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Thursday, March 1, 2012

Chapter 30 - Regroup


Siti, Taha, Honor, and Truth managed to navigate through the corridors of McKinley’s mansion without being caught.  Siti wasn’t likely to forget the reason for their success for a very long time.  Taha met them as they exited the basement where Honor's apartment had been.  He’d been waiting for them at the head of the stairs to the basement, as if he’d known exactly where they were.  Later Siti would learn that he had known.  He had maintained a mental link with Truth the entire time. 
The screams they’d heard while in McKinley’s basement had belonged to some of the members of McKinley's staff.  Taha had managed to insert himself into the psyche of many of them, suggesting certain actions.  Passing through the corridors of McKinley’s mansion on their way out, they’d seen the results of these suggestions.  Around one corner, they found a young woman who’d been scrubbing the floors on her hands and knees.  She kept plunging her head into a bucket of soapy water in an attempt to drown herself.  She tried to fight against the command, alternately removing her head from the water just before passing out.  She sobbed like a terrified baby between dunkings.  When they passed through the formal dining hall, they found a man who lay twitching on the floor.  His eyeballs were shredded and oozing vitreous.  He held a steak knife in his left hand.

Seraph and Michael stepped from the shadows of a line of shrubs when the group exited the mansion.  “We heard noises,” said Michael.  His dark forehead was beaded with sweat.  “What happened?”
Siti shook her head.  “Now is not the time,” she said looking back toward the house.  “We should get out of here while we can.”  Siti grasped Taha’s arm as she headed away.  “Come child,” she whispered, half afraid he would refuse. 
Reared in the sewers from the age of twelve, Taha’s  talents had been strictly guided and honed.  Siti had always known the potential danger of his strength and she had hoped to protect him and others. She'd seen what could happen when one person became too accustomed to using their power; it was an evil eventuality for all involved.  She didn’t want the same for Taha.
Honor was silent until they reached the city, but Siti could tell that she was seething with dark emotions.  She maintained an obvious distance from her twin while Truth strained to draw closer to her. 
The streets were teeming with an increased Authority presence, more than Siti had seen since the riots that lead to Believer agreement to take residence on Segher many years earlier, however they were safely entering the hidden entrance to the sewers within two hours.  Glad she'd managed to free Honor, Siti was as yet unwilling to count it as a gain.  McKinley’s arrogance and tenacity would never allow him to leave them alone. 
Siti wanted to talk to the three young people, but she was most interested to learn how Taha had managed to simply "walk away," as he had claimed.  There were far too many unknowns. 
If not for Truth’s need of Honor, where would his allegiances really lie? 
Despite their obvious dissimilarity in belief and sense of duty Siti believed that Honor carried a deep abiding love for her twin.  But what if Honor and Truth could never agree on the same path?  Would Honor willingly forge a relationship with Truth, if only to ensure his allegiance? 
Once inside her tent, Siti prepared tea for everyone.  “Honor, we had no choice.  We had to leave while we could, but that doesn't mean we won't go back."  Siti held Honor’s face between her hands.  “We will go back.”
Honor nodded, but she’d already turned in on herself.  While Honor seemed harder and colder she was obviously more resolved than before.  Siti only hoped that this would translate into her being more disciplined because the Believer resistance would need that now, especially since Taha seemed to have lost something in his time with McKinley. 
"Then we should decide how we’re going to do this.  There are many people in that mansion, cooks, maids, a couple of gardeners, there is even a woman who..." Honor's voice faded and her face grew solemn.  She picked at invisible lint on the carpet.  She took a deep breath before beginning again.  “McKinley has denied these poor people everything, including their dignity.”
"Right," said Siti. 
“McKinley claimed to want me, need me, adore me, and yet he didn’t even allow me a shred of dignity.  Imagine the condition of the others, the ones he considers expendable.”
“You should be the one to start with the ideas.  What do you think should be our fist step?"
"What about me?"
