The Lucky Dagger

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I look back to see if I was followed. I was sure Helena would guess my secret by now. She follows me practically everywhere. Except at night, the only time when I am truly free. I run quickly toward the alleyway where he waits.

"It about time, sweetheart. I've been standing here for five minutes. Almost got attacked by some Takers," says Ryder.

I roll my eyes and say, still walking, "Call me sweetheart again, and the Takers aren't going to want you and your pretty little face anymore." I keep walking as he laughs, leading the way along the dark, dangerous roads hurrying away from the Whispers in the night.

It's been five years now, since the day I turned eleven, when I finally found a way out the Palace. I remember it perfectly even though my bland life before has faded, compared to my dangerous one now. My father died five years before and my mother still lies in her bed, sick in her grief. When my father lay dying, he called me over to him. I was his favorite daughter, that was always certain.

He told me I had the spirit, one essential to running the Queendom. I would inherit everything after my grandmother passes, since I am the eldest living granddaughter. So he gave me a gold dagger to help me along. He said it would help me make all the right decisions a queen would need to make. He advised me never to lose it, that it would lead me out of the dark. It would make me lucky. But I never had any desire to rule, I always knew I could, but I craved adventure and far away places. Who knew that the most mysterious place exists right outside the Palace walls?

Days passed after my father drew his last breath, mother meanwhile grew gravely ill, and my grandmother, the queen, had a Queendom to run. She could not deal with grieving children. Then one night when I couldn't survive any longer in this cloud of grief, I ran. Through door after door until I find the one door I always heard about, but never had the courage to use. The door to the Outside. People warn others about of the dangers of the Outside, the Wolves and the Takers, but all I recognize when I got to the door was a way out of the misery that has always seemed to surround me. So I went.

They were right, of course, I almost died that night. I remember the terror very well, the shadows around every corner, the howling and the screaming. But when I was cornered my hand finally found Father's dagger and Ryder saved my life. He spun and sliced, scattering the Wolves in every direction. Then he turned to me, who was standing tall and holding a gold dagger in a trembling hand.

He smirked, "Looks like we should be friends. You seem like my kind of girl." I smile back, uncertain, but I stick out my hand because I always wanted a best friend.

"My name is Katerina. But you can call me Kat."

He grins wickedly, takes my head and kisses the back of it. "Ryder."

That is how I met my best friend. Only two years older than me, he grew up an orphan on the Outside. We survived the streets together every night after he saved me. I always came back because no matter how bad it is on the Outside, the Palace is where death lingers at every corner. At least, I have a fighting chance on the Outside.

"Kat?" I jerk back. Ryder had grabbed my arm. "We are here."

I look up at the building, the only bright spot in this dark world. Full of drinks, friends, and gambling. I smile. "Let's go." We walk in the room filled with smoke and laughter. I walk straight over to the gambling table and take my usual seat.

"Oh, if it isn't little Miss sunshine! We have missed you the last few days. What you been up to, some stealing again?" Steven smirks at me.

I resist the urge to punch him in his already broken nose. Instead I smile sweetly at him, "What are you stalling for, Steve? Afraid to lose some more of your allowance?"

He shots me a dirty look. No doubt remembering last week when I took every penny in his pocket. "What you smirking at, Little Ryder? Can't wait for me to make your girlfriend here cry, eh?"

Ryder grins even more, showing his chipped tooth, his only flaw in a otherwise perfect face. "Oh, no no no. You have misunderstood me, Steve. I just can't wait to see what sort of cheats you planned for this night." I laugh. Steven grunts but finally deals out the cards.

The game goes on for hours, with people coming and going, the money piling higher and higher. Until it's just Steven and me for the win. We wait until the last possible moment then slam the cards down. The whole room stops breathing. I look down, and my heart falls to my stomach. Steven jumps up, cheering and yelling, taking the money for his own. Everyone walks away, disappointed. Having to listen to Steven go on about this for days is not an exciting thought.

"Its fine, Kat. Look, I'll go buy you a drink. I'll be right back." I can feel Ryder looking at me in concern, but I don't register it.

How could this have happen, I never lose. Never. Not since...wait...I reach my hand into my pocket and feel emptiness. It isn't there! How can it not be there! My dagger, my luck, my safety, all gone. Now I really start to panic. My fear must have shown on my face because Ryder hurries over.

"Whats wrong? What is it?" His eyes follow my hand. "You didn't lose it, did you? Oh, sweet goddess, Kat!" He drags me to a dark corner.

"I don't know what happened. It was there when we started and now it's just...gone." I say, still in shock. My father's dagger, it saved us from so many Takers and Wolves and Dark Magic all over the Outside. Now I am alone again. I have no luck.

Ryder sees me slowing starting to lose it. "Oh no, you aren't giving up that easily. We are going to find it. I always told you, you shouldn't use such a gift for such selfish needs! I'm your friend but gambling isn't helping this city. If anything it's making it grow darker." With that speech he stands and starts toward the door. I have no choice but to follow and leave Steven to his happy dancing.

"Where could you possibly--" I'm cut off when his hand goes over my mouth and I'm dragged into a doorway in the shadows.

Ryder whispers to me softly, "Now follow me and shut up, sweetheart. We don't need anyone following us, so shush. Can you manage that?" He winks and takes off.

