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The next morning, with a headache already threatening, I pour over my finished scrolls, checking for anything to confirm or disprove my theory about Lev.
Everything agrees. I know who Lev is, though I can hardly believe it.
I close my desk and indulge in an unproductive rest on the swing. A cloak of haze hovers above Ira this morning. The rising sun burnishes the foggy sky in brilliant shades of gold. The ocean is invisible right now. More than usual, this lack of clarity in the air makes me feel trapped. Lev being here has to mean something. Something important is happening. I long to be a part of it, not just trapped here in exile.
Just as I begin to think of breakfast, Saviayr rounds the corner. He slows but continues approaching in an awkward, uncertain gait. At least the anger that has been constantly in his face since our reunion is gone. I breathe in relief. “Good morning,” Savi says.
“Good morning.” I should offer him a seat. The obvious seat is next to me on the swing, but such close proximity is not wise, and sharing a swing feels like family. I could leave him standing, be impolite. Or I could offer my desk chair, which is noticeably distant from the swing, though far less comfortable than my current seat.
I settle on the chair, despite its shortcomings. “Sit?” I inject as little command as possible into my tone and gesture at the desk chair. Saviayr can stay standing if he wishes.
He accepts the offer in a strained voice, stiffly lowering himself onto the chair. “Rai, I think we need to talk.”
My heart squeezes. Fear and hope war with each other. He could want to talk about anything. As much as I want to clear up our misunderstandings, I’m not sure I’m ready for this conversation.
Pitka’s “Good morning, Raiba!” and the breakfast bell provide a way out. I turn a smile and all my attention to my young cousin.
After Tatanda blesses the meal, Maylani announces her plans to check on her dress and ask Big Akima’s family to make food for the wedding breakfast and after-ceremony feast. “Rai,” she adds, “we can stop by Sandat’s home so he can keep us company if you want. Nadina is busy.” I doubt the family caught her slight hesitation before the last word, but Saviayr glances at Mayli. So my cousin did see Saviayr’s annoyance with Nadina, though she pretended not to.
Saviayr can be annoyed by Nadina, but it is Maylani’s other friend with whom I have an issue. After all this time, she still hopes I’ll marry Sandat. My headache grows. I press my fingers to my temples. “I should stay home and make your bridal shawl,” I offer as an excuse she will not question.
“Oh, yes! Do you think you’ll have it done in time?” Maylani worries.
Anik snorts. “You’ve been gone too long, little sister. This is Raiba. Give her an hour, and she’ll crochet a blanket around the whole island.”
I duck my head at his praise, barely able to contain a grin.
“That is quite an exaggeration,” Tatanda remarks. “A good man’s speech is precise.”
Anik’s shoulders stiffen. “Yes, Tatanda, but my point was that it should not even cross Mayli’s mind that our cousin could fail her.”
“That wasn’t what I meant,” Maylani protests. She crosses her arms in a pout.
Anik relaxes, and his usual mischievous grin returns to his face. “Yeah, yeah. But why don’t I take Raiba’s place? I could use some time to catch up with my sister and get to know my future brother.” Anik wiggles an eyebrow and winks at Pitka, who giggles at being taken into his not-so-secret confidence. That wink is a sure sign he plans to embarrass Maylani horribly, but after all these years she still hasn’t learned.
“Okay. But no flirting with my friends!”
Anik opens his mouth and eyes wide. “Do I ever?”
“All the time,” Mayli answers unnecessarily.
Crocheting only buys me solitude, except for Pitka’s company, until the noon meal. “We have to show you Crazy Tolak!” Maylani tells Saviayr. “We” includes Maylani, Anik, Sandat, and Nadina, who seems oblivious to Maylani’s earlier exclusion of her from their party. “It’s our island’s most interesting thing. Raiba’ll come this time. She loves it there.”
Apparently, “we” also includes me.
“Mayli, I think that’s an exaggeration,” I protest.
