Do I mention to you, my dear readers, how amazing you are? Thank you for all your support and for putting up with my shifting schedules. Seriously, you guys brighten my weeks.
There are exciting things coming in the future, both for Child of the Kaites‘s plot and otherwise. I’m excited to share some new developments with you in the next few weeks, and believe me, it’s taking a lot of self-control not to spill the beans too early.
With that little teaser, here is this week’s chapter.
When I wake up, the first thing I know is I’m uncomfortable. I have to prise my eyes open–that’s unnatural–and can’t get my left eye open all the way.
A touch to my hand sets my fingers throbbing. I flinch.
“You’re okay,” a woman says in a heavy Izyphorn accent. “I’m tending your injuries.”
Memories return. I look around and try to place my surroundings. I’m on a padded mat in a room whose walls are giant granite blocks. Inside the palace, then. Forziel sprawls on another mat, arm wrapped and propped on a cushion, eyes closed. Savi leans against the wall with his legs stretched out. His head tilts back against the stone, but his eyes watch me. When I look at him, he smiles. At least I think he does. His cheeks are so swollen it’s hard to tell. Then he looks behind me.
Near the room’s door huddle the royals. The sultan stands in their midst, arms crossed, feet planted, mouth set in a tight line.
“But we’ve seen they have the patronage of some great power,” Bathatyz–the royal who first convinced them to listen to us–protests.
“She’s right,” another says. “If they die, surely we will suffer retribution.
The young royal who spoke down in the dungeon points out the door. “If my child dies, you all will suffer retribution.”
“Calm yourself, nephew.”
“Aunt, my child burns with fever that none of our physicians or magicians can alleviate. She has suffered all night and now barely has strength to whimper. Make the Champions heal her, or I will not be held responsible for what I do.”
All night? We were fighting longer than I thought.
I ignore the admonitions of the woman tending my injuries and push up on my elbows. “Aia warned that your children would become ill to the point of death.”
They all jump when I speak.
“But it was not your children who murdered ours, and Aia will have mercy on them. Aia, please relent and heal the children.”
The young royal and several others who might have children whirl for the door, but the urge to speak nudges me and I open my mouth to speak with the Voice of a Multitude. “This is what Aia says: ‘Your children are innocent of the mistreatment of My people, but now justice has come on every person who has lifted a hand against Maraiah. When you are marked like the sand by a scourge, when the ground itself writhes for my people’s blood on which it has feasted, then you will know that I am greater than Zyphor Groundshaper.’”
A yawn splits my face as soon as I finish talking. When it fades, the sultan jerks forward with a scream. His hands fumble as far back as he can reach, then he tips and falls on the ground. Dark red stripes cut across his long royal-yellow vest. Any slave would instantly recognize them as lashes from a whip. I saw them first on my father’s back when he tripped and dropped his load. I felt them first when I gave my only meal of the day to a friend in the stocks.
They are what he deserves.
The other royals stare at the sultan, then they flinch and groan in surprise and pain. Lash marks stripe their backs, too, along with bruises. The woman tending my injuries starts and exclaims.
The sultan moans, whines, and groans out, “Have mercy, great Zyphor, have mercy! I am your grandson. By the horned viper–ah!–it hurts! Father Rezik, pity! Pity us!”
The woman hisses and pats her newly swollen cheek, the only evidence of the sign on her. She snatches up her clean rag and bowl of herb water and rushes over to her rulers.
She won’t have any attention to spare on us for a while, not with all these Izyphorns newly under her care. “Let’s go,” I tell Savi and Forziel. Savi stands with minimal difficulty, but Forziel tries two times before he succeeds and has to steady himself against the wall when he does.
Putting weight on my ankle makes me realize that it’s been splinted and wrapped. Even so, it hurts. I try to take a step and whince. My ankle won’t be supporting weight for a while.
Savi’s at my side before I can look for a crutch, slipping my arm over his shoulder. “I’ve got you,” he murmurs.
And so the three of us limp out of the room. “Wait,” one of the writhing royals cries, but we ignore them. They refused Aia’s last offer of leniency; now we will see all seven signs.
We wander through the palace searching for an exit. Everywhere, Izyphorns cry and groan on the ground. The slaves in the palace watch them with fascination and disgust and stop their work.
When at last the ivory light of the sun shimmers on the granite walls, we step out into the courtyard. The sight of Nhardah pacing just beyond the columns of the faces of the dead greets us. His eyes dart to the palace entrance, he lets out a cry, and he hurries to us. “Hae-Aia! I was about to come after you. Liwin came back last night saying you were prisoners, and we’ve been in a state ever since.” He lets out a cry. “But what happened to you? Mithrida knew the kaites suspected evil afoot. My children, what has befallen you?”
Savi adjusts his arm around my back. “Perhaps we can have this conversation at camp?” he suggests in a faint voice.
“Of course. You look like you’re about to drop. Let me help.” He moves to take me from Savi.
For an irrational moment, I refuse to let go of Savi, and he refuses to let go of me.
“Saviayr, you can hardly hold yourself up, let alone support another’s weight. Raiballeon, let me help you,” Nhardah prompts, gentle.
“Careful,” Savi says.
With Nhardah’s support, we make it through the now-deserted city and down the ramp before collapsing. The others shout and rush to us when we come into sight of the camp. “I shouldn’t have abandoned you,” Liwin cries. His eyes are red.
“Yeah, you shouldn’t have,” Forziel grumbles.
“If you had, you’d be in the same state as us, or worse,” I say.
“What on Orrock happened to you?” Drigo exclaims.
