The Prince of Dusk and Sand This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

December 19, 2017

I figure, sometimes, that life would be easier if I were a Netherbeing.

Creatures from the old lore who gather the souls of the living, awaiting the Night to devour their offerings whole. They cloak themselves in mortal skin, though they are anything but. They never age, never die, never feel pain. Their bodies are empty shells that merely harbor the shadows of once-mortals.

So yes, life would be easier as a Netherbeing––mainly because there would be none.

Besides me, Vasha murmurs a prayer in his mother tongue. Our slave master decided this year to take us to Middle Desria for Vallrhan, the biggest festival before the Holy Month. Debauchery owns the streets: men downing impossible rations of alcohol, women dancing to lilting songs of flutes and thick drumbeats, and a bazaar brimming with pirates and assassins. After the festival, we fast: no food can pass anyone's lips as long as the sun is in the sky.

This is their pitiful display of repentance, their begging of forgiveness and trust in the gods.

I don't believe in any of it.

Netherbeings are still real, yes––but if the gods ever existed, they have abandoned our world shamelessly. If there were still gods, I would not be a half-dead slave with a rope fastened around my neck.

As if he can hear my thoughts, my master tugs on the rope, and I battle the urge to cry out. I cannot let him see weakness in me; if he sees, the pain will spread.

“Look on the bright side,” Vasha whispers, and I'm barely close enough to hear him. He subtly inclines his head towards the cruel man with both of our ropes in hand. “He'll be drunk most of the day. We can wander the city!”

I sneer. “Do you even know what's happening? We're going to be sold. Master's never this happy with us around. And if anyone sees us loose, they'll kill us.”

Vasha's gaze falls to the rough sand. Our feet are scarred horribly from our four suns' worth of wandering kingdoms. If we can't walk by the time we're on stage, nobody will buy us. And if we're not bought…

Master spins around to face the two of us, his expression displeased. “Listen close. We've already arrived late to the auction due to the lagging of you both. Your next owner's not going to be easy on you, if any.”

We'll be killed if we're not bought.

And if we're killed, Vasha and I will never find Karav.

My master used to have a third slave, a girl stolen from another kingdom that Vasha named Karav, after his native word for 'pure'. She was falsely imprisoned, and if we don't get her out soon, they will kill her without hesitation.

Time will not wait for me to plan my next actions.

Lost in my thoughts, I jolt awake when my owner shoves Vasha and I onto a stage, fringed with slaves that look as miserable as we do. They are too much like us: kidnapped from their homelands, broken and beaten into something that no longer has the humility to call themselves human.

And no god dares to save us.

“Behold, the finest slaves in the empire,” my once-master states proudly, spreading his arms in overblown glory. “Lithe, strong, able-bodied young men from lands overseas. Skilled in sandwork, highly obedient.”

A band of wealthy men and women––all recognizable from their silver jewelry and overdone clothing––gather before the stage and stare rudely, beady black eyes raking over the faces of dozens of their fellow man. Just like them. Yet we're being sold like trinkets.

Unintelligible noise swarms around me, and I don't care to make anything of it. The clamoring cloud of faces juts forward, inspecting slaves, examining their bodies to determine their suitability for work. Nobody seems interested in me or Vasha. And as much as seeing my seller angry amuses me, the thought that I could be killed in a few moments infects my thoughts.

“Five thousand talents,” my seller shouts, a vein threatening to burst in his head. Unfortunately for him, he's drowned out. His face turns livid.

I could have been killed any day, I think. I could have been killed yesterday. But I wasn't.

And I could escape right now.

There is a small possibility: I could dart into the crowd. I could untether the rope that binds my wrists. I could have a name––my name––the name Karav gave me when the three of us first met as children.

She would have wanted that for us.

A short, stocky man who is the epitome of a spoiled slave owner stands before Vasha, tilting his chin up with a long stick, admiring the slashes that coil around his neck. Lash marks. Vasha was never our old master's favorite. Yet somehow, despite all the scars and gashes that Master rewarded him with, that littered his body…

He never bled.

The man grins.

“I'll offer two hundred thousand talents for the small one.” His voice is thick and unpleasant, like he lacks a nose. He exchanges an evil look with my former master.

No.

My seller's strange mockery of a smile widens; now it appears like he's gnashing his teeth. “Ah. But I'll only charge one thousand talents more for the other one. Great deal, a pity to miss it.”

