It was the brightness that woke her. At first she thought it was the sun, but no sun shone on this forest. Nor ever would it. Rather it was the brightness of the heavy fog, that obscured everything not within ten feet. She blinked. Her eyes hurt. She couldn’t exactly remember why until she noticed Liam crouching next to her, waiting with the quiet presence of a hunter.
His voice was tight, but he didn’t say anything else. Damn him.
“I thought I told you to leave.” She ignored the brief hurt that crossed his face, bitter at his reliability. She knew he’d come back. He always did.
“I ignored you. Now are you ready to go or not? ”
Pushy. It was the most he had been like his old self since the war, Cahirah almost smiled. Almost. Instead she stood up slowly cautious of her various wounds and stretched. Liam lifted Oria once more and Cahirah fought the memories. This nightmare would soon be over. They didn’t bother finding breakfast. After their experience, neither had yet recovered much of an appetite. Even if they had it was doubtless anything in this forest was even good to eat, so they began to trudge. Liam was angry. It was clear in the way his neck and shoulders were tensed, and his resolute quiet but he didn’t say anything. Unlike her, keeping quiet about his anger was something he was good at. It burned steadily till it either dissipated or till was it appropriate for it to come out. Cahirah wished he’d rage. Even after what she’d done, what she said…He still wouldn’t.
A chill licked her skin and she looked up. Ahead was a small arch like entrance jutting out in the side of the mountain. The stones around and above it were jagged and unwelcoming while the entrance itself seemed to flicker black, as if somehow the darkness inside was moving. This was it. She was nervous. She hadn’t thought she’d be but a small part of her mind was hissing all the warnings many had given them on their way.
No. She pushed it back resolutely, she would go through with this. She had to. They reached the entrance within moments, Liam also staring warily at the arch. She half waited for him to say something, warn her, admonish her once more, but he didn’t. So Cahirah instead tightened her fists, and plunged blindly inside.
It was dark. Which wasn’t surprising, but what was surprising was that the darkness seemed to vibrate, to hum against her skin. Liam shifted next to her, shuffling noises filling her ears and echoing in the cavern, then there was light. A flame danced on a candle, even though it was a small light it seemed to illuminate quite a bit of the chamber. The ceiling was lined with stalactites that looked more like menacing swords that could fall at any time, they were pointed and thick and strangely didn’t really resemble rocks. They were standing on a slightly elevated plot and stones led down to what looked almost like a sheet of ice but as she studied it more she noticed it stirred every so often. Her eyes widened as she realized the bluish white substance was water.
This was it!! Lake of Last Hope.
“Hurry!!” She gasped turning and stumbling down the stones not caring if she tripped or the jostling hurt her side. She didn’t know why she hurried. There was really no rush, she felt closer than she’d ever been to saving Oria but also for some reason as if that opportunity was slipping quickly through her fingers. She wouldn’t let that happen. She’d already messed up once. Liam descended slower, more cautious with his precious cargo. As the light grew closer, Cahirah noticed a small rock that was raised in the middle of the lake only covered by maybe five inches of water. She could set Oria there then begin constructing the magic circle. Where were some good rocks? She scurried frantically while Liam merely looked on, watching with something akin to agony, as if watching her work hurt him. She couldn’t help the feeling he knew something that he wasn’t telling her, but again she pushed her thoughts to the side. There were here now and could bring back Oria, thats all that mattered.
When she had finished laying the stones on the land it was time to go in. She tucked she candles into her waist band and made to pick up Oria, when Liam suddenly cried out.
“Wait!! Wait just let me…” He trailed off ignoring Cahirah’s shocked expression at his outburst. His voice had cracked and sounded weak and trembling. Slowly he crossed over Oria’s form sinking next to it and gently placing a kiss on the stone forehead. It looked like he was saying goodbye.
“Don’t worry.” Cahirah couldn’t meet his eyes as she spoke, rather they focused on the girl with fiery determination. “She’ll be back soon.”
Liam only nodded quietly moving back so Cahirah could once more pick up Oria. Cahirah headed to the edge of the lake. It was a strange feeling drawing near the water. The closer it got the more she felt a sort of buzz like electricity, raising her hairs on the back of her neck and causing them to tremble. She took a deep breath before slowly dipping her foot into the water. It stung and she gasped drawing out quickly. She had heard Liam move towards her, and she clenched her teeth before plunging in again. The cold bit at her legs before suddenly changing to heat. The water seemed to pulse against her legs as if finally welcoming her. She wasn’t sure whether that was a good thing or not. Wading in she slowly made her way to the submerged rock in the middle of the lake. The ground sloped down beneath her till she was up to her neck than gradually came back up. When she finally made it to the rock it was around her waist. Her skin hummed with energy it seemed to have absorbed from the water and the heat from it was burning. Despite her discomfort, Cahirah was almost happy. All these abnormalities only served to reaffirm that this place was magic. That this could work.
