Kier twisted the quill, not even noticing how the ink dripped onto the parchment and bloomed across the page like black blood soaking through thin fabric. A bundle of claustrophobic feelings choked his throat – the more he tried to swallow, the worst it became.
He tried to write, but his hand was trembling too much – unshakable spasms.
Dear Lentan… The ink smudged. Dear Lentan… Too illegible.
I deeply apologise. No. My most sincere condolences. No. I understand you do not want to be hearing from me. No.
Kier rubbed at his temples, the headache thrummed against his skull. He reached for the glass of red spirits, and downed it all; even the people who could hold their liquor would have called him a fool. It bubbled and burned down his throat like… fire of course, what else burned?
His vision focused on the blur of meaningless, crossed out words.
I’m sorry I killed your sister…
Kier shook the cockroach from his moth-bitten cloak. Sorcerers were meant to have a better taste in fashion, but Kier had never been particularly interested.
He had only had a few outfits growing up – one for every season. Everything had to be worn until it was unwearable before purchasing anything new.
Even as a fully qualified sorcerer, that habit had never changed.
“Kier!” From the distance, a figure ran towards him – long, gangly legs beating the dirt.
Kier wasn’t exactly prepared for the hug that came barrelling towards him, so he took a step back and tripped on his cloak. The rooves of the houses tilted and he fell, right onto his behind.
Green eyes sparkled before him, the corners marked by smile lines. His usually light brown hair had been sun-bleached into a wheat blond. His nose was still noticeably crooked from the time he had picked a fight with the wrong village bully.
He looked so much older though – almost marrying age. Gosh, had it really been that long – yet, from the moment they saw each other, it was like nothing had changed.
“Lentan,” Kier said, their meeting was long overdue. “It is so good to see you.”
Lentan hauled him up, brushing the dirt off Kier’s cloak. “You’re speaking all strange now,” he said, furrowing his brow. “Like those high-class folk.”
Funny, the ‘high-class folk’ always made fun of his accent, but he supposed he did pick up some of their speech, and lost some of his own.
“Too much travelling around the world?” Kier bit his lip; he didn’t think there was resentment in Lentan’s tone— “Relax, I’m just messing with you.” He pinched Kier’s cheek. “Still so gullible.”
Yes, gullible indeed. And naïve.
He should have known better.
He had finished the entire bottle of red spirits, and the letter was no closer to completion. Shoving it aside, Kier held back his urge to burn it. The flames simmered in his palm, but his fingers were smothering it.
Too bad they couldn’t burn him.
He deserved to feel that pain.
“Eight years,” Lentan said, as they walked along the dirt-streaked path. The midday sun had forced Kier to shed his cloak; his hair was plastered to his neck, prickling at his skin – he really needed to get it cut. “Feels like an eternity.”
For Kier, it had passed by in two blinks of an eye. Different places every week, more books to read, magic to learn, witches and sorcerers to meet.
“I’m glad to be back,” Kier said. Lentan smiled, though it appeared strained, and now that they had been walking for a while, he seemed to have lost his initial excitement. His eyes were locked on a stone, unmoving, troubled. “Len… what’s wrong?”
“You’re a sorcerer,” Lentan said. “I’m sure you have seen your fair share of odd things.”
“I have definitely seen many a strange sight,” Kier replied, then shook his head, knowing how unusual that would sound to Lentan. “Yes, I have seen odd things,” Kier rephrased.
“My sister, she has been unlike herself. She tells me about strange dreams where she is in the realm of the dead. I ask her about something she did earlier in the day, and she looks at me all confused. One night, she was sitting on her bed, completely still, just staring at the wall. I called her name, but when she turned to me, her eyes were black. Completely black.”
“You are sure about this?” Kier said, sweat gathering on his palm. A spirit possessing a human was rare, but Kier had certainly had his experiences with them.
After all, his powers had only been revealed after a spirit had possessed him.
He hardly remembered anything of it, just that somehow, he became apprentice to the Second Princess of Tel’hat and one of Rakatraah’s most prolific witches, Corvina Varnseling.
“Please, Kier, you have to help her,” Lentan said, nails digging into Kier’s wrist.
“I will,” he replied. “Of course I will.”
Because how could he refuse?
Sweet Lendra. Innocent Lendra. Cute as a button Lendra.
With her golden hair and wondrous blue eyes, and soft fingertips that were delicate enough to make the most intricate embroidery.
Lendra with her dream to be a dressmaker. To travel to Safra city and design the clothing wealthy people wore to balls and weddings and celebrations.
She wanted to make people look beautiful.