Honor turned slowly to meet her brother's gaze.  "What about you?"
"I may have ideas of value to offer, especially since I've been to McKinley's compound on several occasions in the past.  I have insight into what he wants.  I can help."
"You didn't want to help before."  Honor's voice was as cool as steel and just as hard.  Siti winced.
"I will help," said Truth reaching out to take Honor’s hand, "if only because it will please you."  He smiled.  It seemed a genuine smile, but Honor was hardly swayed.
"Why for me?"
"Does it matter?" said Taha leaning back on the cushions.  His eyes were heavy-lidded and the smirk on his face made Siti feel a pang of disgust.  "He's telling the truth.  That’s all you need to know, Honor.  I can tell that he is.  I can hear his thoughts."  Taha crossed his arms.  “If he tries to lie to you, I’ll be the first to let you know.”
Truth bolted to his feet.  "Stay out of my head."
Taha laughed.  "That's about as difficult as asking me to stop breathing.  Your thoughts are like water running downstream.  I can't help but get wet."  Taha bristled with pride.  Fears rankled, Siti believed that pride was the first step to losing Taha.  Siti knelt in front of Taha.  She clasped his hands in hers.  “Do you remember the lessons I’ve taught you about pride?”
Taha stopped smiling.  He nodded.  "I remember."
Truth lowered himself back to the carpet and pulled his knees under his chin, but the look on his face showed plainly that he would not so easily forget Taha’s jibe.
"In the beginning," said Siti tightening her hold on Taha’s hands, "after your mother passed, when things were so difficult for you, I taught you how to reign in all destructive emotions.  I taught you how to control them.  Anger, pain, arrogance."
"But what if I don't want to?"
"You must," she said nearly hissing.  "If you don't, this gift, this curse, will consume you."  Siti reached out and touched his cheek.  “Don’t forget the consequences.”
Taha heaved a great pained breath.  His bottom lip quivered and he leaned forward, pressing his forehead on Siti's shoulder.  "I don't want to be like her."
Siti patted Taha’s head.  "Yes, you do.  What you don't want is to come to the same end.  Your mother was a wonderful woman.  You'd be a fool not to want to be like her.  She was good and kind and decent.  But she wasn't as strong as her power, and that power took her.  You mustn't let that happen to you."  Siti led Taha in a series of breathing exercises during which she recited from memory verses of their holy text.  Each time Siti completed a line, Taha would repeat it.
Honor closed her eyes and mouthed in time with Taha.  She knew those lines from some lost time long ago.  The words brought her solace and comfort, so much so that she passed into the space between sleep and wakefulness, aware and yet withdrawn.  She didn’t rouse until she heard a familiar voice and the sound of footfalls reverberating off the concrete and brick sewer tunnel walls outside the tent. 
"Siti?  Are you here?"  The voice belonged to Magellan.  Siti rose from her crouch in front of Taha, but Honor waved her back.  Siti assented and turned her attention back to Taha.
"Siti is busy right now,” said Honor as she exited the tent.  “What do you need?”  Honor tried to control her annoyance with Magellan.  She hadn’t forgotten how he’d tried to extort money from her days earlier when she’d tried to find her way out of the sewers.
"You have no idea how glad I am to see your face, girl," said Evera as she stepped from behind Magellan. Evera dove forward to embrace her friend.  "I worried when we entered at the outskirts of Sinistral," said Evera as she stepped back to look into Honor's face, "that you'd been caught.  I couldn’t think of any reason there would be so many Authority on the move at one time."
"Why?  What have you seen?"
"In just the last hour, the number of Authority on the streets seems to have multiplied by three or four.  They're patrolling in groups at almost every block and they are armed to the teeth."
"You’re right.  I am probably the blame for that,” said Honor.
Evera's eyes widened.  "Yeah?  What’s the deal?"
"There’s a lot to tell, my friend, and you’ve arrived just in time.  We're about to make plans to go back to McKinley's compound, and we could use all the help we can get."
"Back?  So you've been there."  Evera grasped Honor by the shoulders.  "Is Airun there?"
"Yes,” said Honor smiling.  “Sister, he has made you proud.”

1 comment:

  1. Taha is a little scary. I hope they're successful in keeping him from turning evil. It must be a strong temptation when one is so young and with such a powerful gift.

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