Shadows and illumination, darkness and light; they are but two sides of the same coin. It is what you follow that defines you, it is what you choose that says who you are.
The wind was howling, picking up the loose strands of her hair, prickling her skin with its stinging bite. Encircling her was the crackling din of fire, the ribbons of gold, scarlet and amber chasing each other, guttering and hissing, and pumping the air full of smoke that filled her lungs. The distant riots, raucous and hostile, echoed in her ears.
There was a hole in her heart, in the shape of her sister, a wrongness in the world that was horrifying and unimaginable. Her universe had shifted and tilted on its axis, the light had diminished and would never shine as it had once done. And it was all because of her.
Strands of ragged dark hair caked with blood and grime draped across her face. Her arms were dangling limply by her side; blood dribbled down a gash across one arm in rivulets, the flesh encircling it contorted and bruised. One of her hands fluttered subconsciously, while the other was clamped around the hilt of a dagger.
Her eyes, frenzied and maniacal, were fixed on a figure in the shadows; a slender human, with elongated limbs and a scowl plastered on their lips. It was a girl – resignation, fear, and scorn painted on her face. Her eyes narrowed. “Are you here to kill me, my dear Lilith?”
There was chaos; shouts of names, wails of children and blares of sirens saturating the air. The hope draining and dissipating. People were shoving and yanking, frantically trying to locate loved ones and find shelter in dilapidated buildings.
Lilith crouched down so she was eye-to-eye with her sister, Seraphina, and ruffled her hair affectionately, trying to comfort her. She exhaled a shaky breath, and her voice quivered as she spoke. “I need you to follow the crowd, okay?”
She received a tentative nod from her sister, and went on. “I’m going to rummage for supplies, food, clothes, the necessities – wait for me, okay?”
Seraphina’s eyebrows were knitted together with concern, while her little hands fumbled with one another in apprehension. “What if you don’t come back for me?” she asked in a meek voice. Lilith’s heart clenched. She placed a finger under Seraphina’s chin and tilted her tear-stained face up so her worried eyes met Lilith’s own glinting ones.
“I will come back,” said Lilith, offering her a lopsided grin.
“You killed her …” she choked the words, her anger brimming. “You killed her … so I’m going to kill you.” The need for vengeance – vengeance for her sister – consumed her.
A sob escaped from her throat and echoed in the dark alleyway as she hurled her dagger at the girl in front of her. The blade grazed the girl’s cheek as she tried to swerve; crimson droplets trickled down her skin.
“I’m going to prolong your death … I’m going to break every bone in your body and grind them into powder … to make you feel the same pain I feel … I – will – break – you.”
Striding towards the whimpering girl huddled in the corner, she smiled, the smile of someone who had seen, endured, and lost too much, of someone whose humanity had disintegrated.
“Sera!” Lilith stumbled across the scorched asphalt, panic swelling in her gut. “Sera!” She cupped one of her hands around her mouth to amplify her voice; it drifted on the wind then faded away. “Sera, please! Where are you?”
Bundled in her arm were the supplies she had managed to scavenge, mounds of stale cornflakes, mouldy blankets, shredded clothes, and half-charred matches.
A strangled shriek pierced the air, and the carefully balanced pile tumbled to the ground with a gentle thud. Seraphina.
“You should understand.”
The girl was glaring at Lilith now, sparks of hatred igniting in her eyes. “It is the end of the world, it is a fight for the fittest; your sister was weak, undefended, she was begging for death.” Bitterness coated her voice.
“She was a child,” Lilith growled in a low voice. She whipped out another knife from its upholstered sheath and tossed it from one hand to the other. It glinted menacingly in the moonlight.
“And if you killed her, I will destroy everything you hold dear to you, everything that matters to you, before I take your life.”
She was paralysed – despite the dawning realisation and the horror of seeing her sister lying before her, she couldn’t move.
Her sister’s corpse was splayed unceremoniously across the tarmac of the alley, her face pale and lifeless, her eyes glazed over, staring at nothing. A knife protruded from her chest, the flesh enclosing it bleached, veined with snakes of blood.
Her body had convulsed, twisted at an unnatural angle, almost as if she were curling up to brace herself for more pain, and her mouth suspended in a silent scream. The ground was stained with blood. Her sister’s blood.
Lilith’s left eye reflexively twitched; she lowered her gaze to the figure grinning triumphantly at the body of her sister, and an unbridled fury was unleashed inside her. She lunged, and the thing nimbly dodged, evading the collision. It darted away and she chased it into the alleyways.
The girl appeared slightly stunned when she died, when the hand that wielded the blade slit her throat and she crumpled to the ground. Her blood was drizzling down her neck, diluting the dirty puddles of water with a reddish tinge.
She had thought that getting justice for the death of her sister would be satisfying, unburdening the pressure weighing on her chest. But instead she felt vicious, cruel, and cold.
She realised now that she had died when her sister had. Her tether to reality had been hacked away by a single blade, and now she was only a vacant body.
She recalled Sera’s delicate fingers plaiting her hair as sunlight kissed it. They had been seeking refuge from the heat under a canopy of shaded trees, in the time long before the earthquake, before death and destruction were common occurrences.
Sera shovelling an ice cream bar into her mouth, and breaking into muffled giggles. Sera pouting stubbornly as she trailed after Lilith at the farmer’s market.
Sera clutching Lilith’s hand like a vice when their mother was pronounced dead. Sera hugging her, and weeping silently.
She needed her light desperately … but she would never see Sera’s face again … she would have to go to her … she positioned the knife, slick with blood, over her heart.
The sensible part of her mind was saying, don’t do it, but … Sera … her sister …
She welcomed death’s embracing arms, and chanted her sister’s name in her mind.
Seraphina. Seraphina. Seraphina.
Seraphina was dying … she was aware of her imminent death. She didn’t fear it, didn’t cower in its presence … but as darkness overwhelmed her, her mouth formed the shape of a word. She collapsed into the eternal void.
Lils. Lily. Lilith. It wasn’t a scream. It was a name.