Namaari opened her eyes, and the first thing she saw was the sky – a perfect, shimmering blue. But she was unable to see the rest of it, could only see through the gap of the thing that was blocking her view. As her eyes adjusted she finally registered the structure that towered over and around her, the gnarly roots creeping across its walls. The place looked and felt familiar, tugging a certain memory, but before she could surface it on her mind something heavy landed on top of her. Felt hot breath against her neck.
“I thought you’d never open your eyes again.”
“Why are you crying?” She asked, confused, reaching out and brushing her fingers against the Princess’s cheeks. Raya let out a strangled sob. Leaned into her touch.
Namaari found herself drinking in the sight of her – those brown eyes, her freckles, her hair – since when had it been this short? Her mind felt fuzzy. Her bones ached like she had just run a marathon. And there was something else.
Namaari placed a hand on her chest.
Something leapt and rattled in there. Something alive.
“It’s Sisu,” Raya said, eyes shining with fresh tears. She never saw Raya cry that much before, it hurt just to look at her. And so Namaari closed her eyes and fought against the burning in her throat, against the threat of her own tears.
Sisu had made the exchange.
The ache that came with the realization was nothing she ever felt before. For the first time, Namaari finally understood what people meant when they said they suffered from a broken heart.
It felt like drowning in air, and it would be many years before she thought she could breathe again.
Namaari held the ring in her hand, felt its roughness against her palm. She had been carrying the thing for months, and although she knew it weighed almost next to nothing, her irrational mind was convinced it was becoming heavier the more she tried to hide it. Just the previous day, she thought she was going to pass out from panic when Raya, out of nowhere, started spring cleaning and everything they owned was turned upside down. Under different circumstances, she would have stepped back and simply enjoyed the show – knowing that Raya was bound to make a further mess of things – but that time, boy, was she so glad that her girlfriend was such a slob. Pure of heart, but still – a major slob.
And it wasn’t exactly she had been deliberately dithering about proposing, waiting for the perfect moment. Sure, it was an absolutely terrifying thing to do – just thinking about it made her feel light-headed and her palms sweat. And even if Raya said no – Gods forbid she doesn’t, but even if she did – Namaari didn’t think it was possible that she could love her less.
But the thing was, she was terrified that if Raya did say yes, they would end up resenting each other for trapping themselves in a kind of life that neither wanted, especially since Raya had been hinting more and more lately that she might not want to ascend, preferring to explore the world with her, whereas she had become more grounded, working on plans that would get her closer to the kind of future she envisioned for her nation. There was no doubt in her mind that when the time comes, she will succeed her mother. And although that had been the common subject of their disagreements of late, not once did she think Raya was being selfish for wanting to forge her own path. She had worn the cape for too long, lost an entire childhood because of it. More than anyone, Raya deserved a chance to do something for herself this time.
“You’re seeing this all wrong,” her mother had said to her earlier that day when Namaari dropped by for their weekly huddle. Ever since she and Raya started living together (after they got tired of sneaking around), Namaari had resorted to performing most of her royal duties off-site, coming only to Fang once a week to check up on her mother and submit her reports. Namaari realized she liked the freedom, and also because she found that she could hardly function without microdosing on her favorite drug (Raya) every chance she got. “Being married to someone doesn’t mean you have to cut yourselves in half in order to accommodate one another. Although, personally, I think you’re too young to get married, my little morning mist.”
“I’m turning thirty, Mother,” Namaari reminded her. “You had me when you were only twenty-three.”
Queen Virana merely tutted. “Those were different times, my dear.”
“So what am I supposed to tell her? That she’s not my other half? I don’t think that’s going to be a good opener.”
“Oh, I just remembered you’re not so good with words when you’re nervous. Have you tried writing her a letter?”
Namaari almost choked on her drink. How about a hundred?
“I’m just saying, you’re already whole even before you met Raya. Marriage proposals are just simple declarations of love, of promise, of trust. It’s not a cage, Namaari. You’ll just promise that you will be faithful and devoted to her. Whatever she wanted to do with her life is really up to her.”
“Even if it meant she won’t be beside me?”
“Especially when she’s not beside you,” Queen Virana gave her a smile. “Your main job, really, would be to cheer for her from the sidelines.”
Later that night, after Raya had gone to sleep, Raya picked up her pen.
What do you know, she thought. One hundred and one.
Namaari began writing.
My dearest Raya,
Do you remember my first letter, when I told you about my heart, and I asked you whether you wanted to hang out? Never in a million years did I think that I would end up seeing your beautiful face every time I open my eyes in the morning, and again at night before I go to sleep. It’s such a wonderful gift, you loving me back and wanting to be with me, that I’m so thankful my mother made that gamble, and I had lived more than the five days I was meant to.
