RAZE - a weekly fantasy web serial

RAZE – 023 – A Stone in the Ocean

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I fell under a hail of blows. Fists and sticks rained on me. Yamurik shouted.

As soon as it had begun, the barrage ended. More screams. I looked up and saw blood through my narrow vision. Someone shouted “run!” and I did, limping and falling, and I dragged Yamurik with me. The Tash laid about with her spear, furious, crushing and slashing. Estevo shouted again and I looked before me, into the long street toward the bridge where Weckar, and, strangely, safety waited.

Another villager bore down on us, shouting a curse and Yamurik’s name. He raised a sickle, wild-eyed, and I lunged and thrust out with my new sword. The blade sank into him and I dragged Yamurik again. Estevo and the Tash came up from behind. They seized me, seized my charge, and pulled us along while behind us the villagers roared for our blood.

A few more lurching steps. The bodies, the dead, the dried brown blood. We ran and the birds sprang from their perches and cawed. Ahead of me I saw the bridge, the smoke of the camp. Weckar stood, a white pillar on the bridge, indistinct and far off. She moved, a flicker at the distance, and the wind stirred the dust in the road, whipped it up, curled it into yellow waves that sped toward us along the roadway.

A howl, a surge. Wind blasted. Dust streamed at my face. I halted, cowered, shut my eyes as the wind bore down.

The screams of anger and rage behind became terror and agony, but I felt nothing. I opened my eyes.

The wind blew all around us, but not on us. We stood, the four of us, in an island, an eye of the flaying, knifing storm that coursed and flowed all around like a river. I turned and saw how the people caught in it died.

They fell, blinded. They turned and tried to flee. Their clothes shredded, turned to ash, dissipated like so much smoke. Their skin turned pink, then red, and then what had been a person melted and sprayed and the remains fell into the dirt. Some of them made it to shelter, dived down alleys or into shattered doors. It might have saved them. I never found out.

The wind fell. The air went still. We four stood in silence, staring.

“Good Salat.” All rage was swept from Yamurik’s voice, scoured away. “”Good Salat why?” His legs buckled and he sat heavily in the dust.

The Tash shook. I wept openly, memory welling in me despite how I tried to push it away. I looked down at the bloody blade in my hand. Another. The thought was a stone in the midst of a black ocean. In thought, I held onto it, my lifeless stone amongst the cold waves, gripped it though my fingers splintered and tore. My shame sucked at my legs but no, I was mighty. I had killed three men. No one could hurt me anymore if I could kill. My life was mine.

“Come.” Estevo’s voice shook. “Come on. Up with you.” He dug a cigarette from a pocket with fumbling fingers, broke it. “Lick of shit, get up. You act like you don’t see that everyday.”

“Only most days.” I dashed my tears away and dragged Yamurik up. “Tash. Thanks.”

She nodded, straightened, and all emotion left her face. She met my gaze and looked through.

“Are you alright?”

She said nothing, and I could see no wounds. We made for the bridge.

Weckar stood where we’d left her, a hand outstretched, but otherwise motionless. At our approach she lowered it, sighed a breath in and out. Her black eyes peered out from her lacquer face. “Yamurik,” she said.

“You could have done that any time.” The words came from me, although I hadn’t intended them. She turned her dead face on me. “We might have died.”

“And?” She stared and I found I had nothing else to say. “Would that displease you so much?”

Her words shook me. My mind was a tumult. In three days so much had changed, over and over. I stood, waited while she spoke to Yamurik. She offered him a choice–to work and farm poppy for Lonireil, or to die. He chose to work. The Lonireilan army would bring settlers, farmers, workers, and he would direct and package and sell poppy and pay tribute to Lonireil. He would be richer, far richer, as a man of Lonireil than he had as a man of Serehvan. He would be powerful.

While she spoke to him I stood, hearing only that part of their talk that I remembered later. I was lost in thought. Everything was different. My life was different again. Gone was the farm. Gone was the emptiness and the wish for death and the fear that came after. I held a sword. I was mighty with it. I would learn to fight and kill all the better and in so doing would become my own. Then nothing could hurt me again. I gave thanks for Lonireil, de Trastorces, Weckar, the soldiers; they had shown me weakness and they had shown me what might was, what strength was, and I was reborn as something more. I had become il-Lonireil, born of that nation, made by them, new because of them. 

At the time, so I thought. It was many years before I confronted myself and the cruelty that had overcome me. It was many years before I found my way out of the deep water, found the strength to swim away from my barren black stone in the cold, all-consuming ocean.

But perhaps that tale will go untold. For two days I have waited for the guards to come and tell me that my execution is set, and I hear them approaching in the halls. Perhaps tomorrow is the dawn. My last dawn, and the dawn in which my many, many years of labor will come to fruition.

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