guess that's why we stay the same [star/lilli]

Played by
every day it feels like I’m holding back an ocean

Their encounter had been brief, intense, confusing.  

He had pressed deep emotions into her chest and then left as abruptly as he had showed up. At first, she had been puzzled, her brow furrowing beneath a heart shaped birthmark. Then she had been lonely, standing beside the ocean, her chest open with his absence, a reaction that surprised her. She grew curious.

Michael. Michael. Michael.

A name that seared amongst all the others, but now emerges from them with fervor and took up a solitary space within her mind, her thoughts revolving and often returning towards it. Towards the land of night, to a boy she really did not know.

And it is amongst this confusion that Elena seeks her out. Because right now, Elena has decided, she needs her more than ever.

But, what she doesn't need is Beqanna.
This is a lie, she could stand to see Beqanna (and Cassian and Lie and Kensa and Brunhilde.)
What she doesn't need is Tunnel, and unfortunately, he and Beqanna are one in the same.’

“I hope you can make another story here, this is certainly the place to do it.” This is what Kensa had told her the time she found her in the Field, shivering from the cold in her summer skin of gold. The story had been short, two years long, but Elena had abruptly started it just as she had began, so eager to turn the page and start something new with fresh ink and blank canvas.

Though now she finds herself flipping backwards, longing for words that had already been written.

Lilli had always been talking to the stars and so, for a change, Elena tries to do the same. She looks to the night as the navy blue of Dusk covers her like a blanket. “Vespera,” she whispers in something akin to agony. “Please, I know I have thought it before, having said it every day, but I need her, tonight I really do need her.” She wants to cry, but she has built such dams between her and her tears that they do not come, instead her blue eyes sting with sorrow and shame and her throat clenches like a vice.  “Please, please, I will do anything, I just need to even see her,” she begs, pleads, she would promise anything, give anything, do anything, just to catch even a glance of crimson with eyes like blue sky.

Nothing happens.

Elena is left with nothing but disappointment in her palms that had been full of hope. And then, something happens, the world shifts, she is spinning, she is spinning so quickly that she feels like she is blind once more. It is only when the world stops, when her limbs stop shaking and her head clears that Elena can gather that something incredible—something magical— had just occurred. Blue eyes look to the landscape, a meadow, a waterfall whispers in the distance, ancient trees reach their way to the sky, there is the sound of birds and of anxious chipmunks. It is both foreign and familiar to Elena all at the same time. Then she realizes why she is here and her heart all but stops.

“Lilli!” She is suddenly calling at the top of her lungs, and she is walking, faster, faster. She is running, faster, faster. ”Lilli!” She calls again, there is a smile on her face, but as no color of crimson appears before her it begins to slip from ash dusted labrums. “Lilli,” she is yelling again, there is panic resting in between the syllables as her breathing quickens. “Lilli, please, Lilli!” And it is then the tears come and she is crying and yelling, and praying and begging. “Lilli!” She cries out one more time before lips close around her name, as if she were to speak it one more time it would simply end up as another fallen star, another broken wish left burning in the ground.

* e l e n a
in the dark I’ll pray for the return of the light
the sunflower daughter of benjamin and beylani
medic of dusk.

Played by
Her coat is almost brown.

She has been here for hours now, wandering around a memory that lacks all the luster or shimmer of the love that has been ingrained in them for years. This place is Paraiso. Lilliana had realized that almost immediately. There had been the trail that took her to their favorite boulder - the tall granite one where Lilli had left flowers for Alvaro, where she had teased Malachi about Kalina, where she and Elena had stared up into an open expanse of impossible blue sky. Where they had wondered about the future that had to be out there, about the places Beyond their proud mountains.

Lilliana had followed it; had gone to the places that she and Elena had always frequented as yearlings and then adolescents. She had gone to her mothers’ Meadow and found it empty, lacking all the familial warmth that she once felt there. She had found the ledge where her father often stood and found it silent, no longer resounding an ancient oath he had once taken.

This place is full of memories but lacking their depth.
It is Magic. Hollow at best but Magic.

So she wanders and her body becomes dark with sweat. She paces and tries not to panic but her mind is already running laps around a pulse she struggles to control. Lilliana feels the absence of her sons as one might feel the loss of an appendage. There are moments of peace - of phantom touches - when she thinks they are beside her. The copper mare thinks she only had to look over her shoulder and she will find Valerio’s serious gaze looking back up at her, a lopsided grin on another that makes her ache of Malachi in all new ways.

They are not here and that is where her mind keeps coming too. She hears the pulse of their Waterfall - hears the faint heartsong of it - but it doesn’t pull at her strings. Lilliana is too frantic in trying to find a way back that she barely gives the resounding anthem of her bloodline an afterthought. She can’t.

She swore she would never do this again but for them, she will do anything.

”Please,” she begs the towering trees above her. The very same trees that heard her laughter as a youth, that knew the Lilli who would have swept the whole world in the daring blue of her sky eyes. ”Please, I-,” and then she stops because this place is echoing her name.


Lilli knows that voice. She knows that voice tenfold and hundredfold. She would have recognized it in any place, in any world, in any language.

The chestnut mare stills. If this is Magic, it is the cruelest One she has known. One copper ear flicks to the sound of the voice but the Taigan doesn’t move. Lilliana is so impossibly still.

It couldn’t be.

(Her mind tries to go to the rational but that is so hard for her these days.)

It comes again, a chiming bell of everything she has lost.

She almost doesn’t dare too but she calls back after hearing her name called a second time. ”Elena?”

