A weak fire provided the only light for miles around. Two girls sat close by the fire, waiting, wishing for sleep to overcome them. The flickering orange light washed over the roots of nearby trees like silent, lapping waves. The leaves above were a shadowy blanket, blocking out all view of the stars. This was comforting for the two girls, but they still felt exposed. They were too close to the village to feel safe.
Selena lay back and sighed, her short blonde hair pooling around her head. She knew sleep wouldn't come. Her imagination wandered, thinking about the possibility of the mind settling enough for sleep when the nerves and instincts were still on full.
Total, suffocating silence...
Selena hated silence. She wished for some noise - even the sorcerer's men would have been welcome, as long as they put an end to the uncomfortable silence. She looked at her companion, but Myra's long, brown hair blocked her face from view like a despairing waterfall, continuously beaten back, and close to giving up.
Silence that rejected any distraction…
Fear surrounded the girls, with grief crouching nearby. Other thoughts flitted into being before they were crushed like a small child under a soldier's sword. Only one thought remained… An image of the desecrated village they'd left behind. The one Selena wanted to forget. She looked at Myra again, and hoped she wasn't interrupting any private grieving. "How long do you think we'll be safe here for?"
And finally, the silence was broken.
"I don't know. A day or so would be nice, though. I really need some rest, but…" As she spoke, Myra turned to face Selena.
"I know. I can't sleep, either. Do you want to talk about something, try to pass some time?"
"Ok… You just moved to Hanshin fairly recently, didn't you?"
Selena nodded before answering Myra's question. "Yeah… It's quite a long story. Do you want the full version, or a summary?
"Full version," Myra said with a smile. "We've got plenty of time."
After a moment of hesitation, Selena began talking.
* * *
I was eleven when I first saw my father hit my mother. This one event cut through my life like a blunt knife, ripping out the best parts and completely turning them around. My father had been drinking. I was to learn later that he often became violent when he'd had too much to drink. I didn't think a lot of it at the time. I thought that Mum must have done something wrong. My father was easy to anger.
It took a couple of months and about five more bashings for me to work up the courage to do something. I walked through the door then froze when I heard Mum's voice. "Corbett… Corbett, please stop!" I had never heard her plead before. She had always been too proud.
As I recovered from the shock, I heard my father's reply. "It's your fault, Kaoru. It's all your fault! Everything. I have to do this to teach you a lesson. It's your fault!"
Anger rose in me. I felt like a cup filled to the brim, then put over a fire. The heat of my anger was pushing me over the edge. The words 'It's your fault!' echoed in my ears, becoming louder. I began to doubt their truth more with every repetition. The volume increased to a shout. That was it. I overflowed. I shoved the door open as if I could push my problems aside at the same time. At the time, I didn't notice the dent the door made in the wall. My attention had narrowed to my father, and the bottle held like a club in his hand. As he turned, glaring at me, I noticed Mum cowering on the ground like a terrified child. Her hands shook as they covered her face, almost obscuring the furious bruising around a wide, frightened eye. She shifted to see what had distracted her husband. I cringed as I saw her eye in more detail. The discolouring was similar to that of the liquid in my father's bottle - red as blood, tinged with purple.
"Stop it!" I screamed, desperately trying to draw my eyes from Mum's face. "Just stop it! She doesn't deserve this!"
My father look stunned at the sudden reprimand. A second later, he'd recovered. He didn't speak, but his eyes told me everything I needed to know. I saw straight into his vicious thoughts. His eyes were glazed over in anger, like those of a wild bull. His fury inflated him, making him look taller. His attention was now focused on me. He didn't like to be told what to do. He was going to show me what happened when someone defied him!
I woke up to find darkness leaning over me. The whole room was filled with its presence. It had infected everything and was now leering at me. It held back my pain for a moment - just long enough for it to build up to its peak, before releasing it. A tsunami of brainwashing agony crashed over me. It battered me from all sides. My breath caught in my throat. I struggled frantically. A second wave of pain smashed into me. Just as I thought I would drown in my suffering, I surfaced. The pain lessened to a consistent throb in the background, like the beat of a far-off drum.
Then the silence set in. I don't know when I had become afraid of silence. It was a typical irrational fear - I had no reason to fear it. Despite that, my breath caught in my throat like a mouse in a trap. My fear surrounded me, a thick fog obscuring any rational thought.
