These Old Bones
She doesn’t think, and that never happens.
For as long as Basia Karamakis can remember, her mind has always been a flurry of images, sounds, and general chaos—and that’s how she likes it. As long as she has her wits about her, Basia can identify the situation at hand and determine how best to handle the situation. She puts her body on auto-pilot, dividing only minimal attention to her quick, lithe steps and nimble hands. Meanwhile, her eyes are everywhere, trained by the scholarly views of her mother and her colleagues. Even her Master drilled the lesson into her head during what little time they were together: hone your mind before you hone your fists.
But this is not her land. These are not her friends and family—they are not mages, they are new and different and do not understand the sanctity of this research facility. The statues of the maiden goddesses and the intricately woven tapestries hung between the goddesses separate this building from those like it—they denote a stateliness, a higher class. This facility once housed only the brightest minds of Atlantis.
Basia should have recognized the ruins for what they were the second she saw the pink tapestries. The pale shade symbolized the dawn, which represented the facility’s rank and status. Similar tapestries once hung outside the building as well, swathing the entrance in a comforting shade, welcoming in scholars and students alike. Basia remembered stepping into the abode for the first time. The ocean air at her back, urging her inside, where the cool air and hollow acoustics bade her sandaled feet to move. These chilly marble columns, the sunrise colored togas of professors and legislators, the ever-present hum of living, warm bodies permeating through the inviting space—
It was home.
This… this was home.
The word stings. Was. No longer, but stuck in the past. Stuck in this state of decay. Was.
What feels like a heavy, chilly stone forms in the space between her lungs, settled beside her heart and above her stomach. Its weight spreads and engulfs her, choking her, forcing detestable fire to her face and eyes. Her sight blurs, smearing the offending scene before her. A defense mechanism. If she can’t see the golden armlets and engraved rings, her brain can’t connect them with the last memory she has of her mother. If her brain doesn’t operate as usual, Basia’s world shatters.
What world? she bitterly asks herself, dropping her makeshift satchel bag to pull the tattered, filthy rags she once called a cape up to her face. This is weakness. This negates her lies, gives Lars, Lexie, and Spot an opportunity to peer through the widening cracks in her façade.
This behavior cannot and will not be tolerated.
But she can’t—she cannot. Her mother Was, so Basia Cannot. This girl—this mere child cannot uphold the laws of her land any longer, because what is the point? They’re dead, they’re all dead, even the teachers, even the students, her roommates, her friends, her—
A paper crinkles. Wordlessly, a calloused hand presents a visage of young Basia and her mother, smiling, arms wrapped around each other. Together, in their home, recreated on parchment by a friend that now lies dormant under the weight of Basia’s mistakes. The stone permeating through her body melts at the sight, giving way to a flood of lava. “No!” the girl shrieks. Her lies swirl and twist her tongue, but they can’t possibly believe her this time. “Not. Me!”
Pity. He wears a mask of pity, and it makes Basia’s blood boil. How dare you, she wants to snarl, except her fury chokes her, churning like a whirlpool in her throat, sinking ships in her mind. You know nothing. You do not know this place and you do not know this people.
You do not know me.
A wrenching scream peals from her pale, icy lips. “NO!” She shoves at the man, but he hardly wavers. She wants to hit him, kick him, empty a dozen arrows into his brow and gut, then fire more at the werecats surely waiting for them deeper into the expanse. She wants to kill them. Kill the hunters and the other outsiders above the surface. Kill anyone and everyone, because how dare they persist while her people are lost. Basia wants to lose herself, too. She should. It is her duty. The people of Atlantis are a single body. None are above or below their fellow person. All have equal sway in life. It is how their civilization thrives—it is how their magicks have lasted and grown in strength for hundreds of years. All is one and one is all.
And here she is while they are dead.
Lars backs out of the room. Basia clenches her fists, destroying the drawing and the incrimination it beholds. Her skin feels blistered, her tongue dead, her eyes a waterfall of betrayal and disgust.
Basia tears her gaze from the broken, foreign floor and cranks her head back to the skeleton. It wears her mother’s gubernatorial regalia. Her ring, engraved with her name, Atheta. The small blue stone hung around her neck, nearly identical to the one hung around Basia’s neck.
She tears it all away from this thief, this imposter. Her mother is not dead, because Basia refuses her that right. She will bring her back. She will bring them all back, and Basia will rejoin them, because that is her Atlantean right. The sharp currents of magic race to her finger tips, ready to shape and tug at this dimension and any others that dare stand in her way. The flow of mana bends to her will, awaiting her command. It is eager to submit to her indignation, the unmitigated hatred and sorrow that fight for dominance in her empty head.
It would be so simple to let the magic win, to use her as a channeling puppet.
Basia swallows molten rock, gripping the edge of her mother’s death bed. She does not avert her eyes from the dusty, thin toga draped over this nothingness. Hone your mind before you hone your fists.
You are in control, and nothing can change that fact unless you allow it do so.
She wills the bones to move.
We are a hardy people. We are survivors, artists, and truth seekers. We seek to expand and create, to improve and build upon, to tear down and destroy only when necessary for new growth.
“Please,” she begs, staring and staring until her eyes sting with pain.
We bend the flow of magic to our wills, and rely upon our strength to keep the power in check.
“Mother, please, sit up.”
Our word becomes the world’s law. It obeys us and no other.
“You have to. I’m telling you to. You must sit up, please.”
Because we are stronger than any other….
“Please please please please.”
…we have all of creation at our mercy.
Something cracks. Basia cannot see it or hear it, but she knows. There is something different and new, and her shattered mind cannot comprehend this brokenness inside her. Pale fingers unfurl from the bed and fall back to her sides, brushing against the soft cotton of her toga. “What is it?” she wonders aloud. The musty thing before her does not reply. “What… oh.”
And there it is, a single spark, a tiny flame hidden under a bushel in the corner of her mind. She cajoles it forward, out of its hiding place. Of course, she thinks, when her master’s confident, all-knowing smirk comes into view. His lips move in time with the words that finally pierce through the citadel she erected around her weakened ego: With the world at our finger tips, why must we remain here?
She puts a small hand on her heart. Beneath the warm, alive flesh and animated bone, it beats frantically, wildly. How has it not stormed off yet and left her in the dust? (left her as Master did)
“Of course!” she grins. The action strains her face, uncomfortably stretches the skin over her skull. “I only need find him. He can show me how to bring them back. He can show me how to return my home to how it should be.”
And then he can die by my hand.
A jilted laugh shakes her shoulders. “Of course, of course, of course,” she rambles, wilting to her knees. The skeleton does not move. It will not move. But, soon, it will. Basia is sure of that. She nods, and finally rips her hellish eyes away from the thing that both is and is not Atheta Karamakis. Echoing footsteps approach her, carrying with them the soft voices of Lexie and Lars. With a fury, she rubs the defeat from her splotchy face. For now, Basia will continue to follow them. Just as the prophet in Las Vegas decreed, Basia would find her Master while travelling with them. She would figure out how to restore her home and people to what they once were, and then she would murder the lying monster for destroying what she held most dear.
As Lexie twirled into the room, eagerly tugging on her backpack straps, Basia summoned a weary smile to her face. Soon, the mage promised the ruins around her.
These old bones shall lie still no more.
Nicole Keen is a history major and Writing Center tutor at Mary Baldwin University.
Campbell Scollo is a student at Mary Baldwin University.