THE SUN BEAT mercilessly down on the flat, beige landscape, a sight that after so many years was familiar and lovely rather than daunting. Heyd merely adjusted the cloth wrapped around his head and face, thinner and lighter than the dark colors that covered his body, and measured his steps so that he didn’t sweat for the first few minutes. Behind him, the gates threw a thin shadow, but at this distance they nearly blended into the landscape, looking like another random pile of rock.
“Heyd,” Mohand’s deep voice grunted. The Feeler hadn’t even turned and looked to see the churning mixture of apprehension and curiosity painting Heyd’s face. He felt it, true to his label. As usual, Heyd fell back into step without a hint of disobedience. Mohand, one of the Leaders of the desert camp, was as powerful a Feeler as they came, and despite the few people on whom it had been necessary, Heyd did not want to invite his might.
“Where are we going?” he asked again, expecting silence or vagueness as an answer like the last five times. But Geova turned to him, rust-colored eyes peeking out from her own wrappings. Heyd had never seen eyes like hers, twin swirls of several shades of red, gold, and brown. They danced like live flames in the sunlight, and Heyd momentarily forgot his questioning.
But her eyes were narrowed in a frown. Have you not Seen it? Her voice echoed, and Heyd heard it but not with his ears. She was a Seer one level below him, and knew he could hear her thoughts. Heyd shrugged. He’d seen flashes of a place when he blinked–he always had. He’d seen glimpses of the flat, vast desert before he’d began his life there years earlier. And lately, he’d seen a dark grey door, the steel unrusted despite the dented and tarnished wall around it.
“Where’s Leven?” Heyd tried a new question, realizing that it could not be an accident that it was he and two of the three Leaders. But he was met with silence, and he resisted huffing in annoyance.
The Base. All in Sunscape are taken to it, when they are ready to see. You’re strong, Heyd, but you are still not yourself, despite your years with us. I hope this may help you. Geova’s thoughts turned to static as she muted herself. Heyd supposed he could push, but that would be cruel, and it was basic manners between Others of the same kind to get out of each other’s’ heads when expelled.
A few minutes later, Geova’s thoughts still circling his mind, Mohand’s hand clapped his shoulder and tugged him to a stop. Heyd felt his gasp leave his chest as he stared at the ditch, the walls looking as though the flat, hard desert ground had slid as rubble. In the middle stood a small, dark grey dome, a handle squarely in the center on top. Geova slid down the ditch easily, the hinges squeaking loudly as she pulled the handle. The top opened, letting Heyd see the first few thin rungs that descended into darkness.
MEEDRA BURNED. Octavia’s mouth twisted somewhere between a smirk and a grimace as she felt satisfaction swell in her, but tried not to allow it to cloud her judgement. The eastern side of Meedra lit up the night, as though the stars and moon decorating the sky instead lay burning in the dirt. People created a cacophony of confusion, anger, and fear, they shouted alarm and barked orders, cursed at luck and created the perfect diversion. Octavia had smothered a wince, however, when small, scared cries had soon joined the fray. But she slipped away, moving as fast as the shadows back to the center of the camptown, and felt the torch fall beside her. She kept moving, knowing it was catching the straw-strewn sides of buildings same as before. The streets were choked with people now, and she blended seamlessly as she ducked under arms and pulled herself over legs.
It felt like forever until she saw her brother or Greyar. Atlas’ silhouette was in a doorway, lit with flames she had set only minutes ago, and despite his own slight stature, smaller and thinner bodies were knocking into his sides as they rushed out of the burning place. Their twisting revealed curves and thin cloth that slightly blurred the flames behind them, and this time, Octavia did let herself smile. He had listened to her after all.
It took more aggravating, chaotic minutes for Octavia to writhe her way to his side, setting a death grip on his forearm so that she couldn’t be swept away. He glanced at her, but his eyes didn’t even seem to register her identity before his attention was back on the two girls standing in front of him, only centimeters outside the building’s heated walls.
“What’s going on?” one asked shakily, voice soft. Her hair looked gold in the light as it spilled in sheltering tangles around her face and hunched shoulders. Before Atlas could respond, the other had stepped forward, the first girl’s arm in a grip similar to Octavia’s.
“What’s the meaning of this?” she asked harshly, the accusation pinning Octavia in place. She felt something in her rise at the girl, but Atlas answered her.
“We’re giving you a chance to leave this place,” he said, but Octavia barely heard him over the noise. “But we’ve got to go now.”
She saw his mouth continue to move, but the words were too muffled for her to hear. Octavia deemed them irrelevant, however, when the two girls and Atlas moved forward,and the four descended into the jungle of bodies again.
THEY WERE GONE. Kyr’s vision swung wildly, trying not to get caught up in the frenzy of confused people, but also choking on his own confusion and fear. Rossen had gripped his forearm and pulled them practically headfirst into the street, but then a flash of bright red light and an especially hard shove against Kyr’s shoulder had wrenched the fingers lose. When Kyr had looked up again, Rossen was gone. Annar wasn’t behind him either.
