You wouldn’t want to get lost here. Make your choice now, the abyss or life?
She lost count of how many times the same dream had woken her up. The cold voice pierced her deeper every time she heard it. She flung the soaked blanket across the bed and fumbled in the dark for matches. She dreamt, every night she did. It worried her; it was the same dream from her childhood. It all had to do with Nana May’s stories. Now that little Cor was old enough for the gory bed time tales, Nana May had become ever so lively. Niamh enjoyed the stories too. She too had sat wide eyed like Cor few years ago. That was until she heard the tale of the Lost Maidens. While most of Nana’s stories were utterly fantastical, this one seemed almost possible. For every full well in the village one maiden was sacrificed. It scared her, and these dreams, these wretched dreams didn’t help at all! She saw glimpses of his eyes sometimes; blue, then a haze of green. As she sat in the lamp lit room, she tried to remember the voice. She knew she had heard it before and that wasn’t reassuring. A drink would have been nice, but the wells had run dry and every available drop was rationed. Trying to vanquish all ill-thoughts she shut her eyes firmly.
“Niamh, Nana is off to the market! Go with her, please.”
That was how her day began. She now walked back from the market with the same reluctance she got out of bed with. Time spent with Nana was not the same anymore. The tales that once excited Niamh, terrified her. There was no warmth in Nana’s voice anymore. It was cold, just like his voice. She walked a few feet ahead of her, dragging along the bags of freshly dug potatoes. As they trudged along the cracked path she heard the rhythmic trot of old George’s cart.
“Hear Nana, old George’s cart will be here soon, we could hitch a – Nana, where are you?”
She frantically looked for Nana until she saw the old woman moving along the edge of the road near the ravine. She rushed across, calling out to the fragile elder. As she drew closer, Nana May clasped her hands onto Niamh’s arms saying, “It will happen today.”
Her warm brown eyes had turned a clear blue and it chilled Niamh’s heart. Then, she heard the voice again, “Make your choice now”. Niamh froze. It was the same voice, the same one from the dreams.
“Nana, who…how do you…What will happen?”
Her mind was rattled. So many questions pounded her skull. Then there was the trot. It came to a stop. George’s booming voice offered to take Nana and the bags across the ravine, leaving no room for Niamh on the cart. It was still early and she had made her own way many times. As the cart sped along, she felt Nana’s cold blue stare fixed on her. She thought she saw sadness in it. She wanted to cry too. Since when had life become so troublesome? Kicking each dust covered pebble out of her way, she shuffled towards the ravine. A cold breeze brushed past her face tickling her nape and she felt her eyes closing.
Someone was holding her hand. She couldn’t see his face. He was dragging her along the edges of the stream. This looked like…where was this place? She knew she wasn’t supposed to be here. A valley so lush with foliage certainly didn’t exist even within hundred miles of her village. In the tale of the Maidens, it was in such a place that they had found the remains of the ones who escaped. Their skin reflected the green around and their eyes had turned a shade of lapis lazuli. The elders said it was just like the colour of the streams many distant decades ago. The moisture in the air was overwhelming. She was unaccustomed to it, her nose yearning for the dry ground and the feel of sand. The grip on her hand tightened. She let out a muffled cry.
“Silence! Stay by my side. You wouldn’t want to get lost in here.” His voice was hoarse with a frosty edge.
This shroud of secrecy that covered his actions remained incomprehensible to her. She found him strange, his world stranger. The ease with which he weaved himself across the gargantuan trees and the crystal blue water fascinated her. Despite the hostility, there was something vulnerable about him. His breathing took on such a slow pace that she wondered if he needed to breathe at all. When he looked into her eyes, a sense of concern was evident. Her attempts to keep track of time failed miserably as she ventured further into the valley. With every step she took the light grew brighter and the trees surrounded her closely. How long she had been following him, she didn’t know. It was his eyes; they pulled her along right to the centre of the valley. What she saw seemed like an illusion. The moist greenery came to an abrupt end. The blades of grass around the edge of the valley were a shade of discoloured ochre. The air was cool and as she tripped up on the twigs she clutched onto his palm. She could barely feel the grooves along them. His hand felt clammy and she could see a green tinge. There was a snap; he quickly pulled her behind a row of brambles. Women were shouting, rushing past the trees, their skirts sweeping alongside the blades, damp and dry alike. She realized it wasn’t just him here, it wasn’t a lone paradise.
The woman clutching the intricate idol had the same angular face as him. Niamh stretched out her arm and was about to call out. His eyes glazed over and turned grey at this as he spat out, “You aren’t to talk. Your life has ceased to be. It shall only resume with a sacrifice.”
