“It was just a sedative. She is a strong woman, she will pull through.” I heard a low voice say. I tried to open my eyes, but they were glued shut. I felt like moth balls were cluttered in my head. I tried mentally swatting them away, but they stayed fixed in my mind.
“Thank you for saving her, I don’t know what she could possibly have thought this would accomplished.” I was sure this was my mother’s voice. The trembling notes in her voice made my stomach twist. She was talking about me. “Have you found any signs of him?”
“No, but I will keep looking.” I recognized the first voice as Ari. The unmistakable power in his words was unforgettable. This time I strained to open my eyes. The left one popped open, followed by the left eyelid fluttered, as if it was fighting me to stay shut. I could make out the sturdy frame of Ari as he left the room. My left index finger twitched without my permission. My mother’s face hovered over me. Her weary face sagged in relief when she saw my eyes open.
“Oh Myra.” She held me so tightly that I was sure I was going to suffocate. “What were you thinking?” She pulled away from me with more force than I thought necessary. Then I saw the funnel clouds of fury in her reddened eyes. But they didn’t scare me the way they use to. Now, they were comforting. It was nice to know no matter how many times I was shot at, punched or thrown into a wall, my mother would still treat me the same way. “What did you think? That you would try to make a deal with her? You can’t make deals with the devil, she is always going to stab you in the back.” Tears ran down her splotchy skin.
“I’m sorry.” My lips burned from lack of moisture. I tried moving my arm, but it stayed pasted to the bed. It was having a phantom limb that you imagined it to work, but it wasn’t there anymore. The sedative must still be swimming around in my blood. “I wanted to end the fighting. I didn’t think she would….” I couldn’t finish my sentence. The moth balls that had clouded my brain disintegrated. “Tiger.” I choked on my fresh sorrow. I followed my mother’s gaze to a bundle of white sheets that lay on the floor. His back paw was the only part that was exposed. I dissolved into my mother’s arms. I felt her body shake as she tried to comfort me, but what comfort is there for such an unjust death. “She, she took Mark.” My heart was dissolved away by acidic fury. There was no justice for the innocent. I tried to lift my body up from the bed, but my mother pushed be back down.
“Forget about him.” My mother’s stern voice caught me by surprise.
“Mother, he sacrificed himself to protect me. She could be torturing him right now! I won’t let him die because-“
“Myra! Usake baare mein bhool jao!” My head spun as it translated my mother’s words. Forget about him, she had said. I had only heard her use the old language when she called me her daughter. But to hear a full sentence from her lips in a banned language, gave me severe whiplash. “Good, I’m glad he gave himself up to keep you safe. I would rather he die than you.”
“How can you say that? He is a good man!”
“There are thousands of good men in this world! Why should I sacrifice the life of my only child for a man who doesn’t know his place in the world?” I flinched at my mother’s unapologetic elitism. “We were once rulers of this world Myra. That person is nothing but a speck of dirt in a world of purity.” I opened my mouth to shout that Mark was a man of honor and respect, something that this world needed a huge dose of, but she cut me off. “While you were worrying about him, your father disappeared.” My mouth slammed shut. Beetles started crawling in my stomach.
“What?” This time I was able to move my hand to touch my mother’s arm. The anger vanished from her eyes and was replaced with a tsunami of grief.
“I woke up and your father wasn’t there. I searched the entire house. When I learned that Ari had gone to bring you back, I thought your father had gone with him. But Ari said he had gone alone.” Her voice broke, but she tried to stay strong for me. “We have searched the entire property since you’ve been brought back, but there is no sign of him. I can’t believe she would stoop so low.” My brain took a moment to catch up to what my mother was saying.
“You think Heera, your sister, took my father?” My mother nodded her head glumly. I went through a list of the Monarch’s crimes in my head: approving the murder of her own mother, selling her sister and family into slavery, killing the innocent parents of Mark and kidnapping Mark. Did I believe she was capable of stealing my own father while I was making peace negotiations with her? Absolutely. How could I have been so blind? By leaving my base unprotected, I exposed the very people I was trying to protect. I took my mother’s hands into mine. “I won’t let anything happen to father, I promise.” By the look in my mother’s eyes, that was the wrong thing to say. She kissed me gently on the head and stood up.
