This story takes place many years before the main KOTLC series when Juline Ruewen has just received her first matchmaking list.
"S-so," Juline stammered, frantically searching for a subject they could both have an easy conversation over — wasn't that the point of the matchmaking system? "Do you like—"
"Human movies?" Rex Dizznee grinned, clearly meaning it as a joke. It was clever, too — if she didn't like them enough to talk about it, he could easily pull it off as a prank and ease the awkwardness between them. If she did, however, he would know that the matchmakers had done something right by deciding to match them together.
Juline's jaw dropped and he stopped walking, anticipating her response. She turned excitedly so she could face him and squeezed her own cheeks, cupping them in her hands, her elbows flipped toward him. "I LOVE THEM! Which one's your favorite?"
Rex was clearly taken aback, stumbling backward and nearly falling to the ground — luckily, Juline caught him at the last possible second. He smiled at her thankfully, trying to brew up a witty response.
"I like The Time Machine. It's so crazy..." When she tried to raise an eyebrow and frown at the same time, he quickly added, "How the humans can think of such things. It's honestly, well, just insane. And... it seems like such a waste of time, just for people's entertainment."
He did seem pretty smart and comical, but Juline wasn't sure if that was what she wanted. They both leaned back and tried to observe the other, making no attempt to hide the question going through both of their minds: Were they the right match for each other?
And, well, it did seem like a lot to pay for entertainment, but...
"AHHH!" A scream came from far away and kept echoing. Rex and Juline both froze, trying to find where the noise came from.
"HELP!" The next call that followed was a different voice that seemed to set Rex into a state of panic. He paled as he reached for Juline's hand and kept it at arm's length, not even noticing her hesitation. "Where are they?"
"I... I'm not sure," Juline hated to admit. But her hands were really starting to sweat, and she was grateful for the next shout that gave her an excuse to break away from Rex.
"Follow me!" Rex had already broken into a run and looked back expectantly at her, like he was waiting to see how fast she could run. Suddenly angry, she clenched her hands into fists as she sprinted down a steep hill covered with yards of endless grass. A beautiful meadow that led to the Dizznees' back lawn.
"REX!" A girl with strawberry red hair pulled Rex into an embrace, panting and looking extremely worried as she patted him on the back. Juline was instantly able to spot the similarities between the two: though Rex's hair was a springlike strawberry-blonde color, they both had the same pale complexion that made them look like family.
When the girl noticed her, she released her brother abruptly and stepped back, apparently not realizing that Rex had tripped on a small stone and fallen backward — this time, Juline wasn't there to catch him.
Juline tried to distract herself as the girl tried to lock eyes with her and gaped shamelessly. "It's Kes, my brother," she whispered, bending down, "he's hurt. Could you help him?"
Juline saw the girl's pleading gaze and winced from the purity of it. "I'm no Elwin, but I'll try my best. What happened to your brother? Where is he?"
The girl tugged at Juline's sleeve and dragged her in the direction of a lake. She could tell by the fresh and recognizable scent of the water and the moisture in the air. She was also leaving Rex, for good measure. Before the redhead could open her mouth and say "Here," Juline saw the boy. He looked no older than her, but the blood oozing out of his arm seemed to be making him younger by the second.
When she whirled back to the red-haired girl and tried to ask her what had happened to him, she pointed at the tall tree that cast a shadow onto the ground, covering all three of them.
He had fallen off a tree.
Juline blinked, momentarily paralyzed before the girl grabbed her shoulder, hard. She pushed her way out of her grasp and nudged the boy in the arm. "Are you okay?" She asked as gently as she could.
He stirred and blinked like he couldn't make sense of his surroundings. Then his face melted to something entirely different — fear? Surprise? "That's an overused phrase," he accused teasingly.
Juline spun to the girl, trying to convey the message Hail someone immediately!Get help! She nodded and skipped away, feeling free to take her time.
"Okay, what else do you want me to say instead of that? Just in case I find you hurt again?" Desperately trying to think of something to say to reassure him, the words spewed from her mouth.
