Give and take - Editor
by Lydia Kurnia
Shilvana was six when the masters first severed her hand.
She had been waiting for this day. After all, that was their purpose: food for the Cromera. If her body parts meant safety for the elves of Farizia, then this was nothing but an honourable sacrifice.
The Cromera protected all, weathering the storms that forever threatened the city. In return, the masters would sustain Her with the younglings. Before puberty, Shilvana’s kind had the gift to regenerate. Her hand would grow back in a matter of days.
She just did not know it would hurt so bad.
She was fortunate. The Cromera only wanted her hand. Her best friend Erikh had almost died from bleeding when he lost both his arms at previous feeding. The masters would always try to negotiate, knowing there was limited supply of younglings for the Cromera to feed on. She must not be too greedy—Goddess or not. But Shilvana knew at the end of the day: what the Cromera wanted, She got.
Erikh had a different idea about the Cromera. He told Shilvana that in his mind, the Goddess was beautiful, with hair flowing about Her like a halo and eyes so bright they blinked like the stars. Shilvana rolled her eyes. Erikh had a way to romanticise everything. But that was why she liked him so much. Erikh was always impossibly positive.
The Cromera was a mystery. But unlike Her form, the younglings all agreed about one thing: the beauty of Her voice. It was mesmerizing, thin like the wind of a flute, but with strength that could break even the toughest of hearts. Sometimes She would sound like a choir: thousands of Cromera, all singing in unison, making the trees dance in harmony with Her tunes. At night, Shilvana and Erikh would sit by the window listening to the Cromera, forever Her loyal entranced audience.
At least She provided superb entertainment.
Erikh often had tears in his eyes as he sat there gazing at the wall behind which the Cromera would be. Shilvana never cried, although she always felt a lump in her throat everytime the Cromera sang.
It was not until Shilvana was older that she understood why.
But by that time, it was too late to shed a tear.
That afternoon, they all celebrated Marizka’s release.
Shilvana didn’t know her well. Marizka was a shy one, always hiding behind the books as if willing herself to melt with the pages. She was very beautiful—the oldest of the younglings with all the right curves that made the boys tremble like the Bogimashes when she was near.
Erikh was in love with her.
Marizka was fifteen today. A lady. This day marked the end of her service in the Dorm—or what the masters affectionately called the Cromera’s grocery barn. Marizka had earned her freedom, with scars and smiles to prove it. Tomorrow, she would start a new life amongst the elves in Farizia.
They all gathered in the dining hall. The masters had cooked up a feast: vegetable pies, chocolate rolls, taro crispies—celebratory food beyond their imagination. The masters even brought out the Bogimashes.
Everybody squealed in delight. They all knew what that meant: there would be music and dancing tonight. Shilvana noted fifteen Bogimashes as the masters hung their long, slithery bodies about the northern corner of the dining hall. Fifteen. One for each cycle that Marizka was here for.
The younglings crowded around these slinky creatures, stroking and nudging at their translucent bodies. The Bogimashes wiggled and blinking lights burst about the space, reflecting myriads of colours on the glass floor. Gasps broke in the air, followed by laughter as the Bogimashes hammered the rhythm of the first dance beat.
Everyone was in festive mood except for Erikh. He had turned all glum and silent. Shilvana thought he was selfish for sulking like that. Erikh should be happy for Marizka who would no longer be subjected to cruel amputations for the sake of a monster’s appetite. Erikh scowled at her when she said that and Shilvana grinned. She knew Erikh was not upset because of that.
She changed the subject and talked about Farizia. Like the Cromera, they had never seen this city of dreams, but they’d heard so much about it from the masters. There were only five masters in the Dorm. Shilvana imagined a city full of them and could not help but wonder how they’d survive. Elves were funny creatures, she thought, very inflexible and weak. She remembered the day one of the masters burned his finger while barbequing the sausages. He had screamed like a baby and there was not even blood where he had burned. Elves could not regenerate like they did. Shilvana imagined the buildings in Farizia, they must all be covered with padded walls.
But apart from that, there was little else physically different about them. Someone like Marizka would appeal to both elves and her kind alike. That must be what was bothering Erikh. Maybe a dance with the lady of the night would fix that. Erikh beamed and when the beats changed, walked over to Marizka who shyly took his hand and followed him to the dance floor.
Shilvana watched them dance. What a beautiful sight. They looked so happy, it was heartbreaking. She hoped one day they would meet again. She wondered if that day would be as beautiful as today. She hoped Farizia was as wondrous as the masters described it.
