Meimei and I bound ourselves in the bed, having taken care to strategically tear our clothes and apply fake wounds to our bodies. We would play either to the compassion or the lusts of these invaders.
Suddenly, we heard the doorknob turn, and in walked an impetuous serving girl with a bag of stolen treasure from around the palace. We had no interest in her destroying our plan, so before she could scream and alert anyone the wiser, Meimei dispatched her easily, and I tossed her into the well. We hid her loot in the wardrobe so it wouldn’t arouse suspicion, then quickly resumed our positions.
Finally, some armed men entered the room. Seeing us, they called for backup, though it should have been apparent that we were harmless. They spoke a different eastern language than our own, but I wove a sad tale of capture and mistreatment in my native tongue, trying my best to sound pathetic and sad. However, these barbarians took my words as insults and became aggressive.
Eventually, they called in a man who could understand us. He claimed we were liars and assassins. When 15 soldiers roughly yanked us from the bed, they found all my daggers hidden under the pillows, so our defense was blown. They manhandled us: stripping us, binding us, and throwing us to the ground in the courtyard. I was able to free one hand, but with soldiers milling about everywhere, I thought better of pressing my luck.
After a while, we heard the tinkling of bells and saw a trail of dappled light; it was beautiful but in an unsettlingly sad way. In fact, I felt uncharacteristically miserable as I watched a boy with blue hair walk towards us, dragging lethal chain weapons behind him. “Why did you not run?” he asked us with palpable melancholy.
I told him we were prisoners of the evil Duke Cassus, but he knew I was lying. He began to raise those chains, and I knew that Meimei and I would be dead in an instant. “The ants!!” I yelled. And he stopped. He asked a few questions and knew I had spoken truth. Instead of execution, we were thrown into the empty dungeons we had left only a few hours earlier today.
It was dark and cold. Meimei stayed oddly silent but she did bring some magic light to the room. With my free hand, I was able to unbind us completely. As hour wore upon hour, I began to knit our ropes into shift dresses, covering our nakedness. I braided Mei’s hair and she braided mine, and we talked about our long ago past and how much we loved each other and our plans for growing old together.
It was nice to spend time with her like this. But my mind kept going back to the venomous dagger that the gods had given me and was now lost. Even more, I had lost my thumbnail necklace and all the growth and history it symbolized for me. In my homeland we have a saying, “An item’s worth runs deeper than its value.” I must retrieve it! I tried to pick the lock with the handle of the bucket but to no avail.
Suddenly the door flew open and guards motioned us to kneel before them. I threw the bucket of water in their faces while Meimei went into an impressive display of deadly magic. Meanwhile I was able to grab a short sword from a guard I knocked out with a punch to the face. While fighting the guards around me, I realized there was an endless stream before us. Meimei had walked past my assailants and was surrounded by the evil horde. She cast spell after a spell, but too soon, my sister went down. She was completely silent and I feared the worst. I let out an angry scream and began to wail on those around me. Then I too was overcome and knocked out.
I awoke, naked and suspended by chains above a hot kiln. There was to be an inquisition. I was asked where we came from, so I tried the captive sex slave line again, and a hot blade of iron was laid against the back of my knee—the smell of burning flesh and a pain so intense I almost threw up. I learned quickly that they could detect lies and would punish them with pain. But if I told the truth, they seemed pleased. So I told the truth. Thankfully, I don’t always know so much so well. I knew we had put foxglove into one of the wells but I didn’t know if Kiaran and Belo had successfully poisoned the other wells, and if they did, what poison they used. I did not know where they were or even if they still lived.
Of course, as they questioned me, I kept asking about the fate of my sister. I couldn’t see her or hear her or sense her anywhere. When I asked, they would harm me again. Finally, I had satisfied their questioning and they unchained me, rubbed salve in my wounds, and wrapped me in a blanket. “You have done well,” my interrogator told me. “Where is my sister Kinmei?” I asked weakly one last time. “She is dead.” He said and turned and left me.
I’m falling. I’m floating. I’m heavy, sinking like a stone. Total darkness – I can’t see. Total emptiness. Alone. This pain more devastating than all the pain of my recent torture. Pointless – my life now. I’m howling. I’m fighting for a breath. Fury. Anger fills me and gags me. I imagine my rage consuming me until I am a pure force of hatred, an infinite whirlwind of cruel destruction tearing the world into smaller and smaller and smaller pieces. No one will survive. Nothing will remain.
But I am just a girl. There will be no destruction. I have no power, no strength, no sister.
I must have passed out, because the next thing I remember is being chained to a wall in the dungeon again. I am so tired, so spent. I want death to take me quickly. I sing a song my mother sang to us when we were so small. And I hear my sister’s voice singing with me. I’m going insane, but I still call out, “MEI!?!??!?!” “MEI!!!!!!!!” And I hear “Zu?” My soul shudders with the force of despair turning to instant joy. I’m sure I felt a crack deep within, but I don’t care. My beautiful sister lives!!
My voice is raw from yelling back and forth with Meimei. Suspended by my arm cuffs, I fall in and out of sleep. Wondering how long we will be forgotten in this pit.
Finally, after hours and hours, Belo and Kiaran come waltzing in, looking well-groomed and bored with their adventure. “Oh there you are. Well, we’ve won. Let’s move along now.” No knowledge whatsoever of the universe having crashed and been rebuilt. No concern that we are naked, and seared, and soul-wrenched. But in my homeland we have a saying, “A boat to a bird is different than a boat to a fish.”
I was glad to recover all of my possessions (yes, my precious necklace included). As we wonder what treasures we should snag from the palace, Hieronymous Q. Polecat greets us at the gate. He believes we need to leave this area quickly. Though we killed the Evil Masked Death King Emperor, another will come, seeking revenge. We have his magical golden mask in our possession but were strongly cautioned not to put it on.
Instead, he says, “Have you ever considered piracy?” And like that, we are on another mission. Only now, it feels different. I feel different. Stronger, crueler, and broken.