He was crying when she saw him.
His purple feathers were mussed, and his thin cloak blew in the wind. His back was turned to her; his figure was gaunt. When she tapped him on the shoulder, he nearly jumped a metre in the air.
When he looked back and saw her, he smiled. His face was narrow and crooked, a ghost of what it used to be. Quietly, he said to her, “I’ve missed you, Liza.”
And she said to him, “I’ve missed you, too.”
It was the truth. He was her brother, after all. While she’d left him of her own volition, it hadn’t been out of want, but need. The white Eyrie called Liza had thought of him every day since then, thought of his voice and his laugh and his brilliant smile. Back then, she hadn’t wanted to get involved in his politics, his war. But she still loved him more than he could ever imagine.
Liza had pined for this night for years now. She imagined such a lovely reunion – the two of them, bathed in silver moonlight, talking and laughing as if they’d never been apart. But her fantasy was broken now, jagged remnants of what it used to be. Because as they met again after so long, she could hardly manage to talk to him, to look at him, without remembering what he used to be and hating what he’d become.
Deep down, Liza knew he hadn’t meant to turn into what he had. When they were growing up, he had always been so happy, so spry. He and Liza’s mum claimed not to have a favourite child, but Liza always knew she preferred her brother over anyone else. He was the smart one, the funny one, the hardworking one. At times, Liza had been jealous, but eventually, she came to accept it. He was the model, she was the accessory.
And then... he changed. In the blink of an eye, he’d gone from everyone’s favourite child or friend or mentor to everyone’s most hated villain. Liza hadn’t understood it at first. She was in denial. The one the world flaunted as evil couldn’t really be her brother, her silly older brother. He wouldn’t do such horrid things. He wouldn’t be so wicked.
Yet, he was.
Liza’s mum was broken when he turned bad. She spent hours in his bedroom, rocking back and forth on his bed. Although she didn’t know it, Liza watched her from the hall. With every broken sob, the young Eyrie grew angrier. How had her brother done this to their family? How had he gone from the hero to the enemy?
The rest of Liza’s family stopped seeing him, but she didn’t. No matter how angry she was with him, she went and saw her brother anyway. While Liza’s mum and aunts and cousins practically disowned him when he went wicked, Liza refused to join them. She still loved him so deeply, and she didn’t want to even pretend to loathe his existence. Just because she hated what he’d become didn’t mean she hated him. He was still her brother, her flesh and blood.
Liza’s family didn’t know of the visits. They were done in secret, under the cloak of night. She’d pry open her bedroom window and slip out into the darkness, walking and walking until she was with her brother once again, even if it was just for a little while.
At first, they met alone, in a secluded place, but as her brother’s power grew, that changed. Soon she was forced to walk all the way to his army headquarters, and as they spoke, he was guarded. He told her it was for his safety, but Liza found that ridiculous. She was his sister, his kin, not a friend or acquaintance who might turn against him. Part of Liza wanted to stop going all together, but she held herself back. After all, no matter how cold or cautious he’d turned, the love still didn’t break. He could have kept her chained in a dungeon during their visits for all she cared, and she’d still keep going back.
But then Liza’s secret was revealed. Her mum caught her one night, opening the window and slipping outside. At first, Lisa was stone-faced, but eventually she broke. She told about the meetings with her brother, the nighttime treks to his headquarters. She’d expected her mum to being angry but forgiving, but Liza was wrong; her mum was just angry. She told Liza that she had to pick: either her brother or the rest of the family.
Liza was wrecked. She couldn’t choose, and her mum took this as a betrayal. She told Liza that it should have been an easy decision. Her brother was evil, after all, and that meant the rest of the family should be more important than him. Without compassion or care, Liza’s mum told her daughter that if it was such a hard choice, than the young Eyrie couldn’t stay with the family anymore.
When Liz was kicked out, she was allowed to take only a few treasured belongings. She shoved them into a knapsack and slung it over her shoulder, then set off towards army headquarters. She hoped that her brother would take her in. Security or not, she had given up everything for him; the least he could do was let her stay.
