The pathway echoed with footsteps like the pattering of agitated heartbeats. Sariah seemed to storm across the neatly fitted stone pieces, dark green cloak fluttering behind her. A shorter figure skated after her, ebony curls bouncing in her wake.
“Sariah! Sariah, slow down!”
She halted suddenly, turning on her heel with a brief skid. “I know, I know, I’m sorry.” She blurted, hands held out in a calming gesture. Sariah’s brow was furrowed slightly, her shoulders bowed downward tiredly. “I just-- I didn’t want to explain anything to the rangers.” She said, absentmindedly shuffling her newly muddied boots. Sariah had obviously not been in her bed recently.
The younger girl blinked away the sleep from her eyes and grinned, her expression turning eager and hopeful. “Did you see Solania?”
Sariah’s eyes flickered. “Leda… Solania, she...” Sariah trailed off dully, her words leaving her.
Leda’s face turned a bit pale. “What’s wrong? Is she okay?”
“She’s… fine.” Sariah acknowledged conflictingly. “She’s just…” Sariah struggled, pacing and wringing her hands. “She’s different.”
“Like…?” Leda prompted.
Sariah locked her arms together, analyzing the flaming torches illuminating the starlit night. Like what? Like a witch? No, not that. Solania smiled too much for that. Sariah stilled even further. That smile had been worse than a witch’s pale emotionless mask.
Sariah turned to look at Leda. “She’s taken control of the fortress keep.” she informed her.
Leda’s eyes brightened in awe. “Really?”
Sariah nodded. “Some Glenarm townsfolk are trying to evacuate.” She murmured.
The comment seemed to glide past Leda’s ears. She rocked on her heels, still thinking about the impenetrable fortress she had seen glimpses of ever since she was young. “So that’s why Solania couldn’t meet up with us.” She reasoned.
“Overthrowing the Nursery claimed her attention first.” Sariah commented, without any noticeable irritation that she and Leda had been the second priority. Sariah wasn’t at all sad to hear that Solania had ripped apart their old prison brick by brick. The traces of satisfaction quickly vanished, overtaken by hesitant consideration.
“She had her… friends know our descriptions, to take us in if they saw us, but really she just expected us to come to her.” Sariah explained. “She thought that you would be with me, that the only reason we were “late” is because someone tried to stop us reuniting.”
Leda tilted her head to the side slightly. “No one stopped us.”
“I told her that.” Sariah said quietly.
“So you told her about the rangers and Lord Eldridge?” Leda asked, thinking happily of the people who had sheltered them so unquestioningly.
“Yes.” Sariah lied. She didn’t think that Solania would have been pleased to hear about their new… acquaintances. Not friends, they couldn't be trusted openly enough for that. Sariah began pacing again, considering what she had learned from seeing Solania again after nearly a whole season of absence.
“She really expected that we would have been back to her in a week or so at most. We must have had her really worried.” She said, her tone a mix of regret and numb pondering. “We alway did that. We always went flocking to her.” Sariah seemed to realize. Even when Sariah was the same age as her, even when only Leda had been the youngest, Solania had always been The Eldest.
“We’re going back to her, right?”
Sariah’s head snapped back towards Leda. Her mouth opened and closed a few times. “I don’t think that’s a good idea right now.” She decided.
“We wouldn’t get caught.” Leda reassured her. “You did it just recently, right? Now you know how to do it, and we can go together and not have to worry about coming back.”
“Won’t you be sad to leave Lord Eldridge?” Sariah asked honestly, knowing how the witchling had beamed at the wise nobleman when she finally decided he wasn’t an active threat to her.
Leda nodded sadly. “I would be. But Solania’s family, Sariah.” She reminded her confidently. “She’s our Meadowlark. “Closer than sisters”, right? We’d be a proper coven, just like Solania always said we would be.”
Sariah could have handled anything else. She didn’t remember it being so hard to breathe. She pulled her cloak tighter around her shoulders, as if waking up from a dream into a chilling nighttime air that she had forgotten was there.
Solania had always believed. She believed that Leda and Sariah were destined for something Great, and that they were worth her time. She believed that they had inherited magic from their mothers, and that it was a magic worth celebrating, not measured and restricted like it was in the Nursery. She knew that one day they were going to get out and make their own decisions. It wasn’t possible, not to Sariah especially. But Solania didn’t think so. She made them believe.
Sariah frowned slightly, lips pressed into a thin line. “Look, Sparrow,” She said softly. “Solania is acting strange.” She admitted uncertainly.
“I don’t know why, but she’s.. She’s scaring me.” Sariah confessed.
Solania had always frightened her, just a little bit. It had never occurred to her though, since Meadowlark had always been there for her, like having a fluffy war dog snarling in front of your adversaries. Solania never snarled. Not even remotely. She just… watched. Watched everything with slanting black eyes that sparkled like sharp diamonds.
“I don’t think she meant it.” Leda reasoned, looking at Sariah sympathetically.
“No, I don’t think so.” Sariah admitted. “But she’s making other people scared of her-- on purpose-- and she’s not just stopping there she’s… wrecking things. Hurting people.”
“I know it happened on the day we escaped.” Leda said. “All the smoke and the frantic yelling, it would be stupid to think that the guards got away alright. But I don’t feel sorry for them.” She stated plainly.
“You shouldn't,” Sairah agreed. “I didn’t care for them either.” She shook her head suddenly. “But Solania didn’t stop there, on the day we ran. She didn’t stop at the Nursery, she went after the town, not after us.”
