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We stand in the courtyard as open as ever and now I notice the four other houses that look similar to the one I’m standing in front of.
“That is the Wojen clan, learners of medicine.” Til points to the house on the opposite side of the courtyard. “Wotem clan, learners of poetry and written arts. Wokai clan, house of dance and music. Wolem clan of self-defense and refugee work. Quite honestly, I am surprised you were not housed there. That’s where everyone starts in.” I smile awkwardly not sure I should say anything.
“Do you have any questions?” Her eyebrows raise.
“No I do not but thank you for your help. Where does Kipa stay?” I ask looking at the Wolem house.
“Over there at Wolem.” She says. “Do you want me to walk you over there?”
“No I think I can manage.” I say and dip into a short bow. I felt like it was a good decision to walk by myself but as I stand in front of the door to the Wolem house I start to feel nervous. I suck in another deep breath. I rap on the door three times. Before my hand even gets back to my side the door opens and I jump.
“Ah! Yasari! Welcome back, what brings you to us?” Kipa claps me on the shoulder. My eyebrows wrinkle with pain.
“Hi Kipa.” I almost cough out. “How are you?”
“I’m well, come in, let me introduce you to the Wolem clan.” She ushers me into a building much like the one I’m staying in. Beds evenly lined up on each side of the wall. Some with tables some without. There are weapons scattered throughout the room. Some hanging over beds, others on side tables, and others leaned against the walls. This house is filled much more than the Wolah house. There are at least ten girls here excluding Kipa. Kipa rattles off a few names starting at the right. I try to acknowledge and remember each name, but I’m not really succeeding. Then she comes to Jepah whose name I clearly remember. Her long hair is undone and cascading down her shoulders; her nose purple underneath her pink bandage. I feel a pang of guilt run through me.
“Everyone this is Yasari.” I snap out of my thoughts and bow deep, I do not want to upset these people any more than I already have. Everyone is silent. They all incline their head an inch or two with their eyes locked on me. My eyes turn to the ground. This is probably why Vel didn’t place me here.
“What brings you here?” Kipa turns back to me still seemingly happy.
“I wanted to know how it went with the dancers.” My curiosity has been at the back of my head since she mentioned it.
“Well we spoke with a couple of them yesterday and a few are willing to come with us.”
“Only a few?” I question.
“Many women are too afraid to escape. Or they have attempted it too many times and would not chance it again. Also it would be impossible to release more than a few at a time.” Kipa says thoughtfully.
“Well I am happy they will receive freedom soon.” I smile still feeling the eyes in the room on me. Kipa’s small eyes draw me back. She gives me a wry smile and shoves her hands into the pockets of her man pants.
“Do you want to accompany us tomorrow night?” She leans in towards me. My heart starts to race. I shouldn’t, I think to myself. I should lay low.
“I cannot offer any services to you. I am not skilled in anything.” I dig my nails into my palms. I see one of the house girls raise an eyebrow.
“You can be a distraction.” She smiles cunningly. I cringe. “Do not be alarmed. Nothing will happen to you. You can dance and pour wine with Darya.” My mouth is unbearably dry. So I nod. The other girls smirk in surprise or maybe approval I am not sure.
“Then so be it.” Kipa smile and slaps me on the back. I grimace. “Darya will come to you with more word about it when I finish my plans. Thank you my friend. You will do well.” She nods in assurance. I hope so. I leave the house of Wolem and stand in the courtyard. The sun shines brightly in my eyes as I feel the nausea of a stupid decision enter my stomach. I heave a large sigh and swallow down the sickness. What is done is done. I cannot go back on my word now. I’m brought from my thoughts when a little girl with dark hair and big eyes suddenly appears next to me. She looks up at me and smiles wide. She has little white flowers strung together on a string on her head like a crown. A beautiful contrast to her tan skin. I can’t help but smile back. Her head jerks back to where she must have come from and nods in the same direction. I look up to see who I assume to be her mom standing under a shaded tent with another infant in her arms. The little girl next to me could not have been more than five years old went running off towards the gong in the courtyard. I watched as the little girl with flowers in her hair yanked up the large mallet and in one swoop struck the gong resounding in a loud clang. She gently set it down and frolicked back towards me. Another smile takes over my lips without even thinking about it. The little girl passes me and almost slams into her mother’s leg from her momentum. Her eyes are gleaming in that childish way when they have succeed in something grand. I smile again. All of the women of the houses are congregated in the center like the first day they had been there so I hurriedly fall into the back of the group to go unnoticed.
