Note: this is a story about my Tanjian OC, Ti'inrani. The Tales of Tanjia story and world belongs to Sorachan! I hope you enjoy the story, and if you see anything that needs to be changed, please let me know. Thanks!
There is something about life that simply requires death. The flowers in the garden wilt and shrivel, the bleached bones of animals are scattered across the earth, and even we–with such a long lifespan–must someday die.
I had been standing on my balcony, listening to the chatter of my sisters and their handmaidens behind me, but I now turn to face them. I have two sisters, one younger and the other older than myself. The elder is Mad’oka, tall and slim with raven hair and ( )illiant purple eyes. My younger sister is Rei, still an adolescent with rich lapis locks and large turquoise eyes. My mother loves to rave of their beauty to anyone who will listen.
Looking at my face in the mirror now, one would perhaps find me as beautiful as my sisters and the average Tanjian. Dark blue hair, eyes the shade of sea foam or ( )ight jade…but all it takes is for me to push aside the hair covering my left cheek to see the gnarled purple scar running across my white skin.
I am dying. You wouldn’t guess it just by looking at me, would you? But yes, I have no inkling of how much longer I have to live. Any ( )eath could easily be my last. And because of this, my mother hides me away. My father plays little part in the affairs of the family but even if he did I doubt he would do anything to help my case. My mother claims that I am too delicate to go out, but I cannot tell if she says that out of overly protective sympathy for me or shame that she produced a tainted child. I would guess the latter, but that’s just me being cynical as usual.
“Are you going to see your intended, then?” I ask Mad’oka, cutting into the conversation she had been having with Rei and the servants.
“Who else?” Rei giggles.
“Both of us are attending a banquet at his house this evening,” Mad’oka replies with her usual cool and superior tone.
“I almost wish I could join you,” I remark. “Then again, banquets aren’t exactly my style. Etiquette and formalities, you know.”
“I suppose you’ll be spending the day with that boy again,” Mad’oka says with a smirk. “Such an odd fellow, but I suppose you suit each other.”
“He is a bit odd,” Rei agrees.
“At least he treats me like a normal Tanjian,” I retort. I slip off my nightdress and in the mirrors surrounding us I can easily glimpse the scars curling around my neck and down my back to my thigh. It looks better than I feel, trust me. The scarring has yet to reach my lungs and other vital organs, but once it does I know I am finished. One of our handmaidens helps me pull on a gown and secures it with an em( )oidered belt at my waist. I dress far more simply than my sisters, who decorate themselves with beads and silver. Most of my hair remains undone, cascading down to my waist. I ( )ush my shorter layer of hair in front of the left side of my face so that it covers most of the vein-like scarring. I expect my left eye will go blind once the scars reach it.
I slip out of my house, unnoticed, and hurry along my usual route through the city. Makai’o and I have been searching for a cure for this illness for years now. I don’t expect anything to work at this point, but Makai’o is better company than most people. He’s my closest friend; probably my only friend, actually.
“Makai’o!” I call into the cluttered laboratory. “I expect you haven’t eaten anything all day so ( )ought something with me.”
An older man comes around the corner carrying several old books in his hand. “Makai’o is in back,” he says with a smile. “He’s just been finishing up some work for me but I plan to give him the afternoon off.”
“Thank you,” I reply, returning the smile. The man is Po’orr; Makai’o has been an apprentice to him for quite some time now. Since Makai’o is able to get most of his work done quickly, Po’orr doesn’t mind us experimenting a bit with cures. I cross the room and stroll through the open doorway into the adjoining room. Makai’o is there, pouring over a set of scrolls while adding drops of some viscous substance to a vial. I smirk as he doesn’t even look up upon me entering and drop the basket I’ve been holding onto the table. Makai’o jumps and gives me an annoyed look. “That could have ended disastrously.”
“Nice to see you too.”
“We see each other nearly every day, Ti’inrani. Exchanging pleasantries is unnecessary.”
“Fine. At least eat something.”
“You sound like my mother,” Makai’o grumbles, holding up the vial to his eye. He then sets it aside. “Done with that.”