“Nothing will happen to you either. You’re done with your little quests. I cannot lose you. Your father would never forgive me.” She made her way to the door. I saw a flash of something silver, a key.
“Mother, what are you doing?”
“We are waiting until morning. You will do nothing until then. It’s my turn to keep you safe.” She glanced at the body of Tiger. “We will bury him in a few hours and then decide what to do about your father. Until then rest.” She gave me a look of pity before leaving the room. Then I heard an unexpected click. She did not just lock me in here, I thought. I dragged my still waking body from the bed and jiggled the door handle. Sure enough it was locked. I kicked at the door frame, but it didn’t budge. I sunk to the floor clutching my head in my hands. I caught sight of Tiger’s lifeless paw and this time an inferno of fury balled up in my gut. I let it energize me. I would never allow the Monarch to escape without facing the consequences for all her crimes.
“I’m so sorry.” I said into the silence. I imagined my faithful companion alive, with his regal tail wagging I understanding. I could swear I heard his invigorating bark fill my body with adrenaline. I pulled myself to my feet and began searching the room. All my weapons had been removed. All I could find were a few dusty bobby pins. I began the slow, tedious work of picking the door’s lock, but it was useless. An hour must have gone by when my finger went numb from jingling the tumblers. Just then the door handle clicked. I sprung back from the door and dove into my bed. The door creaked open and I heard quiet footsteps around my bed. These weren’t my mother’s footsteps, in fact there was more than one pair. As soon as I felt a presence above my bed, I swung my legs out and hooked them around the person’s torso. The intruder fell face first into the bed. I dug my knee cap into their spine and pulled their right arm back. The person shrieked into the bed. Then I glanced up and saw the stunned faces of Elizabeth and Riya staring at me. I quickly released my grip on who I had just assaulted. James’s hair now looked like a squirrel’s nest.
“Sorry, I thought you guys were assassins sent by the Magistrate.” I whispered. James held up his hand to let me know he was still catching his breath.
“I guess paranoia is justified since you’re being hunted.” Elizabeth said.
“What are you doing here?” I hissed. I zoned in on my weapons in Riya’s hands. Her determined eyes swept from Tiger’s still body and then to me. James rested his hand on my shoulder before picking up the body of my loyal friend. Hot tears pricked my eyes.
“We knew you would go after the Monarch with or without our help. We would prefer it if it was with our help.” Riya’s spoke to me like I was a frightened animal. My eyes remained glued on the body of my friend. “We’ll bury Tiger first.” In a complete daze, I following them out of the room. The house was eerily quiet as we tip towed out through the back yard. The night sky was sprinkled with glittering diamonds. A gentle wind wrapped me in its arms. The world was so peaceful even though Tiger was dead, Mark had been kidnapped and my father was missing. I grabbed a shovel and began to dig underneath a large oak tree. With each scoop of dirt, I felt volcanic pressure build in my chest. I couldn’t think, all I could do was relish the aching in my muscles and the blisters forming on my hands. Finally, James touched my shoulder.
“That is deep enough.” He signed. Then he brought his hand to my face and gently brushed away my angry tears. James handed me Tiger’s body. I buried my face in his flank and breathed in his familiar scent.
“I love you.” I sobbed into his fur. “I’m so sorry.” I hiccupped as I tried to collect my breath. I lay my faithful companion in the cold earth. As I buried him, I prayed that I wouldn’t have to bury any more bodies, my heart couldn’t withstand that kind of pain. When the last of the earth was patted down, I breathed in the crisp air to clear my senses.
“I have to find the Monarch. She took Mark. She probably took my father. All I’m asking is for you to stall anyone who would try to follow me.” I took my weapons from Riya. The feeling of my hot skin on the frosty blade firmed my resolve. The time for justice had long since passed. The girls looked at each other in concern but nodded silently. James spun me towards me.
“I am going with you.” James signed. I was about to begin arguing with him, but he covered my hands. James took out a note in his pocket and handed it to me. It read, “We started this together, we will finish it together.” I smiled at myself. He knew I would argue with him and he had the note prepared this whole time.
“Okay, any ideas on how to get back to sector one?” We all glanced at one another, until Elizabeth spoke up.
“Actually, I do have an idea.” Her eyes drifted up to the stars and my toes tingled in anticipation.