No one got any sleep that night. Vaas sat forlornly at the table, the pistol given to him laid on the edge. Every time she checked up on him he never seemed to look away from the gun. She tried talking to him but he would just ignore her, so for the rest of the night they waited in silence.
When dawn broke, Citra was awakened by Vaas. She didn't remember falling asleep but sometime through the night she must have dosed off from exhaustion.
"I think they're back," Were the first words he spoke to her after a long night of not speaking. She was happy he was talking to her again yet something felt off, as if the reality they shared had shifted and they were misaligned.
Outside was misty with a hint of fresh rainwater clinging to the air, making her skin feel clammy. They followed fellow passerby's heading toward the main entrance of their village. An ominous feeling lurked behind her mind and at that moment she wanted more than anything to just turn the other way and walk away. Take Vaas with her and never look back.
Vaas pushed on though, pulled by some invisible string that was drawing every villager in. Citra would cut it if she could; tie it around her wrist and lead him away.
They gathered around the entrance and watched as countless bodies were brought in and laid on the ground for loved ones to mourn their passing. Citra was no stranger to death, nor at the sight of dead bodies. It was the atmosphere the people around her created that was new to her. Never before has she been surrounded by a persistent feeling of great sadness that threatened to swallow her whole.
Vaas left her side when Tane came before them, bloodied and covered in dirt but alive. No words passed between the two; the look in their uncle's eyes said enough. Breathing felt suddenly difficult to do. She could only watch Vaas run to the dead, searching for the impossible.
Somehow, Citra followed him slowly as if she were in a dream.
Vaas stopped his search. Citra felt her heart plummet.
Her strong brother - the one who held her when she was at her lowest - her rock, her sword and her shield, kneeled over their father's cold body, took his hand and bowed his head.
Citra wanted to go over to him, hold him and wipe away his tears. She wanted to make her father's heart beat again or burn his body until there is nothing left but ashes. Make him disappear. Like he never existed.
She should be crying. Why wasn't she crying? Where is the sadness, the pain? Why does she feel so numb?
It took her body a few seconds to sense that a hand was resting on her shoulder. Slowly, she looked to see Tane beside her, his face expressionless. Stoic as always.
She stared at her brother and the body. Just a body, just a dead body.
Citra exhaled and cleared her mind. "Are there many injured?" She asked, her tone flat and monotonous. She felt Tane's grip on her shoulder tighten.
"Yes, many more. The serious ones are with Monatula."
"I must go to her then. She needs my help." A plan, a goal. Something to do instead of standing around being useless.
"Citra," Tane gripped her arm, preventing her from leaving. He looked into her eyes, those penetrating eyes that can see right through you. But not her, not anymore. There are iron masks clamping over and over her face with final-sounding bangs, never to open again. "It's ok to cry." He said, "Crying is not a weakness. It is accepting your pain, and letting it go."
"Will you cry for me when I die?"
Tane blinked, caught off guard. He recovered quickly though, and the cold aloofness in his eyes melted away replaced with something soft and vulnerable.
Citra didn't know what she expected to gain from that answer. Maybe validation that someone cared in a world that doesn't care. Or maybe nothing at all.
Nothing but this emptiness and Vaas' tears.
Would you cry for me if I died?
Would you care at all?
Citra slipped out of his hold and walked away.
Outside the hut was suffocating sadness. Inside the hut was chaos.
Citra froze at the entrance, taking in the sight of bloodied, coughing warriors. The stench hit her second, overwhelming metallic and putrid, the aroma of incense doing little to combat the stink.
"Citra, come here. Help me with him." Monatula called her over when she spotted the girl. Together, they helped a man sit up. "Get the bucket." Monatula ordered. Citra got it right in time for the man to throw up into it. Citra wanted to gag but she held it back, mustering her strength to focus through the nausea.
Three people rushed in carrying a new patient.
