Family is Forever

I apologize that it took me so long to return to this particular story; I actually thought I had written more about this and it turns out I hadn’t ^^;; This is the long-awaited continuation of the story from You Don’t Have to Be Honest With Me and it also ties in nicely with the party mentioned in Then and Now a few weeks ago.
. . .

By the time Ves had strapped herself into the virtual reality gear, she knew what she wanted to say to her sister. It wasn’t foremost on her mind anymore, of course. She wanted to know why she’d been dragged to the middle of nowhere, to what seemed to be an abandoned space station to use a set of VR that had probably been well beyond its prime before she disappeared. She wanted to know why the person sent to reunite her with her sister kept shooting her when clearly he was nothing more than a hired mook. Most of all, she wanted to know what she had been thinking when she walked into this situation on her own. It had only been a few hours, and she’d already forgotten.

But as virtual images formed around her, shimmering surreally for a moment before they settled into proper existence, Ves clung only to the words she had decided to speak.

The place her sister had decided to meet her, the backdrop she had chosen for this little reunion, was the ruins of an ancient temple. Ves didn’t even know if it was a real temple from a real planet transcribed into VR code after its exploration or if it was something her sister had invented. Apparently, several years spent in service to an archeologist hadn’t taught her much. Although she’d been rather more concerned with blowing up obstacles than studying Eddie’s bounty.

The tumbled rocks that had once made up the temple’s structure, along with what remained of the foundation, were covered in various vines and surrounded by trees in various stages of growth. Ves was unsurprised to note that several of the plants were dead, clinging to the grey-dappled walls with a fragility that suggested a stiff wind might carry them away.

The scene was light by flickering firelight that almost made the branches and roots of the plant life seem to dance. The light was shrouded in the shadow of several figures, gathered in a rough crescent on the far side of the flames. The figure at the near point of the arc lifted one hand and let an obsidian dagger fly. It embedded itself in the ground at Ves’s feet. She didn’t need to look at it for more than a moment to know it was made from a single piece of obsidian. She didn’t have to concentrate to identify the chanting now emanating from the circle either.

Always spectacle and show with these people. And her friends probably wondered where she got it from.

The cloaked figure who had thrown the dagger detached from the rest of the group and came to rest less than three feet from where Ves stood. Finally, she pulled the hood of her cloak aside to reveal a black-tattooed face.

The last time Ves remembered seeing Varah in person, she had been young, not yet fully grown, still a child by most standards. They had walked through Hell together, side by side and hand in hand, and then Ves believed she would never see her again. That there was nothing left to see. Once, she had been the older sibling, but ten years had passed for her in the span of five hours, leaving the woman standing next to her older by several years. She looked even older than she had in her video message. But her eyes were still vibrant and her gaze sharp. She carried herself like a stalking lion, ready to pounce.

“Sister,” she said in a way that almost sounded like a cat’s purr, “you have finally arrived.”

Ves waited with a set look on her face, shoulders pulled down and slightly back, chin jutting forward. She tried not to narrow her eyes or frown. She tried not to let emotion show on her face, but it was difficult. Her sister’s face was frozen in her memory and it had never looked anything like this.

“Well,” she managed after a moment, “you know. Apparently I was stuck in shunt space for ten years. What can you do?”

“It’s been longer than that,” Varah chided with a click of her tongue. “What’s your excuse for all those other years?”

There were words on the tip of Ves’s tongue, but she swallowed them for now. “Not that I think you’ll believe me, but I didn’t remember you existed for a while.”

Varah barked a laugh. “As far as excuses go, that one is pretty weak.”

“I could make up a story, if you want, about how I was doing noble things elsewhere. But the truth is, I forgot a lot of things. Some by accident and some on purpose, but you were one of the former. If I had realized you were still alive, I would have come back right away. I’m a shit sister, but I’d like to think I’m not that bad.”

Silence, but only for a moment. It couldn’t be an easy meeting, after all, the universe would never allow it.

“I thought you stayed away because of what you did.”

Ves’s lips moved involuntarily when her sister said that, but she relaxed after a moment, forcing the mask of determination to return. “Not at first, and not for as long as you think. I sent that message not long after I figured out you were still alive and kicking.”

