The Crow and the Butterfly (Part II)

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic
Two villages on opposite sides. Two lovers
trapped in-between.

A witch priestess, claiming ultimate power from a demon goddess,came to the troubled village of Alia and preached of her religion. Some joined her, while others remained faithful to the goddess Zephyria. War broke out. The witch priestess was killed. Out of fear, her followers fled to the other side of the mountains. Alia split into two: Alia and Cabran. The Cabranians continue their satanic rituals, and one young man named Crow dares to run away...

(Author's Note: I wrote this as a "short story", but it came out to 30 pages typed [much longer than I intended], enough to be a short novelette! The way that I wrote it, however--it's not meant to be broken up into chapters, and I decided that it would be best presented this way. Enjoy.)

Submitted: August 18, 2011

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Submitted: August 18, 2011

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PART TWO OF THE CROW AND THE BUTTERFLY

 

~*~

 

I didn’t expect to sleep very well.  In fact, I barely slept at all.  I woke up after enduring a nightmare of Crow’s beautiful body; clean, unharmed, without a single blemish.  I was lying naked in bed with him.  I could feel him.  Feel the hush of his skin, the warmth of his breath on my face, and the whisper of his fingers along my waist.

He kept saying, quietly, “Nevermore.”

I embraced him tightly, but he said the word over and over again.  I started to panic.  I didn’t understand.  It was as if he wasn’t real; just a hologram stuck on repeat.  I was scared.

Once again.  “Nevermore—“  Sickly white arms started breaking through the floor of clouds.  I could see no bodies; just arms and hands.  Some of the arms were torn and bloody; some of the hands were missing fingers.  They started clawing at Crow.  I kicked at them, even bit them, but they weren’t after me.  They had come to take him away from me.

Crow screamed and cried, reaching out for me, but his mouth produced no sound.  I screamed, but my voice was gone as well.  Blood trickled down Crow’s body in long streams, somehow spelling out the word nevermore.

The arms took him from me.  Left me kneeling on the bed, alone, broken; my tears falling in droplets upon the red that drenched the sheets.

Kato woke me up then.  He was gazing at me with his pretty gray eyes and a concerned expression.  I was sweaty and shaking uncontrollably.  It took me a moment before I could even speak.

“Nightmare.”  I said to Kato.  I got up and closed the bathroom door behind me before I broke into sobbing that seemed to last forever.  After I had calmed down, I met my brother in the kitchen.

“What time is it?”  I asked.

“Five-thirty.” he replied.  It was obvious that he didn’t get any substantial sleep either.

“We need to go.  Now.”  I said blankly.

 

~*~

 

I vaguely heard heavy footsteps from somewhere above me; the sounds of a body being dragged along the floor.  The air around me was colder than ever.  It stung my insides to breathe.  I couldn’t even move my body anymore.  I was so numb and sore and dead.  I might as well have been dead.  I felt that way.  Lifeless.  No warmth…no…love…..

I thought of Nissa then.  Kristofer was gone, but Nissa…she was still out there, somewhere.

I knew that she was looking for me.

I prayed to the Highest that she wouldn’t even come close to Cabrän.  I didn’t want her to see me like this.  I didn’t want her to…

…Want her to what?  I…couldn’t remember…..

 

~*~

 

It was hard; ascending the Nameless Mountains.  We couldn’t take the easy path through; Kato said that the Cabränians would be expecting us to come that way.

It had been barely two hours into the trip when I was already tired.  I couldn’t keep up with my brother.  He was up ahead, shirt off and hanging from the pocket of his pants.  He looked back at me; annoyingly handsome with his clear skin, dark chocolate hair and eyes gray as storm clouds.  I wanted him to smile; that cocky, arrogant smile that I was so fond of, with those perfect white teeth.  But he wasn’t smiling.  His face was grave and troubled.

He stopped and waited for me.  When I finally caught up, he put his arm around me and held me to him as we continued at a slightly slower pace.

“Take heart, sister, we are almost at the top.  Going down is easy.”

I closed my eyes for a moment and thought of Crow.  I thought of the look on his face as he watched Kristofer fall to the ground after being stabbed by that ruthless Ananias.  A sudden burst of courage, confidence, and stamina coursed through my veins, and I was able, somehow, to walk a little faster.