"Well, I'd prefer 'Am I worth your time saving?' over any of that nonsense," he snorted, sounding like he was trying to hurt himself more than her.
"Of course you are," she told him, trying to sound positive, "All of us are. We're all about preserving life, don't you know?"
"We're all about saving the lives that're worth it," he corrected her. Then he squirmed, looking fidgety in his uncomfortable position — his arms and legs were bent at weird angles. "And I'm not one of them."
She frowned, her brows furrowing. "Why wouldn't you be?"
He seemed to be trying to find ways to sugarcoat what he was about to say next, making Juline feel even more suspense until he finally told her, "I'm Talentless."
She blinked. The revelation wasn't as big as she'd imagined, though he wouldn't tell her anything big — they'd barely just met, anyways. "There's nothing wrong with that."
He seemed to need to take time to process what she'd just said as he gulped for air, shivering. "Everyone else seems to say the opposite."
"So what?" She asked, feeling surprisingly free and being able to interact with this boy she'd just met so easily, "I'm not saying that they're necessarily right. Or wrong. But... that gives you a new perspective."
She added slowly when he raised his eyebrow, unconvinced — so much like his brother's, if he even considered Rex his brother. "I mean, you can rely on other things — not just special abilities. What if our abilities suddenly fail us one day? Where would you be?"
He avoided the question carefully, looking into her eyes as he opened his mouth to say something... at the last second, though, he took it back and swallowed his words sourly. Scowling, he sniggered, "Says the girl who has a special ability."
"How are you so sure?" Her mind moved faster than her mouth, and she flushed red when she realized that, well, she did have an ability — an extremely rare one, Frosting. She'd manifested it at the young age of thirteen, wielding it with immense power and capability.
"I see the pride," he noted, "And... you just seem kind of... confident. Well," he said, raising his hands up so she wouldn't retort back, "You just look like you have one, a special ability. Does that make sense?"
Not to me, but maybe to you. "That's... I can sort of get it," she lied. Her head snapped back up when she remembered the reason why she'd been here all along, "Where's your brother? And your sister?"
"How nice of you to assume that they would care about me," he shot back flatly. When he realized what he'd done, his eyes swelled and burst with tears as snot came down his shirt. "I'm sorry. I really don't... You don't have to do this..."
"Put up with you? Of course I do," she said, laughing, "Even if I've just met you."
"Same goes for me, even if I just met you." The words were barely louder than an electric hum, but it still zapped through her — and she realized how close she was standing to him the exact same time he did, too. Jumping back with a tiny yelp, she noticed his unembarrassed face and was surprised at his bravery.
"Thanks for helping me," he said, barely louder than a whisper — but she could hear everything he was saying, and she felt like she would even if she stood a hundred miles away, "I don't think anyone else could. Not for someone like me," he chuckled darkly, his tone reverting back to the cool one he'd used earlier. But that wasn't his fault.
She felt a strong urge to stay there, to continue protecting him and fend off all the people who wanted to hurt him as she spotted the redhaired girl and she ran toward her, bringing someone familiar along — Elwin, who worked in Foxfire's Healing Center.
"Good." She repeated under her breath.
"Good?" Juline and Elwin both questioned at the same time.
She shrugged, not looking their way. "Okay, help him. Now!" She demanded furiously. Elwin exchanged a glance with her as she stepped back.
"You'll be okay, Juline?"
"More than okay," she tried assuring him.
She threw a pointed glance at the redhead girl who was indeed the boy's sister, "You'll tell your brother that I'm leaving?" Her eyes widened as she realized what she meant and who she was referring to. Rex.
"I will," she said firmly, like she was scared Juline would doubt her.
"Good," she jokingly mimicked the tone she'd used no more than ten seconds ago— which made the flaming girl laugh unexpectedly.
Before pulling out her home crystal and returning to her parents and sister, her eyes met the boy's. "You should remind me of your name."
"I should?" He asked innocently, which made the red-haired girl bat her eyes. "It's Kesler. Kesler Dizznee," he added, throwing an odd glance at the tree he was lying down below.