I hesitate for a moment as Makai’o reaches into the basket to examine its contents. “I’ve been thinking…maybe we should just stop looking.”
“I mean, how likely is it that we will find the cure for this? You said yourself when we started this process that the chances were next to none.”
“We can’t just give up now,” Makai’o insists, shaking his head. “There is always a solution for everything. It might be unlikely that we will find it in time, but this research could lead to something great.”
“I just don’t know if it’s worth it,” I sigh. “You probably have better things to do than this. You’re a busy apprentice. And I don’t even help much; I just come along because I really don’t have anything better to do.”
“Wallowing in self-pity isn’t going to help anything.”
I do appreciate that Makai’o doesn’t give me pity–I don’t want pity–but sometimes his blunt remarks are irritating. “I know.”
“You seem like the type who should have a social life. Why don’t you go out and live a bit? Go to the baths or attend one of the endless banquets in the upper class.”
“Are you giving me social advice? I don’t think you are quite qualified.” I smirk. Makai’o shrugs and I sigh. “In any case, my parents wouldn’t like me going out.”
“Like you care what they think.”
“Maybe I will. Just not the baths. I know they’re supposed to be an excellent place to socialize, but…it takes a lot to cover up these scars and I don’t want anyone to see them.”
“I still don’t understand that.”
“I don’t want their pity or their disgust, Makai’o! I get enough of that at home from my own family. I expect you wouldn’t know what it’s like, having an expiration date printed in your genes.”
“If you don’t want pity, you should stop giving it to yourself.”
I glare at Makai’o as he returns to his work, cool and unaware of the fire boiling in my damaged veins. I spend hours wondering if anyone will miss me when I die. The only one who might is Makai’o, and at times like this I doubt he would even care either. Of course I want to be healed, to perhaps live a normal life–but really, how likely is it that something like that would ever happen? All of the doctors tell me that it is a miracle I have lived this long. I would say it is more of a nightmare. Put me out of my misery already. I hate waiting in suspense.
So maybe I should live my life a bit. Enjoy it while it lasts. Ignore the stares and whispers and accept my fate. It seems like the reasonable thing to do, and yet it is the very last thing I want to do…I’d rather bide my time here or at home, alone in my room thinking about the purpose of life and the meaning of all of this.
When I return to my home in the late afternoon, I find that Mad’oka and Rei have vacated the premises along with my mother. My father is rarely around, so I hardly find it surprising that he is absent as well. Just me and our servants–precisely the way I like things. Hopefully I will have a few solid hours to paint before my family returns.
Painting is a silly passion of mine. None of my work is any good, but it helps me relax and forget about my ailing body and my corrupted mind. I hurry up to my room and pull out a set of thin ( )ushes accompanied by a bottle of dark ink. I bend down and slide my sketchbook out from underneath my bed, flipping it open and resting on the edge of my silken mattress. As long as I’m careful not to spill the ink on the blankets, I should be fine. I dip one of the ( )ushes into the inkwell and conjure up images in my head to copy on the page. I always feel as if I’m leaking a bit of my heart onto the pages, a snippet of my soul depicted in ink. It’s dark and bitter but somehow beautiful–what am I becoming? I am much more callous and cold than I was only a few hundred years ago. I can feel myself dying, and yet my life drags on. I feel as if I am a detached mind and soul living in a slowly decaying corpse. Quite the story, isn’t it? And believe it or not, but I’m not even the main character of my own story. It is. This poison growing inside me. My entire life is centered around it and I would love nothing more than to remove it.
I jump violently and almost upset the inkwell but manage to catch it in time. “You really shouldn’t sneak up on me, Rei,” I remark.
“The door was open,” Rei grimaces. “Sorry about that. Are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” I grumble. “How was your dinner?”
“Pretty boring, actually,” Rei sighs, coming to sit next to me on the bed. I quickly flip my sketchbook closed and toss it underneath my bed. “Mad'oka's fiancee might be handsome but he is rather dull. His ( )others aren’t bad, though.”