She had never been subjected to such hostility. The excitement in discovering this escape from her tedious life quickly vaporised. The rustle of leaves, didn’t seem welcoming to her anymore. The coolness in the air increased into a suffocating humidity. As she tried to slip away, the grip tightened once more. For a quick moment, she saw that look of vulnerability again on his angular face. This time there was an obvious note of helplessness in his voice. “I need you. We need you.”. Nothing more was said.
When the day began Corey knew it would rain today. He knew it for sure even though the last time it happened was some hundred years ago. His turn had come again. The ritual was already in motion. The maiden was chosen. Niamh. He liked the way her name elongated in the middle. He hoped it would be different this time. They had waited a few more years than usual. The call had gone out a few hours ago. May was to lead out the girl to the ravine today. From there, it would all be taken care off. Mother had been bundling up everything and throwing them into the deeply dug out trenches. It was the same process every other century. Things had been going wrong for the last few centuries though. The maidens did not they keep their word. Every last one of them who broke the vow was exterminated, with their life soul being harnessed back into the abyss. The only link to this world that remained was the residue on their skin and the lapis lazuli eyes.
He stood atop the cliff, looking onto her world. Their ravine was dry. The drought disgusted him. Only if the maidens heeded the words of his world would things change. Just one had to part with their life, their mundane life. His people were mobilized. The last few hours were always tense. Corey was unsure if he should breathe at all, his lungs were after all being lulled into a deep sleep. He rushed towards the ravine. She should be there now. It was getting harder to walk. Each droplet pelted down on his bare shoulders. The valley had almost submerged. It would soon rise up to swallow his clearing too. As he walked up the path, his companions had started to conclude their businesses. The trenches were all covered up. At the end of every century they hoped it was the last they would have to carry out these tedious human actions. They wished to remain in the water, but for that the life of a maiden voluntarily given was absolutely necessary. As he moved past the barrier, the force emanated a slow breeze and she collapsed as planned.
Her reluctant steps irritated him. He hoped the dreams would be enough. There was no time to recount the millennia of pain his people have gone through. With the rise of the water in the black abyss, they lost another chance at attempting humanity. In the matter of a few days the parched earth flourished and the thirst was quenched. Then the unbearable humidity kicked in. Your lungs closed up and you knew not to breathe through the lungs. They were left with no other choice. They had to revert to what they were. From water they were created and to water they shall go. He knew he was harsh to her, but she wasn’t prepared. Once he pleaded his case to her, she mellowed yet he knew it would take more than that to convince one to give up their life. It wasn’t possible until she remembered.
Was he real? All this talk about the abyss and the soul confused her. There was a tumultuous turn in her train of thoughts. She tried to ignore the mention of a sacrifice. This world she had entered wasn’t as beautiful as it looked. There was centuries of evil hidden in each droplet that trickled sultrily along their bodies. She was still unaware of where they were heading towards. They roughly seemed to be following the frantic women. Though, Corey took a different turn as the path forked. Someone’s life seemed to be at stake. She had seen the different kinds of fear in their eyes. They were approaching a cavern. Here, she saw an idol much bigger than the one the woman held. Carved beneath this was, Dagon. The eyes of the idol were a strong aquamarine. Corey knelt before it. He then spoke in the same voice she had heard countless times.
“Niamh! The life of my people is in your hands once again. Remember what you have to do. Your life has ceased. You know your choices, my abyss or a life; different from yours, still a life it is.” With this, the idol shone brightly. It flickered between aquamarine and a bloody sapphire.
Confusion struck her mind. Then she saw Corey in the light of Dagon. It was him. She didn’t just dream this, she had lived it. Last time she entered this world she wasn’t able to exit with her life. Only if she gave up would the others live. Why hadn’t she surrendered? Why hadn’t she? There was nothing to live for back home. Her true life hadn’t even begun. She had seen the fear in his people’s eyes. They had something they valued. She knew where they would be. She left Corey behind and made way to the cliff-top. The people had made way to the summit opposite. They were waiting for something. She could take a deep breath and come to a resolution but she knew she had stopped breathing too, just like Corey. With a few nimble steps she moved forward. The fall was slower than she thought. She flipped over and saw the others following her lead. Watching from afar was as beautiful as she imagined. They transformed into one shade of turquoise. The mass movement broke the barrier. They were the water, the water that would rescue her old world.
As the stream burst banks and filled the ravine, it was clear that there were no longer two worlds. Joyous shouts went amongst curious villagers. Nana May had been waiting at the edge hoping for an even bigger reward, she wondered how many more centuries she could live for. Dagon appreciated help, but traitors were never left unpunished, regardless of intentions. With the union of the worlds, there was no longer a need for a Nana May.