By the time Laylah returned home, she was exhausted. Being an Emissary of Power really takes it out of a girl. She skipped her usual routine of evening prayers. The angel Gabriel was on her mind, but not in any way that resembled reverence.
She was asleep quickly, her dreams filled with cheering, rose petals flung at her feet, and dancing with a tall handsome trumpet player.
Those delights didn’t last long, however, and soon Laylah’s dreams turned dark and twisted. Images of the dancing at Oberon’s court, the ride on the turtle’s back, the shriek of the serpent as it relinquished its prize. In the background, black-winged shapes clawed at her, pulling at her clothes, her skin. Just when she thought she was safe, back at home in her own bed, strong arms pulled her and she could hear the rattle of buckles on a straight-jacket.
Laylah woke, drenched in sweat, gasping for air. She reached for the thread-bare rabbit that had been her companion for as long as she could remember. “Mr Simigdáli, don’t let them take me again.”
The church was empty and Laylah had to search for the priest so he could hear her confession. “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It’s been 10 days since my last confession.”
“Tell me of your sins, my child.” The familiar voice, usually so comforting, sent a chill down Laylah’s spine. He hadn’t been in the parish when her father had been killed. He knew nothing of her incarceration in that place. And this was just crazy talk.
“I had lustful thoughts. I acted with hubris and pride, putting myself over others. I enjoyed the adulation and vanity.” Laylah twisted her rosary between her fingers and awaited her penance.
When she stepped out into the sunlight, she raised her face to the sky and let the warmth chase away her doubts and fears. It would be all right. It had to be. The wizard was counting on it.