Cerani Encampment, 324 Era Vulgaris, Centennial 30
“I need you to be serious,” I say with a sigh. Aron is in a pleasant mood for the first time since healing, but it also means that he has spent the last hour trying to plant the seeds for dreams in my head, rather than reading through my own jumbled visions.
“If I were able to make you dream of something in particular, though—”
“No! If there comes a time when the entire tribe’s well-being is not on the line, then we will try to stretch the limits of your power. Until then, just try to see through the dark!” I close my eyes and fold my arms across my body. Aron sits beside my cot. I wish I could see him; it would make it much easier to force him to take this seriously.
He presses two fingers to my forehead.
“Are you being serious?” I ask.
“Shhhh,” he says. “I’m trying to turn on a light in here.”
I resist the urge to huff and attempt to relax with whatever fraying fibers of my patience that are left. A gentle rumbling builds some distance away. At first, I think it must be Aron making a noise to try to get a rise out of me, but it continues well beyond the limits of his lungs.
“A ship,” Aron whispers.
I bolt upright and Aron pulls me onto my feet. “We’re not ready!”
“Go find Riva,” Aron says, pushing me towards the exit. “Meet me at Edrus’ tent once you tell Riva.”
“I will,” I reply. The air is thick with a panicked charge, but I search for Riva’s unique signature. Sure enough, I read it in the center of camp. Several women shriek as they notice the approaching ship, but I make my way to Riva’s energy. Luckily, my tent is in the second circle and I don’t have far to walk.
“Antista!” Riva exclaims as I approach. She comes to me, then, grasping my elbow. “All Sparks are prepared to fight no matter what the officers want.”
“Do not attack unless this is a hostile visit,” I say. “If they come to bargain for Achad, I may be willing to negotiate. All children should be with their natural father or a man willing to vouch for them. I am going to deal with Achad.”
“It is your will,” Riva says. She squeezes my hand and turns to meet up with a large vital signature—the Sparks! They are strong; they must have been training through the night. I am proud.
I do not dare run without my sight, but as the whirring of the ship because a roar, I hurry to Edrus’ tent and throw back the flap.
“Your officers su—” I stop. There are no vital signatures in the tent, just a large mass on the floor. I kneel to better observe the shadowed object through my charge and it hits me: Edrus. This lifeless mass is Edrus. Aron isn’t here, and neither is Achad. I feel for Edrus’ pulse.
Edrus is dead. Kasimir Achad is gone. I should have killed him while I could, when he was at my mercy. Better yet, I should have slit his throat when I was fourteen years old, as he looked into my eyes and told me that my life no longer belonged to me. My mercy for Achad was the blade in Edrus’ back. I have not the faintest idea where the man could be, except that he is somewhere between here and Arcis. That or he ran the opposite direction, to escape from the worst of his offences. But he is not the sort of man to do a job halfway. He wants all of us to die. The satisfaction of his blood lust means more than his own survival. No, he must be headed back to Arcis, back to his guns and the men who do his dirty work. I ache to find him and take back my people. He must die.
I am ashamed by how much I thirst for his death, to see his corpse at my feet and know that Arcis is safe, that my tribe is free. But his word is what has determined my entire course. At his order, children have perished. Families have been torn apart. Sick people are forced to build weapons for his army, and die for it when their energy is used up. Achad tore people apart, separated their humanity from their bodies. He does not deserve my forgiveness. Killing him will not punish him or make him remorseful for what he did, but it will insure that my tribe survives and that the Arci die in peace. I want to slay him myself—
A sharp pain rips through my stomach. I clutch my tunic, but it is intact. I am not injured, but something is wrong. The silence of Edrus’ bedside is shattered by a scream so piercing that my bones shudder. My heart rises into my throat. I stagger out of the tent as fear consumes me. The air buzzes with an angry energy that pulls at my skin. Onward I trip, forward through panicked Cerani and disheveled tents to the center of camp.
“Antista!” Hali screams, racing to me. She clutches my arm like a vise. “Riva.”