Sandat grabs my hand and forces it through the crook in his arm. “Don’t worry. He’s not violent. Besides, I’m here to protect you.”
Despite my best attempts to escape, I find myself looking over a cliff at one of the island’s sheltered bays. The pounding of an ax reaches our ears, mixing with the gentle rhythm of waves crashing on the far side of a narrow peninsula. Savi whistles. We all watch his eyes stretch wide as he takes in the evidence of Tolak’s insanity. “That’s a lot of boats.” Beneath us, at least a hundred empty vessels rock in neatly-moored rows.
The native Iranines grin, and Nadina giggles. Anik gestures grandly at the scene below us. “Behold the life work of Crazy Tolak.”
Clouds gather overhead. I sniff. It’s faint enough I can’t be certain, but I think I catch the faint, wild scent of kaite warfare.
“Come on! Let’s go down.” Maylani leads the way down the steep path cut into the side of the hill, pulling Saviayr by the hand.
I extricate my hand from Sandat’s grip and follow. Then, so fast I can’t react, thunder claps. A sturdy greasewood bush stretches from the side of the path to directly before my feet. The hard, prickly branches grab my ankles. I pitch forward. Nadina screams. The edge of the cliff opens beneath me, a yawning mouth ready to devour. I grab for anything to keep me from falling, but there is nothing.
Then the air seems to thicken, slowing my fall. A hand grabs my wrist and pulls me back. I look away from the empty air I almost fell through, into Saviayr’s wide green eyes.
“That bush,” Sandat stutters. “It just moved!”
My heart races. Nadina’s crying. Maylani’s face is whiter than mine.
“Rai,” Savi asks, “are you okay?”
I swallow and press a hand to my chest. The bush looks normal. It’s no longer reaching into the path. But I have scrapes on my legs that prove I didn’t trip over my own feet. The sky is clear again, bright blue and blinding. I don’t want to believe that an aivenkaite just inhabited the bush to kill me, but with the freak thunder and clouds, it’s the only thing that makes sense.
“I’m fine,” I say anyways. “Let’s keep going.”
It’s silly, aivenkaites can move anywhere without me knowing, but I really want some distance between me and the bush.
Anik takes my arm and keeps between me and the edge of the cliff. We continue, trying to ignore what happened. Wind pulls my hair a bit too forcefully to be natural–or is it just my imagination? I clench my teeth, straighten my shoulders, and pray.
“So, that was weird, right?” Anik asks me. “It wasn’t just me?”
I have to laugh. “Yes, Anik.”
“Good. Okay. So what was it about?”
I shrug. I wish I knew.
Anik squeezes my arm. “I gotta say, Raiba, weird things have been happening around you a lot since Mayli got back. Should I be worried?” His dark eyes watch me. His long, smooth forehead wrinkles in concern.
I give him a half-smile. “I honestly don’t know.”
He watches me a moment more, then grins. “So, how many times do you think we can get Nadina to laugh today?”
We reach the bottom of the hill otherwise unscathed. Saviayr asks, “What in the world are the boats for?” Loose sand slides through the sides of our sandals.
Anik, Maylani, Sandat, and Nadina look at each other, silently debating who gets to tell. “He’s been making them for sixty years,” Nadina burst out with a giggle.
“He says he had a vision,” Sandat explains.
Anik clarifies, “A light told him to build them,” and Maylani finishes, “but he has to finish before something comes.”
“What’s coming?” Saviayr asks.
Everyone shrugs. “Nothing,” Anik answers.
“He’s called Crazy Tolak for a reason, you know,” Nadina giggles.
Sandat rubs his chin. “Some have speculated that the spirits gave him the vision. But that’s crazy, of course. None of the spirits appear as lights.”
A head covered in unkempt white curls emerges from the hold of the nearest ship. Anik raises his hand and calls, “Good afternoon, Tolak.”
