On the first night of summer, the townsfolk of Næmyris gathered by the lakeside. Moonlight glistened off of the gentle surface of Lake Emyr. It was a truly serene sight to behold and it filled the thousands gathered with a tranquil peace. Fitting really, as it was the night of a total eclipse of Illyria’s closest moon, Rowan’el, which was said to be one of the eyes of the Goddess. There were other goddesses, of course, but none were more sacred than the Goddess, whose very name was considered holy, as She, along with the Father, gave life the chance to flourish on Illyria. And an eclipse was especially important to Her, as it brought Her Spiritual Being and the whole Divine Realm into close Resonance with Illyria. So it was that everyone had gathered to offer their prayers to the Goddess with the hopes that together, their small voices would reach Her.
The townsfolk believed themselves to be truly blessed that night as it was perfect for an eclipse. The sky was clear and the air was still and everyone was for the most part, happy. There was one, however, who did not feel so blessed. A young girl warily looked up to the moon, its crimson glow catching on her brilliant red hair which haphazardly framed her alabaster face. She sighed audibly, catching the attention of the woman who sat next to her.
“What’s the matter, Rowan?” the woman asked the girl, painfully aware of the fugue she had been suffering for much of that year.
“Did we really have to come all the way to the lakeside, Ma?” Rowan responded with a hint of complaint in her voice.
“Yes dear. How else am I going to thank her for my beautiful daughters or ask for her to help give you both back your smiles?” The response came quickly, yet softly so as to not carry too far with the last part being practically inaudible, even to Rowan.
“We could have thanked Her from home,” Rowan yawned. It wasn’t like she was being deliberately indignant, she just didn’t appreciate being roused from her attempts at slumber. She had, after all, been dragged halfway across town for something that she felt was highly unnecessary, at least not in her somewhat depressed state.
Rowan’s mother shook her head with a slight frown. “You know why, Rowan. It’s like music. Together we Resonate, amplifying the voices of our spirits far beyond what we could manage by ourselves. If we want to be heard, it’s better we pray together. Do I need to have a word with Master Idyr? He should have been covering this with his lessons.”
“He might have. Maybe I’d remember better if I was allowed my beauty sleep!”
“Quiet dear! You don’t hear Tehri complaining, do you?”
“Because she’s already asleep! She’s been asleep since before we even got here!” Rowan responded somewhat bitterly as she looked down at her sleeping little sister. The younger girl slept soundly, her head resting on her mother’s lap.
“So she is,” the woman responded, looking slightly put out at being reminded that her younger daughter was indeed sleeping in her lap. ”Still, as the older sister, you should be setting a good example for her.”
“It’s not like she’s going to wake up, regardless of what I do, so what’s the point? She could sleep through a thunderstorm! Not to mention how she probably hates me! Maybe I need to act more outrageously so that she’ll stop ignoring me so that I can be a role model. A-a-and…” Rowan trailed off. She didn’t really believe what she said. If anything she was to blame for the distance that had grown between them. At this point, all she was doing was venting her frustrations and sadness. She was exhausted and it was making her needlessly irritable. Her sleep had been highly restless for weeks now, and with the summer solstice fast approaching, she felt like it was only getting worse, as if the rising sun was beckoning something to awaken within her. She hated it. She didn’t want to be annoyed with her mother, with Tehri or with her friends. And so she choked back a sob, angry at herself for disturbing everyone else’s peace.
For a moment, it looked like her mother was going to scold her for the outburst. Only, she brought her in for a comforting embrace and sang softly as she stroked Rowan’s hair.
Hush now little one
the day is won
Sleep now little one
The sun is gone
to wash away your fear
to wipe away your tears
Rowan cried in her mother’s arms, and as her tears streamed from her violet eyes, she found herself being lulled almost to sleep by the calming lyrics of the Ferran Lullaby that her mother sang. As Rowan’s eyes grew heavy, she heard people calling out that totality was nearly upon them.
As the eclipse reached its peak, time seemed to stop; a glimpse into the witching hour, the moment that Illyria and the Divine realm were almost touching. In the absolute stillness of that moment, the first screams carried far, only to be followed by the thundering of hooves.
“Rowan!” a voice cried.
Rowan’s eyes shot open, her crimson hair catching the blush of dawn through the window. Rowan blinked once and then a couple more times as she in an attempt to rouse from her sudden awakening, “Is it morning already?” she yawned to no one in particular; her room was, after all, quite devoid of people despite being quite large.
