Why am I in such pain? Am I standing up or lying down? I'm not sure. It is dark, hot, and dry. I slowly open my eyes and there they are: two feet - with legs attached! As I painfully lift my head, I survey her. She is shrouded in a veil and long flowing garment, standing as a statue. Her brown eyes seem very cold as she stares at me.
Afraid for my life, my mind scrambles to remember how I ended up here. I search the sandy dunes of what can only be the backside of some desert. From what I can see, it goes on for miles and miles.
Suddenly, this woman kicks me in the side. "Ouch! What are you doing, you evil creature! Stop that."
"Are you referring to me? If I remember correctly, the vile serpent creeps along desert floors." "Why did you kick me?"
"Why are you in my path?"
"I don't know. Can't you go around me, you lazy beast?"
"You are the one taking an 'afternoon nap."
"Do I look like I want to be lying here in this dreadful heat? I don't even know the name of this unbearable desert."
"Well, from what I've seen, men do stranger things. Would you like me to help you to Your feet?"
"Do you think you can lift me? I am a good 185 pounds of solid muscle."
"Why did you yelp in pain like a little dog when I kicked you, then?"
"Let's cut you up and see how you react when I kick your open wounds. I'll just get up myself. I try to push my body into the air. After lifting myself about four inches from the ground my arms give way. My face crashes into the sandy ground. When I look up at the woman again, she is sitting on a rock watching me.
After growling at her smiling face, I try again. It does me no good. Finally, my pride is crushed with my body after the sixth attempt. "Would you please help me?" I ask trying to fake humility.
"I wouldn't want to ruin the show." She gazes at the sun for a few seconds and then back at me, "Besides, it's almost dinnertime and I really must be going." With that, she mounts her camel and begins to leave in the opposite direction.
"Wait a minute!" I am almost too weak to manage the plea, I need your help. I can't do this: alone. Please help me!"
She continues without looking back. I resume my vain efforts to separate my body from its beloved counterpart in hopes of standing up.
"I don't know what you're talking about. I don't have it. Get away from me!" The woman who left me for dead yesterday slashes about with a small dagger at four robbers without effect. They continue to advance toward her.
I walk up behind them, knowing she sees me coming. She doesn't even give me away! Still, I must have fun with her. Walking right up behind them, I bellow, "Hello, good friends! Might I join you in your endeavor?"
The middle man immediately turns around, shoving a shotgun in my face. "Come now, is that any way to treat a friend?"
His gruff voice answers, "You are no friend of ours. Go away or I'll blow you away."
"Isn't it true that the enemy of your enemy is your friend?"
I can see the gears turning behind his forehead. "Well, yes. That is true, I guess."
"Then I repeat my question. Can I join you?"
"Why not? This girl has taken our most prized possession and we want it back - with interest of course."
"Of course." I can play both them and her at the same time. I cannot resist taking full advantage of my luck. "I'll take her behind that huge rock and tie her up. Then we can take whatever we want from her without her interference."
"What will we do with the girl?" the leader asks. "Do we have to do anything? We can just leave her here to fend for herself. She's all tied up with nowhere to go."
"Oh! I get it. That sounds good. Let's do it."
We gab the woman, gag her, and bind her hands and feet. Although this little adventure took some time, it is worth seeing her on the other side of the fence. I swing her over my sboulder and begin walking away from the four bandits. Once behind the rock, I drop her and watch them. They dig through her bag and, to my surprise, pull out a clear crystal anklet with an emerald in the center. A chill runs down my spine.
The woman beside me twists and writhes against the ropes. I look down at her for a minute and then toward the men. They are gone! So is her camel! This is not what I planned. I leave the woman behind the rock and run out into the open desert. The four men are almost out of my range but I know I can get them.
I search my survival bag, finding only four capsules. Pulling out my gun, I load it with the ammunition and fire four tranquilizer darts almost as one. Four bodies drop to the ground in the distance. Yep, I encourage myself, still got it.
After retreiving the men and their belongings, I return to the woman behind the rock. She is not writhing against the ropes anymore but her stare could set Hell ablaze.
