- by Brent Lambert -
Jyani clutched near-rotten food as he slipped through a ragged alley. The blooddaki’s Energic powers might offer them control over the red elixir of life, but it did little to sate their appetites; the secret kindness of strangers all that sustained them. He knew Habez might not be able to eat, but Jyani would force the food between his lips if he had to. Preoccupied, with his head low and shoulders rolled forward, he didn’t see the raging crowd until he’d run right smack into them–precisely what he’d wanted to avoid.
All around him they shouted their abuses:
“Take your sick, bleeding asses outta here!”
“No one wants you here!”
“Just die already!”
Instinct made him fall back; until he caught the edge of glorious music rising above the self-righteous anger: a voice, beautiful and unfaltering. The urbanite crowd quieted with it—a miracle in these troubled times given it was his kin enthralling them.
The musicians stood on boxes, wrapped in red cloaks and hoods, two playing a steady drum beat and two more with flutes pressed against their lips. A tall, long-faced blooddaki with ample breasts and long dreadlocks swayed between them. Mundane biology suggested this blooddaki as one gender, but the three Energics—red, purple, and gold—spoke to the truth of a person; here, the red Energic oozing from the singer’s cells determined who they truly were. This blooddaki was every ounce the man Jyani hoped to be, his voice sublime. Even the urgency of Habez in their cot couldn’t get him to pull away.
Silence fell across the crowd and Jyani could feel his heart clench. The song spoke of the nameless tragedy inflicted upon Jyani’s people in recent months; it told how once the untouched—those not blessed as them—looked to their power to heal wounds, long before disease turned the blooddaki’s own power against them. Like a distant wave, the words moved with strength and grace; Jyani could see it colliding with the sea of hate washing off the crowd. But that voice was just too damn good.
The singer repeated the song over and over, swaying his hips and running his hands through his hair. The more he gyrated, the angrier the crowd grew. Their attraction to the blooddaki repulsed them as much as the disease they carried; the blooddaki the contagion’s only victims as yet. They bled without wound, and everyone else feared they would be next.
But even the singer’s magnificence couldn’t keep back the hate seething in the crowd. As one body they moved on the makeshift band. They didn’t get far.
Those who drew too close were blinded by hot blood gushing from their eyes. Others puked up their life essence onto the street, gagging and crawling across the pavement or moaning as they grabbed their stomachs. Jyani able to sense where the blooddaki had opened up massive ulcers in their guts.
“Freaks!” an elderly woman shouted as she picked up a rock to hurl at the musicians. Bile rose in Jyani’s throat, rage surging through him. He reached out and grabbed the woman by the wrist before the rock flew.
His voice came out gnarled, laced with pain. “Don’t.”
The crone groaned as her hand turned black, and bloated as he sent blood rushing to failing vessels beneath her parchment skin. The woman let loose a shriek, but Jyani vanished from sight before she’d collapsed and drawn the notice of the crowd.
He hoped the singer would manage to elude them, but in times like these you focused on those who mattered most.
The emaciated hand barely held on to his. Weeks before, Jyani tried to avoid focusing on the damaging aspects the disease had wrought on his lover: the pulsing veins glowing a sick red along his arms, the withered flesh barely clinging to bone. Habez had been vibrant, handsome, with a smile that bent all three Energics to his will. Now, wheezing, pained breaths had replaced his electric charm. Like everything else beautiful lost to the fog of whatever this disease was that ravaged them all.
The abandoned warehouse held the fragile bodies of many others like Habez on ragged cots lined with vomit-stained sheets. His dry voice cracked, and speaking wracked his body, but Jyani didn't try to stop him from talking anymore. “You going to go?”
Jyani reached out with his own thinning hand and ran it through Habez's brittle, ebony hair. Cold, slick sweat pooled there, the tears of a body struggling to hold on. Jyani could feel their Energic bond strong and vibrant as ever, disease be damned. “I have to.”
Habez closed his eyes and took a chest-rattling breath. The cot looked like it wanted to swallow him. “It’s just a rumour, Jy. But you always were stupid.”