I'm the other one. The man narrows his eyes and surveys me intensely, as if in the next moment he has to memorize every detail of my face. I can tell from the way he frowns that he already doesn't like me.

“Not worth my time.” He elongates his words, his foreign accent more evident than before.

I wish I could say the same about him, but his interest in purchasing Vasha ices over my mind. We've had the same slave owner for nine years; I can't lose him like I lost Karav.

“I'll accept your offer…if you purchase the other one for five hundred talents.”

Sem. My name is Sem.

My seller is greeted with a haughty scoff. “I cannot agree to that.”

“Why? Two slaves are better than one.”

“I'd rather have one good slave than two incompetent ones.”

What?

“If I raise its price to two hundred and fifty thousand talents?” My seller snatches the stick from the man and jabs it towards Vasha, but he does not flinch.

The man takes the stick back and smiles. “Then I accept.”

“And I am sound with your response.”

As a sack bulging with gold finds its way to my seller's spindly hands, Vasha is yanked off the stage. His eyes are lowered in the presence of his new master; any show of confidence around a man of higher caste is a punishment worthy of imprisonment or worse––death.

I've seen it with my own eyes.

“I'll see you again.”

The sudden voice causes me to stand erect. Before me is Vasha, glancing at me from over his shoulder and smiling. How he has the ability to remain so positive is beyond me. I wish, for a moment, that his words had the faintest chance to be true.

More shouts bob from the crowd, and even among them, none of the offers are for me. Usually on days like today, the wealthier men and women would toss money in the air on trivial things they already have. For example, the man who just bought Vasha was followed by six other slaves, recognizable with their off-white robes and kilts that heavily resemble dirty undergarments.

The sun bows, giving way to the taut blues and violets dyeing the once-warm skies. During Vallrhan, the slave auction ends at sunset to make way for the more boisterous activities that have gratefully soon to occur. The mellow hues that I usually adore seeing are a death warning for me tonight. By the time the sky has fully dimmed, the only remaining slaves are me and another boy, his limbs lanky and skin ashen. I have tried to converse with him, but he doesn't speak Desrian or my first language of Yrenese.

The remaining merchants don't talk to us as they tug us by our wrist ropes off the stage; no words are needed to translate our plight. Right before my eyes, the lively colors and smiles darting past my vision slow and dull into grim, mocking stares. The world dissolves into an indistinct mash of voices, a splattered canvas of fading color. We're being killed. We're being killed. We're being killed.

I'm being killed.

I knew it was coming, yet I'm nearly surprised. I could otherwise say I was…scared.

Sem means bravery in Thanic, Karav told me once, when Vasha and I were twelve and she was thirteen, and we all lay in the sand counting the stars on our first night for Vallrhan. She said it also meant hero and chosen one, depending on the scripture used. I smiled in response, imagining myself as one of the heroes in ballads and songs.

One worthy of the stars.

Pulling my mind from further exploring my memories is a heart-stopping pound from a stage nearby. My eyes flit over to the scene, only to see an abnormally large crowd of people. On the stage, a thin stream of fire dashes through the darkness, the shrill of screams piercing the air.

I'm already intrigued.

“Welcome to our Vallrhan celebration,” a voice begins. A sorcerer. My excitement wanes as soon as it started. “The dawn, the day, the dusk, the night. Four sun times, and four festivals to celebrate. Welcome, guests, to our night festival!”

The crowd erupts with drunken cheers as a flame from a nearby torch spirals to reveal the sorcerer. His hair is white––to represent supposed wisdom and intensity, even though he can't be much older than me––and his skin is a warm bronze in sharp contrast with his hair.

My frown deepens. I've seen him before, but I don't know where.

“The night brims with demons,” he continues in a carrying voice, pacing along the stage. Screams ripple through the crowd; I look down myself to see a collection of long, narrow snakes slithering through the sand. They're not real––their skin is transparent, something I demonstrate by allowing my foot to glide straight through a snake's body. I don't know how the crowd is gullible enough to overlook this. “A bane cast by the gods to punish us for our sins. We gather to the hidden city of Desria to celebrate now, but be warned. Tomorrow, when you return for the journey home, be wary of the Night and her children.”

The Netherbeings.

The sky darkens even further––a flurry of fake locusts hovers above the crowd and, not soon after, dive in. The volume of the crowd rises immensely, the shouts still ringing even after the bugs vanish into thin air.

