Grasping the crystal firmly in hand, Kun reluctantly made the journey back home. As she neared the hollow, she heard the rapid beating of wings, and sighed. Her father was waiting for her at the entrance, arms crossed, a severe look on his face.
“We’ve been looking for you.” he told her. A familiar flash of dread went through her. Her father’s voice was always unnervingly soft when he was angry. She hated coming back home, but she had nowhere else to go. Grudgingly, she followed him inside and found her mother waiting in the foyer, disappointment plastered across her face.
“You missed your sister’s ceremony this morning.” she said, frustrated. “The Queen presented Eve with a Zalt staff. You were expected to be there.”
Kun wished she could feel shame. Or guilt. But she felt nothing.
Her father slammed his fist on the table. “Do you realize what it means to be an elite sunlighter?” he thundered. “Your mother and I have slogged for years, working in rainwater marshes and scrapping for food. Take a good look at what we have had to sacrifice to bring our children here. Your sister has worked day and night to master her skill. She understands the value of what we have done. But you…” he advanced towards her menacingly.
Perhaps Kun should have stumbled back, show a pretence of fear, or at the very least lowered her head in submission. But she just stared at him blankly, a familiar numbness settling itself in her chest. She saw the fury rise in his eyes at her nonchalance, and he struck her. Her face whipped back from the blow, tears blurring her vision.
Still she felt nothing.
“Nikolai..” her mother protested weakly.
“You have no filial loyalty.” Her father spat. “I will not tolerate sloth under my roof. We have always worked hard to earn our keep. You are no exception.”
The onslaught of verbal filth continued for a good half hour. Frustrated at her lack of response, her parents dismissed her. Kun dragged her feet down the tree tunnel towards the basement, shutting the door to her room. She sank to the floor, head buried in her hands. Thoughts ran through her mind, jumbled like old cobwebs, running a hundred miles per hour. Soon came the sweating and dizziness, familiar tremors racking through her body.
Then she felt it. Like a mouthless beast coming for her. The rising panic that she was going mad.
She eyed the barrel hidden beneath the daisy blanket in the corner. Clenching her teeth, she walked towards it and removed the lid. She filled the jar to the brim with lemon sap, and drained it. Then she poured another, and another, until the nausea subsided, and she could feel again.
The first emotion that flooded back was shame, always shame. Of course, there was truth in what her family thought of her. There shouldn’t be a place for an ugly, gluttonous pixie with no ambition in her world. Kun was always reminded of her parent’s diligence. As a child she had been different. She had obedience beaten into her, and she used to wake at the crack of dawn to help her mother collect rainwater. She had soon realized that no matter how hard she persevered, it was like swimming upstream in a fast-flowing river. She could never match Eve.
As long as Kun was alive, it would never end.
Not for the first time, she peered over the edge of her window, watching the great drop below. Trembling, she stepped onto the ledge. In an instant, it would all be over. She could imagine her parents expressing their sorrow on the surface, but overjoyed within. Anxiety enveloped her and she took a deep breath. As a burden to society, she would be a stain erased, a nightmare soon forgotten. She loved her parents. If her death was the only thing to bring them happiness, wasn’t it her duty to embrace it? What use was a daughter rejected by her own kin?
A beam of light shone in her eye, temporarily blinding her. She looked back to see a flash of rainbow lights on her ceiling, dotted colours scattering across the walls. The Iris on her bed gleamed, a reminder of warmth.
She thought of Cain.
For a second, clarity returned. Slowly, she crept back from the ledge, encasing the crystal in her palm, watching the light dance, an illusion that she was a sunlighter too. Her heart swelled as she remembered his smile, the softness of his melodic voice. There was a deep longing inside her. Perhaps his love wasn’t as consuming as hers, but Cain wouldn’t forget her so easily.
A resounding knock interrupted her thoughts. Kun scrambled, carefully hiding her new gift under her bed. Grimacing, she slid open the door a fraction. She found her sister on the other end, a silly grin across her face. Instinctively, Kun returned the smile, inviting her in.
“You missed seeing the Queen!” Eve exclaimed, playfully smacking her on the shoulder. “She was so dignified, Kun. When she handed me the staff, the entire crowd cheered in my honour.”
“I’m happy for you.” Kun replied. It wasn’t a lie. Eve was kind to her, and beautiful like the moon. Her sister watched her carefully, her silver eyes boring in. She shuffled uncomfortably close, and Kun leaned back instinctively. But her sister grabbed her wrist, refusing to look away. She gently touched her cheek, and Kun winced.
“There is a nasty bruise on your face.” she said, sadness in her voice. “Did father hurt you again?”
Kun shrugged, unable to keep eye contact.
“Listen to me.” Eve said softly. “I know why you didn’t attend the ceremony. I know you went to see him again.”
Alarm bells rang through her head.
“You don’t know anything.” Kun shot back defensively, a slight tremor in her voice.
Eve’s stare didn’t falter, a glowing understanding in her eyes. “I’m only telling you this because I care about you.” she persisted. “What you have…. It’s an unhealthy obsession.”
Kun looked up at her then, defiance building inside her. “He loves me.”
Her sister watched her in disbelief. “By the Creator, Kun, he’s human!” she cried. “Do you know how long humans live? Pixies are but a speck of time, a mere blink in their eye. You are feeding a delusion.”
Kun clenched her jaw, determined. She would give up anything, but not Cain.