no matter how long it takes."

"It's a deal then. And it's north we go."

He nodded then cocked his head to the side slightly, eyeing her. "Perhaps we'd best tell people you're my mother. Our ages look too far apart for people to believe brother and sister."

She touched her face self-consciously. "Do I look so old?"

He shook his head. "Not too old, but I think you're a good bit older than me." He gestured towards the water. "See? Look."

She leaned over, inspecting her face. She was maybe twenty-five, by his best guess, a few years older than his mother would be if she was still alive. A thick black marking cut across each side of her face, running from her hairline next to her ears halfway across each cheek. The Master had kept her strange eyes rimmed in kohl, even though they'd always been closed, but much of it had rubbed off; the cheek marks never did, so he'd always assumed they were there to stay. He knew they were far from the only markings on her body: a snake wrapped around her right wrist; a design that wound and twisted climbed up her left calf from her ankle nearly to her knee; a similar but thicker one encircled part of her left upper arm; and finally there was the odd one on her right shoulder, which was what looked to him like a four-armed red staff with a purple jewel where all the arms met and black bird wings coming out of either side, rising out of a fire. That one worried him. It was so detailed compared to the others...

She gave a lock of his hair a playful tug, and he set her an indigent look. "I'd like to take a look at your back. I might be able to make it less sore." Her gaze turned serious as he hesitated. "I promise on my life I will not hurt you."

He unknotted the tie on his robes slowly and pushed them down his shoulders, turning on his knees so that his back was to her. She may not blame him for any of this, but he didn't want to see her face at any of the bruises, especially the finger-shaped ones around his hips. Behind him, she was silent for a long moment till he had to strain to even hear her breathing, then she began to whisper in her people's language. He heard her dip something in the water, then he felt a cold, wet cloth drag across his back. The pain vanished as if it had simply wiped away. "What?"

"While we were riding, some things came back to me," she answered in a slow, hypnotic voice as she continued to run the cloth overhim. "Mostly it was spells and... stuff." The way she said the last word made it pretty apparent that part was not a topic for discussion.

"So you're a magician?"

She repeated the word, apparently going over what it meant in her mind. "Yes, I suppose that is what I am."

"Then how did you end up with the -- him?" If she was truly a magician, she should have been able to escape that old bastard long ago or even prevented capture all together.

She shook her head. "I forgot my magic when I forgot everything else. At least it's coming back, even if my memories aren't."

"Yet," he piped up. "They aren't coming back yet. I'm sure they will."

She laughed softly. "I'm so glad I have you around to be optimistic." She dropped the wet cloth, her veil, in his lap, and he turned to stare at her in surprise. "Why don't you finish up, and I'll see about finding us something to carry some water in?" He was about to protest when she continued, "The spell itself will last until the cloth dries out, so you might want to hurry."

She climbed to her feet and stepped away, moving back towards where Kha was still eating. He stared after her a moment later before he realized she was giving him a chance to get to the worst -- and most embarrassing -- injuries on his own in what privacy they could afford. He wadded the cloth up into a ball and set to work, wincing as he got to a set of small cuts; they ached as they closed and healed.

He barely finished before it was dried out. He pulled his robes back up and tied them off. Once that was taken care of, he started looking around. Where had she gone? He opened his mouth to call for her when she reappeared from behind one of the trees, leading Kha over to the water, an old and battered but intact water skin clasped in her hand. "Here." He offered the cloth back to her, grinning faintly as she draped it back over her head.

* * * * *

"Njika! You're back!" he cried out, crashing into her and wrapping his arms around her waist. Two weeks was entirely too long for her to be away, and he'd hate every minute of it. She was covered in sweat, her clothes sticking to her, so she had obviously only just gotten back.

She staggered a bit under his weight, but she recovered quickly and caught him up in a tight hug. He probably should lay off the jumping on her like this when she got home. He'd started to fill out in their new conditions and he was definitely growing, so he wasn't the featherweight he'd once been.

