“There are days when the most effective form of communication I can manage involves incoherent screams flung out to echo against an empty and unknowing sky. On other occasions, I find myself able to wax eloquent for hours upon end, dazzling my audience with the bot mots and timely anecdotes which spill effortlessly from my lips.
It may come as some surprise therefor that it is more often the wordless screams to an uncaring cosmos which express my desires with the most depth and clarity.
The problem is not me, you see, it’s everyone else, as is so often true of life. Words land on people’s ears and are often twisted around or forgotten before they can leave an impression. Blood curdling cries of rage however reach out to a deeper part of the mind. People hear words, but they listen to to screams, because what they are truly paying attention to are the emotions around them.”– Xindir Harshek Doxle of the First Flame to Shaela Ironbriar moments before her speech as the first Head of House to ascend to rulership after the Great Calamity.
It started with blood. That wasn’t a surprise. Not with who I’d been sent to for help with the spell.
“We paint a circle,” Vena said.
“We scribe a limit and a focus,” Hemaphora said.
“To hold the power we share.” Vena.
“To make tangible the desire we bring.” Hemaphora.
“In blood it is written.” One of them.
“So that the life that is may call to the life that was.” The other.
“Blood of the lost.” I wasn’t sure anymore.
“Blood of the one who remains.” Both of them?
“We don’t have Trina’s blood though,” I said, worried the spell would fail before we even began to cast it. “We never got her body back.”
“Her blood is yours. And yours is hers. You are family.” The room around us had gone dark as the blackest night and the voices I was hearing weren’t really sounding like the two girls I’d come to for help anymore.
That really should have been scary.
It really should not have felt like I’d come home.
Around me, I could smell the scents of my housemates but they were so very distant. I knew they were in the room with me, and it wasn’t a large room, but from how dim their scents had grown I suspected I could shout at the top of my voice and they would have to strain to hear me.
Where they were distant though, a swirl of inhuman scents were close enough to caress me. They did not smell kind, and they did not smell merciful, and I rather liked that about them. There was no artifice in their scent, no concealment. They were what they were and, in their own way, they were beautiful.
I, on other hand, felt a lie sitting unvoiced in my chest like a block of stone. I was going to ruin everything. The spell would fail all because I clung to something that I knew wasn’t true no matter how much I desired and needed it to be.
I tried to push it out past my lips, but the lie had stuck within me for so long that I couldn’t dislodge it.
“What if my blood is wrong?” I asked. It wasn’t an admission, but it was the closest I could come to one.
“Your magic cannot alter that which is.”
I wasn’t sure how they knew that. I wasn’t sure it was even true.
“At least not this.”
“It’s not my magic I’m worried about,” I said, which absolutely was true. I’d been able to shift my blood into close enough matches to each of my housemates to pass Vena and Hemaphora’s earlier ritual. I was pretty sure I could mimic anything else they needed, except for the small problem that I needed to be able to sense the blood I was trying to replicate and Trina’s had been swallowed up by the earth ten years ago.
If I’d been thinking about it at the time, rather than being blinded by howling grief and mad to prevent Grammy from suffering the same pain, I might have been able to form myself into a duplicate of Trina even down to the level of the inner workings of her cell.
Well, I might have been able to if I had the skill with my magic then that I did after practicing it constantly for a decade. I had to be fair to younger-me though, she’d done the best she could with the skills she had and it had worked well enough to fool everyone.
Or at least I think it had fooled everyone? That was another thought I didn’t have time to process, so onto the pile of vague worries it went.
“Worry is natural.” I think that was Hemaphora who said that. Maybe.
“We fear that which we desire. We run from belief in that which we need, lest desire and need break us when they are unfulfilled.”
“From this too you can run.”
“You need not cast beyond the veil.”
“You need not speak to the one who remains.”
“You may hold tight to the safety of grief and remain lost.”
“You’re heart is your own.”
“We are merely here to guide one soul to another.”
I thought they’d gotten something backwards there. I wasn’t the one who’d been lost. And Trina hadn’t remained with me.
“It’s not my grief I’m afraid of holding onto,” I said. “That will stay to remind me of my love for my sister whether I choose it or not. It’s me. My blood. It’s not my sisters. It’s not Trina’s.”
I couldn’t say anymore. It would break me.
“I’m not her sister.” Better to break than to lose her again.
I guess I expected a gasp of surprise.
Maybe whispers of disbelief?
That did not fit.
Not at all.
“Oh how delightful.”
“We thank you so very much!”
It wasn’t some kind of generalized mirth.
They were laughing at me.
Deep, belly laughs.
I scowled, a perfectly natural wave of anger rising up to blot out any shame which I might or might not have been feeling.