I lay alone, trying to master my pain and fear. Eventually, Mum came to see me. She'd had to wait until my father had fallen asleep to avoid angering him further. The darkness was beaten back as Mum lit a candle. That tiny, flickering light brought me hope. I suddenly felt that everything was going to be alright. Mum set the candle down and checked the extent of my injuries. I had at least one broken rib, a sprained wrist and a large assortment of bruises as a reminder of my father's brutality.
After this, my father only beat Mum when I was out of the house. He had no problem beating his wife, but maybe he'd felt a twinge of guilt after hurting his child. I don't know… I never understood him. I knew that he thought of women as tools and that he liked everything to be perfect, but knowing and understanding are sometimes too different. So I just helped Mum in any way I could without attracting my father's attention. Those years were far from perfect, but we managed.
Then everything went completely, horribly wrong.
The house felt different as I entered it. I knew something was amiss. I realised it was the absence of any sound. The silence was almost visible. It coated the house like the powdery paint on the walls. I took a deep breath and closed the door with shaking hands. I discovered that my whole body was trembling like a young child, feeling alone and fearful. Mum was preparing food as I entered the kitchen. My father stood behind her, his mad eyes watching for the slightest error, like a hawk hunting a rabbit. I eyed him suspiciously before turning to leave. And then it happened.
A scream burst from behind me. I jumped around to face the kitchen like a startled animal caught between two hunters. A wave of heat washed over me before icy fear set in. I felt as if I'd been placed in a fire then taken out and doused in freezing water. Before me, Mum lay clutching her shoulder. A glint of light attracted my attention. Blood dripped off the knife in my father's hand like a silent, crimson tear. I swallowed a scream. My father turned to me as I ran to Mum. He raised the knife, threatening me. Instead of being an overflowing cup, this time I was a volcano. I could no longer hear my mother's weeping screams. Clear, mind washing rage was pushing at my consciousness. It wanted me to submit to it. It wanted total control. I didn't fight it. I welcomed it, and directed it at my father.
"Leave… us… ALONE!" As I shouted the last word, I felt a burst of energy leave me. I found myself on my knees. I felt so weak… I was on the verge of collapsing. I felt that if I closed my eyes, I might never open them again. I helplessly waited for a blow from my father. Surely, he would punish me for interfering. I had defied him again. And this time, he had a knife.
No attack came.
After what felt like an hour, strength started seeping back into me. I raised my head, but instantly wished that I hadn't. I now knew why my father had left me untouched. He lay on the floor. Blood oozed from his mouth. A drop hit the ground, exactly as Mum's had from the knife. My body shuddered violently like a leaf caught in a cyclone as my eyes fell on his bloody, exposed chest. A point of ivory poked out of the crimson mess that had once been working muscles. His heart was still working, desperately pumping blood through his battered veins in the faint hope of revival. I could only watch, horrified, as the blood spilled out uselessly. It flowed over his crushed flesh like a crimson stream. The edges of the remaining skin were blackened. It looked as if he'd been hit with a ball of fire that had gone out a moment after contact.
I retched as the truth struck my mind with the speed of a snake's attack. Its poison spread through my brain, which started to shut down. It flitted back to the burst of energy and the orange flash I had felt and seen, and it all made sense.
I had killed my father.
I was a murderer. There was nothing else to it. I barely felt my mother's shaking hand on my shoulder. I had murdered my father, and I didn't even know how. What was that explosion of energy that had blasted the life out of him? The questions teeming in my mind were the last things I remembered that day.
The next few years were hard for Mum and I. We were reduced to scavenging for food while avoiding detection. I suppose that life would always be hard when you're on the run. I was a girl who had killed a man. I had committed a crime punishable by a very painful and public death.
And then we found Hanshin. We were safe, and I could start trying to live past my crime. But I couldn't forget. I still didn't fully understand what had happened, until the Testing. I learned of my magic, and knew how I'd killed my father. I was afraid to use my magic at first, scared that it would overpower me, but I overcame that with time.
* * *
Selena sat back as she finished her story. Even after three years, the memory still stabbed at her heart like her father's knife.
"Wow," Selena looked over as Myra started speaking. "I never imagined… How can you always be so cheerful after all that?"
Selena gave a wry smile. "What you see is not always what you get."