Gently she laid Oria on the rock, the water lapped at the girl’s skin and clothes eagerly. Her wetted hair fanned out, moving and rippling with the water. Her arms floated out by her sides giving her the appearance of being in a trance. Though she laid on the rock, she floated a little bit above it and Cahirah rested a hand on her shoulder to keep her in place. Leaning she placed a kiss of her own on Oria’s forehead.
Cahirah smiled, tears filling her eyes.
Leaning back she turned to Liam who still stood on the bank.
He didn’t meet her eyes, rather clenched his fists as if fighting himself.
“Are you? ”
Cahirah turned back to her sister, her smile almost splitting her face.
She couldn’t have been more ready to have her sister back again. Taking out one of the candles she lit it before trapping it next to her sister with some stones. With that last light in the middle, it completed the circle she had made around the lake. Then finally she lifted her shirt gently placing her fingers in the wound in her side. She winced and gritted her teeth against the pain that flared. She withdrew her fingers, now covered in blood and held them over the candle. It wasn’t long before a few crimson drops fell onto the candle. A hazy red smoke spiraled slowly, permeating the air with the smell of iron.
At first nothing happened. She could hear her heart thud in her ears as the seconds ticked by. She waited. And waited. A chilling sense of dread began to settle over her. The maroon smokey spiral had almost disappeared as she turned to look at Liam. What was happening? Why wasn’t it working? Her hands tightened around the rock. Which turned out to be a good thing. Before her mouth even opened, an incredible wind suddenly blew through the cavern almost knocking her back. Her hair whipped her face and she struggled to still not be tossed back into the water. She squinted against the wind but her eyes almost immediately widened when she saw the ceiling.The stalactites were….glowing?! All sorts of shades of purple and blue and some red glimmered, down bathing them with light.
Cahirah’s fingers were probably going to bleed from how tightly she gripped the rough surface but she didn’t care as her eyes snapped down to Oria. Her face glowed a softening shade of pink. Cahirah wanted to reach out and touch her. Caress her sister’s soft, warm cheeks once more. She was sure if she could she would feel the warmth returning. She felt tears flood her eyes, soon blown away by the wind. This was it. Despite the raging wind Cahirah heard silence. All her sense focused on the small body before her. Suddenly Oria twitched. Her eyes seemed to almost flutter. Cahirah’s breath caught in her throat.
Oria? Could it be-
Her hand slowly began to reach for Oria, who seemed to be secured to the rock by some unseen force. She didn’t care if she herself did get blown away. She just had to touch her.. She curled her fingers around Oria’s wrist. It was warm. Tears burned her eyes, and she looked down on her beloved sister with a heart so relieved it hurt.
Then everything stopped. The wind suddenly ceased its assault. The glow from above dimmed to a hum. Cahirah’s eyes snapped to Oria but everything was exactly as it had been before. She was motionless and pale.
No….It didn’t work..
Her heart pounded in her ears, blood rushing so fast it made her nauseous. This can’t be it. What was going on? Cahirah looked at the candle. It still flickered gently, but the moist surroundings were starting to put it out. Cahirah rushed to lift her shirt again. Her hands were trembling.
Maybe if she hurried. She could try it again. It would work. It had to. But even then tears were beginning to run down her face. Before her hand could again breach her wound, Liam called out to her.
“Don’t bother. ”
His tone was dry. Monotone. What did he not care? Did he not see what happened?! Her fists came down on the rock and a sob she hadn’t even known had risen in her throat flew out.
“It didn’t work!!”
Her voice sounded awful to her own ears, its brokenness echoing against the cavern walls. She hated it. It was like she was admitting defeat which couldn’t be the case because this would work.
Then why didn’t it?
Her hands shot forward clutching Oria’s body. She wanted to shake her. Maybe then her eyes would open, like waking her from a baddream. Instead her hands trembled, weakly clenching the fabric of the child’s clothes like it was her only lifeline. She opened her mouth but for a moment words couldn’t squeeze past her throat. When she was able to croak out words, she asked the question she didn’t want an answer to.
“Why didn’t it work? ”
Liam was quiet. But she knew he knew. He always did.
“It was never going to.” He finally responded, slowly, voice heavy sounding, like a rock falling. Cahirah felt her whole body freeze. She turned stiffly towards him, tears frozen on her lids.
