Chapter 11:

A Vignette of Two Ghosts Dancing in a Cave

Theodora Plays to Win (With Cheat Codes)

Theo stirred from her slumber, her body was sore beyond anything she’d ever experienced, the pain made her gasp. Her eyes fluttered open. Theo stared up at an unfamiliar ceiling made of rock. She turned her head to the side with a groan. Edith sat with her back against the wall across from Theo, she was asleep with her sword resting in her lap. How did they get here? Edith fitfully opened her eyes as Theo stared.

“What are you staring at?” Edith quacks with a grimace.

“A familiar person shaped doll better left in the trash.”

“You always have something to say and it’s never nice. If I was a doll, I’d be a prized collector’s piece on an adorable little girl’s shelf.”

“Huh, I only see you with little hunched over men. You seem to have trouble distinguishing fantasy from reality. Perhaps you have a head injury.”

A crack of lightning lit up the sky followed by rumbling thunder. Theo craned her neck toward the sound. Rain rushed down the cave entrance like a waterfall.

“It seems as though we’ll be here for a while.” She commented.

“It’s all been a mess from the moment that messenger showed up.”

“You really did not think this through.”

Edith’s expression soured, “It’s partially your fault we got into this situation. If you hadn’t run away-”

“Your plan and mine were two separate coincidences. You would have been fine if you had stayed.”

“The messenger specifically stated the entire family must be in attendance.”

“I’m not a part of your family, though.”

“What are you talking about?”

Theo almost laughed causing her to clutch herself in pain. Edith was being so cruel, doubly so since she didn’t know she was doing it. “You could have cut your losses. You could have let me run and pretended you never had a sister or told them I’d died from my illness. I’d bet the entire village would back you up.”

Edith’s face went wide for a second, then went back to sour. “The invitation was fake. I don’t know what the prince was playing at but I’ve never heard such a transparently dubious invitation in my life.”

“I guess it doesn’t matter anymore. We made our choices, right? And now look at us. That scar down your face and side will probably be permanent. No prince would look twice at you anymore. I’ll bet the innkeeper at the next town would sooner stick you a pig pen than give you a room.”

“That’s it! I’m getting out of here, I can’t suffer your mouth anymore!” Edith manages to get to her feet before tripping over said feet upon taking a step.”

“Yep. We’ll be here for a while.” Some time passes while the two of them sit in tense silence.

Theo finally speaks up again, “It may not have been the wisest idea, but I actually did want to see the hot springs in Hanover. I’ve never been.”

“You would have collapsed from the carriage ride. That’s why we never took you.”

“I thought it was because Cambria believed I was so ugly I’d bring her attractiveness down by association.”

“That too. I wouldn’t have minded bringing you along.”

“Really?” Theo was a little surprised to hear Edith admitting that.

“I’d consider it charity work. After all I’m cute enough that it wouldn’t matter. In fact, having me by your side would 100% make you look better.”

“Your vanity knows no bounds.” Theo felt her strength slowly leaving her. Her fingers were progressively becoming harder to move. Theo looked Edith in the face. She seemed to be on the mend, she might be able to leave the cave come morning. She seemed to be in unusually good mood. Perhaps it was a front, but for what? Edith was a creature Theo could seldom comprehend. They were complete opposites and, in some respects, equals.

“I don’t know if I’m going to get better. I put in too much effort. As you like to point out I’m sickly and weak, that hasn’t changed since we left. I might have been dead by now anyway. I’m lucky to have gotten to 14 and I’m still not sure how I feel about that.”

“We’re both in ruff shape right now. We can just sit and relax for now and listen to the rain. We can continue in the morning.”

“Are you worried? Are you showing concern for your worthless little half-sister?”

“You wish! Why would I start now? You might be the one with the head injury.” Edith lied back down against the wall.

“I never cared what anyone thought of me, let alone my bitchy, cruel sisters. That’s what I’d like to believe, that’s what I hoped people believed. If I cared then you all would win, but there was a time – there were tiny moments where I looked up and saw you and how much you glowed. I was scared and intimidated by all of you but most of all I was jealous, and that emotion turned to hatred. I wanted to glow like you. I wanted to be born with magic, I wanted your popularity, your proactiveness, your everything. Unfortunately, I was born me. And most of all you were born you. There was all this potential wrapped in a petite, buxom, adorable, doll-like shell, and she decided to let it be wasted fixating on whatever it was you’ve been wasting your life on.

