Death is a funny thing. Its final. It’s daunting. Some view it as dark. Others say it’s a blessing. It’s hard to place, to define. Yet without our even being aware, it draws out what’s in us. What we feel. What we want. When someone dies what is it that we want? Their return is usually the most instinctive answer……... But is that really it?
The creaking of the aged wheels and the rhythmic bumping of the wagon finally drew to a halt.
Cahirah should have noticed..
The soft voice floated around her head like a mist. She could hear the horses hoofs shuffling against the gravel, smell the pine and cold forest yet at the same time couldn’t. She felt too numb.
A hand gently rested on her arm. Heavy, prodding her to respond. She blinked slowly. Liam’s eyes filled with concern were the first thing she recognized.
He breathed again, an almost question in his tone.
Are you sure?
Shaking the webs from her head Cahirah stood up brushing him off and disembarking from the wagon. The gravel crunched beneath her feet as she landed, she winced from her wounds but she looked up in time to catch the bulging coarse face of the driver become more grotesque as it wrinkled in disgust at their most unusual party. It was to be expected of course, as Liam hoisted a small dead girl onto his back. Soft brown tresses floated down the child’s back, and cheeks that once were bright and soft now were pale and cold.
Cahirah's fists tightened…and so did her throat. She turned heading towards the forest. This would fix it. It had too. This would make everything okay again, it was her only hope.
“Oi boy!!” The husky driver rasped.
Cahirah turned to see Liam being called back towards the wagon. His quick yet light tread made evident his talent as a hunter. The wagon creaked as the driver leaned towards him. Close enough to be heard but not daring to get to close to the lifeless doll the dubious teen gently bore. Cahirah’s eyes narrowed in suspicion as the sour man hissed things into Liam’s ear. They had been under attack even before Oria was murdered, they didn’t need anymore trouble. The drivers face twisted once more with a final remark before he leaned back snapping the leather reins on the bright geldings backs and rattled off to his next destination.
Liam watched him go, the wind from it whipping his hair. Cahirah could almost see the thoughts mulling in his head. However when he turned to face her his face was clear of any signs of any sort of response, just blank, before he again made his way over to his place at her side.
“This way?” He asked, tone calm and guarded, falling in step beside her.
Cahirah squinted at the sky.
“We should get close enough before nightfall. It’s fatal to stay at the place itself.”
Liam made a noise of noncommittal resignment.
“Lead the way."
The forest was cold. That was really the only description that could be given off it. No birds, no squirrels. The oaks had a gray tint to them, the almost bare branches giving view to the drab sky above them. The only thing that moved was the wind that bit at them, almost like it was cursing them for coming here, disturbing its stagnant home.
Cahirah wouldn’t be surprised if the wind actually could curse people. She wouldn’t be surprised if the whole forest was full of witchery and the like. It was what was rumored of the place and, more importantly, why they were here.
Liam was quiet beside her, footsteps barely audible. He had scarcely said a word the whole trip. Then again, he had scarcely said a word since it happened.
He blames you… it’s your fault.
“What did the driver say to you back there?” She asked, eyes remaining fixed ahead of her, while she distracted her thoughts. Liam was quiet for a while. Cahirah could tell he was calculating how much to tell her.
The trees seemed to grow thicker around them, like claws tightening around prey. A chill settled over Cahirah as the sounds of their footsteps seemed to echo through the breathless forest.
“What’d he say?”
Liam was quiet again. Cahirah turned to look at him, a big mistake. Bruises lined his jaw, turning his once tanned skin now sporting various shades of purple but his eyes were the worst…Soft yet pained as well. A pain he wasn’t sharing with her.
“Do you really want to know?”
Cahirah felt locked in place. Trapped. Did she? Did it matter? Her eyes drifted to the sheet white face on Liam’s shoulder and a pain shot through her. Too much.
“No.” Her eyes snapped forward and her teeth clenched so tightly her jaw felt sore. It was nothing compared to the pain in her throat however.
No it didn’t matter. It didn’t matter what the driver said nor anyone else for that matter. It had been her stubbornness that had gotten her into this mess, and it’d be her stubbornness that would get her out. it had to work. It was her last hope. Which was appropriate considering the name of the lake they were seeking was Tella Estela. The lake of last hope. Thanks to its location it was rumored to be the closet place to other realms. If such a thing did exist like contact with the dead or spirits, it’d be there.
I’ll make it right Oria…… I will…
Still…even as they drew closer Cahirah was beginning to understand why so many had warned against coming. The sun had been swallowed by thorns and black leaves on twisting dark limbs and something in the air made it feel like she was suffocating even when she inhaled. She could feel Liam’s presence beside her but if she wasn’t focusing she felt like she was being pulled from the ground, plucked from earth. Loathe as she was to admit it, it scared her.
“I think we should stop here.”
Liam’s voice startled her and she turned to gaze at him. It felt like she was looking at him through a fog.
“Well its dangerous to stay there isn’t it? I think this is the closet distance where we should still be safe tonight.”
Cahirah clenched her jaw. Of course. He was right again. She mentally berated herself. What was she doing? Walking around and losing her head! What was wrong with her?! Her eyes lifted slowly to the lifeless form of Oria, her sister. She nodded, silently turning and going ahead to gather wood for a fire.
Liam gently eased Oria to the ground resting her head so tenderly against his pack you’d think he was only setting her to sleep.
There had once been a time when he had simply be setting her to sleep, before he would sit next to her and they’d whisper into the night as the fire wood crackled dying slowly. Now it hurt to even think about.
