Can you believe we’re 40 chapters in?!?!?! The end is SO CLOSE!!! *somersaults* *
(Barring unforeseeable crazy life circumstances) I’ll definitely finish (re)writing this year, and maybe even posting the chapters this year. Yaaaayyyyyy!!!!!
I’m delighted. You’re probably scowling at me through the screen and saying, “Just give us this week’s chapter, already. Put us out of our misery. We’ve been waiting a week, we want our installment.”
You’re right. Please accept my contrition and this week’s chapter:
“We’ll keep thinking about it,” Savi says, “but you’re right. We’ll need to get out of Izyphor as fast as we can, and Ira’s the best option.”
It’s the next morning, and we’ve found a juniper tree whose twisted trunk and green fingers offers shelter from the sun. The sun has crossed a quarter of the sky, but we’ve scarcely managed to plan anything. The strange hopelessness weighing on me when I awoke deepens. I know Aia has been faithful to us. I know Aia has promised to establish Maraiah in the land of promise, and I believe that He is going to free us, and free us very soon.
But it’s hard to believe that right now. Thoughts of how much we still have left to do fill me with weariness. Leading a revolt won’t end when the sultan and royals pronounce our freedom. I may bear this responsibility the rest of my life.
I can’t think like that. It’s too much. I need to focus on right now, on planning with Savi and ignoring all my bruises and aches.
Liwin runs up before I can respond to Savi. “You’ve gotta come! There’s messengers showing up at the capital, and Nhardah says you’ve gotta hear them. Oh, and here.” He shoves a crutch at me. “I got you this.”
“Thank you, Liwin.” I fit the support under my arm. “Where did you get it?”
“Oh, I–uh, you know. I got it from the place. Anyways, I’ll tell Nhardah you’re coming!” The boy skips backward and sprints off.
I raise an eye at Saviayr. He laughs. “The boy’s a bandit, Rai. It’s what he knows.”
It takes a while to hobble up the ramp, but we have no trouble finding a place with a good view of the palace courtyard. All the Feasters have scattered, and most of the capital natives are groaning from the fifth sign.
The sultan and royals hunch on the courtyard, loose vests draped over bandages. They shift on their cushioned seats, wincing.
Runners of various races line up before them. Clean, colored clothing marks them as trusted servants–slave or free–of high positions. “A message from the royal Kaflak’s wife and overseer, for our great sultan and honored royals,” one says.
A young royal lifts a hand and adjusts in his seat. “I am the royal Kaflak.”
The slave bows. “Our city is despised by the divinities, O my royal. A great wall of fire surrounded us. No sooner did it disappear than our water filled with death, and no sooner did it clear than your children fell ill beyond the power of the magicians and physicians to heal. I was sent to beg the great magicians to intercede for us.”
Another slave steps forward and bows. “So also is the story of my royal’s wife and quarter.”
“And mine,” several others echo.
The sultan raps the horned viper armrests of his throne. “Say no more of this,” he orders.
“Cousin, why do you silence our families’ reports?” one of his companions asks.
The few in attendance hold their breath to hear his answer. “Do you want the rebels to twist this against us for their purpose? See how far their power reaches–to distant cities!”
I can’t fight back a smile. Savi whispers in my ear, “This is a good time, I think.”
The sultan calls for the magicians, but Savi and I push through to stand before the sultan and royals before the others can come. They sit a little straighter when they see us.
“You!” the sultan exclaims. “We sent for you last night, but your dark friend turned our messengers away.”
No one told us that, but we also haven’t seen anyone except Liwin since we awoke.
“What did you want with us?”
“Please relent,” he begs. “We will humble ourselves before you if we need. Let this terrible agony end.”
“It is not before us that you need to humble yourselves,” Savi says. “It is before Aia-Thaies, the only God, the divinity above all divinities.”
“We believe your Aia is great and mighty,” the sultan says. “Our divinities have held back from acting to show us this.”
“Do you still not believe that Aia is more powerful than they?” I ask. “Very well. Your wounds will heal in time, though their scars will remain as a reminder to you. Now look around: We are here in this city for the Feast of Api. You worship the vole and rabbit for providing you with food, yet they cannot bring rain or sun to nourish the crops. So that you may know that Aia is the one who nourishes you–as a blessing, not an obligation–and so that you may know He is greater than Api of the Harvest, this is your sixth sign: ‘You starved My people with meager scraps, so now your storerooms will dry up and your surplus grain will turn to dust.’”
The sultan’s face goes white and red by turns. He stumbles out of his throne and collapses before the statues of Api’s animal forms. “Great Api, have mercy! Act for the sake of Izyphor. Preserve our food,” he begs. Most of the royals copy him.
The royal Bathatyz points at the runner who brought the news of the royal Kaflak’s family. “Go check the nearest silo or storeroom.”
The runner sprints off.
The leaders of Izyphor moan their prayers. The faces of the dead stare, some crumbling, most bearing evidence of painstaking repair. In the mid-morning light, the stone faces look almost alive. The textiles of Yza Mother Wren crack overhead as they billow. Through the gaps between them, I glimpse stormclouds towering up, as dark as the pewter pitchers and tableware in Tatanda’s house. They strain toward the capital. White wind and wispy clouds restrain them.
