The Sovereign Gods

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Nahata: An Offer of Revenge

After visiting the doctor for the second time, she left with clean bandages and a set of spray in case the wounds opened again. And she was sure that if things kept going the way they were, she might find herself digging at it within the hour.

She took her time down the hallway, strolling past the guards that bowed to her as she passed by. Each one dropped to a knee and she thought how exhausting it must be for them. What did they do to get such a boring job in the first place? Although, she considered, it was a safe job at least.

She walked into the heat of the armory, the harsh scent of oil and leather coating the air and turning sour in her throat. Lord Anjien was already there, the blacksmith locked in a low bow and begging for leniency. She stepped beside the grand general in hopes her presence would draw their conversation to something else.

Lord Anjien released an annoyed huff, the helmet distorting the sound into a hiss. “Show me your best suit of armor then. Do not disappoint me.”

The blacksmith hurried towards the back of the room, past shelves and tables littered with various items. He slid open a closet door and flourished a hand to whatever was inside. “Forgive me, my lord, this may not be what you want. My work is only used for the trainees here... not a lord of your status...”

He stepped forward, quiet as he moved through the room. Nahata followed at a distance, her gaze just barely glimpsing the gray hued metal. Lord Anjien moved closer to inspect the craftsmanship. “Your last item failed...” His helmet turned to peer over at the sweating man. “If this breaks before she’s done using it, I will return here for penance.”

“Of course, my lord.” He lowered into a deep bow.

The general faced her, looming over her as he spoke, “He needs to fit the armor to your stature. Remove those rags.”

Nahata peered down at her clothes, the single gauntlet that remained and the gear she received back at the workcamp that protected her during training. The metal wasl dented and scratched, the leather worn and the stitches a little frayed. She hadn’t noticed at all. She supposed she never cared about her attire as much as the Dev appeared to.

When neither of them made efforts to move, especially the blacksmith, she began to unbuckle the leather straps, removed the gauntlet, and set it aside. She peeled the leather jacket off and tossed it down onto the table then looked at Lord Anjien to see if that was all of it.

He made a disapproving sound. “Meet me at the end of the hall when you’re finished.”

“Yes, master.”

“Do not refer to me as your master unless you still wish to think of yourself as a slave.” He towered over her, the reflective surface of his helmet glistening under the room’s lights.

“Of course,” she snapped, staring at her reflection in his mask.

The door to the armory opened and closed shut, the blacksmith rising from his bow with a sigh of relief. But the moment his eyes met hers, he quickly rushed to work. “Forgive me, my lord.” He pulled the items from the closet, gray metal that looked faded and dull, but it was entirely unscratched. She couldn’t determine its worth even if she cared but the item looked expensive to her.

“Your doublet is a little too big for your form, my lord.” He helped her shimmy into the loose fitting shirt. “You might want to buy a new one when you leave this area.”

My lord, she mused, expression shifting as she thought about the title. Perhaps he was mistaking herself as a lord and not an apprentice to the general.

He strapped the plates of armor into her doublet, pauldrons and breastplate then finally a new pair of gauntlets. He helped her with a new pair of breeches that adorned shin guards with a pair of pristine leather boots. Surprisingly it wasn’t as heavy as she imagined because the metal machines back in the workcamp had weighed a ton.

He surveyed his work one final time, adjusted the leather straps then nodded firmly. “Aye, my lord, I think that’s as good as I can do.” He tugged at the metal pieces a few more times until he was satisfied. “If you need anything fixed or something starts chafing, return here and I’ll set to work.”

Nahata glanced over the armor. It was heavier than her last set and it covered more of her figure. The intricate designs looked almost like a language, spellcraft, but she couldn’t be certain.

“My lord.” He bowed when she didn’t make a reply.

Nahata bowed in return.

She caught sight of his confusion, the pinched brows and widened eyes, as she turned and left the armory.

Nahata barely made it a few steps down the hall before someone was marching down it towards her. She recognized him from the cantina, Djedi’s trainer, the old lion who had challenged her in front of everyone.

He snapped hold of her arm and jerked her closer. “A low born prisoner thinks she can kill my student and get away with it?”

Nahata jerked her arm away from him. “If you didn’t want him to die, you shouldn’t have agreed to such a stupid match.”

She turned away from him but he shoved her shoulder until she spun back around. The bones in his knuckles snapped across her jaw, knocking her backwards. She just barely managed to steady herself and meet his gaze again.

“Your insolence won’t stand. I won’t stand still while filth joins our empire.”