Lilliana follows the source of the noise (how can she ever resist a cry - a plea, especially when it is her name on their lips?).  When the sight of a familiar gold horse comes into view, Lilli is stunned. She could weep. She could laugh. She could rage.

All those emotions storm across her red face until they close the distance and Lilliana buries her face beneath the pale cornsilk of her cousins’ mane. She presses her forehead against the spot that she always has and a thousand versions of the mare ripple between them - from the girl who had refused to weep to the woman who refused to ask. It only takes a moment before the shuddering sob wracks between her slender shoulder.

”Elena,-” she breaks, her voice hitching on every syllable.
”I can’t,” there isn’t enough air in her burning lungs, in her aching heart. ”I can’t-,”

’be here’

It could rival the sound of one of her proud Redwoods breaking in a storm. The ones that come after carry only the turbulent roar of Taigan waves. Each sob takes something away from her, peeling her away layer after layer until it reveals what was originally there - the girl who had wondered what it was about her love that was never enough to stay.

Played by
every day it feels like I’m holding back an ocean

Elena had never imagined that one day sadness would swallow her whole.

She had never imagined the fissures that would run through her skin, the chasms that another could dig within her, dragging their fingers through her flesh—leaving her all but hollowed out entirely. She had grown up loved, even if she had been orphaned. Aside from her parents, Elena had wanted for nothing in her childhood. It had been carefree and beautiful and easy.

So easy.

But then the skies had turned stormy and she had turned to face it. She had been swallowed by the hurricane that he ancestors controlled, whipped by the winds and battered by the driving rain. She had been drenched in the tropical storm—and the worst part, the part that she could never come back from, is the seed of desire had been planted in her. It had turned something pure within her and morphed it into something she did not recognize. It had turned into something she could not understand or name or, more often than not, even confess.

It left her amber eyes peering into the shadows more times than she cared to admit.

She has lost herself in the woods and has no idea how to go about finding herself again.

It was difficult, impossible for Elena to discern just where it all went wrong. Was it the moment she woke up and saw Aerwir curled next to her like he would be there for eternity? When she healed Underworld instead of pushing him away? Was it when she told Altair she would never see him again? When she went to the woods alone? When she should have left but she never did? In hind sight, it all had become convoluted in her head, the threads of the past few years weaving in and out, tightening a noose around her slender throat. They all were killing her, every day.

She couldn’t wallow like this forever; she couldn't break apart. Somehow, she would need to find a way to piece herself back together, to be strong, for Dusk, for Luvena, for those who needed healing.

She is a girl born with a glass heart in a world full of people holding stones in the palms of their hands.

(What is the opposite of a miracle? The opposite of this is dying in a layer of ice, the opposite is falling in love with things that would destroy her.)

But for now, as a crimson girl comes against the horizon as if all were right in the world and there was no pain and no sorrow, all Elena can think is this is wonder, this is a miracle.



Oh, god, it was Lilli.

She is so stunned that she cannot move and she thinks her a mirage and the chestnut girl will simply pass through her like a ghost of another life that Elena can no longer lay claim to. And her forehead finds her own and Elena is then, and only then, convinced this is real. No dream can make her feel this sort of warmth, this sort of joy, this sort of love.

And Lilli is crying, and she is crying. Something wild raged in her chest, but she turned from it. She felt its wild abandon, the sobs that made her throat raw—the hurt that ached, making her bones throb with its presence. She swallowed and then focused on the girl turned woman before her, channeling all of her energy into the here and now while it lasted. She could not think of all this, of everything.

If she did, she would break. She would crumple.

Her cousin was as much a part of her body as her eyes, her soul. She felt her, sensed her, even when she was not there; as if an invisible thread ran from her to Lilliana, as if they were constantly tethered, intertwined, bound to one another. When she had been young, whenever she felt the earth shifting beneath her, the gravity faltering, she knew she was grounded by Lilli, just as Elena was for her. They were never truly alone in this world, not when they had one another.

And Lilli is here to bring back to life the empty shell, just as before when they were younger.


She says her name and nothing else matters because Lilli is here and she can fix everything. And it is this way that Elena is so selfish, gathering the broken pieces of her life and placing them into Lilli’s capable hands like a child would a parent asking her if pretty, pretty please she can put it all back together. No matter what it costs for her cousin to do so. ‘What cant you do?’ Elena wants to ask but the tears wash away her words before she can speak.

Those bright cornflower blue eyes find her own when she untangles Lilli from her mane. “I want to say it’s good to see you, but I don't think that’s even enough,” she says truthfully. “But Lilli, oh it’s so good to see you,” she says and presses her forehead to that of red for a brief moment. “Lilli you won’t—” but the words die on her lips as she finds Lilli’s face once more. Something is different. It seemed as if her cousin had aged overnight. (of course Elena has not seen her for nights, and nights, and nights.) “Lilli,” she murmurs her name like a question she might never get an answer to.

There is too much to say, to speak, Elena isn't sure where to begin because she doesn't know when this will all end, how long Vespera’s kindness will last. “I shouldn't have left,” she has said it before, and she will say it now, and again in the future. She both thinks too much and too little of Lilli’s forgiveness, both deserving and underserving.

“Lilli, I found a way, a way to bring them back. It’s ancient magic, but it will work.” She had said those words so long ago, before turning around to leave Beqanna, knowing she would never come back because she met a shadow on her way out and the way it stuck to her, against her skin told her if she returned he would kill her.

She didn't want to die.

And she left, to find magic that didn't work, that took pieces from her that she didn't want taken.

There is so much she wants to ask, so much she wants to tell, but the smiling tilting the corners of her mouth form something else. “Tell me something good, Lilli.”

Something good, Lilli.

