Nahata: Only A God Can Kill A God
Nahata forced herself to sit up in bed. She rolled her head forward into the palm of her hand to rub away the exhaustion. She spent the entire night in the arena until her body was burning. She jumped from the top of the tower ten times or more yesterday and it still didn’t seem to matter much. Whatever magic was inside of her, it had no desire to be controlled.
It didn’t help that her nightmares were becoming unbearable. She kept finding herself back in the mines, digging rocks in the dim light with the boy sitting beside her. He would smile in that brainless innocent way. And then his smile would fade and his eyes would go flat. He would fall forward into her arms and the coldness of death seeped into her skin until she woke up in a cold sweat.
Nahata raked her hair back in frustration. If she could go back to that moment and choose a different path... If only she had known she was Dev, she might have saved him.
The bedroom door slid open but in Merletta’s excitement, she rushed forward and hit her shoulder. Her open mouth kept moving but all that came out were frenzied, giddy laughs.
“Someone’s excited,” Nahata teased, tossing aside the soft, plush covers. She staggered out of bed and onto her throbbing feet with a groan.
Merletta took down another breath to calm herself. She pressed her hands to her chest. “I’ve received word that someone important from the capital is here. They’re looking at all of the potential initiates for an apprenticeship. I know you’ve only been here for a few days but...” She grinned and took a large step closer. “But this is it. Display something so sweetly tempting and they won’t be able to turn away from you.”
She rolled her eyes and shuffled towards the desk where she tossed her gear last night.
“Wait.” Merletta held up both hands then snapped hold of Nahata’s jaw. She pulled her closer before giving a disgusted groan. “Gross. Don’t tell me you actually slept with the translator in your ear? You have to clean it. And... when was your last shower?”
“Wish someone had told me that days ago...”
“Never mind.” She shook her head and shoved Nahata away. “You can deal with it after the fight in the arena. Which... I hope you practiced last night. And I hope you’ve managed to learn something fantastic to display. The showier the better.”
Nahata threw on her jacket and then the mask. “Well, I didn’t plan any party tricks if that’s what you’re asking.”
The crow shoved a hand into her shoulder. “By your tone, you didn’t do as I asked.”
“I did stuff.” Nahata threw her hands up, pitch rising. “I practiced.”
Merletta opened her mouth and pointed a finger but then she slowly muttered, “I should have asked for a translator for myself... This would have gone so much easier.”
Nahata nodded gingerly. “It would have.”
“Listen, pup.” She pinched the bridge of her mask’s nose. “This fight could get you to the top and me along with you. This is a game changer. These chances are few and far between.”
She nodded but to say she understood would have been a lie. “So do I get to eat breakfast first or...”
The old crow linked their arms and pulled her down the hallway. “Remember that Lion from yesterday? I set you up in the ring with him. He’s been here longer than you but you’ve got strength like he’s never seen. And wits.”
“I guess I’m not getting breakfast,” she muttered as they passed the cantina.
“Lions are proud and arrogant. That alone will be an advantage. And after I humiliated his trainer yesterday, he’ll need to make up for the loss.” Merletta eyed her scrupulously.
She nodded and made her voice sound more cheery, “Yeah, I’m listening.”
Merletta chuckled and tenderly squeezed Nahata’s arm.
She followed her trainer across the compound to the massive arena. But this time there was a cheering crowd inside. Every seat, from floor to ceiling, was filled with Dev. They had the luxury of resting in the shade while the sun burned down on the center of the arena. Of course, the Dev would turn fighting into a spectator sport.
“Take a glance up there,” Merletta whispered as she gleamed at the tower.
Nahata saw one figure seated at the top. They were draped in black from head to toe, their face completely covered. They were too far away to see any meaningful details. They were a shadow and yet they held Merletta’s captivation, a deep seeded need to get their attention.
There was something about power and status that was addictive to the Dev. The more Nahata saw it the less she understood. She didn’t care about the guest or the groves of Dev that filled the stadium. All she could really focus on at the moment was trying to survive.
Merletta led the way to their post on the far right side of the arena. She grabbed one of the attendants by the throat and growled, “Bring me a translation device. You’ve got ten minutes. Maybe less.”
“Right away!” He staggered when she shoved him away but he caught his balance and raced towards the exit.
Nahata huffed. “It’ll be more fun if you can actually understand me for a change.”
Merletta smirked and snatched up Nahata’s hand. “I’m counting on you, pup. Don’t let me down.”
An announcer stood at the top tier of the stands, right under the scaffolding. He blared something across the noise of the crowd. She could hear her name followed by the Lion’s, Djedi-He’tae. He encouraged the crowd to cheer, to beckon for blood.
