Prologue + Chapter 1
The two moons beamed down a small house in the village, staring back at the nursing mother and daughter. Contently laying down on the window seat with a fire cackling and warming the living room around them. The father took out the dinner from the oven and whistled a low tone so as to not wake their toddler. Laying her daughter down on the seat, the mother went over to the couch to eat, just as the husband brought over both plates for them and sat down.
“Do you think the rumors are true?” She asks.
“Regardless if they aren’t, we need to prepare for the worst. I’ve already started to make extra weapons for the Guard, and extra luggage for the entire village for the trip.” He said, between bites. His bowl was 3 times the size than the mother’s, an appetite well appropriate for his career as one of the village’s only blacksmiths.
The mother looks down at her plate, frowning. “After all this time, we’re finally leaving. I can’t help but wonder what Mother would think. I dedicated my life-”
The husband slammed his fork into the now empty bowl. “And she would be proud of how much you’ve accomplished.” He put both their plates down, turned them both to face each other, and tightly embraced his mate. “It is not like you to be this hopeless, Rabsha. You are my fierce little firebee; graceful in battle, and fearless in heart.”
A few tears escaped her, as she listened close to the strong, steady heartbeat of her husband’s heart. “I fear for our child, Gao. I wish to fight so that she doesn’t have to see her friends and cousins dying around her. I wish to bleed so that she doesn’t suffer from the illness, weaponized by our enemies. I wish to give everything for her to live freely and joyfully in the world she was born in.”
She looked up at Gao, her face breaking his heart in pieces. “I wish to protect her, my love. But I also wish to liberate our people. I am a mother now. I love my child, I love my family. But I also mourn for the battles I fought alongside my mother and father for the sake of freeing every Kwarinian of this world.”
Gao smiled, brought both of his large, scarred hands up to Rabsha’s face, and softly brought their heads together. “Then we will stay, Firebee. And we will fight. Together, we will turn the tides of this war, and the world will once again know the name of the Habu Tribe.”
Rabsha smiled back, eyes full of love and adoration looking at her husband, and kissed him passionately. When their lips parted, they both took deep breaths, and collapsed simultaneously in each other’s embrace.
They awoke to the dozens of rumbling footsteps of the villagers outside, their heads pounding equally as hard. Rabsha sobered quickly, as she recognized the screams and cries of her neighbors and jumped off a still highly lethargic Gao.
“I think the potatoes were bad.” Gao groans, sitting up. His body freezes, once his vision clears and observes Rabsha’s face.
She stands in the door frame of their bedroom with dead-cruel eyes, no trace of tears anywhere seen the night before. “She’s gone.”
Azina trudged through the main road of nowhere, the smoke behind her blooming into the sky. Crying in soft sobs, her bare feet walked as fast and far as she could to get away from her nightmare. As sad as she felt, her cries quieted slightly as she stared into the sky. She soaked in the slight orange of the afternoon, the vastly different hues of blue of the sky further out, and the gorgeous, golden sun itself. Artificial ceiling lights and pink pastel walls for well over several years had absolutely nothing over fresh air and thin, naturally designed clouds. Azina was lost, in so many ways. For her words, for her whereabouts, for her own self. After all the past years she’s blown up, her attacks have never been this… nuclear. There was still soot and bits of rubble covering her night-sky themed pajamas and sticking to her skin. Her bantu puffs were frazzled, and her sobs evolved into yells as the sun began to dip below the mountain peaks.
“Someone help! I wanna go home! I don’t know where I am! Please, anyone!”
Azina walked and walked, and cried until her throat went hoarse. Finally, after the sun long left below the horizon, a sign popped out from a corner she turned onto. Voices of townspeople were faint but audible, and the rumble of society could be felt all the way where Azina stood. She took off in a sprint, hope sprouting in her chest, until a force from behind knocked the breath from her lungs. Harshly falling forward onto her knees, her arms had been restrained behind her back as a rough, masculine, voice spoke harshly.
“Name, source and address, girl, now!” He demanded, tightening the grip on Azina’s arms. Why did he attack me? I didn’t do anything wrong, I was just running for help! Completely shaken, she tried to turn to look at the man, but he quickly shoved her head directly into the dirt away from him. Panicking from the pain, her voice stuttered.
“My name is Azina, but I don’t have an address! Please, can you help me? I dont kn-” All hope Azina had of reasoning evaporated as the guard cut her off in shouts. He didn’t believe her.
“Requesting backup! Intelligent karman child at the western road of the town!” Alarms sounded, and an excruciating burning pain radiates into Azina’s arms from the hand holding them. She screams and struggles, but the weight of the man was too much to try and overpower. What the hell is a karman? Do they think I’m apart of a gang? I’m in my pajamas!
