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Weckar’s warning changed something in me. Rather, it awakened a feeling in me which was other than the emptiness or the pit. The emptiness was me, was all that was left. The pit was what I had gone to when I had killed. I had killed four, in truth; the woman who attacked us, the boy I used as bait, the boy I used as a shield, and the last, the man I had tricked and captured and who Weckar had slaughtered. That was not her. It was me.
Weckar’s warning awakened a dormant part of me. It awakened hatred. “Do not run,” she had said. I would not. I would not let her knife or her evil, spirit wind kill me. I would never let Weckar have me.
Estevo, The Tash, and I made our way into the city of Onappa-ka. It was a small city, no bigger than my own province’s capital of Naban-ka, with an outer wall and timber gates and short houses made of unmortared stone or yellow clay. The dead lay everywhere, littering the main road, and the banners and signs were pitted or shredded to nothing. Trees were stripped of leaves and their bark carved away on one side. Windows gaped like open mouths as we picked our way among the dead, watching around ourselves, ears straining, reaching nothing but the buzzing. The flies were everywhere and black birds sat on the tops of the buildings, peering down. I saw one other living thing, a scrawny cat which sniffed at one of the dead and sat beside it, as if considering.
The center square was not far. The flies swarmed about the ruined market, where strips of cloth hung as cobwebs over collapsing stalls, dust-covered, chewed-up fruits and vegetables, meat gouged and rotting on hooks, and everywhere the dead, flayed by wind, clothes sheared and bone exposed to the flies and the bright sun. The scars on my legs and backside itched in sympathy and memory of where the knife wind had briefly caught me, but that brought other thoughts and my mind emptied. I chose nothingness and forgot and gave no mind to my parents and brother and sisters. I chose emptiness, for to choose otherwise would fill me to cracking, to breaking. To be empty, to be dead, was better. I was like those in the market square. They were my kin now. They. The Tash. No one else.
We walked to the largest house, which was undisturbed, entirely. Its bright blue banners hung clean and unmarred, straight and silent in the windless day. The dead lay on the doorstep and before the low, decorative walls, but on the balconies little green plants blossomed orange flowers.
Estevo, whose name I didn’t yet know, spoke in Lonireilan, and then spat. The Tash and I looked at him and he swore, a word I had learned. “Lick of shit,” is the best translation I can make. “Lick of shit, he can’t be the only one left in there. How are we supposed to get him out if he has guards, or a slew of butlers or kids or something?”
The Tash said nothing. I said nothing. We had been told to bring him, so I started to the door.
It is odd to me now. I hated Weckar and the hate was all there was beside the emptiness and the pit. But it was the hate that made me go on. The hate made my only goal to succeed. To prove to her, to it, to whatever Weckar was, that… I do not know. Perhaps I never will. I would prove. That was all I thought.
“Of course, just knock and ask him. You go on, il-Lonireil,” Estevo shouted behind me as I approached Yamurik’s manor door. Estevo bounded after me on gangly legs when I did not slow. “Tash, stay and watch out. Someone else is alive in this city. Shout if you see something.” I paused and turned to see that Estevo had stopped to look behind him as well. “You can shout, can’t you?”
The Tash nodded, keeping her eyes down.
“Look. Out. That means out there. Don’t watch us and don’t watch the ants.” She turned and faced away from the manor, out into the shredded market, and then Estevo started for me and the door again. We went together, him lighting another cigarette and I clutching my spear.
We stepped over bodies and waved flies from our faces. Estevo tried the latch and found it locked. “Very typical.” He pounded on the door. “Watch the upper windows.”
I looked, seeing no movement. The windows were drawn with deep, cerulean curtains in their graven window frames. The house was grand indeed, with balconies and shining glass and bright colors painted on the near-white clay. No answer came, despite Estevo’s repeated bangings.
I pushed him aside and kicked the door.
“Go away!” someone shouted from inside, a man’s voice, deep, gruff.
Before we could address the voice within, an animal sound came from behind us, a wordless grunting cry. We stopped and turned and the Tash was pointing out into the market. There, behind a stall, I saw figures watching us. There were three, creeping, behind cover but not out of sight.
“Oh good.” Estevo took a long drag of smoke. “I’m sure they’re here to help us.” He rapped on the door again and looked at me. “Listen, it’s Heshim, right? we’re going to have to talk, or we could die here. Alright?”
“Alright,” I said.
“I think the door gave when you kicked it. Give it another kick. Really hammer on it. You’re a stout boy. I want to keep watch on those lurkers out in the market.” He started to turn, then reached out and touched my shoulder. I flinched and he took his hand away and when I looked at his face, I saw disgust. That is, at first I saw disgust.
Perhaps it was the fear. Those people in the market would be hunting us. Already, I knew that if there were any more of them, it would be a miracle if we escaped. Part of me did not want to. Perhaps it was the hatred that Weckar had awakened. Whatever it was, I saw through the falsehood of my shame, the veil of disgust I had woven for myself, and saw clearly what was in Estevo’s ugly, cigarette-hanging face. It was pity, and it sickened me.
Estevo drew his hand back and did not try to touch me again. “I didn’t do.” He paused. “That. To you. I need your help. Let’s get this shit-lick out of his house and leave. Alright, Heshim?”
I nodded, looked at the dirt, and then looked at him. He was waiting. I found it in me to speak. “My name is il-Lonireil.”
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