"He's hurt! He's hurt really bad Mona!" Kalai's voice drew Citra's attention towards the newcomers. The three young warriors laid non too gently an unconsciousness Niko. They all looked exhausted, covered head to toe in dried blood and grim as if they came back from a war-zone. The elder priestess and her apprentice left to handle the more severe patient.
He was bleeding quite profusely. It appears Kalai and the young warrios managed to stop the flow by pressing leaves over the wounds and covering it with dried mud to make it stick but that won't last. It seemed they came at the right time. Their makeshift bandages were beginning to wear off.
Monatula shot orders rapidly at Citra, telling her to hold this, get this, press this... Somehow through it all, Citra remained calmed and worked efficiently, shoving the lingering images of her brother crying over that dead body to the back of her mind and dispelling it away.
Niko was shot two times in the chest. Citra never had to treat bullet wounds before. It was an uncommon injury. Back then, it was more probable to get attacked by a tiger than to get shot.
They removed the first bullet and patched him up, Monatula dropping the metal ball in a bowl. She went for the other one and that was when Niko decided to wake up. He shot up, or tried to, and flailed around squealing like boar being eaten alive. "Hold him down!" Monatula's voice rang through the commotion, forcing Citra to jump into action. Already his violent movements opened up the patched wound, making it bleed again. "He's delirious from the fever," The old lady said out loud. "We need him to sleep!"
Citra nodded her head and looked at Kalai and the others and shouted at them to come over and keep him still. She then rushed over to the cabinets, shuffling through bottles and bowls, grabbing all the ingredients she needed and grinding them into a thin dust with the palms of her hands. "Get back," She warned the others before blowing glittery powder in Niko's face.
The affects were instantaneous. Niko breathed it in and stopped his struggling, his eyes rolling to the back of his head. Once they made sure the boy was placated, Monatula got to work on taking out the second bullet. With the imminent danger now adverted, everyone took a minute to rest and collect themselves. Citra rubbed her face and felt something wet. Confused, she pulled her hand back to see it was drenched in blood. The bright red color made her eyes hurt and her head dizzy.
Squeezing her eyes shut, she got up and exited the hut. She never realized how hot it was inside that the cool air caught her by surprise. She didn't mind. It felt refreshing. She breathed it in deeply, held it, and exhaled, repeating the motion over and over until the jittery feeling went away and her breath no longer shook.
She turned around when she heard somebody else exit the hut. Kalai stopped beside her. She said nothing, so Citra remained quiet, letting the sounds of the jungle talk for them.
For some unknown reason, Citra glanced down at the dress she was wearing. It was splattered with dried blood, and she was pretty sure that it wasn't going to come out no matter how many times she washed it. "I'm sorry" She said, breaking the silence. "I think I ruined your dress."
Kalai took one glance at the dress and laughed tiredly. "It's ok. It's just a dress... It was yours anyways."
This time, Citra was the one to laugh. It wasn't funny at all but laugh she did. She thought of the party at Sunset Cove. It felt like ages ago but in reality it was just a couple hours ago. Not even a full day has passed and everything has changed so much.
"Citra.." Kalai began slowly, cautiously. "Your Father... he's-"
"I know." Citra flexed her bloody hand, watching it soak into every crevice and line in her palm.
"I'm so sorry-"
"It's ok." She snapped, already tired of this conversation. She didn't want to hear it. It was over and done with, so let it stay that way. Before Kalai can say anything else, Citra turned on her heels and strode back into the hut to get back to work.
For the rest of the day Citra busied herself with taking care of the injured, fetching ingredients to make more medicine, and praying with Monatula to give their ailing warriors strength again. More came, and it got so full inside the hut that they had to make makeshift beds outside. Come nightfall, they placed large bowls of fire around the area to ward of curious animals. She wanted to stay longer, would've stayed over night if she could, but Monatula ordered her to go away and get some rest.
She walked home dejectedly, pausing to stare at the pile of bodies and at the loved ones who remained by their side. She wondered if her father's body was still there. She wanted to go see but she forced herself to keep walking. No use, no point. They are just empty bodies now.