The panic and stress skyrocketed inside of Azina, as the earth under the two began to vibrate. Azina’s eyes flashed once. The burning increased from the guard’s hand and began to flood through her entire body. Azina’s shrilling screams echoed the air alongside the sirens as she begged him to let go.
“Please, I didn’t do anything!” But all her cries fell on deaf ears. Three thumps landed in front of Azina, but she couldn’t make out details of them through the pain. Her panic bubbled, nearing its peak.
No, no, no, no! I don’t want to hurt anyone else! I need to leave, I need to get out! The earth vibrated harder and Azina’s eyes started toglow a barely visible green before an explosive force blew all four guards across the ground. Relieved from the pain, Azina collapsed on the ground as her senses cleared.
“What was that? Is it a wind karma?”
“Who the hell cares, grab her!”
Shooting up instantly at the command, Azina jumped to her feet, but yelped when the ground below her shrunk. She was launched several yards into the air, and then stopped. Floating.
“I can fly?!” She exclaimed to herself, terrified and exhilarated at the same time. Her happy gazing of the landscape view gasped into horror when she saw six different guards from the town below, swiftly closing the distance to her in the air as well.
How do I move, how do I move?! With that single thought, she looked straight ahead where the moon sat in between the gap of two mountains, and pierced through the air as quick as lightning into the night. She screamed and shut her eyes multiple times, but opened them again when she realized she couldn’t see where she was going. Minutes passed, and the panic waned. Having successfully escaped her assailants, and basking in her newfound ability, Azina flew away. Away from her fears, away from her nightmares, away from it all.
Dark clouds bloomed in the sky and the temperature dropped several degrees. Azina found several towns throughout her flight past the mountain gap, but wanted to avoid a repeat of the first. Pushing out the last dregs of her strength to fly to the final mountain strip, she landed at the base of one far enough away from the city right after it. Lightheaded and nearly falling to her knees, she stood as straight as she could and began walking towards the town far off from the main road. Relieving herself in a small patch of grass under a tree, she wondered if she would ever remember the faces of her parents.
The people at the facility told her she was just on a field trip, and that her parents would come for her soon. Azina far gave up on them ever coming for her years ago, but began to wonder if they even knew she was gone in the first place. She tried to escape more times than she could count, but was just punished with time in a jail cell. Every time she tried to leave, her time in the cell grew longer and longer, where she eventually chose her TV and fluffy comforter of her room over the flat dirty mattress and pebbles of the jail.
How would she get back to a home she can’t describe? To a mother and father who she wouldn’t recognize? Negative thoughts flooded, as clouds formed insider her mind, and further in her soul.
Nearing the outskirts of the new settlement, the smell of bakery goods and meats from food stands made her stomach ache. Though her fear overrode her hunger and she stopped completely in her tracks. She had no plan to get food. Should she steal? No, that’s wrong. Getting close and asking for help didn’t exactly work out, and she definitely didn’t know how to scavenge the forest safely for any nuts and berries. Azina was stuck.
Defeated by logic, she turned her heels and headed back to the base of the mountain. She had cried out all her tears, and even if she didn’t, Azina was too afraid to make noise. She found a fairly empty patch of dirt and rock, and cleared away pebbles and brush for a space large enough to lay in. Stuffing her hands in her shirt sleeve, and feet into the legs of her pants, Azina roughly fell asleep into the dark, cold night.
A tiny wet splash landed on Azina’s cheek, startling her out of a dreamless nap. A few more landed on her eyes and nose, before minutes passed and high winds carried the hard rain and mud on her makeshift bed. Shivering like a pup, Akina achingly got up and made her way back to the town. At least if she was arrested, she would have shelter. Although, as she snuck through an alley, and onto the sidewalks of the town, there was no one in sight to be seen.
All the store and shops lights were dim, the street lights flickered, and every house she passed was dark. The trees and various loose scenery wildly blew from the violent winds, and Azina further braced herself in her roaming. Walking past a grocery, Azina spotted an apple lying on the bottom side of the steps. She rushed over and picked it up, only for the apple to give way to mush the second she grabbed it off the ground. She yucked it away in disgust, wiping off the apple goo on her pants before trekking on.
The winds grew stronger and the rain soaked her through the bone. She could barely see in front of her as raindrops splashed on her eyelids, and her fingers and toes were completely numb. She gave up once again for food or help, and trudged to the nearest alley with an overhead.
