Rhyvahr wandered through the Hestina Los night market, picking through the rings and accessories at several stalls. However, there was nothing that struck his fancy.
He missed his jewellery and clothing back at the palace.
He had been travelling around for weeks and never stayed at one place for too long. So, as much as he disliked wearing the same outfit more than once, lugging around all that clothing would be inconvenient.
Rhyvahr shivered when a breeze ran past him – bone-chilling.
He dropped the emerald ring he had been examining, looking around with unease.
Northern Jahara was certainly more prone to cold winds than the south. However, at this time of year, Hestina Los had already taken a plunge into the spring – one could tell from the sickly smell of flowers hanging constant in the air.
But Rhyvahr’s heartbeat quickened regardless.
He had learned to ignore the voice in his head that jumped at every little noise.
Years had passed, but his memory never let him forget.
Those weeks and months afterwards when he let the darkness swallow him whole.
His Father found out about his addiction, but by then he didn’t have the heart to scold Rhyvahr, who did nothing but lay in bed watching the sun rise and set, the moon wax and wane.
“Rhyvahr, please,” his Father had begged. “Eat something.”
Plate after plate of food that had been set on his bedside table had been untouched, left to go cold. And his body had almost wasted away.
He had taken nibbles at the food to please his Father. And that was all he had the energy to do.
He had been tossed down a deep, deep hole. Breath gone, bones shattered. But his heart kept on beating. Why was he still alive? What was there left to live for?
Then a hand had graced along his broken body – warm and solid and careful – repairing all the damage he had done himself.
I thought I told you to get better, Rhyvahr could recognise those hands anywhere.
“Fen,” he croaked, reaching out to Fenndon, even though it was all a fading dream. “Do not go, please.”
I will meet you where there is light at the top. Do it for me.
So, Rhyvahr spent weeks and months, an eternity, climbing out of that hole. When he reached the top, nails ruined, bloody, he didn’t feel triumph. Because the reflection he saw in the mirror spoke of someone weak and worthless.
But he kept living.
Because he saw how happy his Father had been when he finished his entire plate of food, when he got out of bed, put on his make-up and did his hair.
Bit by bit, the weight of the darkness became easier to carry.
His Father, head physician at the palace had finally deemed Rhyvahr fit to travel on his own. He had spent so long in his room that he had almost forgotten what the world looked like.
Rhyvahr had debated coming to Hestina Los, definitely not because of a certain blond haired, grey eyed someone. But he came against his better judgement.
The cold breeze hit him again, and this time he caught the shimmery silhouette of a woman disappear between the stalls.
A ghost. Of course.
Rhyvahr hadn’t seen a ghost since he was a child.
He followed the ghost, feeling the pull in his chest that guided his legs towards her.
An icy hand clapped over his mouth. “Get out of here as fast as you can, they are coming after you.”
Rhyvahr didn’t move.
Slowly, she took her hand off his mouth. Her hair was curly, ringlets falling over her shoulders. She had almond-shaped eyes with long eyelashes and small lips shaped like a heart.
“Who is ‘they’?” Rhyvahr asked with scepticism.
“Hunters,” she replied.
Then with a gust of the nightly spring wind, she disappeared.
If Rhyvahr still had his wings, he would have flown out of there upon hearing the word ‘hunters’, but he didn’t have them, and carriages were scarce this time of night. So he decided to not take a deluded ghost’s word for it.
Rhyvahr made his way back to the market where he bought himself a sparkling, purple drink. If he was already seeing ghosts, what harm could a little alcohol do?
His head was already spinning by the time he was halfway through.
Rhyvahr downed the whole glass because his Father never let him drink and he hadn’t gotten drunk in a long, long time.
He didn’t even feel the hilt of a sword slamming against his temple before he was passed out cold.
Rhyvahr awoke when fingers of light began prying at his eyes. He tried to blink away the pounding headache. He could faintly make out the sun rising between the distant mountains – he had seen that sight before.
Fenndon had woken him up one morning and dragged him all the way out here to see the sunrise. He had been groggy but he remembered how phenomenal it had been when the rays came through the night sky, breaking open a new dawn.
Rhyvahr definitely didn’t think it was phenomenal now.
There was dried blood clinging to the right side of his face. His head felt heavy. He was dizzy and nauseous, wishing more than anything that he had skipped out on Hestina Los.
He barely had time to turn to the side before his meagre dinner and alcohol decided to make a reappearance. He coughed and choked and dry heaved until his throat was burning, and his stomach spasming.
“Goodness, you are pathetic,” a voice said from above. Rhyvahr straightened up against the tree he was tied against. “With the way Lizin talks about you, I was under that you would be a little harder to beat.” The snark in her voice was making Rhyvahr’s head hurt more.
“I was drunk,” Rhyvahr said. “I would hardly call that a fair fight… whatever your name is.” He grimaced at the acrid taste in his mouth.
“Kes,” she replied, unholstering her dagger.