Kato and I reached the top in a little over an hour.  From there, I looked down at Cabrän.  It was a pitiful village; all bleak and dreary; the sad villagers (no children) walking solemnly about, winding around the beaten-down buildings.  The houses were a very sad sight.  The only at least decent building was Astoria’s temple, which was built on the side of a mountain and overlooked the village below.  It was a gray building, with silver columns, and a silver statue of Astoria perched on top.  She must not like colors, because the whole of Cabrän was black and white.

I looked back at my own village.  Alia was like the complete opposite of Cabrän.  I gazed off in the distance at Zephyria’s temple; all gold and speckled with gemstones.  There was a statue of Zephyria with the butterfly wings, a pleasant smile gracing her features.  Ironically, the statue of Astoria was frowning.

I shivered.  The air was getting colder.  I looked up at the sky; rain clouds were coming our way.

“We should hurry.”  I said quietly, and Kato nodded.

He was right; of course, going down was ever so much easier.  We made that trip in about forty-five minutes.  I was practically running; and now Kato had to struggle to keep up with me.  He was carrying our bags, though, so I shouldn’t make fun of him.

We reached the base of the mountain and ducked behind a large bush to catch our breath.  Luckily, there weren’t many people around this area.

“What’s our plan from here?”  I whispered.

“That’s what I was hoping you knew.”  said Kato, rolling his eyes.  He did that a lot, when he was anxious.  I watched him thoughtfully as he pulled his shirt back on.

“How much do you know about the Cabränians, brother?  Do you know where they keep sacrifices?”

“I have no idea, unfortunately.”

“We need to ask someone.”  I decided, peering through a hole in the bush.

“Are you crazy?  You are not asking a Cabränian for directions.”  he snapped, tugging on my sleeve.  “What if they—“

“What other choice do we have?  We can’t waste time here; we may already be too late!”

“All right, hush!  Keep your voice down.  Whom shall we ask?”

“One of the commoners.  We should be able to tell the difference between them and one of Astoria’s priests.”  I said.  We heard the crashing sounds of someone washing dishes from inside the house to our right.  I glanced at Kato and pointed.  He sucked in a breath and cocked his head in the direction of the house, meaning You first.

I stood up slowly and darted out of the bush, not stopping until my back was against the wall beside the door.  Kato followed suit and ended up right beside me.  He shot me a look that meant Well go ahead, knock.  I took deep breaths in a vain attempt to calm my nerves.  My heart was beating a million times a minute.

Yet, I reached my arm out, and I knocked.  Twice, sharply.  The noises within the house silenced.  The dishes went still.  The chattering was reduced to a mutter.  It was so sad that these people had to live in such fear of the fact that at any point in time one of Astoria’s priests could knock on their door and dub them sacrifices.

I shook my head gravely.

The door creaked open, and a pale-skinned woman stood there in a drab dress splattered with water.  Despite her poverty and her dark hair pulled back into greasy ponytail, she had a beautiful face reminiscent of a city lady.

“Who are you?”  she asked, not rudely, but cautiously.

“My name is Nissa, and this is my brother Kato.  We need help desperately.”  I said, just as cautiously.

“I’m sorry.”  said the woman.  “I have no beds for you to sleep in, nor food for you to eat.”

I caught her eyes.  “I am here to change all of that.”

Her eyebrows lowered and her lips pursed in thought as she stared at me.  Finally, she moved aside to let us in.

“Oh Astoria, forgive me.”  I heard her whisper, under her breath.

Her house was amazingly well-kept, considering the outward appearance of Cabrän.  Huddled in the corner of the twelve square foot room were two children; the boy about ten and the girl maybe seven or eight.  They stared at us with glassy eyes.

“No need to be afraid.”  I said, reaching into my hip bag.I pulled out two pieces of mint-flavored candy (my favorite) and held it out for them.  “I won’t harm you in any way, I promise.”  The older child glanced at his mother, who nodded her approval.  He took the candy and gave one to his sister.  They stared at it as if they had never seen candy before.  Well, they probably hadn’t.

“It’s candy, my dears.  A sweet food.  You may eat it.”  said the mother.  Afterwards, she turned to us.  “Please sit.” 

I did, but Kato remained standing, his hands on the back of my chair.

“My name is Joven, by the way.”  said the woman, pouring hot water for tea.

“Joven, my brother and I have come from Alia.  Please don’t be alarmed.  We have come because—“  But my words caught in my throat, and I forgot what I was going to say.  The woman looked at me with hard eyes.  I felt Kato’s warm hand rub the back of my neck.