"Take care," she tried to tell him while resisting the urge to roll her eyes. Surprised at her own motives, she jerked back suddenly.
When Juline pulled out her home crystal, she noticed that the blazing redhaired girl seemed hurt that she hadn't asked for her name. But that was because she intended to come back and do it all over again, and this time she'd make sure to learn more about their family.
After she returned home, she hadn't noticed that tears were streaking down her face — silent ones that would go unnoticed by everyone except her sister Edaline, who hugged her as she blew her nose into the sleeve of her shirt. "Everything okay?"
That was amazing. I love your writing style! And you wrote a fanfic on Julie and Kesler, which as awesome. I feel that there are so many side characters who get zero recognition. I've never read a Kesler and Julie fanfic, but I can see it's good already! Can't wait for more!
He wasn't going to be on her fifth list. The last list any elf registered in the matchmaking system could receive — the "Final Alternatives." Not a lot of selections were made from this one.
That was enough to keep her hopeful as her fingertips skirted over an icy blue dress that made her seem both powerful and simply just a girl at the same time.
Someone cleared their throat behind her. "Is it okay if I come in?"
Juline smiled. It was almost sad — but not quite. The dim glow of her flower lights and how her curtains were closed wouldn't keep her sister away. "You're already inside, Eda. Might as well come in all the way anyway."
Edaline looked equally as sad as she was thoughtful, quietly closing the doors behind her. "You've been different lately, Juli. Ever since you went on that—"
Juline threw her hands up and squeezed her eyes shut, adjusting her position so she was in a defeated stance. "I don't want to talk about this now. Please."
Especially since she'd gotten her perfect match. It was impossible not to feel a twinge of jealousy, and she really was elated the day Edaline came home announcing her engagement with Grady. Not that it mattered to Juline anyway — but what if it mattered to someone else? Kesler? What if she'd been taking his hints wrong all this time and he really truly believed in the matchmaking system?
"Is there something wrong?" Quiet, brave, strong, resilient Edaline. As always — but she'd learned to question the things around her now instead of accepting that things wouldn't change. Her sister was a huge believer in being the change, especially after she'd grown up so much. Grady really did bring out the best in her.
"I'll always love you, Eda. That's all you have to know, okay?" It sounded like something Juline's sister would say. They were meant to be siblings — but there'd always be a better one. And right now, the spotlight wasn't exactly in her favor.
"And I'm always here for you. That's why I'm here right now," Edaline gestured to her older sister's room, waving her arms in a sweeping motion like she was packing all the sadness and dreariness away. Juline had always loved that magical effect her sister seemed to have — Grady had chosen right. And how Edaline managed to be able to calm an entire room down (the effect faded when there were more than twenty-four people present, Juline had noted,) would always be a special ability to her in her heart.
"So am I," she said, though she didn't have the energy to make it sound completely wholehearted — her sister knew how hard that was. "My goodness, Eda, you've been up all night!" She exclaimed when she saw Edaline's eyes, dark as a raccoon's.
It takes a lot of effort to maintain something. And when you break it, everything changes.
"So have you," Edaline smiled teasingly and somewhat accusingly, brushing her sister's hair back in another smooth sweep, "I've always admired that about you. How you can pretend like something that's a huge deal is nothing."
Her words were said with so much sweetness that Juline was surprised at the sudden wave of hurt that made her world blur.
Juline was lying to everyone around her. It became obvious to her now — the sister who'd always loved her. Her parents. Even...
She hated that thought.
But she couldn't let the mountain keep gathering and watch as it tumbled down, possibly crashing into her and the people she loved. And even if she would be complaining about every wasted second from the moment she told Edaline...
She had to do it. Had to prove it to everyone that she had the guts to show a very public form of defiance to the matchmakers.
"Eda?" She whispered, squeezing her sister's hand, "You won't be mad at me for what I'm about to tell you next, will you?"
"Well, it depends," Edaline smiled smugly, showing her pride and strength for the first time in a long time. She loved this side of her as much as she loved any side of her sister.
"Get ready," she warned, "maybe hug a pillow."