“As in you are from Kes?” She spun the dagger around, polished blade catching the light. She must have thought it made her look threatening, but all Rhyvahr could really focus on was the way her mouth jerked slightly more to one side when she talked.
“It is a nickname,” Kes replied.
“You care to tell me why I am here,” Rhyvahr said, swallowing the fear rising in his throat. The rope dug mercilessly into his wrists.
“Lizin said he wanted you captured,” Kes said. “So I captured you for him.”
“And you just always do what you are told,” Rhyvahr said. Antagonising the girl twirling a dagger inches from his neck was probably not the brightest of ideas, but it was the only thing keeping his heartbeat at bay.
“When Lizin tells me to, yes,” Kes said.
“You ever think that maybe this Lizin person is not very nice,” Rhyvahr said.
“He saved my life,” Kes said. The cruel lines on her face softened, and she stopped twirling the dagger for a moment, a distant look in her eyes.
“Good for you,” Rhyvahr mumbled. “Is that how you ended up here?” He would hardly call the hunter life desirable, they weren’t paid aplenty, so they were hired to do people’s dirty work most of the time.
“I did not end up here, I wanted to be here,” Kes said. “My whole family is composed of scholars, it had become tradition. I was not intelligent enough for them, and I wanted something else. However, they refused to have me damage their scholarly name, so they hired Lizin to kill me. But he took me with him instead.”
“Thank you,” Rhyvahr said. “For the wonderful life story. I am still tied to a tree, so if you could please tell your dear Lizin to hurry up. That would be appreciated.”
Kes left and didn’t return until nightfall. By then Rhyvahr had begun to think that maybe they were just going to leave him to the crows. The more time he remained against the tree, the more aware he became of the trunk pushing the broken ends of his wings into his back.
They had been taken from him. That fact drove into his mind again and again, he could never forget it.
Just when he thought that it had become easy, the nightmares came.
They always made him awaken in a terrible cold sweat, burning tendrils of pain running all over his back. It sent him crawling to the vanity, turning his jewellery boxes upside down to find that tin.
The first time that had happened, his Father came rushing in, and Rhyvahr had clung on to him, crying silently in his arms for the rest of the night.
Rhyvahr looked up when footsteps began to approach. “I got him,” Kes said. “Just like you asked.” There was someone else standing beside her, which Rhyvahr assumed was Lizin.
His clothing was entirely black with a pair of sturdy leather boots. His hair fell flat and choppy at his unshaven jaw. His bone structure was sharp and angular, cheekbones and eye sockets jutting out. And his eyes were bicoloured – one blue and one green.
Rhyvahr had to look away before those features slotted perfectly with the ones from his memory. Those thin lips that had spread white along yellowing teeth as his cackles blended in with Rhyvahr’s screams, creating one horrifying song of mockery and contempt.
Rough fingers pressed against Rhyvahr’s cheek, forcing him to look upon the person that had stolen his life and purpose from him. He had walked away, not a care in his mind. And Rhyvahr had been left to pick up the broken pieces of himself.
All that pain and sorrow and heartache driven to this moment of confrontation.
“Thank you, darling,” Lizin said, stroking Kes’s hair. “You always bring home the goods.” Then, they kissed, long and passionate with the kind of love that Rhyvahr had not felt in years.
“I thought I told you to leave,” a voice whispered in his ear. The transparent form appeared in his peripheral vision.
“Well, I have never seen you before,” Rhyvahr said. “So forgive me for not trusting every word you say. Who even are you?”
“Someone who knows many things,” she replied. The ropes loosened around his wrists. “And someone who does not want you to get killed.” She exhaled, cold air ran down Rhyvahr’s neck.
The ropes fell away.
Breaths exited Rhyvahr’s lungs quick and shallow. He could have run right then when Lizin and Kes’s gaze was turned away from him. But he didn’t. There was a burning sensation within him, culminated rage boiling as his eyes bore into Lizin.
He was the one who had chased Rhyvahr into the darkness, snarling and prowling around him. A hungry wolf who fed off of pain and suffering.
“I have to admit,” Lizin said, finally breaking away from Kes. “It is comforting to see a familiar face. Even if it belongs to someone who should be in a grave.”
He was no amateur when it came to hiding his emotions behind a single, calculating smile.
“The feeling is mutual,” he said.
“Kes, untie him,” Lizin said. She walked around to the other side of the tree where she spotted the fallen rope. But by then Rhyvahr had already made a grab for the sword casually swinging at Lizin’s hip.
Lizin turned, chuckling. “Do you even know how to use—” Rhyvahr thrust the blade straight through his chest. He held Lizin upright, looking him in his eyes, just how he had looked at Rhyvahr as he screamed.
Lizin wasn’t screaming though. Blood was bubbling out of his mouth, and he made choking sounds as his heartbeat raced to a maximum before it stopped altogether. His eyes glazed over like the eyes of a porcelain doll.
But Rhyvahr kept holding onto him, feeling his own heart pulsating so, so slow. Because he had done Lizin a favour. A painless death for all of Rhyvahr’s years of devastation and loss.
