The mountain was alive with color. Delicate Venus slippers dotted the deep ravines and sawsepal penstemons bloomed in huge lavender bunches, complimenting the bright yellow and pink yarrow bushes. Colorful coneflowers danced in the light breeze. Kairma and Kinter were returning from one of the many trips to the vault with their packs loaded with silver cylinders filled with ancient writing.
After walking for a long time, Kairma noticed Kinter seemed unusually melancholy, so she asked, “What’s bothering you? You’re being awfully quiet.”
“I was just thinking.” It was almost a whisper. “You know, I really don’t want to be a bad person. It’s just that sometimes I get so mad about the way things have turned out.”
Kairma was guarded, waiting for Kinter to spring some new accusation on her. “Is there something in particular you’re upset about now?”
“It’s silly, really. I don’t know why it bothers me, but you remember the Awakening Celebration?”
“It was only three moons ago—of course I do.”
“I did something bad.”
Kairma couldn’t think of anything Kinter had said or done at the celebration. “Go on.”
“Mother told me you were going to enter your blackberry preserves in the contest and I was so mad. I thought you were doing it to spite me.” Kinter’s full lips made a thin line. “But you didn’t enter the blackberry preserves. You switched to the apple preserves, even though they probably weren’t as good.”
“I still took second place to you. That’s better than I’ve ever done before. It really doesn’t matter.”
“The thing is …” She paused. “The thing is, I thought the blackberry preserves were yours and I …” Kairma stopped walking and looked at Kinter with concern. Kinter went on to say, “It was stupid, and now I feel really awful, but I put some dirt in the blackberry preserves.”
“You did what? Kinter, that’s positively evil!”
“I know it was a horrible thing to do. I was so mad; I wanted to get you back for showing up my blackberry biscuits. But then you had to be the better person and not bring your best entry. So I ended up destroying Lakisha’s entry. I didn’t want to hurt her.” Kinter did shout now, “Don’t you see? Because you did the nice thing, you made what I did all the worse.”
“How could ruining someone’s entry be made worse by it not being mine?”
“I don’t know. It just feels worse.” She began to walk again. “We always fight, so I guess it feels different when it’s you I hurt.”
“Oh, that makes me feel so much better.”
“Kairma, you have everything. You’re going to be the next Vice Miral and you’re going to mate with Naturi.” Tears flooded her cobalt eyes, and she quickly wiped them away. “What will be left for me? I’ll probably end up with Efram and have mean, ugly babies.”
Kairma grabbed Kinter by the arm and spun her around. “Kinter, look at me! My hair is almost pure white, and my skin is so pale I look like I’m going to faint! Half of the colony believes I’m a Whitey who should be sent to the Godstones! Don’t you see the way people avoid me like a plague? And you know how Toric feels about me! And this!” Kairma wrapped her hand around the leather pouch that held the Crystal. “This is nothing but an albatross around my neck!”
Kinter was stunned by Kairma’s outburst. Kairma was always so reserved. Kinter choked on her words. “I just feel like I’m always in your shadow.”
Kairma put her hands on Kinter’s shoulders. “You have an outstanding memory. You write script better than anyone other than Gramme. You have gorgeous, thick chestnut hair.” She ran a hand through the thick tresses. “Your eyes are the deepest shade of blue. You’re already taller than me. And your figure is perfect. How can you be envious of me?”
“I guess I’m just made that way,” Kinter stammered angrily.
Kairma shook her head sadly. “I’m sorry. I know it was hard for you to admit what you did at the celebration, and I didn’t react very well.”
Kinter threw Kairma’s hand off her shoulders. “You’re doing it again! I tell you I did something horrible, and you apologize for your reaction.” She stomped away.
Kairma raced to catch her. “Kinter, you don’t make any sense. How can this be my fault?”
Kinter was actually running now, trying to get away, but Kairma could hear her curses. “You always have to be the good one. Even when I try to do the right thing, you always come out looking better. I hate you, Kairma.”
Kairma ran after her. She had enough trouble keeping up with her own volatile feeling, and she resented Kinter’s constant play for attention.
She saw Kinter near the edge of the trail, running, careless of the drop of more than ninety feet. Kairma had noticed loose stones earlier that day, but before she could shout a warning Kinter’s foot caught on a root. Kairma screamed in horror as she saw Kinter disappear over the edge of the cliff.
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