“Oh, really?” I remark with a smirk and a sideways glance at Rei. “Someone catch your fancy?”
“Maybe,” Rei giggles. “We’re both too young for anything serious, but who knows? Maybe I’ll start seeing him more once I’m fully grown.”
“I’ll have to meet this boy,” I say in mock seriousness. “He has to be nothing less than perfect if he is to court my younger sister.”
Rei laughs openly, a sweet and melodic sound. I can’t help but smile myself. I do like Rei more than the rest of my family, though when Rei is around Mad’oka she tends to mimic the latter’s behavior. “Luckily for you, then, that we are reciprocating the favor and having his family over for dinner tomorrow evening.”
“Really? We rarely host.”
“This is one of the exceptions. Mother is thrilled to have them over but of course she worries about you.”
“I won’t ruin her evening, don’t worry,” I say darkly.
“You ought to come with Mad’oka and me tomorrow. We plan to shop for new gowns.”
“I doubt Mad’oka would want me to come along.”
Rei shrugs. “It’s not her choice.”
“You know, maybe I will go. It’s been ages since I’ve been out in society. Rather pathetic, actually.”
I cough, feeling the familiar acidic feeling rising in my chest. Rei gives me a look of concern but I shake my head dismissively. “I’m fine.” I rise to return my ( )ushes to their place in my desk drawer but as I open the drawer my head spins and I lose all feeling in my legs. I wobble and collapse, coughing and shaking. Even in the midst of the pain running across my body like hot knives stabbing into my spine, I can hear Rei calling for a maid and I wish that she didn’t have to see me like this. The pain ebbs a bit and I find myself curled on the floor with my sheer robe splayed out around me. My scars throb and I can feel the pain slowly returning. It tends to come in waves when I have one of these episodes.
I clench my fists and try to ( )eathe, needles running through my bones. I could feel my temperature rising rapidly and my ( )eathing became shallower. “Rani, we’re going to try and get you into bed.” Rei’s voice floats into my ears and I feel several sets of hands begin to lift me to my feet. My vision blurs and blood rushes to my head, causing me to feel dizzy and faint.
“Please,” I whimper. “Don’t…”
“You’ll be alright, just stay here and rest,” another voice assures me. One of the doctors, I think.
I squeeze my eyes shut and wish that everyone would go away. I know that they’re only trying to save my life, but I hate them seeing this weakness.
“Everyone,” I manage to say, “please…just leave.”
I hear a few people shifting around and exiting the room. “I’m going to stay, if that’s alright,” Rei says quietly. I open my eyes slowly and feel pain shoot through my cheek and down my neck.
“You don’t have to stay. I’m sure you have other things to do. I’m fine, really.”
Rei ( )ushes a hand through her hair. “You always say that.” I’m surprised to find that her eyes are shining with tears. “Rani, do you really think you will be alright?”
“I don’t know, Rei. To be completely honest, I could die at any minute.”
Rei ( )ushed her hands across her eyes. “Don’t say that.”
“It’s true.” I cough and press my eyes shut again. “Please. You should go. I don’t want you to see me like this.”
“I don’t mind.” I smile slightly to myself and Rei gives me a quizzical look. “What?”
“Nothing.” I sigh and rub a hand over my face. “I think I should be fine in a few hours.”
“Are you sure about that?”
“Yes, this one wasn’t that bad.”
“Okay. I’ll talk to Mother and let her know.”
Fe( )uary 3, 2016 update
That evening, Rei comes to my room with the dress she chose for me. “I hope it’s alright,” she says, beaming as I examine the gossamer material of greenish blue.
“It’s lovely,” I insist. “I’m looking forward to finally meeting Mad’oka’s intended. They probably think I’m some strange and ghostly invalid.” I laugh hollowly and Rei twists her fingers together.
“You know that we care about you a great deal, don’t you?” she practically whispers.
I freeze and give her a guarded look. “I don’t think you can speak for anyone but yourself. That’s sweet of you to say, but…I think we both know that there would be few tears shed over my grave.”
