When Keanu was little, her grandmother often spent the nights telling stories. With each story, she would say, “sometimes, the ending isn’t obvious.”
The ending to what? It was a question often asked in their adobe hut, when the stars had flickered to life and the fireflies had swept in from the eastern hillocks. It was also a question that had never truly been answered.
“The ending,” repeated Grandmother Agave. “If I told you, that would defeat the purpose of the lesson.”
“I don’t understand,” insisted Keanu. “What ending?”
And Grandmother Agave would laugh, and laugh, and laugh. “Every ending, Keanu. Do not worry about it now, little one. You’re not close to any ending.”
Keanu isn’t little anymore.
In fact, she’s almost grown. Come next full moon, she will take on the title of adult, and take on the duties of a full fledge Ianu woman.
At least, that’s what should happen.
Right now, Keanu is very aware of the fact that it never will. She can almost hear the sound of her grandmother’s voice, whispering in her ear.
Sometimes, the ending isn’t obvious.
Gnarled fingers brush through Keanu’s tangled black hair. The woman leans against the remnants of an adobe hut. Her chest aches, and her ribs burn. The scent of burnt flesh is heavy in the air.
“We weren’t ready,” says Keanu, voice hoarse from breathing in thick billows of smoke. Around her, the village of Ianu lays in ruins. Someone has driven a golden and red flag into the ground.
It’s the same flag that represents the Ishtar Kingdom, which lays in the far west. The very kingdom that the Ianu people have spent years trying to avoid. For so long, there had been peace.
People had quit training themselves in the way of battle. Border patrols had slackened and then vanished completely. The once devastating war had been almost completely forgotten.
“No one was ready,” says Keanu, even though no one is around to hear her talk. Even her grandmother is nothing more than a ghost – nothing more than charred bones on the ground.
Trembling legs carry Keanu over to the flag. It’s held in place by an iron spear. The metal is still hot from the flames that burnt nearby.
“You were right, Grandmother. The ending isn’t obvious.” Keanu grabs the spear with both hands. Then she wrenches it free from the ground and rips off the flag. The obsidian spear tip glints in the early morning light. “And my ending isn’t close by. They will pay.”
On the ghosts of Keanu’s people, she swears that they will pay.
By Katelynn E Koontz