April 7th, 2024
Cat felt more excited than she had in weeks as she ran down the streets of the forum towards her family’s house. Rosa had agreed to help her, even if she stubbornly refused to confirm Cat’s suspicions that her doppelganger, Christie, was her sister. To Cat, it was the only sensible explanation given how the champion of war had reacted, but all she got in return for her efforts was a very pointed and gruff instruction to shut up. Still, she had gotten an ally for her adventure. Now the main question was how they were going to get there and trying to find this hidden fortress.
“Scheherazade!” Cat said, flinging open the door as she all but tumbled into the hallway. Her reflexes caught her before she could lose her balance. “Sheh! Are you here?”
“I’m always within ear’s reach, Catarina, there is no need to shout!” The golden sparrow fluttered down from out of Cat’s sight, before turning into the beautiful storyteller. She rested one arm on the bannister of the stair that led up to Cat and Hilde’s rooms. “How may I be of service, dear Catarina?”
“Rosa’s agreed to help me in my quest to free Asha and the others at the Line, but it’s so far away. I don’t have time to convince anyone to mount a full operation. I’m not even sure I could! But I need some way to get us there.”
“Ah, a worthy quest, one that seems to fit you very well!” Scheherazade said, clapping her hands together with a smile on her face. “I think I might have something that will be of use to you. This is a personal adventure, so I can offer a little support.”
Holding her pipe out, she used it as a pointer, drawing lines in the air, shimmering with golden dust that sprinkled gently down to the floor below. Cat could see a shimmering portal appear in front of her, with majestic buildings of white alabaster and towering parapets lined with gold. People bustled through a busy market, carrying bundles over their shoulders and backs. Scheherazade whistled a short pleasant melody and from inside the ‘story book’, Cat could see something flying towards the portal.
As it drew closer, Cat could tell it was a carpet, woven in an intricate pattern of colors that seemed to blend and bleed into one another. With the gentle sound of wind, the carpet popped out of the world of the Arabian Nights and hovered in front of the young mage. She took a step forward, her eyes wide, reaching out to touch it and see if it was truly there. Her fingers touched it and it felt solid enough.
Cat took a step back, her eyes still locked on the carpet, stunned. She blinked twice, before jumping up into the air, clapping her hands.
“That’s the coolest! A flying carpet!”
“One of my fastest, so do take care of it. It is enchanted to keep you safely on its back until you wish to get off, though I would suggest you not do anything too…daredevilish to start with.” Scheherazade said with a twinkle in her eye.
Cat barely heard her as she climbed onto the carpet, grabbing its edge as she glided across the room, a wide smile plastered on her face. She did a few rolls, staying firmly planted aboard the carpet even as it twisted and turned, her body held in place by its native magic. “So coooooooool!”
Scheherazade watched with her own more subdued smile, as Cat practiced her flying a bit. Eventually the blue haired mage turned the carpet to the door and Scheherazade tipped her pipe, causing the door to fly open.
“I’m going to get Rosa and show her this! She’s going to be so amazed! Thanks, Sheh!”
Flying across the city was a lot of fun as Cat practiced her control of the carpet. She could see the people beneath her staring up and pointing as she passed over their heads, waving excitedly to them below. It was so fast. Cat couldn’t help but do some dives and rising climbs, rolls and twists, as if she were a show pilot.
She flew towards the training field, where Rosa was waiting, practicing with her spear. Cat grinned and dove down towards the redhead. “Rooooooosaaaaa!” Cat shouted to get her attention.
Rosa turned around, seeing the flying Cat coming barreling towards her and reflexively jumped into a defense stance. Cat grinned, her hair flowing behind her in the wind, before pulling to a stop. The sudden shift of momentum hit her.
“Oooh…” She moaned, willing herself off the carpet. Her stomach tossed and turned inside her. “Okay, no more sudden stops.”
“Cat, what the hell!? Where did you get this thing?”
“Scheherazade gave it to me.” Cat said, taking a few deep breaths and focusing her internal energy to settle her body. “Now we can get to the Line in no time!”
“No time doesn’t exist, Cat. Don’t be stupid.”
“What do you mean?” Cat said, shaking herself. Everything seemed to be settling back into its proper place.
“We’re still going to need to get supplies before we set out, can this carpet carry all that weight? I can’t believe I’m asking that question…” Rosa said, shaking her head.
“It can probably carry a lot; it’s magic.” Cat said. “But what do you mean supplies? We have a magic carpet!”
“Yah, and if we don’t want to get sick like you just did, we’re not going to be going faster than…I don’t even wanna know! Let’s say it takes us a full day to fly to Syria, that’s still going to be a full day for food and water. And you don’t even know where in Syria this place is…”
“Fiiiiine…” Cat said, sighing in exasperation. “We can pick up that stuff on the way, I have some money. But come on, hop onto the magic carpet.”