They both broke into soft laughter, and Jyani leaned over to kiss Habez on the forehead. In that quiet, blissful moment—removed from the rest of what they’d endured—Jyani made his choice: This place of filth and disease wouldn’t be their end. He'd break these walls and leave behind the ones who forced them to find refuge in shadowy, forgotten corners.
“If I’m right, you’ll be healthy. We’ll be whole,” Jyani said, staring down into Habez’s face and trying to conjure up some memory of how he’d looked when they first met. The ravages of the disease kept those memories at bay.
Habez tried to lift an arm and failed. He settled for squinting instead. “And here I wanted to be romantic and stroke your cheek.”
Jyani smiled, and leaned once more over his lover, lips hovering above his. “I love you. I'm going to make this right.”
One of the few attendants, a frail woman with a fierce face and severely bound hair, grabbed the bucket of Habez’s bodily fluids from the edge of his cot. Her dark skin made her almost a shadow, if not for her red shawl and exquisite purple dress. She toiled as a Sister of Tiu, the holy order started in the fires of a battle lost to history. The fine garment seemed more sore than mark of office in the midst of the misery.
She nodded at Jyani and moved on to the next cot. He spotted a few sisters off in the distance carrying a body away. They wrapped it in clean white sheets—dignity in death, at least.
Habez started to argue but his body betrayed him. As his lover gagged and shook, Jyani leapt to his feet and turned Habez on his side as the dying man vomited blood onto the floor. The fits were coming faster, more frequent. Jyani was running short on time.
When Habez finally stopped vomiting, Jyani reached a freckled hand down into the bucket of cold towels at his feet, the cloth tinged red no matter how many times they were washed. He pulled a small towel out of the sloshing water and carefully patted the towel against Habez’s lips.
How many blooddaki lost their bonded to the ravages of this plague? Jyani ran a tender hand down his lover’s chest as Habez collapsed into exhausted sleep.
“You’re right. It’s not a rumour,” said a voice from over Jyani’s shoulder. The Sister of Tiu stood over him, hands clutched to her chest. Her smouldering gold eyes, high cheeks, and brown lips commanded desire. Was the rest of her order as striking and elegant? All the stories he had heard told him yes.
He bore witness in this filthy, makeshift hospital to how poised the women carried themselves. Most did not confront the disease and its symptoms with such dignity. Many blooddaki abandoned their bonded to fight their symptoms alone, inevitable death and wasting sickness a burden they refused to let their lovers shoulder. Habez, too, had commanded him many times to go.
Jyani let the hope of the woman’s words fill him, and smiled. “Never doubted you.”
“Medicine is available. But you will have to seize the opportunity tonight.” She spoke low. Who did she not want to overhear her—the other sisters?
The sister clasped her hands together and pressed her forefingers to her lips, the line of their ascent highlighting the golden star jewel embedded in her forehead—glowing purple, red, and gold in that reflected light; the three colours representing the three energies: feminine, masculine, and neutral. The Sisters of Tiu partook of all three aspects—a rarity. Jyani admired the seamlessness with which the jewel merged into her flesh.
“If you go where the medicine is, you’ll be in danger. It’s a dark path you’re going down, it won’t leave you unscathed.”
“It doesn’t matter. Where?”
“The Albino’s Church. The medicine’s guarded by a renegade Broken Blade, one of their newest converts.”
The Albino’s Church? A place of worship for nihilists and madmen; for those whose only pleasure lay in corrupting the world around them. Jyani shuddered.
She moved closer to him and pushed a piece of paper into his hand. Then leaned in to whisper in his ear. “I take great risk giving this to you. Your disease has proven . . . fortuitous . . . to some.”
A white-hot rage built in Jyani’s gut. Ignorance and anger drove them from their homes, their possessions burned and their families thrown in prison when not outright killed. All in the name of slowing down the infection. An infection that hadn’t even moved beyond the blooddaki—and didn’t seem likely to given how unafraid the sisters moved among them.
And they dared to let them die like animals?
“Which Blade?” Jyani knew of at least three who had severed ties with the government.
“Haddizar.” She moved away from him and pressed three fingers against her lips—a sign of good fortune—before she picked up another blooddaki’s bucket. “I have to go.”
