Tomahna was peaceful at night, and deeply silent. The desert air hung heavy over the wood-and-glass structures, not quite cool but certainly cooler than the daylight hours. It was cool enough that Yeesha slipped out from her bedroom and onto the small waterside deck below. It was a place where she often came to think when she desired solitude.
Perched on the edge with her bare legs dangling in the water, Yeesha stared up at the stars unblinkingly. She was glad to be home, here in this tiny sanctuary. It was her oasis Ã¢â‚¬â€œ both literally and figuratively Ã¢â‚¬â€œ and it would always be her home. The few days in Tay had only increased her longing for this familiar place, out in the beautiful desert. She had missed the blaze of the sunrise and sunset, the weight of the air in the afternoon, and her motherÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s garden that provided shade and beauty even in the ugliest of surroundings, and these were only the beginnings of her love of Tomahna.
Thoughts clamored at her, demanding attention, but the girl pushed them aside determinedly and focused on the glassy water, where a false night sky stared back at her. The sight only served to remind her of her feelings, of SirrusÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s betrayal.
Watching her brother, Yeesha had once believed that he was an innocent man, a victim of circumstances and the recklessness of emotion. Now she knew that what she had looked at was a false image, the likeness of sanity, the mere reflection of stars in the water. He had only pretended to be reformed, to be loving and caring, but all it had been merely a front. Once there might have been goodness in Sirrus, but in the very end there had been only greed and cruelty and corruption.
One had strayed absently to touch the edge of the memory stone that hung around her neck. Even in the moonlight it glowed, and it had once been a comforting sight. Now it only served as a reflection to Sirrus, and Achenar.
Dear Achenar, who had once given her bones as a gift when nothing else could be found. It had been a fitting tribute, an accidental gift of fate, but neither had known it at the time. He had once given her the bones of a creature, the life of a creature, but now he had given his own bones Ã¢â‚¬â€œ his own life Ã¢â‚¬â€œ for the chance that Yeesha might live as the creature and he had, once. YeeshaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s father had been displeased at the literal gift of bones, but secretly she had taken them anyway and locked them in her jewelry box. Since coming home from Tay, Yeesha had looked at the little bleached fragments of a life many times, smoothing their surfaces and wondering what creature they had come from.
She blinked tears away and stared at the memory stone in her hand. Briefly she considered dropping the stone into the water and letting the memories wash away as easily as they had come. To be able to forget, once and for all, SirrusÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s betrayal, or AchenarÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s sacrifice, or even her motherÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s stricken face when she heard that both her sons had passed was a tempting offer. Her father had once told her that the pain from the death of a loved one passes, but Yeesha could not believe him. Not when her two brothers were dead of betrayal and sacrifice. The pain still seemed too real, even after a week of mourning and hoping beyond hope that, in the end, there had been some goodness left in Sirrus.
A great sob erupted in YeeshaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s small chest, and she buried her face into her hands. Her dark hair, released from its tight braid for the night, tangled in her fingers and fell into her eyes, where it grew wet from the tears. It had been so long since Yeesha had cried; she refused to cry in front of her parents, or anyone else for that matter, naming pride and stubborness as her rationale. Privately, she had other reasons, but they were kept hidden away with the tears.
Something stirred on the hillside near the dock; Yeesha realized, after a moment of blinking to rid her eyes of the tears, that it was a small desert bird, perched alone on a bit of earth. The girl wondered briefly what it might think of her, this small ghost of a human crouched beside the water, crying with pointless human emotion. The bird did glance in her direction, but whatever thoughts it had were soon forgotten as it turned back to foraging through the dirt. The memory stone glowed brightly for a moment, and she knew that it had received the memory of this bird on the shore.
This knowledge made her pause. The stone was full of good memories, of loved ones and wonderful times and even daily wonders, like the bird on the shore. How foolish would she be to throw them away, all on account of a sparse few bad memories? Yeesha stared at the stone, still glowing faintly from the received memory, and then finally tucked it inside the collar of her nightgown. Achenar would not have wanted her to throw her life away Ã¢â‚¬â€œ for what else was memory but life itself, life in the past that forever lives on? He had given his life for her own, and she had the obligation to keep living.
She may have once carried Sirrus in her soul, but it had been an unwilling burden, one that had been forced upon her by his greed and corruption. Now she willingly bore Achenar in her soul, carrying the sacrifice that he had made for her for the rest of her life. Though he might be physically gone, as gone as the creature that had given its bones for a gift, he was still there with her, present in her very life and soul because of his sacrifice.
The girl stood, tears already dry on her cheeks, and glanced once more into the water at the reflected stars, and then at the bird still perched on the hillside. Her father called her his Ã¢â‚¬Å“Desert BirdÃ¢â‚¬Â and now the name had new meaning. Hope, courage to live on, sacrifice. She smiled, and started to climb back into her room.