Edaline did as suggested. Probably good.
"I've been up all night thinking about the matchmaking lists," she admitted, hoping that she didn't come off as too guilty.
Edaline's eyes widened when she realized what her sister meant. "There's... someone else?" She said slowly but with quite a lot of nerve. Something to admire. And she didn't sound like she hated her, either — thank goodness.
"I know," she rushed to explain before Edaline could start again. Her sister's shoulder sunk slightly, but she could tell it wasn't from dissappointment. "And... I know it's not going to happen. But this is my last bit of hope," she added desparately.
Edaline nodded. Juline wasn't sure how much she understood, but was momentarily taken aback when she whispered, "It's Kesler, isn't it? Rex's brother?"
"You told me about him a few times. You talk about him a lot," she added, shrugging gently not in the it-doesn't-matter-to-me-at-all way but in the I'll-love-you-whatever-you-choose way. Cheesy, but pure Edaline. "At first I thought it was just so we wouldn't get the chance to embarass you about... but now? It's all different, isn't it?
Pure and beautiful as always. Edaline could sugarcoat anything she wanted to — but Juline once again noticed the selfless soul within her sister, and understood that just because she had an ability didn't mean that she had to rely on it.
She vowed to herself that she would make sure Edaline's selflessness would never be forgotten. She would make sure it lived on in herself and everyone else she could inspire.
"How did you know?" She hated herself for asking that. Of all the things you could've asked for, Juline Ruewen.
Edaline's eyes drifted and still managed to look like the center of a storm. Everything revolving around her kindness. Had her point of trust already been altered? Was it too late? "It's impossible to fight it, isn't it?"
Juline nodded. "That's how you feel with a certain... someone, don't you?" She nudged her sister with her elbow, winking at her.
Edaline grinned toothily, like they were back to being kids again. "Don't fight it, Juline. Do whatever you feel like doing. And..."
"And?" Juline pressed, resisting the urge to roll over and laugh when her sister opened her mouth to say something and stopped at the last minute. "Come on, I'm no better at this than you!" She practically shouted, "You're the experienced one here, Eda."
Edaline shook her head, her lips twisting into a wry smile. "Not sure about experienced, though I guess I could settle for it. Just... watch yourself change. It's magical. But some things will always still be yours, do you understand?"
Juline took her sister's hand. "I'm not sure," she said truthfully, "But I'll figure it out along the way, won't I?"
Edaline smiled warmly. "Of course you will."
When they hugged, Juline felt cleansed. Like she could focus on whatever was happening in the moment again — sisters did that to each other, she suddenly realized. All the wonderful things Edaline saw in her would be kept in the dark for now, but not forever. They were hers until she chose to share them.
"Want to go on a walk again?" Juline twisted a strand of hair with her pinkie finger, smiling wider than she'd ever done before with anyone.
"Like old times?" Edaline's eyes looked cool and glassy, suggesting that it was perfect for a moonlit walk to the beach.
"Like old times," Juline agreed as she hooked her elbow through Edaline's. Her sister squeezed her wrist before smiling widely back at her, and she made herself another promise: She would try to be a kid again. For now.
The moon is like the moon tonight. The moon means different things to everyone — I think it does, at least. And I don't have to be right. I don't have to be wrong. I don't have to be anything, if I don't want to be. It's just... itself. Like this memory. This will always be my own.
Even when I share it with someone else?
Even then. No one could reassure her better than she reassured herself. She didn't need someone else to balance her out if she could do it on her own.
Juline couldn't breathe as she pulled out her Imparter, tossed her amber hair behind her shoulders, and tried to look as modest as possible. "Show me Rex Dizznee."
The Imparter twitched and shook in her hand — she couldn't tell if that was because of how fidgety she was, or simply because the gadget was threatening to malfunction. The way it paused before hailing her ex-whatever made the contraption seem snarky somehow, almost as if it had a personality and played its role in determining the life and death of its subjects.
She. Couldn't. Breathe. Not even when Rex's springy strawberry-blonde curls that he always managed to part so easily blinked into sight. "Hi there," he grinned, managing a tiny wave.
