“Good morning, Rika.” My mother says cautiously as I enter the kitchen. “Morning, mom.” I respond, smiling at her. Her shoulders relax at my easy tone. “Are you feeling better?” I wince at her words, their meaning a reminder of my crying session from last night. She must have heard me. Although I had resolved to leave as soon as I had a small amount of money saved, these past four weeks since Sumeya was taken away have been difficult and it seems like every moment of every day is filled with heartache from her absence. My mother often reassures me that she’s certain Sumeya is safe, but how can I know for sure if I’m not with her?
“Would you like something to eat before you go to work?” She asks tentatively. Nodding, I sit down at the table. “Yes, please. I have some extra private lessons scheduled for today.” My mother frowns at me. “Why are you picking up so much extra work, Rika? You’ve pulled at least three twelve hour days this week and your other two have been ten.” Not yet ready to tell her my plan, I take a deep breath and voice the other half of the truth. “It’s a distraction, mom. It’s been hard waking up every morning and her being gone. When she was born, I dedicated my life to being her protector and her nurturer. I was determined to make up for Nakan no longer being here. So when he took her, my life purpose was shattered. Knowing I may never see her again has made getting out of bed in the mornings difficult. So yes, I’ve been working more. The long hours are a distraction. Plus, it’s the only way I feel needed now.” I whisper the last statement as a solitary tear falls from my left eye. Although my words are a deflection from the real reason I am working so much, they are still the truth.
Before I can react, two arms reach around me and I feel a light pressure on my head. Noticing the teal hair strand that lands on my shoulder, I relax into Malla’s embrace. Being the only person aware of my plan to leave, her comfort means more to me than my mother’s in this moment. “I’m sorry, Rika.” My mother says quietly, clearly unsure of how to handle my answer. “It’s alright, mom. That’s why I’m working more. It helps. Even with the Aku Enforcers beginning their investigation, I know they won’t find her. It’s been an entire month she’s been gone, an entire month that I haven’t seen my…” I pause and take a deep breath. Malla’s arms tighten around me. “Teaching helps.” I state, my tone indicating I no longer want to discuss the topic. Before my mother can respond, a knock sounds on our front door. My father walks into the kitchen from my parent’s bedroom, confused. “Who could that be this early?” He asks. “I’m not sure.” My mother replies before wiping her hands on her apron and moving towards the sound.
Slowly, she opens the front door. An Aku soldier stands in front of her, his head held high. “Is this the secondary residence of Soldier Tamara Taran?” Immediately, Malla moves away from me and is at the door in the span of a heartbeat. “Yes, this is it. I'm her wife, Malla Taran. Has she returned?” I can hear the hope in her voice. “Soldier Taran returned to Aku late last night with the rest of the soldiers who made it back. She is currently at the Aku Military Hospital. Her condition is severe, but no longer life threatening. I was instructed to bring her wife with me to her room.”
Malla inhales sharply. “Let me grab my bag and I will go with you.” As she turns away from the soldier, I catch a glimpse of the emotions on her face. She’s relieved to hear Tamara is alive, but worried about her injuries. “Rika.” She murmurs. “Will you come with me?” I nod. “Yes, but will they allow me?” She turns back to the Aku soldier. “Can I take one person with me?” His expression doesn’t change. “If that person is Rika Samaran then yes, it will be permitted. Soldier Taran requested both of you by name. Anyone else is not authorized at this time.” Malla breathes out a sigh of relief. “Give us one moment please.”
As she leaves to grab her things from Sumeya’s bedroom where she has been sleeping, I look at my father. Before I can say anything, he lifts a hand. “Both of you are excused for the day. If it’s needed, I’ll excuse you for a few days. An Aku soldier returning home from battle with severe injuries needs their family. This is more than justifiable for a call in. Everyone will just be glad she made it back alive.” Nodding at his words, I stand up and make my way to my bedroom to grab what I need for the day. Prepared to be moral support for both Malla and Tamara, I put my personal feelings about Sumeya aside and resolve myself to focus on the two people who need me most right now.
