Gloria knelt with her head held down, embracing the circle of light the gap in the clouds allowed through. The light caressed her skin and filled her with the warmth of safety, washing away her fears and sorrows. She needed courage for what she’s going to do.
Her little sister Dollie, a young, dark skinned girl took a seat by her. “What is that?” she asked.
Gloria looked up. The sky had become cloudy. A skinny shadow slithered through the light like a serpent. Gloria stood up and grabbed her sister’s hand. “Let’s go.”
The day turned dark, and the clouds thundered. Dollie looked up with concern into her sister’s serious face, her stern eyes facing ahead. The sky cracked like an egg, and its watery contents rained down on the sisters, soaking them immediately.
Gloria broke into a run, dragging her sister along. Dollie her the wind screeching and shouting. She looked behind her, and saw nothing save the dirt road and the gloomy sky. But something was there, wasn’t it?
Gloria suddenly stopped, and Dollie bumped into her. They stood before the crumbled remains of what used to be an impressive pagoda. An earthquake several years prior had shattered the towering building, bringing down with it the ancient treasure it contained.
Dollie hugged herself and shivered. The wind pierced her soaked cotton sweatshirt, sucking the warmth from her body. But she was more concerned with the shattered pagoda; its forlorn remains seemed foreboding.
Something slithered through the air, producing a quiet and high pitched ring. Gloria looked behind her cautiously, then walked up to the remains, stepping through the mess of splintered wood. Dollie followed hesitantly. One room survived the earthquake. It was originally in the highest floor, and fell to the ground damaged but not entirely collapsed. It was a small box, a mini-shrine, with a singular opening marked by dead reefs. The dark opening beckoned to the sisters.
Gloria forcefully grabbed her sister’s hand and yanked her sister towards the shrine.
Dollie shrieked, “What’s the matter sis? What are you doing?!”
Gloria didn’t respond, and continued to yank her towards the shrine. Dollie felt something smooth and bumpy slip into the hand her sister was holding. Then, Gloria shoved her into the dark shrine.
Dollie screamed, “What are you doing?!” The opening slid close, trapping her in that dark room. The air stank of rotting wood.
Gloria stared at the shrine, her sister’s banging and sobbing were loud and clear even through the heavy downpour. She cried and pleaded and shouted at Gloria to let her out, but Gloria didn’t respond. The skies flashed and rumbled, and lightning forked down from the clouds, striking the shrine. The force decimated the shrine, sending charred wooden shards every which way.
A pale woman dressed in esoteric sheets approached Gloria. She had a faint, ethereal glow to her skin tone. “I didn’t think you’d actually do it,” she said with a surprised smirk on her face.
Something not too far off hissed. “The deal,” Gloria simply stated, her face stoic and unwavering.
The woman waved her hands nonchalantly. “Yeah yeah, I remember.” She handed her bamboo stick with a large, bronze bell on the end, embellished with strange leaves and papers marked in red ink. Gloria grabbed the stick.
The woman clapped her hands and bowed, and the bell began to vibrate and glow.
Dollie fumbled through the darkness, her hands desperately trying to find something to touch, a door, a wall, anything. Instead, there was nothing. It was just emptiness. Dollie felt blind and deaf and ready to cry. Where was she? In her left hand, she gripped a necklace of beads. The smooth beads alternated between porcelain and jade, and felt comforting in that dark world to fiddle with. A few of the beads bore tiny cracks on their surfaces.
Gloria spun around. A skinny, flying serpent with hundreds of clawed, human hands coiled around the air towards Gloria. She stared at the demon, and froze in fear. It had her own face, staring back at her with empty and merciless eyes.
Gloria gripped her bell stick, her knuckles turning white, and the whole stick rattled. Her heart thumped and her breath stopped. The demon screeched a sound like nails on chalkboards, and zipped towards Gloria. She took a deep breath and waved it at the demon. It shrieked, and disappeared in a puff of smoke.
The pale woman yawned. “Now that wasn’t too hard was it? Well, the demon’s been banished by your own hands, in exchange for your sister’s life. You’re not haunted anymore!”
Gloria panted, staring at the stick in her hands in silence.
“Now, if you would be so kind as to return my dear Staffy, you can return to your life as it was before, completely curse-free. And I appreciate you doing business with me,” the woman said, and put her hands together to show her thankfulness.
Gloria snarled, and pointed the bell stick at the woman.
The woman’s eyebrow’s raised in a bemused expression. “Oh? Are you really going to do this? After all the help I gave you to free you from your curse?”
Gloria spat at the woman. “You’re the one who cursed me in the first place!”
The woman chuckled, “You have no proof of that my dear. I’m your shrine goddess, why would I ever do that? I’m here to protect you.”
“Not anymore! You’ve changed. You just want more worshipers, isn’t that right? You just wanted my sister’s powers…You deserve to be banished!”
The woman keeled over, laughing. “Banish? Me? My dear, I lent you that staff, how do you think you can banish me with it?” The woman straightened up, and narrowed her eyes. “Better watch what you say dear, I might just erase you for your insolence. And remember, you gave your sister’s life up for yourself. Who’s the real monster here?”
Dollie was cuddled up, crying on the dark floor.
“Dollie? It’s time to come back…”
Dollie lifted her tear-stricken face. “G-Gloria? Where…where are you?!” she wailed. She gripped the necklace in her hands. It turned warm, and filled her with happy memories of the times with her sister. It was her sister’s necklace, but she never figured out where she found such a beautiful necklace.
Suddenly, Dollie heard sounds coming from outside. Voices, one of which were her sister’s. A tiny sliver of light crept in through a crack. She was back in the broken shrine. She gripped the necklace, and felt a fissure. Surprised, she looked down at it. Another bead was cracked, adding to the number of cracked beads.
Dollie pulled the shrine door open. Shock filled her. “Gloria! What are you doing?!” Her sister was pointing the the banishing rod at their shrine goddess. She would be banished for sure!
The woman turned to face her with an amused expression on her face. “Well well, look who’s back from the dead. Did you steal my resurrection beads too?”
Gloria glanced at Dollie. “Catch, sis!” She tossed the rod at Dollie, and she fumbled it. It felt heavy in her hands.
“Be a darling and hand that back to me will you?” the woman spoke. Her voice carried authority like an iron club.
Dollie pointed the banishing rod at the woman. There was a flash of white light.