Juline sighed. How could she do this and feel so emotionless? "Can I come over in an hour?" She asked, trying to sound like she was bored and needed something to do. Rex raised an eyebrow humourously in surprise and bit his bottom lip. "This is different," he joked in his usual confident tone with a mature demeanor, "What's up?"
"Surprise." Oops. She'd completely left out the first two words she meant to say. How many times had she rehearsed this? Even with Edaline's help!
Seeing Rex's face on the screen made everything seem more real somehow, like they were living in a world where the matchmaking system was a lot more crueler and harsher. Everyone received one match they were supposed to marry, and this was her first time seeing her match's face — and everything felt wrong. They were just looking into the eyes of each other and couldn't even get a glimpse of their own reflection, and it was just so wrong.
Not that they lived in that world, but the situation Juline was in made that impossible place seem a lot closer.
Rex's lips quirked up — first like he would in a frown, then it draped open, then he closed it with acceptance. "Oooookayyy. Can't wait," he winked and said almost teasingly. Did he not believe her?
"See you then." Juline hadn't meant to sound so cold and unfriendly, and the moment she saw Rex's stunned, hurt face was the moment she immediately clicked off. Wanting to bury her face in a pillow, she searched her room for one and it felt like every pillow on the face of the Earth magically vanished.
Hopefully Rex would see it as some kind of playing-hard-to-get strategy and hope that the meeting would go well because of her uninviting tone. How does that make it better? Juline wondered as the icy wave of guilt, regret, and confusion hit her again.
"I'm not sure what to do," she whispered to the walls, because all they could do was listen to her at this point, "I'm not sure what to do!"
Her eyes were full of dread — she knew it. This was going to be a miserable, miserable day, and even under those circumstances she found herself counting down the seconds until she would have to leave the comforts of her own home. Until she would break down.
With a tiny sigh, she held the Imparter up again to the sun as if it was both an Imparter and a Pathfinder. No one loved the light more than Edaline, so it would only be natural that Juline's sister would be the Pathfinder to her lost state. "Show me Edaline Ruewen."
The Imparter didn't hesitate this time and almost seemed to sympathsize, as if it understood that she needed to talk to her sister.
"Hey, Eda," Juline began as soon as the signal of white light flashed, indicating that Edaline had established their connection, but she was cut off by Edaline's grave "How did it go?" question.
"Not bad, all things considered," she wanted to admit. But what Juline really said was "I feel terrible. He doesn't deserve this — he doesn't even know what's coming! I bet he's preparing a picnic or something for me right now below that tree Kesler fell off, and I'm just being a jerk... Ugh, Eda, help!"
"Stop whining, Juli!" Edaline rolled her eyes, throwing Juline off guard a little. Clearly she was playing up an angle — but until she figured out what is was, she wasn't going to talk.
Yeah, no way she was going through on that. Edaline deserved to know everything. "Eda, he's being so sweet about it. I can just imagine him getting his sister... oh, crap! I still don't know her name... well, he's going to make her get flowers for me at Atlantis within the next hour, and he'll probably want to hold hands with me and ask me what's going on, and then I'll just end up backing out of it and doing whatever he feels like and Kesler will be there and I don't know what I'm supposed to..."
She had to stop there. Edaline had always been strong for her — she had to do the same and prove to herself that she could tackle her problems by herself.
"It sounds like you're expecting him to already know what you're going to tell him," Edaline noticed, though she certainly wouldn't be smug about it — Juline was proud of her sister for noticing and going that extra step to actually figure out what the problem was. She could never do that by herself — so much so that she almost forgot to feel relief at the fact that someone, her own sister, was able to put exactly what was happening into words.
"I am." It sounded like both a question and a statement. Pause. "Okay, so what do I do?"
Edaline smiled, looking like all things beautiful and green. "Well, keep going along with the truth. It'll only get worse if you hide it more... yes, I think you already know that. I'm so proud of you, Juli, you know? Sometimes I even wish that I could've gone through all this, just so I know how you're feeling."