“One of your people, a boy named Crow, somehow managed to escape being the Nightsong sacrifice.  My sister here found him and took him in, not knowing initially that he was from Cabrän.”  said Kato, his voice low.  “A priest named Ananias”—I noticed the woman flinch at the name—“came and threatened to murder an Alian infant if we didn’t hand over Crow.  He viciously murdered one of his own kind; Crow’s friend, Kristofer.”

“Yes, I know all about this.  Kristofer’s mother is an old friend of mine…” said Joven, bowing her head.

“We had gotten rather close to Crow.  And Nissa, well—“

“The three of us are friends.”  I said.  “We have come to save him, and all of you.”

Joven studied us for a moment.  Her ‘heroes’ were just a boy and girl of seventeen apiece.

“A noble cause, but I’m afraid that’s a near impossibility.”  she said.  “The priests here are vicious.  I don’t even want to imagine what they would do to the two of you if they caught you during this quest of yours.  You’ve heard of the Cabränian ways, perhaps, but I’m afraid that knowing and experiencing are two completely different things.”  She turned away from us then and stared out the window.  There was nothing to look at out there; just another boring house and a wall of trees.

“I’m sorry.  I don’t mean to dampen your spirits, but I’ve seen more horrible things then either of you can even imagine.”  she continued, facing us again and leaning against the counter behind her.  “What they do here is inhuman.  And if you fail to follow their rules, you pay the price with your life.”  Her eyes wandered to her children on the bed.

I closed my eyes and swallowed hard.  I could easily take a guess at what she meant by that personally.  I remembered what Crow had told me about Cabränian children.  I was wondering if Joven had a husband or not…

“Joven,”  I said after a moment, “Do you know where the sacrifices are kept?”

“If you’re looking for Crow, he’s no longer a sacrifice.  He’s been branded a traitor.  Defiled.  Only ‘pure’ sacrifices are to be offered to the goddess.”  She stopped abruptly, as if she had meant to say something else.

My legs started to grow weak.  I opened my mouth to say something, but no words came out.  Luckily, Kato knew what I had wanted to ask.

“And what do they do with traitors?”

Joven sighed.  “They torture them to the death.”

“Zephyria!”  I shrieked.  I vaguely remember Kato shouting my name as the world faded to black.

 

~*~

I was only half-conscious when I heard the cell door screech open.  Two people with steel-toed boots stepped in and shackled my wrists and ankles and gagged me with a rope.  I felt my dry lips split and the blood that trickled down my chin.  Chains clanked and chimed in my ears, mingling with my throbbing head.

They dragged me out of the cell.

I opened my eyes, and saw nothing but darkness.

Darkness…darkness…no, not the darkness again…..

Someone.  Help me.  Please.  Save me.  Anyone.  Rescue me…..

 

~*~

 

I didn’t know how long I had been out.  I woke up with my body feeling like jelly, my brain swimming in my head like an apple bobbing in a bucket of water.  I was lying on a cot, staring at the moldy, wooden ceiling.  The air smelt stuffy and strange.

Kato came up to my left, and I turned to him.  I reached out my hand, and he took it and squeezed it tightly.  Tears burned my eyes.

“Kato…Crow…”  I croaked.

“I talked to Joven.  She told me that prisoners are kept in the dungeons under the temple.  Don’t cry, Nissa.  We’re gonna find him.”

“What if we’re too late?”

“Joven said that his ‘chastisement’ begins at noon.  It’s only ten-thirty yet.”

“Chastisement?  Oh Kato, what do they plan to do to him?”

Kato lowered his eyes.  “I don’t know, Nissa.  Joven doesn’t know either.”

I sat up and rubbed the back of my head.  Kato stroked my back firmly with his thumb.  I swung my legs over the edge of the cot and embraced my brother.

“Kato, if we don’t make it out of here alive; I need you to know that I love you, so much.  You’re a brilliant brother.”  I said.

Kato patted my back.  “I love you too, Nissa.”  He sniffed inconspicuously and let out a quick, heavy sigh.  “Let’s go.  We have no time to waste.”

We left the tiny side room and found Joven stroking the hair from her children’s faces.  They had fallen asleep on the bed.  Joven’s face was deeply concerned and full of maternal affection.  My heart hung heavy in my chest at the thought that every other person in this cursed village suffered just as much or even more than this poor woman.