No one was home. Tane was probably busy somewhere and Vaas... Vaas was where ever he wanted to be.
Not with me
She's never fallen asleep so quickly before.
Anaru's funeral was held the next day at dusk. Vaas, Tane and some of Anaru's closest friends carried his body on a woven bamboo mat up a tall hill. Citra trailed behind them, keeping her eyes fixated on the ground. At the peak of the hill, they placed his body on a pile of rocks before an ancient altar. A Heron relic rested on the altar, surrounded by lit candles and bountiful flowers and food.
Many people accompanied them to the funeral. Anaru was an important man in their tribe, and they have not forgotten the hero he was during the great war. It was a loss they all felt.
Monatula kneeled before the altar and raised her hands. "Our son Anaru, son of Rakyat and servant of the land and sea has left us to journey beyond the sun. Heron, god of wind and wisdom, guide our brother safely on his travels. Let him find his peace and may his children find their own. Heron, watcher of Rakyat, spread your wings and take our brother. Let him fly with you and forever will he watch over us."
Tane lit a torch and handed it to Vaas. Her brother stared into the flames, its reflection dancing across his eyes. Steeling his face, Vaas dipped the torch and set fire to their father's body, releasing his soul. A low chanting began as they honored the passing of a great warrior.
Citra closed her eyes and imagined a great heron swooping from the sky and taking her father far, far away...
When they came down from the hill top, a lady was waiting for them. She received many stares and side-way glances from the tribe, some individuals even out right glaring at her in open distrust but she endured and ignored it all. It was to be expected. She was an outsider, a true foreigner. Citra recalled seeing her around from time to time for the past few months. She held no opinion of the strange lady. The lady respected the privacy of the tribe and left them alone and that was that.
Tane frowned and left their side, heading to the lady.
"You shouldn't be here. It is not a good time." He whispered harshly.
"I know. I know." The lady said a tad guiltily but that faded when she spotted her and Vaas. The lady moved around Tane and approached the siblings. "My condolences to you both." She said softly in that odd accent of hers. "Your Father was a great man and a great friend. May he rest in peace."
Citra waited for Vaas to say something but when it was evident he wasn't going to Citra stepped in. "Thank you.."
"Alexandria," The lady answered without missing a beat. Alexandria glanced at the peeved group of natives and smiled curtly. "Well, I believe I've worn out my welcome. If you will excuse me." She smiled politely and left to her car parked up the road. Tane followed her and they had a quiet discussion before the car turned on and drove out of sight.
It was a weird event, but it wouldn't be the last.
Back at the village, they held a great feast in honor of all those who passed on. Unexpectedly, tribals from the temple arrived, bringing gifts and offerings, and of course an over abundance of food. At first, the villagers of her tribe were wary of the newcomers, but when Tane clapped the back of one of the temple's elders it seemed to break the tension. The people as one laughed and feasted, their spirits high, even if for only the night.
"This is what makes us strong." Tane said, "When we come together as Rakyat."
He meant well, but Citra was no fool. Because no matter how hard Tane tries to hide it, there was a certain wariness behind his eyes. He did not trust them.
Citra didn't know what to make of it. A new unknown enemy who brought fire to their island and now the tribals from the temple are reconnecting with their estranged brothers.
Things were changing and she couldn't help but feel something big was coming. Something that's going to burn this island to ashes. Nothing will ever be the same again.
Citra was scared of the future but she knew with her brother at her side they can make it through anything.
If only he would just start talking to her again...
"Thank you.." Citra had to force the words out as she received yet another gift. Villagers have been coming around the house and offering food or flowers as a way to say sorry for their loss. It wasn't that she was ungrateful... but she wanted them to stop. She wanted to be left alone. Her brother was all the company she needed.
Speaking of her brother, he has been holed up in his room for the entire day. He hasn't come out to eat or drink. She knocks on his door and leave food on the ground but when she comes around later the plate would be left untouched.