"If you think I'm going to let you go, you are mad." I hold the anklet in front of her face "What do those blockheads want with this?" She begins writhing again and I try to stop her from hurting herself. I decide to let her answer my question and release the cloth around her veil.
"Give me that! You don't know what you are doing!"
"Hold on. Do I have to put this back over your big mouth?"
"Okay. okay. Please let me have that back. It's very important."
I hold the anklet in front of her again and say, "Well, take it."
"How about releasing me first?"
"But, you're very dangerous when you have use of your hands and feet. My body can't take it."
"1 won't kick you anymore. Just let me free."
"...said the dragon with smoking nostrils. I will not be your toast."
"You're afraid of me!" she asserts.
"No, the rope brings out the color in your eyes."
"1 swear I won't hurt you. I just want the anklet back. It's very important to me. Please!"
"If I let you go, you must stay with me until we get to some civilization."
Before I can even untie the ropes around her wrists, she forcibly grabs the anklet. I wonder about this curious woman and her precious little piece of jewelry. She almost intrigues me but I won't go that far. It doesn't matter anyway. She is stuck with me for a while in this accursed wilderness.
I wake up the next morning and the woman is nowhere in sight. Immediately awake and alert, I jump to my feet. A billow of smoke has replaced the fire and the sand dunes have shifted just a little, but I am still in the same valley we settled last night. Four of the five camels are still here. I retrace the path between two dunes and climb one. There she is, drinking at the corner of the oasis and watering her camel.
The oasis! I dart toward the small plot of water. In mid-step I reason that it's a mirage. Yet she and her camel are drinking at its banks. It must be real. After reaching the water's edge, I fall to my knees and scoop up the water. It is real! I gulp it down and cough with disgust. This cannot be water; water is not this bitter and warm. She laughs at me. "You're not from around here are you?"
"I thought we'd already answered that question when I told you I don't know this place." "You could be, and probably are, lying. Men do that all the time. What makes you any different?"
"Do you even know where we are?"
"If I told you, you'd know too much about me. Besides, I like watching you squirm."
"But you squirm so much better than I."
"At least I don't tie you up and leave you to die in the desert."
"No, instead you kick my wounds and leave me to die in the desert."
"You are a pitiful creature!" she retorts.
"Me? You left me for dead. I didn't do that to you. I even saved your hide back there!"
"Not before getting your fill with those beastly henchmen!"
She accepts my silence as a futile rebuttal and continues, "On top of that, it was your idea to let them take whatever they wanted." She is pushing the issue too far. I must reply. My mind shouts out THE ANKLET and I can't resist.
"They just wanted a worthless little gem. It's no big deal."
The bullet is launched and she shutters from head to toe when it strikes its target. She jumps up and shouts, "And you would know?" Suddenly, the ground swallows the oasis up in mere seconds. She walks away toward the valley. I sit there, disbelieving this as mere coincidence. Ten minutes later, I also return to the valley.
The smoke from the fire is gone and she is packing her camel. I watch from a distance as she reaches into her bag and pulls out the anklet. She stares into it for what seems like forever and then replaces it. Without turning around she growls, "Don't you have anything better to do than eavesdrop on me? This is none of your business."
I turn and finish packing the other four camels. It gets hot and dry very quickly as we mount and begin our journey. I can't wait until we reach civilization. I could really use some peace and quiet.
The small community grows larger with every step. She has been silent today. I doubt she has gotten over the morning's events. Women truly are the weaker gender.
Two men armed with semi-automatic weapons stand on the outskirts of the community. I'm sure we're in their crosshairs. I hope they shoot her first. She probably doesn't know they're even there.
Our tiny caravan stops meters from the barrels of their guns. The man on the left is short and wiry, wearing the typical desert garments. His cold dark-blue eyes are searching for any reason to pull the trigger. The man on the right has many years wrinkled into his skin. He does not appear to be as trigger happy. The woman beside me dismounts and walks right up to the old man's gun barrel. Is she crazy?
"Surrender your weapons or die," she demands.