Jyani stood silent. Not even a thousand such signs of good fortune could protect him from Haddizar. Could he do this? A sickly blooddaki against one of his country’s oldest and deadliest soldiers. One not even from this world, pulled here from some blistering, battle-torn realm. A 300-year-old soldier who’d walked beside the Saviour in the days when that madman had led an army to consume the world. That the Albino Church served as the backdrop for his task made it so much worse. There were too many variables to consider, too many possible outcomes. Most of them saw him dead.
Jyani looked down at the paper given to him by the sister. His mind lurched at the words there. Knowing what it would take to win sent him into a hacking fit that left the hand he’d covered his mouth with coated in blood. But he had no choice. Even if Habez would never forgive him.
He sat at the back of the small bar, hood drawn tight over his head. He’d found the cloak, and a pair of good black boots, digging through trash in different neighbourhoods. His veins didn’t glow as bad as Habez’s, but enough showed to indicate his infection if anyone saw. And everyone in the city knew what to look for.
“The whole lot of them deserve it. Bonding their energies like they’re still the Saviour’s rusty concubines,” spat one of the patrons.
A toothless fool chimed in. “How’s it go anyway? Red and red is blood. Purple and purple is air—”
The sequencing the skinny, malnourished idiot spoke of was the product of romantic attraction—not that the fool likely knew. Two Energics, no matter their colour, could bind their energies together and from that came a wholly new magic: Two irondaki binding their red energies in love became a blooddaki. Once beautiful, their love was now a curse with the disease running rampant.
“Surprised this didn’t happen to them sooner,” a man with rotting teeth said as he bent over his table to snort a line of Leo’s Dust.
“You would think they would have more sense.”
From the other side of the bar came a booming laugh as a woman with a face full of stubble threw back a red drink. “Bet the clowns hate this colour. Heard they got red leaking out their bums.”
“Like they didn’t already before,” the rotten-mouthed man said, prompting a laugh from the bar’s raunchy customers.
Jyani buried his fists into his lap lest he forgot his entire purpose. The ingrates had conveniently forgotten the times the blooddaki had purged illness from their children, or brushed aside how many cuts and wounds his kin’s magic had sealed. It would be so easy to crush their ungrateful hearts, but it would leave him too weak. He needed all his remaining strength.
A diminutive woman with short, white hair slid into a chair across from him: Asbeth, the sister’s contact. A garish smile split her features into an exaggerated caricature, and her nose—flat and long—touched the top of her lip.
“They feared you once,” said Asbeth, planting her elbows on the rickety steel table and leaning in. “Back then you didn’t care about their acceptance.”
“I didn’t come here for a history lesson,” Jyani said. He stopped speaking and clenched a hand to his throat to keep from coughing. He’d heard stories from northern cities about men stomped to death by mobs witness to such simple tells. One wrong misstep and everything was over.
Asbeth leaned back in her chair and whistled softly. “History should be a topic more folks look into, especially blooddaki.”
“What about us?” Jyani asked, trying to keep his voice level, emotionless. Did this woman think she understood his people better than he did? He clenched his teeth at her smugness.
“The Saviour looked to you as his right hand. He loved you all above any other daki, even the timedaki.”
Jyani kneaded a hand against his sternum, hoping the action didn't give him away as infected. “Saviour, huh? Last I checked he destroyed two whole continents. Don’t see any saving going on.”
The woman across from him frowned. “No pride in your heritage, eh?”
He leaned forward and examined Asbeth a little more. She wore concealer, but he could see the small, grooved scars travelling down her cheeks. Unimpressive lips did nothing to take attention away from those wounds, and she could do with a good eyebrow waxing. Wrinkles congregated around her neck, but were absent from her face. A month ago, he’d have loathed the idea of aging. Now, he’d give anything to live long enough to find saggy skin and liver spots.
“Where’d you get those?” Jyani asked about her scars, right as a group of sultry men sauntered out from a door behind him and made their way through the bar. With a tiny push of his Energic power, he sensed none of them held any of the three Energies. He pushed a little further out of curiosity and felt only one other daki in the room: Asbeth.
She smirked. “’Bout time you went snooping.”
Jyani inclined his head subtly at the dancing men. “Wanted to make sure they—” He stopped short to look down at his shaking hands. He drummed his fingers along the table, not wanting to look up as she stared at him. “I don’t need your pity, Asbeth.”