Nahata stood taller and rubbed at the soreness that was blooming on her jaw. Before she could give a sassy reply to his blatant idiocy, a black gauntlet wrapped itself over her shoulder. She looked back to see Lord Anjien’s dark vestments.

“You are bold, Lion.” The general tilted his head and looked directly at Nahata. His gloved finger ran across where the other man had punched her. “You would strike a general’s apprentice in public... in front of him...”

“A-Apprentice?” His lips thinned then he smiled, laughter falling out of his open mouth in rapid bursts. “My lord... I...” His laughter drained away as fear took over. He fell to his knees and dropped his head into the floor. He looked smaller now. The large robust Lion brought to his knees like a mewing cub. “Forgive me, my lord!”

“Nahata?” Lord Anjien asked. His tone was almost endearing.

Her eyes swept up curiously but his helmet hid away his expression.

“What would you like done to him? He has assaulted someone higher in rank than himself and needs a strong reminder of his lower status.”

She looked down at the Lion as he trembled despite how much he curled in on himself.

“Forgive me, my lord! Please, my lord!”

When Lord Anjien made no reply, she glanced back at him for some sort of clarification.

“He’s speaking to you.”

“Me?” Her smile curled devilishly. “Interesting.”

She looked over the lavish robes, the gems that adorned his fingers. She thought back to that moment Djedi had given in and accepted his fate. Perhaps he had already accepted death long before the arena match.

She rubbed the pain that burned along her jaw.

Lord Anjien leaned closer to her, his mask cold against her cheek, his voice a dark whisper in her ear, “You can have him imprisoned if you want. Or you can walk away and leave him here to kneel until his knees crack against the stone floor.”

She peered sideways at the glossy surface of his mask, wondering what thoughts were rolling around in his skull. If she made the wrong choice, would he find fault in her and punish her for it?

Nahata stepped around the cowering man and sauntered down the hallway. She wasn’t ready to kill another person and she wasn’t sure she wanted to have him imprisoned either.

“He won’t be able to rise until you dismiss him,” he jeered while stepping in stride beside her. He tucked his hands behind his back almost as if he were pleased with her. “You are not as spineless as you appear.”

“Thank you.” She quickly added, “Neb Anjien.”

He hummed in approval then quickened his pace.

Nahata followed his speedy march to a different part of the large complex. It was an area she hadn’t even been to before. The further they went the more lavish the walls and ceiling became. Gold glinted in every corner. The ceiling above was smooth, pure white stone that seemed to glow from the same light as the moon.

“This is where important guests stay during their time here. It isn’t patroled with guards and will be easy to sneak unseen.” He stopped before one of the doors. He waved his hand over the door’s lock and within seconds the door hushed open to an expansive room just as luxurious as the hall.

Merletta sat lounged on a sofa, smirking as she took a sip from her cup and eyed Nahata a little too proudly. Beside her was a younger woman, perhaps a few years older than Nahata herself. She’d been talking with her old crow until Lord Anjien stepped through the door.

The moment Nahata stepped inside and the door closed shut, the young woman jolted to her feet. She thought it was about the general’s presence but then she leapt forward and scooped up Nahata’s hand and squeezed it.

“I’m Kadri!”

Nahata pulled her hand free.

“Kadri,” she shouted a little louder. “Ka-dri. I’m one of the servants under Lord Anjien’s care.”

Her brows pinched in annoyance. “Great... Another Dev keen on touching others.”

“Kadri,” she said again, smiling, and even leaned closer as she examined Nahata’s features. “Sometimes translators are terrible, especially the old ones.” She batted her eyes and there was something about the woman’s innocence that irked Nahata. She was too happy, too full of delight especially for someone planning an assassination.

Merletta chimed in with a gentle coo, “She’s going to do your hair and make-up. And help you with your shower because... well, let’s be honest, pup, you need one.”

Nahata felt a groan in her throat as she rolled her eyes over to the crow’s smug grin.

Lord Anjien’s voice snapped across the air, “Quickly. We don’t have much time.”

“Shower first.” Merletta flicked her fingers. “Come, little pup. We’ll teach you.”

Kadri linked arms with Nahata and led the way across the room.

She was beginning to wonder if it was part of Devian culture, the touching and embracing, because it was also starting to irk her. Thankfully, Lord Anjien didn’t bother with such nonsense. At least in that she could take some solace.

The moment they stepped into the next room, Merletta was tugging at Nahata’s attire. Her voice cooed in that high-pitch arrogant way it did, “These clothes barely fit you. We’ll have to find something better when we reach a wealthier city.”

Kadri helped as well, untying straps and peeling away leather and metal to reveal Nahata’s bony form. Her voice was light-hearted, a sing-song tone as she spoke, “They clearly didn’t feed you in the prison camps.”

