I feel Kane’s forehead with increasing worry. He’s feverish, and completely unresponsive- except for a few unintelligible mumbles every once in awhile, which could just be the effects of the magic.
I sit on the dirty floor of a small hut. There is almost no furniture, except for a bed, and a mat on the floor. Tallima sits on the bed, watching me with worried eyes.
“I don’t understand,” I say for the millionth time. “Why didn’t the magic do this to me? I was put under the same spell he was. Why am I not like this?”
Tallima sighs. I’ve asked her this question five times in the past twenty minutes. “Natalia, I told you. It’s because of the warrior magic in your blood. It provides a resistance. Just be grateful that you can be here for him, instead of unconscious like he is right now.”
I sigh, watching Kane’s face for any change at all. There is none. His eyes are screwed shut- impossibly tight. His lips move, but no sound comes out. Sweat beads on his forehead, and runs down his face, which is ashen white. He’s dying. That much is obvious.
“How could her magic be this powerful?!” I demand. “She’s just an enchantress, not a wizard!”
“I don’t think this is entirely her magic at work…” Tallima ventures. “There’s a possibility that this might be self induced subconsciousness.”
I look up at her in shock. “Self induced what?”
“Subconsciousness,” she replies patiently. “Self induced-”
“Yes, I know,” I interrupt her. “Are you suggesting that Kane did this to himself?”
She shrugs. “Actually, yes. In this state he’s completely untouchable by all forms of magic. He just made himself immune to the sorceress’s attacks- in his own way.”
“But if he did this to himself, then shouldn’t he be able to come out of it?”
“That’s the problem. It’s like swimming.”
“You were from a fishing village, right?”
“I don’t remember!” I snap. “Not all of us remember where we came from!”
She winces. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I… I forgot. But anyways. This is like swimming. He chose to put his head under, but the magic is holding his head under, and keeping him from coming back up.”
“So the aftereffects of the magic are keeping him from waking up?”
I grit my teeth. “Then how can we help him?!”
Tallima slid off the bed and onto the floor next to me. She put a hand on my shoulder with gentle tenderness, edged with fear. She is afraid of me. How? Why?
“We… we can’t, Natalia. Neither of us can do any magic.”
“What about this ‘warrior magic’ stuff?! What happened to that?” I demand.
“First off, you and I only have a trace of warrior magic. And besides, warrior magic is for fighting and combat, not for healing.”
I sigh. Eventually, I hear Tallima retreat. I stay where I am, watching Kane. His breathing is shallow and weak. To reuse Tallima’s metaphor- he’s drowning. And I can’t help him.
“Kane,” I whisper. “You can’t die. You can’t. If you die because of something you did to yourself, then I will never forgive you. Never. Do you understand? If you die, then I have nothing. Nothing at all!”
And suddenly, the impact of that thought hits me. If Kane dies, then I will be stuck as a rogue forever. Everything I cared about will be gone if I lose him. I’ve already given up one life for him. If he dies, then what am I? What do I do? Where can I go? I realize that I am depending on him. Depending on him to live. To survive. If only for selfish reasons- he cannot die.
“Kane,” I say again. “You really don’t get it, do you? I’ve thrown my entire life to you. I you die, I lose everything. I lose the only person I’ve ever dared to say I love. You can’t do that to me, Kane.”
There is no response, and I sigh with frustration. I should give up- but I keep talking.
“I had a choice, you know,” I whisper. “I could have let them have you. I could have saved myself. But I didn’t. I threw my lot with you, instead of everything I’ve ever known. Not because I want to use you. Not because I could turn you in so that I could get my place back with the Devias. It’s because I love you, Kane. I may not know much about love, but that’s what I’m feeling for you. And I hate you for it, you know that? You turned my entire life upside down, you idiot.” I shake my head a slight smile crossing my face. “But I guess I don’t care. It’s been… interesting, that’s for sure.”
I lean forwards, and slowly, softly, I kiss him on the forehead. Then, as carefully and gently as possible, I kiss him on the lips. I go to pull away, when I feel warmth flowing into me. It’s followed by a strange tingling sensation. It’s not necessarily uncomfortable- in fact, it’s actually rather pleasant. A dim golden glow appears at the corner of my vision, surrounding us. And suddenly, Kane gasps, his eyes flying open. For a moment, they glow gold, before returning to their normal brown color. I jerk back, eyes wide with surprise.
“KANE!” I cry out with relief, returning to his side, and pulling him up into a hug.
“Someone was worried…” he remarks. “Natalia… ribs… crushing me… Please let go…”
I release him quickly. A moment later, there is the sound of rapid footsteps, and Tallima comes running into the room. She sees Kane sitting up, and her eyes widen in shock. “What happened?!”
Kane’s eyes flick to her, and he instantly pulls out of my grip, backing away. “You.”
Tallima instantly backs off as well. “I-”
“You!” he says again. “That’s the other voice I heard. I knew it sounded familiar!”
“Don’t!” he snaps. “Don’t you dare even try to speak to me! Not after what you’ve done.”
“Whoa, Kane!” I grab his arm. “What’s wrong? What’s going on? It’s just Tallima. If it wasn’t for her, we would still be in that prison. What’s gotten to you?!”
“She’s a murderer!” Kane hisses. “Natalia- the visions. Don’t you remember her?”
I hesitate, and think back. Kane’s visions had been strangely out of focus- carrying an almost dream like quality to them. None of it had seemed real. But the Devia… those cold, dark eyes… That image stayed with me. And it sharpened. Turning those dark features into…
“Tallima…” I whisper. “Kane’s parents. His home. You burned it down. You killed his parents. With a knife to each of their hearts. But… that was years ago. It couldn’t have been you.”