Regardless of the wake up call or the marked onset of morning, Rowan found herself wanting to instead snuggle into her blankets. She felt like she had only just fallen asleep and it was still Winter, even if only just, so it was fine to sleep in, wasn’t it? As Rowan settled back down, she noticed that the light in her room was unusual for morning or any time of day for that matter. She looked across at her bedside table and smiled at the strange array of glowing crystals. “Did I really forget to turn you off?” Rowan asked the array, giggling to herself. It was a pretty thing, and unlike the ones that the twins had, it could change colour.
Rowan shifted the Resonance Configuration to the off position and once again, started drifting back to sleep.
“Wake up, Rowan,” the voice called again, “your father’s home!”
This time, Rowan practically leapt out of bed, invigorated by her father’s return. He’d been gone for months and she missed him dearly, a fact she felt very strongly she would need to rectify with all haste. As she ran out of her room, she nearly ran headfirst into a tapestry as she skidded past the stairs. Her father was standing at the bottom of the stairs with an amused but welcoming expression. Then, caring little for the rosewood staircase, she practically flew down into her father’s arms. Despite the significant size difference between the two, he still stumbled backwards and fell on his backside as he caught her.
Rowan’s mother gave them a somewhat exasperated look and thought of despite how little Rowan took after her father, she really was his daughter. That wasn’t to say Rowan hadn’t inherited anything from him. She certainly had his dimples and freckles and her laugh was practically identical to his except for pitch. She would never be as tall as he was, however, and he wasn’t even that tall, barely average for a human; Rowan was just small. Rowan had also inherited her hair from her mother as opposed to her father’s sandy blond. Of course, Rowan’s actions would have been the same even if he looked like a drakiir.
“Da! What took you so long? You’ve been gone forever!” Rowan’s voice streamed out with excitement as she embraced her father with shameless glee.
“I’m sorry, Rowan,” he apologised with a pained expression, though it wasn’t overly clear if that was due to the apology or his now definitely bruised behind. “The new contract took me all the way to Særis and you know how far that is.” Rowan nodded glumly in response and he started again, “Plus, I stopped by the capital to see your brother. He’s looking forward to visiting for your birthday.”
“He is?” She asked with a smile that quickly turned into a pout. “Wait! You’re trying to distract me. I haven’t forgiven you yet, but — I might change my mind if you got me a present…”
“Rowan!” chided her mother, looking slightly cross at her asking for presents before her father had even had the chance to relax.
“It’s okay, Hæra,” her father interjected, seemingly not bothered by his daughter’s attitude. Or perhaps it was because he knew how impossible she could be?
“You spoil her too much, Gyren,” Hæra sighed, her expression softening slightly.
“We both do, my dear. Now where is my other daughter?” he smiled.
“Tehri’s still sleeping,” Hæra responded, shaking her head. “She took cold on the last day of rest.”
“In that case…” Gyren lifted Rowan up with some assistance from Hæra and carried her to her room. “Get dressed,” he said, reminding her that, in her rush, she was still wearing the soft cotton shorts and shift that served as her sleepwear. “When you’re ready, come back down and I’ll give you your present.”
Rowan could barely contain her excitement as she wasted absolutely no time getting dressed. She was about to rush out again when she remembered that her mother would be cross if she didn’t put the extra clothes back into the armoire and chest of drawers, both made of mahogany imported from the rainforests far across the oceans to the south. After her brief tidying interlude, Rowan hurried back downstairs, making sure not to slide into the tapestry this time. She was tapping her feet with anticipation whilst she waited for her father to come back down from seeing Tehri.
Hæra shook her head and tried not to smile at her daughter’s infectious joy. She was always amazed to see how Rowan could seemingly conjure boundless energy out of nowhere whenever she was excited. Still, it was only a matter of time before Rowan started complaining about breakfast, so she led her to the table and started serving up a plate of scrambled eggs, toast and bacon. Rowan happily obliged, though her feet were still tapping on the ground.
Shortly after, Gyren walked back downstairs after having checked in on Tehri. On his way into the dining room, he kissed Hæra who was preparing a fresh bouquet for the table. Rowan noticed the cloth bound package in his hands as he sat down. She looked at the package eagerly, trying to figure out what it might be. A book? A small one? No. Maybe? It didn’t look quite right for a book. She considered it more and came to the conclusion that it was most definitely not a book. However, she soon realised that her pondering was only delaying the reveal as her father was clearly waiting for her to finish her half-eaten breakfast. Upon noticing this, Rowan wolfed down what remained of her eggs and nearly choked on a piece of toast. Once she was done, she thanked her mother for breakfast and turned back to her father as the dishes were cleared away.
