Little fingers delicately curled around the edge of the door frame. Very slowly the small child peered around the corner. Her vibrant plum eyes searching for any sign she would be caught. No one there. She darted for the open window adjacent to the door and climbed through it. She crouched by the wall listening and looking once more for movement. Still no one. She brushed her silken ebony hair from her face. Only a short bit further and she’d be clear of the patrolled grounds and free to run down to the lake shore beyond the glade, her favorite place to play. She scrunched her scarlet dress in her small hands, holding the hem from dragging on the leaf strewn ground as she crept along the wall. The courtyard was vast to her, but confining. Its paving stones cold and harsh were hardly a suitable play place for a young lady of breeding such as Sera. She’d be eight winters old in just a few months and then the governesses would be back to correct her bad manners learned from a season away from schooling.
She came to a closed window and peered in cautiously. Her handsome father stood at the far side of the room in heavy conversation with two men from the King’s court. His stern look was more common these days as the dignitaries visited. Sera longed for her father to take her down to the lake shore and teach her games like skipping stones as he had done in the summers and falls before. She ducked below the window once more and inched toward the garden steps. She grimaced at the thought of the reprimand she would get from him now about her unladylike behavior, sneaking about the courtyard.
Finally she approached the corner, she could her the footsteps of the front guard walking away from her. She glanced, only three feet before he turned and began his walk back toward her. She bolted for the gap between the courtyard hedges. She lifted the gate latch a bit too quickly and it creaked. She shoved the door and ran down the wide steps of the garden terrace, no longer heeding the amount of noise she was making. The guard must have heard the noise, she thought, If I can make it to the hedges before he finds the gate, he might think it was left ajar and creaked in the wind. She ran with all her might toward the bottom of the terrace. Twenty feet, … ten feet, five … almost there …. She slipped as she approached the hedge. She grabbed for the bush, clamoring for her footing and trying to turn the corner.
She flopped down in the grass to catch her breath and listen. No thundering footsteps … yet. She must have made it unseen. She let out a sigh and winced as she brought up her left hand. It was spotted with slivers and thorns from the hedge. She collected herself and began her brisk walk into the glade of trees at the edge of the grounds. One by one she removed the pieces of shrub from her now bleeding hand. Once well away from view of the grounds she stopped. Mother’s going to be furious when she finds out, Sera told herself as she tore a strip from her petticoat and tied it around her hand. She inspected her own appearance for the first time. Grass stained knees, her black polished leather slippers now showed many scuffs, and the ribbons from her hair were tangled and falling out. She brushed away what she could and pulled the ribbons free. She looked about herself once more. This dress had no pockets like her play apron did, she’d have to figure out another way of keeping track of the delicate strands. After some consideration she devised a solution, Mother wears necklaces. I’ll just pretend they’re a necklace. She smirked at her ingenuity as she tied them loosely around her neck.
Her trek resumed once more and she turned her thoughts to the games she would play once at the lake shore. As her mind wandered she began to sing a familiar song. Sera, naturally light on her feet, began to dance as she continued on, trying to move in time with the tune. Before long she was so immersed in her new game that by the time the song ended, she had lost her way.
She didn’t remember the glade being so big; how long had she been dancing? There was no note of familiarity in the surrounding trees and brush. She inched forward straining to listen for the lapping of lake water, but only more sounds of the forest could be heard. She hesitated. One step at a time she began to move. In a shaky voice she began her song again. As her foot came down cautiously, a myriad of snapping and cracking branches echoed around her. The ground caved beneath her feet, tumbling her into darkness.
She sat up from her landing spot, coughing and waving the dust away. She looked skyward. The opening was only perhaps a foot above her if she stood up. Spears of light reflected from an obscured object in the corner of the small hole, eliciting her attention. She reached for it. Drawing it toward herself, she perceived it to be a beautiful but strange bauble. Clutching it tightly to her chest, she stood and reached to the opening. Slowly she pulled herself from the hole using broken twigs and nearby rocks. Once out she looked around again, she was still lost, but now she had found a treasure to keep her company. She began retracing her steps, searching for some note of familiarity.
She gazed into the orb in her hands. It was covered in interlocking metal spirals of silver. Beneath its glassy surface churned black smoke. Abruptly the air around her ran cold and darkened. It trembled and a deep voice drummed in her head, RETURN MY TALISMAN! She shrieked and ran blindly. The undergrowth of the ticket scratched at her face and clothes. She staggered to a halt atop a large stone precipice. Suddenly a new sound reached her ears, shouting and the running of many feet. “Daddy! Daddy help me!” She screamed at the top of her lungs. The darkness twisted together into a grotesque and towering form. I WILL HAVE IT CHILD! His great shadowy claw reached for her. She cowered in fear, dropping the orb. It bounced and rolled from the edge, shattering into a million pieces on the rocks below.
The spirit before her writhed in agony and hissed as he began to be torn asunder. The clatter of footsteps was close now, although Sera could not see their source. The dark form lunged toward her once more enveloping her. A sharp, painful cry filled her mind, MAY YOUR LIFE SEE ONLY DEATH FOR SENDING ME TO THE WHISPERS!
The guards led by Sera’s father crested the hill as the darkness erupted from her small figure. “Sera!” He shouted as he rushed to her side. Her brilliant eyes faded to lifelessness as she collapsed into her father’s arms, her breath shallow and cold. The guards closed in, watching the panicked man, helpless to assist. “Sera, wake up baby, Daddy’s here. Sera!" He wailed, holding her tightly.