“Tell me about something beautiful, Lilli.”

Something beautiful, Lilli.

“I love you, Lilli.”

And this was the least surprising of it all.

* e l e n a
in the dark I’ll pray for the return of the light
the sunflower daughter of benjamin and beylani
medic of dusk.

Played by
”No.” She says and the chestnut is firm with this single word. (Who needs a sword when Lilliana can take command with such cutting authority? This is the mare who made her promises and fought to keep them, who stole dragons and dragged herself through kingdom politics to uphold what little was left of her honor.) When they finally pull away, Lilli is soaking in the presence of her cousin golden.

”Don’t say that,” comes a softer reply. Elena’s eyes are blue where they were once honey-amber. There are signs of time on her too - lines creasing around the corners that hadn’t been there before, a leaner build from traveling between so many worlds. (How Lilliana would have marveled at that - all the places her brave cousin had been! The Gods she had prayed too! The places she made sacred through bonds and experiences, how Lilliana wishes she could know of every moment, of every single second that has passed from their last until this one!)

Despite the changes that time has wrought, despite the blue of her eyes (though the essence is still the same - glowing and marking her the firebrand she always been), Elena is so perfectly the same in her eyes.

And as for forgiveness? What is there to forgive? The depth of Lilliana’s love knows no comparison; it could swim the deepest parts of any ocean, could rise as high as any burning sun and then some. The infinite cosmos above would find themselves limited in the space when it comes to her capacity to love and forgive and love again.

From where the chestnut mare stands (still disbelieving and reassuring herself through touch to trace the outline of her graceful neck, of all the familiar places that mark the recollection of their shared youth), she is glad that Elena left. She is better for it, made her even stronger for the life she has had to carve out for herself. They were never meant to be apart - together they couldn’t get lost - but in seeing Elena in the half-light of a memory, this was perhaps the way it was always meant to be.

Lilliana might have tried to summon a smile for her beloved cousin if it didn’t shatter her heart.

Elena can’t know she is fractured in so many ways. And there isn’t time to tell her each individual sin. As if to prove that nothing has changed, that everything between them is still so much the same despite their time apart, Elena asks her a question.

A favorite game from their long-gone youth.
Tell me something wonderful.
Tell me something beautiful.
Show me something lovely.

(It is so easy to find joy in the world when you have started to look for it at such a young age.)

The Taigan mare is still choking on her emotions but it is always easy - so easy - to unwrap herself in this bond. ”I have sons,” she says and finally finds that smile, the shy one that heralds back to the girl who had been so shy and uncertain. Who had pressed herself into Aletta’s sides and let Elena take control of any situation they encountered. ”And they are wonderful.”

That is the simplest, purest truth she can give.

Twins, she explains and Lilliana does laugh then. Of course, twins. What else? Malachi had sired two, their mother had brought Jay and Brielle into the world. Twins, it seemed, ran on their father's side as well. So of course, she shakes her heads, twins. There is so much to say about them; how Nashua is as bold as his blaze and how Yanhua takes the world in as she does.

It is the reason, she doesn’t say, that she can’t say. That wherever their hearts take them after this, she can’t follow.

”Your turn,” she queries, ”tell me something lovely.”
Played by
every day it feels like I’m holding back an ocean

(Find what you love and let it kill you.)

The world had, as always, shrunk until it was just the two of them.They are the same and they are different, night and day but forever bound in that one does not exist without the other. Where Lilliana is grace and quiet, unwavering calm and beauty, Elena is like fire that consumes, wild and brazen and unpredictable. But Lilli is Lilli, through any changes that have happened she is still red and beautiful and love. “I say it because it is true,” she says because she left all the same because Elena too can wield her words like a weapon, but where Lilli’s cut like a sword, Elena’s pierce like an arrow.

(Let it drain from you your all.)

There is still the sameness to Lilli, she can smell the towering redwoods on her copper skin and can feel the cold mornings practically rolling off her in droves. Elena, she has changed, there is wildflowers that have stained the base of her legs, ocean spray keeps her hair curled, and the scent of salt grows thick on her skin as she sleeps near the sea every night. She has grown and aged and changed, but she is still that same little girl in this moment, with her blonde hair in pigtails in her mother’s high heeled shoes awkwardly traversing the world with some sort of bold grace.

(Let it cling onto your back)

She grieves a little for their days as young adults, just on the cusp of maturity before all the twists and trails had found them, no matter how far they had ran from them together. When they had been so new to Beqanna, Lilli to Taiga to rest among her trees and Elena in Hyaline with the mountains as her backdrop once more. They had gone over to each other for sleepovers, cuddled together with talks of dreams and the future. Eventually those talks within the two and a half years Elena was there grew more serious. (‘Lilli, why do you seem so conflicted lately?’ ‘Elena, where did you get that bruise?’) They shed their younger years during the night when they slept and awoke with the shells of youth surrounding them like broken egg shells.

(and weigh you down)

They fall into rhythm with one another, tracing the paths of conversation easily, understanding the ways of it without needing to struggle. Understanding the presence of each other with beautiful ease. They are effortless and smooth. Elena has longed for this, more than she has even known. There are no distractions here, there is only Lilli.

(into eventual nothingness.)

Twins. Her heart shatters in her chest, but she bit back. It’s not jealousy that blossoms in her chest; just a wistful sort of melancholy. Elena will never have that. “Come here Elena. Come here and tell me about your scars…or leave.” God she can hear his voice even now. “That’s amazing, Lilli, what are their names?” She asks because she has to speak now otherwise his voice will fill her like the drowning of the waterfall that is imitated now in this memory, this world, this—sham. She smiles, and so Elena smiles too. There is still something youthful, effervescent within her—quick-witted and quick to laugh—but she does not open her up so readily anymore. Instead, she is more prone to watch from the shadows, mouth solemn and silver blue eyes intense beneath the knotted mess of her long forelock. It is only here, with Lilli, that the Terrastellan can give herself over so easily.