“Didn’t mean to give it. Want to make sure you aren’t going to cut loose.”
Jyani smiled. “Too early. Go off now and I won’t have enough for later.”
Asbeth nodded. “That bad?”
Jyani shrugged. “I’m sick. No idea how far along. So I save what’s left.”
“Are you sure you can do this?”
“I have no choice. Have you ever been to one of our refuges?”
Asbeth shifted uncomfortably in her seat, giving Jyani all the answer he needed.
“It’s a nightmare; all blood and shit and sores. But I want to save someone, and I’ll do whatever it takes.”
Asbeth nodded, considering. At length she reached into her pocket and placed a knife on the table. The weapon’s hilt shone a royal purple, gleaming with proud history. Jyani wished he knew more of its past, but only the vaguest stories endured about the weapon. He knew, at least, it had belonged to someone the Saviour had loved and lost. Jyani reached across the table and took the knife, determined to not suffer a similar fate. His love would not be some tragic poem; he would commit any sin to make sure Habez endured, and this weapon would be the pen he used to write his own stanzas.
Blooddaki looked upon this weapon as a sacrilege to their Energic abilities. Its forging had used the iron drawn from the corpses of more than a thousand of his kind nearly 400 years ago. One of the many sins of the Saviour. And even with his Energic powers tamped down in reserve, Jyani could hear the whispers of every person who had died to forge the blade. What might he hear with the full scope of his abilities? No wonder his kin declared the thing monstrous: it was a living, screaming tomb.
“Still sure you want it?” Asbeth asked. Her question nearly drowned out by the singing of the half-naked dancers starting to earn lustful jeers from the crowd. Jyani clicked his teeth at the hypocrisy. Lusting was fine, even encouraged, but an actual act . . .
“It’s not a matter of want. I must have it.”
Asbeth looked at him with something that might have been pity. “I can’t guarantee this weapon will get you through their damnable temple, but I do hope you find what you’re looking for.”
“As do I,” said Jyani, mind racing. The sheer skill of the warrior he would face made Jyani shiver, but this knife could be enough to even the scale with Haddizar. He would pray Habez forgave him its use.
“All you need do is cut yourself with it,” said Asbeth.
Jyani laughed. “It’s a little more than that.”
Asbeth tapped a finger against her cheek. “So we’re an expert on the thing, huh?”
“No,” Jyani said, pursing his lips. “The blade is telling me.”
The blade wanted him to bind his power to it; to the spirits within. To bind his own abundance of red Energics to their commingled, overwhelming red, purple, and gold. Even diminished by disease, his power could still give the spirits there a taste of the life stolen from them. The rawness of their anguish only clarified how ruthless the Saviour had been.
The Saviour had sought to mend the world with this blade, and Jyani sought to heal his own. What path did Jyani walk if he found common ground with that tyrant? He gripped the hilt of the knife tight, feeling a heady connection across time with his fallen kin. He reached out the unseen tendrils of his power into the knife, and the voices crescendoed in triumphant joy.
“Watch your back,” Asbeth said, nervous as she rose to leave. “No one else will.”
Jyani left the raunchy bar, his Energic might connecting fully with the knife. He was loathe to use its name, the tyrant’s name for it, but he knew it: Axsunni, a weapon of rot and unjust death. Tears welled in his eyes at the thought of its fashioning and its use. But its power couldn’t be ignored.
He took shallow breaths as he kept the knife hidden beneath his cloak. Akilur’s air glutted thick with the progress of industry, a world thrumming to the revolutions of machines of steel and diamond. Jyani didn’t believe the machines would surpass Energic power, but their progress had proved impressive. The laboratories of faraway lands to the east worked to improve the lives of their own daki using these new devices, and Jyani couldn’t help but wonder how different things might have been for the blooddaki if their plight received half such attention. Instead the world was content to watch them suffer and die. For all his countrymen’s admonishments of the Church of the Albino, they bartered equally in indifference and sadism.
Jyani hated them. The voices in Axsunni agreed.
Ignite their flesh.
Destroy their homes; lay waste their cities.
They deserve our people’s wrath.