Vaas hasn't spoken to her for two days and it was killing her.
Everything was fine and perfect but Vaas had to go and throw her life out of balance. She had things under control, she is moving on but Vaas won't. He's driving a clinch in her calm controlled little world and making her think something is actually wrong.
Their father died. Over and done with. Talk to her already.
Was it something she's done? Why is he pushing her out? He let Kalai in his room when she came to visit them. What makes her so special? Does he not want Citra anymore?
Don't think that way-
It's not Vaas. Her brother wouldn't do this to her. He's an impostor. Something strange and vile that's wearing her brother's skin and pretending to be him.
Cut him out- make him bleed
Lies, lies they're all lies. Vaas wouldn't do anything so cruel to her.
She placed a bowl of oranges on the table, careful to control her anger and not slam it down. She stared at the bright colored fruits and felt the urge to cut them slowly. Cut anything as long as she was cutting something.
For a second, she thought she was hallucinating when Vaas entered the kitchen. He looked bad, deep circles under his puffy bloodshot eyes and an ugly scowl etched in on his lips. He stood in place and looked around the room. His mood worsened at the sight of the gifts.
"They think they care." He rasped harshly, picking up a wooden relic and examining it. His face darkened, "They don't care." He twisted around and threw the relic, the force of his throw shattering the wooden sculpture. "None of them do!" He picked up bowl of and threw it across the room. "All.. All these fucking gifts.. all these fucking people... What do they know? What do they know!" He kicked a chair, sending it skidding away and tipping over with a loud clatter.
Citra stood quietly throughout it all. He threw other stuff and yelled and screamed and destroyed anything he could get his hands on. With one final throw he banged his fists on the wall and rested his forehead against it, his body shaking with each breath he took. Citra took in the destruction he has caused. Vaas was the chaos in a storm and everything around him was collateral damage, including her. And the thing is, she wouldn't mind.
Vaas turned around and slid to the floor, his anger dissipating, leaving a tired husk of a boy. Uncertain, Citra approached him slowly. When he didn't show any negative reaction to her closeness, she gathered her confidence and sat down next to him, curling her body against his. She didn't know what to say, didn't know what to do so she did nothing at all.
They sat in silence surrounded by the destruction Vaas made. It felt like everywhere was chaos except for where they sat. Together, they were in paradise and nothing could touch them.
She blinked out of her daze when she felt Vaas grip her hand tighter.
"I could've done something." He choked out, squeezing her hand almost painfully so. She didn't mind; he was talking to her again and she would endure anything to keep it this way. The muscles on his arms tensed, the veins on his wrists popping up from the force. He clenched his jaw making the muscles on his cheek twitch. "If I had just-" He hissed, hiding his face in shame.
Citra felt her heart clench at the sight. She hated that he was in such pain. She would do anything to take it all away and make him feel better.
He flinched when she cupped his cheek to make him look at her. Vaas was always so strong, never showing weakness to anybody but Citra knew better. He was broken and the only person he could truly be vulnerable around was his sister. Citra felt honored that she was his confident. That she was the only person he can let all his anger and tears fall. That was something not even Kalai had the privilege to see.
He doesn't need her. He needs me.
Vaas' eyes glistened with tears, the green in them shining like sapphires. He is beautiful when he cries.
Your pain makes you perfect.
"I could have saved him." He said hoarsely with wide and open, vulnerable eyes. "If I had just... If I was there I.. I could've done something. I could have- I could have-"
"Saved him?" Citra inquired.
He bowed his head like a man guilty of something. "I keep thinking if I'd been there things would have turned out differently. You know? Maybe Dad would still be alive..." He chuckled dryly, "And.. and you know what the fucked up thing is? I used to wish he was dead. I wished he was dead and Mom was still alive. And now he is dead." He slammed a fist against the wall, his entire body shaking. "I wish I had gone... I should have gone."
