A City of Masks

Sarah struggled, but stopped quickly as she felt the blade pierce her skin.

“I wouldn’t struggle, girl,” said a rough voice. Sarah stood still, clutching her dress in her hands. If only she had that blue fabric now. She pictured it, longing for its silkiness and the power she had felt as she flung it at Deputy. Again, she felt fire behind her eyes, but as she blinked she saw only the dark hallway and the flickering torches. The flames seemed to make each face into a mask, hard and immobile.

“Let’s go,” said the voice behind her and she was dragged sideways, away from the duel that still shone in the center of the room. Suddenly realizing that Danny was not with her, Sarah tried to look back. Nobody was standing against the walls, but on the floor she thought she saw a bundle of clothes, moving slightly.

“You looking at something?” the voice asked. Again, Sarah was struck by the sound. It was rough, but somehow that seemed unnatural. As if it was a young man, adopting a deep voice to seem more powerful, or perhaps it was that the person was tired and having trouble talking. She shook her head slightly, stumbling over the rough stones of the floor. They went into a passage, then a small room, and then another passage. Finally Sarah was shoved into another room, almost a closet. She fell onto the stones, giving a small cry as she scraped her right knee. The door slammed behind her and Sarah was alone in an empty room, lit by a single torch.

 

The old woman sat by a fire, her hands stretched over the flames, as if she were warming her cold fingers.

“All things begin and end with fire. The world began with flames, orange and red and yellow. The world will end with flames, red and yellow and orange. The world must be saved again and again with our flames, yellow and orange and red. This world is threatened by the rain.”

She lifted her hands and flames crackled along her fingers, running along her arms. The dark shop was illuminated in snatches as her light revealed stacks of old books, shelves filled with winter vegetables and other dusty jars, the window papered over with faded newsprint and the door, closed tightly, seeming impossibly distant.

Tanith stepped forward, the fire sparking through her hair, but leaving her skin and clothes unburned. She reached out her hands, brushing Danny’s face with the flames. He shrank back quickly, frightened by the woman and by the fire, more frightened by the fact that he did not feel the flames burn him. They were a warm embrace, like the early morning sun.

“You are Chosen, just as I was,” the woman said. “You must save the world and it can only be saved with fire.”

Danny shivered at the words and at the cold stones underneath him. He struggled to remember where he was and why he lay on a damp floor in a room filled with torches. The torches – that lady still had him, he was trapped! No, he had escaped, he remembered now. He had run through the rain, Sarah had pulled him onto the train, then they had crawled endlessly and… Those torches had crippled him, sending him spiraling into memory. There had also been the flicker of flames on blades, but the duel seemed to be over and the blindfolded man stood in the centre of the room. The torches cast the eyes of the circle of onlookers into shadow. They were wearing masks, Danny realized. Each face was exactly the same, a passive expression revealing nothing. They stood, watching silently as the man removed his blindfold, lifting his blade and thrusting it down into the body slumped on the floor.

Perhaps Sally had learned what was happening while he was lost in memory. Danny looked around, hoping to see her, but she was gone. He felt bile rise in his throat.

“The girl will leave you. The world will betray you. You have no choice.”

“No!” Danny shouted, realizing his mistake too late. The onlookers turned, noticing him. Danny stood, terrified and realizing he had no choice. “What have you done?” he shouted. “Where is she? Take me too!” He ran forward, certain that Sarah would never desert him. The circle parted. He faced the swordfighter, whose eyes seemed as dark as the shadows of the room.

“Are you here to fight?” asked the man, as half of a smile crossed his face. “The Lady will be happy with two sacrifices. And this boy was hardly a challenge."

The man raised the blindfold and tied it over his eyes. As Danny wrenched the sword from the dead youth’s grip, he realized that these people did not know about Sarah. Maybe Tanith was right, and she had deserted him. Despair made his arms heavy as the blindfolded fighter swung and their blades clashed together, reflecting the bright torches.

The End

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