I shouldn’t have left. I shouldn’t have destroyed everything. I didn’t mean to, I don’t even know how I did. Azina huddled onto the side of the wall, brought her knees to her chest, dipped her head and cried. I don’t know how to not destroy everything when I panic, I just want to be normal. I just want my family again. I wanna go home. Please anyone, take me home. I’ll be good, I won’t ever destroy anything again. Please, please take me home.
As if the gods themselves had heard her plea, a person left the building right next the alley she sat between. Stiffening in fear of it being a guard, she tried to be quiet as he walked towards the opposite side of the street. Unfortunately, as luck would have it, Azina sneezed.
The man stopped. “Hello? Is someone out there?” A man’s voice shouted. Azina quickly shuffled to the darkest corner of the alley, but her teeth were chattering too loud to be quiet.
A tall silhouette drowned the remaining light out of the alley from the street lamps and the man shouted again. “Hey, are you down there? It’s dangerous in this weather, kid, you need to leave.”
Squeezing her body into the corner trying to melt into the shadows, Azina cowered away hoping she wouldn’t be taken to another cloudless, sky-less room. The silhouette stepped closer cautiously, but heard Azina’s whimpering and slowed, lifting his hand towards her.
“Hey, hey, it’s ok. I’m not going to hurt you, but you need to get out this weather before you get sick. Let me take you to the guards so we can find your-”
“NO!” Azina screamed and slashed the air, erupting a wave of forceful energy in his direction. “Go away! Don’t take me to them! I didn’t do anything wrong!”
The man dodged the attack with shocking grace, the attack landing on the poor street lamp causing it to vibrate and flickering its light a slight green before extinguishing completely. “Okay! Okay, I’m sorry, I won’t take you to the guards. Do you know where you live? I can walk you to your house. I’m sure your mother and father are worried sick about you.”
“No, I don’t know where I live. I don’t know my mom and dad. I’m alone.” The man had come within arms length and kneeled in front of Azina, but it was still hard to make out any features in the dark. He seemed like a giant in comparison, but his voice didn’t sound anything like the rough guards from the previous day. It was light, gentle, and soothing;which calmed Azina nerves. He took off his jacket and put it on top of her body and gently leaned in closer.
“Well then, do you want to come with me? I own a school you can stay and grow up in, but it’s gonna be tough.” He stopped, hovering over in a position ready to pick Azina up, but waited for her permission.
Immediately warming up from the remnants of body heat of the jacket, Azina sniffed up her sobs, and nodded. “Okay.” She then grabbed her shirt and wiped her face before nodding and stretching up her arms.
The man smiled then readjusted the jacket so Azina was inside, then picked her up and carried her out of the alley. The fast paced steps bounced Akina over his shoulder in a nostalgic, soothing lullaby she never knew she needed. Before her heavy eyelids blinked close, Azina unknowingly smiled in content before dreaming about the sky.
Seven Years Later
Azina walked the halls of the underground campus, thick text and notebooks in arms, and headed towards the cafeteria for lunch. Her rescuer that night turned out to be the founder, Aren, of a secret school called the Karma Combatants Academy. Azina was personally tutored by the founder’s wife, Kulea. She was a doctor for the academy with a height equally as staggering as the founder himself. Her brown sugar skin was as smooth as a river stone, which complimented her coily, acorn brown hair.
Mumbling some notes to herself as she turned a corner, Azina stared at the floor for reasons both in concentration and meekness. It took some time for Azina to feel comfortable enough to walk around the campus alone once Kulea surmised she was prepared enough to start classes at the academy with additional classes from all the teachers. Her academics were now at an acceptable average, but her magic courses were still very far behind due to ‘lack of effort’. In reality, Azina was just trying to use barely enough power to pass so she doesn’t accidentally destroy her classroom.It was finals week, and the final term before Azina would graduate.
Just as she approached one of the saloon doors, she startled to a halt as a shadow loomed from behind her and pushed it open for them both. Reluctantly turning to thank the stranger, Azina was relieved to see one of her two best friends she managed to make, Yanju. He was a slim built, five-foot-ten Succulent-Earthan with chunky, thick leaves for his hair. He is very stoic to everyone he meets, and doesn’t go out of his way to socialize other than to try to sleep with women. Azina was scared to approach him a lot when they were introduced, mostly out of fear of lacking a good first impression.
Thankfully, when Yanju likes someone, he tends to act out small, meaningful gestures to show he cares. Azina had once embarrassed herself in one of her courses in manipulation. The teacher complained she wasn’t manipulating high enough pillars of earth, so in fear of being dropped from the class, she ended up putting too big of a burst of magic into the pillar right from underneath her body.