“Poor, sweet dear,” one of them said.
“How deep has your needless suffering been?”
“How long have you been lost in that mistake?”
I thought they were asking about how long I’ve been pretending to be Trina.
But of course they weren’t.
I was just an idiot.
“I think ever since I died,” Trina said.
The rest of the world fell away.
My housemates scent wasn’t merely distant, it was gone.
The darkness of the room had swallowed the whole world but that didn’t matter.
Even without the sun or the stars, there was still light before me and it was her.
“H-how?” I believe I mentioned I’m an idiot. We’d already done this and yet the brain I’d built was clearly defective and ready to run through the stages of disbelief all over.
“Very simply,” Vena said.
“Your blood has been calling to her since we began,” Hemaphora said.
“Also, your friend is very clever,” Vena said.
“This spell is a delight,” Hemaphora said.
“To speak to our family again will be wonderful.”
“We thank you.”
“B-but..” I didn’t know how to argue with that.
I didn’t know why I wanted to argue with it either.
“Have you really thought you weren’t my sister this whole time?” Trina asked, patting the non-existent ground in front of where she was sitting.
“No, I, well, I mean, I…” There’s a reason I often resort to silence as my answer in conversations. “I pretended to be you. And I’m not. I never could be.”
I sat down opposite Trina, hoping she wasn’t going to turn away from me in punishment for my transgressions.
“Yeah, I’m so sorry for that,” she said. “That wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t fair to you, and I should have been there.”
Literally none of those words made sense. Not one of them.
Did the dead speak their own language? One where all the means were mirrored and backwards?
“I took your life though?” I said. “That was my idea. No one made me do it.”
That made her scowl at me.
Which meant I was going to punished.
Which was fine.
I deserved it.
I closed my eyes anyways though.
Which is why the feel of two hands gently holding the side of my face came as a stomach liquifying shock.
“You. Did. Not. Take. My. Life.” She said the words with clear and solid force. Not anger. Not at me at any rate.
“You didn’t kill me,” she said again, softer this time. “It wasn’t my time, and my death did not need to happen, but you, of all people, YOU, are not to blame.”
“I was too slow,” I said. “I tried, but I was too slow. I was too far away. If I hadn’t been too far away I would have been fast enough. I could have…I was supposed to save you.”
“No. No, hush.” Her arms wrapped around me and I felt small as a puppy again. “We don’t always have the power to save the people we love. It hurts, because being separated like this sucks, but the pain isn’t because you didn’t do enough. It’s because we’re apart. You did everything you could, and so much more. You gave me a reason to go on after my parents were killed. You gave me joy so many time when I would have been swept away by sadness. And even after I passed? You’ve inspired me so many times. I am so proud that you called yourself my sister. That you took care of Grammy for me. That you became this amazing person who figured out how do this! A way for us to talk? I’ve looked for that for so long and you figured it out within, what, a half a day of being told it was possible.”
I opened my eyes to find myself looking at her shoulder as Trina continued to hug me.
“So please,” she continued. “Don’t say you’re not my sister.” And now she was crying. “And don’t ever, ever regret what you did for Grammy. I gave you my name. I’m the one who wanted to share it with you, don’t you remember? ‘Katrina’ was too big for me. I just wanted to be Trina and you, well, Kati sounded better than Ka I guess. But it was my idea. So, yes, you pretended to be me, but do you really think there’s anyone else I would have wanted to do that? Or that I wouldn’t have wanted you to be safe and cared for? You are Kati Riverbond. For as long as you want to be. And you’re my sister forever. No matter what you want. Understood!”
For just a moment, she was the Imperious Eight Year Old that she’d been on rare occasions, and I was glad beyond words for it.
“I’ve missed you,” I said.
Yeah, I know, kinda obvious, but words aren’t really my thing.
“I’ve been with you, as much as I can,” she said.
“How?” I asked, pulling back a little so I could see her face.
It wasn’t the face I was used to seeing her wear. It wasn’t even the one I’d imagined she’d grow into (also known as the one I’d shaped for myself). What it was though was undeniably hers. And I love it.
“You made it easy,” she said. “You always kept me close to your heart, and if there’s one thing that’s simple for an only-somewhat-departed soul to do, it’s look back on the parts of the living world where they still matter.”
I hiccupped at that.
She hadn’t left me.
I’d already cried about that. It was stupid. But I cried about it again anyways.
Cried and cried until something she’d just said caught my attention.
“Wait, what do you mean ‘only-somewhat-departed’? What happened to you?” I asked.
“That’s why we had to talk,” she said. “I need to tell you why I died, so you can make sure it stops happening to other people, your friends in particular.”