The old man lets his gun drop to his side. The younger man yells, "You old fool!" He points his gun at him and fires. The old man steps back, shaking with every bullet's impact and falling to the ground. The young man turns back to the woman and aims at her head. "We don't want you here. You know that full well. You must leave."
"Okay," she replies. Turning around, she signals me to shoot him. I don't move; she looks perturbed. The young man drops his gun and clutches his throat. I can hear him gagging as he falls to the ground and becomes motionless.
"What did you do to him?" I ask, astonished by this marvel.
"What are you talking about?"
"People don't just drop dead..." my mind goes back to the oasis, "... and oases don't just dry up! What are you?"
"You don't make sense. Men never do." She walks to her camel and mounts. We prod the camels to move past the city gates. "I believe we agreed to part here." She quickly turns her camel east and kicks it into a gallop. People standing outside their houses shake their fists at her and yell, "Get out of here, Lana!"
She ignores them and soon disappears behind a small hotel at the end of the lane. All of the people now focus on me. One boy walks in front of me and says, "Curse you for bringing it back into my village!" He continues to walk by. I decide stay in that hotel at the end of the alley for the night. While trotting down the street, the citizens seem frozen in time, watching my every move.
I tie my camels to the post and enter the hotel. After bargaining a camel away for one night's stay, I return to the street and retrieve my bags and the payment. When I look around, every person on the street has some kind of weapon aimed at me.
Each face I observe begins to change from anger to fear. People put down their weapons and retreat into their homes. Children point to something behind me, chattering amongst themselves. I turn around to see a dark figure in the sunset. A gleaming green emerald surrounded on both sides by glittering crystals gleams in the dim light.
"Lana, what would your grandfather say if you hadn't let him die this afternoon?" an authoritative male voice jumps out of the silence behind me. "Don't even think you can try it, Lana. Come with me and bring your friend too."
My back aches with every involuntary shift of my body. I open my eyes to see sunlight streaming through the barred windows of the cell. I silently turn my head to locate Lana. She is sitting across the six-by-eight-foot iron chamber staring at the wall with her back to me.
I watch her sway from side to side and hum a unique phrase to herself. "If you don't stop staring at me, I'll have you thrown in prison, you pervert!" My heart returns to its natural position. I sit back down and snarl at my captor to silence his laughter. Lana turns around to face me and I immediately search her ankle for the enchanted jewelry.
"He's got the anklet," she informs me, glaring at him through the bars.
"Get over it," he retorts. "Who's your little 'friend', Lana?"
"I can answer for myself, Chuckles," I respond. "What's it worth to you?"
"Just wanted to check your record, you little..."
Lana interrupts, "You haven't changed at all in ten years."
"You were never supposed to know how any of us turned out," Chuckles grows silent. At that moment, an elderly woman walks into the man's office. The two of them whisper for a few minutes, looking at us every once in a while. Chuckles then approaches our cage with the woman following close behind. He opens the cell door and the woman passes through. He slams the door behind her.
She sits beside Lana and hugs her. "How has Charles treated you two so far?"
"I think we scare him, Nakita." Lana replies. "But then, that can't take much."
Chuckles jumps up out of his chair to retaliate but Nakita raises a hand to calm him. He sits down and plays with the papers on his desk.
"It's good to see you together again," she continues. "We have much to discuss but not here. That day will come. I wanted to see you once again, even though it should not have been. I wish you both well, Lana and Malcolm, but I must go now."
How could she know? My mind dashes to answer but I don't react enough to be noticed. It's not possible for her to know me at all!
Chuckles releases her from the cell and she departs. Lana and I sit in the silence communicating through eye contact. I want to know who Nakita is but Lana keeps the elderly woman out of my mind's reach.
We ignore the passing hours of time and the insults of Chuckles until, late in the evening, he places the anklet on his desk. Approaching the bars, he says to Lana, "The Jade Brothers should have gotten you by now. They got everyone else..."
I immediately notice the unnatural radiance growing from the anklet. As its luminescence intensifies, Lana's eyes surge with rage. Chuckles is oblivious to the brilliant radiance. Moments later, he turns toward his desk. At that moment, he begins to shrivel up as his bodily fluids pour out onto the floor. The impact of his body collapsing to the ground separates his skin and bones like the sands of the desert, for that is all that remains.