As I run after him I hear more howling in the night and the Whispers start again. I understand why my grandmother gave up on the Outside a long time ago. It's too far into the Dark for order, but that doesn't mean we should stop trying, as Ryder always says. What if I could change everything, bring back the Light? I shake my head, to get rid of such impossible thoughts, Ryder was always the dreamer in our friendship. The last thing I need is to get distracted. I hurry and catch up with Ryder. I just need to find the dagger, then all will be okay. I can be lucky again. Ryder stops at one building, glances around making, sure no one followed us and goes in. I follow close behind.

A woman sits waiting, she reminds me strangely of Helena, my governess, with all her wrinkles and pudgy body but this woman has seen many terrible things. That much is certain from her eyes, which judge you before you even take your first breath. "I know why you have come, Katerina. But why should I help you? The reasons you seek this dagger are selfish. You seek to take, not give. Not the best qualities for a future queen if I may say."

I look her right in the eye. "No, my lady. You may not say. My reasons are my own. I must have this dagger back and I don't need your help to get it. Good day."

I turn to leave until I hear her mutter. "Spirit, confidence, but so much stupidity. You are a lot like your father...fine, I will help you, rude girl, for your father, who was a good man just narrow-minded, much like yourself. But on one condition. You will think of the Outside, think of it without fear or Dark Magic. It would be great. Think of the people, of their misery. They could see the Light again. All this is in your power to save. If only you would think of others when you use the dagger." She sighs and says, "The dagger was not stolen, but put somewhere so you will have time to reconsider your choices. You have until tomorrow night to find the place it has been hidden. You will come across three task, all of which you must overcome before obtaining your dagger. If you prove yourself, you will reach it. Go now, and hopefully you will find what you seek."

We leave just when the sun should be filling the Outside, but this world has not seen Light in over a hundred years. I used to think it never would, that I could not do anything. Now, I am not so sure I am entirely helpless. Maybe I can help. But first thing is first, I need to find the dagger and I know just where to go. I start running, knowing Ryder will follow. I think we knew all along where it is, we just didn't want to remember. As I run toward the Statue, my years on the streets start flooding back. The Wolves I've killed, the Fliers I've saved, how I only feel alive on the Outside. They will know, I think. My family will know I leave every night but it matters not. Not if I can save the Outside which even with all it's danger, is my sanctuary.

We finally arrive at the Statue and I see it, glittering in torch light. There at the top of the Statue of the first queen back when we were united, before the Dark Hours. I know I will have to climb. We tried this before, when I first came Outside. It didn't end well. But I wasn't ready then, not like I am now. They say the Whispers know your deepest desires. Others say you can't say no, you have to stay with Them forever. I know I'll have to face Them soon. But I'm ready, whether or not I decide to save the Outside. First things first, I need that dagger.

I look to Ryder. He smiles sadly. "I knew we would come back here eventually. But it will be alright this time, we will make it up. Ignore the Wolves and the Fighters, I'll take care of them. You worry about the Dark Magic. Remember they cast illusions." And with that happy note he started climbing, I could hear the screams of pain, both human and animal. But they would never get Ryder, he doesn't need a dagger to be lucky.

Then I start up after him. I pass blood stains and pieces of fur he has left behind, but I never stop. I know Ryder will clear as much of my path as he can. Except for Dark Magic, which no one has power over. I can already feel myself getting colder, the Dark Magic doing its work. I keep going and don't let it stop me. I start to grow weaker and my vision goes blurry. The next thing I know, I'm a kid again. My dad stands there waiting for me with a smile, my mother laughing at a joke, my dead sister gleefully jumps up and down. Then the Whispering starts. Everything you ever wanted...your family reunited in eternal could have it all...we know why you gamble, you want more, more, hope that will fill the emptiness of loss...but it doesn't...only we can give it back to you, just stop and stay...everything you ever wanted right in you grasp... I want to give in, to the happiness, the bliss, I would never have to rule. Forever with my family in our last happy memory. It's everything I ever wanted, to live forever before my world fell apart. No one really needs me. It's not like this world was savable anyway...

But then I think of what woman said. How these people do need me. Ryder, Helena, grandmother, the friends in the tavern, even Steven. All those people who will forever be stuck in this world of darkness, of fear, of desperation. I will save them all, even if I must give up everything I've ever wanted. So I ignore the Whispering of empty promises and keep climbing. I start crying, my heart feels like it's being ripped out. But I take strength from the people counting on me. I won't disappoint them.

Then a wolf suddenly jumps out at me. Ryder must of missed this one. It's teeth are razor sharp, it's lip pulls back in hunger and anger. It jumps at me and I side-step it, pulling out the sword that is always strapped across my back, still crying and shaking, and it's claws catch me across the shoulder. Blood immediately starts gushing out, but I clench my teeth and when it leaps again I'm ready. I stab it through the heart and continue climbing, my shoulder throbbing.

Next, I see a child crying in the corner, begging me to save him. I ignore him, muttering, "It's not real. It's an illusion." Yet, his cries get louder and I can't seem to stop the tears from running down my face again. I think of all those people that are counting on me and I manage to keep going.

Everything that comes at me, I take it down without hesitation. All of it only stiffens my resolve. I can save them all from this. I have to save them all. I will be their queen, both the Palace and the Outside, once again reunited.

When I finally reach the top, I'm covered in blood and still shaking. Yet, I stand tall, ready to face whatever comes next. But I just see Ryder, sitting, waiting for me. "I heard them. The Whispering. You gave it all up, for us. You will make a great queen, Kat. I never doubted you." He jumps up and hugs me until all the breath leaves my body.

I bend down and pick up the dagger. I smile and look at him. "Looks like we have some work to do." And we start down, Light following us as we go.

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