The old man’s steps falter. “Can’t talk,” he calls back, but his volume decreases as he talks on. “Must finish before…”
Fondness fills me for this old man. He’s the only person on Ira who is completely unconcerned with what other people think of him. I’ve liked him for that since the first day I saw him. Anik had dared Maylani to talk to him, and I went with her.
Tolak reminds me of a simpler time, before I knew loss and isolation, before my survival depended on convincing people that I fit in. His mania for building is unfortunate, but being around someone so dedicated to a cause is refreshing.
Maylani laughs and swings her and Savi’s joined hands. “It’s good to see you, too! We’re just going to show my fiancé around. The wedding’s in two days; you’re welcome to come.”
“Oh, I…I can’t leave them.” Tolak gestures at the vessels, eyes unfocused. “It’s almost time.”
“Okay. Have a good day.”
Tolak continues with his work. Maylani leads us along the shore, pointing and chattering to Saviayr while Nadina giggles beside them.
“She’s making the worst decision of her life,” Sandat mutters to me. “Maylani shouldn’t marry Saviayr.”
For the first time, I agree with him, at least in part. Not that I would ever admit it. I give a noncommittal grunt and focus on a clump of seaweed a few yards ahead. Flies of all sizes buzz around the dark green slime.
“My father sent news today of a slave revolt on the mainland yesterday,” Sandat says. “No one was killed, thankfully. They managed to get the rubbish under control and executed about twenty of the leaders. All of them were Maraians. Yes, she’s making a huge mistake marrying one of those worthless dogs.”
I clench my teeth so hard I’m afraid my jaw might snap. This will be your life, a voice in my head says. This is what awaits me: Endless years of empty existence, surrounded by those like Sandat who hate me and my people. No hope of marriage unless I ignore everything I am and settle for the bigot who walks next to me. Trapped on this island. Ira has never felt smaller, with my cousins moving away and creating their own families.
The prospect almost suffocates me.
Up on the hill, a shadow catches my eye. A dark figure looks down on us. “Lev,” I whisper.
“Hm? What’s that?” Sandat tilts his ear toward me.
I shake head. “Nothing.”
Sandat continues his rant, but I ignore him now. Last night’s realization fills my mind. As soon as I can get away from Maylani, I have to go find Lev. He can help me escape this life.
We don’t stay long. Crazy Tolak and his boats are the most remarkable feature of Ira, but they scarcely take half an hour to see. Each boat is exactly the same. Each boat is remarkably plain.
When we return to the villa, Tatanda greets us at the gate. His usual frown is deeper, with an anxious edge. “Have you seen Pitka?” he asks.
We look at each other, and fear colder than anything I’ve ever felt bites into my stomach.
“She didn’t come with us,” Maylani slowly answers.
“Have you checked her room?” Anik offers, all humor gone from his voice. “Sometimes she crawls under her bed.”
Tatanda scowls. I haven’t seen him this agitated since the plague struck our family. “I’ve looked five times. She’s not in the house. I hoped she was with you.”
I remember the wistfulness on Pitka’s face last night when Maylani sent her home from the bonfire. “She tried to follow us.” I’m absolutely certain.
There’s a frozen moment while everyone takes a deep breath. Then Tatanda gives a curt nod. “Sandat, Nadina, you check the market, just in case she went the wrong way. Nihae, Elesekk,” he tells Saviayr’s parents, who hover in the shade of the house, “stay here in case she’s just hiding. The rest of us will spread out and go back to Tolak’s bay.”
No one responds, we just jump into action. Nadina and Sandat hurry the other direction. Tatanda, Maylani, Anik, Saviayr, and I spread out and turn back the way we just came. Maylani stays on the trail. I veer off left of the path, far enough away to see further, but close enough I can see and hear Maylani. Tatanda and Saviayr go further to the left, while Anik takes the small strip of land to the path’s right.
For a while, the only sound is voices calling Pitka, then quiet as we listen for an answer. Please, I beg Aia, let us find Pipit, but don’t let her be hurt.