“What is wrong?” I say, giving over control of our heading to Hali. She pulls me to the center of the clearing where a body lies.
“She is gone.” Hali collapses in the dirt beside the body. Riva’s body. It must be; her spark signature is dim, barely recognizable in the volatile buzz. The Spark Mother coughs weakly, inciting a sob from Hali. Riva is weak.
My knees meet the ground beside Riva. “What happened?” I breathe.
“She was cornered by the officer I am about to kill,” Darius says from behind me. I have no doubt that he means to kill his prisoner. And I am not of the mind to stop him. These officers are the bullets in Achad’s gun, and if he has no bullets left to shoot...
“What did he do to her?” I breathe.
No one answers. The air no longer speaks of the Spark Mother. I am empty. The one who made me is no more, and the man who took her life still lives, at least until Darius drains him. Unless I do it.
“Give me the whip,” I say, holding out my hand. No one moves. Tears escape my eyes and I burn with anger. “Someone give me the whip!” I scream. My lungs burn.
“Here, Antista,” Hali says through her own tears, placing the silver cylinder in my waiting hand.
“Where is he?” I ask her.
“Darius has him behind you,” she says.
I stand and static curls around my body. The electric particles confirm Hali’s report: Darius’ stiff silhouette on my right, restraining a bulky man.
“Release him, Darius,” I demand, releasing the silver cording from the whip’s casing.
“All due respect, Antista, but I will not,” Darius says.
“I wish to take his life,” I say, swiping my cheek with my sleeve.
“Oh go on, Darius,” a gruff voice says. “It will be fun.”
Darius shoves the man away from his body. The officer trips, but recovers and stands tall, looming over me.
“Give the man his gun,” I instruct.
“Antista—” Darius begins.
“I will not kill an unarmed man. Give him back his gun” My voice breaks but I stifle a sob that threatens to take my breath. Darius drops the gun in the dirt and kicks it towards the officer. The man stoops to retrieve his weapon.
“This is hardly fair,” the officer says. “My gun verses your piece of string? My strength against your frailty, little girl? I will not fight a child.”
“You do not believe I can kill you?” I ask, flicking the end of the whip in the dirt.
“You cannot even see me,” he goads.
I smile. “Go on, then,” I say. “Kill me.”
He takes a step to my right in order to circle me. I counter with a half turn to my left. “Darius, if he kills me, take out his heart,” I say as the officer preps his weapon. If he truly thinks I am unaware of where he is and what he is doing, I will use his complacency to my advantage. He has no idea that the charged air tells all. I read him in every buzzing atom.
“I would take his heart now, Antista,” Darius says.
“Ready your knife, then,” I say.
The officer squats, training his sights on my head. His finger curls around the trigger. I remember the way Vesper took the bullets when her judgment came. I dive to the side as he depresses the trigger and a bullet pierces my shoulder. As I fall, I flick my wrist. The whip slices his neck but he catches the cord, yanking it from my grasp. I clutch my shoulder and sticky blood meets my fingers.
“May I take him, Antista?” Darius growls.
“No,” I wince. The officer looms over me and tosses my whip behind him. He leans down to me and his rough fingers curl around my neck. I cannot breathe. I beat his wrist with my knuckles.
“A bit disappointing, really,” He whispers, pulling me off the ground by my gullet.
I gasp, and smile. He squeezes tighter. I close my eyes. The air prickles.
“Se, verum oculus,” I breathe.
“What?” he asks.
“Se, verum oculus!” Darius shouts. Others soon join in, even the men, until they all speak with one voice.
I am faint, but overcome with pride as my tribe chants for me.
“Se, verum oculus! Se, verum oculus! Se, verum oculus!” they cry.
The air is layered with more electricity than I have ever felt. I quiet my mind, push back my desperation for air, and call on Vesper’s strength. If this is my end, I will go like my grandmother and mother before me. Like my Spark Mother would have wanted to go.
“Ignis,” I say.