I bump my leg against Luemikaroeth. I’ll probably need the sword soon.
The runner rushes back. The sultan and royals pick themselves up. “Well?” the sultan’s nephew calls. “What do you report?”
The man stops and grips his knees, breathing heavily. “Empty. I checked three. The wheat is dust.”
The sultan drags shocked eyes from the runner to us.
“Cousin,” one of the royals says, “if we do not let them go, we will surely perish.”
I interrupt before the sultan can answer. “You did not know Aia-Thaies. Now He has one last sign for you, to finish introducing Himself.” I breathe deeply. “‘I am the Maker of All, the Giver of Life, Water, Harvest, and Fire. It is I who decides when a person is born and when they die. To those who follow Me I am both Mother and Father, Healer and Defender. To those who rebel against me, I am He who Consumes. No one who opposes me will stand, and their memory will be wiped from Orrock.’”
The breeze rises into a soft wind. It weaves gentle through my hair and the frayed edges of my clothes. When it brushes the pillars of the faces of the dead, though, the stone crumbles. At first, it’s only grains like powder. Then it quickens, till dust fills the wind.
The Izyphorns gasp. Some cry out. Some fall to their knees. All bear expressions of horror as the images of their ancestors’ faces, meant to keep their souls from being sucked into the Void, disintegrate before their eyes.
Something tickles my ear. Threads fill my hand when I swipe at what I assume is a fly. “Rai,” Savi says, and points up.
As the pillars crumble, the woven fabric draped over them unravels. Loose threads drift down to coat every human and object in the courtyard.
When the wind finishes its task, the courtyard hangs motionless in the garish sun. The usual mesa-top breeze resumes. Threads flutter. Dust motes dance in the shimmering heat waves.
Then a royal rips a ring from his finger and throws it. The precious metal tings on the bricks at our feet. “Go!” he shouts, voice shaking. “Leave us. Leave this land.”
Another pulls a jewel-encrusted comb from her hair and tosses it at us. “Yes, go. Begone.”
The others take their cue, showering us with wealth and urging us to leave.
That’s it? It’s over?
The sultan half-crawls to us. “Here.” He strips the bangles from his arms and holds out his signet ring with shaking hands. “You are free. Maraiah is free. If anyone questions you, show them this.”
We are free.
“We did it,” Savi breathes, hands opening automatically to accept the jewelry being shoved at us.
That doesn’t sit in my heart as true. After all this, it seems I’ve done very little.
I’m about to say something to that effect, when Savi says, “Aia did it.”
We are free.
It doesn’t feel like I expected. I don’t feel different. Nothing seems real.
The thunderheads rumble. They strain against the cloud tufts holding them back.
They’re closer than they were a moment ago.
“We need to move,” Nhardah murmurs, suddenly close behind us.
I find myself nodding and unable to stop. “We really do. Savi?”
“Coming.” He shuffles backward, turning as he moves.
I move as fast as my crutches will allow. “Where’re all our people?” I scan the crowd, which has grown since we arrived.
“Don’t just leave all that stuff,” Liwin exclaims, darting by as I notice him. He scoops up as much of the royals’ treasure as he can.
“Boy’s right,” Drigo says, materializing at Savi’s side. Hoenna leads Nihae behind him.
“Please, leave our land,” the Izyphorns in the crowd beg as we pass. “Take these gifts–only have mercy on us! Take your people and forget us!” They thrust fine pots and metal objects at us.
Drigo and Hoenna gather as much as they can. The piles in their arms grow until they can’t see over the top.
Drigo catches my eye. “What?” he asks. “It ain’t stealin’ if they gives it to us. Besides,” he throws past me, “they ain’t slaves.”
Forziel, suddenly on my right, sticks out tongue.
“Where were you guys?” Savi huffs. “Why’d you leave us alone at camp?”
“You needed the rest,” Hoenna says.
“We saw goings-on up here and wanted to check on it,” Drigo says.
“I watched until you stirred,” Nhardah adds. “You needed time to talk.”
I groan. “Nhardah, your high-handed wisdom is really starting to annoy me.”
“Oh, thank you!” Nihae says. “What a pretty necklace!”
Savi takes her hand. “Come on, Mama.”
“Where are we going?”
We may be free, but the aivenkaites won’t let us stay that way for long.
Muauhahahahaa, that’s where we end for this week. I’m super evil 😉
Life update: Work has been particularly crazy lately. I absolutely love my job, but I’m still very new at it, and that newness is showing in the amount of time it takes me to prep for lessons and grade.
I’m going to do my utmost to get you a chapter next Monday. I really will. But if I do not, please know it’s because I’m crying under hours of lesson planning and grading and really just need it to be Thanksgiving already.
But none of us want that latter scenario. So I would be very thankful for your prayers, and I’m sure you’ll be glad for them, too, when you get your regularly-scheduled update on Rai’s adventures next week.
*Whew* I’m long-winded when I’m sleep-deprived, aren’t I?
Signing off now ❤ 🙂 Have a great (and restful) week!