Shame. Kilari forced herself to feel it. A spirit of its own brought to life through pity, pain, and defeat, it burned her from the inside out. She always hoped that the fire would prove cleansing…a means to purge her defiled heart out of her breast, but it never did. All the shame could do was sear and multiply.
But it had yet to overrun her heart. Try as she might, something within her fought for peace, and she couldn’t understand why. She had no right to peace. The Malig had been her punishment, and rightly so. A place to rot and die. The caretakers worked hard to keep her alive; keep her afresh for the next revelation. Their efforts were in vain, though they couldn’t know it. She tortured herself more than their machinations ever could. Her emotions drowned out their pleasures. Her guilt-wracked her more forcefully than any device could.
Holding herself, and laying in a field of vibrant, exquisite Wilde-flowers, Kilari wept. The dirt beneath her soaked up her, which spread murderously and killed those flowers immediately around her head. Almost like a halo of death, if she had the will to see it.
Other creatures, mostly Drow, ambled sightlessly through the flowers. Their only purpose to walk, and to feel the horror that Joy provided. A joy fabricated for them, and carefully cultivated for their damnation. Kilari never looked at them. She barely opened her eyes.
Instead, she preferred to hold tightly to memory, rather than convolute herself. She would spend her eternity with memory, and die in pain. She could accept that fate; she wanted to.
If only her heart would allow her to let go.
Kilari took a deep breath, inhaling the scents of rich earth and healthy vegetation. They were real…the flowers. When she had the will to walk, they came up to her thighs. Beautiful colors of yellow, blue, peach, and violets…many were colors she hadn’t the intention to recognize or couldn’t for the life of her name. The fields of joy buried deep in the darkness of the Malig Fortress.
Her prison. Her fault. And her beloved sister…rotting somewhere close by but kept beyond her reach.
A burst of light illuminated beyond her eyelids, interrupting her degraded sorrow. She didn’t think much of it…the light. However, nothing like it had happened before to her knowledge. It was new. Her hand crawled up to her face, shielding her eyes away from the brightness; a momentary refuge, bringing the calm of darkness.
If it were meant for her, then the caretakers would force it to happen. Until then, it didn’t matter.
Strong hands grabbed her lapels, lifting her into the air, and Kilari opened her eyes to the light manifested right in front of her. A fire that bore a resemblance to…
She heard her name spoken in her mind. The personage in the light took a step back, and Kilari found herself flung and flying through the air. The force caught her off guard, and when she landed the earth crunched and crumpled her into a heap.
She lay, dazed, reactively bracing to try and rise when the hands grabbed her again, lifting her high into the air.
Kilari. Wake up.
Kilari tried to peer into the light, but it skimmed and shimmered, obscuring who stood within. But the voice in her head, it had sounded like Svawrij.
Before she could speak, the person once again took a step back and threw her across the field. Keeping her eyes open, Kilari watched flowers go speeding by, but instead of slowing down, she noticed that she was accelerating. Spinning around and around, faster and faster, Kilari caught sight of something dark approaching. It was a mere second she had to brace as stone doors filled her vision, and the collapse of her body against the rock shattered them both into tiny pieces.
At least, that was what happened to the door. When the door rushed towards Kilari, she figured her life was over, and somehow the caretakers had manifested Svawrij to claim it. But instead, she laid amidst the fragments of the door, surrounded by them in a hallway of sorts filled with flickering torches and walls lined with murals and crude paintings. She was positioned on her back, eyes staring up. She wasn’t dead, and somehow, she wasn’t hurt. Well, she didn’t feel hurt.
The light approached again, and Kilari scrambled to right herself and stand on her feet. The closer the blaze got, the dimmer it became, until Kilari stood and raised her eyes to see Svawrij before her, wreathed in a deep-bluish glow. Her sister was smiling.
Shame flooded her anew like a torrent. Kilari wept but refused to take her eyes from her sister. Her dear sister, whom she had missed and thought of every day. Her sister, who was here in this hell only because of her. This couldn’t be a fabrication, though…right?
Svawrij raised her arms again, and Kilari braced herself, shuddering at the thought of being thrown into something else when those arms embraced her tenderly and held her as she cried.
My dear sister…Svawrij spoke in her mind! Kilari released the hold on herself and wrapped her arms around her sister. My past is now made manifest. I forgive you.
The rumble and clangor of feet and armor sounded from down the hall. Kilari heard a gruff voice somewhere up ahead issuing orders and commands, but she didn’t release her sister.
“I have no more fight left in me, Svawrij. Once they see who escaped, they’ll kill me instead of putting me back in.”
I’m here, sister.
They pulled back from each other, and Kilari saw something in Svawrij’s eye she’d never seen before. It was mirth…an enjoyment, of sorts. Just then, a contingent of Drow soldiers burst into the hallway, followed by three snarling Trealquins. The leader turned eyes to them, but never had the chance to issue an order.
Svawrij danced light as a feather, using the shadows like a melody as her hands and feet struck with the light they held. Twenty men and three demons rushed to compose themselves, but each second saw handfuls drop in bloody, broken, and sometimes headless mounds.
Kilari held herself again, afraid, though not of the guards. The fury and joy in her sister terrified her more than anything else. Where had she learned to fight like that? How was this possible?