“Metlah will lead you in your exercises today.” Vel appears from her home. “Not you.” She points at me. “You will come with me.” She still doesn’t know my name. I mouse my way over to her back door and dip into a bow. Vel nods to me and the girls about to begin training, and then we step into her dark house.
“You will be accompanying the group to tomorrow’s event?” She says walking over to a little table with her back turned to me.
“Yes, but how did you know that?” I ask astounded.
“Well for one you did not ask for my leave, and I discern things quite easily.” She pauses and turns to me halfway. “It is my gift.”
“Are you a sorceress?” I feel my skin begin to crawl.
“I am of different sorts.” She turns back to her table and begins to mix things. I shrink down into her sofa. She turns around with a contraption that looks a lot like a hookah.
“I have also discerned your special gift.” She sets the hookah down on the table in front of me and sits across from me.
“I do not have a special gift.” My spirit starts to swirl making me feel anxious.
“We will see if that is so.” She picks up a pipe spout and hands it to me. I take it gingerly.
“What is this?” I sniff the smoke that is lightly spilling out.
“A special mixture amongst things, it is not the usual mixture. I will tell you that.” She looks at me seriously. “It won’t kill you.”
“That is not exactly comforting.” I squeeze my legs.
“You are apprehensive. I like that about you. However, it is time for you to put down your apprehension.” She pushes the hookah spout to my lips. I feel my spirit stirring in panic.
“Breathe it in slowly. Keep yourself calm or you will not enter in.” She takes in a deep breath to exemplify. Where am I going? I inhale deeply and slowly and begin to cough. The mixture burns my throat and makes my eyes water.
“You’ll get used to the burn.” I hear Vel’s voice from somewhere. My head starts to spin as equally fast as my spirit in my chest. Everything is beginning to blur and change shape. Nothing feels stable, as if I might fall through the very floor.
“That’s it. Take another breath.” She presses the spout to my lips again. “Now try to focus. Focus on making something stay still.” I must take another inhale of the mixture because the whole room gets tossed to the left. I pick a table to focus on, but it is not much use. The table is constantly turning different shades of brown. Its legs warping and bending only to go back to being straight and firm. My eyes shift over to where Vel is sitting, but it no longer looks quite like her. She looks more like an outlined version of her. A white aura is outlining her general figure, like a silhouette. You can tell who it is, but not quite, and in the center a pomegranate sized flame burning just above her stomach.
“Ah you’ve entered.” Her voice sounds like it’s underwater. I cannot help but let out a scream as she comes towards me. The flame inside her turns uneasily.
“I’m helping you sit upright.” She says slowly approaching me. I try to protest but I can’t get the words out. I feel the electric feeling of her hands on my shoulders propping me up to a sitting position. My head droops down so that I am looking at my own stomach, and just above it I see my own flame. Purplish-gray, the size of a pomegranate as well. I begin to panic. I try to ask for help but the only thing that comes out is gibberish and moaning. My flame starts to turn a darker gray and turn anxiously. I start to feel even more nauseas.
“You are going to have to calm down. The drugs are going to wear off and you are going to be yanked from the spirit world.” Vel grabs my shoulder. My eyes lock onto her flame as it flares into a passionate red. My heart starts to race as my body goes into a revolt, shaking and rejecting all of the different stimulation I am taking in.
“Take in a deep breath Yasari. You are not breathing.” She grabs my shoulders tighter. But I can’t. I can’t make myself breathe, I’ve forgotten how to. Then I feel a sharp pain in my stomach, and I am gasping for air. Vel punched me in the solar plexus.
“Calm down. Bring in deep breathes. Focus on breathing.” My head is still spinning, but I force myself to take in deep breath and suddenly everything sharpens and takes its normal form.