Shilvana glanced at the masters watching the younglings shake their posteriors on the dance floor. The masters had smiles on their lips, but there was something dark in the way they lingered.
She drank her juice. Perhaps she was just imagining it.
To date—Shilvana noted—the only body part of hers the Cromera had not tasted was her head.
Erikh topped it off by disclosing that he had given his ears and tongue to the Cromera. Shilvana was not certain if she should laugh or cry. There was something humorously candid in the way he had said it, but she knew very well the pain that followed and could not help but cringe at the thought.
It was a sad night. Tomorrow, Erikh would reach puberty and leave her. After that, Shilvana would still have a cycle before her own freedom. Erikh had always been there for her after the feeding. His presence made her forget the pain. Shilvana wondered how she would survive without her best friend.
The younglings never talked about the pain. It was sacrilege to put it in words. There were times Shilvana wanted to, not so much the physical, but the pain inside. It had not mattered as much when she was younger, but after all these cycles, she could not help but realise there were questions she needed answered.
She had gotten herself in trouble many times for bringing these up with the masters. Fifty lashes and a night or two chained up in the dungeon. Shilvana did not mind the punishment, but she knew Erikh did. She had seen the devastation on his face, and when she was out, Erikh would give her the silent treatment which was the part she could not bare.
The Cromera sang. Erikh turned his head to the walls, tears welled up in his eyes. One night. One night before he would leave her. This could be the last chance he had to ever see the Cromera. Shilvana knew he wanted to. He—they—had the right to know what it was that had placed them in this predicament, honourably or not.
Without a word, she grabbed Erikh’s hand and led him out of the quarter. He was protesting under his breath but she did not care. Shilvana ran along the corridor and paused behind the partition before the stairs. Erikh hesitated, but not for long. Shilvana knew he had guessed where they were going.
They tiptoed down the stairs, past the common area, the kitchen, the dining hall, past the library, down more stairs to the masters’ area and finally, the main gate. It was locked, so they crawled up the big window and leaped through it out to the garden.
Two masters were guarding the gate to the Cromera. Shilvana led Erikh to the bushes nearby. Her hand touched a rock and an idea formed in her mind. She gave one to Erikh before mimicking a throw aimed at the masters’ heads. Just like Puka balls. Erikh shivered and opened his mouth to protest. Shilvana slapped him impatiently. This was no time to be a wimp.
One, two, three. They threw the rocks.
Shilvana’s hit the master’s head squarely. Erikh’s missed. Without preamble, Shilvana charged forward and butted the bewildered master’s stomach with her head. They both fell. Erikh was soon on top of them, his shoe in his hand.
She wasn’t certain if it was her punch or his shoe that had rendered the master unconscious. It didn’t matter. They must move fast before they woke the others.
The two younglings dropped away, panting with excitement and disbelief. Shilvana looked around. Nobody had heard the commotion. She crawled to the gate and found it was locked. She cursed inwardly.
She realised then that the Cromera had stopped singing. Shilvana turned around, but Erikh was no longer by the fallen masters. She looked about in panic only to find her friend standing by the wall, glaring wide-eyed through a fist-sized gap, shimmering light bright about his pale face.
Shilvana called him, but he wouldn’t budge, as if entranced by the view. She crawled and craned her neck beside him. It was bright. She had to shield her eyes with her hand before she could properly peek through the gap.
There were—there were twenty of them, all chained to beds positioned in rows like a hospice. A large awning suspended over them with a wooden sign plastered on each side: Harvesting ground 52. They had tears gleaming on their faces—all female, all pregnant. Elves or her kind, she could not tell.
Shilvana scanned their faces in woeful disgust. Her heart pulled when she saw one she recognised. There, at the far corner of the camp, was Marizka. Next to her pregnant form sat a master, stroking her hair affectionately while she glared at him with hatred shining in her eyes. She was gagged. She was crying. She was… miserable.
The master walked to the table not far from her, and grabbed a plate where a severed hand—still fresh and bloody—lay on the surface. Casually, he picked up a fork and began eating. He even fed Marizka with pieces of the flesh.
A thousand knives grazed at Shilvana’s heart. There were no elves. No Farizia. The Cromera was their future, where the males became masters and the females bred the younglings for food.
She felt Erikh drop to the ground, curling into a ball and sobbing uncontrollably next to her.
Her best friend. Her future enemy.