Lana screams, "If only I could bring them back!" and the anklet bursts into a brightness that momentarily blinds me. When my eyes become accustomed again to the darkness, the cell door is hanging by one of its three hinges. I watch Lana run out of the building. Coming to my senses, I chase after her.
I follow her from a distance in the night. Lana seems to not know that I'm following her but she's done that to me before. For some reason, she doesn't try to dispose of me. We ride about five kilometers outside the little community to a valley surrounded by dunes. She stops, dismounts, and sets up camp for the night. I do the same on the border of the valley without a fire.
The sun rises again; the earth welcomes its light and heat. I arise from my bed, a rock for my head and my outer garment for a cover. I look around at the small valley. All around me rocks like the one I slept on are arranged in giant circles with some kind of etchings on them.
Taking a closer look, I read the names: Bodo Jade, Mukano Jade, and Marita Jade.There are four more rocks without first names on them. The last name is the same as the others. Jade; that name sounds familiar. My mind fights to recall where I'd heard it. Jade! Chuckles mentioned the Jade Brothers in prison last night! Who are they? Why do they make Lana angry?
I look toward her camp and another circle of rocks surrounds it. She sits facing one of them and weeps. I realize that I have slept and am now standing among the dead! In respect and fear, I quickly remove myself and my belongings from the circle.
Throughout the morning, Lana moves from one rock to another, sitting down and weeping. She mutters things I cannot hear from the edge of the valley. In the afternoon, she comes toward the Jade gravestones and stands at each one for a few seconds. When she turns to the one in front of me, I watch her spit on it. Then she returns to her own circle.
A solitary rock lies between the circles. The name Malcolm is inscribed on it! I run up to Lana, who is still weeping and demand, "Who's grave is that?" pointing to the rock. She looks at it for a minute and then at me.
"It is my husband. He died in the most recent battle. There was no body so I made a memorial to him. My mother taught me to write his name when we were married but I don't remember it or him. She passed away in that battle too. I am alone now with no one to care for me. Will you stop following me so I can finish the work?"
"What work?" she puzzles me too much to leave.
"Never mind. It's not your fight. Go away!" She turns her back to me and begins walking away.
"Wait a minute!" I chase her, grabbing her shoulder to turn her toward me. "You can't just walk away. You have involved me in this."
"I told you it's not your fight!" Her words cut my heart in two.
"Please tell me your story. Where else am 1, a stranger in this land, to go?" She would not look me in the eyes but sat down at the foot of Malcolm's gravestone. She began to tell it as if it were yesterday.
"My family has a special gift that no other villager can gain. We have the ability to somehow change our surroundings, people, and situations. It has been somehow passed from generation to generation but no one has ever married outside for fear of producing one stronger than us or a failure.
"My father couldn't find a wife among my family. But one day, he stumbled upon my mother in the village and was immediately enamored with her. Against my grandfather's best arguments, they married quickly and quietly. I was the only child they ever had; but I was the failure my ancestors predicted. I was hated for not having the same power they had to heal people and keep the peace. I am the last heir to the family.
"Then they," she pointed toward the Jade gravestones, "moved into our small community and became jealous of us. They tortured my family; they're the reason I come here to talk with my parents instead of going to my homestead." Her anger begins to boil, "I will not rest until the Jade Brothers occupy their graves."
The anklet from inside her bag is glowing again. I try to calm her down by switching the subject, "What about the anklet?"
"Everyone in my family could handle their insults except for me. My father found a way to transfer some of our hereditary power to me. He took my mother's favorite peace of jewelry and transferred some off his own power to it. He taught me to control it.
"The villagers soon banished me from the community. I moped around until I met my husband. He would tell me I was special because I didn't have to wield such great power and be accountable for how I used it. It wasn't long before Nakita, the elderly lady from the prison, had married us. I hid the anklet away, for my only comfort and joy lived and breathed with me.
