The bright summer sun blinded me as I tried to aim the bow at the bandit leader as he counted the coins from the purse. The armor I wore silently scraped against itself as I pulled the bow back, taut, and I glanced at the clear, glossy liquid on the tip of the arrow. I let it fly, and it sliced through the air above the lake about as cleanly as it had gone through the side of his neck. He cried out and collapsed as other bandits poked their heads out of their tents. I laid onto the ground and watched through the bushes as people panicked, asking about what had happened. As the leader began to thrash and froth at the mouth due to the poison, I started to crawl closer to the camp. I pulled another arrow out of my quiver and knocked it. I then reached down to my thigh and pulled out a small, thin vial filled with what looked like clouded water, but it was actually hemlock. There was an alchemist in Cullfield I had recently found, and he agreed to help me. It had been much more helpful while taking care of bounties, and he also supplied me with medicine whenever I was hurt.
He was a kind old man I spoke to often, and I was glad women no longer shadowed me everywhere, otherwise they may have started to camp out at his store by dawn. Ever since Sofia had disappeared, all of the other women in town have started leaving me alone. There are even some skeptics who believe I killed her due to all kinds of outrageous statements, but I always explained that I had no idea what had happened to her. I continued to sneak towards the camp as I shot another arrow, hitting another man in the shoulder. This time, they noticed me and drew their swords and bows as well. I stood up and pulled out my dagger, slashing at all of them. Aabraham had left on a trip with his wife and kids, so I was on my own. Besides, I needed to learn to protect myself if I were to go out in the world on my own. Though, I seriously doubt Taavi would let me leave willingly. In fact, ever since he “saved” me, he’s been extremely protective of me. In a way, he was like the father I never had. The father that always tried to make a move on me. The father I do not want in any way, shape, form, or fashion. I feel like once I bring up moving out of his house (that he kinda forced Loki and I into living in), he would lock me in a room and refuse to let me leave.
As I stood over the bodies, I stepped over to the table filled with euros and started to pile them into each purse. I was given a list as to how much money was stolen from who, and I put each one in according purses. I finally finished and plopped down my bag and piled the smaller purses inside. I put the dagger in my sheathe and began to walk back home. It was blisteringly hot during the day and pleasantly warm at night. Kai said he loves the humidity while I openly claim to despise it. I’ve been visiting him more and more as I learn absolutely nothing about him, and yet, he knows so much about me. I want to know where he came from and why people hunt after him, other than because he isn’t a human.
The moment I came close enough to Cullfield, I heard shouts and cries all around. I quickened my pace as I saw a crowd running towards the church. A bit taken aback, I followed them into the pristine building, where the crowd had dispersed to reveal Vera, whose hands were bound from behind. The people cried out that she was a witch to the pastor, and he asked about where their proof was. “Her husband and son have been gone for several months now!” Someone shouted. “She’s been laying with the devil!” Another hissed, and I stepped up to them. “What makes you say that?” I asked, and several people looked over. “Pastor, you know I am a holy woman.” Vera insisted. “I come to church every Sunday and pray for Mikael and Aleski to come back to me so I may love them again.” A commotion rang out among everyone, and I snapped as loudly as I could, “HEY!” People fell silent again, and I asked, “Can witches not enter a place of holiness?” I asked. “If so, then how would she have been able to be dragged in here?” People whispered to one another as I claimed, “I have known her for a long time–” “But–” Vera interrupted, but I continued. “And I know she is possibly one of the most holy of women I have known. She is not a witch, and I can ensure that.” The crowd fell silent, and the pastor sighed. “I am tired of exposing children to public hangings and burnings…” He looked up at me and said, “If you believe in her, I will not have anything happen to her.” I thanked him deeply as I walked over and freed her hands.
“I will walk her home.” I said, holding her shoulder, and he nodded. I walked her out, and as we began turning, she asked, “Who are you?” “That’s not important.” I said in a calm voice. “What’s important is that you aren’t hurt.” Vera fell silent as I let go of her shoulder. “You’re not like them.” She said, and I shrugged as we turned the corner. It was much darker in the bazaar than I had remembered, and as women watched me walk by, they seemed so frightened. The tight quarters only seemed to make this place so much hotter and unbearable. “Vera? Are you alright?” One of them asked. “Yes, thanks to this man.” They both looked at me, and I insisted that it was nothing. “Well, you saved my life…” She claimed. “The life of a possible witch…” I only stared as she stepped away from me and said she could walk home on her own. “Thank you, again.” She said, smiling, and I nodded before spinning around and walking back out into the sunshine.