I still think about Sisu every day, and I know you miss her too. I see it in your eyes, the way they cloud over sometimes. It pains me to know that I’m the cause of it, that you lost her because of me. I do wish things had turned out differently, that she’s still here with us. Someday, I hope I’ll be enough to fill that hole. Until then, I’m going to consider myself the most fortunate person in the world for every single day that you’re choosing to wake up beside me.
We have come a long way, haven’t we? These thirteen years that we’ve been together, I watched you grow up to be the kind of woman you’ve always wanted to be. We may find ourselves in different paths in the future, but whatever fate has in store for us, always remember you will always have my heart, and you will always be my home.
I guess what I’m trying to say is, would you like to hang out with me for the rest of our lives?
Pranee saw the field before her curve inward, as though something from the other side had grabbed onto its center, pulling it taut, distorting the images around her – the sand, the rocks, even the sky itself, until they were a single flat line. And then that single distorted image, as though reaching its maximum stretch, suddenly snapped forward, swelling and rippling like the air was water, and everything was returned to how they were just moments ago.
Except she couldn’t see Namaari anymore.
And the spot where Sisu had stood earlier became nothing but just another patch of sand. Pranee couldn’t even see her footsteps – all evidence of her ever existing gone except the one in her mind.
She failed. All the magic in the world, and she could not save her sister.
The jewels made Pranee’s skin itch and scratch. She considered it a bad sign, that maybe the whole thing was a bad idea. Or perhaps it was the anxiety or agitation that was making her feel prickly, or all the dragons that were gathered outside, waiting for the ceremony to start. It was the most important occasion for their species, the Ceremony of Transfer – but a formality at that point, really, just a chance to put up a show for assurances sake. Pengu had already ceded the Seat.
Pranee did not think she would end up being the Rainbringer. She thought the hatred in her heart was something that she would carry for the rest of her life. And she cultivated that feeling, hiding from her family, from the Princesses who tried to seek her after, waiting, just waiting to be fully consumed by it until there was nothing else to do but perish.
And then one day, Amba visited her.
Her baby dragon sister, curling up beside her to share her grief. It was only then did Pranee realize she wasn’t the only one who was hurting. That wrestling with the loss, the pain, was something she didn’t have to do alone anymore. And when she finally felt ready, she sought Pengu. She may not have succeeded in protecting Sisu, but she could never forgive herself if she failed Kumandra too.
The last thing Pranee expected that day was a visit from Jagan.
“I have something for you,” he had said, unable to directly look at her. Over the years she and her brother had avoided each other, a silent agreement between the two of them, neither ready to address the events of that night. Forgiveness within family was a fickle thing for her, she realized. There were moments when she thought she missed her brother, and moments when she absolutely loathed the sight of him. But on ceremony day, in choosing to attend, Pranee thought perhaps it was finally time to make amends.
“I finished it,” he went on, laying a thick book at her feet. Its spine was made of pure gold, telling her there was great effort in putting it together. “It’s Tiamat’s and Apsu’s story. I thought this might interest you.”
“Thank you,” Pranee replied. She didn’t smile, it felt inappropriate at the time. But she bowed her head to express her appreciation.
“There is something else.” This time Jagan sought her eyes. There was sadness in them, but also a hint of fire, a sense of urgency. “I found her. I found the child.”
The little girl takes Pranee’s hand. “Where are we going, auntie?”
She smiles down at her. “We’re going to meet some of my old friends. Raya and Namaari. They can’t wait to see you.”
“That thing that you called me, just now. You called me little one. I’m not little, I’m six.”
Pranee shakes her head. “Sorry, I didn’t even notice I said that.”
The girl thinks for a second, and then smiles back at her. “It’s okay. You can call me that if you want. It makes you look not so sad.”
It begins to rain. Pranee is still getting the hang of it. She gives the tiny hand enclosed in hers a gentle squeeze. “Do you want to hear another dragon story while we walk? It’s my personal favorite.”
“What’s it called auntie?”
“It’s the story of the great Sisudatu.”
“Where do you want to go?”
When Raya opened her eyes, she found herself back at Heart’s temple, the site of the first dragon gem. And there, lying at the center of it, was Namaari. She saw the gentle rise and fall of her chest.
Her own gem.
Raya had almost laughed. Of course, Sisu thought it fitting to bring them back to the first place where Namaari had betrayed her those many years ago. She almost expected her friend to materialize beside her to tease her for it, imagined her saying, “Oh you know, just to remind you how far you guys have come – the whole angst of it.”
But it’s more than that, isn’t it Sisu?
For how much she hated Namaari back then, this was the place where she first showed her vulnerability, where she opened herself up to another person, had all her defenses down.
Here was the place where she lost a friend, and now the place where she got back her lover.
Raya steps outside, finds Namaari sitting on the porch with a blanket around her shoulders. She sits beside her.
