Two and half years had passed since Hæra had told Rowan the truth about her long-lost twin sister, Rina. That in and of itself was quite the shock. However, it also held a deeper meaning; that Rowan had lived meant that she would likely one day Awaken as an Ardent and she was determined to make it so, lest Rina’s death have been in vain. With that in mind, she had tried to learn as much as she could about Ardents from Master Idyr. She managed to quite a bit out of him on the relationship between the Awakened and Resonance. Resonance was, after all, one of his specialties. Unfortunately, it wasn’t exactly the information she was looking for. Knowing that it is the Resonance between the Awakened individual, their respective moon and the spiritual embodiments of emotions told her nothing on how to awaken. So she turned to the books.
Rowan asked Master Idyr and her father to get her what accounts they could find and give them to her. Master Idyr gladly fuelled her academic fervour, though he didn’t seem to understand the reasoning. For Gyren, it was a more challenging endeavour as he didn’t have much in the way of academic contacts and he didn’t do much in the way of academic trade. Even so, he tried whenever he was away on one of his ventures to Midiris or Særis. By the end of the first year, she had a veritable wealth of records on the subject; so much so that she found it difficult to even scratch the surface.
The literature was dense and difficult to read and lots of it felt incomplete. Rowan surmised this was likely due to how rare Awakening was. It was rather difficult to study a group that was less than a percent of the population at the best of times. There were still some rather significant things that she learned. One particular fact that she found interesting was that practically every recorded Ardent and Stoic had their Awakening before their seventeenth birthdays. For some reason, as you got older, Awakening became increasingly less likely. Rowan also found a potential answer to her question and it sent a chill down her spine. It actually made her want to just wait and let it happen naturally. No one should need to go through what she read and it wasn’t even a guarantee. She tried not to think about that part of her research as she looked for other ways to encourage her Awakening.
Of course, Rowan had done much more than just studying since that emotional Midsummer’s Day. She practiced with her mother practically every day to get better at singing and dancing. In addition to wanting to spend time with her, Rowan also valued the strength, flexibility, and athleticism that dancing offered her and she really enjoyed singing. It also helped show that her Ferran ancestry was holding fast as she remained slender despite her growing strength. Instead of her muscles getting larger, they got denser, especially in her legs. This was further aided by her continued training out in the forest which she was now doing with the twins as well.
The three of them had also all made leaps and bounds with the training regimen that Tyris had given them, even going so far to further personalising their approach and focus with the training. Kiriin succeeded in her goal of surpassing the other two with her respective weapons and she had also started training with the hunters to capitalise on her Gift. Kyr on the other hand had focused much less on weaponry and more on strategy and into ways he could innovate during combat. He had also started training in what he liked to call an offensive defence and was under the impression that spinning was a good trick when you were using a large two-handed sword. Rowan thought it was rather silly but he swore it was effective when you were outnumbered.
Rowan had also made leaps and bounds with her training. She had fully begun capitalising on the explosive strength in her legs to outmanoeuvre the twins. With her specialty being in light, nimble weaponry, she found that she tended to have the advantage whenever she had the initiative. Unfortunately, the increased intensity of her fighting style did tend to tire her out much quicker so she quickly lost that advantage in more drawn out fights. The twins were much more patient which often frustrated Rowan when it led to her loss.
On top of all the training and studying she had done, Rowan also noticed the years bring other noteworthy changes. Her body had started to mature and she even managed to grow a wee bit taller, though she was still dwarfed by Kiriin and Kyr. Thankfully, with Bragi out of the equation, Rowan had grown to be much happier and she liked how it was changed. Granted, the compliments that she had been getting from Kyr, and Kiriin for that matter, certainly helped. If anything, she couldn’t help but glow upon being given the compliments, even if she didn’t completely understand the reason for the sudden influx in them.
That isn’t to say that growing up was all good; seeing the blood at the beginning of her first cycle freaked her out massively and the cramps certainly didn’t help, regardless of the fact that she was expecting it. Time had lessened the pain somewhat, but there was a tenderness to both her body and heart that the inevitable flow of her cycle never ceased to bring.