I walked back to the tavern and put down the bounty and the notes I had made. “Completed bounty.” I said, and she gave me my payment. As I stepped outside, I pondered if I was going home to get out of the heat or go visit Kai up the mountain. I felt myself turning right towards the house. “I’ll visit him tonight.” I thought. “I can’t bear the smell of his disguise, and it’ll be even worse in the humidity.” I eventually stepped inside the house to see Taavi at the table, eating lunch. I walked past, pulling off the shoulder pads as I entered the hallway. I stumbled into my room, and Loki instantly jumped onto me and began licking my face. I smiled and laughed, trying to push him off of me. I eventually got him off and stepped into the room. I closed the door after him and pulled off my armor. As I glanced at the mirror, I noticed myself in the reflection. I was much more rugged in comparison to how I had been when I first changed in the early spring. My hair had grown out a bit more, down to my jawline, and my face had a few more scars. One stretched across my forehead, and another was on my collarbone. My freckles had become a bit more defined as my skin grew tanner as I had spent more time in the sun. I was also a bit more muscular, so that pleased Aabraham, who despite this, still makes jokes about me having a tiny stature.
My brown eyes in the reflection met with my own as I walked away and out the bedroom door once again. I stepped into the kitchen as my stomach growled loudly. “I still don’t see why you don’t wear any of the clothes in your closet.” Taavi said, and I claimed, “I don’t want to wear the clothes women you had flings with had forgotten.” I could hear him frowning in his voice as he said, “For your information, I happened to buy those for you.” “Well, I don’t see why you did that. I would only be wearing them here.” “Well, I want to see you look nice.” He flirted, and I instantly threw an empty box at him. “If you finish something, don’t put it back in the cabinet. Throw it away.” I changed the subject, but he quickly brought it back: “Whatever you say, beautiful.” I scowled deeply and told him to not call me that. “Okay,” He then stood up and picked up a random sheet of paper. “Lets see how many more names I have for you.” “Please no.” “Love, sweetheart, beloved–” “Stop.” “Little bird, gorgeous–” “I swear to god I will kill myself if you say any of those.”
He laughed, and I closed the cabinet with a loud bang and began to drink what was left of the milk. I could feel a trickle spilling from the corner of my mouth down to my collarbone. “I don’t see why you don’t like being called that.” He said, shrugging. “Because I hate you.” I stated bluntly, taking a short break from drinking. “Then why haven’t you left?” He asked, and I was about to make a remark when it registered what he had just said. I tried to stop myself, but instead, I spat out all of the milk onto the counter in front of me. “What?” I asked, my voice cracking due to the suddenness. “Why haven’t you left?” He asked smugly. “I’m not exactly chaining you to the wall.” I tried to dig for words before saying that it was because I couldn’t sleep well with everyone drinking just below me, but he had already caught me. “Awww…” He cooed. “You do love me!” “Shut up, no I don’t.” I said, beginning to clean up the mess I had made.
He passive-aggressively stayed silent as he walked away. I seethed as Loki came by and began licking the mess. I let him as I stood up and washed the rag I had used that smelled of mildew. I thought about all the stupid names he had called me by, and I wondered if he was just exaggerating with how sweet they seem. I’ve never heard anyone call anyone that. I heard him starting to play on his harp, and I asked if he was going to work today. When I didn’t get a response, I looked over and saw him on his knee as he played as though it were some cheesy romance novel. He gave me a dirty look as he played, and I covered my face with my hands, sighing. “Taavi… I swear…” He wiggled his eyebrows at me jokingly, and I couldn’t help but laugh. I wrung out the rag and called him stupid. He then stopped and tucked his long white hair behind his ear and stepped over. I finished up and began to walk away when he grabbed me from behind, wrapping his arms around my stomach and resting his chin on my head. He swayed lightly side-to-side, and I asked if he was doing alright. “I mean, you’re a lot more… emotional than normal.” I claimed, and he sighed, resting his head in the bend of my neck, but he didn’t respond.