Nahata leered over at the young woman’s face. Prison camps, she seethed. She could hear the words rolling around in her mind with annoyance. Prison implied that she had done something criminal in the first place.

Merletta pulled the leather cuirass up and Nahata was forced to squirm out of it.

“Can’t I do this myself,” she grouched.

“As if you could,” the old crow snapped back. “You should have done this days ago.”

She felt herself standing a bit taller, hands clenched tight in annoyance. Both Kadri and Merletta were testing her patience. And now that she was being stripped down to nothing she felt even more belittled by them.

The older woman flourished her hand. “Trousers, pup.”

Kadri was sweeter, her voice lighter and too happy, “We just want to help. Adjusting from prison life must be strange for you.”

“Slave,” barked Nahata. She shoved her boots and then began untying her pants.

The younger woman jolted at the word. Her smile began to fade. She chuckled a little but it was breathy and nervous. “The prison camps are terrible but isn’t ‘slave’ a little dramatic?”

“I wasn’t a prisoner. I didn’t commit any crimes.”

“War crimes--”

Nahata stepped towards the other woman, eye-to-eye, daring her to smile and laugh about it. “I was a child when they took me. Took me from my mother. Does that sound like someone who committed a war crime?”

Her cheeks flushed with heat. Her lips parted but she didn’t make any attempts to argue. She shook her head slightly then muttered, “I’m sorry I... They said... The emperor told us it was...” She shook her head again and clenched her hands together.

“She’s unaware of the truth, pup.” Merletta stepped between them and began pulling the padded doublet up over Nahata’s head. “Most people don’t know the truth about the workcamps. The empire keeps them in the dark about most things.”

Kadri breathed, “You knew?”

The old crow didn’t reply.

Nahata stripped down then tossed the last of her attire with the rest. “What now?”

Before she could turn to face the other women, Merletta snapped hold of her shoulders and forced her to stand in place. Nahata waited a moment, brows pinched in expectation of Merletta’s actions. But the old crow was quiet. Nahata jerked her shoulder free and turned sharply around to meet Merletta’s hollowing gaze. The color had drained from her face making her look sickly.

It was Kadri who finally spoke up, “What are those?”

“What’s what?” Nahata tossed out her hands then glanced over her shoulder. “Scars? You’ve never seen scars before?”

Kadri led her over to the mirror, a mirror that was far too long and clear. It showed Nahata every inch of her own body, the shadows that laid across her bones making them protrude, bruises in varying stages of healing, the tanned patches of skin that grew dark in her time in the desert.

Kadri turned Nahata until her backside was visible in the mirror. There were scars, some more prominent than others, some even crossed each other like a sleeping nest of snakes. She didn’t see the problem. Were they shocked at how many she had? Life in the desert was harsh. Life in the mines can cause all sorts of wounds and accidents. Were they so ignorant of life in the workcamps?

Kadri ran a finger across the deepest scar, one that curled along her shoulder blade. Another scar reflected it on the opposite shoulder blade.

Merletta’s voice croaked as she finally spoke up, “Kadri finish her shower. I need to speak with Lord Anjien for a moment.” The old crow leapt out of the bathroom, quick and without eye contact.

Nahata waited for the door to close before striding over to it. She pressed her ear to the door but the translator couldn’t pick up the words. She waved Kadri over and pointed to the door then motioned to her ear. She shrugged dramatically in hopes the other woman understood.

Kadri snuck over. “Eavesdrop? You want to eavesdrop on Lord Anjien?”

Nahata nodded and pulled her to the door. “Aren’t you curious?” She pointed to the scars on her back and gave another dramatic shrug.

Kadri’s gaze averted but she pressed her ear to the door all the same. She was quiet then nodded and bit her lower lip. Then in a jolt, she darted her attention to Nahata. She looked dead in her eyes as if she were searching for something, some clue that was hidden there.

“Well?”

Kadri’s gaze trailed away, lips parting as if she might explain but then she grabbed Nahata by the elbow and dragged her back across the room. She reached out and twisted the metal gears posted on the wall until water was spraying down from the ceiling.

Merletta stepped through the door and scoffed. “Hurry, darlings.”

“I was just explaining the gears for temperature and water pressure,” Kadri replied with a smile then motioned for Nahata to get under the water’s spray. “Let’s start with your hair first. You have to remove your translator.”

She peeled the metal device from her ear and handed it to Merletta.

Kadri motioned her into the flow of water and she did as requested. The water was warm as if the desert sun had been boiling it all day. Listening to Kadri’s instructions was all based mostly on her gestures and body language. But Nahata endured the awkward confusion, Kadri’s nervousness and Merletta hard stare.