(Let it kill you,)

Elena had known it before, but she knows it now even more. Lilli is forever bound to Beqanna and Taiga in ways the golden girl will never know. “Is he their father?” She asks softly in silvered tones. The man Lilli had spoke of, the man that Elena had never met but felt like she knew so much about. Or so she had thought, but Elena cannot read Lilli’s dreams like Orani, and she cannot read the thoughts of others like Divina, and cannot see into the future like Marcelo. So Elena has no idea in what has occurred in the year she has been gone when she has made Novus her home.

(and let it devour your remains.)

“My turn?” She jests as if she did not know this question was coming. “Well, I left politics,” the ex-politician says to the current one. “I’m a medic again,” she says almost sheepishly. Again. It is almost hard to believe that Elena has gone full circle. “I met someone.” Of course she has. “I don't know if it’s anything, but he was mysterious, and kind, and—blonde,” she says because Elena has always found herself in the arms of dark haired men.

(For all things will kill you,)

And any walls of sorrow and ‘please-forgive-me’ suddenly fall away and it is their sleepovers with one another. “Tell me everything. How is Taiga? How is Hyaline? Have you heard from Cassian?” She asks, hiding the way her stomach clenches with guilt. She asks these questions without any regard of what the answers could be. Elena had been to Beqanna in a time of weak peace, the plague over, the war finished, she doesn't know the fires that were smoldering under the surface. “We have such little time and so much to catch up on,” she says, acknowledging the sorrow, but sweeping it under the rug as if it were never there to begin with.

(both slowly and fastly,)

So little time…

(but it's much better to be killed by a lover.)

[Disclosure: Poem is by Charles Bukowski]

* e l e n a
in the dark I’ll pray for the return of the light
the sunflower daughter of benjamin and beylani
medic of dusk.

Played by
They find their lines sharply enough. The two meet in the middle with their weapons drawn - she with her sword and Elena with her arrow - unrelenting to give the other the concession that perhaps both are needing. (One certainly does.) There is fear shimmering behind her blue eyes. Elena had the good-enough sense to run from it; Lilliana had courted it. 

The fear that wavers there hardens briefly - sharpens the jaw, tightens the angles of her refined face - making her look like the Regent they both knew from another life. (How many times had Aletta looked that way?) Lilli shakes her head, refusing to acquiesce. A far-cry from the flower child who had bloomed on the banks of Murmuring Rivers. Their blue-eyed girl had been the sweetness blossoming in the spring breeze, the swift in the currents that raced in the rivers of their foalhood home. 

Their Lilli had been the in-between; the middle. 

Lilliana (this one who is a testament to that passing time between them) greets Elena where she lines the edge. The mares come together forcefully, equally as determined that the other not shoulder this truth. They find it - push it - and soldier on, pushing together until the line no longer exists at all.

Two-halves of a circle melding together; copper and gold flickering together to become the flame again. 

”It’s not,” she finally relents. The admission is soft and warm in the stale air between them, as uncomforting to Lilliana as the empty memory had been. It doesn’t matter now, though. None of that matters, she tells herself. This can’t last forever and the copper mare will not waste what little time they have together by trying to settle what was in the sunset years behind them. There was no changing what had happened - Elena had left and Lilliana had stayed.

Both had made their own choices - their own journey’s. Another flare of her dark nostrils releases the breath that had been building (burning) in her lungs and Lilli, still craving the closeness of Elena, still needing the security that the golden mare had always brought to her life, pushes her forehead against the heart on her cousin’s again. She has to close her eyes because if they stay open, she knows the tears will start again. 

And if she cries again, Lilli doesn’t know if she will be able to make herself stop. 
So she just trembles instead - silently shaking - refusing to break under the weight that the last memory her cousin will have of her is of a Lilliana who wept.

It’s easy to tell her about the boys when they pull away. Her children are a solace and a haven in a life that she doesn’t recognize. A particular brand of chaos that she has seen before but it’s never been Lilli’s chaos; Lilli had been the one to warn Orani about Cernunnos, about going back to him time and time again while she had carried Jacob. It had been Lilli who warned Elena about Underworld time and time again, the painted stallion who had taught her to spitefully raise her head and pin her ears.

Nashua, she says with a mothering smile, for a river that Aletta once described from her travels. Yanhua, she adds, for fire with a knowing gleam in her eyes. ”I had wanted to give them a piece of history to carry with them since-,” since both mares know it is gone. Murmuring Rivers. Paraiso. Even Windskeep. It’s a heritage her boys will never experience for themselves and it seemed the least she could do was give them names that fell in line with the great ones like Yoshirou, Ichiro and her own father, Valerio. 

It breaks her in a million other little ways looking back to her blue-eyed cousin. They will never know her either; the mare who would have been like an aunt to them, who Lilliana doesn’t doubt would have become a second mother to them in the way that Brynn had to her. She doesn’t mean for the sadness to creep into her eyes, the sorrow that makes the moment even harder to bear. They could have used her. 

”Yes,” Lilli chokes on the admission. ”He is their father.” 

She doesn’t say more and the copper mare hates the way that she rushes the words, says them so hurriedly that she hopes maybe Elena wouldn’t notice. She would, of course. Elena always knew and heard and saw the bigger picture. She always had. It’s another sign of Beqanna on her because when had there ever been secrets between them? Lilliana is certainly careful in what she says - years of diplomacy, of Beqanna - have taught her to guard her tongue. It’s become a habit that has stained every other part of her life but with Elena?