“Well, I’ll take that as a yes, so I’ll just go now.” I said, prying his hands from off my stomach. I looked down at Loki, who was by Taavi’s side with his tongue partially sticking out. I smiled and pet his head before saying that I was going out for a walk. I didn’t wait for his response before I left with Loki by my side. I had promised Kai I would keep him a secret from anyone to protect him. I still loved visiting him, so I just needed to be a bit more careful when it comes to going up the mountain. By the time I reached the old home, I couldn’t help but pause and look at it, even if it were for the briefest of moments. I continued walking until I paused at the sound of a violin playing.
The mere sound of it made me feel almost poetic, wanting to describe it as sweet as honeysuckle and yet as strong as stone. It almost made me feel as though my entire body went numb as I continued to walk towards the noise. The violin made it seem as though the forest surrounding me was like something out of a fairytale, and as I descend the small hill, I would see a house made of gingerbread or a castle surrounded by thorns. I even felt the desire to sing along, but instead, I only followed it to the brook, where I saw Kai sitting on a rock with a violin in hand as he played. I wanted to stop, but I only felt myself walking closer to him. I eventually tripped over a root, and as I brought my hands out to catch myself, I slipped on the mud in the water, causing my face to splash into the water. I could hear him no longer playing as I brought my head up and wiping the mud from my face. I looked up at him, and he only stared at me. “I didn’t know–” I then spat out a bit of mud. “–I didn’t know you played violin.” “I can play others as well.” He said, placing the violin onto his lap. “Well, that was beautiful.” I said as I sat myself down and washed the mud from my hands. “Thank you,” He said, bowing his head slightly. “although I still have much more room for practice.” He then slid down into the water, and he let out a low sigh. “Although I love the humidity, I hate the heat. The sun dries me up rather easily.” I shrugged and said, “I guess I understand that. “By the way, what happened to that girl?” He asked. “What are you talking about? What g– Oh, her?” I then looked over to the bunch of bushes I had seen her. “I don’t know. People haven’t mentioned seeing her at all.” He blinked and asked, “But you are a mercenary. Weren’t you paid to find her?”
“She worked at a brothel. I don’t think anyone missed her enough for that.” I responded, tucking a black strand of hair behind my ear. “Besides, even if they did, I wouldn’t accept it. She was annoying.” “Well, then it’s a good thing she’s gone. She’ll no longer bother you.” He said, and I nodded. “Yeah, I suppose.” He then gave a small smile as he seemed to stare at me. “What is it?” I asked, and he told me to wait for a moment. He then dove underwater, and I caught a glimpse of his pale skin underneath the covering. I tried to look into the water, but it was dirtier than it was before, so it was practically impossible to see anything. As I waited, I could only think of the music I had heard. It was almost hauntingly beautiful, and yet, I had an odd feeling in my stomach about it. I wasn’t sure if it was unsteadiness or deja vu, but I had no more time to think as he popped back out and grabbed at some of the lily pads that had formed. He then seemed to fiddle with something, occasionally splashing some of the dirty water on himself.
After a while, he then looked over at me and floated over. “Bend down.” He said as he approached the shore. I did so, and he placed something onto my head. The wetness soaked my hair, and I wanted to take it off, but it seemed so frail, it would fall apart if I so much as breathed wrong. “What is it?” I asked, and he said, “I believe it is called a ‘flower crown’. Before the wooden barrier–” “Dam” “–dam, there was a raft I saw with a woman on it. She wore one as she slept, and I eventually discovered how they were made.” I then smiled and said I loved it, even though I couldn’t see it. He sank deeper in the water, and I remembered something. “The night we met…” I asked, and he looked up at me. “When I saw that boulder, why did you attack me?” “I only attacked because I saw you in the water, and I didn’t want to be killed.” He responded matter-of-factly.
“I really am sorry you’re being hunted, but why?” I asked. “We… We have prejudices against us.” He responded. I instantly understood and said that I get what he was talking about. “Well, I promise I will make sure you’re safe.” I said, and he smiled. “And I promise you’ll never feel pain again.” As the sun started to set, I stood up, dusted myself off, and said that I was going to head home. “I would walk you, but there are many issues with that.” He joked, and I smiled at him before stepping into the woods. I then paused and looked over at him as he began to remove his disguise. “Actually…” I said, walking back, nearly tripping on a thorn. I then squatted by the shore and told him to come over. He did, and I reached in the water. The second I touched his smooth skin, he swiftly swam backwards, away from me. “It’s fine.” I said. “I’m going to see if I can help you.”
