There were legends told about the Children's Priestess. A woman untouched of time who roamed the Waste of the city Engoria. The story had been told many times around the group of young beggars I belonged too. They said that the lucky few who found her gets taken to her sanctuary, that she saves you from the poverty and distraught we experience here in the Wasteland. Some said they have seen her walk along the harbor at night, shrouded in a golden glow. But whether it was the need for attention or the want to tell the truth that made the youth tell of such stories was unknown. When I was younger I had myself tried to find her. That along with tens of other remedies to escape this place, all of them were, of course, unsuccessful.
From time to time people claim to have seen the Priestess but lately she had been sighted more frequently. People bursted into our chaos of a home to spill what they had just seen. More had also started to go missing which only fueled the rumors of her. Some in our small pack had formed groups and go out searching for her. They even bonded briefly with a rivaling group of beggars across the city in their haunt for her.
“Do you think we should go looking for her?” Taliyah said besides me, she was three years younger than me and I felt she was as close to me as a sister but I shook my head at her question.
“She’s not real.” I crossed my arms over my chest. Our common room was loud with whispers as another one of us had vanished in the night and once more I felt like I didn’t fit in. But it was the only life I’d ever known, I had no idea how to survive on my own.
“Then where are all of them going, Luna?” She pushed.
“People go missing all over the Waste.” I turned to look at her, she rested her chin on her knees, her face darkened in disappointed.
“Taliyah, you have a better chance of winning at Mr. Huckleberry’s ballgame.” I sighed.
“Which one is that?” She asked.
“The one by the market, with the cans stacked on top of each other, you need to hit them down to win”
“But doesn’t he glues his targets to the table?” She frowned.
“Exactly.” I turned to look out over the room again.
“Oh.” She breathed and we fell silent. I watched the others, I wished badly that they would not to go looking for the Priestess. We had already lost three this spring and it seemed I was the only one who cared or gave it a second thought. I guess they really did believed that the missing people were going somewhere better but I felt this glorification of disappearances where going a little too far. I bit my lip.
“I’m sorry,” I began, breaking the silence. “I’ve just been let down too many times to believe in this bullshit. We all want to get out of here but I think it’s better to just accept our cast and work for it to become better.”
She didn’t respond at first. Thinking over her words before speaking.
“I understand, I just wish there was something out there for us.” She gazed up at me.
“We can only keep looking.” I stood up on my feet and reached my hand out towards her. “Come on, we should get some rest.”
“Yeah.” She grabbed my hand and rose up alongside me. I hoped as we walked to what we called the Sleeping Halls that I had laid her thoughts about the Priestess to rest. There was a very selfish part of me that didn’t want Taliyah to find her even if the stories were true. I would be completely alone without her.
People were already sleeping when we reached the room. We found a good spot on the floor and laid down next to each other. She inched closer for warmth and soon she was fast asleep.
I slept restlessly through the night. I kept dreaming of a woman coming into the sleeping hall. She dragged me out of my bed multiple times but I never wanted to go. There was something wrong with her smile and her eyes. I knew I had to keep away from her. I fought her over and over, but every time I did the dream started over. I wanted it to end, I was twisting under my blanket unable to make it stop.
Angrily I pushed the woman away, as she for hundredth time ushered me to come with her. I screamed at her to stop and then finally the dream changed. Instead of starting from the beginning she stared at me perplexed before disappearing through the wall and the dream came to a halt. I sat up, suddenly feeling awake. Rubbing my eyes I reached out for Taliyah but found the space next to me empty. I looked around me. The room was now filled with the others from our group. It was the dead of night and Taliyah wasn’t here.
I stood up on slightly weak legs, dragged on my boots and stumbled towards the door. Stepping over the other children I noticed one of the younger ones squirming in his sleep. Quietly I walked over to him and observed his face. His eyes were moving rapidly under shut lids and his small hands were curled into fists. I touched his arm, waking him from the dream. His eyes flew open and I met them. He breathed franticly and I moved my hand to his cheek trying to calm him down.
“What did you dream?” I asked in a whisper.
“There was a lady, she took me, but I didn’t want too.” I was taken aback by the answer. His eyes were large with worry and I quickly tried to find my ground again.
“Just a nightmare, try to go back to sleep.” I straightened up and felt my confidence take a hit. It must have just been a coincidence I tried to argue with myself but my eyes flashed towards Taliyah’s empty bed and I moved quicker out of the room. Feeling fear stirr in my chest I rushed down the stairs to the entrance and pushed the door open. I turned in the street and saw a frail silhouette on the horizon. I dashed forward.
“Taliyah!” I shouted, she turned around and waved me towards her. I called again, hoping she would stop but she turned a corner and disappeared from my sight. Adrenaline pumped and I pressed myself to run faster. I dashed into the alleyway after her. Taliyah, stood still only a few feet away.