That last sentiment rang true in him as well. Piece by piece the blooddaki had their freedom scraped away from them. Thrown from their homes, too scared to be seen by daylight, left to fend for themselves. Jyani could only imagine the pain his brothers faced in other parts of the world.
He moved through the worst parts of Akilur, working hard to ignore the sense he was being watched. Paranoia had become friend and enemy both to the blooddaki in the days since the disease had begun cutting them down. They possessed great power, but power alone could not save them. If a violent crowd surrounded him, he might cut down three or four but he’d soon find himself fatigued and gasping for air. Tapping into any of the three Energics required staggering effort for all but the strongest of dakis.
Taking a break to lean against a window, Jyani heard the frightened shouts of two untouched. Common sense demanded he keep pressing forward, but something he couldn’t name pulled him toward the commotion. He rounded a corner and found what all daki feared most: Two of his kin, at most seventeen, surrounded by a circle of raging untouched screaming and shouting obscenities. The boys pressed tight against each other, eyes wide, and anger flared in Jyani.
It should have been a blessing to find love that young.
They would destroy our kin.
End them all!
“Animals!” a dainty young man shouted as he pulled a knife from his expensive jacket and shoved his way through the crowd to the young daki at its heart.
Fury surged through Jyani, a mere fraction of Axsunni’s power jolting him to life. He hadn’t felt this good in months. And with a bare flicker of effort, his Energic powers crushed the heart and ripped open blood vessels in the would-be attacker’s body. The man collapsed, eyes bloodshot and skin beginning to blacken and bloat.
Axsunni demanded more. He felt an emptiness in his stomach and he knew the only way to fill it was to use the knife.
As the crowd screamed and backed away from the fallen assailant, Jyani held Axsunni against the upper portion of his forearm and cut the knife toward his chest. The metal dug in quick and the blood flowed even quicker. The pain of the wound never came; the grateful voices of the knife protected him as his blood seeped out.
But the wound didn’t just release blood. He thought himself insane at first, but then he saw the looks of horror on those few people who hadn’t fled the square. And he saw the same expressions on his fellow blooddaki. His blood screamed out in horrifying, orgasmic release. The resounding screech cut through the air like a dirge in birdsong.
Jyani’s ears bled with it, but the crowd joined the awful chorus. Tears running down their faces, eyes searching frantically, they opened their mouths to loose anguished cries. And their mouths kept opening.
Jyani pressed a hand against his own mouth as he witnessed the tender flesh between lip and cheek tear on those nearest him. The rents tore wider until all but the faces of his young kin languished in ruin. The hateful untouched fell to the ground in moaning heaps of loose flesh and exposed gums, but there was no gratitude in the faces of the young lovers. They ran, skirting behind Jyani in fear.
“Now there’s some music,” said the man standing in his shadow.
Jyani wheeled and his blood sang still more at the sight of Haddizar. He fell back before the former Broken Blade. Haddizar’s stark white hair, long and stringy, spoke of his conversion to the Church of the Albino, and a necklace of eight silver rings hung around his thick neck, one of those symbolising the world the assassin came from. Haddizar’s brown skin, taut muscles, and veins barely contained his essence. That blanched hair swayed in the wind Jyani’s screaming blood created, but he seemed otherwise unaffected, one half of the assassin’s face riddled with deep, pale scars as if some fell beast had dug there; wounds earned fighting the Saviour’s wars centuries past.
White-masked, grey-chokered members of the Church of the Albino flanked the Broken Blade. Three Albinans stood to either side of the renegade warrior, and all six of them carried long knives and whips. And behind them, stoic and almost out of eyesight: a Sister of Tiu. With effort, a normal blooddaki could recognize people by their heartbeat or the pumping of their blood, every measure unique. Axsunni made listening for it easy. This was the same Sister of Tiu who had told him about the medicine.
Haddizar took a step forward. “Figured someone desperate enough would come along eventually.”
Jyani cursed himself for a fool and pointed Axsunni at the eight of them. “Where is the medicine?”