Never with Elena. 

But what can she say? It’s a message that flashes through her memory - of the last time she saw him - that prevents her from saying anything more. It’s all the better that Elena left Beqanna and Lilliana can’t be so selfish as to let her cousin carry the weight of her fears in another world. She refuses to play any part in diminishing the Terrastellan’s light; Elena will shine and shine and Lilliana will find happiness knowing that her cousin is doing as she was always supposed to - setting worlds ablaze with her smile and soothing those who came too close to her firelight. 

The smile lifts and it brightens her eyes. The tightness goes away little by little, ebbing like the tide in the presence of her childhood confidant. Elena is healing again, that gift she always admired in her sunflower cousin. She had been particularly gifted with skill and
 perhaps that is why the Mountain had given her a similar one. Both had been raised in a place that ingrained the want of being helpful to others; it had been much a part of their code as their loyalty to family had been. 

Still, it’s the mention of a blonde man that steals her smile. It paints concern but what can she say? 
He is kind, she says with that same look that she had given her when they had been long-legged and odd angles. It was the look that said the Meadow was fine and who would really know if they ventured outside of Murmuring Rivers, just for a little bit? 

”What else do you know of him?” Lilliana carefully asks, regarding her cousin from beneath her dark lashes. ”The mystery has to fade at some point,” and she doesn’t mean the bitterness that seeps into her voice, the way her mind longs for Taiga. ”You might not like what you discover.”

The rest of the words are easy. The rest comes as naturally as breathing as Lilliana runs her dark muzzle along the graceful arch on her cousin’s neck. ”Taiga is the same - proud, wild, unwavering.” The copper mare smiles, ”Still very much the setting for an ancient legend or myth.” Taiga had astounded them both the first time they beheld its towering trees and thick fog - it had seemed more like the scene for a fairytale of old than a home for a girl who had been raised among wildflowers. There is more to say about Hyaline and Lilliana takes her time with it, explaining what little she knew about the disappearance of Kensa. ”From what I understand,” says the Taigan Diplomat, ”It’s a herdland now. A quiet land in the East.” There is even more to say about the East as well - about the strange creatures who call it home, about the havoc they had been stirring through Beqanna. 

(That particular story ends with her own admission that she had played her own part in the chaos.)

And she finally finishes, yes she had seen Cassian. Much the same as she might remember. ”He has a different way of.. going about things these days,” laughing before finally asking, ”Tell me about you. Does it have a name? Where you…,” she pauses, uncertain at how to ask. Her head lifts, glancing around the coniferous forest they had both known, once upon a time. ”Are? Is it like anything else you’ve known?”
Played by
every day it feels like I’m holding back an ocean

We never turn out the way we expect to. The pictures children draw of how the world is seem free of depth, lacking the shading of experience, the depth of secrets and hurts that that form the tapestry of real life. The drawings are painted, erased, shaded, erased, drawn again and again, reshaping and recreating with every image given.

So long ago it seems they had just been a pair of bewildered frogs engrossed in each other’s company, lolloping arm in arm down a highway full of hurtling traffic. Entirely oblivious of what trucks can do to little frogs like them when they stray to places they shouldn’t.

“Okay,” she gives, throwing her arms up in the air in the same way she would when Lilli would find her in a game of hide and seek. Elena understands her cousin, but does not always comprehend her. Lilli is magnificent in ways she will never be—in ways she could never aspire to be. The chestnut is elegant and serene, a counterweight to the wildness that brews in Elena’s chest. Where Elena is a fire, Lilli is water, pristine lakes, deep, mysterious oceans and unrelenting rains upon a Taigan forest. Lilli simply is, and she moves forward in life in this beautiful way, with the persistence and endurance of a stone, heavy, calm, and loyal compared to the flightiness and flickering of the wild Elena. Lilli the only one who can tame the wild fire that is Elena until she is a flickering candle casting her light in a room of darkness.

Her smile is slow and soft, hazy along the edges as if hovering along her ash dusted labrums. She curls into her cousin, and she finds that she is deeply appreciative of their closeness, their intimacy. There is still the pain in her chest, but the ache dulls when she is near Lilli. Her cousin helps chase away the shadow that press inward. If only she could heal her heart too. She is warmth; she is soothing.

“I love you,” she says with a smile, reciting the words automatically but with feeling. There would never come a time when she did not say them, when she did not mean them. She loves her cousin as much as she loves herself, more so.

They tangle together as they had in their youth, innocent, lovingly, and warm. Elena is almost tempted to forget the rest of the world outside their dream, locked here with her. She can almost forget the bruises in Lilli’s eyes and the scars on her own body. She can almost forget they are no the youthful duo they had once been, chasing each other through the ancient valley and down to the lake, diving into the chill water. She can almost forget—almost. Because these things do not leave them. They do not relinquish their sticky hold on their lives; they do not leave them without mark.

Elena does forget the rest of it though when Lilli speaks, and whatever piece of jealousy or melancholy she had felt burning in her heart turns to ash and blows away. Suddenly, the only thing that she feels is an all-consuming love for her cousin and a sudden need to comfort  her, a thing she knows so well. “I know,” she says, blinking blue eyes that look strange reflecting in the eyes of the chestnut girl. “But they will know them, it is burned onto your skin just as it is mine,” she says, sharing her heart with Lilli as she so often does. “Those stories are ours Lilli, but it doesn't mean we cant share them,” she says ducking her head with a playful tilt.