Gyren smiled at Rowan as he began to unwrap the cloth to reveal a beautifully engraved rosewood box. As Rowan’s cat-like eyes lit up, Gyren spoke up, “And here I was told,” glancing over at Hæra with a glint in his own eyes, “that not five minutes before I walked through the door, you were in bed snoring the morning away.”
“I do not snore!” Rowan protested, throwing a betrayed look at her mother.
“I said nothing of the sort,” Hæra said, throwing Rowan’s protest back round to Gyren. “He’s only teasing you.”
Rowan pouted, then frowned and finally smiled in a matter of seconds as Gyren slid the box over to her, paying no heed to his earlier comment. “Aren’t you going to open it?” he asked.
Not needing to be asked twice, Rowan undid the small metal clasp that was keeping the box held shut and slowly lifted the lid to see what was inside. Within the box lay a small and expertly crafted necklace. It featured two intricately engraved crescent moons made from silver, interlocking gracefully together. The left crescent was set with ruby and garnet and the right one was set with sapphire and lapis lazuli, representing the Crimson and Azure Eyes of the Goddess. Rowan found herself speechless.
“Do you like it?” Gyren asked with a smile halfway between smug satisfaction and awkward uncertainty. “I wanted to find something befitting my beautiful little princess and then I saw this and I was reminded instantly of your smile.
Rowan blushed slightly from her father’s rather embarrassing form of address, which Rowan half reasoned is why he did it, not that she was going to give him the satisfaction. As quickly as the blush rose on her cheeks, Rowan stood up and ran around the table so that she could catch him in a mightily charming and adorable hug, not giving him the chance to see her rosy cheeks. She soon realised that giving him a hug to stop him from seeing her blushing face was kind of counter to her goal of denying him his satisfaction. Ah well…
“Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!” Rowan kissed him several times in gratitude and then she hurried onto Hæra to repeat the process. Then she ran to the door with her present. “I’m going to try it on right now!”
Hæra watched her leave, and in the blink of an eye, she was gone. “So much for saving that for her birthday.”
“It’ll be fine. Plus, it wouldn’t be fair to give Tehri her present and have Rowan waiting for hers.”
After the excitement of morning, Rowan remembered glumly that she still had morning lessons. “I guess it’s just another normal day after all,” she sighed as she walked into the study and sat down and waited for Master Idyr to arrive. She had a love-hate relationship with the study and the books that filled the shelves that lined the walls. It wasn’t like she disliked studying or anything. In fact, she actually kind of liked it, but her tutor was the best of the best and that came with certain expectations. At times, it felt like he enjoyed pushing her beyond all reasonable limits.
Rowan was leaning backwards in her chair, daydreaming while she waited as the door to the study opened. She yelped as she fell backwards. “Ow ow oww!” she cried, seeing stars.
“Good morning, Miss Naliir,” a distinguished voice greeted her as she rubbed her head. “I wonder as to what great font of wisdom inspired you to lean so precariously on your chair.”
Rowan looked up to the middle-aged man that stood in the door dressed in a scholar’s gown. He looked rather serious with his short dark hair, greying at the temples, and the pair of dignified spectacles about his brow. Though, Rowan kind of thought he sometimes looked like an evil genius when you also considered his rather well groomed beard . He looked down at Rowan with the look of an academic; unimpressed with her rather idiotic behaviour. She clambered up and brushed herself down before responding hesitantly, “Um, well… I was waiting and I kinda got distracted and well, you know?”
“No, I do not ‘know’, Miss Naliir,” he scolded her with an unapologetic look. “And speak properly when you answer. Proper diction is the sign of a scholarly mind.”
“I was daydreaming, okay!” she admitted with exasperated huff.
“If you had the time for daydreaming, perhaps it would have been better spent stretching your mind with some simple exercises in preparation for today’s lesson.”
“Sorry, Master Idyr” Rowan responded with a smile, not wanting to get the lesson off to a worse start.
