Chapter 29 - Raines
A collapsible heart wouldn’t be a novelty now. I’ve already packaged mine up and sent it across the sea. To Persie. To mom. I don’t care much who ends up with it now. Hopefully somebody who can look after it better than I.
Gray stones march strictly between buildings that must once have been gorgeous, but now turn their shoulders to me in a fit. Turns out you can’t steal the colors from an entire city without its protestation.
Wool in the summer must be a preconceived torture technique. I yank absently at the collar of my uniform.
The plaza rises from mundane brickwork. This, too, is the color of nauseous clouds.
I crumble onto the bench; one of the hundreds that have been erected in this stage-like arena. It is perched atop a cliff on the edge of town.
I squint. I like being in the sky. I think I can breathe up here. Far below, terra cotta roofs rank up together and seep across the ground. Ribbons of white limestone road sneak between blocks. I could live here. Just down there in that place almost too far below to be seen, hugging the Simlin Sea.
We’ve travelled to Corielta. The judge determined it ‘neutral ground.’ It’s the only country which never sided. So… the perfect place for an execution.
Pockets of elves, mostly soldiers from various countries, and a few civilians sit around with scrunched shoulders and lined foreheads. It seems an eternity of distance to the other side of the arena.
Seats fill. The heat crackles. I lose myself staring at nothing.
When officials come out onto the field, I don’t hear their words.
Did Cal ever dance on this field? What cruel, tainted justice.
He emerges from the tunnels under the raised benches. He is flanked by two brawny soldiers. Despite their size, their faces betray the impressionable young eyes of youth. They are younger than he. I wonder who informed them of their draft notice? Do they have mothers and friends desperate to know of their safety?
Cal walks blankly to the wooden stage erected slightly off center. The soldiers leave his side.
An official hauls him across the boards.
Forces him to his knees.
I blink. How high up is this bench? How high is the cliff? The sea would catch me. I could drink her into my lungs and decompose with the fish, my remains carried away by water sprites to feed their young.
What will it be to live on this earth without his life? I’ve tasted his spirit - too much, too long - to revert back to veiled contentment. This greatest grief is not worth my energy.
A new official starts speaking. This one has a voice of wretched, poisoned honey. She spews it at the crowd.
I’ve already surrendered.
Echoing silence yanks me to the present full force. The breeze has gone dormant and no longer cools the accumulating scream in my soured throat.
The crowd gasps.
Steel flashes sun into my eyes. It burns, but I force them open, tears streaming across my cheeks. Anyone could say it is the fault of the searing star sewn into the blue blanket of sky overhead. I would say it is the fault of my own searing heart.
Cal’s head has been ripped back by the hair, exposing his pale neck. His skin hosts a sheen of sweat, eyes of prey darting from the blade to the soldier who wields it and back again.
He locks eyes with me and the whites appear around his irises.
“I love you,” I scream to him, only it comes out a voiceless rasp.
“I love you, too,” he returns, only it comes out a thin line of red spreading across the length of his throat.
His neck is cut from his body. My breath hitches.
It hits the stage.
The world is spinning and smearing together and I’m hugging the hard benches and being picked up and shaken and spoken to and I think - I know - that I will never, never taste a smile again.