My gaze flicks back to the sorcerer, who looks smugly at the crowd's reaction to his trick. As the attention of the masses shoots back to him, he lights a torch with a wave of his hand and his signature swirling flames reappear on the stage. A wall of fire consumes his figure, the reddened contour of a man casting faintly against the flames.

“The festivities begin,” he says simply. The fire steams away, a single tendril of smoke serving as the only remains of the act.

The music resumes.

As I wait for my seller to continue dragging me across the desert, my wrists separate and my hands fall to my sides. Half-buried in the sand is a frayed piece of rope. No, not frayed––a cut sits on one end, too clean to have been merely frayed off.

Somebody cut off my rope.

Happiness and dread surge through me all at once. I'm loose…and I'm going to be killed for another reason.

The one step I take onto the sand is met with cheers and fast-moving dancers. A block of people obscures my view, and if I didn't draw back any faster, I could have lost my foot.

After finding a narrow opening, I join the crowd, hoping nobody will notice my slave's clothing. Flying sand mars my vision. Racing children cut through the crowd. And worst of all––merchants stand by booths and tents, selling jewelry and stunning clothes as their slaves stand by and eye me hatefully. I do my best to ignore them.

Suddenly, something closes around my wrist and I'm spun right into a space devoid of people. My eyes squeeze shut by instinct. Please don't kill me…please don't kill me…

“Sem.”

My eyes crack open at the sound of my name.

Only one other person besides Karav ever knew…

“Funny. I didn't think slaves were supposed to have names.”

Another voice.

My elation plummets.

I see Vasha, standing besides the sorcerer I saw performing the festival's opening act. How do they know each other?

He turns to the sorcerer and smiles. “We named each other when we were younger.”

“You were at Vallrhan then too, right?” The white-haired boy's tone sounds jarring.

Vasha gives an affirmative nod as my fingers curl into fists. Why would he tell a total stranger about our past, something we promised would only be shared by us?

Us…

Finally, I decide not to stay silent anymore.

“Who are you?” I blurt, my throat hoarse from disuse.

Vasha stares at me like I just killed someone. The sorcerer’s expression remains placid. They exchange a quick glance, their looks speaking for them.

“Sem,” Vasha breaks the silence, nodding towards the sorcerer. “This is Kassim. He's going to help us.”

Kassim's frigid gaze darts to me, the hostile chill that crawls under my skin causing my shoulders to square. The whisper of a smile cracks his cold façade. He is completely separate from the eccentric person I saw on the stage. “A pleasure to finally meet you, Sem. I've been told so much about you.”

He does not sound sincere at all.

I stay rooted in my position, my arms crossed over my chest, noting in my brief daze that my bare feet have left a deep imprint in the scorching sand. I sidestep to glare at my footprint.

“Tell him,” Vasha whispers. He's not talking to me. My eyes stay downcast.

Kassim chuckles. “Are you certain? Your friend obviously doesn't like me.”

“It doesn't matter. He has to accept your deal.”

I look up at that.

“Looks like you have his attention,” Kassim says, clearly meant as a side comment, and he doesn't seem to care that I and everyone within our line of sight heard very clearly.

I scowl. “For the record, I've been listening to your conversation and I have questions. Vasha, what happened to your master? Why are you loose?” I glance towards Kassim, my eyes narrowing. “And you. Where did you come from and what do you want with us?”

“Am I that horrible to want to help two friends?”

My fists tighten before unfurling, my hands dangling loose to my sides. Vasha told him, obviously––but why? What can a measly street magician do to help relieve us of seven years' worth of misery? A flick of the wrist may conjure a fake flame, but miraculously, he can't save us from anything.

It's all for show. An act.

“Kassim bought me for a better price even the old merchant couldn't resist. He's going to take us to his study and we'll be his apprentices!” Vasha exclaims, his dark eyes alight with a certain intensity I've never seen before. After all my years of being in his presence, preparing food and scrubbing floors and counting gold talents for my old master, he was usually more soft-spoken than this. His joys bloomed from tinkering small statues from stone and hearing stories from fellow slaves who frequented the bazaar, hoping to hear something about his homeland.

A street magician's apprentice, though, I never would have imagined.

“You're coming too, right?”

Vasha stares at me, his quick moment's happiness reducing to something else, realizing that his plan can't become a reality yet without my consent. Of course I don't want to shatter his dreams––but I still don't fully trust Kassim.

He bought me for a better price…

Didn't that merchant pay two hundred thousand or so talents for Vasha? He was definitely a man who had enough money that eight men could split and call their share a fortune alone. If Kassim payed more for Vasha, he probably is wealthy as well, with an entire room filled solely with gold talents and jewels…

If I present this money to the prison ward, they will free Karav.