How lucky he was.
Then, he heard Kes’s shriek and the piercing pain of her dagger into his side.
Rhyvahr let Lizin fall, stumbling back.
Kes collapsed by Lizin, mumbling between cries. Rhyvahr was familiar with the sound. Because that was how he had cried for his wings. Crying for them to come back the way Kes cried for Lizin to wake up.
“You promised me forever,” she said. “When my family turned their backs on me, you said you never would. You can’t die.” She pressed her forehead against his shoulder. “No. No, no, no.”
Rhyvahr swallowed, every emotion running through him. Shock and anger and hatred and confusion.
Everything but remorse.
Perhaps Kes turned after she was done crying at Lizin’s side to avenge her lover. But by then Rhyvahr had already disappeared into the dark forest, a mere shadow among the leaves.
Rhyvahr stumbled his way back towards the rows of houses that lined the meadow. He had spent so many afternoons there with Fenndon that he knew the way to his house. It was a small cottage with wisteria hanging over the roof, littering the ground with purple.
Light streamed out of the window, giving Rhyvahr the perfect view into Fenndon’s room. He sat on his bed, reading a book. His brows were knitted in concentration as he tucked a piece of loose hair behind his ears.
And Rhyvahr smiled when the words on Fenndon’s page made him smile. Because Fenndon’s happiness was his happiness.
He looked down at the blood on his hands. Lizin’s, mixed with his own.
His pain didn’t need to be Fenndon’s pain, so he bid Fenndon goodnight.
Fenndon wouldn’t want to see him. He had been nice the last time because he pitied Rhyvahr. But Rhyvahr doubted there would be pity now.
He had just killed someone.
But then he felt a hand around his wrist.
“Fen,” he spoke Fenndon’s name like a starving man pleading for food. Because Fenndon was what had sustained him on those days when the darkness seemed too great, and living seemed too hard.
You are hurt, he signed, peering at the blood soaking through Rhyvahr’s clothing.
“No, no,” Rhyvahr said, as his knees almost gave out. “I am good.”
You are coming inside. Rhyvahr knew not to protest when Fenndon made a demand.
There was still that faint smell of honey and delicate sweetness inside the cottage, one that could only belong to Fenndon.
Rhyvahr sat down on the wooden chair, breathing heavily, not wanting to get blood on Fenndon’s scrubbed-clean table.
Fenndon didn’t say anything when he got back with the medical supplies. Just undid all the buttons down Rhyvahr’s front, and pulled back the layers of clothing. He frowned at Rhyvahr’s clearly visible ribs. He had never fully gained back the weight he lost. Where once had been lean muscle was replaced by mere skin wrapped around bones.
Fenndon’s cool fingers pressed against the wound slightly – his touch igniting that hidden desire in Rhyvahr. He didn’t ask what happened or why Rhyvahr had come, only went about cleaning the blood away and stitching up his wound with the gentlest care.
The light shone onto Fenndon’s cheek, making the scar that ran down his skin more prominent. But Rhyvahr found that beautiful about him – the scars he never hid
He wrapped bandages around Rhyvahr’s torso.
Rhyvahr had grown up watching his Father care for people’s wounds. He and Fenndon had the same look in their eyes. The ability to constantly give and heal, while Rhyvahr could only take and destroy.
Done, Fenndon signed. Just be careful for the next few days. Let it heal.
“Thank you,” Rhyvahr said, breath catching in his throat. Fenndon was so close, close enough for Rhyvahr to reach out and touch his cheek. He wanted to pull Fenndon to him, be held by him for the rest of the night.
Fenndon placed his hand over Rhyvahr’s. I care about you, Rhyvahr, he signed. But I have been seeing someone. He is good to me, he makes me happy.
Rhyvahr was silent, letting those words sink in. He couldn’t help the thoughts. Are you saying I was never good to you? That I never made you happy?
He had been with Fenndon at a time when he was too young and selfish, only thinking about what he wanted, and never appreciating what was right in front of him.
He didn’t know what he had hoped for.
That Fenndon would suddenly take him back with open arms. That he was just going to be waiting for Rhyvahr all these years. The worst thing was that there was a truly a part of him that had believed Fenndon would.
Finally he choked. “Then, I am glad you are happy.” He quickly buttoned his clothes again and got up, barely able to hide the grimace as he jostled his wound.
Stay, Fenndon signed. Just for the night.
Just for the night. Because Rhyvahr was a patient Fenndon needed to care for.
I will get you a change of clothes. He watched Fenndon vanish into his room.
“He still does not know,” the ghost woman said, reappearing beside Rhyvahr.
“Know what?” Rhyvahr asked, even though he knew exactly what she was saying.
“What happened that night,” she said. “The one that ended with him finding you in someone else’s bed.”
“He does not need to know,” Rhyvahr replied.
“Do you not want to know why those hunters were after you?” she asked.
“No, please,” Rhyvahr said. His side was throbbing painfully and weariness was seeping through his limbs. “No.”
By the time Fenndon returned, she was gone.