Chapter 26: Invisible Wounds

Dia dreamed of Keenin frying eggs in a cast-iron pan over flames burning in the hearth, watching as wood smoke billowed up around the pan as she stood a few feet behind him on the polished floorboards. The scene was much too ordinary for it to be real, but Dia felt that she had lost so much already, that it would have been nice to stay.

Despite this, the feeling of unease did not leave her. She knew that the people she cared for had no such luxuries. Dia turned from the pretend life. Admitting that it was a dream should have been enough, but now she saw the ghost child Tess. The girl Tess stood by the front door of the imagined house. She wore a frayed blue dress with large pockets and her hair had been braided to the side with a red ribbon, clothes that reflected more her original state than the uncertainty she brought. Tess’s appearance in the dream confused her.

Dia wondered if this was the real source of her unease come to face her, not some concern for friends, but a manifestation of jealousy. After all, Tess could stay by Keenin no matter where he went.

But seeing Tess now made Dia think that at least there would always be someone there for him, this life and the next. The scowl on Tess’s face didn’t speak of mutual forgiveness.

“What are you do-

Dia meant to ask when Tess took two steps closer and shoved her backward. Dia gasped and threw back the bedsheets as she sat up. A bed. A room. An unknown place. And Tess stood there with fists clenched in a faded blue outline beside the bed.

“You-!” Dia gasped, as the world snapped into place.

A ghost should not have been there.

“You – kept – him – from – me,” Tess emphasized her tensed anger.

Dia suddenly tried to remember the last time she had seen the real Keenin. It had been in the midst of a battle on the road. Now around her were wallpapered flowers and the paintings of rolling hillsides in a room she had never seen before. The shock of the new information almost made her forget Tess was still there.

“You got what you deserved,” Tess continued. “I hope that he hates you.”

Dia clutched the bedding and focused her confusion back at Tess.

“Selfish little girls should stay out of it,” Dia said defensively.

And she didn’t appreciate others intruding on her dreams. Dia had prided herself on warding off unwanted visitors.

“You don’t know what’s going on,” Tess argued. “You don’t even know where Keenin is.”

The movement of starlings outside a window drew Dia’s attention, and a tall window it was. Thick red curtains had been pulled aside and secured to metal hooks. The architecture of squared stone buildings gave her other things to think about. Dia knew better than to be angry with Tess.

“Where is he?”

The scenery outside felt like an endless maze. Tess smirked.

“Like I would tell you. Let’s hope he saves himself.”

Dia reflexively grabbed a pillow and threw it at Tess, but the ghost girl was already fading and it landed on the carpet with a soft thud. Dia was alone. She pulled her thoughts away from the fancy décor and back into focus.

Someone must have brought her here. Incense burnt in a bowl on the dresser beside her. Her nose itched and she sneezed into her hand. She moved her hand away to see that it was speckled with red flecks. She became aware of the metallic taste in her mouth and noticed flakes of dried leaves and a cup of water on the table.

Before she could think on it, she heard the click of the silver door handle as it turned and the door swung inwards to admit a man shouldering a brown satchel and dressed in a long white robe. A doctor, she guessed. He stopped short, a cup held close to his chest in defense.

“Ah,” he said upon seeing her. “You are awake.”

Dia chose to ignore his awkward formality.

“Yes,” Dia told him. “Where am I?”

Surely someone in his position would give her the answers that Tess would not.

“The king’s private clinic,” the doctor said with reserve. “You are an important woman.”

“Is that…right.”

The doctor appeared like he might have a nervous breakdown. Dia had never thought of herself as important. What a mystery this place was, though she was starting to understand. The doctor reached back to re-open the door that he had earlier let close behind him.

“I will get your friend,” the doctor said.

He hurried from the room. Well good, Dia thought and she leaned back against the pillows. She had a few choice words for Clide. Especially since, — and here she noticed the wooden staff leaning near the bedpost as though to make her feel better — especially since he had brought her to this stupid town.

Clide entered looking every bit the brotherly figure who had traveled with them from the religious town of Selendrum, but he held a grim expression as though she were a patient with a hard-to-cure disease. The words were out of her mouth before the door clicked shut.

“Did you poison me?” she asked him sternly.

She had learned long ago that subtlety only gave the dragon an excuse to hide.

“I…killed you,” Clide clarified timidly. “I didn’t want to, but you were poisoned and the medicine wasn’t working and I know you fully heal when you die. I was worried you wouldn’t wake up.”

Worried, she thought.

Clide remained near the closed door, possibly to make his escape or prevent eavesdropping.

“Worried about what!?” Dia blew up at him. “That I wouldn’t be the same. Are you stupid?”

Sure, it wasn’t every day that she got to die, or be paralyzed or poisoned — but he knew better. Geez, he must have worried how he would kill her too.

“Is this why that doctor looked at me like I was crazy?” Dia accused.

“Only two people know your conditions and they won’t give it away. It worked out,” Clide said.

Dia bunched the sheets in her hands. A queasy feeling lingered in her stomach that had nothing to do with poison.

“Sure,” Dia expressed. “Let’s say that it has.”

She reached over the bed to grip the staff of their old caretaker and hugged it closer. Its weight held no magic influence in her hands, but it was enough of a reminder. During the attack, Clide had been there too.

“Where is he?” Dia asked this time.

Clide blinked his eyes. He didn’t answer. She felt the stirring air between them grow chill. A weariness returned to her. She never would have fought with him before, not her best friend, but she still had to know if Keenin was alive.

“Clide?” she prompted.

Clide turned his head towards the daylight, and approached the window that looked out upon the city.

“Well, you can’t see the place from here,” he explained.

Dia’s hands grew tighter around the staff as her heart began to sink, and her body felt weightless and numb. Yet the words continued to pass over her lips.

“Why?” she now asked.

How could Keenin have been taken so easily?

“I thought you would not recover. The Red Heart army got away with him.”

“But you were with him.”

Nothing more said, Clide wandered to her bedside table and brushed the crumbled leaves into his hand. The way he acted like nothing was wrong, seeing his back turned so indifferently, made her feel ill. Yet Clide was her friend. Dia curled into herself, unsure.

“I feel like throwing up,” Dia was saying to Clide.

Clide had gone back to the window and tugged at the curtain string to let the red fabric fall across half of the window, slicing a shadow across the room; maybe because sunlight could worsen a sick feeling or maybe to let her sleep.

“Please do it somewhere else,” he advised.

Dia raised her head.

“Why are you not angry?”

Keenin had been unfairly taken away from them to a horrible place.

“I am,” he explained. “I’m just not angry at you.”

He looked back at her. Dia’s hand had reached over and gripped the cup on the dresser, its contents shaking like her insides.

“Put the cup down before you break it,” he rebuked her. “Only children throw things. If you’re only going to be upset, I’ll come back tomorrow when you calm down.”

Clide turned towards the door when the cup hit him in the face and smashed on contact with the floor. Herbal liquid dripped down his chin and Dia knew that she hurt his pride, but she couldn’t see his expression as his head remained lowered.

“I…” Dia stammered. “I wish that you were the one who was gone. Clide. They could kill him and we wouldn’t know. He was the only one, he was the only one of us that might never come back.”

Clide used a hand to wipe his face as Dia started crying. As Dia tried to contain her emotions, she heard the door close behind him.


Chapter 25: To The Road

Chapter 27: Unspoken