About an hour later, we stand outside the entrance to the Aku Military Hospital, the largest medical facility in Aku. Malla grabs my hand for support. “They said her injuries were severe, Rika. What does that mean?” She whispers. I honestly can’t blame her for her fear. I’m also massively worried about Tamara’s condition. Neither of us know quite what to expect. “This way, ladies. She’s on the sixth floor in the Intensive Care wing.” Squeezing my hand slightly, Malla let's go as we follow the soldier to Tamara’s room.
My eyes widen when I see her. Asleep in the hospital, her face looks like the same Tamara she’s always been, but that’s where the similarities stop. From the neck down, the majority of her body is covered in bandages, a good portion of them tinged with red. Her left leg is being held straight in a white cast infused with Wahelai Essence and her right arm is braced against her chest in the same cast material. It’s obvious both limbs are broken. On her torso is a deep gash with bandages lightly wrapped over it. Judging by the lack of red, it’s clear that the wound has already been stitched together. “Tamara!” Malla quietly gasps. She approaches the bed slowly, fear of disturbing her wife outweighing her concern for Tamara’s injuries. Itching to use what healing knowledge she has to ease Tamara’s suffering, Malla grips her hands together, understanding that her skillset lies in first-aid and quick responses to life-threatening occurrences such as heart attacks, strokes and bodily injuries until that person is sent to the hospital for treatment. Her skillset is essentially what was used to get Tamara here alive. “What happened to her?” I ask the soldier, desperate for answers. “I think it's better you hear it from her.” He responds. “But she’s sleeping.” Malla protests, turning to him.
“No, I’m not. I have to keep my eyes closed because any light right now is killer on my head. They said on top of the breaks and stab wound, I have a mild concussion.” I wince at Tamara’s gravelly voice. Severe injuries was an understatement. Malla takes a deep, shaky breath, sniffles and looks back at Tamara. Immediately, I know she’s crying. I don’t blame her. “No tears, dearheart. Chin up. I know I look bad, but it’s not the worst I’ve endured. They said I’ll pull through, Malla. I might not be able to return to being a soldier, but I’ll pull through. I’m not going anywhere. Come here, please.” She says, slightly lifting her good arm.
Moving towards Tamara’s bedside, she gently takes Tamara’s hand in hers and runs her fingers over Tamara's knuckles. A soft smile forms on Tamara’s face. “For a moment there, I didn’t think I’d make it back.” She murmurs, her words barely audible. “The only reason I survived was because our Healer sacrificed herself to save me. When the Ankya broke my limbs and began the drain, she attacked it with enough savagery to make even it step back. She grabbed me then and dragged me away to heal my bones enough to survive the trip home. But the Healing left her weak and she wasn’t fast enough to dodge the Ankya when it found us again.” Tears begin falling from her closed eyes. “It broke both of her arms and legs before it began the drain, laughing the entire time while she screamed. The worst part was it just stared at me while it did it. Even after she was gone, it just stared at me. Then it left. It never came for me again. I don’t know why. They were all Tuuran’s, Malla. An entire swarm of them. We lost half our soldiers, half!” Her voice rises in pitch. “Randa.” The pitch becomes a little higher. “Randa, why did you sacrifice yourself for me? I didn’t deserve-” Her voice cuts off mid-sentence. I turn to Malla whose tears are falling steadily down her face.
“I helped her sleep.” She whispers, voice cracking. “She was becoming hysterical. Rika, I think it’s best we don’t mention anything about Sumeya until she’s more mentally stable.” She stares at me with defeat in her eyes. I understand her feelings. She’s worried that Tamara wasn’t just broken physically. Only time will tell, I suppose.
“How’s she doing?” Malla asks, entering the room with two cups of warm Cinamilk in her hands. “Courtesy of Amara.” She adds, noting the question in my eyes. “She’s still sleeping.” I respond to her original inquiry.