The Sister of Tiu bowed her head and backpedalled, Jyani sickened by the shame radiating from her. But Axsunni demanded more. His stomach lurched at its suggestion: An act from the old days, when blooddaki used their Energic abilities free from abandon or morals. The demands of the knife poured into his essence with pile-driving force too great to ignore, and with another nudge of his newly found power Jyani took hold of every blood vessel in the Sister of Tiu’s body, and stopped her in her tracks.
With the knife’s guiding spirits, he used his control over the sister’s blood to extend to her muscles, her skin, and then the depths of her bones. She struggled with the whole of her will, but couldn’t overmaster the knife. She belonged to him now, and her betrayal would have heavy cost. The anger felt intrusive in his spirit, but he didn’t resist. He sent the sister into a flat-out sprint against the Albino’s followers. Haddizar turned to the charging woman with a laugh and Jyani smiled; the assassin’s memory didn’t come as well sculpted as his body.
The Sister of Tiu exploded in a fit of flesh, blood, and bone several feet away from Jyani’s enemies. As her blood flew, a simple push of Jyani’s power calcified her blood sharp and solid. Daggers in the wind, diamonds of it cut into the Albinans like a hundred knives. The ancestors guided his blood shrapnel into unguarded areas of the Albinans, striking deep below their white masks and into unprotected joints and veins. They fell gurgling blood and covered in gore.
Haddizar still stood.
Not a single projectile had cut the former soldier of The Saviour. “You know,”—Haddizar used one large hand to wipe away a chunk of flesh,—“I didn’t think this ceremony would be over so quick.”
Ceremony? He didn’t understand; the ritual had been a matter of his sacrifice, not others. Did Haddizar just have such a glowing view of violence? Apparently three centuries of killing changed a man. Or had he always been this way? Jyani didn’t know.
Jyani raised the blade, and its voices retreated into silence when faced with the giant. Axsunni couldn’t help him take hold of Haddizar: the warrior’s blood confused it, like trying to read a language it couldn’t understand. Understandable, given the renegade wasn’t of this world.
“They told me this would go fast,” continued Haddizar, as if he’d never stopped speaking, and closed with Jyani. “That your death by deception would help them open a gate. A gate to finally take me home.” Haddizar grew more menacing with each step closer. Jyani knew the look on the man’s face: that desperation of hope denied. The same torment wracked the faces of dying blooddaki and their lovers, furious at the theft of lives that should have been.
But Jyani’s hope wasn’t dead: Habez still lived. He dropped into a defensive squat and brandished Axsunni as he focused his mind away from fear. “Give me the medicine.”
Haddizar held up a small black bag and Jyani felt slapped in the face with . . . rightness. He knew that bag contained salvation. His body screamed for him to take what the Broken Blade teased so carelessly.
“This bag should have been your last sight right as they killed you. I joined those bastards on a promise: all I had to do was witness.” Haddizar spoke so jarringly soft that Jyani strained to hear him. Then rage flooded the warrior’s features and he bellowed: “You took my chance! So I’m taking yours.”
Haddizar flung the bag down too fast for Jyani’s reaching hand. But the black fabric and its precious contents never hit the ground. They floated in the air, spinning slowly in a gust of wind. Jyani looked to its source, and found Asbeth, small and wiry, with a shit-eating grin on her face.
“Not today, freak,” Asbeth said.
“You!” Haddizar roared.
“Kill him!” Asbeth shouted to Jyani.
“What? No! Just give me the medicine.”
She glared at him hard, waiting. The bag was not his to have yet.
Jyani’s confusion grew. This should have been simple, but too many moving parts tumbled around him. Axsunni vibrated in his hand and spoke to him again, another old power he might use. It was forbidden, but he’d already crossed an unforgivable line.
He took a deep breath and let Axsunni guide him, his Energic power reaching out into Asbeth and Haddizar’s veins. Agony surged through him as he pushed past the foreignness of the renegade’s blood and tapped into their essences. The blood reading was forbidden for a reason: though it allowed Jyani to find the missing pieces of what transpired around him, it violated the subject’s soul. Flecks of red light appeared along Axsunni’s length as Asbeth and the Broken Blade’s memories travelled through it, and into him.
He didn’t observe their memories; he experienced them as if they were his own. All their nuances and emotions came with the borrowed memories, and it felt as if his mind split in three.