“Jeez…” Rosa climbed onto the carpet behind Cat, looking around nervously. “I’m not going to fall off of this thing, am I?”
“I haven’t so far! It will only let you off when you want to get off, I think.”
“…As I’ll ever be.”
“Three…Two…One…LIFT OFF!” Cat said, pulling the edge of the carpet up as it soared into the sky. She could feel the wind against her skin as she smiled, Rosa shouting in her air.
It hadn’t taken them long to buy the supplies they needed. Rosa had insisted on a week worth of food and the basic camping gear, so Cat had bought some bags with blankets, water bottles, and foodstuffs and magically tied them to one end of the carpet. Once Rosa had been assured they weren’t going anywhere, Cat had flown them out of the city of Rome, Rosa clutching onto her sides nervously.
“Are you scared, Rosa?” Cat said, grinning as she turned her head around.
It might have been the wind turning her cheeks red, but Rosa just mumbled and turned away. “Sh-shut up. I feel like at any moment I could just fall off…”
“I told you, you’ll be fine. It’s a magic carpet after all!”
“Just focus on what’s in front of you and keeping this thing straight, alright?!”
“Heh…” Cat just laughed. She considered teasing Rosa some more by making the carpet move up and down like a sin wave but she decided to take pity on the other girl and flew at a steady, if not particularly fast, pace.
They didn’t talk much at first, both trying to be very serious about the mission they were undertaking. Eventually though, as noon turned to afternoon, Cat’s interest waned and her curiosity won.
“So, Christie is your sister, right?”
“Mmm.” Rosa grunted, noncommittedly.
“Come on, it’s clearly something important! You’re flying all the way out to the middle of nowhere for her, and she looks just like you. It seems the most obvious reason.”
“It’s none of your business, is what it is…isn’t…whatever!”
“Why are you being so stubborn about this? Just tell me if she’s your sister or not!”
“Shut up. I don’t have to say anything. You don’t know anything about me, Cat. And don’t ask me about my family. You should feel lucky you have one!”
Cat fell silent for a bit, feeling the tension flowing off Rosa behind her. She waited until the red head seemed to relax before trying again, approaching from a different angle. “You know, all of my first family, the ones that raised me, taught me, took care of me…All of my old friends, they’re probably all dead. I’ll never get a chance to see them again.”
Rosa stiffened but didn’t say anything. Cat decided to push her luck a bit and continue. “I only met Hanne and Hildegard a little over a year ago. I was all alone, with nobody, in a dangerous world. I lost a lot of people who were important to me.”
“It’s not the same thing.” Rosa said, with a bit of a huff.
“All I know is that if I could have the chance to see them again, I’d be super excited. I have so much I want to tell them, so much I didn’t get to say to some of them. And to possibly get them back? There are times when I wake up in the middle of the night from that very dream…”
“Just stop it, Cat! Stop, okay?” Rosa’s choked voice came out.
“No! Why won’t you tell me? How can you not be excited to see your sister again?”
“Because she’s dead, Cat! Because she’s dead and I’m the reason she’s dead!”
“Eh?” Cat couldn’t help but turn around. Tears were streaming down Rosa’s cheeks as she futilely tried to wipe them away quickly.
“I killed her. It was when I became a champion, okay?” Rosa said, her voice quieting. Her voice dropped down to a whisper. “We were hungry. He came to us and put food between us and told us that one of us would get the power and the food to survive. I was supposed to look out for her. But I was so damn hungry, I couldn’t…I-I killed her for that food and he made me his champion, laughing. Laughing at me!”
Cat stayed silent, her mouth hanging open slightly as she struggled to find something to say. She looked away uncomfortably. Time seemed to slow as she felt the awkward silence grow between them as both girls said nothing. Eventually, Cat mumbled something out.
“You did what you had to do to survive…”
“Hah, that’s what I tell myself every damn day!” Rosa said, her hands clenched to fist. “And maybe it’s true but it doesn’t mean I don’t regret it. Every night, I try to sleep and I can’t. I see her face staring at me, pleading with me to spare her. There’s nothing I wouldn’t do to go back to that moment…to undo what I did. To not have killed my sister!”
Cat looked down at her lap. She HAD asked Rosa to tell her; she should have known it would be something that would make her sad. “Well, maybe we can do something to bring her back while we’re at the Line?” Cat offered.
“Cat, you need to stop thinking we’re going to be able to save Asha, or Christie, or anyone else there. It doesn’t matter. I’m only going with you on this to put my own demons to rest…”
“Why not?! How can you say we can’t if we haven’t even gotten there yet!?”
“Because, Cat, it doesn’t matter how big of a hero you are…” Rosa said, her voice shaking. “You can’t bring the dead back to life.”
The Cities Eternal©2016, Evan Murdoch, Ben Sousa
JP Link: https://www.jukepop.com/home/read/9551?chapter=56&sl=610