Nike woke on the floor of a dimly lit room with a white energy lamp, xyr swords on the ground on either side of xyr. Xe adjusted xyr eyes, scanning xyr surroundings. There were devices everywhere, all of them for torture. Xe panicked and looked down at xyr hands and feet, then relaxed when xe saw no bindings nor was xe in a cage. There was another room adjacent. It looked to be an observation station and Nike could see many silhouetted figures moving from within.
Xe couldn’t feel the energy of xyr spirit mate anywhere. Then, suddenly, Xilo, Poppy, and Tootsie came running out of the station hugging Nike until their bark chaffed.
“Two-Spirit!” Xilo exclaimed as they embraced.
Riven, Denisun, Boreit, Luko, and six others crept out of the station as Riven spoke.
“That is Xueen, Lady Xilo.”
Xilo turned towards Riven and glared in her direction.
“I will address my daughter how I please.”
Flagged by the others, Riven shook her head.
“Petty squabbles little one, we have bigger issues.”
Nike stood up and asked “Where is Onyx?”
Boreit walked forward, wounds raked his bark deep to the skin, sap oozing out slowly. He was hunched over, the once great shoulders low, back bent, and digits on his fingers had been sheared clean off. He struggled to speak through gasps.
“They took him. I tried to-’’ He coughed as sap flew out of his mouth, “We could not stop them.”
Nike looked closely at Poppy, Xilo, then sharply at the rest. Xe could see they were all battered and wounded. Luko was missing an entire arm, Riven’s bark was torn to shreds, Poppy’s eye had been raked, Xilo’s right arm was busted and broken, Tootsie looked like he’d been dragged through a grinder, the rest were a mess of bark, sap, and broken limbs. Nike looked at Xilo and grabbed her face.
“Lady Xilo, what happened?”
Denisun strode forward. He seemed to be the only one who wasn’t injured. He nodded to the rest, most took a seat or laid down as he started to speak. His red eyes were full of hatred as he spoke with rage.
“Nemaak and his sappers broke a hole in the eastern wall when he came with his men attacking Onyx when they arrived. He managed to get you to safety before he was overwhelmed by their numbers. With most of our forces gone, his people overran Kilo with the help of the traitors in Tulip’s court. Those who refused to join were slain. Corinth, Astora, are under siege, Glyph has been destroyed completely. After Glyph was razed, the Lunu and Easterners seemed content with waiting it out. It seems the Nami have deserted their allies and instead plan to take over Wenshe, perhaps to negotiate with the opposition into a surrender. By the time Riven and company had arrived, Kilo had been overrun. They managed to free me from the titan’s clutches but Onyx remains in a trance in the courtyard. That is also where Nemaak and his people are camped. The castle itself is currently being searched from top to bottom, literally. We are at the very bottom, the torture pits. As you can see, we are too badly injured to make a move.”
The fiery passion in Denisun’s voice never wavered. Everyone looked towards him as he spoke the next words.
“As scribe to the rulers of Wenshe for eight hundred and seventy two years I held a wealth of knowledge. Secrets, history, all of it. I was this nation’s keeper, as were my mothers before me. Tulip envisioned an empire that had never quite manifested. As she grew older, her quest to emerge from the shadows as the once great Rema seemed ever more distant. Then, you two came. She had visions of her death, her failure, the decimation of our people. Tulip was deeply connected to the spirits. They told her that her people were doomed. But fate is fickle. Terminal under her leadership, she invested what life and energy she had left in you two. She cultivated your spirits, she fed you.”
As Denisun stopped Nike looked frantically at Xilo and Poppy. Xilo refused to meet xyr eyes but Poppy spoke.
“Nike, it is true. She would visit at night, she fed both of you daily as you meditated. It couldn’t be known, if you were ever conscious of it the energy transfer would never have worked. We’re sorry, it had to be done.”
Nike’s eyes went red.
“So she knew everything? She knew that my parents would be killed? She could have saved them?”
“Please, two-spirit, we all meant well. She meant well.” Xilo attempted to grab xyr hand but Nike batted it away as xe addressed Denisun and anyone who would look at xyr.