There were other issues that Rowan had noticed during those years. Unfortunately, these issues were even worse than her period or any other factor of growing up. As Rowan grew more independent, Tehri started distancing herself from her and Rowan couldn’t fathom why. It wasn’t as if Tehri was also going through the same changes, she was still a couple of years too young for that, but it was like she was an entirely different person. It was painful to see. Rowan even missed Tehri’s manic episodes. It beat seeing her depressed and feeling so far away. Unfortunately, Rowan could only think of one solution to the problem and that was to also pull away. It was easier than the pain of failing to get closer even if it meant losing her little sister.
Alas, Rowan’s solution wasn’t perfect as often her thoughts would return to whether or not she was doing the right thing. Such was the case on that one winter’s day as she wandered through the frozen streets of Næmyris. Though she had a destination in mind, she found herself meandering more than a particularly adventurous river. She felt lost, but she knew she couldn’t let herself be defeated by her thoughts, not until she won the battle that awaited her, so she made her way to the edge of town where a sea of white befell her eyes. There lay the path to her much needed distraction. She trekked forwards towards the war of snow and ice that she knew to be taking place over the crest of the next hill. On the precipice of the battle, she clapped her hands to her face.
“Right! That’s enough wallowing for me!”
Before her eyes the battle between the twins and some twenty others that Rowan recognised to be from their class. To a casual observer, the ten to one disparity would seem to be massively unfair and, in a sense, they would be correct, just not in the way they were thinking. Granted, it was true that some of their classmates had the same Gifts as them, they hadn’t been spending the last two and a half years engaging in combat training or learning how to take advantage. Instead they apprenticed with craftsmen or helped in the farms and lumber mills and they were thoroughly unprepared.
One by one, the larger group fell to either the unrelenting assault from Kyr or the stealth strikes from Kiriin. Even Rowan was amazed by the speed and accuracy at which Kyr was able to throw the perfect spheres of snow from the veritable mountain beside him. It was difficult to deny the efficacy of his offensive defence as he supplemented his attack by bunkering down in a fortified position. He also served as a perfect compliment to the equally impressive Kiriin. She wore white furs, using the camouflage to fade into the snowy backdrop and striking before anyone knew what had hit them. Whenever they tried to focus on her, they left themselves open to Kyr with his fortified position and pre-prepared arsenal made him equally difficult to attack. Furthermore, whenever they tried, Kiriin would hit them from behind.
Had Rowan been there earlier, things may have gone somewhat differently, but despite it being a Day of Rest, she still had her dance lessons. Fortunately, it also meant that she was primed for action as she discarded her heavy coat and leapt into the fray. As she weaved through the crossfire, Rowan quickly formulated a plan. She knew that making snowballs would be futile; she’d never be able to make them fast enough or throw them accurately enough to hit Kiriin or strong enough to break through Kyr’s fortifications and it would make her a sitting duck.
Twice, Kiriin attempted to throw a snowball in Rowan’s face to no avail. Rowan would have chased after her but a clump of snow from Kyr just narrowly missed her and the moment was gone. Like the others, she knew there was no way she could keep her eyes on Kiriin with Kyr’s relentless assault. He would need to go first. Turning on her heel Rowan capitalised on her superior speed, smaller frame and lighter clothing to charge Kyr.
Keep moving. Left. Right. Jump. If I don’t stop, Kyr won’t hit me.
Rowan did all she could to move as unpredictably as she could, zigzagging at seemingly random intervals and in fluid motions she slid, jumped and rolled, her silhouette bearing no consistency of form as she ran. The closest Kyr came to hitting her was from the odd glancing blow and before he knew it, she was upon him. In the last few seconds of her charge, Rowan accelerated to a significant speed and at the lip of Kyr’s fortified trench, she flipped over him, spinning in the air. As she landed, she used her full momentum to carry on spinning, her foot striking the mountain of snowballs, causing it to collapse on an unsuspecting Kyr.