“Here,” Raya says, placing a cup of tea in her hands. Their fingers briefly touch. Namaari’s are slightly cold. “We probably shouldn’t stay out too long.”
“I’m fine,” Namaari assures her, gives her a little wink. She takes a sip of the tea. “This is nice. You finally figured it out.”
“Hey, fuck you,” Raya replies, but her voice is gentle. She doesn’t tell her she actually failed two times. “But seriously, the nights are getting colder now.”
Namaari sighs, briefly closes her eyes. “I suppose they do. But you know –”
“Yeah, yeah,” Raya interrupts her, giving in. She leans against her chair. Namaari pushes hers closer so they could share the blanket. It smells just like her.
They wait for the sunset to come.
After a while, Namaari says to her, “She’s getting bigger. Getting more curious with her magic.”
Raya nods. “Good thing she has Auntie Pranee to keep her in line. Make sure she doesn’t suddenly start making… fake stuff.”
Namaari looks at her, and as always, Raya feels the familiar rush just from being the object of Namaari’s – her wife’s attention. Her hair is a bit different now though, slightly coppery, and no longer sporting the undercut that was once the stuff of her wet dreams. Now it hangs loose above her shoulders, in a simple straight cut, not unlike her own. Her eyes, although still striking in a way that makes her knees go weak, have become softer. Wiser.
“You think you can still pick up your Ba’s whip sword?” Namaari asks.
Raya pretends to be offended. “Excuse me, I’m only fifty. I can still kick your ass.”
Namaari scoffs. “Oh come on now, dear. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.”
“Seriously, just tell me the place and time. I’ll show you.”
Namaari chuckles. “You shouldn’t be challenging the Queen. Others might think you’re a usurper.”
“I can top her though,” Raya responds with a wicked grin.
Raya grabs her face and kisses her. “Yeah.”
In the morning, as Raya wakes up to the sound of Namaari’s heartbeat against her ear, she sends a quiet thanks to the Gods for allowing her be in the arms of the woman she has always meant to love.
He felt weak, tired. He could hardly feel the wind on his face, could hardly smell the camellias around him. His time was up, he knew it. There was nothing left for him in this world. He should be sad, but somehow he couldn’t feel that either.
What he felt was guilt. Maybe it was meant to be that way, that whatever he sought out to do, no matter how much he wanted to make things better, he would just end up hurting people.
Maybe the other dragon will change that. He hoped she did.
Tiamat closed his eyes. Perhaps they will meet again. In some corner of the world, perhaps the two of them could start over. Some place where they can be forgiven.
The sky burst open, and shadows began pouring through the tear, shrouding everything in darkness like ink spreading on paper. Sisu felt Raya bristle in her arms, and reflexively she tightened her grip around the Princess’s shoulders.
“I’ll never forget. I promise,” She heard Raya whisper. Sisu had meant to say something back, but in the next instant, she found herself holding nothing but air.
The lights came after. Descending, swirling around her. They lightly brushed her skin, nudging her, perhaps trying to comfort her. Sisu closed her eyes.
The words were on the tip of her tongue but she felt suddenly confused. Did these words mean something? She couldn’t remember. Where was she before?
Strange images began flashing in her mind, blending on top of each other in rapid succession. She could hardly make sense of some of the things she was seeing – it almost felt like she was peeking into a completely different world, nothing like her own.
In one of these images, she saw two girls holding hands as they walked, laughing at something from a small box that one of the girls was holding. The other girl had leaned closer to have a better look. They stopped walking, and the first girl momentarily looked up, before shrugging her shoulders and pulling the other girl with her. The second girl took something out the folds of her clothes. It was a strange piece of string that split into two pieces in the middle. She attached one end to the box then placed one split end on her ear, before giving the other end to the first girl, who had promptly put it on her own ear. The two began nodding their heads, and soon they were dancing, not once losing hold of each other’s hands.
The image blurred into another one – the same two girls, only they looked a little different, perhaps a bit older. The second girl had her arm slung over the first girl’s shoulders. It had seemed like a quiet moment, as they cuddled on top of what looked like a bed, except it was smaller, made for sitting. It looked soft too. The second girl appeared to be reading something out loud from a book which she had on her lap. The first girl burst out laughing. They shared a quick kiss. Again, there was that brief moment where the first girl seemed to look up, her brows furrowed in confusion.
Several more of these images flashed in Sisu’s mind – of these two girls, as though she was witnessing them live different kinds of lives, across different times, in multiple versions of their world, and inexplicably, despite not knowing them, Sisu felt a certain sense of peace.
In her final moments, before consciousness began drifting away from her, she caught a glimpse of a woman holding the hand of a little girl.
She allowed herself one last hopeful thought. Perhaps one might say it had been a wish.
She hoped to see them again, wherever she might be headed next.