[Prompt: It came from our dreams ]
Sasha felt the warmth of the morning sun kissing her cheek before she reluctantly opened her eyes. Blinking slowly, she let out a deep sigh and stretched the sleepiness from her limbs. It took a moment for her mind to transition from the fuzzy dream state and into reality. She was a slow riser, minimal responsibilities lent her the precious extra time required. Rolling to her side she glanced at the digital display on her night stand.
“Shi-“ she didn’t finish the profanity, too distracted by the realization that she was late. She didn’t typically have to be anywhere in the morning, but today was different. It was her eighteenth naming day.
Tossing her blankets back into disarray, she leapt from the bed and hurried toward her large, walk in closet. She pulled her pajamas off as she made her way across the room and grabbed the white dress she had never worn.
White as a blank sheet of paper and adorned with gleaming gems, she had never considered what the attire for the eighteenth naming day looked like. Sasha pulled up the zipper, the dress fit snugly against her trim frame. When the boy had delivered it to her room the day before, she had considered trying it on. In the end she had decided against it, knowing it better not to tempt her Master’s anger with a premature stain.
Sasha stalked toward the door to her room, sliding on a black overcoat as she moved. Catching a glimpse of herself, she paused in front of the vanity to straighten her hair. She didn’t have time to tame her long dark tresses, but it was fortunate she had braided it the night before. Freeing her hair, she ran her fingers through it a few times, hoping to calm it. With a heavy sigh she stilled her hand, there wasn’t any time remaining for preening.
The elevator felt slower than usual. Sasha tried to smooth out a wrinkle in the coat with shaking hands. She was surprised that she was alone. Although she didn’t personally know anyone with her same naming day, she had always assumed there would be someone with her. The chime of the elevator door interrupted her thoughts, announcing arrival at the ground floor.
Teagan was waiting for her, leaning nonchalantly against a stone pillar. He grinned and waved at her, but the smile didn’t meet his eyes. Sasha reluctantly stepped from the elevator and approached him. She could feel his eyes dissecting her, reading every muscle twitch, her elevated breathing, her thoughts. No, she knew Teagan couldn’t read her thoughts, but he could read her body’s intentions and make a well educated guess to what was on her mind.
“Good morn, Master,” Sasha bowed from the waist, eyes cast to the ground as she addressed him.
Teagan snapped his fingers, signaling for Sasha to straighten and look him in the eyes, she did as expected.
“Control,” Teagan replied, his face adopting a serious look. His eyes strayed from hers to the watch on his wrist. “And punctuality.”
Sasha nodded, bowing her head apologetically, “Yes, Master.” Taking a deep breath she focused on calming her nerves, willing her hands to still and heart to quiet. Regaining her composure, she looked at Teagan’s outstretched arm and stepped forward with purpose.
High-rise buildings blocked what little sunlight made it down to the street level. She stared out the window as Teagan drove them deeper into the city’s center. Children filled the sidewalks, making their way to the various academies. Handlers were spaced sparsely throughout the throngs of children, helping the smaller ones to stay on track. Sasha’s hand lifted reflexly to block her eyes from the sudden invasion of sunlight.
The skyscrapers had given way to the immense park in the center of the metropolis. A sole structure dominated the clearing, surrounded by trees and well manicured gardens. The steeples of the Naming Hall stretched up in the sun’s rays, casting a dark shadow across the cobblestone road as they pulled to the entrance.
A man wearing a full-length cloak pulled the car door open and beckoned Sasha out. As she followed the man towards the large wooden doors of the Naming Hall, she marveled at the ancient architecture of the building. The clay tiles of the roof met aged lumber siding, a building material that wasn’t widely used in the present. Brightly colored stained glass windows contrasted the dark gargoyles that were perched along the roofline. She eyed the creatures with curiosity as they climbed the wide stairs to the entrance. She felt a hand on the small of her back, glancing over her shoulder she was relieved to see Teagan guiding her into the grand venue.
Sasha had never been in the Naming Hall before. Used exclusively for eighteenth naming days, no visitors were permitted into the ancient chamber. It was dim, lit by the countless candles in the low hanging, brass chandeliers. The room was bigger than any she had ever been in. The ceiling was two stories above her head, painted with an elaborate scene of children playing in a forest. The stained glass windows high on the walls provided limited additional light, placed more for aesthetics than function. Empty benches lined the walls, all facing towards the interior. Sasha’s gaze drifted to the center of the room where a giant medallion was carved into the wooden floor. Within the carving sat a single, empty chair.
Her stomach began to churn with uncertainty. She slowed her steps and tried to turn to face Teagan, but his hand was firm on her back, forcing her forward towards the solitary seat. She knew that she could not speak unless addressed by the Namer while inside the hall, and struggled to keep hold of her silence.