In just those few moments, all of Kyr’s prep was brought crashing down. His classmates had already started making their way towards him with a predatory look in their eyes. In the time it would take him to escape the snow, they would be upon him and he was without any snowballs to defend himself. Rowan took a second to bask in her initial victory, a rising laugh washing away the thoughts that had been plaguing her. She couldn’t bask forever, however, as Kiriin was still at large.
To most humans, Kiriin was practically invisible when she remained still, the white furs blending in with the snow and the small flecks of grey fur breaking up her silhouette. Rowan, however, bore the eyes of her Ferran ancestors, and with them she saw a much greater range of colour and could better distinguish the finer subtleties between shades and to her, the greys were so much darker, and the whites featured a pale violet tint quite different to that of the snow. It wasn’t long before she found Kiriin in her hiding place. The chase was on.
Kiriin was a significantly more challenging opponent, primarily due to her mobility and the odd instance of the snow being especially blinding when the sun caught it in just the wrong way. Typically, Rowan would have a clear speed advantage, but Kiriin was running towards the treeline in the direction of the setting sun, slowing Rowan down to a more manageable pace because of the glare. Alas, the sun soon ceased to be an issue as they reached the shade of the forest.
Everyone else was out of sight as the chase reached its climax, as was Kiriin. In the moment that Rowan’s eyes adapted to the shade, she had slipped beyond the trees. Suddenly, she burst out from behind a particular large oak, a snowball in both of her hands. Rowan only just dodged in time before she tackled Kiriin to the ground, sending her hat flying several feet away. With the hat gone, Kiriin’s hair flared out and her hazel eyes twinkled mischievously. Looking down at Kiriin, Rowan’s heart skipped a beat and butterflies fluttered in her stomach. The soft blush on Kiriin’s cheeks painted her in the most beautiful light. Rowan instinctively leaned in closer, quickly noticing the faint smell of perfume; Kiriin almost never wore perfume. Even if it was only for the briefest moment, she was absolutely stunning.
In Rowan’s moment of pause, Kiriin closed the gap and their lips touched. That brief moment extended into an eternity. A kiss had never felt special before, but this time, Rowan’s heart wouldn’t stop racing, and from the sound of it, so was Kiriin’s. Furthermore, the kiss lit a small flame within her heart that invigorated her very being and all her fatigue slipped away. She was feeling the power of her Gift for the first time and it was magical.
But what does this mean? I can’t have feelings for Kiriin, can I?
The eternal moment passed and the kiss came to a close. They lingered ever so briefly and their noses bumped together softly. Giggling filled with mirth soon followed as they smiled at each other and rolled around in the snow. Suddenly, Kirin sprayed Rowan in the face to hide her reddening face. Instead of retaliating in kind, Rowan leaned in for a kiss of her own.
When Rowan eventually pulled back, she opened her eyes to see Kiriin sporting a blush as deep a red as Rowan’s crimson locks. “Y-y-you k-kissed me,” Kiriin stammered.
“You kissed me first.”
“Well, yes. But. Well. You see. You were really cute and really close and I hoped you wouldn’t mind and and…” Kiriin struggled to find the right words to convey her feelings and in the end they failed her. “Gah, I’m so embarrassed!”
It was rare to see Kiriin so flustered. In fact, Rowan was sure that this was yet another first and it tugged at her heartstrings. ”I didn’t mind. You surprised me, but I really didn’t mind. I actually kind of liked it.”
Kiriin let out a large sigh, “I’m so relieved. I was scared you might reject me because I’m a girl or because maybe someone else had caught your eye.”
“Wait! Does that mean?”
This time it was Rowan’s turn to blush a deep crimson as the realisation struck her. “I think I like you too.”
“If you’re sure,” Kiriin responded hesitantly
A simple admission, but one with a significant meaning to the two adolescent girls. It didn’t matter to Rowan that Kiriin was a girl, nor would it have mattered if she was a boy. What mattered was that it was Kiriin as it was Kiriin that had touched her heart.