Varah spun, her eyes on the firelight for a long moment. Maybe she was giving her sister a chance to retrieve the knife and stab her in the back. Maybe it was all for show. Ves no longer knew her well enough to guess. When she spun back there was venom in her eyes.

“Do you remember what our parents looked like? Or did you forget them too?”

“I’m pretty sure I remember most of the shit I forgot by now. But I never forgot our parents.”

“You forgot me.”

“Parents are kind of a requirement for existence. Sisters not so much. There’s nothing you can possibly say to make me feel worse about it than I already do. So just say whatever it is you want to say.” Ves took a deep breath, and then she released the words she had been holding since she activated the VR equipment. “But if you want to kill me when you’re done, Varah, you damn well better come over here and do it with your own two hands. Not via that mook you sent to pick me up.”

Varah snorted. “You’re lucky I decided not to meet in person.”

Ves took a half-step forward. “Why do you think I came here? To plead for forgiveness? I know what I did.”

“You left me there!” Verah snarled, hands folded into fists at her sides. “You tried to kill me! So I found a new family.”

It was a blow, like a knife sliding between her ribs. But Ves hardly had room to complain. She had stopped being worthy of her family a long time ago.

“I didn’t do it on purpose.” Her voice cracked and she paused a moment to clear her throat. “I thought you were dead. And thinking you were dead drove me half mad. But it’s no excuse. I should have come back to make sure, even if it killed me. I should have tried. I made mistakes, a lot of them. And when I tried to fix them, I made everything worse.

“So for awhile, I stopped trying to fix things and concentrated on breaking them instead. Seems like the only thing I’m good at. I didn’t come here to fix this. I’m pretty sure I can’t. But like I said; if you want me dead, you’d better do it. My life is yours if you want it, but I’m not giving it up to anyone else.”

Varah’s anger faded. It took several seconds for Ves to identify the twist of her lips as confusion. Then she turned away. She might have been looking back at the fire, but it seemed more like she was talking to someone Ves couldn’t see.

“This is not how I expected our reunion to go-“

“Yeah, tell me about it. I thought you were going to stab me the moment we meant.”

A hint of a smile touched Varah’s lips. “Had we met in person, I may have. But listen; before your friends interrupt, I have questions that need answered. Start with how you stopped the Nakanth.”

Ves shrugged. “One of my friends died for some weird orb thing and apparently the fabric of the universe changed. Now you know as much as I do.” Luckily, she hadn’t picked up enough about the ancient technology to explain more if she wanted to.

Her sister’s eyes grew cold. “All that heartfelt nonsense just so you could play me? I thought better of you.”

“Okay, fine. Here’s the long version; we went through a giant space portal that we’ll probably never be able to open again because it takes literally forever to charge. And we met some asshole AI thing that was really pissy about our attempts to save its life. Like who’se even going to bother trying again? Seriously! Anyway, I’m pretty sure he gave us the orb. But it got broken, somehow, so my friend had to feed his soul to it, I guess? Look; I was there and I don’t really understand what happened. I was a bit preoccupied with trying not to die. You kind of kidnapped the wrong person if you were after information. My friends don’t trust me with much aside from explosives.”

Varah’s sigh expressed her exasperation. “Then who should we ask?”

Ves thought for a moment. Who was least likely to be able to give the cultists information? And who was least likely to be willing? Both questions gave her the same answer. “Is there a grumpy old guy with dark skin and black hair in the group?”

Varah arched an eyebrow before she turned away, once again seeming to consult with someone Ves couldn’t see. “Is that Domerin Lorcasf? Of the White Dragons?”

“That’s him,” Ves agreed. “He can tell you everything.”

Her sister made a thoughtful sound. “If he survives, I’ll arrange a meeting.”

Half-terrified her sister was going to pop out of existence any moment, Ves seized her arm. “Listen Varah, I came here because I need to know how you feel about me. How you feel personally. I need to know if there’s any chance we can still be sisters, or if I fucked that up too.”

Varah opened her mouth, but no sound came out. She shook her head and tried again. “I never thought you’d be so open to accepting your errors. I never thought you’d offer your life to me. You’ve changed. I need time to process that.”

“Just remember what I said. Don’t send your cult mooks after me anymore. I’m not going to play nice with them. My offer is for you and only you. Because I still consider you my sister, even if you don’t want me.”