She struggles to say the words and it tells Elena so much that she needed to know. She wont say ‘I told you so,’ because Elena knows more than this, knows better than this. The Terrastellan has a far kinder heart than that. She grows stubborn in her words, like a stone. “And you are their mother,” she says and it matters, this above all else matters most. Elena says it with that same knowing nature she had spoken with when they had been small and Lilli had asked her if there is adventure that waits for them beyond the mountains.

(‘Only the greatest of adventures,’ had been the response.)

“That’s all that matters,” she says even if it isn't true, they both know this from being an orphan, from being fatherless most of her childhood. “Did he—” she isn't sure she wants to ask the question. But with Lilli, Elena has been afforded the luxury that she doesn't have to ask it, her question finishes in silence, said but not spoken.

The medic’s heart lifts with the brightening on her cousin’s face. “We have an entire hospital filled with anything that would be needed for any ailment,” she says in wonder, in awe of her home. Terrastella often times seemed too good to be true, she often thought this as she stood outside the city and watched the waves roll in, beautiful and eternal. Elena was healing and helping once more.

It is poetic, in a way, but more than that, it is expected—it is right. It is the only thing that could have happened.

She expects Lilli to be happy for her, to be excited to be returning to her old position that Lovelace had groomed the once apprentice for since she had been young with uneven locks and gangly legs with knobby knees. What she does not expect is for the Taigan’s face to grow solemn and her voice to shadow concern. Elena’s ears find their place back against her snowy locks with hurt and embarrassment orchestrated by the words that fall from a crimson mouth.

Elena is a slave to her affection.
And, it would seem, the only one who knew this better than Elena herself—
was Lilli.

“I know enough,” she bites back, her voice hardens because if it didn't it would break and Elena would be hearing not Lilli’s voice echoing in her thoughts, but her mother’s, and she doesn't think she could bear the transition. “There are some things best left unknown. Some pleasures that exist only in the space between uncertainties.” Elena, stubborn Elena who knows best, who has taken care of herself because the ones who were supposed to left her behind to cradle each other six feet under. “You weren't there, Lilli, you don't know,” she fights because she hurts, but it doesn't help that the words sound wrong in her mouth, they taste like vinegar and leaves her tongue dry, the only thing to quench it being her cousin’s praise. “He isn't Tunnel.” She says, and this should solve it all, the finality in that Michael is not the monster that had chased her throw the shadows and beyond Beqanna’s borders.

But the tension behind a clenched jaw and a tightened chest eases as Lilli speaks words of a home they once both shared in distant ways. “Have the boys learned to navigate the fog then?” She asks with laughter. The boys, how it sounds on her tongue and how it makes her ache to follow Lilli back to Taiga to meet them, to have them run to her and call her Auntie ‘Lena.

The news of Hyaline saddens her, but Elena relinquishes it easily. Hyaline had been temporary, but still, it had been apart of Elena’s life and her brief venture into politics. “Novus has been a land of peace thus far, the kingdoms are open with their borders, though if I have learned anything it’s that peace is fleeting,” she says, thinking of Lucinda and the wild green of her eyes that flourished against her dark skin. “I hope it lasts though,” she says with quiet eyes and a soft voice.

“Ohhh Cassian,” she laughs with melody at the boy that had been in Summer School with the pair. “Terrastella,” she ushers the name in the same time as Lilli finishes her own words. “There is tranquility there, on one side the rolling hills and on the other..” she thinks about it wistfully with a vibrant pause. “Ive been spending a lot of time beside the ocean,” she says. “Dusk the land is called, and wildflowers sprout every where, in the city, they have a garden Lilli, with every type of flower you could imagine,” she says thinking back to that day in the garden with Anandi, when she had first arrived in Dusk.

She mirrors Lilli then, staring up at the tree tops that surround them. “It’s no Paraiso,” she says somberly. “But maybe that is for the best.” She says before letting her smile bloom on her face like a garden in Dusk. “If this…place… is supposed to be Paraiso, do you think it’s here?” She asks with a mischievous grin: their hideout, it is the only thing Elena could possibly mean in a moment—in a place—like this. They don't have time for everything, for all the words, for all the adventures, and Elena knows after today, when they have to part ways, things will change all over again because it is true, what Aletta had said those years ago, that things can change in a day. That a few dozen hours can affect the outcome of whole lifetimes. And that, when they do, those few ones hours, like the salvaged remains of a burned house—the charred clock, the singed photograph, the scorched furniture—must be resurrected from the ruins and examined. Preserved. Accounted for. Little events, ordinary things, smashed and reconstituted. Imbued with new meaning. Suddenly, they become the bleached bones of a story.

* e l e n a
in the dark I’ll pray for the return of the light
the sunflower daughter of benjamin and beylani
medic of dusk.

Played by
He isn’t Tunnel.

He is not Tunnel.

Lilliana is as unfamiliar with the biting tone her cousin takes with her as she is the anger that flares in response. She’s the daughter of a windtalker - she has always ushered caution with her emotions. Even if she isn’t gifted in the way of Air that her sire is, Lilliana has always known to keep her emotions bridled. To let them lose is to summon a hurricane.

So the chestnut pulls away and tries not to clench her jaw. She doesn’t succeed.

Whoever the man of gold is - whoever Elena met - immediately earns Lilliana’s distrust. (It’s not his fault but when all the men who have come before have tangled her cousin in so many ways - blossoming bruises on her skin instead of kisses, enticing her into dark places under the guise of letting her shine, of letting her heal them from whatever malevolent ailments they suffered.

