Jolanin had explained very basically to Mariça that she had been captured because she had entered too deep into Shriken territory. Then she’d left Mariça in order to take the dead body to the council. Since then, Mariça had spent her time sitting in the room and trying to figure in her mind what was going on.
Memories had begun to come to her. Everything that had happened to Marisa before the incident with Death began to leak into her own brief experiences. Mariça remembered what it had felt like to be Marisa, right up until then end. What a sinister memory for Death to leave. She realized that the body Jolanin had taken away was her own, and she got confused again. When Jolanin finally returned, Mariça had mostly figured out her situation, except for the time around when she was captured.
Jolanin said, “The body has been planted, and we have also seen your friend searching near it. There is someone monitoring the situation to make sure that she finds the body and gives up her search.”
“Okay. What about me?”
“No one knows about your existence, and it would be best for you if it remained that way. I will escort you out in secret, but it will be after your friend finds the body and the scout leaves.”
“But won’t that mean Yaska will think I’m dead?”
“This is the only way to keep the Shriken from knowing about you. It will be unfortunate for her, but in a very literal sense you are dead.”
Mariça shook her head.
Yaska sat near the Shriken’s mountain, eating. She had searched for two days and had found nothing besides Marisa’s bent sword. She stood and returned to her task. It wasn’t long after that she found a set of tracks in the sand. She was immediately suspicious. The tracks would have blown away overnight, so she knew that they were recent. Yaska checked her feet against them and confirmed that the tracks were not her own. She then followed them.
She was led into another cave, and in it she found the body of Marisa. Yaska was gripped by dread. She put her hand in her hair. Her breathing became shallow. A tear ran from her eye.
But then she took a breath. She would postpone her emotion until the burial. Right now it was more important to take Marisa, and the story, back to the village. She knelt down by the corpse. She thought it was strange that the body was so cold. It seemed like it had been dead for more than one day. Were the tracks hers, or someone else’s? She lifted the body. The blood from the wound was dry, but none of it had pooled on the ground.
Yaska’s scepticism heightened. She lifted the body and tested its feet against the footprints outside. She hosted the body over her shoulder. She would have to return later.
Mariça followed Jolanin through the Shriken temple. She was wearing a cloak to hide her face in case they were seen. They moved through the stone halls that cut cleanly through the mountains. They seemed empty for the most part. Jolanin said that they were passing through a residential area, and that everyone had been gone since morning.
“If we do see someone, act as though you belong. Keep your eyes down. We do not need questions about them.”
Mariça nodded and they continued for a few more minutes, until they did encounter another Shriken. It was a man holding a box. He stopped when he saw them.
“Oh! Jolanin, I was, ah, just getting something from home. Why are you here?”
Mariça, keeping her had down, looked at the man’s feet. She couldn’t see anything else.
Jolanin replied, “I am showing someone where to go.”
Before the man could ask anything else, Jolanin continued walking. Mariça kept her head down, and followed her feet. Eventually Jolanin stopped, and Mariça looked up. There was an inconspicuous looking wall at the end of the hall. The only thing unusual about it was how regular it was in contrast with the planed surfaces of the halls to this point.
Jolanin said, “We are at the exit.”
“Thanks, for all you’ve done for me.”
Jolanin smiled, “You are welcome. Remember though, that had there not been interference, I would have had to execute you.”
Mariça frowned, “would you have?”
For a moment Jolanin paused, reflecting. She said, “I might have tried your method of faking your death. And, if it had failed, I may well have chosen to fight our way out. Although, I am unsure as to where that would have left us.”
“Well,” Jolanin continued, “we might meet again if you—” she stopped herself.
“If I what? See you when you’re outside the mountain?”
Jolanin nodded, “perhaps I will see you outside the mountains. You might watch the skies for me, I suppose.”
Jolanin grabbed at a couple of jagged edges in the wall and pulled it upwards, revealing the outside.
“Your friend is in that direction,” she pointed, “you may want to find her before she leaves or becomes too distressed.”
“Thanks,” Mariça gave her gratitude and then left, following the edge of the mountain where Jolanin had pointed.
It wasn’t long before Mariça saw someone, a burly female figure with a person over one shoulder, walking away from the mountain. Mariça stopped, seeing her own body in person. It was uncanny. She realized that she wasn’t sure how to approach her old friend, Marisa’s friend. What would happen when she saw her?
As Mariça pondered this, Yaska’s attentive eyes fixed on her and adjusted. She stopped walking and stared. Unsure what Yaska would do, Mariça raised her arm in greeting. She guessed that Yaska would also approach, but she might also assault her, or even just ignore her. It was hard to tell what someone would to when faced with a living impossibility. She decided to approach in a leisurely pace. In response, Yaska carefully laid the corpse on the sand. She seemed to study it before looking again in Mariça’s direction. Then, she unclasped the sword from her back and approached slowly.
Mariça was unarmed. She didn’t want to die again, and she wasn’t sure what she would do if things went poorly. She decided to believe in her friend… or was it Marisa’s memories that believed?
Slowly the two women met. They looked at each other. Yaska said nothing, and they stood there for a long time. Mariça began to think that she might leave. Was she waiting? Did she want to take a reactive stance? Mariça wasn’t sure. She decided to speak first.
Yaska waited for more. When she saw that there wasn’t going to be any more, she said, “How do you know my name?”
“She,” Yaska pointed, “knew my name. How do you?”
“I, I took— I mean, I have most of her memories.”
“Fine.” That seemed to be enough for her in that respect. She then asked, “Who are you?”
Yaska frowned, “Marisa?”
Yaska paused. She considered Mariça, and she considered Marisa. “You are slightly different in name, and in face. And your hair is lighter.”
“Fine,” She said, “well, come. The village has been worried about—” she paused, “worried about most of you, if I am to be specific.”
Yaska picked up Marisa’s corpse and she and Mariça headed back to the village. As they walked, they spoke to each other. Mariça did her best to recount to Yaska what had happened. It was a good conversation for both of them, but they each got the unusual feeling that something had changed.
When the two had returned to the village, they agreed to be honest about the strange situation, and Marisa was buried. Mariça’s mother hard remained silent and stone faced during the burial. Afterwards, she got to know Mariça well enough to recognise her, and accepted her as a responsibility. Things started this way, and as the days passed, they got better. The village returned to normal, except for one thing.
Mariça threw her sword, and it stuck in the back leg of the dinosaur. Now that it was slowed, she chased the creature down and took her sword out, cutting into the beast’s neck.
What next? She thought back to Marisa’s experiences, and then she tore the sword out and cut again until the head disconnected. She took the leather bag she had brought and put it around the stump to save the blood.
It was shortly after midday when she returned to the village. Yaska came a little after.
“You are a lot better at hunting,” she said.
Mariça nodded, “From what I can remember, I was always this good just… distracted.”
“Well,” Yaska said, “I can help Jan open these. You have time to go out exploring, if you wish.”
“Yeah, I guess I do, but… maybe some other time.”
“Do you not have the desire to?”
Mariça shrugged, “I can remember the feeling of wanting to, but I haven’t felt it since we returned.”
She looked at Yaska with her inverted eyes.
“I wonder how much has changed.”
This took a lot longer than I wanted it to, but here it is.