“I watched you from my window as you walked around with your friends, and trapsed by with your bags of bones in tow. I listened to your family dinners from below your feet. I listened as you joked and laughed with mom, and Cambria, and Rhonda. I couldn’t do anything but listen and watch. I wandered around town and the people who didn’t throw rocks or insults would just ignore me, so I picked up a lot of gossip and information, but whenever you all were together there was only one thought on people lips, “Dahlia, Cambria, Rhonda, and Edith, the picture of a perfect family.” I realized a long time ago that I wasn’t a part of your family. You all had a bond that I could never intrude on. I would listen and watch everything and couldn’t help but agree, even with their conniving, stuck up nature, and frankly terrible personalities, there was an unmistakable familial warmth. Even if you never felt it.”

Theo was finding it harder to take in air. She breathed in but the air didn’t seem to be reaching her lungs. Edith stared at her, mouth slightly unhinged, tears slowly dripping down her cheeks.

“Are you crying!” She meant to sound teasing but she her voice could barely be heard over the sound of roaring rain.

“I heard a rumor that Dhalia White the barmaid had a short, sloppy affair with Mr. Colley who had recently been diagnosed with the kissing disease. She got knocked up, but the poor child, it breathed its last breath not long after its first. It was a tragedy, but she already had three beautiful daughters at home to keep her company. That fourth one was sure to be a thorn in their side, anyway.”

Theo’s entire right side had grown numb and she couldn’t even move her arms let alone her fingers. Edith’s face had become a mess of snot and tears. What a pitiful sight, Theo thought.

“The crybaby wants her whore mother, why don’t you go back home to her? Maybe the ball won’t be that bad. Maybe there’s a prince waiting to take your hand and twirl you around the ballroom. I’m a stranger. To you, and your family, and everyone who’s ever known me.

“You had a lapse in judgement, I know you don’t really want them to die and I’m sure everyone will be more than willing to bend the truth a bit. Even if I existed, I probably died in the forest. I’m such a frail girl and the forest is known to eat frail little girls. Though you should probably leave before the enforcers get here. Before dawn would be best. Here.” Theo attempted to hold out her hand. Another Bayer leaf, “I found this in my hand when I woke up. Use it, and with a little rest you’ll be good to go by morning.”

Edith crawled on her hands and knees over to Theo. There was a question Edith needed to ask even if it was apparent what Theo’s answer would be.

“What about you?” It was the dumbest question ever uttered by any human in the history of the world. It was so dumb it was heartwarming but inevitable just came back around to be dumb again. Theo’s mouth hung open slightly.

“Me? That’s the dumbest question ever uttered by any human in the history of the world. I’m going to be dancing with a prince, alone in a cave. A ballad will play on an invisible string quartet. He’ll hold me tight in his arms as we sway in time to the music. It will be a picturesque vignette of two ghost in loving embrace, with the caption “you shouldn’t waste any time on a life never led.”

“You’ve got a ball to attend. And maybe a real life prince in your future.”

Edith grabbed the leaf and stuck it on her chest. It began to glow. “I don’t want to die.”

“A little sympathy for the soon-to-be-departed. That hurt, not that I’m able to feel much of…anything at this point.”

Edith laid down next to Theo. “Do you mind if I rest next to you for a while?”

“I can’t stop you, especially since you’re already laying down.”

“Can you move?”

“What do you think?”

Sorry, sorry. I’ve got you.” Edith pulls Theo up on her thighs by the shoulders.

“Edith apologizing to me? Even on my deathbed I never would have thought it possible.”

“Don’t get used to it.”

“I won’t” They both let out a morose chuckle. Theo coughed and gagged and began breathing heavily.

“The rain sounds like it’s letting up. How about we both head back to town in the morning or we could continue on to the Hot springs?” Theo’s breathing was slowing. “There are several good places to eat. Hanover is a little bigger than Rhoaldstahl, and a bit more accommodating even to…even to sub-humans like you. We can make decisions in the morning.” Theo’s eyes were closed, her breathing was now soft and thin, her chest tremoring with each hard-fought breath.

“Good…goodnight, little sister.” Edith closed her eyes.

The night passed and the rain let up. Edith opened her eyes and Theo did not.