She'd never said -- and he'd never asked -- how she was able to get the two of them and Kha on a boat from Kehmet to Greece, but somehow she'd managed it. Once here, they'd found someone who spoke his language passably well and managed to communicate they were looking for work. The man had taken a good look at Njika without her hood and veil -- and had promptly hired her to pretend to be his bodyguard. Once he'd realized how skilled with weapons she was, it was no longer an act. The man, Androphos, was a merchant, as he understood it, and so was constantly in need of protection. He liked Njika for that job because he believed she was an (What was that word again?) Amazon. When he'd asked Androphos what that was, he'd been told it was a race of warrior women from the east.

He'd been so excited then, thinking perhaps they'd turned up Njika's past, but when they'd been alone in their quarters, she'd shaken her head sadly. It felt close, she'd explained, but not right. But there had been no reason to deprive Androphos of his illusion, so she'd played the part. She'd learned a rough form of Greek, and she'd dressed in the rough leather and cloth jerkin Androphos thought appropriate for an Amazon warrior, and she'd taught herself to use the majority of the Greek weapons. She went with him on buying runs, as she'd just come back from today.

She messed up his hair, easing out of the hug, and gave him a critical once-over. "I think you grew a bit more while I was gone. Pretty soon, you're going to be taller than me."

"You think so?" he asked excitedly. He stood up straight and measured a line across from the top of his head across to her. "Hey, I think you're right." She laughed, and he grinned at her. She started peeling off her leather armor, and he flopped down on her bed. "How'd the trip go?"

She groaned, dropping down next to him to work her boots off. "How many ways are there I can say 'dull'?" He almost started to begin listing them, when he realized she was just complaining. "I could have slept most of the trip and missed nothing!"

He sat up and patted the bed stand beside the bed. She propped one of her feet up, and he started working on loosening the knots in the laces. "So no one bothered the shipment this time?"

"They might as well not have! It was pitiful! To make matters worse --" She went on with a barrage from her people's language. He caught a few words here and there: bri, idiot; one of her particular favorites, vritere, weakling; and kaheri, one he didn't have a good translation for but he could tell was a pretty bad insult.

"That bad, Njika?" he asked as he finished unlacing and pulling off the first boot and gestured for the second.

She nodded, falling back to lie flat on the bed as he started working on her other foot. "Two groups, about ten men each, on the way there. Another group of twelve on the way back. Not a single halfway decent fighter among the lot of them." She frowned in thought. "Well, there was one kaheri in the second group that fought fairly well."

He hadn't heard her sound like that since the last time she'd gotten a flash of a memory about searching for two missing people, her and a group of about four others. Androphos called that tone of voice "wistful"; his wife Phoebe sounded like that when she remembered their dead son. "Do you think he was important, Njika?"

"Maybe so. He was good enough to fight me and live after all."

He dropped the leather lacings from his fingers to stare at her in shock. "He got away?"

"Not for any lack of trying on my part to remedy the situation." She sighed. "The way he fought was very familiar... almost like something from a dream." She shook her head and grinned down the bed at him. "So what's been going on here?"

"The new horse got here! You should see him, Njika! He's gorgeous!"

He spent most of his time in the stables these days. Phoebe's family bred horses, and she'd decided when they first arrived that she would try to impart some of that knowledge to him. Androphos called it an excuse for his wife to dote on Amon, but that never seemed to stop either of them. He was going to get lazy, he thought, between their spoiling him and Njika's. These past two years here in Greece had been the best of his short life to date.

Njika was starting to get restless though. He could almost see the need to know more about herself eating at her, and that knowledge she needed was not in Greece. He wondered how much longer she'd last. He liked it here after all.

* * * * *

"You're not paying attention," a man's voice scolded her. She jumped, staring in surprise at the man before her. She didn't know him, but... Well, there was something terribly familiar about him. "What?"

He sighed, impatiently knocking long red hair out of his eyes, and sent her an exasperated glare. "Look, I know you're anxious to get back to learning your crafting, but pay attention for now."

She nodded. "Of -- of course."

He shook his head, like this was a frequent disagreement. "Magic isn't everything. What are you going to do if you go up against an eiranda one of these days?"

She dove through her few memories, searching for a meaning for the word. All she was coming up with was 'half breed' for a meaning. Her mouth was moving without her, though, saying, "Hope for the best?"

He glared, and she nearly froze to see those strange pale, pale blue eyes turn hard. "That's not
good enough. I'm not risking Trea to 'hope for the best'."

Trea... There was that name again. How odd to hear it again after so long.

