I open my eyes, thinking about that night thirteen years ago, the story my mom told us- well, told Aaron- and the way she ignored me. I knew who I was named after now. I had never really seen her in me. Every story I had ever heard painted her as a bloodthirsty maniac.
I had never seen her in me until that day two years ago. Exactly two years actually, the day of my sixteenth birthday, the first time my mother had ever hit me.
My mother had always been negligent of me, ignoring me. Like I was a nuisance she couldn’t bother with. But this day was different.
It was warm that day, the sun shone brightly. Aaron and I were outside together, in one of the castle’s many courtyards. He was training me to fight.
He had been learning since he could hold a sword and by the time we were sixteen he was one of the greatest warriors in the world. I had never been allowed to touch a weapon. Well, I had never been strictly forbidden, but my parents would never waste the time it would take to train me or the weapons I would need to learn.
But Aaron had always been different. He didn’t treat me like my parents did. We were so close, and when I asked him to teach me to fight he was ecstatic. We had been working together for almost a year now. I had always been a fast learner and I could already almost beat him.
“Come on Kar, keep up the pace,” Aaron swung a practice sword at me, which I dodged easily.
“I am, you’re the one slowing down,” I ducked the blade and slashed at him with the small dagger in my left hand.
“Ow! That was my shin, you bitch,” he laughed. He swung again. This time I met his blade with mine. He pushed against my dagger. I couldn’t do this for long, he was much stronger than me, but I’m faster. I used the hilt of my other dagger to strike the hand holding his sword. He jumped back, dropping his sword. “Hey, cheap shot.”
“Maybe, but you’ve dropped your sword. I have you at my mercy. Kneel.” I smirked.
“For you? Never.” He laughed.
“Then you will perish at my hand,” I lunged, pretending to stab him. The practice dagger bounced off his chest harmlessly.
“Nice job, you’re getting better,” He laughed as he bent down to pick up the practice sword.
“It’s all thanks to you,” I nudged him with my foot. He fell over, sprawling on the ground.
“Evil witch, you’ve killed me. How dare you.”
I shook my head “Get up you big idiot. I barely touched you,” that was when my mother walked into the courtyard
“Karliah! What do you think you’re doing?” She rushed over, kneeling next to Aaron “are you okay baby? Did she hurt you?” she fussed over my brother.
“Mom, I’m fine. We were just messing around,” he brushed her off and stood.
“You stupid girl, you could have really hurt him,” she stood as well, stalking toward me
“I really couldn’t have, I barely touched him. We were just messing around.” That was when she smacked me, right across my face.
I blinked, not quite believing what she had just done. I put my hand up to my cheek, it stung and was wet. I looked at my fingers to see blood. Her ring had cut me.
“Don’t you ever hurt him again, stupid girl!” she turned and walked away.
“Are you okay?” Aaron touched my shoulder. I flinched.
“I’m fine,” I turned, walking back towards the castle.
“Karliah, wait,” I didn’t listen, I ran. Past the throne room where my mother had gone to speak to my father, up the stairs to my bedroom.
I looked in the mirror, tears streaming down my face. I had never seen Karliniah in myself until that day. When I looked in the mirror with blood running down my face. The cold look in my eyes had scared me at first, but since my mother’s bursts of anger had become more frequent I had gotten used to the look.
I close my eyes. That was one of the worst days of my life. I looked into the same eyes that had stared back at me that day. Black as night. There was a long thin scar along my cheekbone from my mother’s ring. I flare my wings slightly, the feathers as black as my eyes. Maybe darker, they always seemed to make the room dimmer, just like the Kajowerians from the stories. I take a deep breath running my fingers through my spiky black hair.
I look down at myself in my brand-new outfit. A traditional fighting suit, made of leather and almost skin-tight. It wasn’t very armored, not like what Aaron would be wearing. It’s meant to keep me light on my feet. The exact opposite of Aaron’s, which is heavy and plated to provide as much protection as possible. When mine was delivered my parents called it a thief’s costume. When Aaron’s arrived they called it the armor of a hero.
More moments from the past two years began flashing through my mind. Every story behind every scar along my arms and torso left by my mother. I shake my head, trying to compose myself, as tears spring to my eyes.
A soft knock sounds on my doorframe, I practically jump out of my skin. I turn, grabbing the dagger on the bathroom counter next to me.
“Hey, it’s just me,” Aaron puts his hands up. “It’s okay,” he smiles, his teeth almost as white as his wings.
“Sorry” I shake my head, placing the dagger back on the counter. Aaron enters the bathroom and puts a hand on my shoulder. “You okay?” He tilts his head slightly. Shaking my head I wrapped my arms around him. “What’s wrong Kar?” he holds me tight against his chest
“Remember when we turned sixteen when you were training me in the courtyard?” I pull away, wiping my eyes and looking up at him.
“And mom came out to see you standing above me? Yeah, I remember” he shakes his head “I was ready to kill her for hitting you.”
“Really?” I tilt my head, giving him a small smile.
“Yes,” He snarls. “I almost walked into the throne room and ripped out her throat right there in front of everyone,” a low growl rumbles in his throat.
