Kin sat with his head on his hands on the boulder, watching his fiancée and his best friend exchange kiss after passionate kiss. It was the most absurd outcome Kin had never imagined. All this time he’d thought that Thyla had come for Kin – which, she had, but only on his father’s orders – not for Ari. Not even in his wildest dreams did he think Thyla was in love with Ari. Yet there they were, sprawled out on Ari’s cloak, lips touching beneath the rustling white leaves. Estra, fearing what the townsfolk would do, came with the Nox children to the camp. Her Aunt had watched her go, dismayed that she was caught up in such terrible blasphemous business. Frindel, oblivious to this, had smiled cheerfully as she waved goodbye. Estra was sitting in the grass by the boulder, picking a few strands of white grass from the ground, twisting them around her forefinger. Her heart was still pounding from their narrow escape. Thyla and Ari had the benefit of Thyla’s mount, Kalim. Estra and Kin were forced to duck and weave through the streets of the town, their hearts in their mouths. Eventually, they had managed to escape the crazed few townsfolk that were bent on destroying the Nox boy. Unfortunately a group of Sisters gave chase soon afterwards before they could even catch their breath. For whatever reason, the women did not pursue them into the woods. They howled curses after them, pitching stones into the bushes. Kin didn’t really care what their reason was for not following them further. He was just glad that they had given up. If they hadn’t, they would have discovered their camp and slaughtered them all. He shivered involuntarily and glanced over at Estra, the odd white girl. To his surprise, she was gone. He caught a glimpse of her out of the corner of his eye, pushing her way through the dense undergrowth of the forest.
“Hey wait a moment!” He cried, scrambling off the rock to run after her. Behind him, Ari lifted his head and chuckled. He should’ve known Kin was sweet on Estra. Thyla, frowning, pulled his face back to hers. They resumed kissing.
Kin fought his way through the brush, grimacing as a thorn bush raked a branch across his face. Lines of white trickled down and dripped off his chin. Estra was twisting her way through the branches like she knew these woods like the back of her hand. Her white dress swayed around her ankles like an unearthly fog. The woods gave way to a clearing. Kin tripped over a root and fell headlong into the grass. He peered upwards to see Estra standing over him, a bemused smile dancing across her lips. She offered her hand to the soldier boy and helped him to his feet. “Thanks,” He muttered. He began to brush off his uniform’s sleeves, and then thought better of it. They were so tattered and stained already, a little bit of dirt wouldn’t hurt it. Estra folded her arms and stared at Kin, waiting for him to explain himself. Kin offered her a crooked grin. He cleared his throat, “Where were you going?” He asked. A flicker of something crossed her face – doubt perhaps? – “I don’t know…away. I couldn’t stand being in the vicinity of those two,” She confessed, referring to Ari and Thyla. Kin nodded agreeably. Estra suddenly noticed the scratches on Kin’s face. “You’re hurt,” She tugged on his sleeve and led him away down a trail beaten into the ground by wild animals. He obediently followed her without question. Something in the back of his mind told him he shouldn’t trust this Aether girl, but he allowed himself to be led farther and farther away from the camp. The trail led to the river, the same river where Kin and Estra had met for the second time. Estra let go of his sleeve and knelt by the bank, digging up some kind of white moss from the ground. She soaked it in the crystal clear water and motioned for Kin to sit. She crawled up the bank and sat next to him. Carefully, Estra pressed the moss laden with water to his face. It felt cool and tingly against the irritated scratches across his cheek. “Thank you,” He whispered. Again, that feeling came upon him that he would scare away this beautiful creature if he spoke too loud. She dipped her head and closed her eyes, “You’re welcome,”
She withdrew the moss from his face and handed to him to use on his own.
“Where did you learn to do that?” Kin asked, pressing the white lump under his eye where the worst scratch was.
“When I was a little girl, a wild dog bit me. My mother took some moss from the riverside and used it to clean the wound,” There was a note of sadness in her voice as she recounted the incident. She could remember vividly her mother’s concern as she surveyed the damage the dog had inflicted. They had walked to the river together down the well beaten path to collect moss and a bucket of water.
“I remember when the wounded soldiers came home; the Sisters used the same trick.” A lump formed in Estra’s throat as she spoke the words. She couldn’t help but remember that her father was not one of the wounded that day. Instead, he came home on a gurney wrapped in a white blanket followed by a procession of mourners.
Kin reached out his hand and wiped away the tear that hung on her cheekbone, “Don’t cry,” He murmured, stroking her cheek. She closed her eyes, “My dad died,” Her words were flat and heavy like stones. It was an answer to his unspoken questions that needed no explanation. Everyone knew about the First Invasion. Even the enemies knew. The thought crossed her mind that Kin was considered the enemy. But he was kind, not cruel like the men that killed her father had been.
Kin leaned towards her, his lips brushing her face. A shiver ran up her spine. His mouth was getting dangerously close to hers. Suddenly, his lips were on hers, caressing them, embracing them. Warm, dark, forbidden. Her eyes flew open. She pulled back, away from the Nox and stood, staggering away from him. “Keep away from me!” She cried. “Estra, wait!” But she wouldn’t stop. She raced alongside the river, her feet splashing in the water. She was running in her wedding dress for the second time that day. She didn’t even bother to hike up her skirts, not caring if they became dirty from the muddy riverbank. Kin’s voice behind her, calling for her to come back, fell deaf upon her ears.