When he said it, though, she got the image of a woman with long white-blonde hair and deep glittering sapphires for eyes. She had to wonder for a second if she was seeing the woman as he did or as she was; she could tell that whoever this man was, he was devoted to Trea, whoever she was.

"I heard my name," a silvery voice interrupted. "Everything okay in here?"

The man whirled to face the new arrival. Why hadn't she noticed before how long his hair was and how startling a shade of red it was, like a flawless ruby? Better still, why hadn't either of them heard this person approaching? She leaned to the side slightly. Well, apparently, the mental image she'd had before was accurate; it had shown Trea exactly as she appeared to be.

The man stared at her a moment longer, obviously drinking in her appearance, before shaking his head to clear it and speaking again. "We were just going over her training techniques, weren't we?" He turned slightly to fix her with a warning stare.

"Yes. Training techniques," she fumbled.

Trea laughed, crossing the room to stand next to the man. "I'm not going to bite you, you know, no matter what Kyan here may have told you." She laid a hand on the man's -- Kyan's -- shoulder. He looked down at Trea, and she could see his eyes soften.

He was in love with Trea, she realized, and if the expression on her face was any indication, Trea felt the same way. Both were trying to hide it, and she wondered why. The two of them standing next to each other was such a beautiful picture that it was nearly heartbreaking.

Trea glanced at the floor, cheeks slightly pinked, before she dropped her hand from Kyan's shoulder and turned her attention to her. "How is your training going? Picking up any new techniques?"

"A few."

"She's being modest," Kyan cut in. "She's going to be the best rendaina in a generation." Well, this was a different tune from a few minutes ago. "I just would like her to learn some sword techniques to with her spells."

Trea looked considering, apparently working on this in her mind. "That is a good point. I mean, they're pretty rare, but eiranda are something we have to think about." She looked up at Kyan with slightly panicked eyes. "Kyan, you don't think an eiranda might attack--"

The door burst open the rest of the way, and automatically she and Kyan fell a few steps away from Trea. Peripherally, she noted he'd half-drawn the sword at his side and a ball of light was hovering above one of her hands. They'd both placed themselves between Trea and the door. It felt familiar, like it was engrained in her to do this. She loved it, though. She could feel that down in her soul. No matter what else, she enjoyed keeping Trea safe. The woman gave her a sense of warmth, even in the coldness of the winters here, that had to be protected.

A boy with dark purplish hair ran in. "Njika!" Immediately, she and Kyan relaxed, and Trea breathed a sigh of relief as the boy rounded her two protectors and hugged her tightly. The sight brought Amon to mind; they certainly shared a common enthusiasm. "Someone made an attempt on the Queen--"


"We have to--"

"Njika, wake up."

She opened her eyes slowly, willing the world to quit shaking. It did eventually, and she realized it was because Amon had been trying to shake her awake. "What is it?" she asked sleepily.

"You were having a bad dream," he explained, worry in his eyes as he started down at her, his voice sounded years younger than it normally would. She propped herself up on her elbows and glanced over at him. He was kneeling on the edge of her bed, dressed in a long night robe that hung to his feet. Phoebe had made it for him, and he cherished it. Her employer's wife truly doted on the boy. It was clear that he was what she'd needed after her own son's death two years before their arrival.

Moonlight shone off his hair. Phoebe had expressed some concern about it, that it was getting lighter as he got older. It seemed fairly common to her (or at least not a cause for worry), but she wasn't running off a full set of memories yet either. What she had to work with showed several people, herself included, with hair color she'd yet to see duplicated on anyone else. Maybe Amon's mysterious father had been one of her people?

He was still staring at her, worry radiating from his dark eyes. Something in her whispered that his coloring was a sure mark of one touched by the gods. After all, the queen, her brother, and Trea all had that same light hair and dark eyes combination. And as for herself, she'd been born with darker hair and lighter eyes, but they'd switched after--

After what? As quickly as the flash of insight came, it left again. At least the memory remained burned in her mind. She shook herself back to the present and offered Amon a tired smile. "I'm all right." She glanced around trying to get her bearings. "Is anything wrong?"

He shook his head. "I was worried. You kept moaning and crying out in your sleep. I thought -- I didn't know what to think."