The pair soon walked back to the others after they had collected themselves. They agreed to keep it a secret for the time being, in part to minimise any teasing and also because it made it feel all the more special. By the time they returned, Kyr was, in a sense, free from his snow tomb, though it seemed like he was wearing it more than anything as the snow clung to his clothes.
“What took you so long?” His question got little in the way of a verbal response. Instead, the girls awkwardly looked away from each other, trying their hardest not to blush. “Fine! Don’t tell me then,” he sulked, kicking at the snow as he stomped away.
“Love is an incredible feeling.” A simple conclusion that Rowan had come to and was further proven every moment that she spent with Kiriin that winter. It was like a blissful dream; so much so that the two had difficulty containing their young love despite how hard they were trying to keep it secret. At Kiriin’s request, they took extra care to hide it from Kyr, though it was clear that he was growing suspicious. In hindsight, his suspicions were likely an unfortunate side effect of how much time they had been spending alone together. They didn’t mean to exclude him, but they knew if he was around them more often, he would know for sure. That idea didn’t bother Rowan so much, but Kiriin insisted.
Their parents caught on quickly which resulted in a rather awkward conversation, but all in all, it went considerably better than expected. Kiriin’s parents were already aware of her inclinations and Rowan’s were largely unsurprised by the whole affair. That isn’t to say that their relationship was the norm, but their parents made sure that they knew it wasn’t unusual despite what some might say.
Besides Rowan’s and Kiriin’s relationship, winter continued largely without incident. They continued with their training, their education and of course with playing and embracing their youth. And like any other winter, it soon passed into spring. In the week between the seasons, word came from the high temple in Midiris bringing news of an upcoming Crimson Eclipse, causing quite the stir. To many, the news in and of itself was worthy of celebration. Rowan, however, wasn’t particularly excited, especially as she barely remembered the last one and she was largely preoccupied with her fourteenth birthday which was little more than a fortnight away.
Just before the announcement, Gyren had told Rowan that he was going to take her downriver to Tærin City so that she could choose her own gift. Of course, there would be more gifts that’d be kept as a surprise and, in truth, the trip was part of the gift. It was for this reason she was excited if that aspect of the trip was left as an unspoken fact for the sake of tradition. Rowan was also looking forward to spending some quality time with her father. He was so often busy with work and went on business trips throughout the year so time with him was special. This was especially true now that she was older. In the years after Tehri was born, Rowan would often play in his store while he worked as Hæra was often busy looking after Tehri. For a while, some of his customers even saw her as an adorable little mascot. Unfortunately, that was no longer viable as she had grown a lot since then and was often very busy herself.
As the trip drew ever closer, Rowan could barely contain her excitement. She rarely ever had the chance to leave Næmyris, the last time being when Tyris was granted the rank of Junior Captain in the Navy just under four years ago. She envied her brother and father for how much grander their worlds must seem from all of their travelling, though she understood the reasons why she could so rarely travel. Tehri was unfortunately not the best at travelling long distances, especially with her tendency towards a weak constitution and Rowan wasn’t old enough to accompany Gyren alone when he went off on one of his business ventures. But now it was her turn to go on a grand adventure, one that would take several days if everything went according to plan.
Rowan spent much of the time before the trip talking to the twins about what she should get while she was there. There was much to consider and much to be excited about. Should she buy any souvenirs while she was there? What would Kiriin like? Or Kyr? Would buying souvenirs be weird, considering the reason for the trip? These were all questions she could obviously only ask herself, but the twins were still a great help. It was also significantly less awkward than it could have been considering the strange relationship dynamic between them. Rowan was sure he knew at this point, but any reaction he may have had was overwhelmed with excitement.
“You should ask for a sword!” he said enthusiastically while they were all drinking some tea at the twins’ house.
“She already has a sword, Kyr,” Kiriin reminded him.
“Well yeah, but she probably won’t get that one until she’s much older.”