Three days have gone by since Tamara returned from her mission. After Malla used her Wahelai Essence to put Tamara into a deep sleep, she never woke back up. The hospital Healers believed it was partly due to her concussion, but also a result of the mental strain she had endured. They believed that despite her prolonged sleep, she would be fine. They were keeping her body well maintained and the lack of movement from the sleep would help her bones mend faster. They estimated she would wake up as soon as her concussion was almost healed. The only injury requiring a bit more of a Healer’s attention was her broken leg.
“Rika, is that you?” Tamara whispers, snapping me out of my thoughts. I turn to look at her. Although we had been told she would be fine, it still feels so good to hear her voice and know that she’s alright. “Malla is here too.” I say in answer as Malla quickly hands me the drinks. “I wasn’t sure if you’d be here when I woke up after you knocked me out like that.” Opening her eyes, she searches the room until she spots her wife. “Wahelai only know how much I’ve missed you.” A faint huskiness in her voice causes me to stand up from the bedside chair I was sitting in and move towards the entrance of the room. “I’m heading home, Malla. I’ll see you there later. If you’re up for it, Tamara, I’ll come by tomorrow around noon. I’m off from lessons.”
Both women nod slightly at my words, too focused on each other to pay much attention to me. I don’t blame them. After an absence like that and the nightmare Tamara endured, a reunion between them should be private. Not knowing what else to do, I decide to pay a visit to the recreational pier parallel to the one the Aku Military Training Facility sits on. Despite the location being where I met Nakan for the first time, it’s still one of my favorite places to visit. I’d often take Sumeya there on days I had nothing else planned just to get her out of the house for a while. Sumeya. Just the thought of her brings tears to my eyes. Where is she right now? What is she doing? Someday, I’ll see her again. I don’t care where in Tanmai I have to go, I will see my daughter again.
Once I arrive at the pier a couple of hours later, I stare at the vast ocean stretched out in front of me. Reaching down into the purple satchel hanging off my shoulder, I pull out a thick, dark-brown leather journal and cradle it in my arms. About two weeks after Sumeya was taken and the pain of her loss was particularly intense, I decided to purchase a large journal to document everything I was feeling until the day we were reunited. I intended to give it to her when she was older so she’d understand her mother never gave up on her. Since I purchased it, I’ve only managed to bring myself to write in it once, the same day I brought it home with me. However, as soon as I have enough money saved to begin my journey, I know I’ll write more. I’ll have more stories to share with her then.
Opening the journal to my first entry, I run my fingers over the thick paper and reread the words that carry so much of my truth.
I’m not sure where to even begin. I still haven’t fully processed that you’re gone. It’s been two weeks since your father took you. The thought of what you’re feeling right now sickens me to my stomach. Everyone and everything you’ve ever known just gone. Taken away by a father who wouldn’t even explain why.
At first, I had no idea how to handle myself. I shut down. A world without you in it just wasn’t one worth waking up to. Then I touched your blanket, Sumeya and I realized that if your father was going to steal you away, I’d just find him and bring you back. Back to your home, back to grandma and grandpa, back to Auntie’s Malla and Tamara. I’d bring you back to the place where you belong. We’d sit around our kitchen table once more drinking Grandma’s homemade Cinamilk while she teases me about the little things you do and how it reminds her of me when I was your age.
I don’t know where your father took you, Sumy, but I will find you. Once I earn enough money to make the trip, I’m going to Viern. If any knowledge of your father’s homeland exists, it will be there. I miss you, Sumeya and while I wish I could tell you this in person, this journal will have to suffice for now. But I promise you, sweet daughter of mine, one day, I will bring you home.
Resolve strengthening as I finish reading the letter-style entry, I close the journal and return it to my satchel, determined to document my journey once it finally begins. “Soon.” I whisper to myself before making my way back home.
About the author
Just a nerdy, coffee-obsessed mother of two active daughters. Administrative work as a profession, but filled with dreams of becoming a published writer. Gamer, knitter, anime-watcher, book-lover, I'm a "glass is half-full" kinda gal.