It's highly unlikely––stupid, even––but money can make people do strange things. Kassim won't notice a few missing jewels; and this way, we can all get something we want.

It's a risk.

But I've decided long ago that I don't want to run anymore. I will fight until the end.

I will fight until all three of us are free.

“Sure,” I finally reply, lazily lifting a shoulder. My weak response seems good enough for Vasha––as he practically jumps, and Kassim smirks at my approval.

He won't be able to smile like that again by the end of tonight.

……………..

We arrive at the study, arched over and panting. However, even the dryness coating my throat does little to distract me from the scenery.

Two long, narrow staircases curve, meeting at a floor of veined marble brimming with ornate stone carvings and half-opened books with crinkled, yellowed pages. Hovering above is a library stuffed with even more books, and a bevy of locked doors etched with beautiful, curving designs.

It was surreal, ripped straight from a dream.

“And this is just his study,” Vasha breathes. Kassim smiles pointedly and starts over to the westernmost staircase, every movement fluid and graceful.

“You both are free to view the books upstairs,” he calls. His voice cascades down to the foyer, where Vasha and I are still standing in complete awe. “I'll be preparing something for you.”

As if by cue, Vasha snatches my wrist from my side and before I can register what had happened in the past few moments, we're upstairs, Vasha paging through an aged book, his expressions hinting at the words on the sheets. After his face contorts in disgust, he shoves the book back on the shelves and grabs for another one. I lean against one of the cases, my arms crossed over my chest nonchalantly.

“Enjoying yourself?” I ask.

Vasha's gaze does not stray from his book. “It certainly is,” he pauses, thinking, “different.”

“Not what you thought it would be like?”

This time, Vasha does look at me. “No,” he replies flatly, as if he expects me to know the answer to my question. “It's far better. Just imagine it! Us, the apprentices of a sorcerer. We could become heroes, like the ones from the ballads. This––this is the best thing that's ever happened to me!”

The best thing that's ever happened to me. Even better than meeting Karav and I. Better than having a name. Understandably, he was still a slave then––Vasha has been a slave longer than any of us, and has felt more pain as well. Yet his words still lance my mind.

Kassim materializes in the corner of my vision, two clay bowls in hand and the first genuine smile I've seen spread on his face. “Is anyone hungry?”

His words sound nearly foreign. Usually, Vasha and I prepare food for our master; I don't ever recall eating anything I haven't cooked.

Reluctantly, I accept his offering and drink deeply. It's savory, a colorful burst of spice and warmth dancing on my tongue. Peering down, a thick red liquid laps against the curved sides of my bowl.

“It's good,” I murmur, surprised. I take another long drink, my eyes closed until the soup has completely vanished from the bowl. I'm too hungry to care what's in it or not––it's been so long since I was last able to enjoy any food.

Kassim smiles at my reaction, but once he realizes I see him, he quickly averts his gaze. “Did you like it?” He asks

I open my mouth, my thoughts threatening to pour out all at once, but I instead shrug and say, “It was fine.”

“Trata is––was––a meal from my old kingdom, before the empire destroyed it.” His expression shifts, turning sorrowful as his gaze drops to the floor.

Vasha looks up hopefully and asks, “What kingdom was that?”

Kassim stiffens at his words, and not soon after, a clap of thunder beats against the further-darkened sky. Rain hovers over the city, heavy against the thin night air of the desert. A smile quirks on my face as I imagine what the festival-goers are doing when their day of sin is suspended by the approaching storm…

“Nuita,” Kassim whispers.

I ask what exactly he said. He shakes his head, not answering my question.

“Forget that.” He grins, strained and taut. “You both must be tired after that long walk. We're practically on the border of an entirely separate kingdom! It would be wise to sleep it off to prepare for tomorrow's activities, yes? There's an empty room downstairs––”

He begins ascending down the steps, and I follow suit.

“We just got here,” I complain. “Can't we explore just a little bit more?”

“You haven't the time for that.”

I huff. My plan is going nowhere. “I'm not a child––I'm a slave. I've spent full days awake without rest. You of all people should know––”

“Why in the worlds would I know about you?!” Kassim pivots on his heels and snaps, his actions uncanny for his reserved character. He shuts his eyes a moment, murmuring something obscure before settling his attention back on the barely-adult slave standing before him. “Look––I know this is foreign for you. You will have time to explore tomorrow, but for now I need time to practice.” He flattens his palm against my forehead; I jump at the contact. “You're warm.”

