Cage of Gold: Prologue
Somewhere on the Zakar/Dyfri border...
When I opened my eyes, the first thing I saw were the pink and white Jang-ja blossoms above me, dripping from the ancient tree I was sitting against like the robes of an Emperor. I stared at them, the early morning sunlight warming me as it streamed between the petals.
I couldn’t recall why I was sleeping there. In fact, I couldn’t recall... anything.
What had happened?
My mind was a blank slate. I knew absolutely nothing other than these moments, here and now. Why? Why couldn’t I remember anything?
I looked through the curtain of blossoms to see green grass stretching down to the gently flowing river not twenty feet away. There were more Jang-ja trees with a dark-wood forest beyond.
Glancing down at myself, I saw that I wore red robes. I blinked. No, that was wrong. There was something wrong with them. They weren’t red. They had been white. At least, I thought they had been white.
There was a strange metallic scent coming from them and I frowned, nose wrinkling as the smell suddenly assaulted my senses. I lifted my sleeve to get a better look and watched as the dark liquid slowly dripped from the cuff to stain the green grass.
Then it hit me.
It was blood.
My robes were covered in blood. I stared at it in fascination.
Where had it all come from?
‘Don’t you remember?’
I shook my head. ‘I don’t remember anything.’
‘Do you remember me?’
‘Actually... no. Who are you?’
There was a sigh. ‘I am the Black Nightingale, or just Nightingale.’
‘Do you know my name?’
‘Haven’t the faintest idea. After all, you only created me last night when you lost control of Killer. Maybe she knows?’
‘NO! No. Please... please don’t bring her out!’ I sat up, bloody hands gripping bloody robes as unnamable fear gripped my heart. ‘I can’t... I can’t face her. I don’t care about my name that much.”
I sighed and leaned back against the tree again. I couldn’t have said why, but the thought of seeing Killer terrified me like nothing else I could name. Questions rolled around in my empty head as I pondered the fact that it didn’t seem strange at all to have another voice in my head. What had happened? Who was I? Who had died to stain me so? Why did I vaguely remember who Killer was, but not myself?
I felt detached from my situation. There was no panic in not knowing who I was, just a wispy kind of curiosity, as though somewhere in the back of my mind I knew I really didn’t want to know anyway. I didn’t know when I’d eaten last, but I felt thin. For some reason I couldn’t muster the energy to try and wash the gore off of my hands or out of my clothes. I simply kept coming back to the same unanswerable questions.
I’m not sure how long I sat there trying to probe something from the darkness that had locked everything away, but eventually I heard quiet footsteps approaching. Startled, I looked up to see the most beautiful person I had ever laid eyes on and gasped.
She was tall and willowy, her frame clad in elaborate white robes. Her feet were bare and on a black cord around her neck hung a glassed golden iris. Her long, blonde hair flowed around her face like water and her skin seemed to glow with it’s naturally light hugh while her blue eyes were full of silent laughter.
She smiled gently down at me. When she spoke it was slowly and deliberately in a voice that was like the sky.
“What have we here?”
I stared up at her, not sure how to answer, or if I was even expected to.
“A little girl, covered in blood, practically sitting on my doorstep. How unusual. What is your name?”
I shook my head. “I... I don’t know.”
She cocked her head to the side thoughtfully. “And how did you come to be covered in so much blood?”
I shook my head again. “I don’t remember.”
She stared at me a moment longer before gently pushing aside the curtain of blossoms, ringing herself in a brilliant halo of sunlight, and held out her hand to me. I stared at it, not comprehending that I could touch such a beautiful creature. She nodded reassuringly and I slowly reached out to take the offered hand, but froze when I saw my own, remembering that it was covered in gore, like the rest of me.
I pulled back immediately, looking down fearfully, but she gave me a beautiful smile and gracefully bent down, scooping me up with a chuckle. My eyes widened in surprise.
“No!” I yelped, trying to push out of her arms.
“Have no fear, little bird. I won’t hurt you,” she told me, voice bubbling with merriment.
“No, your robes! The blood!” I tried to explain.
To dirty this beautiful woman seemed a crime to me. That she would even think of touching me as I was, let alone pick me up, was too shocking to comprehend. But she laughed lightly.
“Have no fear, little bird,” she repeated, grinning. “Blood will wash away. Come. I think you need a bath and some nicer robes, yes? How old are you? You look about... eight? Nine? But you’re probably not sure, hm?”
She turned away from the river and Jang-ja trees with me still in her arms and headed east, toward what I would later learn were called the Three Sister Mountains, Adrika, Montse, and Giri, that mark the border between Fire and Water.
I took a deep breath and looked up at her. “Um... who... who are you?”
She chuckled, saying grandly and gesturing with an arm, “I am the Golden Iris, Sorceress of the Mountain!” With a friendly wink, her voice dropped back to it’s normal level. “But you may call me Rayne. And what shall we call you?”
I shrugged. I had no idea what might work for a name. Hers seemed too grand for someone like me.
“Let me think then,” she mused quietly to herself. “You look to be a Zakarian, so the name should suit your country of origin. Are you sure you don’t recall any sort of name?”
“Well... there is the other girl.”
She looked at me curiously. “What other girl?”
“The one who calls herself Black Nightingale. She talked to me before you came. I guess her name is mine, then? But I’m not really her. She’s different from me.”
“She... spoke to you?”
“Where is she now?”
“I think she might be resting,” I replied, tapping my head.
Some sort of understanding seemed to dawn on Rayne and she nodded, her smooth pace never faltering. “Then, since she is you, but not really you, we can’t call you Nightingale. Why don’t we call you... Nyte Gale?”
“Nyte Gale?” I repeated slowly, a small smile touching my lips as I rolled the name around in my mind. “Yeah. I like it. Nyte Gale...”
A/N: Love it? Hate it? Let me know! I always love hearing your thoughts! :)
And for those of you interested, yes, I am still writing on Etti Antti. No worries. More to come soon. :)