"The Jades finally convinced the people we were all sorcerers and devils. The village lowed the Jade family to attack my family. I watched every family member perish except my grandfather. My husband, the one true love and comfort I knew, was blown to pieces by a stray bomb. Now only I remain. I have relied on the anklet since that day, using its power to neutralize the pain of losing him, my only comfort. It has gone so far that I don't even remember him. We never said goodbye to each other. The four Jade Brothers killed my husband and have been trying to take the anklet, my only comfort, away. They want me to live in pain and anguish for the rest of my life."
"I wish I could remember my family and how I ended up lying around in the desert." I interject. Just after I say that, a great blast accompanied by a bright light covers the heavens. The ground beneath us becomes like quick sand under our feet. We manage to get to the edge of the dunes only to see the remains of a giant crater where the community had been. In the distance, four figures on camels are closing in on us.
"You must go! You'll only make things worse if you don't. I don't want innocent blood on my hands. Now go!" Lana pushes me toward my camel.
"No! I will not go. I have nowhere else to go. I will fight with you of my own accord. I am in no way innocent," I counter, setting my heels in the ground.
When she realizes she will not get rid of me, she turns to her camel and mounts. "We will not fight amongst the dead. Let's lure them away from here."
We mount our camels and gallop toward the dunes. The Jade brothers are already inside the graveyard. "We won't make it," I tell her, "We should turn around; they'll shoot us in the back." We stop our camels and dismount. I grab my tranquilizer gun while she puts the anklet on. It is already starting to glow.
The Jade Brothers are already dismounted with their guns centered on us. The leader calls out, "If Charles would've done his job, you'd be dead. No matter. Give up the anklet and it will all be over."
Lana yells back, "You'll have to kill me before I'll live without it."
They throw a small, round canister at our feet. I instinctively pick it up and throw it back. It blows up at the feet of the fourth brother. He flies back through the air and lands on one of the four empty graves. The three brothers separate and attack us from three different angles. They all throw the same mechanism at us again.
I pick up two and Lana picks up one. We throw them back. Mine hits its target and blows up in the chest of the brother on the right. Lana's throw destroys the brother on the left; but the mechanism in my left hand explodes as I dispose of it. I awaken about forty-five feet from Lana. Luckily, my hand is still attached. What a close call!
The leader of the brothers runs up and tackles her. He rips the anklet off her ankle" It is glowing brighter by the second in harmony with her rage. He lifts it into the air to dash it among the rocks. I am powerless to stop hiirn; Lana stares at him with eyes of ftiry and fright.
Before he can destroy it, a loud explosion and bright light fill the valley, blinding me once again. I cannot bear to hear the anguish and pain in Lana's screams. The brilliance lasts for what seems like forever but must only be a few seconds.
I lie there in the silence, clutching my head with my good hand. My eyes open to a dark sky filled with smoke and debris. Excruciating pain floods my neck as I raise my head. Ignoring the pain, I survey the scene. The leader of the Jade brothers is lying on the ground dead. Lana is face down opposite him and everything else is covered in dust. Malcolm's tombstone has been shattered to pieces.
Hours pass before I have the strength to get to my feet. I stumble through the rubble to Lana. Turning her over on her back, I scan her motionless body. At her feet lay shards of green stone and crystal glass. "Lana! Lana! Don't go yet. You finished it! Please don't leave now!"
She begins coughing and her eyes flicker open. "The anklet! I need it."
"It's been destroyed. But I'm still here."
Her gaze seems foreign to me. "I thought you were dead. How did you escape the battle, Malcolm? I have spent years in pain and anger over your death. You meant everything to me and the Jades said they killed you."
I hold her in my arms as the smoke and debris clear leaving a cloudless day. I mend her wounds and mine. We kneel in front of her parent's graves. She begins to whisper, "I did it, Daddy! I finished it!"
"I told your father you wouldn't need that anklet forever but he didn't believe me, Lana." The quiet voice behind us freezes the blood inside of me. We turn to see Nakita kneeling behind us, gazing into our eyes. She takes my hand and places it around Lana's. "Malcolm, I knew you'd come back for her." It seems as if she is far off in another era, "I will always be there to comfort and love you,' I can remember your vow as if you said it yesterday.