Jade Green and Jade White are snake-sisters. They were born a year apart from the flesh of their half-human, half-demon serpent mother, but they feel as close as if they had broken from her womb on one breath of air. Their mother tells them, “Always protect your sister. Be together, always.” Too small to understand, they can feel her words in hearts that beat in harmony. Together they are whole, their bond stronger than iron. They promise to remain together for eternity.
When small they swim in the white rivers, playing with the silver-brown pebbles. They feast on the glittering fish still slippery from the river and, occasionally, when older, on the warm human flesh of an unlucky traveler who happened by. Jade Green giggles as blood smears milk-white skin and watery-green snake scales. Jade White smiles at her sister and wipes her red lips clean with shimmering silk. They tuck flowers into each other’s black hair, admiring themselves as they try on glass and wood and jewel beads they found in the travel bags of their kill.
At night, exhausted, they sleep tucked into each other’s arms, pulse to pulse. Jade Green is sinewy and fresh as the forest leaves that burst from the trees. Her teeth are sharp and silver like knives - but her tongue can be sharper. Jade White is the elder and cooler, remote as the pale light of the moon. Sometimes she seems emotionless but Jade Green is devoted to her like she is a beautiful marble-lotus goddess.
“I will protect you,” she promises fiercely when they are young. “I will never leave you.”
Caught up in these words, she does not hear Jade White whisper, “Are you sure?”
Never is quite a promise.
When they are older, a young man wanders into their forest. Jade Green watches him, biding her time. Jade Green changes her snake-scales to human legs and appears to him as a pretty human girl. She intends to kill him as she has countless others, but there is something different about him. He smiles innocently and asks where she is going. She splutters and her sharp tongue can think of nothing to say. She blushes when he takes her hand and offers to walk with her. She leaves him at the city gate, but his face is etched into her mind.
Jade Green cannot stop thinking about this young man whom she could not kill, even when Jade White scolds that they now have nothing to eat. Jade Green hardly listens. She feels she must go back to the city and find this man who makes the blood rush to her colorless cheeks, who makes her think of things she has never thought of before.
“You are being foolish,” Jade White admonishes. “There are warrior monks who will kill you on sight if you are found in the city. Besides, these are things that were never meant to be. Leave those silly dreams be.”
But Jade Green will not.
One day she steals away while her sister is sleeping to do more than dream. She tracks the scent of her man through the reek of food and smoke and human sweat. When she finds him she pretends it is by chance. He grins, remembering her. He takes her to see the sights of the city and when the day is done, he invites her to his home. Jade Green does not return to the forest until morning. When she does, she runs to her sister and tells her all that happened. She sobers when she sees the tightness in Jade White’s red lips, the darkness in her eyes.
“Be happy for me!” she cries. She winces at the childish shriek, but cannot be satisfied without her sister’s blessing.
Jade White quietly replies, “I am.”
But Jade Green can see she is not. I don’t care, she tells herself.
But she does.
Jade Green goes to see the young man many times. Each time she returns sick with happiness, yet also sad and angry that Jade White does not approve. Weeks pass this way, until one day Jade Green returns with something more than happiness, sadness or even anger. She is sick and ravenous, and Jade White feeds her cool fish and sweet ripe fruit and Jade Green rocks back and forth, clutching her stomach and something else.
Jade White understands, and murmurs softly, “You are carrying a child.”
Something flashes in Jade Green’s eyes. “I will tell him,” she whispers.
Jade White shakes her head, and says, “Oh, sister. This is foolishness. Your human will break your heart.”
But nothing will change Jade Green’s mind and she returns to her young man. He kisses her but can tell that something is different.
He whispers, “What is it, darling?”
Jade Green looks at him without a smile. “I carry your child,” she says. Then, more quietly, “So I wish to show you who I am.”
Her young man smiles softly and pulls her closer, not understanding. “Oh? And who are you, precious Jade?”
His eyes widen as she shows him. Then he screams. He looks into his lover’s face, but now her teeth are fangs and her eyes are glass jewels. Glittering, cold snake-scales encase a body that emerges from a human torso and wrap around him in a loving, powerful embrace. She can taste his fear in the air, and then his hate.
“Demon! Witch!” he shrieks.
He loosens himself from her coils and backs away, his hands raised and shaping the signs to ward away evil. Heartbroken, she wants to say “I still love you,” but can’t. She flees. In the forest she avoids Jade White and weeps. The warrior monk soon comes.
“Demon!” he cries. “I have been sent by the unfortunate man whom you seduced. I have seen the human bones that litter your foul den. Your deeds of wickedness shall now be put to an end!”
Jade Green stares at this little man with his shaved head who dares challenge her, and is overcome with rage. Fueled by anger, she will kill him and crush the life from his frail human lungs and heart; she will feast on his still-warm flesh. She lashes out, a viper.
But she takes his skill too lightly, overestimates the strength in the snake body that carries another. She screams, holding up her arms to uselessly ward off the demon-killing spells that the monk has begun to chant, his fingers moving quickly in the motions of the mantra. Pain like fire races through her body; she rolls in agony, trying to escape. She is sure she is going to die, but doesn’t.
Jade White strikes from behind, crushing the monk’s throat with a mere tightening of her slender fingers even as blood blooms from the steel blade that pierces her chest through the monk’s swift hands. They fall, the monk’s head twisted unnaturally as it buries itself in the earth, the snake-woman into a growing pool of crimson blood. Jade Green races toward them, screaming and crying. She cradles her sister’s head in her lap with Jade White’s dark hair spreading out like a halo. Even with blood around them and death’s heavy scent in the air, Jade White is still Jade Green’s beautiful marble-lotus goddess, her heaven’s dragon. Jade Green clutches her sister close to her chest, screaming curses at the spirits that would dare take her sister away.
“I promised I would protect you, that I would never leave you, never leave you ever!” she cries.
Jade White smiles sadly at Jade Green and shakes her head, her face crumpled in the pain that she cannot hide.
“I’m sorry, sister,” she whispers. “But never ... is quite a promise.”
When Jade White dies, it is like the breath has been stolen from her lungs, the fire extinguished within her veins - but nothing she could ever do will bring her sister back. She embraces her one last time.
And then she lets go.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.