She had the most radiant smile. Bubbly and bright – the perfect ray of sunshine for any dull, meaningless existence.
Kier stood up, stumbling, hip ramming into the corner of his desk. The ink bottle tipped. Kier set it back upright, not even bothering to curse – no point crying over spilt ink.
The cottage he was staying at wasn’t big, but somehow it took him three tries to get to the kitchen.
He pried open the rusty cabinet; an entire bottle of red spirits should have been more than enough, but he could still feel the ache gnawing at his chest, the agony kicking at his stomach – a demon child about to burst from the womb.
Kier twisted open a bottle of cherry rum, unsure whether it was the rum swirling or his vision. It was dark red in colour – he supposed he had a liking for red drinks.
Maybe it was because it looked like blood.
“Ouch,” the knife slipped across Lentan’s finger. A drop of blood fell onto the chopping board. “Bugger.”
They had arrived at Lentan’s house to find Lendra in her room, asleep.
She looked different from how Kier remembered. Her hair was meant to be gold, but it had become stringy rusted copper. Her skin was pale – ashen, the shadows beneath her eyes bruise-like.
Kier touched the back of his hand to her icy forehead. A flash of red and he recoiled. Black eyes and a snarl of pointy teeth.
Cold fists seized his heart.
It wasn’t a spirit – it was a demon.
Lendra’s eyes shot open, her arm darted out and her fingers clenched in a locked grip around his wrist. The strength was superhuman; Kier was sure that she would snap his bones as though it were twigs.
Worse things had happened to Kier, but in that moment, he was frightened like never before.
The cherry rum was bitter when it hit his tongue.
He was thinking about Lendra, because why wouldn’t he be?
He drank and he drank and he was trying to drown her out.
Drown Lentan out.
Drown it all out.
Do you think that she was frightened? That in the last moment before the demon in her burned away, and so too did she, that it was fear grasping her? Or was it calmness? Anger?
What do you think she would do to you if she came back as a vengeful spirit?
Will she tear you limb from limb? Slowly pulling apart your skin, muscles, tissues and ligaments. Or will she burn you with your own flames. For the last thing that you smell to be you feel to be the simmering of your flesh. For the last thing you feel to be the same agony she felt, the agony you put her through?
Kier screamed – deep and guttural.
The demon child was tearing its claws through his abdomen, fighting to break free, its wails like a banshee. His hands found the ground, and he got a palm-full of shattered glass – he must have dropped the bottle.
The red rum was all over him, mingled with his blood – something innate.
And he was smearing it on his pants, his shirt.
Now he truly looked like a murderer.
Lendra screamed – the choke and tear of her throat was scratchy like a sack-full of gravel. Kier tore his wrist from her grip – the bruises already beginning to rise.
He backed away as she tumbled off the bed.
She landed with her leg twisted beneath her. Back arched, joints popping.
Lentan rushed into the room, grasping at his sister’s cheeks. “Lendra, come on, look at me.” His voice quivered, his hands shook. “Look at me, please.” Lendra raised her head, her stringy hair fell away – revealing glazed, black eyes – charred around the corners, darkness bleeding into her veins.
She tilted her head like a hound. Blood dripped from between her lips.
“Lentan,” Kier reached forward, careful not to make his movements too sudden. “Get away from her.”
His jaw was tight, trying to hold back the tears. “You said you would help her.”
“I will,” Kier replied. “I said I will, and I don’t break my word.”
Maybe he wasn’t to be faulted.
Maybe in a year or so time, Kier would look back on this night and think it was foolish he had caused such a commotion.
The spilt ink bottle – black liquid leaching into the cracks of the splintered wooden desk. The letter abound with creases and tears and furious crossings out. The shattered bottle of cherry rum that cut its miniscule shards into his palm.
Lentan was still too close for Kier’s liking. Her nails had become sharp claws, in one pounce, she would gut him.
Kier sucked in a deep breath. He had seen Corvina send spirits and demons back to their rightful place many times – too many to count with his fingers.
But he had never done it himself.
Kier held out his palm. A black flame ignited – tips caught onto the air and tried to reach higher. To break free from his grasp.
He was its master though – it would never disobey him.
The demon recoiled at the sight of it. “That is right,” Kier said. “Leave Lendra’s body, or I will burn you to the point of no return.”
However, the demon only twisted Lendra’s mouth into a gruesome smile. “You would not dare hurt the girl.”
Of course he wouldn’t hurt Lendra. How could he hurt Lendra?
“Let my sister go,” Lentan stepped away from the wall. The demon turned to him, licking its lips.