Kyr forced his body to pitch forward, knowing that standing there dumbly wasn’t going to help him. The camp was on fire, its people pushing and screaming with nearly no direction, and they were all closed in by the thick walls. He had to get out. And he knew exactly what would happen if he didn’t.
His vision blurred and the colors brightened, and the nameless strangers surrounding him became familiar faces, contorted with pain and tears but still recognizable. The morphed as if made of shadows, looming over a child and uncaring if they trampled him, shoving with a force that didn’t care for the gangly, thin limbs of barely a young man. A little boy stood still, fingers clutching his bottom lip as though he could catch the sobs that ripped out of his chest and the tears that streamed down his ash-covered cheeks, cleaning them as quickly as they dirtied again. He was a tiny salmon attempting to swim upstream, a torrent of effort that barely managed to stay in one place and make a bump in the rushing current around it. No one paid him any mind, he didn’t matter anymore as every human ran to wherever their scattered minds thought safety could be. No parents called his name, or if they did, he couldn’t hear.
Kyr grit his teeth as something slammed the back of his head, willing his body not to fall with the impact. He would have cursed both gods and humans if he’d had the breath, but he urged his legs to pick up the pace and twist themselves through the crowd. Annar and Rossen had disappeared, and Kyr couldn’t be sure if a tall silhouette against a spurt of flames or a flash of dark hair was one of them or just the tricks that chaos played. It couldn’t matter right now. Kyr had to get out. He let himself be propelled by the momentum of the mass, seeing an open gap of darkness ahead. The gate. The open gate.
Another force slammed into his front, but it wasn’t a concentrated elbow or knee. It was smaller and slighter, and hit his entire stomach, enough to make him exhale sharply and but thankfully not lose his balance. The girl who hit him was less lucky as she tripped, and Kyr focused just in time to see the top of dark hair fall lower. Instinctively, his arm shot out and hooked around her waist. He couldn’t just let her be lost under feet and bodies right there in front of him, and he let himself be between her and the fall for a split second. The weight was no longer heavy and his leg stepped around her, the other ready to follow, and nails stung into the skin of his wrist and the shadows and flames in his vision flashed, blending together in an instant before fading almost completely.
His eyes were filled with bright light. Light brown and yellow swirled in his periphery, illuminated by the harsh light that Kyr would have squinted against if he had time. Dark eyes were the size of moons in front of him, surrounded by a mass of swirling, equally dark tangles. The pale face dominated his vision, the wide eyes screaming shock and betrayal and anger and Kyr felt his chest constrict as his organs were being squeezed, and though she looked up at him, Kyr knew with every bit of his aching body that she held all the power and it was by her will alone that he was not falling to his knees.
“Kyr,” her voice echoed in his mind, even as he watched her mouth open and move.
Kyr reeled back and stood still, holding his position upstream just long enough to see the girl lift herself off his arm. She turned and the flames threw light onto the dark thick tangles and pale face. He wrapped his arm around her waist again, tighter, and positioned her with her back a hair’s breadth from his chest.
“Get to the gate,” he screamed in her ear, and she nodded silently.
He didn’t think about her lack of protest, or her legs running exactly with his so that their bodies stayed close but didn’t trip over each other as they ran through the street.
THE WORLD WAS quiet and distant in the crowd, the stars and sky snuffed into darkness as arms and heads and even torsos tangled above Octavia. She didn’t dare to look directly up for longer than the split-second, or else risk the elbows and chins that slammed into the top and back of her head to hit her eyes. Even the voices and crashing of burnt structures were muffled into a quiet buzz as the mass of directionless, panicked people pressed in so tightly her sense had no room to cast out further. She felt flesh and the edges of muscle under her nails and she sank them in deeper, hoping it was still her brother’s arm.
A grip landed on her wrist, and Octavia hissed as she felt her bones groan under the strength. Another quick glance back recognized the hand and arm and body attached, and Octavia would have whimpered in relief had she had the breath. But his eyes glinted hard silver and she understood–keep moving.
Every few seconds she would suddenly see the people around her as a particularly sensitive chunk of material caught on fire and the flames shot out to illuminate the night. They all looked the same. Eyes wide and overflowing with fear and anger, mouths twisted open to scream for their companions, cheeks stained black except for the clean tracks left by tears.
Something caught her foot and Octavia would have collapsed if her grip on Atlas hadn’t remained. She looked down, suspended between her anchor that continued to move forward and her ankle that sluggishly unhooked itself from the ground. But it wasn’t the ground. The hair–uncolored in the darkness and dirt–was matted with mud and plastered to the ground, the limbs disfigured and in a color unnatural even in the night. The torso was bent at a variety of angles only possible by the snapping of ribs and spine, Octavia’s foot finally pulling free of a dent large enough to even be a foothold. The thin, colorful fabric of her dress pressed into the ground like the flower petals Octavia used to press between stones. Righting herself, Octavia let Atlas pull her from the dead prostitute, and she no longer felt as troubled by the people who screamed in fear as their wretched home burned.