Liar

Rooka Delmirev was an accomplished adventurer. She could wield three kinds of weapons effectively, had slain monsters that threatened to encroach upon her village, and could sing bawdy songs with the best of them. She had her scars and her cracked horn and her mutilated tail, all of which she was terribly proud of. She knew how to track and hunt and bargain, and how to convince just about anyone that her small size had nothing to do with how capable she was. Rooka Delmirev, adventurer! Rooka Delmirev, the Sparrowhawk!

But right now she was just Rooka, little sister, and she was tired.

Piksel was having a day again. He had gotten into the food stores and eaten two shelves’ worth of sweets before he was found and driven off. Now he had a stomachache and the discomfort made him even worse to deal with: Rooka had already had to half-carry, half-drag him home when he threw himself down on the path because he was mad that he’d left his favorite rock on the bank of the stream and lost it. When she finally got him home, he’d rushed to his room and slammed the door, only to spend the next two hours howling in a fit.

Their mother had taken a bottle of whiskey and left. Their father suddenly remembered he had to go and help a friend. So now it was just Rooka, slowly sharpening her spear-head as she listened to Piksel kick the walls. There was no reasoning with him when he was like this: you simply had to wait him out.

Rooka never got headaches except at home.

Some days seemed better than others. Some days he seemed almost normal; he could dress and feed himself, he could keep a simple job, he could carry on a conversation with her if she went slowly. He was funny, sometimes, with an unexpectedly dry sense of humor, and when he got it in his head that someone needed his help he would spend weeks trying to find a way to do it. Those were the good days, the ones Rooka wished the rest of the village could see; the Piksel the rest of the village could see.

Other days …

Rooka winced as Piksel kicked the wall so hard a decorative plate fell from it. She wished her parents hadn’t left, hadn’t foisted him onto her so quickly. It was a true thing that she was the best at dealing with him and his outbursts. That didn’t mean she was immune to the exhaustion that the effort brought.

But then it was quiet. Rooka waited in it, for a time, luxuriated in the silence. And just when she was about to get up and go check on her brother, her elder by three years and incapable of being left alone for more than twenty minutes, she heard the door to his room swing open.

“Rooka?”

“Piks,” she said by way of answer, and sunk back into her chair.

Piksel was thin as a whip and wouldn’t trim his foot-claws. He always wore the same shirt if he could get away with it, and if he had a question he wanted answered he would keep asking it until it was, no matter what the situation. (You didn’t answer my question had become one of Rooka’s least favorite sentences.) The things that could come out of his mouth around someone different, like Mar Dynla and her deformed arm, were nothing short of horrifyingly rude.

But he was still her big brother, and as he padded out of his room with a hang-dog look she smiled despite herself. He sat at her feet, tail curled around his ankles, and wouldn’t look at her. “I forgot again,” he said.

“What’d you forget?”

“I’m supposed to act better. I have to act better if I want people to like me.”

“Lots of people like you, Piks.”

Now he did look up at her, doubt clear on his face. “Don’t either. Rooka, I was bad again. I don’t know how to … not be bad.” He wet his lips. “I keep forgetting and I do things like, like today. How do I stop being bad?”

Rooka exhaled. They had this conversation once a week.

“You’re not bad,” she said, looking back at her spear. “You’re just different. It’s okay to be different.”

“I’m different and I’m bad,” Piksel muttered. “You said sisters don’t lie. Liar.”

“Piksel …”

“I miss when mum would say goodnight to me,” he said softly. “I got mad once and threw a pillow and now she doesn’t do it anymore.”

Rooka felt her heart crack, and not for the first time. But she put a brave face on it, slipping down to sit next to him. “Mum’s just tired more these days,” she said. “She goes straight to bed. It’s not because you threw a pillow.”

“Liar,” Piksel said.