After a few quick exercises, the lesson began in earnest. The focus of their studies that day were on Resonance and the evolution of the other Races, starting with the Kairosi who were believed to be the first, or at least the first that are still around. Rowan had difficulty imagining the three hundred year long volcanic storm that had engulfed the deserts of Terian’el and how it had forced the nomads that lived there to enter a Harmonic Resonance Pact with a god. Or how the pact had caused them to undergo rapid and unnatural evolutions to allow them to survive that nightmare. Granted, she had never seen a Kairosi or left her homeland for that matter, so she didn’t have much in the way of experiences to compare it with.
Still, the origin of the Kairosi made a degree of sense even if it was rather fantastical as they would have died without the Pact and it wasn’t something a god would enter lightly. Mortality. Such a heavy cost for the divine to pay so it stands to reason that they would only pay it if the situation was dire which it definitely was for the Kairosi. The Ferran from whom Rowan was partially descended from on the other hand were a much stranger case. The accounts about their origin made very little sense to Rowan despite the event being much more recent. There was something about a double Solar Eclipse and weird Resonance in the area after it. Such an event should have been impossible as Særan’el and Rowan’el were only ever in the same phase during every third of Rowan’el’s full moons. To think of them both being new at the same time was unthinkable. Yet it had seemingly happened.
The lesson as a whole really drove it home how much of a weird place the world was. Rowan had found it interesting and overall enjoyable, even if it was a little confusing at times. Then, right at the end, her opinion of the lesson came crashing down. While she had been concentrating, Master Idyr had written up a small test for her to take because of her behaviour at the start of the lesson. She had hoped he had forgotten.
As the test came to a close and Master Idyr started marking it, Rowan was reminded of the hate aspect of her relationship with her lessons. She really did like learning, even the harder, more complicated subjects. But Master Idyr was intense in the way he could lecture like no other and he always went a bit overboard with his tests in a way which always made her groan. Did he really have to set aside so much time for her? At that moment, Rowan felt strongly that she was far too young to be spending hours of her day studying. She still hadn’t had her eleventh birthday after all, and children should spend most of their time playing and having fun. Not that anyone would listen to a child who was still a month or so off of adolescence, especially not one whose opinion of studying was as fickle as hers.
It was lunchtime when Master Idyr left, leaving Rowan somewhat annoyed with herself as she knew she could have done much better with the test. Alas, she pushed her disappointment aside with the intent of replacing it with scrumptious food and excitement for what would follow lunch. Rowan finished her light lunch before getting changed again for her singing and dance lessons with her mother. These lessons were typically amongst the better parts of the day, second really only to playing with twins. Unsurprisingly, a big part of this was because she liked her mother significantly more than Master Idyr and it always led to important bonding between them. There was also the part about having private lessons from the world’s greatest ever bard 一 not that Rowan was biased or anything.
The lessons took place in a room Hæra had had specially prepared for such purposes. A studio of a sort with smooth wood flooring and a wall of mirrors. It was weird for some to see such a large and mostly empty room in a merchant’s home, but they were blind to its benefits. The mirrors let you see yourself as you practiced and the large open space let you dance without needing to worry so much about hitting anything. It also enabled Hæra to take on more students at a time and to also educate people of the proper flow of a dance floor. All that didn’t really matter to Rowan, as she only cared about the freedom that it gave her, an attitude that oft-times drove Hæra to mock despair. In reality, Hæra kind of envied her daughter’s attitude towards dancing.
The main focus of their lessons that day was dancing and it was exhausting. Sweat covered the floor by the end of the first hour. Hæra’s methods may have seemed odd to the dance instructors in Midiiran or Særis, but such techniques would never work with Rowan. She didn’t exactly have the right temperament for formal dance. Instead, Hæra found it best to show Rowan how to move as opposed to the steps of formal routines. It helped that Rowan had a good instinct for how she should string her movements together.
Another hour later and the lesson came to its end. Rowan kind of wished it could continue longer, but she was sweating buckets and Hæra would need to look after Tehri; Rowan was also sure that her mother would be performing at one of the taverns or inns that night. The silver lining of course was that she would have the chance to go out and play for the rest of the day and it was about time for the twins to finish with their lessons at the schoolhouse. Hæra knew exactly what Rowan was thinking as she got ready to leave the studio. She wrinkled her nose, “Hold on, little miss. You don’t intend to go out looking like that, do you?”
Rowan looked back innocently. “Um… No?” she replied hesitantly as reality settled back in.
“I know you’ve been working hard and want to go play, Rowan, but you smell. You don’t want to scare Kyr or Kiriin away do you?”