He hesitantly floated back over to me, and I lifted him out of the water. His old looking clothes were drenched as I pulled him out. I could see his skin starting to change color as he pushed himself out of my arms and back into the water. He dove underwater and quickly popped back out with his skin back to normal. “I know you want to help, but can you do it while I’m in the water?” I blinked and was about to say no when I thought of something. My eyes met the dam up the hill, basking in the light from the late afternoon sun and the moon peeking just over it. “…Yes…” I then walked up the hill, and he followed to the edge of the brook. I looked at where the water used to stream, where there was only a trench. I continued up the hill until I got to the reservoir, where there was clean water. I then looked at the dam and sighed. “Well,” I thought. “For Kai’s survival.” I then dove into the water and pulled out my dagger. I cut at the ropes, and it didn’t take long for it to fall apart and for water to start rushing down the hill, carrying me with it. I struggled to bob my head over the water, and when I would, it was only for a few seconds before I was thrown back underwater. I finally reached the brook, where Kai caught me in his arms and climbed onto the rock. I held onto him tightly as the water rushed around us. I gripped his wet clothes tightly, trying to not slip into the water.
A large wave then pushed me towards Kai, causing us to both fall into the water again. I gripped onto him tightly as he swam downwards, where the water wasn’t as strong. I clenched my eyes shut as I tried to force myself to not breathe. My lungs began to burn, and I wanted to beg Kai to resurface so I could breathe. He never did, and I could feel myself start to lose my grip on him. Just before I thought I was about to pass out, oxygen rushed through my lungs, and I gasped heavily as I tried to steady myself. I coughed as I looked around. I nearly choked as I saw where we were. It was a large cave lit by a large hole in the ceiling that allowed for the sun to seep in. I stood up from the rock flooring and looked over at Kai, who was covering a hole with a boulder. The same boulder I had seen when we first met. He finally finished and sighed, floating over to me. “Well, that went nicely.” I joked, and he responded, “At least I have clean water now. Thank you.” I looked over at the large amount of water between us and the hole in the ceiling. “Yes, this is like a sanctuary, I suppose.” He said. “Then why do you ever leave here?” I asked. “Fish do not come in here. I must eat. Besides, as much as I hate the sun, I still need it, albeit in tiny doses, and that hole doesn’t always help.”
I then asked how I would get out. “It’s late.” He said. “I’ll help you out in the morning, once the water calms.” I was about to ask if he was sure before he dove underwater again. I sighed and looked around. As beautiful a cave as it was, it was not a place for me to sleep. I began to wander around, looking at tiny sparkles in the rocks and stalactites on the ceiling. I constantly worried one would fall and impale me. I heard high pitched squeaks in the distance, and as I looked at the darker parts of the cave, a swarm of darkness came towards me. I instinctively ducked, and bats came fluttering out of the hole, squeaking loudly as they began their search for food. I watched as they spilled out, and I soon got up in hopes of finding somewhere to sleep. I then sighed, and knowing I have nothing to sleep on, plopped onto the ground and closed my eyes to sleep.
It was the kind of sleep where you have no dreams, no thoughts, and it’s just emptiness. When I woke in the morning, it only felt I was there for five minutes, but I knew due to the sun seeping in. I stretched and called out, “Kai?” There was silence. I yawned and repeated, “Kai?” There was still no response. “Kai?! KAI?! KAI!!!” I shouted, causing some bats to squeal at me in anger. I frowned and looked into the water, but there looked to be no sign of him. I scowled and thought, “Did he forget me?!” I grumbled as I stomped to the boulder. I tried to shove it out of the way, but it was too heavy. I kept trying until my hands were covered in scrapes and cuts. My eyes then met the hole in the ceiling, over fifty feet in the air. I sighed deeply and thought, “It’s my only real choice…” I then walked up to the wall and took a deep breath. I grabbed onto the rough rock and began to climb. As I reached past twenty feet, the wall began to turn so that I was now dangling over the water by the time I was almost done. I clenched my eyes shut as I kept climbing, my feet dangling. I constantly worried I would get hit by a stalactite, either knocking me off the cave ceiling or stabbing me through the face. As I approached the hole, I grabbed the inner part and began to climb straight up again. My fingers, covered in blood, sweat and peeled skin, finally gripped the grass, and I crawled out, panting heavily. I soon got my chest out of the cave, and my legs were now kicking in my struggle. I finally got a foot hole and pushed myself up and out of the cave. I gasped in exhaustion as I regained my strength. I looked back and saw that the hole was almost completely hidden by the grass.
