Ramses jumped back, overturning the chair in which he’d been sitting. “I thought…” Words deserted him. His gaze swung between Old Mother and Alif, questioning in his eyes. Ragged gasps ripped at his lungs and his vision dimmed momentarily. Ramses blinked hard to stay conscious. Unfortunately, before he could reign in the eddy of emotions, he was on his knees retching.
Old Mother knelt beside him. “Go easy, son.”
“Go easy?” Ramses pointed to the bed where Evera sat. He wasn’t the superstitious type, so certainly he didn’t think that Evera had risen from the dead, but he’d spent the last three hours since pulling her body from the wreckage in black grief. “I thought you were dead.”
Alif righted the chair and coaxed Ramses from the floor. “Come on, man. You can’t fall apart on us now.” Once seated, Ramses accepted a cup of water from Alif. He drank and then wiped his mouth on his sleeve. Ramses waited for Evera to speak; he needed an explanation, but Old Mother spoke instead.
“We came into the knowledge that an attempt would be made on Evera’s life.” Old Mother’s voice cracked and she closed her eyes as if to steady herself, “but we didn’t know when, and we never guessed it would be so violent and so…extensive. A bomb in these woods?” Old Mother shook her head, disgust etched plainly on her face. “That threatens the lives of all of you. The resulting fire could have destroyed not just Evera, but your homes and the forest itself.”
“We were fortunate, this time,” said Alif.
“Allowing you and everyone else think that Evera had been killed was a necessary sacrifice in order to determine who among us is a traitor.”
Silent until now, Evera slid off the bed and went to stand by the fireplace. She held her open palms in front of the flames. “In the last couple of months we have experienced several Scientist initiated perimeter encroachments. In response we’ve doubled security.” Evera turned to face Ramses. “Twenty-four hour patrols. Seven armed two-man teams roam our woods. Every tree-top lookout post is manned. Still, instead of getting better, the situation seems to be getting worse.” Evera took a few steps forward until she was only an arms length away from Ramses. “While we’ve never been a favorite of the Scientists, they’ve never been as bothered by our existence as they are now.” Evera shrugged. “We are Midlings, after all. As far as the Scientists know, we’ve taken the middle course. We haven’t been a threat. Except, we really are.” Evera held Ramses in an unblinking stare.
For the second time that evening, Ramses sprung up from the chair, toppling it to the floor behind him. “Are you blaming me?” He looked to Old Mother, then Alif. “Am I suspect?”
Evera placed a hand on his chest. “Of course not, cousin.”
Ramses couldn’t live with the knowledge that Evera could believe him a traitor. She was the wife of Airun, the only person in the world he’d ever loved more than his wife Meager. He searched Evera’s face and his heart lightened. She was telling the truth. She didn’t believe he was the traiter.
“The only reason that the Scientists would direct their attention to us with such persistence, is if someone from within our community, someone who knew that our sympathies, my sympathies, were inclined toward the Believer cause, had informed them.”
Ramses’ eyes darkened, hooded by a contracted and lowered brow. “Who?”
Evera signaled to Alif with a nod. Alif, who’d been leaning against the table, straitened and using a cane for support, limped to the door leading the only other room in the cabin, a storage closet. Alif reached in and pulled the struggling rope bound woman out into the dim light.
Siti, Michael, Seraph, and Truth made it back to the sewers without incident. McKinley had commandeered a major portion of the drone and police force to search for and apprehend Malak and Truth and to escort himself and his new captives back to his compound. As a result, the streets were virtually empty, but for the occasional patrol car. It took less than fifteen minutes to make it back to Siti’s tent deep underground.
“We’ll be back in the morning,” said Seraph as he and Michael exited Siti’s tent, the flaps falling closed on their own. Truth followed the two men with an intent gaze until he could no longer see traces of their internal fire in the air. He turned to see Siti standing on the far side of the tent, arm outstretched as she motioned for him to come closer.
Truth blinked rapidly and used a hand to shield his squinting eyes. “You’re ablaze,” he said, moving forward anyway. He held out his hand and placed it in hers.
“Aren’t we all?”
“Not like you.”
Truth and Siti sat opposite of each other on the cushions. “Do you remember me?”
“Yes,” said Truth contradicting himself by shaking his head in the negative. “I remember your light. It’s silver. It hurts. You are,” Truth dropped his head as he tried to find the right words, “from before memory. Before any of this.” It sounded silly, even to Truth, but it was true. Truth knew that Siti had been a part of his life before his time with Malak when he was a small child. He couldn’t recall details, or names, or even places, but he did know that he had been loved, a sentiment now so foreign it was almost repellent.
Truth pulled his hand from Siti’s grasp and scooted a couple of feet away. He turned his gaze away from her. Being near her was like sitting in a fog. He couldn’t think straight and he couldn’t remember what he wanted. Truth’s skin crawled with the sudden irrational fear that being near Siti would weaken him.
As if she hadn’t noticed Truth’s rebuff, Siti said, “I never realized how strong your sister is.” She massaged her temples, moaning. “She could’ve turned my brains into oatmeal. Remind me to never make her angry.”
Interest piqued Truth turned back to face Siti. He’d listened to Siti and Seraph and Michael discuss Honor as they’d made their way back to Siti’s sewer home. All he knew was that Honor had spent the last few weeks living with Siti, and that she was challenging. “Does she get angry often?”
“Too often,” said Siti with a chuckle, “but considering everything, I can’t blame her.”
“Everything?” Truth’s squinting gaze was now intent upon Siti. He leaned forward, as if this would help him capture every word she spoke.
“Her life has been the antithesis of yours.” Siti studied Truth. His facial features were very like his sister’s, but the intensity behind them was vastly different. Where Honor hummed with unstable energy, as if her skin barely contained it, Truth’s presence was as solid and cool as ice. Siti was keenly aware though, that this wasn’t necessarily a mark of having less intense emotions. There was something to be said for control, many things, in fact, but not all of them were good. “Now that I think of it, Honor is the antithesis of you. You’ll see for yourself soon enough.” Siti hoisted herself from the cushions. “We’ll eat and then we’ll plan.” She rummaged through a trunk that served as a table. She removed a brown paper wrapped bundle of jerky and a tin of tea. At the stove Siti used an iron poker to rearrange the coals before wetting them with fuel and dropping in a lit match. She shook the kettle to determine if there was enough water inside to make them each a cup of tea. “I have somewhat of a history with McKinley, and while I don’t know exactly what he has in mind for Honor I think it’s safe to assume, it isn’t good.”
A vein of frigid air crept up Siti’s spine causing her to shudder violently. She dropped the kettle wasting all of the precious clean water down the front of her dress and onto the floor. Siti’s dress stiffened as the water froze. She hardly registered this though, as her full attention had turned to Truth. He stood, eyes closed, face as still as stone.
“What is it?”
Truth opened his eyes. “I think we have even less time than you figured.” Truth’s hands shook at his sides. “I never realized until now that all along, all these years, no matter the distance, I could feel Honor. Her fire has kept me warm.” Truth clutched his head. “Her fire is my fire.”
Siti shook her head. “I don’t understand.”
When Truth spoke again, steam issued with each word. “Something is wrong. I can’t feel her.”