Leda shifted her weight on her feet, crossing her arms for warmth in the early morning darkness. “I know.” She muttered. “It was the only way we were able to escape.”
“True.” Sariah conceded. “But she could have stopped sooner.” She said quietly.
Leda stared at her. “Why should she?”
Sariah shuffled her feet. “She should have come with us, we should have just stuck together.”
“We can still be together.” Leda stated blankly. “That’s the plan, right?”
It was. Of course it was.
Solania’s actions that day hadn't been like a witch either. She hadn't been the most efficient, taking the fastest route. When the threat had been defeated, she didn’t stop. The plan didn’t seem to go quite right that day, not in the way that Sariah thought it would. That day, Sparrow and Finch escaped. Meadowlark conquered.
“The plan was that we would get to start over.” Sariah said a little distantly.
“We are starting over.” Leda insisted.
“Not really.” Sariah claimed. “Not together.”
“We would be together if we just went to Solania.” Leda argued a bit impatiently.
But maybe they shouldn’t go to Solania. Maybe that wasn’t a good idea right now. They would go back-- of course they had to, they couldn’t just leave her-- but maybe not right now? Solania was acting wrong, she wasn’t acting like herself. Not really like a witch and… not really like a human either.
They had seen witches visiting the Nursery from time to time. They were easy to recognize, they were so different from the humans.
Witches were rake thin, wearing long raven--feathered cloaks and wide black hats, so quiet that their feet didn’t seem to touch the ground. No one knew what their faces looked like behind the ivory porcelain masks. Some say the masks didn’t even matter, that a witch’s face was so blank and bloodless, their hearts so cold and hard that they never even felt emotion. Yet, Sariah still existed. So did Solania and Leda. The witches called their mothers defective. The humans called their fathers insane.
They both called the half-bloods demonic.
But Solania was never like that. Maybe her eyes were black, but her hair was long and golden, shining like the rays of dawn. And her smile was so bright too, pearly and sweet, and it made you feel like you were so perfect, that everything was going to turn out fine.
She had smiled even brighter when it was Sariah that had been dragged through the doors of her new office. And right away Sariah just knew that it was all going to be okay. Solania was going to make it okay. Sariah still remembered the way Solania’s hand locked on her arm reassuringly. Possessively.
“We shouldn’t go back to Solania right now.” Sariah repeated.
Leda stared. “What do you mean?”
“We will go back--we will,” She insisted. “But later. Not now.”
Leda shook her head, black curls shaking around the fringed of her pale face. “You’re acting weird, Finch.” She said softly, confusion and worry dripping into her voice.
Sariah stalled, thinking tensely. She shook her head, a frown creasing over her eyebrows. “Solania shouldn’t have done that.” She muttered. “She shouldn’t have set the town on fire.”
Leda’s mouth twitched downward. “You know what they did to us.”
“But their neighbors? Their children? It’s gone, it's all gone Leda. It's all black and grey, ash and charcoal. She didn’t stop. She wouldn’t.”
But that was what she had wanted, wasn’t it? Sariah gazed out into the early morning shadows, eyes focused on something that wasn’t there. It happened nearly a year ago. Solania had wiped tears from her face, the other hand raking through her tawny hair as she trembled silently in the darkness.
Don’t let them clip your wings. She whispered. They’ll see, Finch. Were gonna set the world on fire.
Leda’s face flickered. “It’s us against the world, it's always gonna be us against the world.”
“Maybe that’s not really true.” Sariah suggested. “It’s not us against the rangers, is it?”
Leda’s mouth tightened into a grim line. “You said it yourself, we can’t tell them what our mothers were. We can’t trust them, we can’t trust anyone except each other, it's the way it’s always been!”
Sarah startled. Leda had been so fond of the rangers, of Lord Eldrigde. Sariah blinked furiously,
“We don’t have to tell them anything, they’re still helping us!”
“The people at the Nursery were helping us too, what good did that ever do us?”
“None! Less than none! It doesn’t change the fact that the Nursery wasn’t the only thing destroyed that day!”
“What does it matter?” She demanded. “Solania changed everything, she changed our world for us, fought fire with fire!”
“Just because her actions were justified doesn't mean they are forgivable!” Sariah roared.
Leda put her hands over her head, making a conflicted sort of strangled cry. “I know she messed up, but we can still save her!”
“She’s gone, Leda.” Sariah declared adamantly.
She shook her head vehemently, turning to glare at Sariah. “You already thought that weeks ago, when we met the rangers. You never even gave her a chance, did you?! you already gave up on her!” Leda accused angrily.
Sariah reeled. “How could you say that of me?”
The wind whistled softly through their hair. Leda stood very still. “Why won’t you just come with us?” She asked pleadingly.
Silence stretched between them.
“I’m not going with you.”
The eastern sky began to bleed red. Leda wrapped her arms around herself, drawing the fringes of her grey cloak closer. “Then you’ve turned against us.” She concluded.
Sariah stood unmoving. “I’ve betrayed no one, but I won’t follow you.”
“You’d rather follow the rangers, huh?”
“I’d rather follow my own choices.”
Leda stared at her, almost unrecognizing. Her mossy eyes narrowed bitterly, smoldering with a familiar kind of bitter determination. Sariah turned her back to the dawning light, and began walking slowly away from her Sparrow.
Leda watched her leave. “Don’t let them clip your wings.” She warned.
Sariah stopped, turning her head slightly. “Don’t fly too close to the sun,” She countered. “You will be burned.”