“Taliyah?” I took another step forward.
“Luna.” She turned around, smiling “You were wrong, I found her.” She shifted and pointed towards the darkness of the alleyway. A tall woman approached us from the shadows. Her skin was fair and her short hair aglow. She wore white robes and for a moment my heart jumped out of relief. But it was short-lived, for the woman changed before our eyes. Her eyes shifted from light grey to harsh crimson. Her hair grew like black vines down the side of her face and her beautiful robes withered around her as ash, leaving her in grey rags. Her face were as if stuck in between youth and old age, her skin stretched too tight while her eyes portrayed something much older. Taliyah backed and I wanted to grab her hand and run but my legs wouldn’t move. The Priestess smiled, her gaze crazed and she stepped towards us. She held a necklace in her hand which dangled as she moved, at the end hung small cranium.
“You brought with you another one?” Her voice was unusually clear and directed towards Taliyah “How lovely, a little old maybe, but it will do.”
“Leave her.” I stammered.
She shook her head smiling even more now.
“You reek of life.” She stepped forward one more and then recognition flashed over her eyes. “You are the one who fought me in the dream before.” I stared at her, feeling my heart beat in my chest.
“What are you?” The question suddenly escaped my lips.
“Oh?” She grinned and turned to Taliyah once again. “I’m glad you brought her, I’ve never heard so many words leave someone while being in the presence of me.”
Taliyah shook where she stood, her breathing uneven.
“Don’t be scared.” She unveiled the knife from her clothes and as she moved I did too. I leaped in front of them, shielding Taliyah. But the Priestess wasn’t impressed, her face only shifted slightly.
“You first then?” She hissed and before I could respond she buried the small dagger into my stomach. I screamed but she had her hand on my mouth before the sound could be uttered.
“No!” Taliyah shouted but as I hit the ground the Priestess was already next to her, I heard her muffled howl before her body too, fell with a thud. The pain was deafening throughout my body, I clutched my wound and tried to shift to see Taliyah. I caught a glimpse of her auburn hair before a stale foot pressed against my back and pushed me down.
“I will answer your question.” She dropped to her knees next to me. “You’ll just have to lay still and be quiet.” With a snap of her fingers, I felt my own tongue crawl to the back of my mouth and my body stiffened. As Taliyah’s sobs faded I assumed the same had happened to her.
“What am I?” She repeated as she dragged her knife down from my shoulder to my hand. I needed to scream, my body was exploding with the want to squirm and trash at the pain. “Who do you think I am? The Priestess, isn’t that what you call me?”
She leaned forward to look me in the eyes as she drew another equally painful line down my other arm. I wished I could see Taliyah and block out the Priestess deplorable voice.
“The legend of the beautiful priest who saves the poor from suffering. How lovely, what wonderful lies” Quickly her knife went across my cheeks, creating wounds from my eyes down to my chin. “Well I guess I am a priest of sorts. The only difference being that I worship at my own temple and I am my only god.” Another terrible smile spread across her face.
“Would you believe me if I told you I was older than the Waste itself? That I was here long before you’re grandfathers and their parents too? Of course not, but you don’t have many more moments of questioning left, so it doesn’t matter?” I felt the tip of the blade run across my stomach. “You are only a vessel of time, a source of life and you will share that with me tonight. I have to feed on youth, you see, to stay how I am in front of you now.” She lifted one of my hands and dragged the blood covered limb over her mouth and nose covering herself in my blood while inhaling the smell. She smirked seeing my terrified eyes, but soon dropped my arm.
“By any means,” She returned to her monolog ”it’s tricky. I don’t want to get caught, what are hundreds of more years if I cannot spend them. That is why I lure you here.” She continued to draw endless lines across the skin of my legs.
“You’re dull friend here was too easy to fool, but many children are, they very seldom question fairytales. You however, you fought.” She smiled as she followed one the lines with her finger. “But again, does it matter? Look where you ended up. Now you get the pleasure of dying at my hand.”
She fell silent, leaning back from me finally and observed my body as if admiring her own work. There was a shift in the air and her eye glowed. I knew I was dying, I felt how my life was slowly slipping out of all the wounds she had created. Now the blood under my skin shimmer, her hands were on my chest and my heart beat chaotically at her touch.
Darkness rose around me. It was soft and warm almost like an embrace. My head swam in the pain unable to think straight and I welcomed the shadows, they numbed me. I thought of the times in my life when I had struggled. All of those memories, surrounded by death. It seemed horrible then, I always wanted to drag those I’d lost back the the harshness of living. Taliyah sparked in my mind and I wished I could protect her. That I could reach out and drag her with me into this dark light. The pain had left me now and I mused. There was after all, something beautiful waiting for us but not as either of us had imagined. In the somber stillness of my mind I rested easily, knowing she would soon join me.