I can't be sick––he's not telling the truth. “I'm fine.”

“You're tired. Follow Vasha to the room.” He gently closes the conversation, starting away before I can say another word to pile onto the argument. I'm left in his dust, contemplating my words a moment before trailing a bashful Vasha to the barren room opposite Kassim's destination.

“Do you think Kassim's hiding something?” I ask once we're inside. We're both leaning on a floor coated thinly with sand, temperature mellowed by the night's air. I gather a handful of the sand and watch as it sifts through the crevices between my fingers.

Vasha rolls over, his dark eyes boring into my grey ones. “To be perfectly honest, he does seem odd. But isn't everyone?”

I almost snort at his statement. Words like odd and strange are perfect for describing humanity, in my opinion. Always lusting after what they don't have, sweet one moment and bitter the next.

I lean into my outstretched arm, my thoughts tangled as unpolished words leave my mouth. “Do you think we can free Karav? You seem to have forgotten all about her.”

“I think about her every day, just like you. I simply don't say my thoughts aloud.”

“I know,” I lie. “But have you actually thought about doing something? About freeing her?”

“We can't do that,” he whispers, voice muffled. The wind drifting from a carved window in the stone walls brushes over me, a chill prickling my skin.

It's time I tell him. “I have a plan. Kassim is fairly wealthy, right? If we can get our hands on some of his riches, we can pay for Karav's freedom––”

“Are you serious?” Vasha hisses, his face distorted in confusion. “We were slaves just a few moments ago. It's as if your sense of dignity disappeared along with your shackles. You always complained about how greedy for riches the masses were. Now––look at you. The moment you're free, you want money. You're just like them now.”

“I want to help my friend, Vasha! It's not about the money, it's about her! She didn't give you a name. She's the only person who understood me and I––I love her.”

Vasha shakes his head. “I'm not going to steal, Sem.”

Bitter hatred courses through me as I head towards the door. “Fine,” I breathe. The door cracks open with a soft whine, the foyer's shadow dancing on the dirtied floor. “Stay with the magician. I never needed you, anyways.”

I don't wait for a response.

Kassim had turned off the oil lamps, drenching the room in a sea of darkness. A sliver of moonlight casts in from a window nearby, aiding my eyes in adjusting to my surroundings. On the floor is a thin book, the contents facing down. I curiously pick it up…

Quantity: Forty slaves, it reads. My stomach stirs uneasily at the written words. Destination: Yrenim. Year 45, Allamaat Dynasty.

Sixteen years ago. The memory fades a little bit more each day, but I still can never forget it. I was two years old during the forty-fifth year of Emperor Allamaat's reign, a mere child being shipped off to my first job as a young slave. I back up as realization shoots me…

This was a log of the slaves shipped to Desria from Yrenim

My homeland.

I drop the book, my heart racing with abnormal rapidity. Everything about me was written down––recorded, in this book.

It could possibly have my old name.

As I reach down, still afraid to touch the book, a loud knocking instead snags my attention. I tense, regretting to leave the comfort of the dank bedroom Vasha now sleeps alone in…

“Mother. . .”

My breath catches. I quickly glance behind me, but the singsong voice has already ceased. My heart rams furiously against my chest as I press my back against the wall, trying to sort what has happened in the past moment.

I found my records, I heard a voice…

“Mother Nuita…”

The voice sounds louder this time, and I realize that I'm standing next to the only door that still has its lantern on. Kassim mentioned that he was from a place called Nuita––perhaps it's him singing, like how I would hum along to a lullaby I recall from my homeland.

The emotionless magician is having a sentimental moment. How quaint.

A faint strum of a lyre subsequents my thoughts as the light that once framed the

room fades to black, leaving me to listen to the pitter-patter of rain falling on clay.

“The souls of the unjustified now lay soundly in your hand––”

“Silence!” A new voice thunders, this one feminine, responding harshly to the once-singing male voice. The door's lock falls onto the floor with a soft clink from the female voice's intense outburst, and I crack it open to see.

It's Kassim, a golden lyre nestled beneath one arm, the door not leading to another room but to the desert's outside. An exit. I crane my neck to hear better.

“I do not tolerate your foolishness. The cloak does not permit you to reduce yourself to thievery and petty street magic. How many times must I tell you to only use your powers to feed me? That is the only reason for you to wear the cloak!”