“That’s not true,” Rei sighs exasperatedly. “We would be devastated. All of us. You can’t keep talking about yourself like that. I know I would be upset too in your position, but that’s no reason to–”
“Don’t pretend like you know my condition,” I snap, curling my fingers until my fingernails bit into my palms. “I’m a bit more than ‘upset.’”
“I’m only trying to help, Rani.”
“Stop trying, then! I shouldn’t need your help. I should be as strong and independent as anyone else.”
“Everyone needs help every now and again.” Rei sighs heavily again as I turn my face away, seething in silence. “Okay. I’ll leave you alone.”
She turns and glides out of the room. I feel a pang of guilt but push it aside, glancing down at the silky, delicate fa( )ic in my hands. I press my eyes shut, taking solace in the ( )ief darkness. What am I becoming?
I spin my cup between my fingers and glance at the young man seated across from me. Typical elegant, neatly scuplted features of a blossoming Tanjian nobleman. I quirk an eye( )ow critically and look down at my meal again. Mad’oka and Rei seem to be enjoying the company of their counterparts, so I suppose I will be seeing this family more and more as time goes on.
“So, are you just going to continue to ignore me for the rest of the evening?”
I look up in surprise. “On the contrary, I thought I would spare you from my conversation.”
The man tilts his head slightly to one side. “A curious thing to say.”
“When one prefers to speak about philosophy, morality, and the grand scheme of the universe, one learns to keep one’s mouth shut in social situations.”
“I suppose that is why I have never met you before. You prefer your own company?”
The corner of my mouth twitches sardonically. “Do not pretend that my mother has not told your family about my poor health and ‘sensitive condition.’”
“She has. I always imagined that there was more to the story.”
You would be the first. I give my mother a sideways glance and find her chatting animatedly with Mad’oka’s intended. “You are called Ti’inrani, correct?”
I return my attention to the man. “Yes. I’m afraid my mother has never told me your name.”
“Well,” I say, mustering my best sly smile, “nice to meet you.”
“So, what did you think of Kiri’os?” Rei asks, swinging her legs back and forth as she sat perched on the end of my bed. She undid her ( )aids and let her soft blue hair fall free around her thighs.
“Oh, you know,” I reply dramatically, spinning on my heel as I ( )ush through my hair. “He seduced me with his eyes like turquoise stars and his hair of ebony black.”
Rei rolls her eyes. “Seriously, Rani.”
I laugh. “You know I’m no romantic. He was nice enough, though.”
Rei rubs her forehead wearily. “You know, I think I’m going to turn in early. I have a bit of a headache.”
“Okay,” I say with a nod. “I might be out for a while in the morning. I know it doesn’t affect any of you much, but I just thought I’d let you know.”
“Well, if you want to join us, Mad’oka and I are going to the baths.”
“You know I’d never go there.”
Rei sighs. “People won’t stare that much.”
“Have you seen my scars? It’s difficult to not look at them. Plus, it’s more the social aspect that I prefer to avoid. I suppose I will see you when you get back.”
Rei jumps up from her seat and strolls out of my room. I pull my gossamer nightdress closer around me and sit on my bed, picking up my journal from the side table and flipping through pages of words and illustrations to the next blank page. I pick up a pen and scribble a few words about my mediocre day. My sickness strikes again! Basically the most exciting thing I can record from today. Then, I close the journal and lie back in my bed, hoping sleep will claim me faster than my thoughts can.
I wake in the morning just as the first rays of sunlight make their way over the horizon. I dress silently on my own and pick up my art supplies stashed around my room. It’s the perfect morning for painting; the sky is a pale, rosy shade and wispy clouds caress the backdrop like doves’ wings. Ah, poetry. It dances in my head, mostly dark and reflective of my perpetually grim and bitter mood. But today I am determined to create something beautiful instead of my usual art.
I slip through my house like a spectre, unseen by even the servants who are busiest at this time. I exit through the back and cross our small garden, walking past the reflective pool and the stone bench where Rei likes to sit and sing to the birds that visit. She wants to be a professional someday, singing for anyone who will listen to the joy in her heart. I don’t know how she does it. How she sees so much good in the world.