“No,” Rowan sighed.
“Good! Now go get a bath and change into some fresh clothes.
Rowan stepped outside into the small garden in front of her house. Most would have considered it to be a rather unusual sight to have a garden in the centre of a town of this size, but Næmyris was proud of its greenery and in some cases, reddery. Rowan felt somewhat refreshed by the gentle breeze that whistled softly through the cobbled street. After a second of taking in the fresh air, Rowan slipped out the garden and onto the street, weaving past the large adults and wagons that filled the town’s thoroughfares.
Rowan ran towards the schoolhouse that the twins attended. Unfortunately, the fastest, most direct route to the schoolhouse involved going through the town centre. She hated the town centre. It was too busy and the tall stone buildings always made her feel absolutely tiny. It was bad enough that she was already rather small for her age due to her Ferran blood and she did not like being reminded of the fact.
By the time Rowan had reached the schoolhouse, her mood had been somewhat humbled by the journey and it dropped even more when she realised that the large building was empty for most part. Then she remembered that her bath had taken her past the end of the public school day. That meant that the search for the twins was on. Unfortunately, while there weren’t much in the way of good places to play in the town centre apart from the large central park, the outskirts provided a lot more choice. Without any leads, Rowan would be overwhelmed with choice, so Rowan decided to visit the twins’ home.
The twins’ home was notably smaller than Rowan’s, but she liked it. It had a cosy feeling. Still, she felt a bit impatient when Mrs Dalaan, the twins’ mother, invited her in for tea. Rowan’s mother would have insisted that she used Sera instead of Mrs, but the Ferran title always seemed weird and overly familiar to her, and nobody actually used it, did they? So Rowan said Mrs instead. It was still polite and that’s the part that mattered.
“Um, thank you for tea, Mrs Dalaan, but I only stopped by looking for Kiriin and Kyr,” Rowan said politely.
“Yes, of course! I think they may have said something about going towards the Emyr Quarter,” replied Mrs Dalaan, looking slightly disappointed. “You’re welcome to come to dinner after you finish playing. They’d be absolutely delighted if you did!”
“I will, Mrs Dalaan!” Rowan said quickly, giving Mrs Dalaan an apologetic look as she left towards the Emyr Quarter, the name of which was either due to it being closest to the lake or for the town’s mythical founder back when it was a small collection of fishing huts and farms. However, despite being the oldest district of the town, it was surprisingly open plan and was known to the locals as being the town’s leisure district. As such it had some of the town’s best inns and more importantly to Rowan, the best parks and public gardens.
Thanks to the lead from Mrs Dalaan, Rowan was able to narrow down her search considerably. She ran past a group of chatting adults, barely noticing them; there was no time to waste. Her first location was The Garden of Flames, named so for the red leafed flora that was native to parts of the island. It was Rowan’s favourite garden by far. The other gardens were perfectly okay, but this garden was like an exotic red flower in a sea of mundane green. It was also perfect for hide and seek, despite all of the twins’ complaining that she had an unfair advantage with her hair. Unfortunately, unless the twins were playing hide and seek then and there, Rowan suspected that they weren’t there. After a quick double and triple check, Rowan left for her next location, feeling rather disappointed.
“I shoulda known I wouldnae find them in the first place I looked. Typical!” Rowan exclaimed with an audible sigh. She kicked at the ground as she left the garden. Out of nowhere, a shiver ran down her spine, almost as if she was being watched, but the only people around were adults milling about their usual business. She pushed the uncomfortable feeling aside and ran onwards. The next few locations had similar feelings of futility with the twins remaining notably absent. The only silver lining of the search was that she hadn’t ran into Bragi or his band of goons.
In the last of the parks, Rowan was close to giving up. She sat down forlornly with her head in her hands. “Why do I have to be the one looking for them?” she cried. “Why couldn’t they have come and found me?”
Rowan was too busy crying to notice the snapping of a twig or the sound of choked back guilt that followed. Two arms wrapped round Rowan from behind and a cheek touched against hers. “Guess who!” the small girlish voice of the person hugging Rowan said.
“Kiriin?” Rowan replied hesitantly, lowering her hands to.
“The one and only!” the girl responded with the faintest hint of guilt. “You were taking a while, so I uh… came looking for you.” She quickly let Rowan go after revealing herself and smiled.