Merletta tugged her attention back towards her, closer than ever before. “Remember,” her voice burned against her ear. “You absolutely must take his power after his defeat. You will have earned it and you’ll be the stronger for it.”
Nahata’s expression flattened. “I know.”
“Summon that beast if you can.” She looked her in the eyes now. “Even if it means stepping to the edge of death. That, my sweet pup, is how we Dev play.”
Her stomach was heavy and her throat grew dry. She gave a slow nod in acceptance. “Lovely...”
Merletta stepped away and glared across the arena. “Where’s that fool with my translator?”
Nahata looked out as well and there, swaggering to the center of the arena, was the young Lion. His head was high as he waved both hands towards the cheering crowd. He basked in their excitement, even so far as peeling off his helmet in a dramatic flourish.
The old crow patted her shoulder tenderly. “Shall I share a secret with you before you go?”
The Lion’s gaze fell on her. His hands swept out invitingly and just as his grin grew wide, he placed the mask back over his head in another dramatic flourish.
Nahata looked to her trainer as she leaned close and lowered her voice.
Merletta whispered, breath hot against her skin, “Few of us are as pure-blooded as we claim. Even I am not a pure Dev. Neither is your opponent. You are not as weak as they’ll try to make you believe.”
Her lips began to quiver, bitterness pulling a smirk out of her. She looked back to the Lion and then the young initiate that ran across the arena. He was holding out a small translator as he skidded to a stop in front of the old crow.
“Finally,” Merletta sang as she moved away from Nahata. “A little slow for my tastes...”
Nahata marched forward. She stood tall, her gaze locked on the Djedi-He’tae, too afraid to even glance at the crowd. Their cheering hadn’t stopped. She couldn’t discern what any of them were saying. Perhaps the translator struggled to take in so many voices.
The Lion turned towards the tower as she got closer. He looked up at the guest and locked his hands behind his back. Nahata was slower to turn towards the guest but her gaze never left her opponent. When the Lion bowed, she did the same.
Her eyes met his in challenge as they rose from their bow.
“Rashkah,” he blurted with a smug grin. “Fitting name for you.”
She chuckled not at all phased by such a small insult. “You wouldn’t mind us just talking this through, would you?”
He huffed breathily. “Speak Devian, mutt.”
“It’s too bad you have no idea what I’m saying,” she mused playfully and watched the irritation darken his expression. “Pity.”
His brows pinched, shoulder tightening as he readied his punch. Nahata could see the muscle in his arm coil tightly, giving her enough time to dodge his incoming fist.
She grabbed him by the arm, kicked her foot down into the back of his leg and dropped him into the arena floor. He roared in agony but it was drowned out by the crowd’s cry of excitement. The moment she let go of his arm, he scurried through the dirt away from him.
Djedi rose to his feet and faced her again.
She paced in a large arch around him, sizing up her prey.
He mimicked her movements.
Perhaps he realized then that physical strength was not his best chance at winning against her. Because he summoned a spell, the brush of static sliding across her skin as it filled the air around them. Then the sharp scent hit the back of her throat and it took everything in her power not to shudder in disgust.
The full force of his magic sent him jumping into the air. Before she could process it, he was diving down on top of her. Djedi knocked her backwards into the dirt, his weight pressing into her hips. The wind was pulled from her lungs as his knee grounded down into her ribs.
He hissed through gritted teeth. His voice was low, quiet in a way, “Sorry. It’s the only way.” He threw back his hand, red flames gathering around his knuckles.
Nahata deflected the punch with ease. And the second one that followed it. Physical strength wasn’t a problem for her. But his next attack caught her off guard, spikes of the same red energy shot out from his body. She just managed to turn her upper torso to avoid some of the spikes but the others speared into her pinned thighs.
Nahata sucked down a dusty breath of sand that muffled her cry of pain. Her magic began to boil in her blood. The beast swelled behind her ribs. It slithered up her spine and along the crown of her skull like a second skin. The snarling and snapping jaws of energy enveloped her to form a protective barrier. Even through her uniform she could feel the heat of their magical energies burning her skin.
She reached out and snapped hold of his throat. “I’m sorry, too. I want to live.” She clenched his throat tighter with her glove. An unbridled torrent of power rushed out of her in its last effort for survival.
The Lion tried to pull away but it was too late.
The gauntlet shattered, metal tearing into her own skin and the youth’s throat. The force was so strong that Djedi’s neck slipped out of her grasp and tossed him across the arena. His body tumbled and rolled against the dirt then stopped limply with a thud.
The beast snarled behind her labored breaths, ravenous with hunger and rage. She weakly staggered up to her feet and slunk towards Djedi’s still form.
It took him a moment to regain mobility, his chest heaving to life after having been stunned. She watched him roll up onto his hands and knees, coughing up the blood from his lungs. His skin was ripped open, shrapnel having embedded itself along his face and neck.