“That’s not the point. Plus, swords are expensive.”
“Kiriin’s right. I don’t need a sword. Especially when we already have the practice weapons that Tyris gave us.” Rowan spoke in a neutral tone as to not give the impression of favouritism.
“What about a knife?” he asked.
Rowan patted her thigh, “already got one.”
“Right,” Kyr said in a rather deflated manner.
“You really do carry that around everywhere, don’t you?” Kiriin interjected.
“It’s useful to have around and I like it.”
“Even if… Ouch!” Kyr didn’t get to finish whatever he was going to say due to Kiriin elbowing him firmly in the ribs.
Rowan laughed with mirth “What about a teddy bear? Da wouldn’ be expecting that.”
“Yes!” Kiriin exclaimed. “A big fluffy one. Maybe a Giant Mandra?”
“That would be absolutely perfect!”
“Why would you want a teddy bear? Doesn’t sound very useful”
“Stop being such a bore, Kyr,” Kiriin laughed. “Teddy bears are cute.”
“Presents don’t need to be useful.”
Kyr was blushing with embarrassment as Rowan and Kiriin chided him playfully.
“There’s no need to blush, Kyr. We’re only teasing. Isn’t that right, Kiriin?”
“Well sorry,” Kyr interjected before Kiriin could answer, “but I’m clearly not needed here. I’m sure you two would much rather be alone with how in sync you are.” He punctuated his remark by standing up suddenly and turning to leave the room.
“That’s not what we were saying,” Rowan objected.
“I don’t want to hear it!” he interrupted before fleeing.
“Kyr!” Kiriin called after him. “I’m so sorry, Rowan. This is why I didn’t want him to know.”
Kiriin then went after her brother, leaving Rowan alone in the room. She said her goodbyes not long after that and while the day had ended on a sour note, she’d still had tremendous fun.
The air was crisp as she walked home. It was a beautiful evening, all things considered and Rowan felt as if there was little that could get in the way of her excitement. With a burst of joy, Rowan opened the front door of her house.
Her words were meant for no one in particular, but Tehri had just so happened to be in the middle of walking down the stairs. “So you are,” she responded distantly, her face haunted by a deep melancholy.
Rather than be phased by her little sister’s sadness, Rowan gave her a smile. “Good evening, Tehri. You okay?”
It was a simple response, yet one with a hollow depth and complexity. Tehri was anything but fine. It was as if she had gone to the absolute bottom of depression, reached the other side and sunk right back down again; a profound despair that Rowan couldn’t even begin to fathom.
“Are you sure?” Rowan didn’t need the answer. Something about Tehri’s sadness resonated with the core of her being and could feel it seep through the cracks. Her heart ached and all of her excitement bled away. Rowan didn’t understand why it was hitting her so hard. She had barely thought about or even interacted much with Tehri for pretty much the entirety of winter. Even as Rowan recalled how Tehri had been, those memories paled in comparison to what she saw now.
Loneliness. Tehri’s affliction was becoming clear to Rowan now, a deep all consuming loneliness had been weighing deeply on her heart. How had she not seen it? Her eyes had been open, but blind to see what really mattered. Perhaps she may have if she had spent the time to look instead of turning her back on Tehri. She had walked forwards with her own life and then blamed Tehri for being unable to keep up. What had happened to being a good older sister and helping Tehri when she stumbled through life? In hindsight it was all so obvious, and Rowan didn’t want to believe it. She fled to her room and tried to hide from the revelation.
Ignorance was bliss, knowing is a nightmare.
Sleep failed Rowan that night. No matter how far she ran, Tehri’s haunted loneliness caught her. Because of her somewhat poor constitution and strange moods, Tehri had never had many friends growing up. Not many people understood the pendulum-like nature of her moods, the depression and the mania, especially children.