Kier grasped onto his arm. “Len, no,” he said. “Let me do this.”
“This is my sister.” He approached the demon wearing his sister’s body with no fear in his eyes. Kier had learnt quite early on in his training that being fearless was the most dangerous state a creature could be. “Lendra, it’s me, your brother. Come back to me, you can fight it. I believe in you.”
And Kier saw that Lentan wasn’t fearless. There were two lines of tears carving down his cheek. His bottom lip trembled.
But at least he wasn’t a coward.
At least he didn’t panic.
But the demon still pounced, leaping to sink its teeth into Lentan’s neck.
Lentan’s life flashed before Kier’s eyes. All those afternoons they had spent by the pond, swirling patterns in the muddy water, fishing for tadpoles. Chasing after each other to see which one of them could catch the rabbit first.
The one time Lentan had caught a rabbit was because it had been shot by a hunter’s arrow. He had taken the rabbit home and nursed it back to health.
His heart was good.
And so was Lendra’s.
Maybe Kier could have saved the both of them. However, his magic reacted to his distress before he could control it.
And Kier will never unsee how those flames as black as the night roared and howled and danced.
The demon screeched its devastation, vanishing in a puff of smoke – it will never trouble anyone again. But it had left its carnage and destruction behind.
Within the flames, there came a scream again, but this time, it was distinctly Lendra’s.
In that moment, it was like his heart was being torn from his chest by intrepid, clawed fingers – slowly breaking through the skin until it reached the bones of his ribcage – the hands would break the bones the way a hunter snapped the neck of an animal.
Yet, he could do nothing.
Nothing about Lendra’s pain. Nothing about Lentan’s pain.
Nothing about his pain.
Kier picked the shards of glass from his palm, and threw it aside. Blood ran down his wrist like the sticky juice of just-ripe grapefruit.
“I knew I should not have left you alone.” Kier had all but gotten used to Corvina’s silent presence, but he had been more than a little out of it, so he jumped, trying to hide his bloody hands.
“Please,” Kier said. “I don’t want to talk about it.”
“You are drowning, Kier,” Corvina said, sitting down beside him – her robes swept on the ground. “I understand. Your own powers can be frightening, and sometimes, we lose control of it. That is the way it is.”
Kier bit his lip, he had bitten it too many times that it hurt – coated in dried blood, his mouth filled with the coppery tang. “You don’t understand. She was my friend, and I killed her.”
“You were protecting the boy, Kier,” Corvina said. “They would have both died if you did not do anything. You saved his life.”
“He hates me,” Kier said. He hadn’t said those words out loud, and now that he did, it cracked open the tear well. “It was a mistake, I didn’t mean to do it, but I can’t bring her back, there is nothing I can do. Nothing!”
“It is all right to feel helpless,” Corvina said. “I know the pain is great, but you must not destroy yourself over this.”
“What do I even say to him?” Kier asked, tears breaking his breath until he couldn’t catch it. “The way he looked at me.” His eyes had been so full of betrayal. “I gave him my word, and I broke it.” He brought his bloody palms to his eyes to wipe the tears away, but they kept coming – a wound that would not close.
“Demons are wrought on bringing about chaos. It would not have let the girl go – it would have laid waste to your entire village.” Corvina’s voice always had a way of sending chills down Kier’s spine. The sight he was imagining in his head definitely wasn’t a pretty one. “If your friend is as good as you have told me, he will find it in his heart to forgive you. I am not saying it will happen right away, it may not even happen for many years, but someday, Kier, he will realise.”
Lendra’s grave was situated beneath a large willow – its sweeping vines graced her headstone with every ruffle of the wind.
Kier’s palms began to sweat, the sun – though dying – was making the bunch of daisies in his hand wilt. They were Lendra’s favourite – her signature embroidery.
It suited her.
As he held it, he was so scared that the petals would break at the slightest shift in the air. Or that his hands would burst into flames and burn it to a crisp.
No matter what, he came every year as the sun gradually went below the horizon, the hood of his robe covering his face – he was still a coward; looking over his shoulder, so afraid that Lentan would be standing there.
He laid the daisies in front of Lendra’s weather-beaten grave.
The sky rumbled with thunder. The rain would muddy the pristine white petals, and the wind would carry it somewhere far away.
Kier stood there until night rolled over. When darkness had enveloped everything.
“You really do come every year.”
Kier froze, his breaths too loud. “Yes,” he said. “Yes, I do.”
“You still remember that her favourite flowers are daisies,” Lentan said.
“I will never forget,” Kier replied.
Never forget her brightness, her loving nature, her light.
He will never forget.