Letting Life Lead
Prompt: fleeing a city, trust (emotion must not be explicitly stated)
Two sisters have fled the City of Dunganan on the day of a rare magical eclipse intent on finding the lost key that would allow them to return to their former home, an immortal glen of perpetual youth. A good deed gone awry in the city means they can’t go back, but will they succeed when the sister who lost the key is the one with the forgetful curse?
Snow hastened her pace through the fresh, wooded trail. Brambles and branches trembled from the hacking wrought by Snow’s sister, and she clucked her tongue over the carnage.
“What did this sapling do to you?” She smoothed her long-fingers over the slender trunk, and the birch shivered upright as the jagged break mended. The leaf litter at her feet shriveled to dust.
In a cycle of give and take, she siphoned healing from death’s humus, like mushrooms on a damp log. Her nature strived to gather power only from the evil, dead, and dying. Snow’s perpetual power-high waned outside the city limits, leaving her weak and sickened from the withdrawal.
Snow preferred a more leisured amble, but pushed to catch up. “We could stay, Rose. It was not so bad there.”
Rose scoffed. “Not after you healed all those people in the ER.”
Snow had saved hundreds, but at a cost. She’d caused dust mounds in the morgue and quickened the dying of the dark souls. Some fell dead in triage; not all had been patients.
“A parting gift.” Snow made defiant fists at her sides. “Always leave a place better than you found it.”
“How many have you healed for nothing in Dunganan?”
“Not for nothing.”
After placing one hand on the ground and then upon the gnarled oak, Rose sniffed. “Rot. All of it.”
“Not all of it.”
Rose leaned on her walking stick with a smug tilt to her head. “You were never short of decay to draw on were you?”
“You are just sore that you cannot hunt demons in the city.” Snow’s mind strained. Gifts cost dearly. Memories came and went; her world always stayed fuzzy around the edges. “Oh, and you miss that handsome golden bear!”
“No!” Rose beat a thorn bush to punctuate. “I’m pissed you got us locked out of the glen! Sixty years!” The lack of hunting irked, too. Her blessings lay in dealing death. Whatever instrument she used to bestow an end became infused over time. With enough essence she could restore or enhance life.
Snow hung her head. She hadn’t seen this much zeal from Rose in…she couldn’t remember when. “I am not the one who went gamping after that beady-eyed troll, sister.”
“That you remember?” Rose grabbed Snow’s short, white hair and yanked. “Tree dwarf. And you lost the key. I told you not to follow. You got lost.” Her sister’s yelp satisfied so well that Rose pulled twice more. “Look at us! Look at my hands! We’re withered and wrinkled. My muff has gone gray, sister.”
A kick to the shin sent Rose hobbling and Snow threatened to rap knuckles with a stick. “Your hair is the color of starlight. Very fetching. Flicking a finger at me is not nice!”
“You’d better be right about that key.”
“It should glow in the day-moon. We need to get close enough.” Snow gazed upward. The moon inched closer to eclipse the sun. “It feels like my dream here.”
A foul, city-curse burst from Rose. “Dreams are wisps and feelings torment. Remember!”
“I cannot. I try. I do!” Snow bent, lifted a pile of wet leaves and inhaled. “I swear it smells right. I feel I have been here. I have dreamed this.” Mud and debris colored the deep lines of her face.
“Fine. Don’t get your bra in a twist. The river’s this way. ” Rose led the way left. Her mind burdened her with hoarded moments and minutiae. To remember every life taken and every emotion with it was her curse. That lesson she learned the hardest ,and always took care to bring only welcomed mercy or necessary death.. She preferred the empty recall of demon slaying.
“We do not need to be young and everlasting again. Forget the glen. Come back to our house and garden and our friends.”
“We can’t, you demented twit! Do you even — ”
Snow blinked trying to capture the fraying threads of conversation. “Silly. Of course, we can. Let us grow old and fade away. We have lived enough, yes? I cannot recall how many thousands to count.”
“You can’t remember if you put on underwear this morning.” Rose grabbed her sister’s hand and dragged her over the trodden deer trail.
Snow peeked under her waistband and muttered dazed, “Oh my.” She sighed and pulled her hand away and headed back, punting rocks and bits of fallen bark. “Home. It is all sharper there.”
Rose rubbed her temple. The debacle at the hospital couldn’t be undone. Rose caved her shoulders inward. “I need the glen.”
The plea, so unlike Rose, halted Snow’s feet and she shivered at a pale memory.
Rose blew air through her quivering then pressed her arthritic fingers together. “You don’t remember. I killed” — she still wouldn’t say the name — “him with my bare hands. I did it. Me. I didn’t mean to — didn’t know it would make me immortal. I don’t need the glen to live like you. I’ll grow ancient until I’m whispers and dust, but I’ll live on.” Her voice wavered. “That I could endure, but don’t make me watch you die.”
Snow held her sister and sensed her part. “I came too late.”
They pressed their heads together in comfort. The wind tousled their hair together in a twirl of snow and starlight. In silence, they journeyed to the river where magical things gathered.
The eclipse approached; Snow paced frenzied. “Which way; this way!”
Rose held her sister fast. “You said you dropped it at the three pillars. We haven’t got time to chase our tails.”
“The key is not here. I feel it.”
Rose shook her head and searched the river mud for gleams. She poked stones and muck spilled over her boot tops.
“Follow me.” Snow offered her hand. “Please.”
The words lingered between them until Rose clasped the wizened palm. They chased the cracked memory until their hearts pounded and night usurped the day. The key glinted.
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