From the edge that Lilliana stands poised on, Elena looks very much like the girl who had stumbled into Murmuring Rivers all those years ago. A stubborn little girl that instead of looking world-weary, looked defiant as wildfire to a barely-weaned Lilli.

So no, he is not Tunnel.
But neither was he Underworld or Frostbane.

She feels momentarily deflated (because though she doesn’t know Michael, Elena is still right. Lilli wasn’t there. She can never be there.) and the concern deepens her eyes, pulls lines at the corners of them that give them an unnerving depth. Why would she do this again? For a moment, she thinks of Neverwhere. Her pale face grim with the same expression that Lilliana now mirrors to her blonde cousin. Ruin, is what her friend in the North warned. Ruin was the only companion she would find on that particular path.

Elena doesn’t tell Lilliana ‘I told you so’ because she is too kind.
Maybe she should, the chestnut mare finally realizes, and the clarity of it brings their lackluster world into blazing technicolor.

”Your right,” she says back, not loosening the tight hold they have on this topic.
I know enough, her cousin had said but as Lilliana peers at her from beneath a crimson forelock, she wonders if she really does. How many times, she wonders, will you go looking? What are you looking for?

”I wasn’t there,” but she could see. She could learn.
And maybe Elena could too.

She exhales slowly, pushing the rising gale that wants to rage in her chest and instead Lilliana clings to the last words that her cousin has said. Her mind still rings with she knows enough and all the Taigan mare can think of is that she isn’t there, she has no way of protecting her cousin (from the creatures that love to warm themselves by her firelight, from the dangers that Elena might put herself in because perhaps she is like Lilli in that way too - if the dangers are real then so aren’t the stakes. If one wagers everything, maybe everything that once held in their proverbial hands would be returned to them by the benevolent fate of chance.

Lilli starts slowly. She’s never done this on purpose before and it is like pulling strings, pulling these pieces of herself that she has kept so tightly wound around herself.

The images are hazy at best; even the pale magic around them shows that Lilliana’s skill is still in its infancy (its what she gets for not practicing - for pretending that it doesn’t exist at all). It starts with a shared look - the first time she noticed that the green of his eyes. A voracious green that challenged any forest she had ever known. Lilli pulls another; a place ablaze with wildflowers and her own words echoing, ’Taiga suits me just fine.’ On and on it goes - the day at the beach when he had beamed shamelessly at her and when she glowed recklessly at him, the night that followed that drowned them both in shadows and it's even etched with an edge of despair and fear because the very things that bound her together were coming undone, heartbeat after star-crossed heartbeat.

She doesn’t go all the way; she doesn’t show Elena everything because that seems intentionally cruel. What good does it do to tell her golden cousin? Instead, she cuts off abruptly. It’s her name ringing clearly against the silence of a winter night, possession wrapping around the syllables and vowels. Lilliana, with a breath that doesn’t release any silver smoke, that gives no sign of life.

He’s convinced her of the very thing she has supposed all along. She’s used a dancer’s grace to skirt along those lines, always twirling and laughing away before plummeting into a darkness that has always terrified her. There is only a belonging to; her heart has always been here.

It’s a kindness, in the end, a glimpse of those very boys that they had spoken of. She sends a memory - clearer, stronger - than the ones before. Green eyes and gold stripes, blue eyes (hers, Valerio’s, Elena’s) and a star. Her boys.

The man that Elena speaks of is an unknown. Her sides are gently trembling and Lilliana has a hard time keeping the fear out of her eyes, trying to convince herself that this was the right thing to do. But the man was an unknown and the unknown was dangerous.

Tentatively, she reaches out unsure if Elena will even want to touch her.

”You could show me,” comes her struggling attempt at trying to cross that bridge. ”Him. The flowers. The hospital. Anything you want too.” Her slender head comes back slightly and a reminder of their youth, Lilli bites her lower lip. It makes her look impossibly young (almost too young to be a mother) and girlish, unsure. She suddenly looks like the young filly who had spent long hours with her head in the clouds - the one (who in her mind's eye) had raced among them with Elena, their laugher, their hearts, and their hooves never touching the ground.

Is this what coming down felt like?
Played by
every day it feels like I’m holding back an ocean

Something lay buried in the ground. Under grass. Under five years of June rain and five years of December Snow.

A small forgotten thing.

Nothing that the world would miss.

It is a stone, a crystal from the cave they had once found and taken. “Do you think it’s magic?” A little girl of blonde had asked. “Probably.” A little girl of red had answered.

No, nothing that anyone would miss.

Least of all the girls who let it get buried in the first place.
And forgotten. 

A small thing—but forgotten all the same.

Here they had learned to build a tower of stone. Here they discovered the disconnected delights of chaos when a tower fell.
Here they learned to make a daisy chain. To intertwine the pieces together until it stretched to infinity. (Or until they were called home for bedtime.)
Here they studied silence (like the children of scholars), and learned the bright language of dragonflies.
Here they learned to Wait. To watch, to think thoughts and not voice them. To gaze up at the creatures that admired their steadiness and stillness.
Here they learned to love. (Though some say they have known since the day they were born.)

Elena arches that beautiful neck in response, that same neck where bruises had once bloomed like wildflowers. There is seconds between seconds were she suddenly aches for her cousin to close the space between them filled with anger and bitterness and biting words and fretted looks. But Elena is a selfish creature, wanting what she had already pushed away.

She is oddly still in this moment, mindful of every breath she takes. She wants to say more, hurt her like Lilli had hurt her, but the words die in her throat and she feels their earthquakes down her spine. And so Elena hardens against the silence, digging in her heels like some tantrum throwing child. Elena has made poor life decisions, and she knows this (she replays them enough in her mind that she can nearly pin point when and where everything went so wrong) but Lilliana did not have the right to tell her that she was sending her life cascading off a cliffside, falling into the same trap she always fell into.

