I crashed into a mountain and the blurring scenery vanished. The darkness let me collect my thoughts.
What do I do? How do I get back? I need to hurry!
The absolute darkness gave way to a flashing blur as I came out the other side of the mountain. My thoughts scattered until I was no longer able to think coherently.
Why did they have to call me now? Why couldn’t I resist their call? If I’d been able to resist for a second or two…
Why was I so weak and powerless? Why couldn’t I choose for myself? First the haze and now this? Was I a puppet meant to dance around at the whims of others?
I couldn’t form these questions in my mind, but they tortured me nonetheless.
I felt guilty. I was the one who used magic I didn’t understand. I was the one who lit up the forest and the night sky. That monster found us because of me, and Jeffi and Yunni were in danger because of my actions.
I felt despair and helplessness, because I couldn’t think of a way to save them. I didn’t know how this ‘summoning’ worked. Were they calling out to me? Was it some sick, perverted joke by a higher being? I didn’t know.
But most of all, I felt anger. Overwhelming anger. Anger at whatever force or being was controlling my actions. Anger at whoever it was that forced me to leave the children right when they needed me most. And anger at myself for putting them in that situation and failing to save them.
Soon, anger began to consume my other emotions. I was angry at my helplessness. I was angry at my guilt. I was angry at myself for allowing those emotions to distract me from my objective.
I felt my anger burst forth, as if it had manifested in my blood and was gushing through my body. Anger flooded through my mind and cleared it until there was only one thought left.
I need to protect them!
I tried everything. I lashed out with my fists, I flared the energy that I had used to fight the ape monster and I tried shouting as hard as I could.
And I did.
I tumbled for several miles until I managed to dig my feet into the ground. As soon as I stopped, I rushed back through the trail of broken trees and rocks. My anger fueled me, driving me faster and faster through the forests and mountains.
I’d left a fiery trail of destruction behind me but luckily it didn’t seem like I’d gone through a town or a village, and the fire proved useful in showing me the way back.
A sea of flames greeted me as I reached the forest where I’d last seen Jeffi and Yunni. I searched around, wildly cutting across the burning trees while shouting their names.
The night wore on, the gentle moonlight ravaged by the light of the flames devouring the forest. Black ash and scarlet embers floated through the air, burning branches fell from above, and the cries of animals and monsters rang through the night.
But I still couldn’t find them.
My anger intensified and so did my frantic searching. Were they already dead? Were their corpses devoured by the flames? Were their ashes floating above my head?
And then I saw it. A scruffy brown haired boy holding up a burning tree with his back; a little girl covered in burns lying on the ground beneath him. I rushed over and punched the blazing piece of wood away just as the boy’s body finally collapsed.
I looked at what was left of his back, most of which was burnt to a crisp. I forced my trembling hands to turn him over.
“H-hey Aia.” His cracked lips barely moved as he whispered those words to me.
“I-I am so sorry, Jeffi. I-”
“It’s all right. You came back…that’s…that’s all that matters.”
“No! I should have never left. But I could not help it. It just-” Tears started falling from my eyes as I fell to my knees besides the boy. “I will take you back. We can heal you. We can-I can still protect you!”
“Not even a goddess can save me now…”
I froze. “What do you- since when?”
“Since you came crashing through the forest. When that monster cornered us, I don’t know why but I started praying…praying to the fire goddess. And just when I thought that we were dead, you showed up.”
“But I couldn’t- I couldn’t save you. I couldn’t protect you. I-I failed as a goddess.”
“Nobody can do everything…if you hadn’t saved us back then, we would’ve died a long time ago. Besides…it’s too late for me but Yunni, you can still save Yunni.” The corners of his lips twitched. “You’ll have to be her big sister from now on. Take care…take care of her. Family is important you know? You have to protect her, help her, teach her, and take care of her. I know you can do it.” His arms slid down my side as he whispered through cracked lips:
The light went out of his eyes just as he stopped breathing. I wailed, crying out into the night as the first droplets of rain started to fall.
The flames on the trees went out, but I was still burning inside.
I carried Yunni back to the shrine. She cried along the way. Jeffi’s lifeless body hung over my other shoulder. When I got back, I was told that they had attempted to call me by praying in front of my statue at the shrine and that they had heard my voice in their heads, telling them to stop.
