RETURN OF THE PARIAH
Only death could grant her clemency from the torment. At least that’s what she figured as she was swept up by the exquisite ambiguity of fear and fury. It carried her with the centrifugal force of a dizzying carousel as she approached the crescendo of her despair. Her attempt to evade oppression only seemed to increase her weight against the cold floor. Constricted by the bondage of radiating pain and a hood of darkness, her body trembled as it pleaded for release only to be denied the mercy it craved.
Useless anger and desperation fogged her mind, fueling her terror-induced disorientation. As she gasped, the salty metallic scent of the thickening air invaded her nostrils, tingling the back of her throat. Despite keeping her eyes squeezed shut as though to preserve her sanity, she could feel it seeping out of her like sweat from her pores. Her anguished voice was all she had left and she used it to unleash an outcry of defiance.
“No! You can’t make me!”
Parting her lids cautiously, Camile let the soft glow of her computer monitor guide her to salvation. Her head still propped in her hand, she breathed deeply and basked in the presence of sweet consciousness. Constantly haunted by the recurring nightmare, sleep was often difficult to come by. In fact, it had recently become her newest enemy. Nonetheless, she couldn’t resist paying it a brief visit a few hours before her usual bedtime.
The fatigue stemming from her accumulating restless nights was taking its toll. Surprisingly, Akalina made no appearances in any of the nightmares Camile experienced during the few times she managed to sleep. Since the reintegration, Akalina only existed in the memories and distant echoes that resonated in her subconscious mind. Camile didn’t like to think of the one who used her own distorted self-image against her, driving her to a suicide that further divided her already shredded soul. She hated the fact she and Akalina were now the same person.
Not quite the same.
Akalina possessed a darkness that swallowed civility wherever she went. Such wickedness isn’t easily forgotten, which is why Camile’s been living in heavily guarded temporary quarters for nearly two months. She wasn’t a prisoner, though at times she felt like one. Camile had been subjected to this period of near-total isolation for her protection and that of the citizens residing in her new environment.
They called it the Transcendent World, a concurrent dimension to the world in which she had spent the last eighteen of her twenty-four years. Based on the information Camile reviewed on her computer, Arvaina—which overlapped a large portion of the United States in the Coexistent World—was one of six continents in the Transcendent dimension. The others were Bauldana, Saulnan, Jypsone, Norcrine and Krohme.
From what Camile had read of Arvaina, family life and camaraderie were highly valued. There were few formal holidays since every day in itself was a celebration of life. The Arvainans expressed their gratitude, not necessarily in the form of extravagant parties, but simple acts of appreciation. There were, however, occasional gatherings to celebrate marital unions, life milestones and to honor the dead. She often wondered about the ceremony of the latter and if she would have received such an honor upon her death. Then she remembered she had already died under rather ominous circumstances. The icy grip of the dark memory sometimes ensnared her attention, but she was always able to hang onto a positive remnant of reality.
For instance, she was to soon travel with her parents to the main section of Caldaq, the compound where she would reside during her training. At present, she dwelled just a few miles away in a hidden branch of the facility, located beneath a large lake. Though she found silent comfort in her current quarters, she felt an ironic nostalgia for the busy city she could never quite fit into. Yet, she had found some sort of stability in the chaotic disorder that once swirled around her.
Prior to recent events, she had become fairly accustomed to the hectic monotony of her former New York residence. Even so, Camile knew that every civilization had its deep dark secrets and learned that Arvaina was no exception. The Arvainan council had ordered her execution just six years after she was born from a forbidden union between Kylie, her Coexistent mother and Zephyr, her Transcendent father—who she knew very little about during her upbringing. Now, in an almost sardonic turn of events, the council needed her help.
Sitting upright in her chair, Camile stretched deeper into her awareness. She knew that the torturous reverie awaited her return, but she planned to evade it by forsaking slumber for the umpteenth time in weeks. Still, she needed to do something to soothe her racing mind and ease the thumping bass, furiously pulsing in her chest. She decided a quick bath would do the trick. It had to be quick. She couldn’t risk the chance of relaxation reopening the gateway to her subconscious.
After peeling away layers of cotton, denim and lace, she caught a glimpse of her caramel toned body in the large mirror across the bathroom. Her gaze lingered there despite the fact she often feared to regard her own reflection, afraid of whom or what might look back at her. Aside from her cool gray eyes, Camile could barely recognize herself at times. Her body had undergone changes since her fateful day of self-discovery. Among them were three parallel scars across her right oblique. She would sometimes trace her fingers over them as though to gauge their authenticity.
Hers was an averagely feminine body with the typical problem areas most women have, or think they have. She wished her breasts were more proportional to her ample backside, but overall, she made peace with what she saw in the mirror, which hadn’t always been the case. Realizing she was admiring her image a little too long, she retreated to the tub.
Camile deeply inhaled the powdery, lavender-infused scent of the warm water enveloping her like a foamy blanket. She soaked her sponge while considering what her parents had told her weeks earlier and figured they were right; she had been reborn and was getting reacquainted with herself. It led her to realize that her physical and spiritual separation from Akalina—her egocentric counterpart—had impeded her emotional stability, leading her to make faulty decisions.
With time came clarification, something that had eluded her prior to the reintegration. Still, there was a lingering void that she hoped would eventually heal. Nevertheless, she now understood why it was necessary to endure so many obstacles in order to facilitate the reintegration. She needed to find her strength, Akalina needed to find humbleness, and Zareah—her former ghost—needed to learn self-belief and determination. In doing so, their energies combined, leaving her with a second chance and the regret of having betrayed life by embracing death too soon.