The guards were skeptical, but Liza’s brother convinced them. Still, when it was settled, the conditions for Liza would be less than fine. She was to stay in a secure room – a glorified prison cell – away from her brother, her mighty brother. Because she was not a soldier, she had to be guarded at all times, and she was to never be left alone while in headquarters. Liza didn’t like the rules, but she had nowhere else to go. So she lived in quiet misery for a few months, and eventually, she grew used to the guards watching every moment of her life.
And then the war broke out. When that happened, Liza knew she had to leave, especially after opposing forces attacked the headquarters.
She was never a prisoner, despite being treated like one, and a few days after the war began, she left. The rival army – the good army – surrounded the headquarters, and when Liza saw them, she initially feared she might be captured. But she was thin and dirty, and they immediately assumed she was an escaped captive. They whisked her away to a safe place, a happy place, with a family who would look after her until the war was over.
The family the good army set her up with was nice; Liza had to give them that. But she hardly interacted with them, for she was far too busy following the war. Each battle, each triumph, each failure – she knew of it. The family thought it was because she was traumatised from her captivity, and Liza didn’t correct them. Being a refugee was part of her cover, her mask. If they knew the truth, they’d leave her out in the cold.
Then it happened.
The good army won.
The evil leader – her brother – was defeated, gone.
Liza cried when she heard it. The host family assumed it was because she was happy; tears of joy, they reasoned.
“Yes, it is wonderful,” said the mum of the family. “We have won. The evil is gone.”
That night, there was cake and balloons. The entire neighbourhood gathered to celebrate the win. Liza joined in, but again, it was just to keep her cover. Inside, she was reeling. The Eyrie knew these civilians had the right to be happy, but for their joy, she hated them. Victory or not, war shouldn’t be a celebrated feat. It was a time of sorrow and pain, and it was not as if the good army’s success had come at no cost. Why should they celebrate when across the land, others were mourning?
When the party was over, the family gave Liza what they considered great news; despite her quiet demeanour, they said she’d become kin to them, and they invited her to stay at their home as long as she needed. Still having nowhere else to go, Liza accepted the offer without a second thought.
And then, time passed. Soon the war was yesterday’s news, just a page in the history books.
But for Liza, it was much more. It was her family, her brother.
The victors said that he was gone, but she didn’t want to believe it. No matter how much wrong he had done, she still cared about him so deeply. But as the years went on, it seemed less and less likely that he was really out there, hiding in the shadows, waiting for his revenge or living a life of grey solitude.
But then... then he wrote.
It was the letter, the one in the plain envelope, that had brought Liza to the moonlit reunion. She almost thought it was a joke until she saw him, and even then, she wasn’t sure. Not until she tapped him on the shoulder, and he turned back to look at her...
“Liza,” he said now, his voice just a whisper in the wind, “how have you been?”
Liza looked up at him, then at the ground. How could he even think to ask such a question after all he had put her through? She was still glad to see him – see that he was okay – but now, her heart fluttered with anger.
She looked back at him and shook her head. “You hardly know what pain you’ve caused.”
“I’m sorry, Liza,” he said.
“You’re not. If you were sorry, you wouldn’t have done such evil deeds.”
“I love you, Liza.”
“I love you, too. But that doesn’t mean...” Her voice broke. She didn’t know what else to say. Her dream of a perfect reunion was all gone now, and even the remnants had been swept away.
“That doesn’t mean what?” her brother pressed.
Liza turned away from him now. “I’m sorry, but I have to go. I’m glad that you’re okay, but... I need to get back home.”
“Where are you living?” asked her brother desperately, trying to keep the conversation alive.
But Liza only said, “Goodbye.” And then she started to walk away.
Her brother chased after her for a while, but Liza broke into flight. The cold night wind slapped against her face, and her eyes stung with tears.
“Liza!” shrieked her brother, but he didn’t put his own wings to use; perhaps he was too weak to fly.
Liza stared down at him through the darkness. “Goodbye,” she said, unsure if he could even hear her. “I love you, my brother, but I have to go.”
“Liza!” he yelled up again.
Liza turned her head away from him now and up towards the sky. “Goodbye,” she whispered, positive that he could no longer hear her words. “Goodbye, Kass. Goodbye...”