Chapter 8: Choices Made

April 19, 2007

1228 words. Done.

When they reached home, Xis excused herself to take a quick shower. Her younger sister agreed, and they both went inside, leaving their eldest brother with his thoughts. He went to change his clothes, having already washed his feet, hands and legs before coming up to the penthouse. As the girls freshened up, he went to the kitchen to make some drinks. Filing the kettle with water, he put it to boil and then rummaged in the cupboard, taking some sachets out. Then he reached for the overhead cabinet and took out three mugs, each coloured differently.

When Xis came out, dressed in a tee and shorts with her dark brown hair covered by a towel, she went straight for the fridge. Opening its doors, she removed the half-cooked soup, then put it on the stove and heated it up after wiping the pot with a towel. As the soup warmed, she took out the cutlery, while the water boiled. He took the kettle off the stove and poured the water into the mugs. The kitchen was immediately filled with the scent of flowers and berries. He put the mugs where his sister had set the counter for a quiet meal, even as she opened the windows to let the air in.

He transferred the heated soup from the stove to the countertop, letting his sister cut the bread and set it out. As they finished these last few touches, someone rang on the front door, and they heard their sister’s room door open and closing. A few seconds later, their sister came in, leading a slim woman with lily-white skin, ruby-red lips, and shining black eyes into the kitchen. The woman sat at the countertop, and Xis sat a bowl of soup and some bread in front of her, which she accepted with thanks. She waited until each of the siblings had been served, and then waited till each had started eating before she began eating herself. There was no drink for her. For a while, there was only silence broken by the sound of cutlery being used.

The newcomer took a sip of the soup and then looked at it in surprise. So did the youngest and eldest siblings. Together, they turned to the middle sibling. She did not look at them, simply dipping the bread and eating it nonchalantly. She only stopped when the silence had stretched. Looking up, she simply raised an eyebrow.

“Did you cook this, Alexis?” only the woman would call her by her full first name when they were alone.

“Yes, Lady,” Xis nodded, looking puzzled at them. “It’s only instant soup.”

“I don’t remember instant soup coming with this many ingredients in it,” her sister said, stirring her soup to discover tender pieces of meat and mushrooms in it. There were very few greens though; Alexis was not a fan of vegetables.

“I just threw those into the pot, Sukina,” Alexis smiled fondly at her sister.

“It’s an improvement,” her brother said grudgingly.

“Much,” the Lady began eating her soup again.

~~~~~

When dinner was done and the subsequent clean-up was finished, they adjourned to the living room, with the siblings holding on to their mugs of tea and the Lady accepting a shot of brandy from the eldest brother. They sat in a fairly informal arrangement, with Sukina, the youngest, laying her blond head on her sister’s shoulder as they settled comfortably on the beanbags, while their brother stood near a corner, watching the girls and the Lady. The Lady took the couch, reclining on it with her feet on the small coffee table. She was the only one who was allowed to do that, and it was a privilege she did not abuse. Days like these were rare, but the death anniversaries warranted it.

“It’s been sixteen years since Okaa-san passed away, hasn’t it, little one?” she often called the youngest that in private.

“Sixteen years and ten days,” her elder sister put an arm around her. They were quiet for a moment. Their brother broke the silence.

“You said you had bad news, Naoko,” her brother always called her by her Oriental name.

“More bad news, Alexis?” the Lady asked, an eyebrow raised. When Naoko had bad news that her brother knew before she and the little one knew, it was more than bad.

“Not so much as bad news as… disturbing, my Lady,” Naoko sat up, gently disentangling herself from her sister. She finished off what was left of her floral tea before she continued. The cup she put on the coffee table.

“What is it?” The Lady’s tone brooked no nonsense; she had taken her legs off the table and was staring at Naoko intensely.

“I was attacked recently by a shapeshifter. The kind that has flowers blooming when it bleeds.”

The Lady looked at her through narrowed eyes. There was pin-drop silence in the room at the news. Sukina sat up and looked at her sister, while their brother collected their mugs and went to the kitchen. He had heard the news from Naoko when she arrived at the apartment that morning. Naoko normally confided in her brother when she thought he should be warned and prepared. That did not happen often; she trusted and knew that he was always prepared, but some things needed more preparation than most. This was one of those.

Leaving Sukina with Naoko and the Lady, he went into his room and retrieved a small locked chest from under his bed. Taking the chest out, he put it carefully on his desk, clear of any clutter. With a gentle, almost loving touch, he wiped the dust way from the lacquered box with a soft cloth, revealing its red shine and the motifs that were nearly hidden by the thick dust. It was just a single character: Element. He stared at it, almost feeling the weight of that one single character and its effects on his family.

Reaching into his turtleneck, he pulled out a small pendant on a thin gold chain. It was simply a small red crystal. Closing his eyes, he put his thumb on the latch and took a deep breath, remembering for a moment.

Choices made cannot be undone, Kishan. You will live with the consequences for the rest of your life, no matter what you do. Never forget that. You are your sisters’ guardians, both of them, not just one of them, his father had once shown him his mother’s grave. She had died defending his father.

Why did you let her do that, Papa? he remembered asking. His father had sighed before answering, dropping his son’s hand.

Because my duty was not with her. It was never with her, his father looked at his hands, My duty was with my sisters. That was my choice. My choice…, he whispered the last words. Abruptly, he turned away and walked away from the grave, leaving his son to follow.

Kishan opened his eyes. He had chosen this road long before. With a sigh, the symbol for fire appeared on his forehead and the crystal glowed with the power he held and released as he pressed the catch on the chest. The character on the chest flared to life, and the lock opened.

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