The soldiers were disposed of in a matter of seconds, and the demons erupted in violent fire, reducing them to oozing blobs on the floor and burning a sickly green. Svawrij motioned to Kilari, silently, gesturing them on.
So Kilari followed.
It took them two hours to make their way out of the Malig. Countless times they encountered foes—most of them Drow—and every time Svawrij would dispel them with more exceptional skill and ability. A wake of bodies and blood marked their passage out of hell, but to where Kilari couldn’t say.
The sheer will of Svawrij conflicted with everything she remembered. Condemned to the Malig could change that, but where Svawrij showed fire and passion and drive, Kilari realized she’d drowned herself in pity.
That weighed her down with shame even more.
The whole way out Svawrij never uttered another word to her. Even when they would walk, with no enemies or no puzzles to bar their way, they walked in silence. Kilari could only guess at her sister’s reticence now, but she knew her own stemmed from just not knowing what to say. One hundred and seventy-six years separated, and she couldn’t find the words to say.
A hand reached down, squeezing her own, and Kilari raised her eyes from the floor to two massive granite doors. Glancing around and behind her, Kilari could sense the isolation and loneliness. Almost like it had been reserved for just them at this moment.
“How, Svawrij? How could you do this, and forgive me all at the same time?” Kilari asked softly.
Her sister adorned a sad countenance but remained quiet as she walked towards the doors. With barely a push, the nimble Drow forced the doors open as if they weighed nothing at all. Beyond them, a glittery, vast under-dark awaited.
A sight for hope Kilari had banished from her mind years ago.
“I…I can’t, sister. I’ve carried it so long and resigned myself to worse. How can you offer this to me?” Kilari begged.
I have something for you.
Resolute in the open doorway, Svawrij held out her hand to Kilari. Minutes ticked by, but then Kilari’s foot took a step forward. And then another. And then another. Like the unknown fire in her heart, Kilari found no explanation for the reason she moved forward.
Grabbing her sister’s hand like a lifeline and they walked out of the Malig together. Hand in hand, something the two of them had never before shared, Kilari felt her posture change as she crossed the tainted threshold. Her soul breathed what seemed to be a new life, and a rejuvenation rippled within her body.
They walked for hours, in no particular hurry and not headed in any specific direction. From time to time Svawrij would squeeze Kilari’s hand, and at first, Kilari couldn’t return it. But the further they walked, the more her courage grew.
And then, Svawrij stopped. Caught under a blanket of earth and gems that sparkled from her glowing light, Svawrij held her hand and looked up.
For many years, I had repressed my mind and spirit to the point where I had forgotten. Her opal eyes found Kilari’s. I had lost all memory of you. My sweet sister.
Kilari dropped her eyes in shame, but the hand that had before tossed her aside effortlessly now lifted her chin so carefully. Kilari saw her sister.
I wish to give you all that I found. All that I gained. A family, and a purpose that will always stay with me, though I must give it back. I would give you a part of myself, and more…please say yes, Kilari. Svawrij’s words peaked in a somber plea.
“I’m sorry, Svawrij,” Kilari managed to say amidst fresh tears. “I ruined us, and ended our family. Emotionally I can’t.“
Svawrij lifted a glowing hand, wiping her tears away.
“You’re dead, aren’t you,” Kilari said more than asked.
“What is it you see in me? I don’t know how this is possible, but I can’t recognize what you see.“
Svawrij leaned in and kissed her on the forehead.
Kilari felt her shame flood and overtake her. “We were never taught compassion. How do you possess it? Why do you use it against me?”
I use it for you, sister. Svawrij stood looking down at her. Everything I have left is now for you.
“And what is it that you would give me?” Kilari asked defiantly.
Will you take it?
“What is it?”
Will you accept it?
You are answerable to me, Sister! Svawrij’s shout dropped Kilari to her knees, holding her head in pain. Then Svawrij knelt beside her, and Kilari thought she heard her sister sigh. The vast expanse of the under-dark stretched out abysmally like it laughed at their weakness. But for the first time, Kilari began to wonder…was it, in fact, weakness?
“I wish to ask for your forgiveness, but I don’t know how,” Kilari said.
“How will I know if it is enough?”
If you find the courage to ask, that will show it is enough.
Kilari shivered. “I ask it then…my dear sister, I ask it desperately.” Arms wrapped around her, enfolding her in something she’d never had before.
With all my heart, I accept. It came as a whisper, but to Kilari those could have been the words to reduce the Malig to dust.
“I accept your gift. What do you need me to do?”
Svawrij’s hands pulled her upwards, wordlessly asking her to stand. As her shoulders squared, Svawrij put her right hand over Kilari’s heart. Be patient with them. They are blind, but they are genuine. Everything that was mine is now yours. But one day, you will no longer need what I’ve given you. When that time comes, cast aside these gifts with gratitude. Fill your measure and embrace your heart.
The light started to build, shining out from within Svawrij and warming her hand. Kilari felt something stirring within her chest, and an unseen energy swirling around her. She wanted to be scared, but for some reason didn’t feel the need to.
“Who are ‘they,’ Svawrij?” Kilari asked.
Your new family.