"You don't have to do everything for me, Eda! Seriously! Now I feel guilty about taking advantage of you." That wasn't the most important thing she absolutely needed to say, and she instantly forgot what else she would've said in place of those words.
"It's not just for you," Edaline reminded her, her words feeling like ice — cool ice, the ice that was calming to the touch and soothing for everyone who glimpsed upon it. "Sometimes I wish I could understand."
"That's the problem," Juline hated to point out, but she had to be truthful with her sister, "You can't understand everyone even if you want to help everyone."
Edaline nodded shakily, making Juline feel as if she were really there — as if the simple gadget couldn't capture the movement of her red-haired, turquoised-eyed best friend. Instead of looking like she was on fire, Edaline's hair turned a warm, breezy red whenever it was the target of the sun's burning rays, a feat she was certain no one else could achieve.
"Maybe not. But that doesn't mean you stop trying," Edaline whispered softly.
A fighter. Only her sister could be the total sweetheart and the brave fighter at the same time — seriously, even if everything went well for Juline, could it even compare to her sister's life?
"That doesn't mean you stop comparing yourself to people better than you are," Juline blurted out, her cheeks flushing red. On one hand, she was glad her instincts took over so her sister would take the hint that she really was being honest, but on the other... why couldn't she control herself?
Juline shuddered as if it was the middle of winter — her favorite season — when she recalled the ethics lecture she'd received when she'd first manifested. The only thing worse than having too much power is having too little control. She used to not be so much of a disaster, and that was proven by how the thirteen-year-old Juline Ruewen in the flashback didn't even consider the awful things ahead she was going to face.
One thing at a time. Edaline's breathing exercises were always coming in handy — someday, Edaline was going to save her and everyone in the world, and all Juline would be able to do is watch and marvel, bask in her glory.
"Juli?" Edaline's voice held a grudging note of concern. Ugh — she had the perfect sister at her side ready to help her, and all she could do was complain. "Juline, you're doing the right thing. I know you are."
"I'm not worried that I'm wrong!" Juline's eyes flashed to anywhere but her sister's face. When was the last time Edaline had called her by her full name? Oh, yeah — when she came to her crying about Grady mesmerizing her as part of a test ordered by the Council, since being a Mesmer was such a rare ability. Edaline mirrored her movement — Juline knew because her traitorous eyes shot a quick glance over at the screen of the Imparter, where she was pulled in by Edaline's just-right turqouise blue eyes darting across the lush green world surrounding her.
It was all Edaline ever needed. And yet she kept hoping for more.
Juline took a deep breath, ready to start over again. Still — what's the point of doing that if I already have mostly everything I need? "I'm scared," she admitted, managing to sound tough and defeating the whole purpose of what she was trying to say, "There's a million ways he could react horribly and, I don't know, try to explode my eardrums?"
Rex was a Vociferator — an incredibly rare ability that allowed him to unleash horrible screams that triggered headaches beyond measurable. Looking back, Juline wondered if that was part of his appeal toward her — he trained with Councillor Noland on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons. It's all about connections, she remembered him telling her.
"I know why Kesler says your jokes are terrible now," Edaline winked, making Juline blush before the realization creeped up behind her neck.
"You talked to KESLER?!"
Edaline grinned. "Surprise!"
Instead of physically walking towards her sister and demanding an explanation right that second, Juline could only bottle up her emotions and lean forward to squash her sudden feeling of sickness. "Explain this. Now."
Her hands instinctively pointed to herself, and even in the midst of the moment, Juline Ruewen hated herself for being so self-centered and conceited. No, not conceited — yup, she couldn't remember the opposite of that word.
Edaline waved her arms in the air, clearly anxious to explain but trying to search for the right words. Sensing Juline's unease, she looked her in the eye before opening her mouth to speak. "The other day, Kesler hailed me on my Imparter."
"And then?" Juline felt dangerously calm, like she was going to explode the next second. Okay, it might not exactly be her business — but it concerned her, because why else would Edaline bring it up? The look on her sister's face was the most unexplainable — Edaline looked like she didn't remember what had happened at all.