When Tehri was depressed, she tended to be withdrawn and rather apathetic, not really wanting to spend time with anyone and the lack of a smile was never too welcoming. Then there was the mania, which was arguably harder to deal with, especially if it happened directly after a depressive episode. To see someone go from despair and sadness to having boundless energy and a lack of inhibitions to stop them from acting on some of the thoughts that had struck them while they were down was a terrifying sight. Yet, despite all she suffered, she still had the support of her family and she had friends in Rowan and the twins. It wasn’t the same as friends her own age, but it was enough for Tehri, and Rowan had taken that away from her.
Guilt played a scornful melody on Rowan’s heart. She had failed as a sister. She had failed Tehri and no one else could see it. Tehri probably hated her now, not that Rowan would blame her, she’d probably feel the same way in her shoes. Already, a small part of her being, down in the depths of her soul, hated herself for abandoning Tehri, but what was she to do? Could she have done anything differently? Probably. Definitely. Not that it mattered now. She had already failed. Her thoughts kept coming back to that, like a circle. She needed to break free, but, was she even deserving of that? Of being forgiven?
Even so, Rowan had to make things right, for Tehri’s sake.
After what felt like an eternity, they crept over the horizon and Rowan stepped onto the boat with her father to the dissonant sound of birdsong.
“I know it’s early, Rowan, but it’s almost twenty leagues to Tærin. I’m sure you’ll be able to sleep on the boat and this way, we can get a nice meal at the inn when we arrive.”
Rowan nodded glumly as they found some seats. Gyren wrapped his arm around her shoulders as she slowly drifted asleep, her guilt no longer enough to hold back her exhaustion. She eventually woke up a few hours later at around midday with her head resting on her father’s lap. It seemed as though he hadn’t even moved whilst she had been sleeping. He smiled down at her. “Feeling better?”
Rowan nodded in response and she even felt that it wasn’t even that much of a lie. While it was still true that she felt pretty awful, a small speck of not so bad shined within, like a lone star amidst the sablest of night skies.
After a moment Rowan decided to speak up and ask her father a question. “Am I a bad sister?”
“No, of course not,” he responded. “What’s brought this on?”
“Tehri’s depressed because of me.”
“That’s nonsense. We don’t know why she goes through her phases like she does.”
“But they never last this long,” Rowan said sadly.
“That doesn’t make it your fault.” Gyren sounded confused as he tried to rebut Rowan’s feelings of guilt.
“I made it worse by not spending time with her. She’s lonely, Da.”
“She is? How do you know that? Did she say something?”
“I felt it clear as day. It was like a terrible abyss. I can still feel it and I know it must be so much worse for Tehri.”
“I can see why you feel it’s your fault then but it sounds like you were just overwhelmed with empathy.”
“Like an Ardent,” Rowan muttered under her breath without even realising.
“What was that, dear?”
“I didn’t say anything,” Rowan responded with a confused look on her face.
The conversation didn’t progress much further after that, so instead of letting it drift into an awkward silence, they had a light lunch. They then spent the rest of the journey playing Ruun and a few other board games that were available for use on the boat. They arrived at Tærin Port as the sun was setting, which was admittedly rather early at the beginning of spring. With a chill in the air, they made their way to the Twin Moons Inn, a rather wealthy establishment decorated in both blue and red. It was a design familiar to most of the larger cities on the island. Despite its splendour, however, it still paled in comparison to an inn of the same name in the capital.
When they eventually finished their dinner, it was clear that it would be too late to do any shopping so instead, they decided to just go for a walk. It was a welcome distraction as they explored the city. Rowan was surprised by how different it felt. They were only twenty leagues away from home yet it felt like a completely different world to her. She actually found it intimidating with how much stone there was in the city, especially with the towering walls. That isn’t to say the city was grey. In fact, the stone buildings in the wealthier districts were surprisingly colourful as it seemed like each one was painted in a myriad of different styles and fashions. Unfortunately, some of them clashed rather badly as the owners apparently had no regard for their surroundings.
The city also seemed to have an aversion to greenery. Which is to say that there was a severe lack of trees or gardens. Much more value was placed in efficiency and packing in as much real estate as possible. It made sense with the walls making it difficult to expand outwards, but the few trees and feeble attempts at gardens didn’t quite cut it in Rowan’s eyes.