Rowan stood up and turned to look at her friend to make sure that she wasn’t seeing things. Long golden brown waves? Check! Hazel Eyes? Check! Cutesy mischievous smile? Check! Satisfied that she wasn’t hallucinating, Rowan leapt at Kiriin. “It really is you!” she cried into Kiriin’s arms, snot dripping everywhere.
“Who else would I be?” Kiriin patted Rowan on the head. She was after all, a few inches taller than Rowan, despite being younger and she refused to let it go to waste. Then she realised the snot. “Ew, ew, ew! You’re getting snot all over me!”
“Sorry,” Rowan sniffled.
“Here! Take my handkerchief.”
Rowan accepted the cotton handkerchief and blew her nose heavily. She apologised again mid blow. “I thought I might have missed you or maybe that you and Kyr didn’t want to play with me today.” Tears were welling in her eyes again as she tried desperately to not start crying again.
“Don’t be silly! We’d want to play even if the world was ending. We’re best friends for life, you know that!” Kiriin beamed at Rowan, hoping to lift her mood even a little.
Rowan smiled slightly.
“Let’s go find Kyr, okay? He’s by the lakeside.” Rowan nodded meekly in response as Kiriin to her hand and led her away. She was still half convinced that Kiriin showing up was just her mind telling her to stop moping around. But her touch was real. Rowan wouldn’t doubt that so she forced herself to smile. By the time they found Kyr, it was genuine.
Kyr was stepping out of the lake when they arrived, his brown hair even darker from wetness. Water glistened off of his chest as he strode towards them, trying to look impressive. It was cute, but somewhat ruined when he sneezed from the cold. The blush that followed only added to the effect and Rowan couldn’t help but laugh. The elder twin stood there looking somewhat dazed with embarrassment as Kiriin walked up and poked him. He yelped in surprise, but it was enough to bring him back into the present.
When they stood next to each other, you could really see the familial resemblance between the twins. True, they were far from identical, that would be a bit difficult with one of them being a boy and the other a girl, but it was kind of uncanny how similar the features were. Kyr’s eyes were the same hazel as Kiriin’s and if you were to ignore their hair, you could almost mistake them for each other due to them being practically identical in terms of height and build. Kyr was only a little bit taller and Kiriin was likely to overtake him before long. But what really made Rowan really laugh was how they both had their dad’s nose which she found to be surprisingly pretty.
After composing himself Kyr looked at Kiriin quizzically. “What took you so long?” he asked. The question caught Rowan off guard and Kiriin’s expression was just as alarming. She looked guilty?
“I can explain…” Kiriin stammered back.
“You were following Rowan the whole time weren’t you?”
In hindsight it was a pretty obvious conclusion, Kiriin’s timing had been too perfect, but it stung nonetheless. Rowan gave her a betrayed look and she looked guiltier by the second.
“I’m really sorry, Rowan! I didn’t know you would get so upset and…” Kiriin looked genuinely upset at the pain she had caused Rowan as tears started to well up in her eyes. “I didn’t think you’d try so many places before here. I just wanted to surprise you…”
Rowan turned her back on Kiriin and started walking towards the lake. Kiriin was crestfallen at the thought of not being forgiven.
All of sudden, Kiriin was soaked from head to toe. Rowan was standing in the lake, half bent over with her arms outstretched to Kiriin. She was still upset that Kiriin had played her stupid tailing game, but her earlier words to Rowan still rang true. They were best friends forever and Rowan refused to stay mad at her. As such, she decided that an ample surprise splashing was an adequate revenge. Whilst Kiriin still wore a mask of shock, Rowan hugged her, getting somewhat wet herself, but it didn’t matter. They were friends.
Everything settled down after that and any hard feelings were washed away with water and laughter. It was then that Kyr noticed the necklace hanging from Rowan’s neck. “Is that new, Rowan?” he asked.
Rowan blushed slightly as she placed her hand to it. “It is, aye. Da got it me from Særis,” she smiled meekly. “Does it suit me?”
Kyr opened his mouth to respond, but Kiriin beat him to the punch. She looked at Rowan with only the slightest hint of a smile and without any hesitation, said, “Definitely. It looks very cute on you.”
The strange, matter of fact tone that Kiriin used caught Rowan completely off guard. “You’re teasing me!” Rowan accused, a rosy blush betraying her embarrassment at the seemingly straight faced complement.
Kyr laughed. “If she hadn’t, I certainly would have. You’re too easy to tease when you leave yourself wide open like that.”
“You too!” Rowan flashed back with a harrumph. “Traitor!”
