Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Chapter 23 - Those Who Must Lead

Ramses used his bare hands to dig through the splintered ruin.  Blood dripped from the palms of his ravaged hands and hissed when coming into contact with the flame heated wreckage, cauterizing, reinjuring and cauterizing the wounds over and over again.  He could hear nothing above the roaring blaze and the blood furiously rushing through his ears.  As if his heart were a compass and his spirit the engine of uncommon strength, Ramses bulldozed through the wreckage.  Throwing off the helping hands of his fellow Midlings, he reached into the scorching niche he'd managed to carve out of the wreckage Ramses lifted an impossibly large log and cast it aside as if it were insubstantial.  When he pulled forth the limp body of Evera fellow Midlings again crowded forward to assist but Ramses shrugged them off as if dust from his shoulders.

Face smudged with soot and tears Ramses carried Evera past the line of scorched and burning trees and stopped to lower her to the mossy forest floor on a slight incline. Ramses called out, "Someone find Old Mother. Our leader needs a healer!" 
Ramses knelt forward, head in his hands and sobbed.  He heard the urgent whispers over his shoulder.
“Old Mother.  Who knows where she is?” implored one woman.
“What of Alif?  Has he been found yet?” asked an older man with a shrill voice.
“She looks as if she is sleeping,” said another woman in a singsong voice.  “Not a scratch on her, not a smudge of dirt.”  The woman laid a hand on Ramses shoulder.  “So very peaceful, so very sweet.  Look at her.”
Ramses lifted his head.  The woman was right.  Evera lay as serenely as if she were only asleep, but something rankled in the back of his mind.  He’d seen the explosion, felt the hot wave of it, was nearly deafened by it.  It was too much to hope she was still alive.
Alif’s cracked voice rang out from the darkness beyond the fire, "I am here.  Know that I am fine.  Someone please find Old Mother."
A rise of hopeful murmurs was followed by Old Mother’s urgent cry as it cut through the darkness and desperation.  "I am here!  Allow me to pass you foolish gawkers!  Let me through!"
Old mother passed through a widening divide in the crowd of fire shadowed Midlings. Behind her, with the help of another Midling brother, Alif hobbled forward as quickly as he was able to manage.  His clothes were ravaged and singed and in places, bright red blistered flesh showed beneath.  A ragged gash opened the pale flesh of his chin dripping bright blood down his shirt front.  Ramses moved away to allow Old Mother to administer to Evera and Alif knelt on the opposite side.
Old Mother pressed fingers just below Evera's jaw and leaned forward, her ear near Evera's slightly parted mouth, her eyes watching for movement at Evera's chest. Time seemed to pause in that moment as frightened Midlings leaned forward in collective anticipation.
Old Mother no longer had doubts that the recent perimeter incursions the Midlings had been plagued with were caused by the Scientists. They'd never been able to catch the culprits, but now, thought Old Mother as she tried to control her own roiling emotions, they all knew what the monsters had been up to. They'd placed a bomb in Evera's cabin in an effort to divide and confuse a force already compromised by subjugation and poverty and hunger.
If Evera were dead their plans to go into Sinistral, to retrieve Airun, to sabotage Scientist power and control over the Believers and Midlings would move forward as planned. But the motivation would change and by extension so too the ultimate outcome. The fight would not be the silent underground coup that they had planned but instead a bloody battle fueled by the need for revenge. In the end, the real losers would be the Midlings and Believers because they were not equipped with the resources to wage a conspicuous battle.
If Evera was alive the people would still insist on following her lead and considering what had just occurred, she couldn’t possible in a position to lead them.  As a result their plans might falter, weaken, lose its momentum in a way that would endanger their entire mission.
As essential as Evera was to their cause, thought Old Mother, she was not more essential than the cause itself.
Ramses held his trembling hands out in front of himself, his glistening gaze locked on the muddy blood pooling in them.  The only pain he felt was that of his heart ripping in two.  He spoke without looking up.  "Is she alive?" he said barely above a whisper.

Old Mother sat up, her fingers sliding from Evera's neck, to her inner arm, to her wrist in search of a pulse.  Outraged cries burst from the silent crowd, staccato like. They wanted to know about their leader. The wall of fear and tension was more consuming even than the heat from the blaze that crackled behind them.
In poorly controlled rage, Ramses said, "Do not waste our time.  Tell us about our sister."  He lifted his gaze, his eyes as red and as hot as the flames.
Old Mother slowly pushed herself from the ground, hands on stiff old knees. Even as her heart beat wildly, rage whipping through them all like a contagion, her heart was simultaneously breaking.  She opened her mouth to speak, but found the words too thick, the sentiment too consuming to verbalize.  Old Mother placed a hand on Ramses’ shoulder, who still knelt on the ground, as much to steady her trembling as to steady his rage. She shook her head in an effort to order her thoughts and then finally managed to say, "Evera is gone."
Siti held out her arms to signal for Seraph and Michael to stop and then she flattened herself against the cold stone and glass exterior of the building.  It was all she could do to remain standing as the pain in her head was as she imagined a searing hot poker would feel if it had been inserted into her ear and twirled about stirring her brains.  When she managed to open her eyes, Michael and Seraph where gathered protectively around her, worry darkening their faces. 
“What is it?  What’s wrong?” asked Seraph running a hand through his bristle of blond hair.
“Whatever it is,” whispered Michael swinging his gaze to the left thinking he’d heard something, and then dismissing it, “it had better wait.  This isn’t exactly an opportune time to have an issue.”
Siti swallowed hard and met their gazes, her hand clutching at the side of her head.  She squeezed her eyes again to press back to explosive pain that had accompanied Honor’s message.  Then she smiled, confusing her two friends.  “Whatever you do,” she said chuckling, “never get on Honor’s bad side.”  Seeing that she had confused them even further Siti explained, “Honor just coasted, right into my mind, with the force of a hurricane.”
“What’d she say?” asked the two men in unison.
“That she’s not in danger,” said Siti jerkily, still trying to shake off the pain in her head, “and that we should not follow.”
“Not in danger?  That’s ludicrous.  She’s with McKinley,” said Seraph stating the obvious. 
“I know,” said Siti.
“You know what he’s capable of, even if she doesn’t.”
“I know.  But I agree, I don’t think McKinley would hurt her.  As sick and twisted as he is,” said Siti, sliding down the wall into a squatting position as her world began to swim in front of her eyes, “I think he considers her a prize.  He’d rather keep her, than destroy her.”
Michael crossed bare muscled arms over his chest.  “Are you going to listen to her?  She’s just a kid.”
Siti closed her eyes again and said through gritted teeth, “I promise.”  Only then did the pain recede and the world stopped spinning.  Looking up at her companions Siti said, “I have no choice but to do what Honor has asked.  She could very well incapacitate me, permanently.”  Siti rose to a standing position.
“So now what?” enquired Michael.  “We just let her go?”
Siti nodded.  “Yes, and we do what Honor as asked.  We go find Truth and we bring him to her.”
“You mean just give McKinley what he wants?”
Siti nodded again.  “And what he fears most.”
“Well,” came a voice out of the darkness.  They all turned to see two silver orbs hover in mid-air.  “You won’t have far to look.”


  1. Nice buildup. I see a pretty decisive battle in the future, if the Midlings do nothing rash.

  2. And the tension just ratchets up even further! I'm excited to see where this goes. :)

  3. This chapter doesn't actually link from chapter 22 or 24.