His voice sent shivers through Zanna’s body like nothing she had ever felt before. Alise darted toward them in the semi darkness, terror flashing in her silvery eyes. Zanna snapped the book shut and gripped its cold leather cover. Confusion reverberated through her body along with the electricity of Mikelo’s voice.
“Stop,” Mikelo commanded as Alise reached them. She complied instantly and stood frozen before them, her eyes glaring. Zanna could feel the younger girl’s anger.
In the distance, off on the hilltop, they all could hear the preparations for the ceremony. A string band played lilting music as assorted creatures strung lanterns on a wooden platform where the chosen one would die. Artists set up their easels at the foot of the stage, ready to capture the moment.
Sensing danger, Zanna thrust the book into the air. “Here, have your book,” she said to Mikelo, momentarily breaking the tension.
“No, you keep it,” Mikelo directed. “You’ll need it.” As he spoke, Zanna felt him move behind her, his hands finding the knotted lacing holding her braid in place. His deliberate movements paralyzed and energized her at once. “We’ll have our own ceremony,” he said as if to himself.
Alise, seeing Mikelo’s attention diverted, swiftly bent and reached into her boot. Transfixed, Zanna saw the flash of metal against the girl’s dark skin. Mikelo’s hands moved in her hair, unwinding the braid, and Zanna felt her hair fall loosely over her shoulders once more.
She turned toward Mikelo and saw him wrapping the lacing around his hands. The music was louder and faster now, the ceremony just moments away.
“You’ll want to cut my throat,” Mikelo said to Alise, who nodded. “Once the two of us are dead, slit your own wrists, too. We’ll need you to come.” Mikelo’s lulling voice gave them the feeling of time standing still. Zanna’s heart raced but she didn’t dare move. She stayed in her place, kneeling in front of Mikelo.
“See you on the other side,” he said to Zanna as he reached over her head and pulled the cord tight around her throat. The pain was sudden and dull. A few seconds later everything went dark.
When Zanna slumped to the ground on top of the giant book, Alise lunged at Mikelo, her knife flashing.
“It’s okay,” he murmured. “After all this time, it will feel good to die,” he met her eyes with a sly smile as the metal met his throat. He fell heavily and his cloak tangled around Alise’s feet. Alise didn’t bother to wipe his blood from her knife before she slashed her own wrists, just as he had wanted.
Days later, some wandering creatures found the trio tangled together in death at the edge of the trees and called it a mystery.
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