"Come on, Eda, don't tell me this is a—" Juline began, but Edaline jumped in with the next revelation. "He asked me — he asked me if I knew. About you two. And I told him yes."
Juline blinked, her eyes sweating. "That's all?"
Edaline hesitated. Then she lunged forward, as if looking for a physical object, before noticing Juline again. Peering through the screen, Edaline smiled smugly and reassuringly. "I'm sure you'll find out soon."
"Soon? How soon is soon?" Juline was about to bounce up and down now. If someone had some way to teleport to where Edaline was, she'd do anything she could to get them to take her along with them.
Edaline winked, then smirked teasingly, then laughed. "Even I don't know the answer to everything."
"You know the answer! You just don't—" Something tickled at Juline's stomach as she laughed, rolling on the ground. Edaline looked thoroughly confused for a split second. "Juli, do you already know?"
"No." The mood got serious again as Juline felt a sudden unexplainable surge of regret for not telling her sister "Yes!" and lying.
Edaline blinked, considering what to do. Then she pressed her hand to the screen — Juline did the same with her elbows. "I'm always here. Do what you think I'd do, if it'll help."
"You? You're too perfect to get yourself in this situation." Juline forced herself to repeat what she was about to do out loud to her sister, not just in her head. "You're never going to tell someone you've been 'dating' for the past six months that you only really showed up because you wanted to see their brother that you're in love with. Yeah, no." She added — just for clarification, Juline shook her head once to the left and once to the right.
Edaline smiled warmly, like her hair glowing underneath the scorching sun. Her entire face looked like an open book, a hug, a grassy field that had just been sprinkled with water. "Good luck, Juline."
It was everything she ever needed. Thank you, she said once in her mind, imagining the words being written in a letter and sealed with a kiss before saying them aloud. "Thank you, Eda. You have no idea what this means to me," she swallowed.
"Also, just so I know you're not somewhere you're not supposed to be..." Juline dragged the words out like her life depended on it, "Where are you?"
Somewhere warm, Edaline mouthed as her moving picture clicked off. Even though her sister's face had just dissappeared off the screen, Juline could still see it there, bright as day and glowing as foxfire.
Everything was so close already. All she needed to do was take the final step.
"H-Hi," Juline managed to choke out, her voice wobbling as she tried to conceal her disgust for herself. Edaline had told her that the first time was always the hardest, and... she didn't want to do this again. Every time from here on out she tried to tell Rex what the truth was, it would get harder and harder until she was swallowed by her own lies.
She never used to be this person. Before, she thought she was powerful and had potential, could maybe even become a hero of sorts. Looking back, she had always shown her rebellion and defiance quietly, unlike Edaline: the day her sister decided to declare independence from the Council's many lies would be the day the gnomes all turned into trees. In other words, the world would have to be literally burning down in order for Edaline to ever step out onto the battlefield.
Rex stared at her concernedly and wiped a tear trickling down her cheek, his pinkie tracing the shape of Juline's eyelids. They twitched and threatened to pop out, giving way to more tears that would eventually lead to more lies. And there would be no eyelash to catch it.
What's at the end of this? More lies? More betrayal?
And why do I like that?
Her traitorous lips curled into a smile before she could stop herself, and she kept it on for a few seconds before it faded on its own.
"You're smiling," Rex announced, officially trying to decide between screaming for help or pulling her into a hug and asking her what was wrong. "That was dramatic."
Despite all the things at stake, Juline still managed to roll her eyes at Rex's attempt to make a joke and something that tasted like mallowmelt cotton got stuck to the edges of her throat, forcing her to swallow.
How could she do this? Was she completely heartless? Well, wasn't her heart buried in her head already? She would just be adding a little more heat to the flame. No wonder why it was forbidden.
Swallowing again and opening her mouth to suck in air, she was vaguely aware of Rex's presence beside her, soothing her more than what was really necessary. Juline Ruewen was no hero, but she sure felt like one — and not because she had done anything heroic or worth an award for.
"Hey," Rex said suddenly, making her jump as he put both his palms on her shoulders to steady her, "Remember... remember the first time we did this?"