There was, however, one part of the city that truly impressed her and that was Fountain Square at the centre of the Commercial District. True to its name, a fountain sat in the middle of the square and it was clear that it was the pride of the city. The craftsmanship was flawless and they had somehow managed to keep it in a pristine condition for whoever knows how long. It had been made to show a beautiful depiction of a family of Tærans, the mythical race of people that the river and by extension, the city had been named for. The Tærans were believed to be the original inhabitants of Llen Færa and the surrounding islands long before the humans and Ferrans arrived.
The spectacle of the fountain and the distraction of exploring the town definitely helped Rowan sleep that night. When she woke up the following morning, she thanked the Goddess that her sleep had only been restless and not haunted with nightmares. A part of her was even excited to go shopping after breakfast, though her heart still ached.
Breakfast that morning was short and sweet as they got ready to hit the town. Just before they finished, Rowan made a passing comment on how she had joked about asking for a teddy bear before disregarding the idea. Gyren hadn’t really reacted much to the suggestion, so she let it lie.
When they were ready, they set forth on their mercantile adventure. The first few shops were a bust; nothing in them called out to Rowan especially. Then they arrived at a small Jeweller’s by the river. From the wares, Rowan found a beautiful pair of earrings that definitely sparked her fancy and an idea that took them to the workshop next door; Rowan had a commission in mind. After talking to the Silversmith and Jeweller, they left with the order of a pair of silver bracelets in their capable hands. While they would take some time to complete, Rowan hoped that she would be able to share them with Tehri when they were done; a peace offering to help bridge the gap between them.
After that, they visited a couple more stores and bought a few more things. When they eventually returned to the inn at the end of the day, Gyren surprised Rowan by giving her a small teddy bear. “I thought it might help,” he said softly as he handed it over. Rowan hugged it close to her chest and cried a little bit. And then it was time to sleep. Tomorrow, their journey would come to an end and they would return home. As Rowan lay in bed, she realised she was once again alone. After a full day in the company of her father, being apart from him hurt even more. She clung tightly to her new teddy bear to try and banish the heavy burden of isolation and the rising feeling of nausea. She clamped her eyes shut, hoping it would disappear. Instead she only felt more anxious as voices from the common room echoed all around her. They spoke to her, filled her head with dread. To Rowan, they were a chorus that sang a grim lullaby as she fitfully drifted off to sleep.
That night, Rowan lived through some of her greatest fears. Everyone was leaving her, walking away as if she didn’t even exist, or worse, in spite of it. No matter how far she chased after her friends or family, even her enemies, they just drifted further and further away into a deep, impenetrable fog. All the while, the voices chanted within her mind, telling her that this is what she deserved, that it was only a matter of time. As she reached the fog, the voices twisted into a cacophony and the scene before her eyes shifted. Rowan saw herself crying in a field of blood, as her friends and family were killed again and again and again.
“Don’t let it end like this.”
Since that night, Rowan barely slept and what little sleep she did get was marred by the most horrific nightmares. Even so, she was still able to smile on her birthday, if only barely. And then spring passed into summer. Rowan kept her torment a secret from her family, fearing how they might respond, but they weren’t idiots. They could see the pain in Rowan’s eyes and they did their best to help. It only made things worse.
On the night before the eclipse, Rowan felt like her head was imploding. It was too much and when Kiriin tried to comfort her, she felt broken. Instead of feeling exhilarated when Kiriin kissed her, she felt sadness. Instead of feeling joy when Kiriin confessed her feelings, Rowan could only feel like it was a lie. Instead of responding with her own true feelings, Rowan lashed out. She didn’t want to be alone, but her nightmares had convinced her that she would lose everyone, so she had started pushing them away, to make it quick and then she couldn’t lose them anymore. It only made her feel worse, but there was no stopping it now, was there?
“Don’t let it end like this.”
There it was again.