We were at the beach when it happened.
It was a beautiful day. The sun was shining, and it wasn’t crowded at all. The sand was warm and soft under our feet. The water was cool and welcoming, and waves lapped at the shore. We had finally escaped from the clutches of our frozen planet, Bylur, after the Great War between our galaxy. We were attacked by enemy Saleye forces that melted half the glaciers in our world and sent millions of people to their watery graves.
Bylur and Saleye were at war for seven years. We escaped after the peace treaty was signed.
“We” being myself and two of my friends, Eryi and Edur. They’re a girl and boy twins, and my best friends. We escaped on a rogue ship that nearly broke down in the middle of space and crash landed on a planet called Asha, where it was always warm and sunny. We lived on the beach and were gradually forgetting about the icy silence of Bylur and the scorching attacks from Saleye.
Eryi flipped her long white hair over one shoulder, leaning back in her beach chair. “Nevis, can you hand me a pineapple drink?” she yawned.
I nodded, passing the glass over, and I filled it with the sweet yellow liquid from a freezing container. Eryi took a long, grateful slurp and grinned over at me, drops of the drink on her pale lips. She closed her eyes and leaned back against the chair, turning her head back so it rested facing the sky. “It’s nice, living here. Asha is so nice and quiet.”
Edur stopped from where he stood on the sand and glared over at us with pale blue eyes, his mouth curled in a scowl. “I don’t know why you’re so relaxed. We don’t know where we are, you guys! Doesn’t this seem a little suspicious to you?”
Eryi raised her eyebrows.
I looked over at Edur, who now stood with his arms crossed facing us. He was still wearing his thick furskin coat from Bylur and tall thick insulated boots.
“Aren’t you hot in that thing? Come on, Edur. It’s perfectly fine here. Get out of those thick clothes and come relax. We just escaped a war, for Kasha’s sake!” Eyri said exasperatedly, stretching back in her chair.
“Don’t say that,” Edur hissed, eyes narrowed. “Kasha is a god. You do not disrespect him in that way.”
“Whatever, Edur,” Eryi said simply, sitting up in her chair and facing him. “If you’re going to be a crab, go sit over there on the beach with your thick clothes and hot temper. Nevis and I are going to relax.”
While Edur rolled his eyes and scoffed, looking out at the ocean, she grabbed my hand and squeezed it. I had been awarded the honor of being her secret boyfriend- meaning we were together, but Edur would absolutely slaughter me for dating his sister. As he turned back around she yanked her hand free from my grasp and sat on it.
“It’s just… not right.” Edur looked at us pointedly then turned back and looked out at the ocean and sky beyond, his foot tapping in the sand. “It’s too quiet. Have you seen any other beings on this planet, other than the lizats and beetles? Any intelligent life? The skies are still and so is the ocean and the land. We’re alone on this planet, and there has to be a reason.”
Eryi threw herself out of her chair and stomped over to him, pressing her finger into his chest and glaring into his eyes. “Listen, Edur. I am happy. Nevis is happy. We are finally away from the hellhole of Bylur, and you just want to complain!” she snarled. “Leave us alone if you’re going to be a similia. Or go back to that frozen rock of Bylur.”
Edur grabbed her shoulders and yanked her close to him, his lip curled. “I am cautious to protect you,” he said quietly, his voice low and hard as a flint. “Since you so recklessly decided to leave with him-” he pointed a trembling finger at me, “-I had to follow, and I had to protect you. I promised.”
“You promised to who?” Eryi hissed, shoving him backward. “I’m happy, Edur.” her voice softened, her eyes wide and sad. “I’m happy with Nevis.”
She came back towards me slowly and I stood up, reaching out. Her skin was soft and gentle in my hand, and she squeezed her fingers with mine, and we slowly turned our eyes back to Edur, hand in hand.
“I said no,” Edur hissed. His whole body shook with suppressed rage, his fingers twitching at his sides. “What did I tell you, Eyri?”
“I don’t care what you said,” Eryi said, her voice wavering as she raised her chin.
Edur had always been protective of his thirteen-minutes-younger sister, and he had given me a fair warning that I wasn’t to be romantically involved with her and she was just my friend. Eryi was frightened of him when he was angry- he had broken the skulls of two Bylurian soldiers in our escape.
“You can’t control her forever, Ed,” I told him softly, stretching out my free hand to him a little. “She- we are happy. Please.”
“I told you no,” he snarled, and suddenly, he broke into a sprint down the beach. “I TOLD YOU TO STAY AWAY FROM HER!”
