Anara remembers her mother in quick flashes of warm touches and brief smiles, her dark hair and dirty, brown hands marked by veins visible like a reverse canyon, eyes dark-brown like bark, voice solid, steady, calming.
She remembers her father's slim shoulders, hands white and bony as he carried her, legs always restless, ground under her always moving. She remembers his hair on fire in the sun, warm fire, smelling faintly of dust, moss and safety. She remembers the warm greenness of his eyes as he sang.
She remembers their faces like through a waterfall, mouths whispering never stop smiling, honey, be kind, be brave, be hopeful. She remembers darkness and dreams of them telling her to one day show them why should she be feared, not afraid.
The Circle of Cumberland is full of mirrors, and she sometimes catches a glimpse of her green eyes and wonders why they cut her hair but left these in place, the only heirloom they let her keep.
The templars stand in their shining armors like silver statues, quiet, careful, vigilant, nodding politely to people in embroidered dresses like trained guarding dogs. She has to wear a dress now, too. It s purple and soft and nothing ever bites her. Nothing ever crawls into her bed while she sleeps now, either, and she doesn't let herself be grateful for that. Her covers smell like lavender instead of grass and earth. It doesn't feel right.
She allows herself to enjoy the milky taste of oatmeal with almonds which they force her to eat the next day. The woman who gave it to her gazes at her without interest until she's finished. She has a sun tattoo on her temple and Anara almost dares to ask her about it.
She has to share her chamber with five other children. The girl in a bed next to hers is older than her, or maybe just better fed. She has freckles and her hair is similar to her father's.
Willow is eight years old and doesn't miss home. She instead misses her cat, whose eyes were just like Anara's, but never that wet. Willow doubts that cats can cry, they never did when her daddy was kicking them away, not even when it rained. She wonders whether Anara will ever stop shaking, so she crawls into her bed and strokes her head. Her hair is soft and short like her kitten's fur and soon she's snoring lightly. Purring, she corrects herself.
Three days after her arrival they take her blood. It hurts, but she only smiles a little, focusing on the dagger touching her finger instead. It's got three rubies melted into the handle and she wonders if it's supposed to match droplets of red liquid they're now gathering into the phylactery. She also wonders if the color of the blade is supposed to match the tiny silver scar it left her with, contrasting slightly with her brown skin. Willow kisses it later with chastity.
Willow's fourteen years old breasts are white and small, with tiny pink nipples much more sensitive than her own. Her straight hair reaches her waist now, entwined with Anara's curls like rivers of copper and coal on white bed sheet. Anara counts the freckles on her shoulders like she used to count the stars. She silently wishes for the night to last forever, the night full of muffled moans and giggles, whimpers and whispered promises sealed with kisses.
They tell her it s time for her Harrowing without notice, but it wasn't unexpected. The demons are worse than in her dreams, greedy, beautiful, tempting, wheezing promises of happy-ever-afters, summoning redheads with too happy smiles and too perky breasts, and it still takes her a worrying amount of time to defeat them, strike them all with lightning like a storm that cares not what it destroys as long as what it wanted is among casualties.
She wakes up two days later and Willow greets her with relief, kiss on the cheek, kiss on the nose, kiss on the scarred finger, and the First Enchanter turns his gaze away when she kisses her back right on the lips.
She understands what Willow must have felt just a week later, when it's time for her Harrowing. No matter how long they've been preparing themselves for this moment, nothing could ease the feeling of a cold blade slowly twisting inside her belly when she woke up without her by her side.
She only had to wait a few hours to see her again, though.
With the sun tattoo on her temple, gaze indifferent and empty.