She pulled him down to lay at her side, his head cushioned on her shoulder. "It's over now."

He snuggled closer to her. He really was getting too old (and too big) for this. By her reckoning, he had to be close to eleven or twelve now. In another few years, he'd be starting to look for an alanria, a life mate of his own. Dhauren started such things early, didn't they? Maybe she should make him stay here with Androphos and Phoebe when she started north once more. They already seemed to think of him as their son; they would see to it that he got a good mate and would help him however they could. No matter what he'd said in Kehmet three years ago, he deserved a chance at a happy life, one that she couldn't provide as she tried to hunt down the links to her memory.

He sighed contentedly then asked, "Who are Trea and Kyan?"

She blinked in surprise, only barely holding herself back from expressing it more fully. "What do you mean?"

"You said those names in your sleep." He paused. "They are names, aren't they?"

She nodded. "They're people I used to know."

"Do you think they're in the North?"

She shrugged with her free shoulder. "Maybe. When I think of them, I feel almost... sad, like I know they're dead."

"Well, maybe there are others up there then."

"Maybe so." She sighed and made herself more comfortable without dislodging him. "Let's worry about that another time though. Right now, we both need sleep. Tomorrow's going to be a big day. It's time for the trip east again."

* * * * *

She was cursing up a storm, and even she didn't know half of what she was saying under her breath. After the two attacks on the way east, she hadn't been expecting a third so close on the heels of the second. She hadn't been prepared, nor had she had the chance to recuperate from the one before. And she hadn't been expecting that kaheri from last year's attack to be spearheading this one. Had he been behind the other two as well, softening them up perhaps? And they were beyond outnumbered. Plain and simple, it had been a planned ambush. The bastards had worn them down and were picking them off like carrion eaters.

That didn't mean she was going to stop resisting though, she thought to herself. If she gave up easy, after all, she'd still be a slave in Kehmet. All the same, though, she was glad Phoebe had been ill the day they left, so Amon had stayed behind with her. She wasn't too terribly sure she'd be returning Androphos to the Greek woman this time, at least not in one piece. The kaheri was good, better than he'd been last year, she had to admit, as she watched him flip one of the other guards over his shoulder then stab him through the... shoulder?

She blinked in surprise, her litany of curses petering off as she stole a quick look around. Not one of their attackers was going for a fatal injury. They were playing with them, the bastards!

She bit off a curse and threw herself fully into the fight. She'd teach them to take her seriously!

Before she could get more than few steps, the kaheri was in front of her. Their swords clashed with a bang, and she glanced across the metal blades to meet his eyes. The rest of his face was covered, as it had been a year ago, but she could clearly see his eyes. They were a strange shade of pale blue, a color she'd seen before but couldn't place. If his eyes didn't lock with hers, she would have sworn he was blind. He pushed their swords apart, shoving her back, while she was distracted. She stumbled, losing her balance, and could only watch in horror as he flipped the sword and plunged it down. For a split second, another image superimposed itself over the kaheri's: a man with long red hair in black armor, performing the same move. Kyan's image.Then the instant's vision vanished, and his sword came down and through her chest. The world around her went black.

Time passed. She wasn't sure how long. Suddenly she was able to breathe again, she realized as she gasped in one deep lungful after another of air. She opened her eyes -- to see more darkness. No, this wasn't the same darkness as before. It was... clammy, like a cave. Androphos must have brought her here, she thought in relief, letting her eyes sink closed once more.

Had she passed out? How embarrassing to think of herself fainting. That was the best explanation she could come up with, though, that didn't involve her just committing an act traditionally belonging to the gods: returning from the dead, which was ridiculous. No one could die and come back. She hoped Androphos had gotten word to Phoebe and Amon so they wouldn't worry, though.

Faintly, as if through a thick blanket, she heard someone moving near her. "So you're finally breathing again, eh? Took you long enough, you know that?" It took a moment to process through the thick fog in her mind, then she realized that wasn't Androphos' voice! She fought to keep her breathing even. Obviously this person, whoever he was, didn't know she was awake, and she needed to keep it that way. Surreptitiously, she started to draw her arms closer to her, only to find she couldn't move them. Damn that kaheri, tying her down while she was unconscious. "I was starting to wonder if I'd tied up a corpse." He chuckled to himself, and she fought the urge to glare and unleash some of her harsher vocabulary words on him. She heard scraping noises and wondered what it could be till warmth began to seep over to her, a fire then.

