Vernal knew she was going to die for Raven.
That had been decided long before the Spring Maiden found her way into their midst.
Vernal had always looked up to Raven. She’d been just a child when Raven returned to the tribe, but the woman sparked something in her. Her power, her grace, even her brutality… It drew Vernal to her instantly. When she was ten, Vernal saw her single handedly slay a Nevermore that threatened their camp. The Grim had swooped down, its talons focused on Vernal, when Raven seemed to come out of nowhere and strike it through the heart.
She remembered staring, gaping, as the leader of her people walked away from the thing’s body and offered a hand to help her up.
From that moment on, Vernal dedicated herself to Raven. She trained twice as hard as any of the other bandits her age, spent countless nights in the forest practising with her blades and honing her semblance. She would prove herself useful.
It was Vernal who found the girl, hiding pathetically in a cave in the woods. If it weren’t for the wind storm she’d summoned, she would’ve never guessed such a weak little thing would hold such incredible power. She immediately returned to camp to find Raven, who managed to convince the Spring Maiden to join them. After introducing her to the rest of the tribe, Raven pulled Vernal aside to talk in her tent.
“Vernal, you know just as well as I do that she isn’t going to last very long here,” Raven said as soon as they were out of earshot.
“I know. I was worried about that.” Vernal looked back at the girl, a tiny slip of a thing, surrounded by all the strong and capable bandits who had adopted her. “Her powers put a target on her back.”
Raven sat down and sighed. “I know. And that’s the problem, Vernal. She’s going to be killed, and then who knows where her power will end up? Letting her live puts everyone around her in danger.”
Vernal reached for her blades, where they rested dormant on her belt. “So you’re saying you want me to kill her?” She’d make it as painless as possible. Vernal had trained well enough to know the best way to kill someone without making them suffer.
Raven turned to her and put a hand on her cheek. “No, Vernal. The role you’ll be playing is even more important. You’ve been a loyal, dedicated member of the tribe, and I don’t think I could trust anyone else with this position.”
Vernal felt her face flush. Raven? Trusting her with a special position? She’d been one of the youngest lieutenants the Branwen tribe had ever known, but, as hard as she worked, she was hardly the fastest or strongest member. “Why? The tribe is massive, and they all worship you. I just don’t see…”
Raven cut her off. “Let me show you, then.” She then leaned in and kissed Vernal. It was just a slight peck on the lips, but Vernal knew that she was ready to do whatever Raven asked.
It was a few weeks later when the tragic death of the Spring Maiden was reported to the Branwen tribe. The official story was that she’d been on patrol with Vernal when they were attacked by a Grim. They both fought valiantly and were able to defeat it, but the girl succumbed to her injuries in Vernal’s arms.
In reality, the only Grim they’d seen that day was Raven’s Nevermore mask, but the lie was enough to placate the tribe.
Still, as Vernal pretended to summon a breeze, she felt powerful. The fact that Raven had trusted her to keep this secret, to protect her… It gave her a warmth that blossomed in her chest. She had a purpose now, more than any other member of the tribe.
Once the wind died down, she looked over at Raven, stoic and powerful in her mask, and her heart jumped.
Death was inevitable. Everyone who ran with the bandits knew this. But now, at least, she had someone to live for.