Despite her protests and embarrassment, Rowan was actually enjoying herself. She felt like she was at a point in the day where her emotions would stop swinging around like a pendulum and that her mood would remain high. She was with friends after all. Best friends. And they were in a perfect place to play. The girls stripped down to their shifts as was often wise when you wanted to play in water and didn’t have a change of clothes or appropriate swimwear. The lack of a towel, however, was an issue they failed to address as they started splashing around the water without a care in the world for the lake’s cold touch.
Evening came all too quickly, and with it, it brought a cold frost and the sound of growling stomach. It had been a busy day for everyone, especially Rowan and she was ravenous. When they realised how cold it was, they quickly threw on their clothes, lamenting their lack of thick, soft, fur-lined garments. They did, however, find themselves warmed by joy. True, there had been a couple of downs, but Rowan couldn’t deny that the day as a whole had been great.
Despite their hunger, they didn’t rush back. The three of them would have said that was because they were having too much fun in each other’s company and didn’t want it to come to an end. That would have only been half true as it wasn’t like they were soon to be deprived of each other’s company any time soon. Rowan had an invitation to dinner after all. It was more that they were all a bit too worn out to hurry.
They were almost back when Rowan felt something in the pit of her stomach, not unlike the one she had when Kiriin had been following her. Realistically, that should have told her something, but she refused to let some feeling ruin her day. That was a mistake.
A small sharp rock hit Rowan just above the brow. She staggered slightly, barely noticing what had hit her.
The assailant soon came into view. An adolescent boy stood there, a full head taller than Kyr, wearing a sinister grin and surrounded by his three cronies. He also had messy black hair cast the rest of his face in shadow.
“Strike!” the boy snarled at Rowan.
Rowan looked at him blankly, still not quite processing what had happened.
“Hah! It seems that stupid half-breed is too much of an idiot to realise she’s been hit.”
The boy’s cronies jeered at Rowan as his words began to sink in. The words hit hard, harder than the rock perhaps and they cut just as deep. He kept throwing insult after insult and Rowan ran away from each one as they hounded her every step into the depths of her mind. The twins came to her defence almost immediately, Kiriin checking to see if she was okay. Rowan didn’t notice. She was too deep into her own mind at that point and the boy had followed her in.
“Please, stop. Go away”. Rowan’s voice was small, barely audible and she wasn’t even aware that she was speaking.
“Hah! The runt wants us to stop? Who do you think you are, Rat!” The boy’s voice was filled with venom and fuelled with malicious intent. His foul hatred was genuine and the twins couldn’t bear to see it.
Kyr clenched his fist and stepped forwards. He looked like he would start a fight if he needed to, not that he would stand a chance. He was outnumbered and all four of them were older, bigger and stronger than he was, even the Ferran who were known to be smaller than humans. In spite of that, he spoke up. “Back off, Bragi!” he growled, trying to sound intimidating.
Bragi laughed and swaggered towards Kyr. He loomed over him. “And what are you going to do if I don’t? Buzz off! This doesn’t concern you.” He shoved Kyr aside. Kiriin was trying her hardest to shake Rowan out her stupor so that they could get away. They were running out of time as Bragi advanced. Kyr’s attempts to slow him down had failed. Only when Rowan was in his shadow did she start to come back to reality. Bragi was getting ready to grab her when Kyr charged him from the side.
Rowan stumbled towards him and meekly grabbed his sleeve, “Kyr, stop!” she said feeling incredibly faint, her words barely audible. “It isn’t worth it,” she coughed. ‘When did speaking become such a burden?’ she wondered, barely noticing the blood streaming heavily from her left brow as her vision began to blur.
“Hah!” Bragi exclaimed. “Even the little shit knows that she’s worthless.”
Kyr turned red with fury., his fists clenched to the point of being bone white. He barely heard the thump behind him and he certainly hadn’t noticed that Rowan was no longer holding onto his sleeve. Kiriin cried out with all her might to get through to him.
Rowan collapsed, her vision blurred and it sounded like her ears were filled with water. The ground beneath her was wet with her own blood and the chill of early spring was biting with the remnant fangs of high winter as it clung to her still wet body and clothes. With the cold and blood loss, she was barely gripping onto consciousness.
The last thing that Rowan even noticed before slipping out of consciousness was the thudding of running feet and a voice crying out for help or something. She tried to hold on, only for the exertion to send her even quicker into oblivion.