I shoved Eryi out of the way and screamed as Edur wrapped his arms around my waist and tackled me to the ground, my heart pounding as Edur raised his arms, pinning me to the sand with his knees. His lip curled in disgust and rage at me as I thrashed beneath his huge weight.
“Let me go!” I hissed through clenched teeth. “We came here together, Edur! We’re friends!”
“Anyone who loves her is an enemy of mine,” he snarled, swinging, and his fist sank into my neck, silencing my screams. My throat throbbed in pain, like knives sinking into the flesh, as he rained more and more blows down on me. I heard Eryi scream in the background, but it sounded like she was underwater. How did my vision get so black?
“EDUR!” Eryi screamed, and she came sprinting at him full force, her bare feet kicking up sand, and she took him by surprise, pushing him off my chest.
Sweet, sweet air. I hacked, rolling onto my side, wheezing for air. Edur slumped back into the sand, a rabid look in his eyes, his brow furrowed in rage. Eryi stood in front of him, shaking head to foot, her hair frizzy and tangled on top from grappling with her twin.
“Leave him alone,” she ordered, her voice weak and wavering as tears started to stream down her cheeks. “It was my choice. Not his.”
I sat up in the sand, watching Edur warily, but he made no move. He laid on his back and closed his eyes, letting out a deep sigh as Eryi ran and threw her arms around me, shaking with tears.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered, her warm breath soothing against the skin of my throat.
“Don’t blame yourself,” I murmured, squeezing her tight to my chest.
And then, just like that, it started.
Thunder rumbled and the sky darkened, shutting out the sun, and snow began to fall. Huge wet flakes sank to the beach, and ice crept up on the shoreline like a weaving snake. We looked to the skies, and I felt Eryi’s heart pumping quickly against my chest.
“What’s happening?” she whispered.
“They’re here. They’ve found us,” Edur growled.
He climbed up out of the sand, looking up on the horizon, his eyes narrowed. “The Bylurians. They’re going to take us as prisoners- they probably thought we escaped to Saleye to help them.”
“What?” I exploded, whipping around to face him. “What do you mean, as prisoners?”
His expression was calm as he met my eyes. “Well, I don’t mean us. I mean you.”
“Why?” I demanded, fists clenched, even though he was bigger and stronger than me, my eyes narrowed.
“They’ll think you and Eryi betrayed the crown.” he shrugged nonchalantly. “I swore an oath as a soldier to Bylur that I would never betray them, and they’ll just think you took me.”
“You’d do this to your own sister?” I cried, heart pounding in my chest. “She didn’t do anything! It was all me! I made us leave!”
“She made her choice. She had a choice to enlist in the army and swear her loyalty. She chose you.” he spat out the final word. “And here they come.”
He pointed to the sky, and we all turned and looked out over the water. Three huge black ships were advancing towards the beach menacingly, the wings spread wide. By the looks of the navy blue and white paint on the sides, they weren’t just any Bylurian ships- they were the general’s.
“Run!” I screamed, grabbing Eryi’s hand, and we sprinted into the dense foliage of the woods as fast as we could.
“Get back here!” Edur roared, whipping around and sprinting after us in hot pursuit.
We heard the loud crack of the ice on the water, even from deep in the woods. The ships had landed.
Eryi and I broke our hands apart, sprinting as deep into the woods as we could for dear life. “Under here!” I yelled, pointing out a hollow under a low fallen tree, and we dove underneath. There was barely enough space for both of us.
Panting, I leaned back against the small wall. “Eryi, I-”
“Stop,” she panted, pressing her hand to my chest. My eyes met hers, staring into the icy blue depths. Tears brimmed around the corners. “Don’t apologize, Nevis.”
I grabbed her face in my hands, her skin warm against my palms, and kissed her, moving my hands down so my arms wrapped around her midsection in a hug. She put her hands on my shoulders, her lips soft against mine, and we stayed there for at least a ten seconds, shutting out the horrors of the Ashain woods.
Finally, she broke apart from me and pressed a finger to my lips, silencing any protests I could have made as we heard Edur’s loud stomps overhead, shaking the hollow.
“Where are you?” he roared. “Come out and I’ll convince the generals to kill you quickly!”
Eryi slapped her hand to her mouth to silence a cry of fright and I squeezed my fists, trying to relax my pulse. I couldn’t believe it at all. My best friend, who broke the skulls of two of his fellow soldiers, handing us over to the generals to die for something we didn’t even do. My blood boiled, my skin flushing red, when suddenly-
I knew that sound. I heard it when my dad wrapped his arms around me as we hid in a bunker underneath our home in Bylur. The lazerfire from Bylurian ships, once attacking enemy Saleye forces, now on the search for us.