Sometimes, she dreams she is drowning.
She thinks it may be reminiscent of how her great-grandmother died.

A broken mermaid with lungs of water.

She never stood a chance really, when you think about it. Elena was always destined for some sort of tragedy. There is beauty in the way she crashes and burns. A dazzling spectacle of light and sparks. Some how Elena manages to make even a downfall look spectacular.

In retrospect, it should be, spectacular that is.

She orchestrated it herself.

Elena begins to chat, attempting to move past the tension that builds like the volcano Elena had once seen in the land of Tephra. But then she speaks, and it isn't quite what she was expecting. ‘You’re right.’ It is only this admission that truly softens Elena and she looks to her cousin with blue eyes that don't quite understand.

And there are eyes of green, they are unfamiliar to Elena, but she feels the familiarity radiating from Lilli. Taiga. Lilli. She watches it go on and on, this relationship, Lilli’s own mistakes made. Th guilt hammers in her chest. She never should have left. She never should have done a lot of things.

Maybe she should have asked: Do you really think I should go?
And maybe she should have answered: No.

Lilli is stronger than she can give herself credit for. It taps into Elena’s own memories of shame and mistakes she has made with first glances, with shadows, with names said on tongues it did not belong on.

“Maybe you were out wandering again.” He smiles with brown eyes that crinkle just so, looking at her like that. He is too old for her, she knows it even as she speaks her next words, but they have just met and she has never seen a man with such dark eyes as his. “Maybe that’s for me to know and for you to never find out.” She teases him because she is young, foolish, and in love with her own blissful ignorance and naivety. I’ve never found enough interest in anyone to want to stay anywhere, except maybe you, little Elena.” He says and he walks her home as their once upon a time begins in graceful writing against storybook pages. Pages Elena once cherished, but ripped it apart all the same.

She can feel Lilli’s heart hammering in her chest as she stands with him, cloaked in shadows and feel wrong and right and everything in between.

She nearly collides with him, stopping in time and looking over her shoulder one last time before turning to face him. “Sorry, I was, I thought I saw something,” she is breathing hard. “And what do you think you saw?” He says reaching out to touch her shoulder. “I’m not sure. I was just scared.”

She moves out from beneath his touch. “And you didn't stay to find out?” He asks “No, I just ran,” she spits back at him. “Not everyone can be as fearless as you.”

“You assume I am fearless. And what makes a person fearless, Elena?” He asks and for the first time she does not recoil at the sound of her name on his tongue. She grows quiet as there is movement in the trees and the shadows turn ugly. Elena moves instinctively towards him, slinking into his chest, finding herself fitting beneath his chin in much the same way she had with another man that she says she still loves even if she doesn't believe it. She is so close to him, the first time she has truly touched him like this and she feels how truly dead he is, the way he chills her skin. Her body is steady but inside she shakes with a coldness she cant explain. She wants to move away, convinces herself that is what she wants, what makes sense, but suddenly finds that she can’t.

So she doesn’t. Instead, she stares up at him with eyes of fire, enough to thaw death a hundred times over. “It’s looking into the eyes of a monster—and not turning away.”


The name is like a beacon of light.


It had spelled her doom the moment he had let it slip off his tongue.

Elena no longer can see the children that run and scamper with a familiarity even though they are no more than strangers in Elena’s eyes. But they are beautiful, she thinks it before they drift away and there in their place stand two little girls intertwined until they have become fire standing before ice.

“Go,” a promise early on.
(I will always protect you.)

“No,” a promise returned.
(I will always stand by you.)

These promises have been broken, through the last few years, the last few minutes. But here and now they are rewritten in the tears that they have spilled, in the trembles that riddle their skin, in the blood they both will spill before their lives are over.

Lilli touches her and Elena thinks, he could die here. She could just sink into the earth until it swallowed her whole, until she was nothing but a seed and she was growing, growing into something new, something more beautiful, something eternal. She could die happy with Lilli beside her and her scent in her and her words ringing in her ears. If only. If only it was that simple—that easy.

As she looks at Lilli she thought two thoughts and the two thoughts were these:
1. Anything can happen to anyone.
2. Happiness and hurt look the same when buried beneath a layer of smiles and laughter.

“Lilli.” It is cliche, that ushering of her name in disbelief. And suddenly the Terrastellan is taking her into an embrace and they become fire once more. Though, this time, they do not blaze and burn, but they flicker and flutter, a candle, a light when everything has been propelled into the darkness. There is a tear in her eye, but it does not fall, it sits there like crystal buried in the ground below them. “Can we just pretend, instead?” She asks, and as Lilli becomes a child, so too does Elena. She is that little orphaned child that goes to the river because no one there can hear her crying. That little orphaned girl who looks through things with glassy eyes instead of at them as she should. The same orphan girl who found another little girl and they conquered their fears and grew up to love them instead. They grew up to be brave, and strong, and bold and beautiful.

Oh, Lilli, this isn't what coming down feels like—this is what it feels like to soar higher still, above the clouds and beyond.

“Do you know how special you are?” She asks and her voice cracks. “I lost my mom and my dad, but through all of this, how is it that I’ve never lost you?” And she stares at her in bewilderment, that someone such as Lilli, courageous, wonderful Lilli could have stood by her through all of this.

“So much for that quiet life.” And maybe, in that moment, Elena realizes that quiet may never have really been what she wanted after all.

* e l e n a
in the dark I’ll pray for the return of the light
the sunflower daughter of benjamin and beylani
medic of dusk.