Warning: This work has been rated 16+ for language and violence.
Smoke stung Saskia’s eyes. She shot up from her bed she shared with her mothers, gasping and coughing as heat pressed against her skin. Water leaked from her eyes as her mother, Dota, scooped her into her arms. She crouched low to the ground, avoiding the rising smoke that would suffocate her lungs if she stood. Her mother swore as other farmers in the female barracks panicked and yelled, wasting air. Saskia’s other mother, Amia, struggled to calm the group, packed together in the burning building, crying for help.
“Everyone stay quiet! Stay low to the ground, and crawl out of the building using the front and side doors! Don’t push each other, and stay calm! Break the windows!” Amia shouted, her voice hoarse and weak as the smoke entered her lungs. Kath, held tight against her mother’s breast, wept in fear.
“Mama!” she screamed, and Dota shushed her. Their bunks were close to the back of the long barracks, and the chaos of the panicking women provided little hope for escape. Amia reached them, tears streaking clean lines down her cheeks. Fire illuminated her grey eyes like a shining blade. Without a word, Amia grabbed Dota’s shoulders and guided her towards a window in the back of the building, grabbing a piece of wooden rubbled and shattering the window with a hiss.
“Hurry! Get Jodan and use the portal, get out of here,”she whispered, her voice becoming weaker and hoarser as the fire entered her lungs. Dota nodded, carrying Saskia out of the window, shards of glass piercing her skin.
“Amia, come with us, please,” Dota’s voice broke. “You can’t save them all, there’s not enough time.”
Amia smiled and tilted her head, her lips wavering, accepting her fate. “I love you. You must save Saskia. Brace your legs, darling,” She spoke her final words and pushed Dota off the ledge. Her strong farmer’s legs braced for the impact while holding Kath, bending her knees and rolling on her side to absorb the force. Saskia heard her mother gasp in pain as if she had broken something.
“No,” she whispered. Saskia pushed herself up, desperately grasping her mother’s hands.
“Mama, please, what’s wrong? You can’t leave me,” Saskia snorted and gasped.
“Kath, I will be ok. Right now,” she winced, “you need to take this, and find Jodan at the big tree we told you to go if something happened. He’ll know what to do, and I promise, sweetheart, I will never leave you. I will find you again.” She pressed a smooth stone into Kath’s hand. “Don’t be afraid. You are strong, my little warrior.”
Saskia nodded over and over again as she kissed her mother’s forehead for the last time, forcing her legs to stand and run. She clutched the stone against her hand, knuckles turning white. Her chest pounded beneath her ribs, her stuffy head throbbing and tears blurry her vision as she ran. Her legs would not disobey her now, they never had. As she ran barefoot against the cool grass away from the fire, she saw figures in the darkness. She tripped against a stone.
She immediately jumped up, but it was too late. They had seen her, and were running towards her, torches blazing.
“Not so fast, sweetheart,” one growled and pinned her to the ground with strength she couldn’t overcome. The other one lowered his torch towards her face. “You won’t be singing any more, freak. Use the spell.” Saskia struggled against his grip. The other man looked at writing on his arm, and began reciting words in a language she could not recognize. As soon as the words left his mangled lips, Saskia felt it.
Her soul being sucked out of the deepest part of her, the magic swimming through her veins being sucked dry like freezing water flooding through her bloodstream. She screamed but they covered her mouth as she struggled. The feeling was overwhelming, and Kath felt her body going limp. It was fear beyond imagination, ice forming around the edges of her mind like a poison deteriorating her insides. She gasped for air, for the power she once had seeping out of her body. It seemed to taunt her, right out of her reach.
“Look at her, pathetic bitch,” the man pinning her down laughed. He mocked her gasps with an exaggerated hand against his chest. “Use the torch, then we’ll be done.” The man beside him lowered the torch near her face, and the flame smothered her. Searing pain shot through her ice-stricken body, flame melting the skin of her face. It was agony. She prayed to the three goddesses for death as excruciating flame suffocated her while mangling the skin on the bottom half of her face. She screamed.
Something changed within her. The immense fear constricting her chest was replaced with white-hot rage. Her screams died out and she realized no sound would ever escape her lips again. With a strength she didn’t know she had, she kicked the man in the chest, sending him backwards as she tore the torch from the grip of the other, throwing it at his face. She ran as her skin went numb. The nerve endings in her face were destroyed.
Jodan was there and she sagged into his arms, pressing the stone into his hand. Jodan hissed as he looked at her face with terror.