I just had to change that.

“We’re leaving now.”  I announced quietly.  “We thank you so much for your help.”  Joven looked at us.

“Please…whatever you do, don’t fail.”  And that was all she could say.

 

~*~

 

…Light?  Could it really be…?  I pried my eyes open.  I was outside now; the dark sky loomed above me.  The air wasn’t as cold and dry as in the dungeons, but it was still unpleasant.  I was still being dragged by the guards.  I could see villagers in my peripheral vision, watching us.

I was being dragged down the main road from Astoria’s temple, towards the village square.  The Post.  I didn’t have the strength to wonder what they would do to me there.

They yanked me up the wooden steps and chained me to the post in such a way that I was kneeling with my arms tied above my head, my face against the wood.  I wrinkled my nose and held down a gagging reflex in my throat.  The wood smelt like what is was; an accumulation of fifty years of blood, sweat and tears from the hundreds of people who suffered in this very spot.  Dazed, I looked at the floor beneath me.  Likewise, it was a sickly sight with ages-old splatters of dried blood.

One of the two guards that were standing there walked behind me.  The other addressed the villagers.

“Villagers of Cabrän!”  he sneered,  “What you are witnessing is what happens to those who dare to oppose the goddess and leave the village.  This boy, Crow, has betrayed us.”

Traitor!”  growled the guard behind me.  A shiver went down my spine at the word.

“As penance for his sins, he shall suffer for the goddess.  He is sentenced to torture—to the death!  It begins now; a public flogging.  Let this be a lesson to you—to all of us!  We are all just slaves of Astoria, only meant to live and suffer for her!  Oh goddess, hear us!  Hear the screams of his pain!  Your enemy!  This traitor!”  continued the other guard.  I caught a glimpse of his face.  He was looking towards the sky; arms outstretched, with a delirious, suicidal grin smeared across his face.

Something searing hot lashed across my back, causing every muscle in my body to constrict.  The whip had struck so hard that I could feel the blood vessels popping and sending warm blood down my back.

The pain was excruciating.  If I hadn’t had the rope in my mouth, I would’ve bitten my tongue clean off.

The whip struck again.

And again.

Again.

After about ten lashes, it was almost like I couldn’t feel anything anymore.  It was a strange sensation…something like letting go of a cliff and letting yourself fall into oblivion, each one of your senses melting away in turn…

My body went limp against the post, and my mind fogged with the darkness again.

“Wait a moment.  Don’t kill him.”  said one of the guards, the delirious one.  He laughed then.  “Can you all not feel it?  Astoria’s happiness?  She is pleased with us!”

My senses came back to me, and despair gripped my heart.

Why isn’t anyone helping me?

I’m burning…

…dying…

I saw a face in the crowd.  A girl, with brown eyes and black hair.

No, it couldn’t be.  I squinted.  I saw her face for a split second.

Nissa.

 

~*~

 

The moment I saw his eyes close, I lunged for the platform with my knife in my hand.  I leaped unto that fanatical guard with all my strength.  His head hit the floor with a loud thud.  He looked at me, dazed.  I stared back.  I hope he could see the revulsion and contempt in my eyes.  The villagers around us were silent; utterly shocked.

My hand was shaking.  I couldn’t do it…

…Not even for Crow?

An arrow flew past my face and struck the guard in the throat.  I looked back at Kato, who lowered his bow.  He had a bleeding gash across his cheek.  The other guard lay in a motionless heap at my brother’s feet. 

I watched as Kato as he lowered his head and caught his breath.  I stood up and held out my arms towards the villagers.

“People of Cabrän!”  I shouted, as steadily as I could manage, “Be not afraid!  My brother and I have come to save you all!  Astoria is a demon; none of you are meant to live this way!  You are not slaves.  You are not forsaken.  You are family.”  I lowered my arms.  Now was not the time to choke up.  “You belong in Alia, where there is peace and wealth and food.  Where there is happiness, and love.”

The people turned to each other and muttered amongst themselves.  I bit my lip and hoped that what I had said was enough to convince them to our side.

“You fools!”  shouted Ananias, emerging from the crowd.  “Can’t you see that this girl is trying to make traitors of you all?”

The villagers backed away from him, terrified. 

“If you listen to her…you all will be punished.”

Everything went totally silent.