Azina was launched several feet in the air, while hanging onto the pillar for dear life, but lost her grip and slid down the protruding dirt mast. Several scrapes and bruises later after the fall, the entire class laughed as she silently winced and cried to the infirmary in shame. Along the way there, Yanju had found her, tentatively stepping in the halls, and stopped to heal her wounds instead. He didn’t say a word the entire time, but gave Azina a water bottle and hug before walking off. She’s adored him ever since.
“Thank you Yanju, you didn’t have to do that for me.” Azina said, walking to their usual table.
“I know.” He sat down, sipping on his water thermos, then taking out his phone to text someone.
Azina set down her books and satchel, exhaling at the relief of weight. “I’m going to go order, okay?” Knowing he wouldn’t want anything, she headed off when he lifted a few fingers from his thermos confirming he’d heard. On her way back to the table with a rice dish and iced tea, their group’s third and final member was sitting next to Yanju, chatting his ear off as usual about something that happened in her class.
“Heya Makali, how was your day today?” Azina greeted, sitting opposite of them where she previously laid her things. Makali squealed and slid out and into Azina’s side of the bench before side-hugging her tightly and wiggling them together. Her russet-brown, double puffed hair completely flattered her sun-tanned skin. Despite only being a year older, Makali had a good foot above Azina’s slightly below-average stature. She was still a few inches below Yanju, but both of them towered over Azina when walking all together. While Makali and Yanju’s frames were more slim and athletic, Makali leaning towards a curvier figure, Azina has always been a bit on the pudgier side. Yanju would annoy her sometimes by pinching her waist to tickle her.
“It’sbeen great sis,but I have to tell you about this amazing fire trick I made today!” She said excitedly.
Their lunch was filled with laughs between the girls, with Yanju silently smiling at themcontently from his phone. Azina hoped this feeling of happiness would never fade as she continued her new life as a student before worrying about the life she’d make for herself after graduation. Makali wanted to be a K.C.A. Mercenary, to continue to help fight the bigger problems of this world one purge at a time. Yanju wanted to be an author and write poems, but would probably become a mercenary like Makali so they can stay together. Azina didn’t know what to be, but hopes she can keep her new family as close as she can while figuring out answers about her last.
Finishing up her classes for the day, she dropped off her school bags and changed into her pajamas for the night. She walked down the halls of the student dorms and took the elevator up to the staff floor. She stopped in front of the Founder’s room and knocked twice.
Aren opened the door, grinning widely before scooping Azina up in his arms. “Theres my little sunshine! It’s been months since you’ve come to visit, those grades better be spotless.”
Azina laughed nervously as they both sat down on the couch. “For the most part, yeah. Im not failing anything if that counts.”
Kulea shouted from the kitchen. “Does someone need more tutoring?”
“No! I’m good!” Azina shouts back, turning on the TV hoping to end the conversation. “Anyone down for a movie? I kinda want to watch something sci-fi.”
Aren jolts up from the couch to fetch the another remote. “I know just the movie. Don’t nag at me if it looks a bit dated for you though, I am not that old.”
Kulea brings in a plate of fried catfish and greens for the two of us. “As long as it’s not too long, Zee has to study for the finals.”
The night went on, the three of them laughing and criticizing the movie throughout the duration for fun. Azina was in bliss, she finally felt apart of a family. After the movie, they talked on and on about random things. Changes to the academy, the most challenging purges Aren has taken on, the longest healing session for Doctor Kulea, anything and everything was talked about.
After the laughter died down, Aren looked over at Azina with gleeful eyes, making her grin nervously. “Azina, I am so proud of you. Truly. You’ve grown up into such a sweet and beautiful young woman. With the state you were in when I found you, I thought it would take decades to get you to open up to everyone and live your school life to the fullest. I am just so grateful to raise you into someone so strong and bright.”
Azina didn’t know how to take such praise, tears filled her eyes and her heart pounded as her throat tightened up. “Thank you so much Aren, it’s really all thanks to you guys for taking me in. I can never thank you enough.”
Kulea got up from the arm chair and sat on the other side of Azina. “Azina, I may treat all my students with kindness, but you are my child. Every other student has their guardians to go home to during holidays or breaks, but you come to me.
I never knew how different it is to nurture a child that looks up to you for everything they do. How different it feels to have a girl come to you for their hair done or to be the one they first tell when they passed a test. How different it feels to be a mother. I love you Azina, we love you.”
Azina sobbed as she hugged both of her surrogate parent. When she went back to her room that night, she laid down with a full stomach and another happy memory. As she closed her eyes, she silently prayed to all the gods looking down at her. Please, please, don’t let this end.
But the gods never heard.