As they approached the medallion, Teagan halted Sasha suddenly, turning her to face him. He began to undo the buttons of her coat, then carefully slid it off her shoulders and gathered it in his arms. As she looked into eyes and tried to decipher his thoughts. She thought she glimpsed a look of reassurance, but couldn’t be sure if she was merely yearning for it. Although Teagan was adept at reading her, he remained an enigma to her. She felt the pressure of his hand on one arm as he turned her back towards the chair and ushered her forward.
The legs of the chair were cool against her bare calves. Her dress cascaded down each side, hanging without purpose against the old wooden seat. The benches along the edge of the room were filling with other cloaked figures, hoods casting their faces in darkness. She could tell they were both men and women, but was taken aback when she realized they were all adults. She shifted her weight nervously from one side to the other, she was not accustomed to being in their company.
The hall began quiet, the benches now completely full. Sasha noted that Teagan was sitting on a bench to the right of her, donning one of the dark cloaks. She managed to glimpse his face one last time before he pulled the hood up and shadows concealed him. A bell tolled, startling Sasha. The massive doors behind her shut and she could hear someone approaching her back.
Sasha felt an icy hand on her shoulder as a deep voice filled the chamber, “What is your name, child?”
The chill extended down Sasha’s spine and she felt her body shiver. “Sasha.”
“Sasha,” the baritone voice hissed her name, exaggerating the ’s’ sounds, “Are you afraid?”
Recalling the familiar lesson from Teagan, she replied, “Fear is merely a state of mind. I control my mind, and therefore I am not afraid.”
Sasha hadn’t expected the deep chuckle from the baritone voice at her response. Her eyes flickered to where she last recalled Teagan, but the hooded figures all looked the same. The churning of her stomach became more pronounced as she waited for the Namer, suddenly feeling very alone.
“A bold statement,” the deep tone continued, “Am I to conclude that your discipline includes power over your dreams?”
Sasha considered the odd question. Dreams occurred in the subconscious, therefore it was a section of her mind she could not control. Why would the Namer ask a question with such an obvious answer?
“No, I do not have power over my dreams,” Sasha replied.
“Then you do not have power over your fear.”
“I am not afra—“ she stopped speaking as the Namer stepped around the chair and into her view.
The Namer’s red cloak was full length, so long in fact, that they pooled on the ground. The hood was drawn, but didn’t hide what was beneath. Sasha was not looking into the full face of an adult, as she had assumed. Instead, she was gazing into the empty sockets of a skull. The skull wasn’t human, the cloak flared out around the top of the head, obscuring long horns that stuck out to each side. A long snout with jagged teeth extended down from the hood, stuck in a perpetual grin. It appeared to be the head of one of the ancient aurochs, sans fur, skin or muscles. A soft, red glow emitted from the various openings in the skull, giving the illusion of a fire burning within.
It took every ounce of Sasha’s will not to cry out or rise from the seat. Her heartbeat was elevated, she could feel sweat gathering on her brow. She knew she could not leave the Naming Hall without a new name. Her body would deceive her if she didn’t act quickly. Looking over towards Teagan, she was horrified to see him on his feet, restrained by the figured to each side of him. Panic set in as she realized something was not right.
The Namer continued, “You do not have power over your fear, therefore, you do not have control over your mind.”
It was unnerving how nothing moved when the Namer spoke except for the ember glowing within. Sasha was losing her battle of composure, she grasped each side of the chair, white knuckles helping to hold her in place.
Namer continued, “This is just a prelude to what will be. I entered this hall as a vacant essence, but what I found in your mind generated this form for all to witness. I have come from your dreams, to accept your sacrifice.”
Sasha felt the tears begin to stream down her cheeks. Nothing the Namer said made any sense. She was supposed to get a new name, not provide a sacrifice. She directed her view to Teagan, he was on his knees, still restrained. He appeared to be yelling at her, but she couldn’t hear anything. Without warning an unseen force grabbed each of her wrists, extending her arms outwards from her body. Sasha screamed as she felt her muscles tearing, begging for slack from the unseen force. Something wet sprayed her face, she looked down to see her white dress seep into a deep red. Her vision went dark as she passed out from the excruciating pain.
Sasha felt the warmth of the morning sun kissing her cheek before she reluctantly opened her eyes. Blinking slowly, she let out a deep sigh and stretched the sleepiness from her limbs. It took a moment for her mind to transition from the fuzzy dream state and into reality. Rolling to her side, she felt a sudden sense of dread as she saw the white dress hanging from her closet door.