“We are all already punished.”  said a woman’s voice from the crowd.  She pushed through until I could see her face.  It was Joven.  “You priests—if you can even be called that—always tell us that if we suffer, Astoria will reward us.  And yet, we just suffer and suffer.”

“Our rewards are not of this life, dear woman, but the next.  Small sufferings for our great sins.”  said Ananias, looking more than a little bothered.

Small sufferings?” cried Joven, clenching her fists.  “Taking a woman’s husband away and burning him to death before her and her children—that is a small suffering?  Nothing should be worth that!”

“He stole from the temple.”  said Ananias, wiping his sleeve.

“Because our family was starving and you would give us no food!”

“Those animals were sacrifices to Astoria!”  he replied blankly.  “What is wrong with you, woman?  Astoria created us!  She put us on this earth and gave us life!  Worshiping her is the least we can do!  We are just humans!  Weak, powerless humans!  Dying for Astoria is greatest offering we can give; you should consider your husband lucky!  I would rather rot in hell knowing that I died for the goddess than rot in hell otherwise!”

“You expect me to believe that the goddess created us for this?”  continued Joven.

Ananias couldn’t answer promptly enough.

There are inconsistencies in your doctrine, Ananias.  This,”  Joven gestured to the villagers, “This is hell.”

The villagers, filled with rage, stormed on Ananias.

“YOU FOOLS!!!”  screamed the coward of a priest.  “LADY SAPHIRA!!!  HELP ME!!!”

My brother and I exchanged glances.  I looked up at the temple; a priestess was descending the steps.  Her eyes were fixated on the crowd that was smothering Ananias.  Her robes and veil flapped around in the wind.  She looked like someone who had never left the temple until now, and she was extremely upset to have had to.

I swallowed hard.  My observational conclusions like that were always right.  I went to Crow and tried to get him to wake up.  He looked horrible.  The rusty old shackles were easy for me to break, and I untied the rope that was gagging him.  Kato was standing behind me, alert.

Holding Crow in my arms, I stroked his face.

I whispered his name.

“CLEAR OUT!!!”  screamed the woman.  The crowd immediately scattered at the sound of her voice.  “You fools…all of you.  To kill a priest of Astoria…”  She covered her face with her hand theatrically.  “You poor, pitiful souls...oh, Astoria, have mercy on them…they are all so confused.  Pity them, oh goddess.  Have mercy on them.”

She knelt beside the dead Ananias and put her hand on his chest.  She closed her eyes and muttered prayers.  Her voice rose and her prayers became incantations.  She wasn’t speaking in the Alian language.  She stood slowly, thrashing her head and arms about.  I had never seen anything so strange.

She raised her arms to the sky and screamed her words.  She reached behind her and pulled out a long, thin steel blade.  She lowered her head with an expression of sorrow and weariness, and with five clean, lightning-flash movements, she sliced off Ananias’ head, arms, and legs with the sharp sword.  I gasped and covered my mouth before turning to bury my face into my brother’s chest.  The villagers cried out in horror.

“RECEIVE YOUR PRIEST, OH GODDESS!” screamed the priestess.  “FREE HIM FROM THIS WORLD!  SAVE HIM! DELIVER HIM!!!” Ananias’ dismembered body burst into flames.

The priestess turned her attention to the post.  Her face had softened, but not in a good way.

“So this whole debacle was over that boy?”  Her voice was snake-like and monotone.  “What a mess he has caused.  Now, to make it up to the goddess, we must offer two of our purest at the next Nightsong.”

Her eyes locked on mine.  “Alians.”  she said, voice dripping hatred.  “You will die.”

She leaped unto the platform easily.  Kato brandished his sword, and the priestess laughed.  She slashed at him with her own razor-sharp blade, but he parried every blow.  He couldn’t land a blow either, and it worried me, watching helplessly from the floor.  Crow stirred in my arms.  He saw me, and I can’t quite explain the face that he made.  I couldn’t tell what he was feeling, but it was something strong.

 

~*~

 

I sat up, ignoring the pain.  I noticed then that Kato and Lady Saphira were locked in a vicious hold.  Nissa was speaking to me, but I couldn’t hear what she was saying. 

The priestess broke the hold; striking Kato in the ribs with her elbow.  He fell off the platform and didn’t get back up.  Nissa screamed her brother’s name.  I grabbed a nearby knife and sprung to my feet.  I held the blade to Saphira’s throat.