Tallima’s eyes flick between the two of us. Then, slowly, she turns to look at me. “Natalia, I- it-”
“Just tell me it wasn’t you,” I whisper. Shock courses through me. Tallima- Tallima, who went against her entire life to help me, Tallima, who’d saved Kane and I from the dungeon, gentle, friendly, hurt Tallima… I couldn’t match her to the cold blooded Devia that had murdered Kane’s parents and laughed about it. “Please. Tell me it wasn’t you.”
She closes her eyes, and slowly, slowly shakes her head. “No… it… it was- I didn’t-I never-”
“You killed them, and you laughed,” Kane’s voice cuts through the air, as sharp as a knife. “You burned my home down, and enjoyed it. You killed anyone who helped me. Anyone who showed me the slightest charity. Anyone who helped me survive. You killed them all without a second thought. You destroyed hundreds of people. And you enjoyed it. I heard you laughing. That village… the one you burned? They could have died that winter, if I hadn’t helped them rebuild. You destroyed everything.”
I turn to look at her, eyes wide with horror, and another feeling. Anger. It builds inside of me, like a hot coal being stoked into a flame. I rise, and walk over to her, eyes narrow.
“Was it you.”
“Yes,” she whispers weakly. “I was the worst of them.”
“But how are you still alive?” I demand. My mind frantically scrambles for any chance that we were wrong- that it wasn’t her. “The Queen would have killed you. Kane escaped you. Why did she let you live?”
Tallima grits her teeth. “I was ruthless. Cold, hard, and angry. Eager for a chance to prove myself. I was only 12, Natalia. It was… so unreal. The things I did… nothing was… nothing existed to me. I just did what I could to prove myself. The things I did… the people I killed… it drove me crazy. The next time the Queen wanted me to go out, I refused. She was furious. She locked me in the dungeon, and beat me. I still refused. So she blackmailed me. She threatened to expose what I’d done to the locals- let them kill me in their own way. Or cut myself off forever from anyone who cared about me. I told her I didn’t care. She put the knife in my hand, and ordered me to kill Julia. I was so… so numb. I did what she said. And then… when you brought Kane in… I thought maybe this was my chance to change. To be more than the bloodthirsty monster that I had been. I really… I really am sorry.” She looks over to Kane, her expression broken. “I destroyed everything. I was broken, Kane. Truly broken. I’m sorry for everything I did… It’s… it’s alright if you hate me.”
I look over at Kane, hoping for forgiveness. But there is nothing but hatred in his eyes.
“You think you can appear after all these years, say ‘sorry’, and make everything better? You think that after killing everyone I loved, and ruining my life- after making people drive me out because they thought I was bad luck- after causing hundreds of deaths because of me… You think you can cover it all with sorry?! I do not forgive you. Not for this. Not now, not ever. Do you understand?!”
Tallima backs away, tears brimming in her eyes. “I… I understand, Kane.”
“Don’t even speak to me,” he replies. “Go. Leave. Get out of here, and don’t let me ever see you again. After all you’ve done, you only deserve death. No whimpering teary story is going to change that you killed in cold blood- and enjoyed it.”
“Natalia…?” Tallima’s desperate eyes flick to me.
I hesitate. Conflicting emotions rage within me. I want to forgive her. I really do. But… after seeing her laugh… seeing what she did to Kane… seeing how she enjoyed it… I cannot forgive her.
Slowly, I shake my head. Her eyes widen, and more tears begin to trickle down her face. But the pity I felt moments before is gone, replaced by cold, calculated anger.
“I ran to leave the Queen’s demons behind. Not to have one of the worst come with me. Leave us. Don’t ever shadow Kane’s life again. You don’t deserve his forgiveness, Tallin.”
Tears run freely down her face. “Natalia, please…”
I feel something cool and wet slip down my face, and I realize that I am crying as well. “Go!” I snarl. “Don’t ask for my forgiveness. Not after what you did to him.”
“I know you love Kane, Natalia, but… you can’t hold this against me. You can’t… not after what I did for you. Not after I saved your life, dammit! I thought you could forgive me. I thought you cared more than this!”
“I can’t,” I reply, the tears trickling harder and faster. Emotions war within me, the anger fighting for space amongst grief and heartbreak. “I can’t look at you without… without seeing it in my mind. Without seeing what you did to him. It hurts to think it, but… I can’t. It’s too much. Too dark, what you’ve done. You can’t fix hundreds of murders. You can’t erase hundreds of innocent lives from your conscience. I can’t forgive you. Not now. Maybe someday, but… not now. Please, just go.”
She turns to leave without another word, slipping out of the door and into the bright light of day. I stare after her, and then drop to my knees and begin to sob.
“Natalia…?” Kane has barely started speaking before I snap on him.
“Are you happy now?! I’ve given you everything. My life, my feelings, my heart. You’ve taken everything from me. My life, my family… she was all I had left. Did you have to take her from me as well?! Why can’t I just have you both?!” Tears run down my face like rain, and my body is wracked with sobs as I shake back and forth, hugging myself tightly with both arms. After a moment, I feel Kane’s arm go around my shoulders.
“Natalia… please tell me you don’t mean that,” he whispers. “After what she did to me-”
“You don’t know the side of her that I know!” I reply. “She was good. Loyal. Brave. Powerful. A perfect friend. And you… I… she…” I shake my head. “Why does everything have to be so hard?!”
“Caring is hard,” he replies. “Love is hard. Emotions are hard. But the alternative is worse.”
I bury my head in my hands, and say nothing. He sighs. “Natalia, listen to me. You did the right thing.”
“No, I did the right thing for you maybe, but not for me… she was… my friend. I was her only friend. Everyone else hated her… I was the only one…”
Kane falls silent. “Sometimes people are not all they seem.”
“I know… but… I never thought it would be her…”
“I’m sorry it had to be that way.”
“So am I.”