16. Soraya

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Soraya walked through the palace gardens. They were exactly as she remembered them. Blossoms of every shape and color hung like jewels from curling green vines, and the most strange and exotic fruit stood ripe for the picking. In the middle of the garden was the small pond. Striped fish the size of dogs moved languidly through the still water, just visible beyond the murky surface.

Soraya stepped upon the bridge that led to the small pagoda in the center of the pond. A dragonfly with emerald wings landed on her shoulder, blinked its large eyes, and flitted away. Soraya took slow, even steps. She knew that someone was waiting for her in the pagoda, someone who had invited her here.

Soraya entered the small, open structure. Looking out from there, one could see the entirety of the gardens. Hidden by the tall banana trees and even taller palms, the palace walls were almost completely obscured. One could almost imagine that this wasn't really the palace garden, but some fantastical other place, beyond the reach of any mere mortals.

But the pagoda was empty. Soraya frowned and sat down upon one of the cushions set out for observers. Where was the one who was supposed to meet her?

Another dragonfly landed upon Soraya's knee, with the same beautiful green wings. Or perhaps it was the same insect as before.

"Welcome, princess of the Great Fire," The dragonfly spoke. "What brings you to this place?"

Soraya blinked at the insect. In another time and place, a talking dragonfly would have shocked her, but she knew better. This was a dream. Anything was possible here.

"You called me here," Soraya replied, recalling that gnawing feeling of having been invited to this place.

The dragonfly buzzed with what sounded like laughter. "So I did. But not all heed the call."

Soraya shifted so that she sat with her back straight, careful to avoid crushing her companion. She smoothed out the folds of her dress and did her best to meet the bug's gaze, although it was difficult what with him having such tiny eyes.

"And why did you call me here?" Soraya asked.

"I have a gift for you," The dragonfly replied.

Soraya frowned. "A gift?"

"Yes. And a blessing to those whose eyes can see the unseen, whose hands can touch what is not there."

The dragonfly alighted from Soraya's knee. It hovered just before her face, its wings beating so fast as to be invisible.

"You will find my gift in the flame of flames, the all seeing eye of Mithra. Take it. It is yours."

Before Soraya could ask any further questions the insect burst into a ball of flames and was gone, its ashes falling slowly to the ground.


"A dragonfly," Shapur mused, leaning forward. "And you remember this all clearly?"

"As if I had been there in the flesh," Soraya replied.

Shapur sat on one of the carved chestnut chairs in the small council room, looking thoughtful. The brightly decorated walls and ornaments were illuminated by the light streaming in from outside. It was hot inside, almost stifling.

Farnaz stood, pacing back in forth angrily. She was also deep in thought, though more disturbed by it than Shapur.

"A dragonfly," Farnaz said as if talking to herself. "A khrafstar- they are destructive, meaningless creatures. An omen of death and evil." She cut off her pacing and moved to stand before Soraya. "Your highness I beg of you- pay no heed to this foul vision. It is a deception of some spirit, an evil force trying to trick you."

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