“This is for Kristofer.”  I said through my teeth.  But before I could slit her throat, I felt a white-hot pain seize my insides.  I looked down at the steel blade that was pierced right through me.  My hand went slack and the dagger slipped through my fingers.

I was falling.  Falling.  I was so close.

And now, so far.

 

~*~

 

NOOOOOO!!!”  I screamed.  “CROW!!!”  I grabbed the dagger that Crow had dropped and without thinking I stabbed the priestess in the heart.  Her deafening scream made me come to my senses and realize what was happening.

I was on top of her, holding the dagger firmly in place.  Hot blood made my fingers slip on the hilt.

“OH ASTORIA!!! THE BLISS!!!  THE ECSTASY!!!  I SUFFER ONLY FOR YOU!!!  TAKE ME, MY GODDESS!!!  LET ME SHARE ETERNAL LIFE WITH YOU IN HEAVEN!!!” 

The priestess was delirious.  I couldn’t believe how deranged these people were.  They were sick, twisted.

“Oh Zephyria…”  I gasped.  “Crow...”  I twisted the dagger, and blood spurted everywhere.  The priestess’ screams became hoarse shrieks that grated against my eardrums.  Leaving the blade there, I got off of her and collapsed beside Crow.  His breaths were forced gasps, and his whole body racked with each one.

Sobbing, I sat cross-legged and took him into my arms.  Kato crouched in front of us, cradling his injured side.

“Please, no…”  I sobbed,  “Crow…”

He looked at me heavily, his eyes dizzy with pain.

“Nissa.”  he whispered.

 

~*~

 

“Speak.”  I gasped.  I could taste the blood rising up my throat.  “Talk to me—don’t let me go...”

Nissa just sobbed.  She wiped her nose and eyes, and tried to smile.

“W-what did you like about A-Alia?”  she asked.

I looked at the sky and tried to think, but I couldn’t of what to say.  There were many things that I liked about Alia.  Nissa, Kato, the sunshine, the flowers…

“The flying insects.”  I said.  “What are they?  What…what are they called?”

“The butterflies?”

“I liked them.”

“R-really?  I was going to be one at the Festival.”  said Nissa sadly, stroking my face and hair.  I cringed and couldn’t stop the whimper that escaped my lips.  But I continued.

“What is…a Festival?  Tell me about it, Nissa.”

“The Festival is an annual celebration in honor of our goddess, Zephyria.  She saved us many years ago, when she came down from heaven in the form of a butterfly.  Every year an Alian girl is chosen to be that butterfly in the dance.  It’s so much fun, Crow.  We dance, and sing, and eat…”

I coughed.  “It sounds beautiful.  I would like to see that, Nissa.”  I paused, tears streaming down my face.  “Don’t let me go, Nissa.  Please.  I want…to see you…dance…”

 

~*~

 

I couldn’t do anything.  There was nothing I could do to save him.  I remembered Kristofer’s pendant in my breast pocket, and I put it around Crow’s neck.

“I love you.”  I whispered shakily, barely able to speak.

 

~*~

 

I…love you?  What does that mean?  I had never heard anyone say that to me.  I had heard of love for the goddess, but…to another human?  What did love mean? 

I remembered something.  Somebody had told me once.  What love meant.  I couldn’t remember who it was, but I remembered the voice.  It was a woman’s voice, gentle and soothing.

“Love is why we live.”  she said.  “Whoever created us, whether Astoria or not, created us out of love.  And it is out of love that every human being is born into this world.  Love is a feeling, my child, a happy, warm feeling in our hearts that tells us who we are and what we must do…

It was my mother.  My mother told me that.  Many years ago, before my mother was chosen as a sacrifice and my father died of illness.  Before I had met Kristofer, who was to become my best friend.

I felt it.  I felt that warmth in my heart.  I even felt happy, which was strange.

So I whispered, “I love you too.”

 

~*~

 

He slipped away with my lips on his.  I could taste the blood and tears.  When I looked up at Kato, he couldn’t meet my eyes.

“Nissa!  Look out!”  shouted Joven from the crowd.  I had forgotten that all the villagers were still there.  I looked at the priestess, who was standing up, my dagger still protruding from her chest.  She gave me a weird look and turned towards Astoria’s temple.  Other priests were coming out, but stopped at the sight of their high priestess.

