Chapter Twenty Five: Sisters
"Okay, alright, alright. I know where they are. Probably." Verity added the probably very quickly, only leaving half a breath in between.
I eyed up my siblings. They returned with an equally surprised look. This was a change from everything so far, the awkward, obstinate way she had been. What changed all of a sudden?
"Didn't you just say you didn't know where they were though?" I said probingly.
"I did but…" she started, shifting uncomfortably in the chair. "They didn't tell me lots of things, see. They all say I'm a liability." She looked away, pouting like a child getting picked on.
"I think I know why that might be," Felix whispered in my ear. I fought hard to stifle my chuckle.
But my joy aside, this would affect the way she was with her - I was loathed to say family. Before she had spoken so little when she was with them, she kept to the fringe of things. Maybe she preferred that, how was I to know? Yet, I couldn't help but think it was necessarily choice. She could crumble their plans with a few words. Imagine if right at the start, when asked what they were doing out in the forests too if they were so dangerous, she had answered instead of Ulrick.
And there was little love in their group if that hiss between her and Kristiana was anything to go by.
"But I overheard a conversation about the gift just before all this. They mentioned a place I know. I believe that if they've gone anywhere, that will be it," Verity said.
Once again, my family and I exchanged glances. It all felt quite convenient - if she could lie. The fact they realised she couldn't still placed doubt though. It had to be the truth to some degree at least. That still doesn't feel any less suspicious though. There was no guarantee they wouldn't walk straight into an ambush. Again.
However, for the chance to get Rhea...
"What place is this?"
Verity took a breath before she answered. "A church."
Something about it all want to make laugh again. Many considered vampires as damned souls because of the 'adaptations' their lifestyle forced. But little did they know, some vampires were more devout than any other groups. Even the elven followers of Divina, an old faith that reached far across the mainland, didn't match up in loyalty to some of their churches.
It wasn't easy to place whether this was a strange twist of irony on somebody's part. However, my stomach twisted at the idea that maybe their chosen faith was not one that preached love and kindness but something else entirely.
I wasn't focused but I would be surprised if it was just me alone thinking this too. No matter, we had to press on.
"Where is this church?"
A hoarse voice came out of Verity's mouth. She swallowed hard before she tried speaking again, "Not far. You let me go and I -"
"Not a chance," I cut across her sharply.
"But-!" She spat it out desperately but Felix's low tone cut across her.
"That would give you a perfect opportunity to attempt an escape." He had his arms crossed, making his chest seem that little broader. "Are you honestly saying you haven't even thought of escaping if we did agree to let you go?
Verity sat in silence, her lip poking out slightly. It was bleeding black again.
"We're going to take that as a 'Yes', you know." She huffed but said nothing else, crossing her arms in defeat.
"We won't be letting you go but you will be coming with us. You can show us the way." Robin's authoritative voice set the tone. We all nodded in agreement. Well, almost all. Felix didn't. His brows knitted together.
"Is that really the best thing?" he said, speaking out. Robin turned as he elaborated further, voicing plainly his doubts. "She will be far less secure if we're on the move with her."
Robin gave him a stony look for his comments, despite his sound reason for concern. "Felix, how many of us are there altogether?"
Felix's jaw tightened. Though thoughts of retaliation bubbled up, rationale took over. It didn't stop his annoyance in the slightest but it brought forth clarity. No good would come if he rose to it. He was probably right about that too.
"Six," he replied without even looking around to check.
"Do you really think she could slip cleanly away from all six of us?"
He slowly shook his head. 'No. She'd never get away from Serene.'
I bit the inside of my cheek to stop a small grin creep its way onto my face. What can I say? I wasn't expecting to hear that coming from his head.
Sure, my brother was right, it made sense for her to go with them to show the way but it didn't sound as concrete a plan as he'd usually have hidden up his sleeve. Felix wasn't wrong to bring it up. But if any of us said it, I doubt he wouldn't have reacted that way though. Only to Felix.
Luna purposefully cut in. "Anyway, if she comes with, we'll have something in our favour. We have the option of using her as part of an exchange."
First my brother, now my oldest sister too. I had to say something.
"That sounds…" I fought for the right words. "...not like us."
She sighed heavily. It sits uncomfortably on the air like waning summer heat like clings to clammy skin on a sticky evening.
"And I can't honestly say it sounds like them to accept it. But if we even have a remote chance to end this civilly then shouldn't we try?
All this for the chance at peace. It seemed unlikely it would work, she was right about that. And though I knew revenge wasn't beneficial to our cause, I secretly didn't want us to just walk away after offering peace. But it was what we should be hoping for. Especially when we couldn't even comprehend the alternative ahead of us. At least peace meant no danger, no risk of harm coming to anyone. Least of all any of us.