I sighed and stood up, careful not to fall in again. My heart was still racing as I stomped over to the newly reformed river and crossed my arms over my chest. I walked past, thinking that I just wanted to go home. I wasn’t going to even grace him with a response to why I’m angry with him. I kept walking, eventually walking down to Cullfield. “I just want to rest.” I thought as I looked at my scraped up hands and knuckles. I dropped them to my sides and kept walking as I eventually reached home and practically stumbled inside. I collapsed at the kitchen table and rested my head. “I want to change clothes…” I thought. “But I don’t want to wear a stupid dress.” I then groaned as I stood up and began to walk towards my room.
As I reached for the door knob, it began to turn on itself. I stepped back and watched as Taavi stepped out, bundles of my stuff in his arms. I blinked before I finally managed to ask, “What are you doing?” He seemed off put as he explained that he had spilled something in my room, and was going to clean up. I tried to peer in the room, but he blocked my vision with his body. “What is it?” I asked him, and he looked to have been thinking deeply. Another thought then popped into my head; “Why were you in my room in the first place?” “Um…” He mumbled, his face turning red. I scowled and pushed him out of the way, calling him a pervert. He then laughed, almost nervously, as he said, “You got me… heh…” I closed the door on him before briefly opening it again, taking my stuff from his arms, and closing the door again. As it clicked again, I leaned against the door and wondered what he was doing with my stuff. I looked down and saw that sure enough, they were completely clean, if not a little wrinkled.
I arched my brows looked over my shoulder at the door before pushing myself off and putting it all on the bed. It was all of the stuff I had brought with me, plus some of the clothes Taavi had gotten me. I held up one of them, it being a leaf green dress with long sleeves and a few brown tints creating a swirling design on it. I would admit, it was pretty, though I would never admit it to him. I sighed and held it up to my body. The fabric felt smooth on my skin as it flowed lightly. “I guess anything is better than damp clothes…” I thought to myself.
I secretly didn’t want to run into Taavi, but at the same time, I wanted to talk to him and ask about what he was doing exactly. It felt odd wearing a skirt again, even more so when I could feel the air on my legs as I walked. I eventually found him in the kitchen, and I poked my head around the corner so that the dress was hidden. “T-Taavi?” I asked, and he didn’t even look up before he told me to step out from behind the wall. Seeing as how there was no convincing him, I did so and slammed down into the chair across from him. “What happened?” I asked. He finally looked up from tuning his harp and asked what I was talking about. “You know…” I responded. “When I came home, and you had my stuff…?” “Well, you called me–” “Shut up. I want to know what you were really doing.” He seemed to fiddle with his words as he explained that he needed to leave town to see his family. “They’re several days away.” He explained. “I was hoping to introduce you to them, but I knew you wouldn’t want to, so–” “So you decided you wanted to keep it a secret and drag me along begrudgingly?” I asked, and he nodded. “Exactly, little kitten.” I scowled and said, “Well, no, I’m not going. I still need to keep working.” He then rolled his eyes and said, “I knew you would say that…” He then proceeded to run his hand through his hair, and completely different to how he normally is, he sighed and said that he wasn’t going to argue with me.
He then stood up, and I asked, “Wait, so you’re just going to let me stay here?” “Sure. Just don’t die.” He then began to walk off, and I began to follow him as I asked, “What is up with you? You’ve been acting weird all day.” “I’m fine.” I finally stepped in front of him and crossed my arms over my chest as I blocked his path. “Come on.” I said. “…Come on, what?” He asked. “YELL AT ME!” I shouted, and he sighed before smirking, “The thing is that I’m in love with you.” I rolled my eyes and said, “Seriously. What’s wrong?” He then shrugged as he smiled and repeated, “You’re like a curse on me. Me, of all people.” He then turned his head towards the ceiling as he asked, “WHY GOD? WHY THE MOST RIGHTEOUS OF PEOPLE? WHYYYYYY????” I sighed and told him, “Well stop it. You’re freaking me out.” He collapsed onto his knees and continued ignoring me as he asked God, “I HAVE ALWAYS DONE AS YOU SAID! WHY MUST YOU PUNISH ME?!” “…I’m leaving now.” “NOOOOOOO–” The moment I slammed my bedroom door shut, I could hear him laughing. “You’re stupid.” I insisted through the door. “I don’t even really know why I’m even still living with you.” “Because you’re just as stupid as you say I am?” “… You know, I doubt you’re too far from the truth…”