“Sely, Sely! Look what I found.” A young angel child ran through a garden, carrying a clump of dirt in her hands. Her eyes were big and sky-blue. Her green dress was stained with streaks of mud, especially around the knee area.
“Ray…,” Selena said. She was around Raea’s current age; the resemblance between the two was striking. She was sitting on a bench with two textbooks placed on her lap and one in her hands. “What did I tell you about carrying mud around?”
“But Sely,” the young Raea said and pouted. “Look.” She held her hands out in front of Selena’s face, causing mud to drop onto her sister’s textbook. Selena frowned and moved her textbooks away before staring at her younger sister’s hands. A gigantic worm popped its head out of the mud, eliciting a scream from Selena. “Isn’t it cute?”
“Put it away,” Selena said as she slid along the bench, distancing herself from the worm. “Think of how it feels now that you took it away from its home.”
“Oh,” Raea said and bit her lip. “I’m sorry Mr. Wormy. Let’s go back to your house.”
The world froze as time held still: young Raea was in the middle of walking away. Selena was in the middle of sighing. Above the garden, way beyond the clouds, an angel with serpentine eyes and black scales floated, watching the scene play out. The angel’s vision blurred as tears formed in her eyes. She blinked to clear them away, but when she opened her eyes again, the scene below had changed.
“Sely,” a young Raea said. She looked to be around eight year old this time. “What’s this word mean? Dee-fen-uh-straight.” She leaned over to the side and pointed at a word in the book that she was holding. Beside her, Selena turned her head and checked the book.
“What are you reading?” Selena asked and sighed as she closed her own book. They were sitting on a plush bed with white covers. A bundle of pink blankets surrounded the two. She looked at the book in Raea’s hands and furrowed her brow. “Don’t you think this is beyond your reading level?”
“No,” Raea said and shook her head rapidly, flinging her hair into the air. “It’s funny.”
“Okay,” Selena said and raised an eyebrow. “Don’t tell Mom and Dad I let you read this, alright? Defenestrate means to throw out of a window.”
“So the demon threw the bully out of the window to protect the angel?” Raea asked and tilted her head. “That’s so cool!”
“Ah.” Selena exhaled. “Maybe you should leave Elrith’s books alone next time.”
“But why?” Raea asked.
“They might give you weird ideas about demons.”
“That won’t happen.”
Selena opened her mouth and spoke, but no sounds came out. The scene began to disintegrate, gradually being replaced with a new one.
Selena stood facing the open gate of a mansion. Behind her, a carriage was waiting with its doors open. Raea, who looked around ten years old, ran down the porch of the mansion, separating from the rest of the Caelum family, and tackled Selena with a hug.
“Do you have to go?” Raea asked with tears in her eyes. She clutched at Selena’s clothes and looked up at her with big, round eyes.
“Rayray,” Selena said and stroked Raea’s head. “I won’t be gone for long. I’ll be back before you even know it. You know it was my dream to teach at Hailing Academy. Won’t you cheer for me?”
Raea bit her lip and released Selena’s clothes. “Okay,” she whispered and looked down. “I’m happy for you, Sely.” She looked up and smiled with her lips trembling.
Selena sighed and tucked Raea’s loose hair behind her ears. “Try to get along with everyone else, okay? Mom and Dad might be busy, but you know they love you too,” she said.
Raea nodded. Moments later, a crack appeared on her face as if she were just an image on a mirror. The surroundings fell apart, leaving behind an empty void. Only the angel with black scales floated about with tears streaming down her face. Shouting sounds filled her ears as another scene expanded and filled up the void.
Raea was curled up into a ball with her face on her knees and hands over her head. She was sitting on a red carpet in a massive hallway with her back against a wall. Beside her, there was a door where the shouting came from.
“What do you mean it’s her fault!?” Selena’s voice shouted. “She’s only a child! Aren’t you, the ones who raised her, to blame!? If you hadn’t neglected her for all the years, would this have happened? Does it matter if her potential is lower than everyone else’s? She’s still your child!”
Mumbling sounds reached Raea’s ears, but she couldn’t hear them clearly because of her hands.
“If you loved her, then why didn’t you ever show it?” There was a pause. “Buying her stuff, keeping her fed, that’s good and all, but why didn’t you ever talk to her? Make her feel appreciated? Your advisor told you she’s not good enough for any prestigious position, so what?” Another pause. “I don’t care if you’re busy! I send letters to her everyday even when I’m swamped with work. You live with her—that’s not an excuse!” There was a banging sound. “Elrith’s never home! Don’t give me that shit.”
A chair scraped across the ground. “Yes. Do that right now,” Selena said. “I can’t believe you people. Are the council’s words everything to you?” Footsteps approached Raea, and the door beside her swung open. “Don’t worry, Ray,” Selena said and placed her hand on Raea’s shoulder. “Everything will be alright. I’m here for you.”
The scene melted away, and the floating figure was left, once again, in the void by herself. “Sely,” she said and wiped her eyes with the back of her hands. Raea let out a sigh before her body started to plummet in the darkness. Her back collided against something hard, knocking the wind out of her. She sat up and found herself in the cave where Selena had died. Madison was holding Selena’s hair with a blade placed next to the angel’s throat. Raea saw her previous self trying to break through the barrier separating her from Madison.
“Stop!” Raea shouted and lunged towards Madison. But nothing happened. She passed straight through the demon and her sister. When she turned around to look, Madison had done the deed. Raea fell to her knees as her other self let out a scream. Raea’s hands clenched, her nails pressing against the skin of her palm. She watched as black flames escaped from the Raea in the illusion.
A voice reverberated in her head. It sounded exactly like her own. “Who is to blame? The demon who killed Selena? Or is it Palan, the one who provoked her into killing Selena? Or is it you? If you never succumbed to your sins, you would have never been sent to the borderland. Selena would never have come here if you were still in the capital. If you hadn’t lost yourself to wrath and killed the demon, you would have been able to heal Selena. She wouldn’t have died.”
Raea didn’t respond.
“But that doesn’t matter,” the voice said. “What matters now is how you react. Would Selena want you to live like this—forever surrounded by black flames, blaming yourself and others for her death?”
The surroundings dissolved, and Raea was left floating in the void.
Four wings flapped as Madison’s figure rose into view. She held Selena’s head in her left hand and used her right hand to move Selena’s mouth. “Can you forgive me?” Madison asked, using Selena’s head to speak in a travesty of Selena’s voice. Madison cackled as black flames began to burn around Raea’s body.
“I can’t,” Raea said and waved her hand. A wave of flames rose up and engulfed Madison’s body, turning it into ash. Selena’s head remained untouched. Raea thought she looked disappointed. “I’m sorry, Sely. I can’t be me without you, and now you’re gone.”
Selena’s head sighed. “No matter what happens, you know I’ll love you,” the head said and smiled at her.
“Thank you, Sely,” Raea said. The head nodded before a white line split it down the middle. The light increased in size and started to open, revealing the ceiling of a room. Raea squinted her eyes as the darkness fell away to the corners of her vision.
“It’s open!” Cleo shouted.