Nahata hesitated. She clenched her fists, eyes catching sight of Merletta as she impatiently paced the edge of the arena. The old crow told her to take the Lion’s powers from him but she had no idea where to start.
She carefully peeked over at the balcony where the guest stood watching before returning her focus to the battle. He peered up at her and she couldn’t be certain what expression he held. It wasn’t fear, not like she thought it would be. Or even rage. It was a calm resignation as he gave up fighting further.
Her magic hissed as it fluctuated wildly around her. “Giving up so easily...”
He stared at her before sitting down on his haunches. “Go on then. Don’t gloat and make me look even more stupid.”
She couldn’t even get the satisfaction of her enemy understanding her insults.
Djedi closed his eyes and shook his head, brows pinching. He kept shaking his head in dismay, a breathy sigh slipping past his lips. His lips parted, breath hushing out of his lungs. He nodded his head as if he were consenting to it. His eyes fluttered. His gaze never left hers as he sputtered, “It’s okay...”
She swallowed the disgust that swelled inside of her throat. Would she be such a monster for taking his magic for her own? Was it so terrible to want to survive like everyone else?
Nahata raised her hand, her own blood still hot against her skin. The beast’s energy seeped out of the cuts along her hand and arm until it surrounded the Lion. It enveloped him and then, like a hungry beast, it began consuming every ounce of magic in his trembling frame.
His eyes went wide. His mouth was open but deathly silent. The parlor of his skin paled the more she took from him. And she might have stopped had she the ability to. The beast drank deeper, gobbling down every ounce of the Lion’s powers until, without warning, a burst of energy blinded her.
She slammed her eyes shut and pulled away from him, feeling the heat brush against her face. When she dared to finally open her eyes... specks of gold dust littered the air in a thick cloud. When the hot desert wind blew through, she could just barely make out the place where Djedi had been kneeling. But she couldn’t understand what she was seeing.
The crowd roared with applause but Nahata just stared, dumbfounded by what had happened. All that remained before her was a stack of bones. Had she killed him? Had she taken all of his magic and his life as well? Is this what Soeki had been yelling at her about earlier that week? That he accused her of killing other Dev in this manner to become stronger?
She had been so shocked that she hadn’t noticed her hand was burning with pain. The pain finally became too much to bear. She clenched her teeth and clamped down on the scream that was perched in the back of her throat. She buckled over and crouched in the middle of the arena as nausea rolled up the back of her throat.
The beast that had been writhing protectively around her began to slither back into her bones, boiling painfully under her skin. She trembled because despite how hot she was, despite all the sweat, she felt a chill.
Merletta at some point had moved to stand beside her. She smiled, her eyes sweeping over the applauding crowd before peering up at the tower where the guest had been watching.
Nahata glared up there as well but the diadem was empty.
“Let’s hope he was impressed,” she gleed, never letting her smile fall away. “We’ll set up another fight later this week.”
She forced herself to stand beside the old crow but shivers ran down her spine. She killed someone. Someone had died and there was a crowd cheering about it. Someone’s son, someone’s friend...
Her throat felt sticky as if mucus were drowning her.
Merletta linked their arms. “Smile, pup. You’re on your way to rising in the ranks.”
“Did you know he would die? Did he know?”
She chuckled and the sound was too lively. “Come now. Weren’t you listening when I said this was a fight for life and death.”
Nahata snapped her arm out of Merletta’s hold. Her mouth opened but she fumbled with what to say. She was angry but she wasn’t surprised. The Dev were willing to enslave people so, of course, they had no problem killing their own.
“No witty comments now that I understand you, huh?” She smirked before spinning away. “Take the rest of the day to recover, little pup. I’ll work on getting us some strings to pull.” Merletta waltzed across the arena to the set of double doors and tossed her initiate a quick nod of encouragement.
She stood there stunned, the cheering crowd and the announcer’s booming voice made her skin. She felt physically ill about the whole thing. Just breathing in the dust that coated the air made her realize she was breathing in the Lion’s ashes.
She held her breath and raced towards one of the arena’s exits. She didn’t care where she was going, so long as she was nowhere near that pile of bones and ash.
Nahata ambled through the hallway, her thoughts drifting back to the final moment when Djedi conceded to her. His voice repeated itself inside of her brain, “It’s okay.” She remembered the look in his eyes. And then for some reason she remembered the boy back at the workcamp, the way his small hand weakened in her grasp as the Dev murdered him.
Her stomach twisted into a knot. She staggered to a stop in the middle of the hall, gasping for a breath of air that didn’t stink with magic.
