First off, link to part one: https://www.kixeye.com/forum/discussion/202668 READ THIS FIRST!
And part two: https://www.kixeye.com/forum/discussion/340815 READ THIS NEXT!
Once you've read both of those, then start reading this story as it follows on from both of those.
Updates might take a while, as with my other works. Apologies for any delays.
It seemed like the world had forgotten about Sofia.
She had woken to find herself in a tiny room, about two metres square, equipped with the most basic essentials: a thin foam mat with a paper-thin blanket and a slightly thicker piece of foam as a pillow, a tiny triangular sink and an equally tiny triangular toilet which rotated out from a cubbyhole in the wall then swivelled back until its edge was flush with the wall- a pun that amused her for about five seconds. She quickly explored every inch of the room but couldn’t find any trace of a door, or any way out except a tiny air vent which she could cover with the palm of her hand.
That night, the nightmares started. She saw islands that had survived months-long sieges crumbling in a few minutes against an unstoppable onslaught, as the Spanish Empire crumbled under an unprecedented attack by the Draconian Empire. In the space of a few weeks, seventeen million people across six hundred or so islands simply vanished from the face of the earth, the last band of survivors trying to flee the capital of Madrid on the cruise ship turned warship Catalonian Princess before it too was overcome.
She saw the faces of thousands of people, including many of her friends and some of her own family, who she hadn’t seen since before the attacks began and who she was now sure she would never see again. Every night they came to her, crowding around her in droves until she suddenly woke up tangled in the blanket and barely able to move. Some were the faces of young children who had been onboard the Catalonian Princess when it was overrun, and it was these faces which haunted her most.
Any time she was awake, she tried to keep herself occupied by doing something, anything, to escape those faces; she would pace back and forth across the room endlessly, humming or singing until her voice failed, or imagining herself in the future as ruler of the Spanish Empire, her seventeen million subjects impossibly gathered into one crowd below the balcony of the royal palace on the island of Madrid, stretching for miles in all directions. Eventually, though, she would have to sleep, and the nightmares came back.
She was sure something had happened on that ship, but the only explanation she could come up with for what had happened was that her brother Aurelio had convinced himself that the children he was unofficially in charge of must not be allowed to fall into enemy hands at any cost, including turning his gun on them instead of the attackers who had boarded the ship. He would have started with her, but she was incapacitated with another seizure and wouldn’t be a threat; however she had recovered in time to take the gun from him by force, fatally injuring him in the process. How exactly this fitted in with what other people around had said, she didn’t know, but the alternative was that she had been the shooter, even though she was sure that the seizure would have left her unable to move. Though the seizures had become more rare as she got older, they were becoming more powerful and would often be accompanied by very detailed and often very realistic dreams as her brain misfired and rebelled against her. She almost managed to convince herself that that was what had happened, but time and again she came up against the same inescapable fact and the illusion was broken.
The room’s single light bulb brightened and dimmed at random intervals, a tray with bland food and metallic-tasting water would slide through a hatch in the base of the door, also at random intervals, but the only sounds came from the pipes attached to the sink and toilet and the dull buzz of electricity from the light. It was impossible to tell how long she stayed in that room, isolated and utterly alone, but after what felt like months (but was only about ten days) the light, which had slowly dimmed until the filament glowed a dull red, suddenly blazed at full power. Though the lightbulb was feeble, Sofia was used to the darkness and the sudden brightness was blinding.
A door opened somewhere, heard but not seen, then strong hands grabbed her, held her still. The sharp pain of a needle in her left arm, then as suddenly as it started, they were gone and the room was in total darkness again. The door had sealed again, undetectable against the wall, but Sofia still tried to find it, knowing there was a way out somewhere. Her arm slowly went numb as whatever had been injected took effect, and through a combination of that and sheer exhaustion she fell asleep, and was immediately gripped by a strange and vivid dream.
Around her, a vast outdoor auditorium of some kind lay empty, but the stage was a hive of activity as teams worked to set up lights, speakers and a variety of objects including a set of timpani, a grand piano and, possibly most bizzarely, a pair of four-ton cannons which were concealed behind heavy black curtains at either side of the stage. The tall spire of a building could be seen above the left side of the stage, and the ground was paved with flat, square stones and criss-crossed by more wires which led to more speakers and lights, and also to a number of large cameras which had been set up to cover every possible angle, with one apparently suspended on wires over the seats to swoop over the audience.
A man appeared in the centre of the stage holding a clipboard, and picked up a microphone.
“OK, people, final rehearsal time! Let’s get it right this time.” He shot a scowl offstage towards the sound desk, and a few people laughed.
From the left, a young man in his late teens or slightly older took to the stage and sat down at the piano, and played a piece that Sofia thought she knew. Without warning, one of the cannons went off with a tremendous BOOM that shook the light fittings and sent the pianist diving for cover under the piano before he realised that they were not under attack. He crawled out from under the piano and headed offstage with the clear intention of having some very strong words with whoever had triggered the cannon. When he didn’t return, the man with the clipboard gestured furiously for someone else to come on stage. With a blast of music, a marching band entered from both sides of the stage and played a set of marches before filing off again to be replaced by a group of about thirty children of about ten who performed some kind of dance routine to loud, thumping music, followed by three women who sang a beautiful version of a song that Sofia thought she had heard before, though she didn’t remember the words. Usually she was very good at recognising music, but apparently that hadn’t carried over into the dream. After them came a very noisy group of four who played electric guitars and drums and possibly did some singing too, although it was inaudible over the din of the instruments.
Three more acts came and went- a solo singer/guitarist, some kind of comedian (sample joke: ‘What did the ocean say to the island? Nothing, it just waved’; the rest were no better) and finally a troupe of acrobats- then there was a brief lull in the activity on stage. A seat directly behind Sofia suddenly banged as whoever had just been sitting on it stood up abruptly. She whirled around in her seat in surprise, and had just enough time to recognise the person’s face before she woke up-
-to the strong smell of ammonia coming from the air vent, and couldn’t fall asleep again because the light was at full brightness and her arm was still throbbing.
Sofia tried to remember the dream, but already it was fading rapidly and she found she could only remember fragments. One thing that didn’t fade was the identity of the person she had seen in the last moments of the dream, the same person she had seen during the seizure on the Catalonian Princess, and then a couple of hours later in the flesh. Someone or something had planted this Amy girl in her mind.
It sounded absurd when stated so bluntly, but it had happened before on at least three occasions where she had seen the person in a dream before meeting them and knowing details about them that it would be impossible to know otherwise- on one occasion it had caused the person considerable embarrassment; on another, it had foiled an assassination attempt on her father and several high-ranking advisers. Although the cause of these dreams was unknown, they were always accurate.
There was something big happening; she could feel it in her bones.
And it wasn’t just a side-effect of the injection.