He saw Asbeth in a dark cavern surrounded by women holding candles flaring white light. They gave her a task: Find Haddizar and destroy him. Asbeth was a Tongue, a glorified intelligence agent stretching back to the days of Axsunni. Her superiors would not tolerate Haddizar’s betrayal. Asbeth knew the man’s reputation, but despite her reservations she was determined to serve her government. The same government that had betrayed and abandoned Jyani and his fellow blooddaki.
Asbeth operated with as little care for his kin as the rest of the world. No, worse, because she saw opportunity in their plight. It had led her to find Axsunni in an effort to pass her task to someone who’d be dead soon anyway and leave no trace of her involvement. Her words in his head, At least let the life of a pitiful blooddaki be useful, were venom in his skull. Jyani clutched his chest as he realized Asbeth had blackmailed the Sister of Tiu into working for her. He’d murdered an innocent woman. Bile tickled the back of his throat.
Then Haddizar burst into his mind: deserter, traitor, desperate to get home after centuries of servitude and willing to take any road to make that happen. He felt Haddizar’s revulsion at aligning himself with the murderous members of the Albino Church. He’d joined them on a promise: A life taken at the edge of hope could give them the power to send him home. The warrior had known Asbeth’s plan and twisted her agenda to his own.
They knew she would find her target, and had stalked Jyani to complete their sick ritual. The only additional requirement that Haddizar bear witness, as he’d said. Jyani could feel the desperate longing for home in Haddizar’s heart; as strong as Jyani’s desire to save Habez.
Jyani broke his connection with them, dizzied and hollowed out. Asbeth and Haddizar stood shocked, apprehension of his power and rage at the mental violation explicit on their faces.
“Bastards! Both of you!”
Asbeth flicked her fingers and the twisting black bag of medicine flew into her hand. “You want this? You know what you gotta do!”
The Broken Blade knew too, and wasted no time charging Jyani, sword raised high. Jyani didn’t expect the man to just roll over and die, but he didn’t want to fight him. His Energic power cried out to Asxunni, telling it exactly what to do to make this right.
The blood spikes used to cut down the Albinos levitated up and flung themselves forward as Haddizar barrelled toward Jyani.
But it was Asbeth who cried out as the spikes tore through her and left her a bloody pincushion. Her cries halted Haddizar’s sword only a hair’s breadth from Jyani’s face. Haddizar’s attention elsewhere, Jyani rushed past the Broken Blade to the medicine bag. He cradled it like a lost child, a sigh of relief escaping his lips when he didn’t feel any shards of glass through the fabric. He clutched the bag tighter as Haddizar’s presence lingered over him.
“Why?” the Broken Blade asked.
“I don’t have a quarrel with you. But she used me as bait.” He looked at Asbeth’s body and felt no remorse. Turning, he looked up at Haddizar’s mauled visage. “And you only want to go home. I can’t blame you for wanting to escape this madness.”
Haddizar held out a hand and helped the blooddaki up. “You killed one of theirs. They will come for you.”
Jyani frowned, hoping he could have avoided that truth for a little while longer. “Let them.”
“Good. You will need bravery.” Haddizar glanced without emotion at the mutilated bodies around them. Jyani didn’t want to know the circumstances behind such a man. His own gaze fixed on one of the dead Albinos, and regret and apprehension washed over him.
“This isn’t over for either of us, is it?” Jyani didn’t know what else to ask. He wanted to take his medicine and walk away.
“You saw my heart. You know my desire. What is it you desire?”
Jyani smiled, remembering Habez’s unbroken smile after their first kiss. “I’m going to make something right.”
© 2017 by Brent Lambert
A bit of Cajun soul, a sprinkling of queer and a whole lotta black was the recipe the Almighty threw together for Brent Lambert. A full-fledged military brat, he is consistently struck by wanderlust and has a keen sense of things never really being permanent. A writer with an insurmountable TBR list, all he's really looking for is a ten-book epic fantasy series full of black queer folks that ends up with five different spin-offs and a ride at Universal. So he figures he's going to have to write it. Previously, he has been published in FIYAH, a literary magazine specifically focusing on Black SFF. He can also be found on Twitter @BrentCLambert, gushing over books and poking authors for answers.