There were at least ten different jars and each one was used in a specific order. Some were used during the shower and some were meant to be used after. And by the end of it, Nahata had already forgotten the order of things.

It seemed like a lot of work and unnecessary primping, especially for a group of people who spent most of their time wearing masks and flamboyant attire. Then again, it made sense that the Dev cared entirely too much about their appearance.

Merletta wrapped her up in a towel when they were finally finished with all the creams and perfumes. By the time they returned to the main room, it was empty. At some point Lord Anjien must have left. Perhaps, she considered, he left after Merletta told him about her scars. But what could have unhinged them? They were Dev. They were used to abuse and murder.

Merletta handed back the translator and waited for Nahata to place it in her ear. “Hair and make-up next. I’ll return soon. You need to be ready by then.”

The old crow sashayed out of the room while Kadri sorted through a series of different jars, smaller than the ones in the bathroom.

Nahata groaned internally. Then hurried over and whispered, “Well?” She pointed to the door and then the scars on her back. “What did you hear?”

Kadri nodded. She tugged Nahata into the chair and began combing through her damp hair. “If I heard right, they think you might not actually be half-human.” She took a pair of scissors and trimmed the ends. Bits of Nahata’s already short hair began fluttering to the floor. Her voice lowered and she leaned closer, “You might be Arpaeian.”

“What’s that?” Nahata almost turned around but the other woman forced her head forward.

“Stay still.”

“What’s an Arpaeian?”

“You’re probably wondering why that’s a big deal but...” She grinned, still cutting away with smooth ease. “The Dev blame them for the bioweapon. The one that made us... kind of infertile. That’s why there aren’t any pure Dev around anymore.” Kadri laughed then snorted. “You being a Coyote and an Arpaeian has to be the unluckiest fate.”

She didn’t know for certain what happened to her clan, if she could even claim it as hers. But everyone thus far seemed tense about her being a Coyote. Had her clan done something ‘unspeakable’?

“Plus, a match like that... It’s strange.”

The way she said “strange” hinted at the scandal. Perhaps her parents, one of them, had been coerced. Or they had been... No, she pushed the idea away before she could consider it further. She didn’t remember either of her parents. She wished that she could, a sound, a smell, a glance... She was too young to remember them.

“Anyway,” Kadri added. “Anjien ordered Merletta to secrecy. They’ll probably erase any records if there are any.” She took the comb through Nahata’s hair then styled it with her fingers. “Finished.”

Nahata darted her attention to her hair, locked on the pale brown and blonde tufts. She couldn’t look for long, too fearful of meeting her own gaze in the mirror. But her hair looked cleaner and much more refined. It wasn’t the dirt-encrusted mess form before.

Kadri leaned closer again, her hot breath on the nape of Nahata’s neck. “You’re gorgeous.”

She looked at the young woman’s reflection in the mirror. Her complexion was a little darker than Nahata’s, her nose a little wider, her eyes almond-shaped and dark.

“I suppose people didn’t... kiss much in the...” Her voice trailed away from her. “You are gorgeous, though.” Kadri placed her hands on both sides of Nahata’s face and made her look at the mirror, at the familiar stranger sitting before it. The dark patches beneath her eyes were gone. Her freckles and sunburnt nose were somehow masked as well. Her skin was golden, a bronze complexion that paired strangle with her equally tan hair. She looked like them, though, like all the Dev who strutted around with pompous arrogance, like all the Dev who had ever tortured her or turned a blind eye to her hunger and starvation.

Nahata leapt up to her feet because the more she stared, the more familiar the face started to become. It was a faded, forgotten memory of another woman and another time. Her eyes burned, brimming hotly with tears. She shoved her palms into her eyes in an attempt to shove the tears back behind her eyelids.

“It’s just cosmetics,” comforted Kadri as the young woman took her hand. “You can wash it off later.”

Nahata jerked her hand free and fell backwards into the chair. She coiled away from Kadri’s tentative hands.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered. “It’s just until you finish your mission.”

Nahata’s teeth clenched.

The door to the room opened and Kadri straightened, her lungs filling with her next breath.

It was Lord Anjien’s voice that jolted Nahata to her feet as well. “Finished?”

“Just need to put on the uniform.” Kadri took long strides across the room towards the bed where the item in question was resting.

Lord Anjien drifted through the room, motioning his apprentice to follow him.

Merletta stayed posted by the door, eyeing Nahata but it was different than usual. Her playful smirk and cocky raised chin were absent. She looked stiff and uncomfortable.