Liam's eyes were closed, and he took a deep breath as if preparing himself to do something he didn’t want to do.
“It was never going to.” He repeated himself before opening his eyes and pointing to the ceiling. “Those stalactites you thought were glowing are actually crystals. They reach through the ground into a cave above us, which is high enough and open enough to have light from the sun. The sun’s reflection on them gives them the appearance of glowing.” Cahirah felt her heart sinking slowly. This-This couldn’t be true… The water, the glow, the wind. It couldn’t all just be an illusion!! But Liam continued on, pointing to a spot behind her that was too dark to see entirely but she had assumed was merely the wall of the cavern.
“The wind you felt was coming in through a small gap in the wall over there. It’s right over the water and leads to the other side of this mountain. You can’t see it unless you’re much closer.”
“I-I touched her!! S-she was warm!!” Even as she said it her voice shook. She wanted so badly to believe it would work, yet she just couldn’t convince herself anymore. Liam’s eyes finally rested on her, bearing the same look of pain and sadness he had worn when he had found Cahirah holding Oria’s dead body.
“It’s the water. You felt it heat your own skin didn’t you?”
Cahirah felt her heart stop. Liam held her gaze steadily, and said the words she least wanted to hear.
“There’s nothing magic about this place, Cahirah. Never was. ”
She couldn’t breathe. It felt like someone had punched her in the stomach, knocking the air out of her entirely. She couldn’t move.When Liam had stood there spouting off, she had watched her only hope wither and die.
Tella Estela, She thought bitterly. Lake of last hope.
“How did you know?”
She startled herself at the sound of her own voice. She had never intended say anything. She didn’t want to know anymore. She wanted to curl up next to Oria and die as well. But now that the question was out, she found herself waiting anxiously for the answer. Liam looked at the ground.
“I’ve been here before. Many people had warned me then too. When it didn’t work I was-I was so mad!! So I investigated. Thats when I found out.”
He’d been here before?! When would he- Cahirah’s eyes widened with sudden realization. His parents. He had come after his parents had died seeking the same thing she now was. He had known…All along he had known how it would end. She felt her hands begin to shake, but now not with grief, with rage.
“How could you do this to me?!?!” She snapped. Eyes burning. She hated him. This was why she hated him. “You knew and didn’t tell me. Why didn’t you tell me?! Why get my hopes up only to crush them like this?!?!”
Liam’s hands closed into fists. “In the state you were in would you have believed me if I did?! The villagers, the driver!! They all warned you!! I warned you!!” His tone softened. “You had to see for yourself.” He was right. She wouldn’t have listened- She hadn’t listened. Her tongue burned with acid she wanted to spit at him but her closing throat wouldn’t let her. He was right.
Leaving her the fool.
This wasn’t fair.
She glared at him standing there. There for her, waiting as he always was. He had been right. Again. And that’s why she hated him. But he had come anyway and that’s why she loved him.
Cahirah opened her mouth to speak, to apologize, when suddenly she was under the water. Out of no where a large current tugged her towards the rock knocking her against its hard surface. She gasped losing her oxygen. Her heart pounded but she grabbed the rock and used it to pull herself to the surface. Her head broke the water just in time to see Oria’s body being pulled away. Her blood froze and without thinking she lunged grabbing the girl’s hand. Wasn’t it over?
She panted, trying to catch her breath as she struggled to keep her grip on Oria while the water tried earnestly to wrench her sister from her. What was going on?
“Liam?!” She cried unable to see him or turn with how the water held her trapped against the rock.
“You have to let go!!”
It took her a moment to realize he meant Oria, not the rock.
Her grip only tightened. There was no way she was letting go. Especially not now that there was no chance of her coming back.
“It’s the time of day!! Theres a current!! You won’t both be able to make it!!”
So that’s why he had looked so sad when he had kissed Oria goodbye. He had known they wouldn’t both make it back out. Cahirah didn’t care. She wasn’t letting go. It would be like losing her twice.
“No!! There has to be a way!!” She pulled Oria closer towards her despite how her arms burned with the effort.
“Cahirah!!” Liam’s voice sounded worried. “You’ll drown!!!”
Cahirah looked towards shore. Though it hadn’t taken long coming, now with this current the banks felt miles away. To try and swim it was bad enough. But with added dead weight as well? What was she doing? Something stupid rash and stubborn. Which was the usual for her anyway. Cahirah wrapped one arm around Oria’s torso.
Carefully, she turned around so her back was against the rock and she was facing the shore.
