For five years Diona had not been able to sleep. It wasn’t because she was restless or didn’t want to sleep. It was a different kind of a problem, one that affected not only her, but her entire village, and every village in the Kingdom of Rattan. For when evening fell, the fog creatures came.
They were coming now. As Diona stared out her bedroom window, her breath creating little patches of white clouds on the glass, she could just make out the snaking wisps of fog as they slithered toward her house. Living in the middle of the village provided the advantage that she would be one of the last to be attacked.
She snapped her fingers. Immediately, all the candles in her bedroom were extinguished, plunging the room into near darkness. Light just illuminated the fog creatures more fully, and she did not want to gaze on their hideous forms.
Clenching her sword tighter, she stepped back from the window, waiting with a pounding heart. Her only consolation was that everyone was doing this right now.
It was the same every evening. The creatures of her deepest fears, taking shape from the fog, came riding on horses - she could hear the hoof-beats now - and rode through the walls of her house. She could see their ghostly, pale-green glowing shapes pushing through the wood. They dismounted and surrounded her as she shuddered at their leering faces, some dead, some not even human at all - and they attacked. The ones that had arms and hands carried swords and moved forward to engage her, while those that were mere thoughts, like death or chaos, attacked her mind. Thoughts of her beloved family, of her quaint village in that pretty valley overrun and destroyed by Rattan’s enemy, the Vegurs, nearly overwhelmed her as she fought hand-to-hand combat. She fought to keep the scenes of ruin from her mind, of her house being destroyed and ransacked, her friends and family forced into chains and carted off as slaves. She began to build a mental wall to keep out the distracting and painful thoughts as her sword clanged against those of the fog creatures, the ghostly outline of their blades becoming solid as they smashed against hers.
Time seemed to disappear as Diona strengthened both her mind and body. It was a shock when suddenly both the fog and her opponents vanished. Sagging to the floor, her muscles sore and mind temporarily weakened, Diona almost missed the dawn as her eyelids sank shut. Blinking rapidly to stay awake, Diona caught her breath at the full splendor of sunrise. Never had she missed a sunrise in all her 17 years. However, she could no longer compete against her exhaustion. For a long time she sat there, gazing out the window in a trance-like state, and wondering, not for the first time, what it would be like to live in a world without fear.
“All right, darling, you’re done.”
The voice floated through the pleasant darkness. Forcing open her eyes Diona found herself gazing into the friendly red eyes of the healer. Shaking her head to remove the last cobwebs of sleep, Diona stretched. Being put into a trance by the village healer was not as satisfying as sleep (Diona always managed to sneak an hour or two of sleep, though she wasn’t supposed to) but it fully rested her body and mind in just a few minutes.
“Thank you, healer,” said Diona, curtsying.
The healer bowed her head, the ruby set in the circlet glinting as the light of a candle reflected a thousand red squares onto the wooden walls of the house.
Stepping out into the warmth of the morning, Diona looked around with contentment, watching the children sleeping beneath apple trees, the men boasting how well they’d fought, the women binding wounds and shaking heads. Soon the relaxation hour was over and every villager, Diona included, was off to the fields to harvest food or to the forests to hunt. It was the same every day.
Her gaze fell upon the sleeping children and enviously she watched them. Up to the age of 12, Rattans were allowed to sleep because for the rest of their lives they would have to visit the healer once a day to be placed into a recuperative trance. Sleep took longer to rejuvenate the body, and time was especially critical during war.
Catching sight of her mother, Diardina, Diona hurried to her. For a moment she gazed lovingly at her. It was like staring into a mirror as she admired the amber-colored eyes and hair, the strong cheekbones and flaring nose.
“Mother,” Diona said as they came to the house where corn was shucked and set aside for storage. “Why do the fog creatures come?”
Diardina replied with a sigh, “I’ve told you many times, child, the tale-keeper tells us they were created by Savior Narsda thousands of years ago to better shape us into warriors. It is in the Book of Rattan. How else are we to fight our enemies, the Vegurs, if we are not strong? The King of Rattan needs us to fight the enemy.”
