Thank you for your patience last week! Teaching can be time-consuming, as wonderful as it is. Also, I’m working on a super secret project (more details coming in future weeks 😉 ). All of this has meant, sadly, a little less time to write, and this chapter was difficult to write in its own right. But here it is, and I hope you enjoy it!
Luemikaroeth’s light flickers. The demon’s grin widens.
I shove the blade under his nose. “That is no longer my name,” I declare. “I have a name. I am blessed. I am the leader of Aia’s people, and you’re going back to the Void where you belong.”
The aivenkaite’s face twitches, and very human fear covers his features. “Please,” a voice with a Larien accent begs in the Common Tongue, “I didn’t realize what I was agreeing to. Don’t let it kill me.”
Then the face twitches back into a smirk. “Are you so sure about that, Mailoua?”
“Rai, what’s happening?” Savi asks. He holds Elgarnoseth out on the other side, one hand back toward Forziel behind us.
“The bodies they’re in are still alive,” I grunt out, teeth clenched.
“Can they even do that?” Forziel asks.
The aivenkaites chortle. “Oh, sure,” one says.
“We can dwell in anybody,” another says.
I touch Luemikaroeth to the Larien, watching him flinch back and lose his smirk. “Only if they give you permission first,” I remind them.
“Watch it with that thing,” the Larien-aivenkaite hisses.
“Oh, does it hurt?” I inch it closer.
“Watch it—” and he calls me a name in the aivenkaite tongue that I’m fairly certain is too insulting to translate in any human tongue.
The insult gives me confidence. I take a half-step forward, herding the aivenkaites back with my glowing sword. “I can hurt you far more than your host will hurt with this blade.”
All eight of them snarl. “That’s why the guards were to relieve you of your weapons. But it’s no matter: If you nick us, if you send us back to the Void, you can be sure we rip the souls out of these bodies on our way,” they promise. “You’ll be killing them, and we all know you don’t kill humans, little slave.”
I halt. Aivenkaites never make idle threats.
There goes our upper hand.
“But Rai, they agreed to it,” Savi whispers. “These people are evil, right? It’s different than with the bandits.”
“They deserve to die,” Forziel adds.
The aivenkaites snear. “They’re right, and you know it. Go on. Rid the world of both of our evils.”
Anger builds in me, searing hot, at their taunting. It goads me to act, but I have to think. How anyone could invite an aivenkaite into them is too grotesque for me to comprehend. These beings of pure evil, whose only desire is to cause suffering to the pathetic humans that Aia favored equally with them–what could prompt someone to let that into themselves? Surely the person who welcomes an aivenkaite must be equally as evil as an aivenkaite itself.
But they are still human. The kaites always said it is Aia who judges and decides the fate of humans. I’ve never wanted to kill. How can life, how can freedom, come through murder? History tells me the opposite. After the plague wiped out Nhardah, Neemech, and Sain’s families but left Nhardah untouched, Neemech was so enraged that he tried to kill his brother. Sain threw herself between them–they hadn’t yet realized that Nhardah was immortal–and died instead. Even though her death was unintended, Neemech’s descendents have still been cursed to isolation and wandering through all history.
Surely it will not end better for me if I kill these people intentionally, even if they are evil. It might lengthen Maraiah’s enslavement, too, even longer than if Savi and I die in this cell.
The torment of the decision makes my hand wobble. I can’t kill them–but thinking that I might is keeping these aivenkaites at bay. When they realize they aren’t in danger, they’ll attack.
What will happen then? We’re in a tight space, hardly wide enough to stretch both arms out and not touch the walls. There’s a chance that the noble–Forziel’s father–might hear our struggle and let us out, but he stalked out of the dungeon as the guards threw us in. The sultan and royals won’t look for us, not until they can’t stand this sign any longer.
When I say no, am I consigning Savi, Forziel, and myself to death?
The Larien aivenkaite starts to chuckle, quiet at first, but growing in volume. His peers join in, a cackling chorus. “Ah, Mailoua, your thoughts are transparent. Siblings, do your worst.”
“Rai?” Savi asks.
In the heartbeat before an aivenkaite lunges, my awareness of the room sharpens. For the first time, I notice that there were nine bodies in this room before we entered. One of them is an old man cowering in the corner, hands curled over his head. Luemikaroeth’s light won’t stay still in my shaking hand, but I think he’s trembling.
Then an aivenkaite in a man dives for me, and the rest pounce. While the sword gave me knowledge of swordplay, no brilliant instincts come over me for how to fight hand-to-hand. I try to dodge and his fist catches my shoulder. I don’t feel the pain for a heartbeat, then it hits, and things go fuzzy. I know I’m striking back as best as I can, I know I have to keep hold of Luemikaroeth but keep her blade away from the aivenkaites, I know I could die.
“Keep your thumb out of your fist when you punch,” Forziel calls.
I duck. Where are my thumbs? A foot flies at my face. Spin to the side, throw Luemikaroeth into my left hand, clench fingers into a fist. Thumb out? An aivenkaite lurches at me, and I can’t check my form, I just shove my fist at her.
I hit her, but another aivenkaite’s coming for my side, and I skip out of the way, and my weak ankle twists. I scream.
“Rai!” Savi shouts, then he roars. I don’t have time to think, because two aivenkaites come at me at once. My ankle will have to wait; first I’ve got to survive.
The aivenkaites’ fists fly at me, but mid-way I realize their aim is wrong. One arm flies past my ear, one skims just the side of my arm. I elbow one and hit the other with metallic dollop at the end of Luemikaroeth’s grip.