Kassim lets the lyre skid through the sand, stopping right before the door, which I shut briefly to eliminate any suspicion. This lyre must be worth a lot…

“I prefer to wear the cloak,” He says lightly. I open the door once again, only to see Kassim fuddling with his robes' neckpiece. He smooths them down and grins. “I look so much better, don't I?”

“Your vanity embarrasses me so. My child, you're supposed to be better than them.”

You're just like them now. Vasha's words echo in my mind; I will them to silence.

Kassim walks further into the rain, his robes and hair still ceasing to soak and sag. This can't be possible…not for a normal person. “Not only am I better than them, but I'm the most competent of your children, Mother. Today was their festival of vices. There was more death today than usual––”

“That's because you cheated,” she hisses. “You killed them.”

My fingers coil, tightening themselves around the door. I knew there was something off about him. He's killed people. A murderer.

“You wanted more, didn't you?” Kassim asks, his tone easy, lyrical. “The others couldn't give you what I did. You wouldn't have so many stars on your skin if it weren't for me, Mother. In fact, I have a runaway slave that I wouldn't mind sharing for your final meal for the day…”

The world goes fast a moment, blurring into a single swirl of color, before coming altogether to a halt. His offering to house us. The warm, tiring meal. Insisting I go to bed. And Mother Nuita…

Nuita is Thanic for night.

Children of the Night.

Kassim was trying to feed us to the Night, his mother.

A Netherbeing.

But…a runaway slave?

“I'm sorry, Sem.”

Behind me is Vasha, hands clasped before him, tears streaking his face as his head is bowed in shame. His voice is brittle; he's suppressing the urge to sob. “I'm sorry. I didn't want this to happen,” he tilts his head towards the door, “but we're partners. Brothers. This is our job.”

I'm suddenly doused in a daze of warmth, like a dream that I know I can never awake from. In this moment, I don't care that Vasha has betrayed me, that I'll never find Karav and I won't ever tell her how I truly feel. Instead, I ask, “How?”

“The statues,” he whispers. “We used them to talk. It was a gift from Mother Nuita, the power to craft golems from stone.”

“He killed the man who bought you,” I add.

Vasha nods once. “We made it so nobody would buy you, either. We had a plan. We wanted you to end up like this. To think that paying for Karav would help free her from prison. So there would be a reason to take you. A vice.”

My eyes fall to my feet, then to his. The scars he had this morning have all disappeared. Everything was an illusion, a scripted lie that I took a part in. I never really had a choice; I was led right into their trap.

My nails dig into my palm, deep enough to draw blood.

“Why me?” I step forward, the space between Vasha and I narrowing. I don't look in his eyes. “Why did you specifically want to––take me? Gods, I have so many questions––”

“I'll tell them to you,” Vasha interrupts. He inhales deeply, finally meeting my gaze with a soft smile. Then he pulls my wrist to him and traps me in an embrace. I stand still a moment, my eyes drifting close before tearing away.

“You're special,” he continues. The sound of the Night and Kassim exchanging childish insults fades into the background, the focus landing on Vasha's gentle words. “Although Karav gave you a name, you forget that you also gave me a name, and I as well am eternally grateful.”

I sneer. “You're showing your gratitude by killing me?”

“I want you to know that Karav is dead. She said something that the Empire saw as a threat. She died from torture, and the only way to tell her how you feel is to––” He trails off there, his sight leading to the door. The smile on Vasha's face widens as my expression shifts to one of realization.

“Go to her,” I murmur to myself, completing his words. Vasha walks up to me and plants a hand on my shoulder.

“It's the perfect way to end your story.”

I bite my lower lip, my heart leaping with anticipation. I'll have almost everything I want––my friends, my freedom, no life and no pain.

I wished for this life––for there to be none.

Now I can have it.

But I wish that I was again a slave, no will and no future to look forward to. Back to a simpler life of cleaning halls and preparing food and sneaking away to the night bazaar when our––my master––left the house. The scent of burning incense, the pain of hot sand against my skin, I want that life again.

Very human of me, to desire what I once had.

“See you in the next life,” I whisper. The door sways softly, beckoning me to outside, to my death. Vasha says nothing as the ominous quietude of midnight presses against my ears. The rain slows, a chilling breeze tousling my hair. I will never feel anything like this again, I think bitterly. My eyes drift shut, savoring the moment, before deciding to face my fate.

I walk into the Night, the darkness swallowing me whole, and I don't look back.
 






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