“STOP SHOOTING!” Edur roared above us, and the firing ceased immediately. Two new pairs of feet marched above us.
“General Marcen, General Pollock.” Edur’s tone was smug, and I pictured him dipping his head pompously.
“Who are you?” General Marcen, clearly recognized by his slight lisp, spoke in a rough tone.
“You- you don’t recognize me?” Edur’s voice wavered slightly, but even I just barely caught it. “I’m a soldier, sir. Edur, son of Sol and Karkis.”
“I know your father, boy,” General Pollock said in his low, growling voice. “And I know that if you’re here, that sister of yours is here too. Where?”
“My same question, General Pollock,” Edur replied. “Her and the other boy, Nevis.” he spat out my name like a curse, and I knew then that he would never forgive me.
“Alright, alright.” General Marcen raised his voice. “If you two don’t come out in about one minute we will burn this forest to the ground, and there will be no life left on this planet.”
“And why do you want to capture us?” I called, heart pumping in my throat.
That stopped them for a second, and we could hear their muffled voices. Then General Pollock spoke.
“You left planet Bylur in the middle of a war, breaking the loyalty to stand and fight with your nation. You stole a Bylurian ship that was going to be used to fight the Saleyen army. We have criminal records of you, Nevis, stealing from markets and harvesting ice to sculpt and trade, therefore running a black market business. Both of you have multiple accounts of breaking curfew. All of these are punishable by either prison for life, or death.”
“We can’t,” Eryi whispered, voice breaking, eyes wide. She grabbed my shoulders, forcing me to face her. “Nevis, I’d rather be blown to bits then go back to Bylur.”
“We’re going to die either way,” I said softly, my thumb caressing her cheek. “Shouldn’t we die at home? With our families?”
“You are my family. You and Edur are all I have left.” she squeezed her eyes closed, her hands shaking.
“We have to go.” I pushed her eyelids open gently with my thumb, and we met eyes again. I clasped her hand and led her out of the hollow.
“Ah, amazing. Bylur.” I adjusted myself in the hard chair. My wrists ached and red marks were etched into my skin from the heavy steel shackles around them.
Eryi sat across from me, her eyes red, and she sniffled every few seconds. She looked tiny in the huge thick clothes the generals gave her so the extreme cold of Bylur wouldn’t immediately freeze her skin. Mine, at least, fit fine.
Edur was leaning against a bar in the doorway to the front of the ship, where the generals sat operating the controls. He was oddly silent, staring at the floor.
“Got something on your mind?” I said icily, glaring at him.
Edur looked up, and his eyes were soft. Almost compassionate. “I’m wondering how I should ask them to kill you,” he growled sarcastically, his gaze hardening. “A neck-snap? Poison? Polar dog attack? Lazerfire?”
“Shut it, Edur!” Eryi cried, glaring up at him. Her icy blue eyes were surrounded by pale red from crying, and her voice shook like leaves in wind as she spoke. “Haven’t you gotten us in enough trouble already?”
“Eryi, I’m doing what’s right for Bylur.” he sounded pained as he looked over at her, loosening his grip on the bar.
“I’m your sister.” she jerked her head at me. “And he’s your best friend. What clouded your judgement so much that you’d throw away your own blood relation and your almost-brother?”
He was silent at that. I glanced at Eryi’s red face and Edur’s stone expression, tapping my foot on the stone floor.
“Just- prepare yourselves. You’ll be dead by dawn.” Edur turned around and shut the door to the cockpit, sealing himself away from us.
A beheading. Not so bad.
They tied us to the guillotine with strong ropes as crowds gathered around us solemnly, their faces stone and expressionless. At least they removed our shackles so Eryi and I could hold hands as we died.
Two men in navy blue clothes with masks came up to the guillotines, pulling the ropes down and the blades up. My heart roared in my ears, my fingers trembling in Eryi’s.
“Eryi Ro Sukishi, prisoner of war, escapee, convicted for betraying the Bylurian crown and for broken curfews.” General Marcen glared down at Eryi from his podium above us, fingers tapping on the wood. “Do you submit to execution?”
Eryi nodded numbly, her face white.
“Nevis Mi Rokala-”
“I know my crimes,” I interrupted him, staring him in the eyes. “Just get it over with already.”
General Marcen smiled cruelly, eyes narrowed. “As you wish.”
He waved a finger, and the ropes sprung upward. The last thing I felt was Eryi’s hand squeeze mine, then all went black.