Cahirah dropped the wood into a jumped pile with a clatter as Liam placed stones around it in a circle before using two as flint to strike a fire. Cahirah wondered briefly if demonic tree limbs, for thats how they appeared so black and twisted, could even burn. The cold grew colder, maybe one of the only indications that night was falling closer. So much had happened it was hard to believe it had only been a day…..
Cahirah tried to sit. But the slash in her side didn’t want to allow it. War worn. She chuckled bitterly as she looked up to meet Liam’s concerned gaze. Thats what they were, war worn. She had a wounds, Liam was painted in bruises and Oria was……
“Let me look at that.” His tone was warm, entreating… She was almost tempted to melt and give in.
“Really? You’re still going to do this?!” He hissed, the muscles in his neck tightening. That felt like a slap in the face. He didn’t say it directly but suddenly she was painfully aware once more of the fact that a dead girl lay not five feet a way. She glared into the fire, slowly lifting her arm. He took a moment before coming closer lifting the hem of her shirt and peeling away gauze. She could feel him trying to once again swallow his anger, but it was slow work forcing down each bitter morsel. His hands were light and quick. His experience as a hunter making him an expert. She knew he was good at it. She knew she should have let him. But she was tired of his help. Tired of his advice. Tired of being wrong. She just wanted him to leave her alone. No, that wasn’t quite it, that wasn’t what she wanted. The flames danced, almost like they were mocking her. As she stared images played that she didn’t want to see.
“We can’t trust him.”
“It’s not safe.”
“It won’t work.”
She had snapped then, grabbed his collar and hissed between clenched teeth.
“What the hell do you want me to do?!? This is the only option!!!!”
“Let’s take her."
“She’s NOT going!!”
“We. Can’t. Leave. Her.”
“She’ll be fine. I’ll be in and out. Its just one night.”
“That’s what you think!! You don’t know that. Even if it was just one there's no guarantee he won’t do anything before then!! Why won’t you listen to me?!?!
“Because I never asked you!!! If you don’t like it you’re welcome to return to the trash you crawled out of!!”
His eyes had been steel when she had said that. She had hurt him, she knew. Both his parents had died when he was younger so he had lived alone in a partially dilapidated hut in the woods. It had been a low blow and she knew it. At the time she’d reveled in it. Winning. The hurt in his eyes and simmering anger as he’d pushed her back and stormed past her. Cahirah had won. And than Liam had done what he always did. He had been right. And thats why she hated him.
“Go on.” Her voice dripped with venom but not towards Liam. Towards herself. "Say it.”
His hands stilled at her side where he had kneeled and he looked up at her.
“I told you so.”
“No.” Liam shook his head slowly. But Cahirah was just getting started.
"Or I warned you or-" She was getting faster now, voice began to shake with loathing.
“Or this is your fault or-“
“I’m not going to-“
“SAY IT!!!!” She screamed, the soft way he had said her name had broken her heart. Why wouldn’t he just do it? Why couldn’t he hate her so she could hate him back?!
Liam shot up his wide hands gripping her arms gentle yet firm. “I’m not going to say it.”
“I deserve it.” She hissed for some reason her vision was beginning to get blurry and the fires light was shimmering like a light on water.
“No you don’t…” She tried to glare at him but she couldn’t see him properly and she couldn’t blink or the tears bordering her eyelids would fall and she was too stubborn for that.
“You don’t deserve that.. You deserve…… deserve..” His voice trailed off leaving a note unfinished. She could see in his eyes there was something he wanted to say. Wanted so badly to tell her, to finish. But he didn’t.
“I deserve for you to hate me.” She spat. Waiting. Watching as he shook his head again.
“No, Cahirah-“ He said it again.
“I hate you.” He froze. His mind didn’t seem to process the words and he searched her eyes, wondering if she meant it. She did. She said it again.
“I hate you...”
For every soft word..
“I hate you.”
“I hate you!"
“I hate you!!!"
Every time he was right.
“I HATE YOU!!”
The tears were falling.. There was no stopping them now but at least her vision was clear again. Clear, and she watched every word break his heart.
She watched his face harden.
His fists tighten
And she watched his back disappear into the woods.
I need you to hate me…Otherwise I’ll break.
Her knees buckled beneath her, and she collapsed to the floor. The earth was cold and slimly as she gripped it in fistfuls. Her jaw ached as her teeth stubbornly clenched, forbidding exit to the sobs that so desperately wanted to come out. Stubborn. Huh. Story of her life, she supposed. Yet this was what she deserved wasn’t it? To break all alone, crying in the dark. Her punishment. THIS was what she wanted. To be hated by Liam. To be haunted by those bright eyes, those small warm hands that were always reaching for her.
“Its okay, it’ll all be fine….” “Stupid girl!! You don’t even get it do you?!! How can you say it’ll be fine?!?!”
A sob escaped. Cahirah’s hand flew to her heart clenching through her shirt as if to try to stop the pain. But the memory of her beloved sister reaching out again, even though Cahirah had been harsh, snapping and pushing her away, was too much.
“I’ll love you no matter what happens and thats whats important right? So you just need to know I love you and everything will be okay. ”
It was a stupid sentiment. Something their parents had said to them every night, before they were killed during this whole affair that their children would later be dragged into. "Don’t cry tonight," they’d say, "for our love will make everything okay." Oria had held onto that, taking it in her heart to grasp when she couldn’t understand what was going on. Why people were killing each other, or why they were always on the run. It was stupid. It was nothing but a false sentiment to comfort a troubled child. But it had been something. Now Cahirah didn’t even have that.
“Not like this…. ”
Her voice croaked out of her cramping throat. Hurting as it went and painful to hear even to herself. It sounded like bird who’d never sing again. But still..
“She can’t….I can’t lose you…”
Not like this...