Luna gave me a pensive look. She knew. I bit the inside of my cheek trying to not focus on how everything was getting increasingly louder around me. She would know that I didn't really want peace. You could find ways to fake or distract away from thoughts but emotions were far more damning. The guilt settled heavily in my stomach like a deadweight. But she didn't say anything about it. In fact, she just diverted her attention back to whatever Robin had been saying in response.
But a little whisper came, like a flicker of dying flame when the wick had burnt out, said 'I don't want them to walk away either.'
The weight lifted. I wasn't alone on that. Good.
"So we're agreed?" I said. No one verbally or otherwise disagreed at that point. "We take her along. She can show us the way directly. Then whatever has to happen next happens."
"Midi, grab Fallena and we can get going." Robin didn't need to tell her twice. Without a second look back at the rugged place, she dashed out in a flash.
Between the rest of us left, we worked out a moving strategy. Luna and Robin held her either arm, Felix led in the front and I hung behind.
"You have her?" Luna asked.
"Of course." He replied. "Please, lead the way, Verity."
"I am not happy about this arrangement." She said grumpily.
It was somewhat sad to go. Clearly not for Midi, of course, Midi was thrilled. Something about the four walls and debris and the… who am I kidding? No one gave it a second thought as we made our way carefully out of the dilapidated old place.
We stepped out onto the road we were on before, Midi and Fallena, still stony-faced, met us further up.
"No one's around," Fallena said sharply as she strutted on ahead. I raised my eyebrow but followed on as everyone, silently, followed on. Occasionally Fallena turned her head back towards us behind. Verity, who seemed to have gone awfully quiet since Fallena came back with this no-nonsense attitude, gave her a nod with her head in the right direction.
We navigated down streets until we were pointed towards a large road that we could see from a distance led straight to the gate within the boundary wall. We followed on with care, each one of us wary and cautious.
Fallena stepped aside as the gate came before us. There didn't seem to be much that stopped anyone from going through. Just an old turn wheel. Robin tugged at it and it spun easily. Clearly, it was used far more than it appeared. Something deep inside the gate clicked and the large door swung free.
Verity pointed out towards the dark hillside we could now venture out to. Jutting out of the edge of one of the sloping sides there was an old church in sight. There it was.
I stopped. I thought I heard something but no one else noticed as they began walking through. An invisible force like a pulling magnet tugged at a part of me. I slowly turned feeling the sensation get stronger. I cast my eye to the street, near one of the closest buildings. Someone was there, all alone.
"Wait!" I said sharply, trying to keep my voice down. "Everyone wait here."
I took a few tentative steps closer. Her head snapped in my direction, her gaze flaring on my skin. I had no reason to be scared; she had helped me out before several times. I knew that she wouldn't hurt me so just needed to know that I wouldn't hurt her either. I was nothing to be scared and run away from either.
"We're not going to hurt you," I said, just loud enough for her to hear me.
Her face seemed blank. She was on high alert, tensed up and ready to flee but she didn't seem to register my words. I took another step and spoke again, this time a little bit louder but still trying to keep as calm and approachable as possible.
"We want to help you find your sister."
"Reperio…" Luna called out behind me. I glanced in her direction. 'We've only heard her speak Latin, or rather, Dargasi. She may not understand Meridian as well as Rhea.'
This was true. Luna said the word she said before was Latin but as the two were similar, it could well have just been Dargasi. As an angel who lived among other Angels, it made sense that she could speak their - her - mother tongue. And though Rhea clearly knew our language, it was a large assumption to think this twin did so too. It made sense when she put it like that. I nodded, indicating for her to carry on.
"Reperior…" she said again. "Soror tua…"
'Find... your sister.'
The girl had a flicker of understanding. Her face immediately lit up. "Rhea? Mea Sororella? Non reperior te mea sororella?" She spoke quickly, almost frantic. Her words were completely lost on me but I glanced back my sister for assistance. She was gently nodding her head.
Her eyes flit between the two of us, me and Luna, before they finally settled back on me. She took a moment before she spoke, gathering her voice.
"Two… You two are sisters?"
Something about her tone was soft, inquisitive, just like any other child I could know. With Rhea, you could easily get caught up in her impressive knowledge and language that surpassed anyone trice her age. If you weren't looking at her, you could be forgiven for making the mistake she was far older than her years. This twin however was the stark reminder of how young they both truly are. Just two little kids caught up in the middle of all this.
I smiled softly though, on the inside, my heart ached. "Yeah, we are," I said. "And the others as well, they're my sisters too," I added.
"One, two, three, four." She counted under her breath. "Four sisters. And brothers?"
"Just the big one is my brother. Felix is a good friend though."
The girl was wide-eyed, taking in every little part of my expression, the way that I moved. I could tell that much from her. She pursed her lips.