With an opening like that, how could she refuse? She let her eyes slide back open slowly, giving herself time to adjust to the firelight, and spotted the kaheri sitting next to the fire.

He actually snarled at her. "You were awake?" He was on his feet so quickly it made her head spin, not that she was going to let him know that. In fact, the whole cave, or rather what she could see of it, was swimming. What happened to her? She didn't let her confusion show on her face though, and that apparently infuriated him all the more. "Damn you!"

She sat up cautiously, arms still tied to a stake shoved through the dirt floor of the cave. "You told me to wake up," she reminded him. She stole a quick glance down to her bound wrists. He'd done too good a job tying them; it would take her a while to get these loose.

"How long have you been awake?"

She was tempted not to answer till he lost some of the belligerence, but being nice might get him to leave her alone long enough to get away. "A few minutes," she replied with a shrug.

He stared at her a long moment before sitting down hard enough enough to make her wince and staring at her some more. It was beginning to take an effort not to start squirming under the attention. "You haven't changed in the least."

"What?" slipped out of her lips before she could stop herself.

He didn't seem to have heard her. "I always thought, if I saw you again, you'd look different, but you're exactly the same."

Okay, was he crazy? Only children changed much in a year, after all, and she was definitely no child. "What are you talking about?"

The stare turned from slightly confused to completely dumbfounded. "You mean you don't remember?"

His response shocked another honest answer from her. "I don't remember much of anything before three years ago, actually. Before that, I just get flashes."

She could clearly read disappointment in his eyes. "Damn. When I saw you in my dreams, I was hoping you'd be able to tell me."

She frowned her confusion. "What are you talking about?"

He glared. It was getting a bit disconcerting, since she could only see his eyes still. "That's the extent of my memory as well. Three years and flashes, sometimes dreams. I saw you in one after... what happened last year, and..."

"And you thought I'd know," she surmised. "So why'd you try to kill me?"

"I did kill you," he corrected her. "You haven't realized you can't die yet?"

"You... killed me... to prove I couldn't die? That doesn't exactly make much sense. And after all, people only come back from the dead in legends and the poets' songs." And she'd killed enough people in these past three years to know that for a fact.

"Yet we two can do it, though I doubt any of the poets will be writing songs about us."

He was mad, beyond a doubt. Still, this might be worked to her advantage. "Prove it." Maybe she could even get the kaheri to kill himself and save her the trouble.

"Look at your chest where I stabbed you." She frowned. "I'm not killing myself to prove my point. It'd take too long for me to wake up, and I'm sure you'd have those knots loose and be gone by then."

Not quite what she'd been thinking, but... "I can't lift my hands to look when they're tied down like this."

He drew a knife out of the layers of clothes he wore, and she held her breath, tensing to strike out with her legs. "Attack me, and I'll put this through your heart. I don't think you want to spend another two days healing it. Be still."

She froze, watching him carefully as he moved cautiously closer. She'd damn near have to kick herself in the face to get the dagger out of his hand with the way he was holding it. His fingers touched the neckline of her cloth tunic (Where in Hades was her armor?!), and she couldn't make herself not struggle, her mind blanking out. No man was going to touch her again without her permission! Not after Kehmet! She would not be used like that again! "Get off me!" she screamed. "Don't touch me, kaheri!"

She felt the sole of her bare foot connect with his stomach, and he fell back onto his back with a grunt. The minute he was away, she felt herself start to calm down, forcing herself to take deep breaths. Sitting up again slowly and rubbing where she kicked him, he leveled a dark glare on her. "I should kill you for that," he sighed, "but that'd just slow things down more. What did you call me?"

"Kaheri? It's--" She stopped, unsure what to translate it to. The Greek vocabulary for insults just wasn't conducive for explaining--

"That was so rude," he cut in. "You don't even know anything about me, and you're calling me... that?" She could hear the indignation in his voice.

posted by Apollymi @ 5:30 PM



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Name: Apollymi
Formerly: Eternal SailorM
Age: 30
Site: Apollymi's Grimoire
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