Chapter 10: Kariss, Part 1

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(You can find Kariss and Kolli in the Amaranthine saga. Her story takes place in Iceland and bounces back and forth between the early 1820's [when she is with her mother] and 1784 during the Mist Hardships [the flashbacks]) *** "Who are you?" Kariss ground her teeth. "I'm your granddaughter, Pala, remember?" The old woman nodded and Kariss relaxed a little. She masqueraded as her own fictional child, a young woman who had never been born and never would be, because how could she explain things to her dying mother otherwise? What story could excuse her own youthful appearance except the truth. The truth. Truth was a word that meant dark shadows and screams in the night. It wasn't the thing her mother needed right now. Her mother coughed, the signal she had something to say. Slowly, she worked her voice up and croaked out, "Kariss was a good girl. Did you know that? She was always a good girl. Until she disappeared." The old woman squinted and peered through the gloom. "Where were you when she disappeared." "I wasn't born yet." Another lie; keep up the fa?ade, pretend to be Kariss's daughter so that the old woman would know that someone cared, that someone thought of her. But the lie still tasted bitter. "That's when she met my father. I've told you that, Grandmother." "Hum. Maybe you have. I don't think so well these days." The old woman coughed again, long and ragged. "Where is your grandfather? Where is Vagn?" "He's dead." The cold wind rattled the house and Kariss shivered, more from habit than from cold. The cold didn't bother her anymore, not since the darkness had taken her. The darkness stole many things from her, including the sun. If only it had taken her heart with it. Then, she wouldn't have to hide in the shadows and watch her mother die. "It was during the Mó?uhar?indin, that's when she left. Have I told you about that? The livestock died. Everything died. Kolli died, and Kariss disappeared. Her brothers looked for her, but they're gone now. Where did they go?" "Manitoba," Kariss answered. That was what the weathered letter next to the bed said. It seemed that everyone had gone to Manitoba. "Yes, yes. That's right. My sons have made lives in another place, except for Styrr and Athan. The famine took them. Athan was Kariss's twin, did you know?" His name brought with it a pair of laughing blue eyes and a head of curly brown hair. A crooked smile beamed at Kariss from the memories and her chest tightened painfully. "Yes." "He was killed by a man who wanted his food, but he didn't have any. I can't remember the man's name now. It was so long ago. But that man's wife died and I always thought that drove him insane. Athan was a good boy and he knew it. There was no bad blood between them. It was the loss and the hunger. It makes people do things." Kariss nodded wordlessly. She'd imagined his death a hundred times, and each scenario was worse than the one before. "I named Athan and Kariss after the Kappas. You don't know them, they left, went home or somewhere better. They stayed with Fjola that summer. They had such lovely names." She broke off into a cough. "They're gone now. Everyone is gone now. So many have left. There will be nothing left. Even Kariss has left." "I'm here, Grandmother." She took her mother's withered hand in hers and squeezed it softly. The return pressure was light and fluttery, like a butterfly. So weak. "Your hand's cold, child! Cold like the wind." She closed her tired eyes and murmured softly, "Cold." Kariss touched her mother's withered cheek, so different from her memories. In her memories her mother was stern and firm with bright, flashing eyes and a temper to match. It was only when Kariss's father kissed her that she softened. And then she would smack him and tell him to behave. "We have enough children!" she'd say and point to whichever was nearby. "Do you want another one like that one?" Forty years ago, watching her parents had been like peering into her own future, only instead of Vagn it would be Kolli. Kolli would come home and she would point to one of the children and say, "Do you want another one like that one?" No. She didn't want that. Or she thought she didn't. *** No one knew where Andrei came from. He breezed into town just as the Mist Hardships were at their worst. He was exotic and intoxicating, and he stole much of Kolli's attention. Then came the news that Kolli and six others were killed in an accident. When Athan told Kariss, her knees gave out. He picked her up and cradled her while she cried. Her words were thick with misery. "Not Kolli. No, not Kolli." "He wasn't the only one," her brother reminded her gently. The others didn't matter. Why didn't Athan understand that? "Not Kolli." Athan carried her to the house. Her mother met them at the door. Her face said she'd already heard. She laid a rough hand on Kariss's shoulder. "I'm sorry." Kariss cried harder. What did sorry do? It didn't bring her future back to life! The moon was full when he came to her. She heard his whisper in the winter mist and rose, half fearful and half hopeful. Though she bundled up, the night was cold. She glanced up, hoping for stars, but there were only clouds. The lava and the gas still belched from Laki and she covered her nose to hide from the thick air. And there he was, a lone figure in the snow. "Kolli!" She ran to him, but stopped short. It was him, but it wasn't. He was wrong. His eyes were too bright, his hair too shiny, his skin too smooth. She took a step back, suddenly afraid. He smiled. His teeth were too white; too sharp. Like fangs. She screamed. He caught her in his arms and hauled her away from the house. He whispered soothing words and they seeped into her brain. Andrei was in the hollow just beyond the hill. He held out his arms in welcome. "Welcome." The word whispered through her brain and she trembled. She felt him run through her mind like white lightning. He withdrew and her trembling legs folded on themselves. She landed on her knees in the dirty snow. "She is worthy." Kolli hurried to her and she flinched away. Terror shook her lips as she whispered, "You're dead. They said you were dead." "No, Kariss. Andrei saved me, and he can save you, too." He took her hands in his. "If you accept it and swear yourself to him, he can give you ever lasting life. You will never grow sick, or old, or hungry. It's true freedom." Freedom. It was a beautiful word, but it was a lie. There was no freedom. It was only enslavement of another kind; forty years of enslavement to the darkness, to Andrei's whims, to blood.
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