There may have been a glimmer of unshed tears in Varah’s eyes. It was hard to tell, since she seemed to be deactivating her VR. “I must go. We’ll speak again.”

She was gone before Ves had a chance to respond.

*  *  *  *  *  *

After watching most of her friends reunite with their families, Ves was somewhat relieved hers would not be in attendance. While it had been amusing to watch Domerin’s daughter slap him across the face, it hadn’t been remotely fun to see Pantriss’s mother try to get Ruhk arrested. It didn’t make much sense to her either, considering how obvious their affection for each other had grown. Besides, if they were going to go around condemning people for their pasts, Ves wasn’t going to be invited to many more parties in the future.

Even with all the drama, it was nice to be home. Moon Base – whatever they were calling it now – truly was the closest thing she had to a home anymore, even if it was much different than she remembered. That her friends hadn’t disowned her when they caught up to her, and that her sister hadn’t tried to kill them all, served as no small source of relief. She could almost imagine that everything was back to normal, could almost pick up again where she left off… could almost swear that figure standing next to the statues was her sister.

Ves’s heart skipped a beat. When she told her sister that she was willing to die by her hand, she kind of hoped her sister would decide to keep her alive. Not because she’d been going for dramatic flair, but because she really rather enjoyed living. Her days of worshiping death were far behind – a decade behind even if that decade had passed in the blink of an eye. She wasn’t interested in experiencing that dark embrace anytime soon.

Yet, she found herself drawn across the distance, to the base of the statues depicting her fallen friends (only one of whom had failed to return from the void), to the side of the woman dressed in the fabulous black dress with a head piece adorned by black skulls and feathers. Whatever there was to be said about her sister these days, no one could claim she didn’t maintain a fantastic sense of fashion. But Ves would have expected no less from her sister.

Swallowing hard, Ves lifted her gaze to the face of the statue. Out of the corner of her eyes she took in the figure beside her. Her tattoos were covered with makeup, but her identity was undeniable. When it was clear that Varah wasn’t going to leave, and wasn’t going to thrust a knife between her ribs before they at least had a chance to speak, Ves said, “I didn’t expect to see you so soon.”

“No,” Varah agreed with a small smile. “Nor did I. But this is a special occasion. A celebration of my sister. It felt proper to be in attendance.”

Ves sincerely doubted that Varah had received an invitation. She was starting to wonder about the level of security on this station if people could just keep slipping in and out unnoticed. She made a mental note to mention it to Shrike next time they had a free moment. For now, she lowered her head and cleared her throat. “Is this a business visit?”

“It’s personal,” Varah reassured her in a tone that did not entirely banish Ves’s anxieties. Just because her sister hadn’t come to kill her didn’t mean she hadn’t come to cause trouble. But she wasn’t about to call her a liar.

“It’s good to see you.” And it was true. She wanted to throw her arms around Varah’s shoulders and embrace her, but it would have drawn unwanted attention. She wanted her friends to help her save her sister from whatever the cultists had convinced her of. She didn’t want them dragging her away in chains in the middle of a party. That would rather ruin the tentative bridge she was trying to build.

“It is.” Ves thought she heard a hint of surprised satisfaction in her sister’s voice. “We have a lot to catch up on. A lot of fences to mend. This seemed like a good way to start.”

They stood for a while, not quite looking at each other, not quite basking in each other’s presence, but certainly taking each other in, sizing each other up, trying to remember what it felt like to be family. Finally, Ves laid a hand on her sister’s arm. “I want to stay. There are so many things I want to say. But not here. My friends will be looking for me, expecting me to rejoin them.”

“Of course,” Varah replied, shifting her arm beneath Ves’s so that she could grasp her sister’s wrist in return. It wasn’t quite the hug she had hoped for, but it wasn’t nothing.

“How can I talk to you?” There was a hint of urgency in Ves’s voice. “How can I send you messages that others won’t see?”

Varah lifted her pad and pressed it to the one Ves still held in her left hand, half-forgotten. A light flashed and she glanced at the screen, noting the number which had just been added to the system.

“For you,” Varah said, “and only you.” She squeezed Ves’s arm again. “I hoped you would ask. Now go and be with your friends.”

“I want to see you again. Tonight, I mean.”

Another small smile graced her sister’s lips. “You will.” Then she turned and walked away, her platform heels clicking softly against the tile floor.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *