The door closed behind Zaidah and she was alone with the prisoner. They told her his name, but it was locked away now with all the others. She couldn’t think of them as people, not because she would go mad. No, that precipice was far above her now and she had been falling for what felt like forever. It was just that if she thought of them as people she wouldn’t be able to do her job.
They had tried the other route first of course. Still strapped to the chair that held him, the man looked at her. Despite the lumps and bruises on his face she could make out the expression of wary confusion. “What is this,” he asked hoarsely.
She smiled at him, pity she didn’t feel- couldn’t let herself feel, filling her eyes. “This is your reward for being so brave.” She had a jar of fake salve with her. No sense wasting the real thing on someone who was marked for death. He tensed suspiciously as she gently applied the salve and glared at her despite the warm smile she gave him. This was the test, when she gauged whether she might be able to cajole the information from them or whether she would have to use more brutal methods.
He glanced towards the door. There was a small window covered by bars where one might look through without having to enter. Zaidah followed his gaze. “Oh don’t worry,” she cooed. “They won’t come back anymore.”
“You’re telling the truth…” he said more to himself than to her. “Or else you’re a damn good liar.” He seemed to wrestle with himself for a time. “Ok, I’ll bite. Why aren’t they coming back?”
She smiled at him cheerfully, her head tilted to one side, her eyes searching for a chink in his outer defenses. “Because your secrets all know me.” She placed her hand on the top of his skull and glanced to one side as if listening for something. “This might sting a little,” she made a knife out of her mind and stabbed into him.
Auntie Zazu? What are you doing?
Zaidah gasped and reeled backwards. Rally? Gathy? No, you can’t be here! Fly my doves! Fly!
Mama’s with us! She says to tell you that we’re sending people to rescue you tonight!
Rescue? Oh I see now. You’re a dream. She laughed out loud, doubled over, clutching her stomach.
Auntie? What’s the matter? You don’t want to come home? We miss you!
Stop! Please. I can’t. By this time she had curled into a little ball and was rocking back and forth on the floor of the cell.
We’ll be too far to talk to you soon. Please be ready! We love you!
The door to the cell opened and Zaidah felt herself being lifted off the floor and then she fell into darkness.
When she awoke she was alone in the large sleeping hall shared by the female slaves. The door was wide open and beyond that she could see the rise of sand dune after sand dune.
She got up from her cot and walked towards the door. As she crossed the threshold the room vanished behind her and she was out in the wastes, nothing but sand as far as the eye could see. The moons of Athas looked down on her and she could feel the malevolence of their gaze. She cast about for somewhere to hide and began to climb. Dune after dune, she hoped that the next rise would show her some sign of civilization but there was nothing, only desolation.
“You think you can hide from me?” The voice boomed in her mind and drove her to her knees. When she looked up another moon had joined the other two. This one had eyes and a wide gaping maw filled with razor sharp teeth. The moon opened its mouth and a sand storm swirled up around her. The sand gave way under her as it was sucked up into the sky. She felt herself being lifted and thrashed about for anything to grab onto but the whirlwind caught her up and shook her like a dog at play.
She awoke from the shaking and looked wildly around at the frightened eyes.
“What was is it Zaidah? What did you see?” asked Ylana, the woman who had saved her from the nightmare.
“The moon. A new one. Is the door shut?!” She clutched the woman’s hands and dared a glance at the ill-fated door.
Just then there came a knock.
“What was that?” “What do we do?” “Who could it be?” The murmurs rippled through the sleeping quarters.
Zaidah rose to her feet, steeling herself. She told herself that she was not afraid of a moon. Some of the women gathered behind her as she slowly opened the door and peeked out.
“Come on, let’s go,” said the elf.
She caught a glimpse of Gathay over his shoulder and slammed the door in his face. When he knocked again she cracked the door open a little less this time.
“Come on. Don’t you want to get out of here? Your sister sent us,” the elf repeated testily.
“I can’t. The- the moon will see me.” She watched in relief as he walked away and once again closed the door.
She leaned against it, relief and rage at war within her as she realized that she had probably turned away her only chance at freedom. Perhaps her only chance to regain her sanity. All for what? For a dream that may or may not be true and the security of a cage?
Once again knocking at the door pulled her from the confines of her own mind. When she opened it this time she thought for a moment that she had fallen asleep again as a sheet of blackness swept over her and she once again fell into darkness.