Hoenna elbows him and pushes the others aside. “Let them get settled before you make them talk,” he orders, and hurries us over to the blankets by the fire.
Once we’re settled, Drigo repeats his question. I’m in the best shape to talk of all of us, so I tell them our story.
“What filthy liars those Izyphorns are,” Drigo rages when I finish. “They said you’d be free to come and go, then they locked you in prison out of nowhere.”
“I don’t think the sultan and royals knew,” I say. “I think the guards were lied to by the aivenkaites.”
Nhardah stares at the ground, solemn. “Their onslaught will only intensify as we approach our goal, I fear. Saviayr, did you notice anything extraordinary about Elgarnoseth in this encounter?”
Savi’s voice slurs because of the swelling around his lips. “It was different this time. The aivenkaites–it was like they couldn’t tell where we were until I dropped Elgarnoseth. Is that what you mean?”
Nhardah leaps into the air and laughs. “Yes! It’s what we hoped!”
The axex make scolding shweeps and ruffle their fur at his outburst.
We’ve very nearly died too many times for Nhardah to keep holding back information from us. “I’ve had enough of you keeping us in the dark,” I gripe. My hand bumps Luemikaroeth and I add under my breath, “Literally.”
Nhardah nods and folds his legs to sit on the ground. “You’re right, but I’ve had good reason for this. When those blades were forged, a dozen kaites poured their essence into them. It was a long process, and the remaining kaites decided there were better ways to combat their wicked brethren, but they did use these swords most effectively.
“When we gave them to you two, we hoped but did not know if they would react for you as they did for the kaites.”
“That doesn’t explain why you couldn’t just tell us that. Nhardah, we’re fighting for our lives. We should at least know what advantages we might have.”
The Firstborn sighs. “From your perspective, I see what you mean. We did not want to give you false hope. But very well: Raiballeon, your sword is named ‘Light in the Darkness’ or ‘Slayer of Falsehood.’ It has the power to give you light in great need, and to blind those who embrace evil by the power of truth. Saviayr, your sword is named ‘Champion,’ ‘Defender of Good.’ It has the power to physically shield those who pursue Aia and to throw evil ones into confusion.”
Savi and I look at each other, running through what has happened since we gained the Swords. I don’t think Luemikaroeth has blinded anyone, but maybe that was part of why the aivenkaites couldn’t find us in the prison. As for shielding, maybe that’s how the ceiling’s collapse didn’t crush us when we were in the Lost City.
“It is well for you to know this now,” Nhardah continues. “The aivenkaites will stop at nothing to thwart you, both now and on the way to Tion Beriath.”
That prediction leaves us quiet. Overwhelming weariness fills me. My ankle pulses and my bruised fingers throb. We’re close to the end of the signs, but we’re not done. If, when, Izyphor frees us, our journey home will have just begun.
Nhardah speaks so easily of Tion Beriath, the land of covenant. He already assumes we will see that long-promised land. I’ve never thought that far ahead. Could I really live to see that day, when we return to our homeland?
Savi and I really need to plan.
Forziel’s been remarkably quiet since the battle. I notice his silence now, which reminds me: “There was something interesting before the fight. We met Forziel’s dad.”
Forziel glares at me. His black eye mitigates the effect.
“Forz, you got a dad?” Liwin asks. “I thought you was an orphan.”
“I am,” he huffs and rolls over.
“Son, share your burden with us,” Hoenna urges. “None of us will think ill of you on his account.”
Forziel snorts. “That’s rich, coming from you.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
Forziel tips his head back. “I know what you really think of people born of Izyphorns.”
Liwin gasps. “Really? You’re Izyphorn?”
Forziel bolts upright. He shoves his chanavea toward Liwin. “I’m as Maraian as anyone, you take that back!”
“But Forziel, what of your father?” I ask. “How did that happen? How did you end up with us?”
He scowls. “What’s there to tell? Amkal is a noble. My mom was a slave. End of story.”
“Why are you here, then?” I ask gently. “I’d expect someone in your situation to have an easier life.”
“Ask him.” Forziel waves his good hand at Nhardah and refuses to meet anyone’s eyes.
Nhardah shakes his head. “I will not tell your story.”
“I ain’t telling it.”
“Fine! If I say it, will you all leave me be?” He pulls himself to his feet. “My brother and I lived with Amkal till he married an Izyphorn. She had us removed. My mom died of starvation so we’d have enough to eat, my brother died a year ago of infection, I was transferred to a master known for driving his slaves to death, and Amkal never did nothing about it. Nhardah offered me a way out, and I jumped at the chance to start over.”
Forziel limps away toward the axex. We watch, but no one knows what to say–at least, I don’t. He buries his face in his axex’s neck, then the creature follows him around the mesa out of sight.
I had no idea he had a brother. Of all the people I’ve lost, losing Yorchan would be the worst. “Savi, Yori was okay when you saw her last?” I check. Though I don’t often have time to think of it, I miss my little sister more than I can say.
“She’s great, Rai. Doing really well. We’ll see her when this ends,” he promises.
Another yawn stretches my face. The sun is high overhead, but I doubt I have enough energy to stand. The others notice and move away from the sleep area. “Rest,” Nhardah says. “We will wake you if there is need.”
I nod and settle down on the blanket. As my eyes droop shut, I tell Savi, “When we wake up, we really need to plan.”
“That’s a good idea.”
I dream of a little blonde girl standing at the end of the ocean, calling my name. I know it’s Yori. Then she turns, and it isn’t her, after all. It’s Pitka, and she’s crying.
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