Citra tempered her anger at Vaas' foolish words. "If you had gone, you would have died."
Vaas looked at her like her words burned his skin. "How would you know that, hm? How could you know that?" He got up and stalked away from her putting space between them. Citra stood up as well. "And- and so what if I did die? At least I would have done something instead of staying here with you like- like a coward!"
Citra twitched, her entire body tingling.
stay here- with you- coward
She rubbed the side of her head hard enough to leave it aching. "You're not a coward." She said, her voice wavering as she tried to keep it steady. Images of stabbing Vaas in the neck flashing through her mind.
"Yes I am!" He cried, his voice cracking. "I could've done something but I didn't because I didn't want to leave you."
Citra snapped her eyes on him, zoning in on what he said. Vaas seemed to realize what he said too a second after.
"Are you saying this is all my fault?" She said lowly. Dangerously.
"No, it's not Citra. That's not what I meant." Vaas sounded so calm now, so in control. He looked so worried too. He tried to go to her but she backed away from him.
Something was tightening in her chest and she could feel the rage oozing out and through her bloodstream, lighting everything on fire.
He hates her. He hates her. He HATES HER.
She squeezed her eyes shut and dragged her fingers through her hair, her nails digging into her skull. "You hate me. You hate me, why do you hate me?" She expected him to hold her and tell her he loves her and everything was going to be fine like he always does but he didn't. This time he stood his ground.
"Why do you always do that?" He asked, more to himself than to her.
"Do what?" She snapped, glaring at him as if he were the foulest thing to ever grace her sight.
"Do that! This, this thing- I don't know!" He ran his fingers through his hair frustrated. "Every time I say something wrong or do something you don't like you blow up!"
She scoffed at the ridiculous things he was saying. "I don't blow up."
"Yes, you do Citra! You always do this. You think I hate you but I don't! How many times do I have to say it for you to understand I don't hate you. I never have and I never will."
She felt her eyes burn with tears but she forced it down. She hugged herself and looked away. "You don't love me."
Vaas let out a rush of air and paced around the room. "Stop saying things like that! I love you! You're my sister."
Is that all I am to you? What if I wasn't. Would you still care?
Citra shook her head, unconsciously scratching the side of her face. "It's him isn't it? He called you a coward."
How dare he. Kill him. Kill him.
"He's taking you away from me."
"Stop it." Vaas warned.
Her heart was breaking. It was collapsing under her chest and no matter how hard she will try to claw her way in it'll be gone.
"He's taking you away from me. He's making you hate me."
"He's doing this-!" Citra gasped when Vaas slammed her against the wall, trapping her in between his arms.
"Stop it! Stop! Stop it!" He screamed, his body shaking with anger and glistening with sweat. A sob escaped his lips and he rested his head on her shoulder. "It's my fault." He whispered hoarsely, "It's all my fault."
Citra could feel the wetness of his tears on her skin. Feel him tremor against her.
Weak and vulnerable again. Hold him closer.
She tried to wrap her arms around him but he stepped away from her. He looked like a complete mess. Before she could do or say anything, Vaas stormed out of the house, the door bouncing on its hinges. She called after him but he didn't come back.
Citra didn't know what to do with herself. She felt excited, ready to explode or exhausted, ready to collapse and cry her eyes out. Either way, she must do something or she will implode.
She watched herself storm to the kitchen and grab a knife.
She placed a hand on the table and raised the blade over her head.
Citra swung it down, fully intent on piercing it through her hand.
She cried out, the tip of the knife inches away from her skin. Her hand shook violently and she threw the knife away, horrified at what she was about to do. Shaking, she slid down onto the floor and began hyperventilating.
What was she doing? What's wrong with her?
She hid her face behind her hands and sobbed into them. A second later all the bad feelings disappeared. Someone reached inside her chest and plucked them out, leaving her numb and empty.
This shouldn't be happening.