“No! Had Onyx and I never been chosen my parents wouldn’t have died and he could have lived a lie. A lie that protected his spirit. A lie that he held comfort in. A lie that meant he would outgrow the nightmares, not become one. Do you know how broken he is? I feel it, every day, every moment. Every step I take is heavy with the weight of his pain. He burned himself to the skin just so he could feel something, anything. He weeps inside, his sap churning over and over again until he contemplates suicide. I have been reeling him in this entire year. I kept him in perpetual trauma because I believed in survival… but this has all been a lie. It wasn’t about saving my ‘people.’ It couldn’t have been.”
Xe looked at Xilo and Poppy, “We are cold murderers,” to Tootsie “child killers” then to the rest “soul slavers, frauds, and failures.”
Nike’s red eyes went blue. The emotional rollercoaster of events was clearly taking a toll on xyr as xe looked at xyr hands.
Xilo, coughing up sap with what strength she had left, grabbed Nike’s arm and pulled xyr close.
“Nike! Look at us. We aren’t the good ones. We aren’t the heroes in the stories they told you as a sapling. We aren’t the unblemished-, no rather we are the blighted. My entire life has been violence and trauma. Her’s, his, theirs. The Lunu and these humans know nothing of that, they know nothing of having to live in the shadows being prayed upon like rodents. They know nothing of having no options. Hell, even the fuckers behind me, half beaten to all hell know very little of what the fuck goes on in the real world. But there are others and they are your people. How long until that paradise you were living would have come to an end, mere weeks as people would brand you a beast and slay you in the streets as you first transformed? You are no better. You’re the monster you call yourself. You’re the beast they claim you to be. You’re the murderer, the slayer of the ‘innocent.’ You either suck that shit up now or tuck tail like a coward.” Xilo released her hold on xyr. “Your choice.”
The three stepped back and gave Nike space as xe solemnly stared at them all. Then, xe made xyr move.
“Nobody has ever talked to me like that, before I came to Wenshe. My parents were weak. Onyx was quiet. I had no role models, no direction. Then my life changed. The ‘murderer’ who calls me daughter has been more of a mother than my own. The tiny self proclaimed coward who makes the best burnsoup I have ever tasted has never failed to brighten my day. The quiet presence of Boreit taught me patience…” Nike gazed at Poppy “and the mind of those most empathetic taught me how to love.”
Nike bent down and picked up xyr blades. “I don’t know how we will win this, but as long as I draw energy, I will fight.”
The battered group gave the wounded version of a rally cry then quickly died down as Denisun began to speak again. His eyes went a dim blue as he spoke only two words.
Then, a small girl skipped out of the shadows and placed her hand on Denisun’s shaking leg. Her voice was not childlike at all, it sounded dead, cold, and raspy.
“Nike, Nike, Nike. It’s time to suck up the old tree’s energy and heal everyone, you know, be a hero? Don’t worry, him and his secrets are coming with Juniper.”
Nike raised xyr blade to the girl. “You, you’re a revenant.”
Luko hobbled forward, stopping next to Juniper.
“Yes, she is. Though, if you mean to save Denisun it is too late, he asked for this. She’s on our side for now. Revenants want nothing but the dead and as you can see, getting us out there makes a lot more of that a reality.”
Juniper smiled, the jagged teeth in her maw protruded out of her cheekbones. She was a horror to look at.
“No-spirit is right sis, my right hand friend. My buddy. He makes death, easier. Now, chop, chop. Please, chop him. We really need him chopped.”
“Just siphon his energy, use it to heal us.”
Nike closed xyr eyes one last time then turned the once proud scribe into ash.
“Surround me, please.” Xe said.
“Closer.” Xe said, as everyone nudged in. Juniper squeezed between Boreit’s legs and sat near Nike as blue and green energy swirled around the group.
“I remember this, I will help. Shattered souls and tortured spirits weeeeeehhewww!” Juniper said as she funneled dark energy into Nike.
With the added help, Nike started repairing the damaged party, growing them limbs that had been lost, closing wounds, replacing sap, revitalizing their energy, and most importantly: filling them with rage.