“Where are Amia and Dota?” Jodan held her. She shook her head. No words would leave her mangled mouth. Jodan’s eyes widened, and he squeezed them shut. Kath took Jodan’s hand holding the portalkey, shaking and hitting it with her own. Open the portal, she communicated silently. He looked at her with understanding as he threw the stone to the ground and the grass deteriorated. Dirt fell as if eroding off of a cliff face, falling into a swirling void pulling them towards its abyss. Jodan stared at the open portal, paralyzed. His blond hair was tossed in the turbulent night wind. She did not look like her brother. She had brown skin and frizzy umber hair, unlike his pale skin and blonde locks. Saskia, on the ground, grabbed his ankle and he yanked it away, looking at her with unbridled fear.
We don’t have a choice, she spoke with her eyes, understanding the grief settling in his body. She jerked her head as she heard footsteps from nearby, and yanked him into the portal without a second thought. The opening closed, leaving a circle of dirt on the edge of the forest.
The portal was dark, cold, and damp, like falling through a deep cavern. She could not see Jodan, but felt his familiar hesitant touch as he grabbed her hand and breathed hard. Saskia blinked, as if her eyes would adjust, but darkness still swam in her vision without mercy. She held onto Jodan like a lifeline through the untrustworthy void.
A sliver of light illuminated them as they fell, tearing alongside them even though they continued to fall. Saskia was pulled away from Jodan’s grip.
“Saskia! Hold on to my hand!” He yelled, his voice echoing as if in a dream. She desperately reached for his large, calloused hands, but could not feel their familiar touch. As she tore through the matter of the Verse itself, she didn’t know what was worse: the dark that cradled her like her mother had in her final moments, or the blinding light that engulfed her, separating from everything she had known and loved.
Don’t be afraid. You are strong, my little warrior.
A portal tear. That’s what it had been,Leslain explained to her. We don’t know enough about them to say for sure if anything you had seen in this vision was real. The Verse can do strange things to a person. Leslain’s voice was disembodied as Kath finished explaining what had happened to her before she had been transported to Varvona in a portal tear. She relived the vision as if it had just happened seconds ago. Despite Leslain always telling her that what she had seen may not have been reality, Kath knew that it was real. There was no denying it. And she would not throw away her mothers’ or brother’s honor just because they were labeled as figments of her imagination. She would not pretend that something didn’t happen just because it was hard to remember.
“Saskia, look at me,” Leslain said. Kath sat across from her, and observed Leslain’s short red hair, arched nose, and strong cheekbones. Kath felt the mangled, rippled skin on the lower half of her face. She would never be beautiful. “Are you okay?”
Yes, Saskia signed. She paused. Do you think that what I saw isn’t real?
“Do you think it is real?”
Saskia scoffed. Of course it is real.
“Then you have your answer, Kia,” she used her nickname for Saskia gently as she stood up and moved back to her crowded work table with scattered jars of herbs and materials. Saskia followed her, making sure her hands were visible when she signed to her.
Why won’t you answer me? I know it is real, but do you believe me? Saskia huffed, digging her nails into her palm. Leslain turned to her and grabbed Saskia’s hand.
“Yes, Kia, I believe you. But what I’m getting at is that you don’t need the agreement of others to confirm what you know is true.”
Saskia rolled her eyes. A smile tugged at the corners of Leslain’s lips.
“I’m glad you’re feeling better,” She said.
Saskia sat at her desk aimlessly because she had finished working on her lessons for the day. Her practice was minor memory restoration, which was easy because all she had to do was bring back the memory she held most clearly in her mind. The past weeks she had been working on memory restoration, for reasons she had yet to uncover. She figured that Leslain was just trying to strengthen the abilities she had gained from the portal tear, but she was surprised at the short lesson she had received today after so much hard work restoring memories of various members of the Varvona faction. At the beginning she had mostly just worked with restoring small forgotten childhood memories, but it had grown to more hefty amounts. She had to admit, it felt good to use magic - or whatever it was - again. But she was getting tired of the same schedule day after day. As if her only use was as a healer because she was mute. Leslain reminded her that healers were the most important part of the Order, and Saskia knew that, but just because it was important didn’t mean she wanted to spend the rest of her life doing it. There was a restlessness in her blood that yearned for action.
Before the raiders in her vision had used a spell that took her voice away, she had been a Muse. One of the three blessed powers, this one given by the goddess Musa. She had been able to use magic through her singing voice, although she was young and wasn’t very powerful. She never got to be, anyhow. When she joined the farmers in their work songs, she would notice crops near her growing slightly and energy being flooded into her tired body, keeping her frail bones working until the day was over. She longed for the feeling she absorbed when she sang: the feeling of freedom, strength, and power she had felt before it was stripped from her.
She would try to stop thinking about it, because it only brought her pain and curiosity for what she could’ve been. What power she could’ve possessed. But she would never have it, because that was an unreachable dream. But the memories kept pulling her back as if they were just out of her reach, longing to be a part of her again. She sometimes thought she would do anything to have it back. But some sacrifices aren’t worth making.