“Wow,” I murmur, “I never knew you cared so much” Aaron blinks a couple of times.
“Of course I care, Karliah. You’re my sister. I’d give my life for you,” he wraps his arms around me again.
“Thanks, I would give my life for you too,” I bury my head in his chest “I love you.”
“I love you too” he steps back “And although I love having tender sibling moments with you we have got to go. Mom will kill me if I’m late”
“Ha, loser, she’d be ecstatic if I didn’t show up,” I walk past him into the bedroom.
“Yeah, but I would kill you if you didn’t show up. It’s our Detecting Ceremony, you can’t miss it,” he walks over to my bed and picks up my sword, offering it to me. I smile as I slip it into the sheath on my left hip. I walk over to the cabinet I store my weapons in. “Do you think I need more than the sword?” I ask him
“It’s a detecting ceremony, do you expect us to get attacked?”
“No, I guess not,” I pick up a dagger and slip it into the hidden sheath on my right leg. “I’m ready, let’s go”
“Are you sure you aren’t forgetting anything?” I turn around to look at him and bare my fangs, “Woah no need to get so defensive,” he laughs and throws my gloves at me. I retract my sharp claws to slip them on and then extend them, ripping holes in the tips of the fingers.
“Can we leave now?” I open my bedroom door “I want to get this over with.”
“This is supposed to be a happy day, it isn’t torture.”
“For you maybe,” I walk out “come on.”
“So, you think Gartiun is going to do his whole speech for us?” Aaron jogs to catch up with me. His armor clanked with each step
“You are so loud,” I glare at him “Of course he is, you think he would pass up a chance to hear himself talk?”
“Definitely not, mom really needs to find a new high priest. The guy has got to be at least ten thousand years old,” we laugh. Joking about the old priest was one of our favorite pastimes. The man had been alive longer than our parents, and maybe even longer than our grandparents.
“Millions of years ago our ancestors were blessed by the great Daoijae,” I mimic the old man’s voice
“Hey that’s pretty good, maybe mimicry is one of your powers,” He nudges me as we walk out the castle gates.
“Ugh,” I roll my eyes, “great, just give everyone another reason to hate me”
“Hey don’t be like that, I’m sure you’ll get a good power or two,” he smiles. The good powers included things like the warrior’s ability, telepathy, and healing. Things that could be used to help people, and fight off and capture criminals. While powers like mimicry, and empathy were all seen as bad. Those powers were used only to manipulate and trick people. Being gifted with even a weak Warrior ability was enough to make you instantly popular while being an empath was almost enough to get you shunned for life. Almost everyone already ignores me in favor of my perfect brother, but getting a “bad” gift would probably be the end for me. My mother would see it as a reason to punish me, severely. I reach back and rub the place right in between my wings, it was a fairly sensitive area. My mother loves to use a bullwhip on it.
“Hey,” Aaron stops in the middle of the street. “It’s gonna be okay. I’m sure you’ll get a great gift,” I give him a small smile. I’m not so sure.
We walk through the streets in silence. I love the city. It’s so busy, people are always running about. My pointed ears twitch at all the sounds, horses’ hooves on the pavement, and people arguing. My nose wrinkles as I scent the animals and food being prepared in the tavern nearby.
“Hey after the ceremony you want to sneak out with me and get a drink,” I point to the tavern we’re passing. I often sneak out after night to visit it. It’s dark and seedy, the kind of place you would expect to get murdered in. I love it.
“At that place?” Aaron looks at me “You know we have booze at home right?”
“Yeah but…” I shrug “Taverns are fun.”
“Yeah, you haven’t lived until you’ve been in a bar fight in a tavern full of criminals,” I laugh.
“Have you been in a bar fight with criminals?” Aaron raises an eyebrow at me
“Maybe once or twice” I look at the ground “Or twenty or thirty times”
“Karliah!” Aaron laughs, “you are one feisty princess.” I grin and punch his arm. “Ouch, that hurt!” He pouts.
“We are definitely getting drinks later, you big baby,” I shake my head at him “You’re gonna need a good excuse for mom.”
“Why don’t you come up with an excuse,” He rubs his arm pointedly, “you’re the one dragging me to get murdered in the worst tavern in the whole town.”
“Cause she hates me, if I come up with an excuse it won’t work,” I give Aaron a mischievous grin. “How about this, I’ll race you. Whoever loses has to tell mom why we disappear after the ceremony.” My brother can never resist a competition
“Oh you’re on,” he growls and takes off running. I laugh and sprint after him. I catch up and he bares his teeth at me while we run right next to each other. I just grin and then ducked into an alley. I know a shortcut. One of the upsides of spending way too much time in this town after dark.
I skid to a stop at the entrance to the temple on the outskirts of town. Aaron runs up the steps and stops, leaning against a pillar while he tries to catch his breath.
“Cheater,” he pants.
“How dare you accuse me of cheating,” I smile up at him, batting my eyelashes. Aaron just shakes his head at me.
“Come on, we’re late,” He pushes open the doors to the temple.