“Dad!” I call. “Come one! You have to see this.”
I found something really cool in the park. Dad is mad, one, that I’m up so late at night, and two, that I woke him up at a time when both of us should be sleeping. I don’t care. This is totally worth it. I think he’ll get that when we get there.
“I’m going as fast as I can,” he grumbles. His hair and his coat are disheveled.
“Well, go faster,” I say.
The moon is high and full in the sky, which is good, because it’s so late they’ve put out the street lamps. I was scared, before, when I went out, but I felt like I had to. I has this weird dream that I was doing exactly what I would then do: sneaking out of our house, making my way through the park, and finding something in the middle of it.
My dream ended there, unsure of what I had found. A buttery golden light filled my vision and I woke up, knowing that I had to sneak out and go to that place in the park. It’s just me and Dad. Sneaking out was easy, because he’s a hard sleeper. He works really hard during the day, he says, to “keep us afloat.”
“Son,” he calls. “You need to slow down.”
The tone in his voice tells me that he’s just one step from being really angry. I don’t want that. Dad getting mad could ruin this whole thing. I really don’t want someone else to get back before we do.
I sigh. “Okay, Dad.” I pause next to a rock that’s been placed on a small rise in a way that looks artful.
Dad catches up to me. “What is all this about, son? Why won’t you tell me?”
“I found something, Dad,” I say. “I want to show you.”
“You said that already.”
I keep walking, because there’s an energy flowing through my body that won’t let me stand still any longer. “I know! I know, but I want you to see it yourself. It’s so cool, Dad.”
It’s true, I do want him to see it himself. I’m also afraid that if I tell him, he’ll make me go back home. He’s say it’s too dangerous, and that it’s not our business to be dealing with stuff like this, and that we need to go home. I mean, maybe he’s right, but I’ve thought about something like this happening my whole life. I’m not going to risk giving it up now.
I lead Dad down a steep incline, made more manageable by the rounded stepping stones set into the ground. In the dark, the footing is more treacherous, but we manage. Our goal is up ahead, beneath the boughs of a group of flowering trees whose branches dip low to the ground, creating a sort of natural tent.
Dad pauses at the base of the hill. He rubs vigorously at his face, like he does in the morning when he’s trying to wake up. Dad needs a shave. His hair has grown out enough that it’s all bristly.
“You didn’t find a dead body or something, did you? Because we should go to the police about that.”
“No!” I say. “That’s gross, Dad.”
I push aside the draping branches. It’s like going through one of those doors that’s all beads hanging on strands, except these are thicker and stiffer and sort of painful when they push against me the wrong way. The sweet smell of the flowers is strong within the branches. Once I’m through, the only light should be the pale, scant moonlight that filters down through the branches above.
Yet that’s not the only light. In the center of the three trees whose branches weave together to make this enclosure is another source of light, one that reminds me more of the sun than the moon. It’s the same buttery yellow light that washed away the dream that told me to come here.
“It’s still here, Dad!”
Dad is still pushing his way through the branches. I don’t have the patience to wait for him. I start walking forward toward the source of the glowing light. It’s beautiful in a way that both pulls me in and makes me want to run away in fear. I’ve never seen one this close up before. I don’t know what this one is doing here.
“By the Forge,” Dad says. “A sword.”
I’m only standing a few feet away from it now. Despite my excitement, I’m afraid to get any closer. I never thought I’d be this close to a real Sword. I don’t know much about them except that they’re awesome, and that they can be dangerous.
The sword stands on its tip in the middle of the three trees. It’s not stuck into the ground, but somehow balanced on its tip. The blade is slender and graceful, with a slight inward curve on both sides and a flared tip. It glows like the sun on a pleasant day, but softer. The light of it feels good against my skin.
When I look closer, I wonder if the blade is not just glowing, but if it’s somehow made of light. If I squint I can see through it to the fallen leaves and petals on the other side. The handle has more solidity. It looks like it’s made of crystal, with a gracefully curved guard. The blade’s tang glows within the crystalline grip.
I want to touch it it, though I fear it. I feel as though I’m still in a dream. Under the rule of the Final Empress, swords are strictly controlled. They are little more than possessions in hands of the Empress’s elite. This one, somehow, is free. Somehow, it has made its way here.
“Dani,” Dad warns. “Don’t get any closer. We have to tell someone about this.”
“What?” I ask, shaken from the trance the sword’s light has laid over me. “Tell someone? Why?”
“Dani, it’s a sword,” Dad says. “A living one. It can’t have gotten here on its own.”
“So? It called me here!”
“What do you mean?”
“I had a dream about it, Dad. That’s why I woke up.”
Dad looks at the sword with, somehow, even more fear in his eyes than I saw there before. “Stay away from it. Let’s get out of here and get the police.”
“No buts,” Dad says. “All swords belong to the Empress. You know that.”
“Not this one,” I say, crossing me arms.
“All swords,” Dad says firmly, now more angry than afraid. “Her word is law, Dani.” Dad glances around, as though it were possible someone might be listening. He looks at the sword, too. Oh. Well, yes. It really might be listening. “You can never forget that.”
I look from him to the sword. I sigh, walking toward him. As I’d hoped, he takes this as me listen, and assenting. He turns to push his way back through the veil of branches. As soon as he does, I spin, darting toward the center of the trees.
I’m still afraid, but I don’t care anymore. I won’t let Dad take this chance away from me. There’s something about this sword that feels special and awesome in a way nothing in my life ever has. It feels like I’ve been dreaming of this moment, longing for it, my entire life.
I hear Dad shouting behind me. My hand closes on the sword’s hilt. This is my chance at, what, glory? At being something other than what I am. Someone who’s cool and exciting. Someone with actual power.
The handle is cool to the touch, but I soon feel a heat filling me. It feels good at first, as it floods into my hand and up through my bones through my body. It feels like dipping a foot into a hot bath on a cold day. Then it becomes too much. It hurts. My brow furrows and I turn toward Dad, wanting now to let go. Instead my hand tightens on the blade and the heat of it pushes further into me.
Hmm. I can feel the sword’s thoughts within me as though they are my own. They are wordless, but my subconscious assigns words to them. I am too much for you, it thinks.
Suddenly, instantly, the heat turns to cold. It pulls away from me, and in its vacuum I can feel myself being drawn away with it. I thought you might be strong enough, the sword thinks. I’m sorry. I was wrong.
I can hear Dad screaming, but it’s as though he’s shouting at me from across the park. He sounds so far away. The whole world feels as though it’s far away, even my body. I can’t feel my toes. I can’t… I don’t think I can see. It’s hard to say. It’s like the world is an afterimage floating before my eyes, like it was a flash of light that came and went.
I will save you, the sword thinks. I will save what part of you I can. It is not much, but it is all I can do.
I think Dad is holding my body. I think — I think —
There is no heat or cold or light, in the end. There is no darkness, either. There is only nothingness, a lack of perception. The only feeling is that all of those things exist far away, elsewhere, as though on the other side of a wall.
I am gone.