Someone snapped hold of her arm and jerked her up onto her feet. She expected Merletta to be standing there but her eyes fell on an unfamiliar black gauntlet gripping her elbow. She noticed the thick globs of blood that oozed down her arm and fingers, dripping in a trail on the floor.
His words were cold as he spoke, “Do you plan to bleed all over the compound like this?”
Her attention rolled up to glower at the man but the mask he wore hid away his entire face.
She tried to jerk her arm out of his grasp but his grip was firm. “Maybe I like bleeding everywhere.”
He ignored her and raised her wound into view as if she were a science experiment. He carefully turned her hand over to see the blood that began to pool into her palm.
She tried to pull her arm from his grasp. “I’ve got places to be.”
“Do not move,” he stated, the helmet he wore distorting the way his voice sounded.
He grabbed her other hand and examined the remaining gauntlet. He was looking for something but Nahata couldn’t imagine what exactly.
Her brows rose up in challenge. “Yeah, it exploded. Can I go now?”
“You must tend to your wounds if you expect them to heal quicker.” He kept his grip on her elbow and dragged her down the hallway.
She didn’t protest. How could she? It was hard to protest against someone taking an interest as well as a kindness towards her. She had no idea who he was or why he was so interested in the wounds she sustained. But he was likely the first person to stop and care about her in a way most would have brushed off.
It was odd, she had to admit. As she looked over his attire she couldn’t make out any details that might hint to his clan. He wore a layer of black vestments, hints of gold sewn into the hem. Over it he wore a suit of Devian armor and a plain helmet that had no animal to it whatsoever.
The double doors to the infirmary slid open. The walls were pristine and whine. Various machines filled every inch of the space. Plain stone, or perhaps metal, beds were spaced out along one wall. A doctor stood in the center, his attention locked on one of the screens in front of him.
“Come in,” he droned then rolled his gaze over. “My lord!” He stopped immediately, turned and bowed lowly. “What can I do you, my lord?”
He dragged her forward and Nahata stumbled a bit towards the doctor. “Treat this one’s wounds.”
The doctor eyed her for a moment then saluted to the Dev behind her. “Yes, of course, my lord. Right away, sir.” He stepped towards one of the beds and swept a hand out over it in invitation. “Please, take a seat.”
Begrudgingly, she obeyed. She sat down stiffly on the cold bed. Definitely metal, she realized. The whole room felt cold and she shivered as she waited. She couldn’t believe it but she was starting to miss the desert heat.
Her attention moved back to the Dev that had brought her to the room. He stood quite lifeless, hands at his side and back stiff. It was statuesque how unmoving he was. Perhaps it wasn’t stiff awkwardness, she reasoned. He was a lord and clearly powerful. The doctor was so nervous, sweat was glazing his skin as he prepared his supplies.
She thought back to the arena and wondered if the Dev had been impressed by her. A fan, perhaps?
She grinned at the idea. No, he didn’t seem the type.
The doctor held up one of the tools. “This might sting but it will disinfect and seal the skin from outside bacteria.” When he saw her eyes narrow he added plainly, “It’ll help keep it clean until your body takes over.” He swallowed painfully then glanced over to where the lord was waiting.
Nahata did the same.
“He is waiting,” the Dev stated flatly. “He needs permission.”
She jolted in surprise. She almost said something snarky but the words came out in a breathy laugh. She nodded her head and the doctor took it as a consent. She held out her arm for him and he began to spray the area. The moment the liquid hit her open flesh, she hissed and clenched her eyes shut. The second wave of spray wasn’t better but at least she expected the pain.
By the time he finished and she looked at the wound, it was being bandaged. As he finished the last of the bandages, he recited a practiced speech, “You can take these off in two days. Should be healed by them. Try not to get them wet while bathing.”
“Thanks,” she muttered.
He looked up at her then held up two fingers. “Two days.” He pointed to the bandage. “Take off.”
Nahata grinned and nodded. She turned her head and pointed to the translator. “I got it.”
“Ah.” He got to his feet and bowed to her. “Come back if there’s a problem.”
Nahata glanced around for the Dev that brought her there but he was nowhere in sight. He must have left once he saw she was getting the treatment she needed.
The doctor walked over towards the door and she followed him awkwardly. He remained by the door until she was in the hallway. He gave her another farewell then went back to his various screens.
She looked at the bandaging around her arm and hand. It wasn’t as painful as it had been earlier. In fact, she wasn’t even sure if there was still a wound beneath all the white gauze.
When she returned her attention to the hallway, she realized Merletta had given her the day off to recover. It dawned on her that she could do whatever she wanted, go wherever in the compound she wanted to go. She never had such freedom before and she had no idea where to even begin. Her entire life had been a series of tasks, expectations, and exhaustion.
For now, she wanted nothing more than to catch up on the years of lost sleep.