The last chapter of part one! Thanks so much to *Not--Exactly--Legal for drawing the cover picture.
Find the original here: [link]
I had just turned twenty-five when Story and I arrived in the Aria National Reserve. The thick pine forests had evened out into deciduous land, safe from mountain lions and wolves. I could probably defend us if I put my element to the test, but I rarely practiced it for combative reasons. I made a mental note during our crossing of the mountains to do so, for the protection of my brother and myself.
It was considerably safer in the forests of Zenith, with the dense underbrush and towering trees above us. We stopped to rest at the Temple Lake, a beautiful expanse of water that broke the monotonous breadth of trees before us. I hadn’t known it at the time, but I’d be spending a lot more time at the lake than anywhere else. In fact, it wasn’t much longer after that when Story and I decided to stay in the reserve as somewhat of a pit stop in our journey to Daila knows where. We crossed the fork of the Temple River and set up camp in a little grove outside Talin. I didn’t want to venture into the city just yet, for fear there would be humans mingling about. Naturally, I didn’t let Story wander off too far either.
It was nice to have my brother back. He spent most of his time gazing off silently and wouldn’t respond right away to my messages, but he was still with me. I tried teaching him how to do simple things, like braiding blades of grass and lifting pebbles, but he only ever seemed to be able to when the sun was at its highest, or when we had previously spent a lot of time together. I always had to push back the fear that his element was being crowded by darkness, that he was a rare Balanced Shinlai with the worst possible combination. He was most definitely an Earth lai, and so far there was no hard evidence that he was also a Dark.
So we went on like that, still living off the supplies that Nirasi had so kindly provided for us. The more we stayed in the reserve, the less we wanted to leave. And the less we wanted to leave, the more comfortable we felt in the unfamiliar forest.
The day did come however when we ran low on food. Story was out by the North Temple River, most likely observing the fish as they darted by. I remember being impressed that Story looked up at me before I did anything to catch his attention. He was becoming more aware of tiny vibrations in the earth, using his element to his advantage. It made me proud and happy. But in the moment after this glimmer of hope, fear and worry immediately took over. Story’s eyes were full of hatred and anger, and I stopped short.What’s wrong?
I asked with a flick of my tail, raising stems from the ground to spell the words. But when I looked down at Story’s paws, I got my answer. Glinting from the reflection of the water, I saw the silver blade of a knife at his feet. It was one I had made back at Nirasi’s abode, and I thought I had kept it well hidden from Story’s sight. But he found it, and there it was beneath his brown and green paws. I asked him what he intended to do with it.Go away
, he wrote simply, eyes returning to the murky water. Understandably, I didn’t. I stepped beside him and sat on my haunches, peripherals on the blade. I swiped my paw through the air, manually writing out a sentence for him to read. I was halfway through telling him that he should give the knife back, that he doesn’t need it for anything. Halfway through telling him, when he lifted the knife with such agility I nearly jumped and swiped at his tongue. Heart pounding, I lunged for the knife before it pierced his skin and hurled it into the water to flow safely out of sight.Never try and hurt yourself,
I impressed in the dirt. Don’t you want to taste food?
But Story didn’t respond. He pried himself away from me and stalked off, short tail and head low. He was about ten years old now, still too young to fully understand what he was going through with the Dark element. I hadn’t taught him much about Dark, since I didn’t see the point. But now I was certain of it. Story would soon mature into a Balanced Shinlai of Earth and Dark.
There wasn’t much else I could do at this point, so I simply kept a close eye on Story. I constantly made sure he was nowhere near the sharp utensils, and also made a point to be with him as much as possible. I couldn’t do anything about this when I was sleeping, but I spent every waking moment with Story in my line of vision. If what Skjöldur said was true, social interaction would do my brother some good.
We took to more teaching, which went well until Story asked what the word “sound” meant. I felt my hackles rise slightly in apprehension, but I answered that sound was the thing you hear when certain objects vibrate. When I play my flute, the instrument vibrates. You’ve felt it. Those vibrations make a sound that I can hear.
I was terrified Story would ask me again why he couldn’t hear like everyone else, but his eyes remained on the words at his feet.
After a moment, he wrote, But what is it like?
I inhaled slowly, letting the breath out in a quiet attempt at calming my nerves. Describe the color red.
Story look at the words, then at me. He said he didn’t know what I meant, but after some insistence, he replied that it’s bright and vivid. But I reminded him that those descriptors don’t mean much to someone who can’t see. He looked down pensively. If I tried explaining what hearing is like, it would only make sense to one who can already hear.
There was a deep moment, one that even the forest critters observed in silence. For a moment hope blossomed in my chest, that Story was beginning to understand and accept his ailment. But almost as quickly as he drew the knife to his face, he spun around and ducked his head, paws flying before him. I stood up abruptly, pulling at Story to turn around. A drop of blood glanced off his claws, and I saw that he had scratched his own face. I clung onto a little hope that it was an accident, until I saw him reach for his ears and tear viciously at them. I could feel my heart break as I let out a cry, his name, heart thudding against my ribcage. It was the first time since his birth that I had physically spoken to Story.
I screamed for him to stop, but obviously to no avail. His paws kept lashing at his face, kept drawing red blood to the surface. Tears blurring my vision, I shouted and shouted that I would do anything to help him, I’d try bringing him to a healer, I’d heal him myself if my element allowed it. As I cried and pleaded, I pried at his forepaws and even used chunks of earth to get him to stop. Eventually his paws found the ground again and he spun on me, face red and puffy. He was panting heavily as he wrote, Don’t.
As I took the time to look down at the word, he dashed in the opposite direction. I called for him again, but his short tail lashed and he pawed at the ground. Instantly the ground upheaved on itself and produced a massive earthquake, trees falling in every direction and dust flying in the air. The last I saw of Story through the rubble was his pale green eyes blinking at me before he dashed away.
There was a brief moment of incredulity as I gazed at the mess before me. Don’t follow him, must’ve been what he meant. He’d come back, though. I told myself over and over again he’d come back. But this dark, overpowering voice inside my head told me he wouldn’t and it felt like a ton of bricks had settled in my stomach.
What I did next was almost like an out of body experience, one I look back on in just as much awe as anyone else might. Before I knew it I was heaving one of the blocks of earth into the air and dashing deep into the forest with it hovering above my head. I found a clearing and halted, gazing up at the massive form. It was large enough to crush me, most definitely. It floated lightly as if it were made of nothing, when I so desperately knew it weighed much more than any Shinlai I knew. Large enough to crush me…
I closed my eyes. If I aimed for my head, the pain would last a millisecond. Much, much shorter than the pain of losing everything that mattered to me, everything that I lived for. And in the split moment that it would take to fall, I wouldn’t even have time to second guess the decision. It needed to be done.
Exhaling what felt like a piece of my existence, I opened my eyes and loosened my mental hold on the boulder. But I caught it immediately, when my eyes alighted on the smallest of human children meters away from me. Her big green eyes were widened in what must have been fear, and her cherry brown hair was laced with colorful feathers. She was wearing a patchy dress colored with dye from berries, and red clay was smeared over her cheeks.
And she was watching me, about to end my life.
----------Thus concludes part one of my Shinlai story! And oh boy, I know it kind of sucks. But I PROMISE things get a million times better for Braid and Story. Really, it's all downhill from here. Hope yall have enjoyed thus far!
Braid, Story & writing (c) =WrenTree
Image (c) *Not--Exactly--Legal
Nirasi (c) *Lenalis
Shinlai & Elaisha (c) *AlanaRoseheart