Diona sat beside her mother on the wooden steps. She could not help but wonder what it would be like not to worry about the Vegurs, not to worry whether she would survive fighting her darkest fears. She had spoken to her mother once about peace and received such a harsh lecture that she had promised herself never to mention it again.
“We are fighters, Diona. We fight the fog creatures, the creatures of fear, because they make us stronger. Peace can never come, Diona. We have no allies beside the other villages, but can you call our kinsfolk allies? How can you be the only one in this village, indeed in this kingdom, to speak of peace? Do not keep the word alive, squash it under your boots! How can you dream of peace when it is in our blood to fight?”
The fog creatures were both Rattan’s greatest enemy and greatest ally. They weeded out the weak fighters, the ones who wouldn’t survive in a battle against the kingdom of Vegur.
If only there were some way to end the fighting between us and the Vegurs, Diona mused. And to prevent the fog creatures from coming. How many times can one be confronted with their darkest fears and escape? They are our greatest enemy and our greatest ally.
As though Savior Narsda had descended from the Sun Hall and whispered cunning words in her ear, an idea grew in Diona’s head. She stared at the cob of corn her mother had placed in her hands, unable to believe she hadn’t thought of this before. It was a foolish idea, but ...
But it might just work, she thought. If I can convince the fog creatures to become our greatest ally, we can defeat the Vegurs. But how? Perhaps they’d listen to her. Tonight, she’d try.
Diona held the sword loosely in her left hand, meeting the eyes of the creature. Rotting flesh hung from its frame, its body clothed in a ragged shirt and pants, its spectral body drifting inches off the floor. Fear held Diona’s tongue captive.
A glint of light caught her eye. Glancing down, she stared at the diamond bracelet her father had given her before he’d gone to war against the Vegurs. That had been the last time she’d seen him. For a long moment she stood, remembering his dark blue eyes (an oddity among the yellowed-eyed warrior Rattans), his wavy black hair, and the only feature she had inherited, his power to control light. Even as she remembered, her body trembled. For 14 years she had quashed that power under her mother’s instructions so she wouldn’t scare away the fog creatures. But she had practiced in secret, giving in to her defiant personality, tempering her power so that she created only enough light to illuminate a small room. But the bonds that had held her power back broke.
White light seeped through her ivory-colored dress from her body, stretching to enfold the room. For one long moment Diona was encased in a world of bright, white light. Her sword fell from her hand, forgotten. It was as though she spoke through a veil of dreams. Her voice was softer, more distant; her thoughts could now see beyond night and into day.
“Hear me, O creatures of the fog, creatures of fear!” Diona cried, and there was a second voice that spoke with hers, one not heard for thousands of years. “The time has come for us to accept one another. My people have fought you for centuries to become better warriors. But there is no better way to conquer one’s fears than to accept them. In doing so, we shall become more powerful, drawing from one another’s strengths and weaknesses. You fear light, I control it. I fear darkness; you constitute it. I accept you, my deepest, darkest fears, for what you are. You are part of me. I will fight you no longer, for I will no longer fight myself. Will you do as your creator told you to, and help me become a better warrior? Will you join my side to battle the one and only enemy of Rattan, the Vegurs?”
They say she swooped down from the heavens, seated on a cloud of fog with a white light shining around her. The enemy, the few that have survived and the even fewer that have told me their story, would not describe the spectacle that beset them, but only that when day meets night and light meets darkness, she has met fear, and not conquered or defeated it, but embraced it.
The Vegurs couldn’t defeat her, with the powers of hope and fear turned against them with such fierceness they could do nothing but flee. “But how could one outrun the light and the darkness?” one man asked me. For one embraces the other and a symbiotic relationship is created. An unbreakable relationship. She is merely the first light of dawn, though, for our kingdom. Others have followed her and the Kingdom of Rattan is now safe. The word peace, which had almost been forgotten, has taken on meaning once more.
It is quiet now, save for the song of insects and the whispers of stars. My last words shall be, as my eyelids sink shut against the darkness of evening and I drift to sleep, that I would not be sleeping now, were it not for you, Savior Diona.
~ Tale-keeper, year of the Savior Diona.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.