She didn’t hear the rest as she plunged in. The first thing she noticed was that the bottom of the lake was a beautiful blue white. Which is probably what gave it its icy surface appeal and probably a very unimportant thing seeing as she could drown. However it seemed to almost glow from the bottom up like there was a giant light at the bottom tainting the water such a wintry crisp color. But the bright color was deceptive of the waves gentleness. They beat against her mercilessly and with only one arm to swim with she was losing ground.
She broke surface for a moment before the invisible aquatic hands dragged her under again. She couldn’t even her heart pounding over the sound of the waves rushing past her. Whipping her and knocking her around. She couldn’t see which way was up. Everything was white. She must have hit something because pain shot through her the back of her head. On impact she swallowed water. Her lungs burned but she resisted the urge to cough. She could feel herself begin to panic. Her limbs moved frantically but aimlessly. Where was the surface? Her heart thumped faster fear seizing it than it slowed. Her muscles were tired. She was out of oxygen. Her head felt light.
Just stop…. What am I trying so hard for?
She didn’t know. After all, there was no bringing Oria back. What was the point? What was the point in her living? Maybe this would make things right. She would see Oria….. It was a tempting thought. She felt herself slowly sink, going slack. The waves pulled them both along taking them where it would. Her vision blurred. Was this what it was like to die? She felt her body flip and she pulled Oria tighter to her with her remaining strength. It seemed appropriate to die like this. Slowly she let her eyes drift close.
“You don’t deserve that..”
Cahirah felt a tug…It was different from the pull of the water.
Then she felt a hand…She began to open her eyes but they snapped open when she realized what was happening. Liam!! Liam had jumped in now tugging at her arm trying desperately to pull them to the surface. It only took a moment for her to realize it wouldn't work. As strong as he was he couldn’t swim two people to the shore with this water.
"Let me go.”
Liam shook his head, trying to tell Cahirah he wasn’t about to just let her drown but…. Cahirah hadn’t said it. A light suddenly seemed to shine from the surface..No not a light. A girl. It was bright and almost blinding but suddenly Cahirah felt like she could breath again. Time seemed to slow as the light drew closer.
“Let me go.” How they could hear her Cahirah didn’t know but she recognized the voice.
It can’t be-
Oria smiled, her cheeks full and bright but she strangely had tears in her eyes. Cahirah tried to reach for this new Oria. She wanted to embrace her just just one more time..But she couldn’t reach for this glowing essence and hold Oria’s body at the same time.
“Its okay….Let me go..”
Cahirah’s fingers tightened on the body
I don’t want to…..Oria…I’m sorry..
Oria’s tears trailed down her glowing face, her smile only widening. Her brown curls waving about her made her look like an angel.
“I love you..I’ll love you no matter what….So its okay…Let me go..”
Cahirah didn’t remember loosening her hold. She didn’t remember letting the child’s body sink and be pulled away, fading into the brightness of the lake. All the remember was that face. That bright, smiling, loving face come closer and closer…She could almost feel the warmth radiating from it. Than it disappeared, and they broke the surface of the water.
It wasn’t ‘Okay’. It hadn’t been 'Okay' when their parents had said it when they had died either.
She could feel a little energy flood her muscles as Liam fought towards the shore, finally gaining some ground.
But maybe Cahirah was finally starting to understand. Maybe ‘Okay’ wasn't a status of who was alive and who wasn’t.
They scraped against the ground before finding some sort of footing to propel themselves onwards.
Maybe ‘Okay’ wasn’t a measurement of the physical… How many scratches or bruises you had..
Cahirah stumbled against Liam as they dragged themselves out, hacking as they collapsed on the shore.
Maybe….Just maybe ‘Okay’ was a condition of the heart…
Liam’s hands shook as they rushed to her face.
“Cahirah!!! Cahirah!!!” Her eyes lazily drifted over to him.. meeting his soft worried gaze. He was always there. Always helping her. Even when she didn’t deserve it she would always have him.
“Are you okay?!”
Was she? Could she be? Slowly she lifted her hand to cover his own on her cheek, gripping it weakly and smiling, tears running down her cheeks.
The Lake of Tella Estela in the common tongue of that day and age was translated Lake of Last Hope. However to the few hidden natives of the forest, it could be translated Lake of Last Hello. Cahirah and Liam never knew what exactly had happened in that lake.
Maybe it was an angel…
Maybe a shared near-death hallucination….
But maybe it was a chance.
A chance for what it is everyone really wants when a loved one dies. Not so much to bring them back, even though we wish we could, but one last chance to say the things you never did. One last chance to apologize. One last chance to see them. One last chance to meet them all over again. One last greeting. One Last Hello.