Juline couldn't help but snort into her elbow. Watching Rex scoff, she realized that she was saying goodbye to a million things every second. It could be five seconds before he knows the truth, and he doesn't even know when it's going to happen.
I don't know when my confession is going to happen.
"With your brother and the tree?" Juline tossed her regal amber hair behind her, the one feature that made her seem older and more mature than she really was. It also made her quite comparable to a tree, and for whatever reason, she loved imagining what her own Wanderling would look like.
Rex's smile shaped his lips into something hearty and meaningful, nearly knocking Juline off the shore. The two of them had just enough of everything, but she had learned that just enough wasn't enough anymore. And that knowledge could backfire at any time.
Staring into his white-blond hair that was a few frustrating inches above his eyebrows that were only an inch or two above his eyes, Juline saw a life in front of her. They could get married and they could have children, a boy and a girl, and she'd name the girl after her sister. They could be happy settling for each other because they had just enough options to keep them happy and peaceful. And, as the human movies would say, they would grow old together and watch their Ancient ears sprout out.
But that life was only possible if she was still young and unaware of the many problems that circulated their world, and she was going to correct them. She had to shut out the path that would lead to a happy life because happily ever after didn't exist.
She wanted something to be real.
Right away, something bright and earthlike flashed into her eyes, and she saw her Wanderling in front of her: dark amber leaves that would be edible and taste like a little bit of everything on the planet, ombre turquoise flowers that were constantly trying to make the part of the tree that represented her hair shine, and...
...It was growing beside a tree that had warm yellow leaves like hay coated in a sugary layer of strawberry-like berries with small periwinkle flowers that seemed to stare at her, as if begging for her to see it for its true self. Kesler.
There is no happy ending.
"Juline!" Rex was shaking her shoulders, hard. His face looked slightly pale and panicked. He was constantly shifting his weight everywhere, twisting his fingers together anxiously.
"I'm fine! I'm fine" was all she managed to say before he forced his gaze to meet hers.
In that moment, she got an idea.
But she hated it.
Just like she hated the Council for everything she once believed in.
For creating an illusion.
What was the point of illusions when they would eventually be see-through?
Juline would find out soon. She bit her lip and ignored the metallic taste of blood as she leaned in and gently kissed Rex for the slightest second before closing her eyes and burying her face in her lap.
They were temporary.
"Juline. Juline." Her name was whispered into her ear, and it reminded her of everything she was fighting for. Some things had to break before they rehealed, and Rex Dizznee was no longer an illusion anymore.
"I can't do this anymore," she wheezed, wrapping two guilty hands around her neck that she hoped would choke her, "I... I lied to you. I wasn't here for the real you. I'm sorry."
"What?" His own face.
Juline rushed to explain — she had to explain that she hadn't just made a mistake. "I'm so sorry, Rex. I really am. You have to listen!" She tried to grab on to his arm but instead ended up brushing her fingertips with his. "I wasn't... I wasn't here for you."
"What do you mean, you weren't here for me?" The last thing she expected to hear was hysterical laughter. What on earth, Juline?
"I... you... the first day... you have to understand... have to... understand..." Her sputtered words were desperate, and they wouldn't do anything. She hadn't imagined this outcome.
"I don't have to understand anything." His disgusted scowl told her otherwise. Dragging his next sentence out like he was dragging Juline through a pit of sand by her arms, "Then who were you here for?!"
"Stop!" She cried, covering her ears. "I can't do this anymore."
His grunts told Juline that she wouldn't be going anywhere until she explained what was going on. "I deserve the truth," Rex spat, his face twisted by anger and shock like he'd lost a best friend.
"Maybe you deserve the truth. But you don't get to have it yet," Juline stood up, officially done with this conversation.
When she was carried away by the light, Rex didn't stop her. The last words she would ever hear from him were the mouthed words You dirty traitor as his jaw locked into place, promising Juline that he would find out who.
When Juline Ruewen was carried away by the light, she was nothing but a crying girl without luck on her side, being carried away by... the light.