Vaas should be with her. He should be happy and loved. He shouldn't be this stranger who is against her.
And whose fault is it that he's like this?
Citra knew what she had to do to make things better.
Niko was heavier than he looks. She wasn't even carrying him, but dragging him by the ankles proved a challenge too. She was lucky Monatula stationed him outside the hut or else it would have been impossible to sneak his body away.
He got caught on something and she pulled hard and promptly slipped on her rump. Gritting her teeth, she got up and continued. She was also lucky that the boy had a terrible fever and was currently unable to think any coherent thoughts.
Using all her strength, she dragged him up a hill covered in a thick canopy of trees and bushes, the moonlight providing a small amount of visibility. When she got where she wanted to be she dropped his ankles unceremoniously and crouched over him. She slapped him gently to gain his focus.
"Nnngh.. Cit..ra..?" He mumbled, his head lolling side to side.
"I'm sorry brother," She began, "But you are making Vaas feel bad. You are turning him.. against me." She cut him, deep enough to bleed but not to kill. "I have to make things right and the only way to do that... is to get rid of you completely."
Out of sight, out of mind.
Like he never existed.
A part of her felt bad at what she was doing. But in the end, this is for Vaas and anything done for her brother must be right.
She crawled away on all fours and began praying to the spirits of the jungle to listen to her call. "Take him and bring what is mine back to me!"
Her head snapped up when she heard rustling coming from the bushes ahead of them. Slowly, she got to her feet when she heard a familiar chilling hissing coming from the bushes. From the shrubbery emerged a komodo dragon, followed by another one and another. Beastly creatures; they can smell easy food quickly.
Citra knew what had to be done. Didn't mean she wanted to stick around and watch. Once one of the beasts clamped its reeking jaws on the boy, Citra turned around and walked away.
She ignored the sounds of muffled screaming and flesh being torn apart.
Like he never existed.
It is done.
She threw up when she got back home. Exhausted, she collapsed on her bed, promising to clean up the mess in the kitchen tomorrow. Sometime through the night, she awoke covered in sweat, Niko's screams fading from memory as well as the images of fire balls falling from the sky.
It took her a while to process what had woken her up; the front door being slammed open and shut. Quietly she listened to someone's thunderous footsteps stomp around the house, eventually coming closer to her room.
She sat up in alarm when someone entered her room, but relaxed when she could make out the shape of Vaas in the darkness.
"Citra," He mumbled and staggered towards her. She became worried again. What was wrong with him? Was he hurt? She let out a little oomph when he fell onto her, effectively crushing her underneath him. Struggling to breath, she hit his back and thankfully he shifted aside just enough to allow her to swallow in air. She scrunched her face up at the terrible smell emanating of off him. He stank of alcohol.
Vaas grumbled something unintelligible and brushed his lips against her neck.
"I'm sorry," He slurred, planting soft yet sloppy kisses on her skin. "I'm sorry... I tried to.. mmmI tried to fuck her but... but I kept, I kept seeing you."
Citra frowned. She had no idea what he was talking about. "Who?"
"The... girl.. town." He dug his face into her neck and she held him, stroking the back of his head. "Bu-..but I couldn't... hurt.. you." Her neck became wet with his tears. "I'm sorry... is not your fault... my fault. I love you.. I love you..." He wrapped his arms around her middle and rested his head atop her chest, dozing off.
Citra processed the new information and smiled softly. She stroked his head lovingly like you would a giant beast. "It's ok. I know you do. Only me, right?"
She thought him asleep but he clumsily nodded his head. "Only you..."
"You don't need anyone else." She continued. "No one will ever love you like I do. No one compares to you. You are a warrior and you will have your revenge. You are perfection." She paused and stared at the dark ceiling. "I killed someone." She confessed quietly, satisfied to note that saying it out loud doesn't shock her or make her sick anymore. She waited for his response only to realize he was fast asleep.
She decided to do the same.
Tomorrow was a new day and this was only just the beginning.