"What makes a good friend?" She asked. I paused. It's something easy enough to answer you say. You try having it sprung on you without warning. I took the pause to consider my next set of words. "Being able to talk, being able to listen, mutual concern, interest and trust."
The girl took a step closer but her voice quietened.
"Rhea… Rhea had trust in you."
"She did." My throat caught itself on the words but I tried to keep an expressionless face. Rhea had trusted us to keep her safe and now she was gone. Maybe if some decisions had been made differently, that wouldn't have happened. But could that be seen as a betrayal to her?
It was too hard to tell. Even though I tried, I simply couldn't hear that little voice inside her head. Maybe angels didn't have one. Maybe there was a reason for it. Nonetheless, it was frustrating. All I could do was simply wait with bated breath until the little girl piped up and broke the silence. For better or worse.
"I want to trust you too."
I smiled, mostly to seem friendly but also a little bit out of relief. "You do?"
The girl nodded, she brushed her long black hair, starkly different to Rhea's snowy white, out of her pretty eyes, the same colour as storm clouds.
"We'd like that as well," I said. "Trust is easier to give if you know a person. And the first thing you can know about any person is their name. Mine's Serene."
"My name is Phoenix," she spoke slowly, thoughtfully.
"Wow, that's a very nice name. It's good to meet you, Phoenix." I put out my hand, as people do when they greet someone but she just looked at it blankly.
"Serene and Felix… And?" She looked behind me, towards the rest of them. I turned on my heels. If she wanted to know, then why shouldn't I tell her? After all, talking was the most progress we had made so far, it couldn't hurt to keep going, now could it?
"And over there is Midnight and Luna, Fallena and Robin." I made sure to point at them all in turn carefully. She gave a quick nod after each one.
"They are all nice names too," she said after everyone had been named. "I think I know much about you all now."
"Really?" I asked, a little concerned about what that meant.
"Yes. You…" Her eye settled on Verity quickly and instantly hardened. She shook her head wildly as she briskly continued. "Not you, the family, are good persons. I watched you for a long time. You saved Rhea before. You helped her, not hurt her or use her like others do. You try and find her now through…" she stuttered through a bunch of sounds before coming to one she seemed more confident with. "...difficulties. Why?"
"You want to know why we're looking for Rhea and helping her?"
She nodded once.
"We know you two are very special girls and that you're far from home. We know that has to be difficult and strange but we want to make sure you don't have to be alone. We want to make sure you're safe - both of you."
She seemed to be listening and understanding but I noticed something. Her feet had turned inwards and she had started rubbing her hands together, bring her shoulders in together more. It took some time before she said anything and when she did, her voice had become little more than a whisper.
"I am not… fortis… No, Braaa...tis… Bratis? No…" Her bottom lip trembled. I wasn't really sure what to do. I took one more step closer and dropped down to her level.
"Do you mean brave, Phoenix? Fortis?" I looked back. Luna had stepped closer, almost behind me and Felix had taken her place by Verity's side. She's made up the rest of the distance slowly, stooped slightly at the knee.
Phoenix gazed at her. She didn't seem threatened by her movements nor alarmed, she simply observed. I felt that familiar coolness of calm. I wondered if Phoenix could feel it too. Luna stopped beside me and dropped to her knees as well, a soft smile on her face.
"Brave. Yes, brave. I want to be that," she nodded. "I ran when they took Rhea. I left her behind. I should not, I should stay… no, no should stayed…" Her words became murmurs as tears began falling down her cheeks. Her heart broke a little. Luna placed a cool hand on mine.
"Hey, it's okay. It's hard being brave so don't cry. No one blames you for being scared and not brave then; especially not Rhea. She'd forgive you in a heartbeat. She really just wants to find you too, she told us herself."
Phoenix's cries quieted down into hard sniffs. She used the back of her sleeve, already dirty with specks of mud and dust, to dry her off her right cheek. Her left one was still damp, glowing at certain angles in the sunlight. "Rhea did?"
"Yeah," I said, taking a quick calming breath in. I forced a smile on my face. I needed to seem positive. "It's going to be hard, I know, but do you think you can be a little bit brave now and come with us?" I stretched out my hand to her, close enough I could almost touch her.
She sniffed again. "Come…" she repeated. She looked at my hand and back to my face. Her hesitation made my faux smile falter but as she reached out and grabbed it, a real one took its place.
"Well done," I said. "I promise you, Phoenix, we will get you two back together as you should be. And no one, no one, is going to hurt you or Rhea again. I'll make sure of it. You can trust me."
Without warning, she dived into my body. I wrapped my arms around her tight like I never intended to let go. I lifted her off the ground and turned back. Luna was standing as well, looking upon us two. As I took my first few steps with Phoenix, she mouthed to me 'good job'. She placed a hand on my shoulder as we both walked back to the rest of our family waiting for us.
"Let's go and get Rhea then, shall we?"