They fall, giving me a heartbeat to glance around the cell. The same thing seems to be happening to Savi and Forziel: The aivenkaites’ attacks miss them. Forziel throws a punch that sends the Larien leader flying backward, then kicks another squarely in the chest.
I don’t know if the aivenkaites are confused, or if this is a new tactic, but I’m not going to relax. If they’re not coming at me, I go at them.
The problem is that aivenkaites don’t need the humans conscious in order to use their bodies. No matter how hard we hit, they keep coming at us. And we can’t kill them, won’t kill them.
I have no idea how much time has passed. Their attacks are still off, but my energy’s fading. Each punch is weaker than the last, and I’m starting to feel the throbbing in my ankle. We’ve pushed them back into the corner away from the old man. “Did they hurt you?” I call to him.
“They whispered things,” he says. The Larien aivenkaite’s sudden shout drowns out the rest of his words.
They attack with renewed energy. Their hits still mostly miss us, but with all of them pressing at us at once from a smaller space, they drive us a couple steps back.
Savi yelps in surprise. He trips and catches himself, but loses his grip on Elgarnoseth.
A fist slams into my cheek. A foot bashes my hip.
I’m on the floor. Luemikaroeth’s light flickers.
An aivenkaite punches Forziel’s face. He punches back even as his head turns with the impact.
Savi’s hand closes around Elgarnoseth. “Stop! I don’t care, I’ll use this!” he cries.
A kick aimed at my face scuffs the dirt beside me. Dust makes me sneeze. I push up from the floor. Back in the fight, and for some reason the aivenkaites’ attacks keep falling short again.
Blood pounds in my head. My limbs are lumps of granite. My hurt ankle won’t hold any weight.
Still the aivenkaites fight.
Aia, where are you? We need You.
I misjudge the distance between me and an aivenkaite and lose my balance. Luemikaroeth clatters on the hard-packed dirt. Darkness saturates the cell.
“Rai?” Savi and Forziel ask.
A blow brushes my shoulder. I fumble in the dark for my sword.
I can’t find it. Feet trample around me. Someone steps on my leg.
This is it. This is the end. The compulsion to surrender knocks me to the ground.
My arms give out. I tumble down, and one last thought flickers through my mind, the closing line of the Lullaby of the River. “The One who holds Orrock is by your side.”
I grapple for my last shred of strength. “Aia-Thaies, Father, nini-hae.” The words scrape out of my throat.
“Aia-hae,” Savi begs at the same moment.
“Aia, we need you, please!” Forziel groans.
The air shifts, stirred by an invisible hand. Rock creaks as the ground beside me shifts.
The fight’s been quiet–relatively–but I only realise that now, when the aivenkaites all bellow in their own tongue, and words in another language fill the air.
Euphoria bursts through me. The kaites are here!
Something cold bumps into my fingers. Luemikaroeth. I take hold of it with fingers that feel larger than normal. Renewed confidence gives me strength I thought was gone and sets my sword blazing.
I stand. Kaites fill the air, invisible but active, and some flow through the stone and dirt. The kaitairie in the air push the aivenkaites toward the cell’s extremities, then the kaites in the rocks shackle them against the walls.
“Champions,” the kaites say, their voices all around, “be ready.”
My eyes meet Savi. I don’t know what’s coming, but I breathe deep and shift my stance.
The aivenkaites gnash at the air with their teeth. “We will kill these bodies,” they threaten.
“You shall not!” the kaites order.
It’s hard to say what happens, but the aivenkaites’ faces freeze, grimace, and contort in agony. One of the bodies slumps against the wall, fight gone, panting for breath. A rock detaches from the wall and flies at my head.
On instinct, I block with Luemikaroeth. The rock shatters, and a fiendish scream deafens me.
“The kaites are pulling the aivenkaites out of the prisoners,” I tell Savi. “Be ready!”
And that is what happens. One or two at a time, the prisoners slump. Some aivenkaites fly at us, desperate for one last chance to stop us. Those invariably meet our blades. Some dive into the walls and try to flee. We dive for those and stab the moving bits of stone away from where the kaites bind their captives.
I wrench Luemikaroeth from the wall, spin in anticipation of another aivenkaite, and find the cell suddenly still. Most of the prisoners have fainted or were already unconscious. The old man in the corner has stopped shaking and simply stares at us with the widest eyes I’ve ever seen. Savi slumps against the wall, Forziel hunches on his knees.
The fight is over.
Air, unnaturally cool and soothing, rubs against my face and arms. The innumerable cuts on my arms close. It’s like when the kaites healed my cut forehead during the attack on Tatanda’s house, only there’s much more damage this time.
I think the kaites would do more, but footsteps echo outside the cell door. “We must go,” they whisper. The ground and air still completely.
The door bounces against the wall. A guard, different from before, strides into the cell. The sultan and some royals are behind him. “Just calm down,” the sultan is saying. “Children get sick all the time. You’re really making too much of a fuss about this.”
“Uncle, it’s my baby boy,” a royal snaps.
Then they look past the guard, and everyone freezes.
“What the…” The guard’s face goes slack.
Feeling rushes back into my limbs—pain, all pain. The room wobbles, or maybe it’s just me, since the kaites and aivenkaites are all gone. I reach to steady myself on the wall, but it’s too far away.
There we are! Share your thoughts in the comments, and don’t forget to like this post (if you did, in fact, like it). See y’all next week!