The coast isn’t far from our home, so I spend a lot of time watching the tide and contemplating the nature of the universe. Now, I sit on a smooth, flat stone near the edge of the waves and sketch the landscape before painting over the lines in colored ink. This is the best way for me to relax and stop thinking about my…fate. I hum quietly as I ink in the last of the beach. The sky has turned from painted dawn to soft blue morning by now and I pull together all of my art supplies. Something glittering in the sand catches my eye and I bend over to pick up a small piece of smooth blue glass. I smile and tuck the sea glass into my sash. I’ll add it to my jar when I get back. Rei would like it–we used to go hunting for sea glass together when we were younger and her favorites were always the blue pieces. And the bits of porcelain pottery we found occasionally.
I should go see Makai’o. He kind of depends on me to ( )ing him food–he usually gets so involved in his work that he forgets to eat unless I specifically ( )ing something by. I’ll have to stop by the house first. So, I gather up my skirts in my hands and hurry back up to my house. As I hurry back through the garden and reenter the main hall, however, I can sense that something is wrong. Very wrong. A still tension hangs in the air, halfway between panic and paralysis. A few servants run past but I manage to grab one by the arm. “What’s going on?” I demand, my heart plummeting further at the expression on the woman’s face.
The servant bursts into tears. “Your sister…” she manages to sob. I don’t wait for the end of her sentence and leap up the stairs, then sprinting down the hall and skidding to a halt in front of Rei’s open bedroom door. A small crowd is gathered around her bed, but in between their backs I can see Rei’s pale figure lying in the bed. Dread fills my blood like ice and something catches in my throat. I can’t ( )eathe. Maybe it’s not as bad as I think, I try to assure myself. I hurry forward and push myself between two people whose identities I do not have the time to work out. She is so still and calm that she could be sleeping…but with the pallor of her skin I fear that my first assumption was correct. Someone says something, but the words enter my ear and do not reach my ( )ain. “Please tell me that I’m wrong,” I say.
Someone puts a hand on my shoulder and I flinch violently, turning to my left and seeing Po’orr standing next to me. “I’m so sorry, Ti’inrani. She’s gone. In her sleep, it would seem.”
Those words shatter me and my soul retreats far back in my body. I feel myself raise a shaking hand to my mouth and cast another glance at Rei. Sweet, kind Rei who was so full of love and an optimism that could not be quenched even by my darkest remarks. Darling Rei who could make anyone smile–even me–and who was loved by everyone who met her. I hear my mother’s voice but I am not listening; no, I watch myself run from the room and back down the stairs whence I came just moments ago. Back out into the garden, by the pool and the hanging flowers and the stone bench. She was gone, she was…gone. But this anger I can almost feel…there was no one to blame. No one killed her.
The gods killed her. They took her from me…from all of us.
I was supposed to die, not her. It was always me, always supposed to be me who would go first. I live every day wondering if this will be the day I die, and she just…did. No, it was supposed to be me.
“You were supposed to take me!” I scream at the sky. “Not her!”
It was my fate; I deserved it. It was supposed to be me.
It was supposed to be me.
It was supposed to be me.
“If it helps, she wasn’t in pain.”
I jump at the voice in my ear and turn to look at Makai’o. “What are you doing here?” I demand immediately.
“I’m the apprentice of your doctor, of course I came along. Plus, I…thought you might want the company.”
“The last person I’d want as company would be you,” I snap. Makai’o says nothing, looking out past the garden. “How do you know she wasn’t in pain?”
“Well, we haven’t determined exactly what it was that killed her, but it was clear she didn’t suffer. Did she say anything to you last night about feeling sick?”
“She just said she had a headache,” I whisper.
“Hm, that could mean a lot of things,” Makai’o considers, and I can practically feel his mind working for a solution.
“Oh, don’t try and solve it, Makai’o!” I scoff loudly. “You’re always trying to solve the problem, but you’ve forgotten one thing: she’s dead. She’s not coming back. You can find the reason behind her death but you can’t ( )ing her back. You can’t save her. So does it really matter?”