I raged at them for daring to summon me. For daring to pull me along like a toy. For daring to pull me away just when-
But I soon calmed down. They didn’t know and it would be wrong to blame them. I forbade them from calling me like that ever again and stormed up to my room at the top of the tower. There was no bed so I went up to the stone pedestal and put my head on it.
I buried Jeffi outside the shrine, at the top of a nice, quiet hill. Monsters never came to that hill for some reason, possibly because it was too far away from any food source. I made it a forbidden zone for the people at the shrine. Only Yunni was allowed to go there.
I left some flowers over his grave, and Yunni wrote some words on his gravestone.
“Here lies Jeffi, the best big brother anyone could ever ask for.”
I didn’t want to see anyone anymore. The only one I ever allowed up the tower was Yunni, but we barely ever talked.
She became a junior priestess at the shrine and was learning how to take care of it. I always thought back to Jeffi’s last request and tried being a good older sister to her but soon, she was the one taking care of me.
I didn’t need to sleep nor eat nor go to the bathroom. I just stayed up there on the top of the tower. I had already gotten used to the small tugs on my soul and barely noticed them anymore. I could recognize who it came from as well, although the only person I knew was Yunni and I’d forbidden her from praying to me. Having your little sister pray to you was strange. Of course, that became a problem because many of the shrine’s duties and traditions revolved around praying to me. So, I abolished them and forbade them all from worshiping me.
I was no goddess. I was just a broken girl who had lost her first friend.
I learned how to resist the larger pulls. I just had to direct some of that energy that I had used against the ape monster, in the direction of the tug. At least there wouldn’t be any more holes in the shrine’s walls.
Yunni came up again, she’d grown up and become a proper priestess by now. I hadn’t changed at all though, and she looked much older than me now. Now she looked and acted like the older sister.
She tried to make me come down from the tower, but I only came down to visit Jeffi’s grave whenever I was feeling particularly sad.
She tried to cheer me up and I gave her a hollow laugh. She went downstairs with a sad smile on her face.
Yunni is the head priestess now. They seem to have made a new title for her in fact: ‘The Red Shrine Maiden.’ At first I grew angry when I heard that title, thinking that they were making fun of her face that had red burn scars all over it, but Yunni assured me that the color was her idea. After all, there were other shrines in the world.
The ‘maiden’ part came because she never got married. Was it because she was always looking after me and didn’t have the time to find love? I still don’t know the answer to that question, but I was grateful for her company.
We started having tea every month, after the calendar was setup. I’d met up with my sisters to talk about the world and how to govern it, but that’s a story for another time.
For now, Yunni was my only sister. My only family. She didn’t need my protection anymore because she’d made a name for herself on her own. She was powerful, both politically and with regards to magic.
We were having tea one day when she turned around to get the sugar. And then her cup fell to the ground.
I quickly went to her and called for help. Nobody could hear me from up there but I had long since learned how to speak to my followers through my mind. A group of red robed priests rushed to the foot of the stairs just as I reached the bottom.
We helped Yunni to her room and laid her on the bed. Her white hair stuck to her wrinkled forehead because of the sweat that was pouring out all over her. I hadn’t been able to stop her from aging, and no matter what I did I couldn’t find a cure to her illness.
And even though I spent a year looking for medicinal herbs and pills, nothing seemed to work.
I grew enraged again. This time, I was angry at fate for taking away Jeffi and for trying to take away Yunni from me too. In my frenzy, I developed a new magic, ‘appraisal’ that helped speed up the search for doctors and herbs.
But it was no use.
I lay next to Yunni, tears streaming down my face as I held onto her hand. She told me that I had been the best big sister she could have ever asked for. She assured me that Jeffi would be proud of me. She said she loved me and would always be watching me.
She made a request just like Jeffi had done in that burning forest sixty years ago. She told me to take care of the children of this world, and be their big sister. I cried as I promised her that I would try my best.
“Thank you…for everything…big sis.”
I saw her close her eyes as a wave of emotions washed over me.
Sorrow, helplessness and of course, anger.
Fate forced me to endure the torture of the haze. It forced me to be summoned at the whims of others. Fate took away Jeffi. It took away Yunni. But Fate could never take away my anger.
I will fight fate one day and I will make it pay.
I cried as she took her last breath. Yunni was gone.
Now all I had left, was my anger.