“I long to be with thee…”  she gasped, walking off the platform.  She pulled out the dagger without an almost pitiful cry.  She stopped moving; her limbs stiffened and then hung loosely from their sockets.  I felt a sigh of relief.

“I cannot make it…I must take my rest here.”  she whispered weakly.  “Saphira, high priestess, thy faithful servant.  For all eternity.”  She slashed at her own body with the dagger until I was sure that there was no blood left in her, and she fell forward into the puddle with a vomit-inducing sound somewhere between a plursh and a splash.  The other priests fled.

I looked back at Crow.  His face was so calm that he could’ve been sleeping.  I did it; I defeated Astoria’s high priestess…

…But at this price?  I knew this was a selfish thought, but…was it worth it?

I hung my head and cried.  Kato was crying.  So was Joven, and many of the other villagers.

Lament.

I heard a sparkle.  Or rather, a shimmering sort of sound.  I looked up, and saw a translucent gold butterfly descending above me.  Kato’s mouth fell open.  He and all the Cabränians saw it too, so I wasn’t going crazy.

The large butterfly stopped in front of my face.  I couldn’t tell if it was looking straight at me or not.  It dissipated into a line of smoke and entered Crow’s body through his parted lips.

“Zephyria…”  I whispered.  My heart began to beat nervously.  I held Crow close to my body and waited.  I watched in awe as his wounds repaired themselves; the blood siphoned and the torn flesh regenerated.

I will always be here for you, Alian.  This boy’s life means a great future for this world.  He is yours to keep.  Said a voice in my head.  I wasn’t sure if Kato or anyone else heard it too.  You were right; Astoria was just a demon.  That woman—Saphira, was possessed by her.  You defeated her.  You are the second hero of Alia.

Crow stirred in my arms.  He took a deep breath, and opened his eyes.  He was confused at first, but then he noticed me.

He smiled.

~*~

 

As you can imagine, my people were so impressed with Zephyria’s miracle that they all abandoned Astoria’s evil ways and converted.  They were more than happy to do so.  No regrets.

They tried to forget all that had happened, but of course, Astoria would still exist in history books.  A bad nightmare is never forgotten.

A pathway through the mountains was cleared for easy travel between Alia and Cabrän.  Slowly the Cabränians rebuilt their lives.  And the Alians helped them every step of the way.  There was peace.

The Festival went on as planned, and I got to see Nissa dance the part of Zephyria.  It was a beautiful memory that stayed with me for the rest of my life. 

The summer brought us two weddings.  I married Nissa, and Kato married his childhood sweetheart Marina.

It was hard to see them go, but we sent them off to the city with all the best wishes.  Nissa jokingly told Kato not to come back until he made her an aunt.  I laughed.

As for Nissa and I, we preferred the country.  I would lie with her in the tall grass, nothing on, and watch the butterflies dancing in the breeze and the clouds floating above us.  It was fun; even when Joven would catch us and good-naturedly scold us for such immature bouts.  She would shake her head then and say “You’ll grow up someday.”

That day came quicker than I expected.  Come spring, I found out that I had made Nissa pregnant.  That reminded me of…all the bad stuff.  I would have painful flashbacks for a few moments, but when Nissa kissed me and held me close, I forgot about them.  Astoria was in the past.  I wouldn’t let her haunt me anymore.

 

Now I watch my little boy from the porch, as he runs around on his chubby legs.  Chasing a butterfly.  He never catches one, but he doesn’t let that discourage him.

CrowKristofer!”  shouts Nissa from inside the house,  “Lunch!”

My son runs up to me and holds my knee.  His soft black hair is so long that it brushes across his eyebrows.  At least it isn’t wild as a porcupine’s—like mine.  He looks up at me with his gray eyes.

“Daddy, how come I can’t catch a butterfly?”  he asks.

I laugh, and stroke his forehead with my thumb.  “They’re special.”  I take his hand and stand up to go inside.

“But why?  Why are they special?”

“It’s a secret.”

He grunts, frustrated.

I glance down at him and smile as he pouts and crosses his arms.  I crouched to his height and put my palms on his round cheeks.

“I’ll tell you the story someday, when you’re grown up.  Can you wait that long?”  I say.

He finally sighs.  “Okay.  But right when I’m grown up, you have to tell me.”

 

 

 

The End.

 

 

 

The Crow and the Butterfly continues with young Kristofer’s adventures in the short story Lüna Faerie, coming soon.


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