Nahata followed her new mentor, hands gripped tightly behind her to stop the trembling and the nausea.

“Everyone working in the dining hall will be wearing the same uniform.” He stopped and waved a hand towards the clothes Kadri was holding. “This will help you get through the door. The rest is up to you.” He reached into the inner pocket of his cloak to reveal a long box. “This is an auditory translator. Place it around your neck to give the illusion that you are in fact one of the workers.”

Nahata reached out and took the box but it was so light that she wasn’t sure anything was inside at all. When she popped off the lid, inside was an obsidian necklace as long as her neck. “Thank you,” she croaked then cleared her throat of her emotions. “Thank you, Neb Anjien.”

“Get dressed.” He rounded the two women to the other side of the room. “I shall relay the mission’s information as you do so.”

She looked at Kadri but the other woman’s eyes were downcast, her shoulders hunching under a grief that Nahata couldn’t register. She set the box down then tossed aside her towel. She took the largest piece of attire but Kadri jolted as if she were waking up from a dream.

“Not that one.” Kadri threw everything onto the bed then held a smaller piece. “Undergarments first.”

Another series of rules, Nahata groaned.

“There’s a back door to the kitchen’s,” Lord Anjien grouched, not at all liking how long things were taking. “Your uniform will help you go mostly unnoticed. However, should someone stop you, there is identification in your pockets.”

Kadri strapped a piece of cloth to Nahata’s chest then helped her step into a smaller piece of clothing.

“Once you’re inside the kitchen, it’s wise to scope out the dining hall for potential exits or hindrances.”

Kadri grabbed the dress from the bed, her voice low, “It’s skimpy.”

“You’ll need to find the colonel among the crowd.”

Nahata swept her gaze from Kadri’s smirk to Lord Anjien as he continued pacing. “How will I recognize them?”

She unclipped the back of the dress and guided Nahata to step into it. She glided the black and gray material up along Nahata’s thighs and waist, too slow in a strangely teasing way. Finally, the last piece. Kadri wrapped the tall necklace around Nahata’s neck. The cold metal sent a chill down her spine but it was Kadri’s fluttering eyes as he peered up at her in a smoldering, sly way.

“Kadri,” he warned. He had stopped his pacing long enough to stare her down.

She smirked before sashaying to the desk chair.

“This is your target.” Lord Anjien rolled his palm upwards, an image flickering into view as if he had summoned it with magic. It was an older looking man, wrinkles around the corners of his eyes and his hair thinning into baldness. He wore a thin mask that just barely covered the top portion of his head and revealed much of his features. The mask was canine in nature. A wolf, perhaps.

The image shifted, the man’s mask removed, and she recognized him immediately. The dust and the sour tang of metal, the darkness of the mine, the moment when the boy’s hand in her grasp grew lifeless, the fear and anger that swelled inside of her chest... It all came back to her in drowning waves.

It was him, she knew it was that Dev that had killed the boy.

She let out a sigh. And she must have been holding her breath because she felt dizzy, drunk with anxiety. She staggered until she could press a palm into the wall and steady herself.

“Is something wrong,” muttered the old crow. “Sick with nerves already?”

Lord Anjien drew closer.

“Nothing,” she croaked.

He huffed loudly. “Lies. We will have to practice that skill another day.” His voice was cool as it passed through her thoughts, “Do you know this Dev?”

Nahata gave a firm nod.

“Do you want him to die?”

She laughed, giddy and breathy, the nausea still washing over her. “I want...” To kill him, to kill every Dev that ever hunted her or assaulted her, that laughed in the faces of those who suffered. “I want him dead.”

“Well.” His tone shifted, colored with humor as he spoke, “You are not the mindless slave I thought you’d be. This changes things.”

“My lord?”

“The poison will only weaken him. The final act will be in a room like this. There you can be the one to take his last breath. His power is yours to take.”

“Thank you, my lord.”

“Dark wine,” Lord Anjien instructed. “Pour two glasses, one for him and one for his wife. Ensure that the poison goes into his glass and not hers.”

“Yes, of course.”

“When you give him the wine, point to a table where military officers are sitting. He will welcome their gift and enjoy the show of respect.” The image of the colonel flickered and changed into a map. “The kitchen is in the guest portion of the facility. High ranking members will be in the dining hall.”

“What if someone stops me,” Nahata blurted. “Tries to talk to me.”

Merletta spoke up, voice dry of any humor, “Your translator will handle the matter. It won’t be perfect but no one will question a former slave working as a servant.”

Nahata ran her fingers down the metal around her throat.

She bowed her head to Lord Anjien. “I am ready.”

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