I have an odd dream. Senseless—Godolia, like a mouth in the desert. It breathes in.
In comes the world. Out come its Gods.
I think, in the midst of that divine hunger, I become someone else.
He is there when I wake from it. The Zenith. Just a boy. The only one left.
I was close. I was very, very close.
He stands at the foot of my bed. I crawl toward him, dropping my brow to the frame.
“Now,” Enyo says. I feel his eyes, dark as Phantom skin. His voice is gentle. “Do you feel like yourself again?”
“Yes, my Zenith,” I whisper, closing my eyes against the feel of sheer, splintering relief. “I am feeling quite like myself again.”
I was so lost. She … made me lost.
I have done the worst to him, to my nation. And still he saved me, plucked me from the depths of the Gearbreakers’ corruption, instead of slaughtering me like I slaughtered them.
Lost, but found. And home again.
In Godolia. This holy place.
This merciful place.
I guess I do believe in deities, after all.
There’s supposed to be millions of them, so when I pray, it’s really more of a blanket statement than pinning it to just one. One doesn’t seem like enough.
My head bowed over my knees, the metal shell of the transport shudders around me. As I sit shoved between two guards amid about a dozen others—which seems excessive, seeing as my wrists and ankles are bound, and a clamp is fastened over my mouth because as of late I’ve been what some would consider “bite-y”—I work on sending a careful, concise message up to the heavens. They must be crowded and loud, and I want to get this right.
You’re assholes, I pray, but maybe that isn’t the right word for what I’m doing. Is there another word for when humans speak to Gods? Did we bother to make one? You’re assholes, every single one of you.
The train slows, and the transport doors glide open, spilling light. It stings my eyes; must be months since I’ve been outside.
I go limp when they try to shove me to my feet.
Because it’s been months. And the only reason they’d have to move me is to kill me.
I am going to come for every last one of you.
They lift me easily. I let my head loll back, the sun warming my bruises. It feels like spring. It feels like they harvested me from my grave just so they could kill me again for kicks.
I will rip your divinity out by its roots.
The transport rumbles away, and my eyes follow it to a massive spire rising a few dozen feet to the left, its black throat craning for the sky. A cannon. I realize, faintly, that we’re on the wall ringing the city. Light glints off the bleached stretch of the Badlands, webbed with the metal of train tracks. I can just see the point where the smog of Godolia fades to blue sky.
It all feels out of place—me muttering profanities into the broad shoulder flattening my cheek, the raised platform set at the wall’s edge, this ugly, ugly place and its billion people pressed in like a rotted spot in the sand. Random things dumped into the blank part of a map.
Save me and I won’t do shit for any of you, I pray as they lug me up onto the platform, promptly tossing me onto my hands and knees. The plastic surface is slick with humidity, but I still drop my brow to it and close my eyes. I need a little rest. I need there not to be so much buildup.
You dealt me a rotten world, and the very least you can do is not let it kill me like this.
Footsteps shake the platform, but no one hauls me upright. I don’t really want to get my brains blown out with my face already touching the ground, so I roll onto my back, but the light still sears, and I have to put my hands to my face, shackles awkward but blissfully cool against my cheeks. The breeze picks up in just about the nicest way possible. There’s not even an unreasonable amount of sand scraping my hair.
A few weeks ago, someone politely informed me my entire family was dead. That hours after Heavensday, Paladins were sent to crack the Winterward ice. That everyone I have ever loved probably froze before they could drown.
Everyone except for one, but she’s dead, too.
And that is entirely on me.
I’m coming for you either way. It’s your decision whether it’s now or in a few years, when you’ll have time to get ready for me, or apologize, or just die, or bring them all back, just … just bring them all back—
“Get her to her feet.”
They pull me up. I go limp again, chin bumping my collarbone. They don’t find it as funny as I do, and someone steps forward and grasps my jaw. I wince, their nails slipping beneath skin. I expect to open my eyes to a gun between my brows—which makes me really not want to open my eyes, to just let this darkness bleed easily into the next, barely a transition, hardly a difference—Oh Gods—I don’t want this I don’t want this—Save me please please I’m scared to die—
Then I open my eyes anyway, because I refuse to go out both begging and blind, not after everything … and the panic hesitates.
It’s her, the blue of the sky behind her, and the world doesn’t seem so empty anymore.
She’s cut her hair.
Those perfect, chestnut curls scrape her chin, dark lashes drawn low so she can look at me properly. Backlit by the sun, her glare is vicious, and she’s alive, and she’s alive, and she’s alive.
There’s no way in hells I’m letting them kill me now.
“Should I take off her mask?” Sona asks someone I don’t care about, but who seems to respond in the affirmative, because she unhooks the bind from around my mouth.
I try to kiss her, and she hits me across the face.
“Uh-huh, completely deserved that,” I rasp out of cracked lips, which split even farther when I grin. My vision is still tilting when I look back at her, cheekbone stinging. “So, we’re getting out of here?”
I haven’t spoken in weeks, and my words peel out drily, incomprehensible.
They must be incomprehensible, because Sona fixes me with a strange look. She doesn’t answer.
Also, instead of unshackling me, she moves behind me and hooks her arm around mine, one hand tangling in my hair and forcing my chin skyward.
My heartbeat spills up my throat. This isn’t right. She isn’t right.
Her lips brush my ear, and mine part, and I think to myself please please please—why would I pray to the Gods when she’s right here—and Sona says, “You will show respect for your Zenith.”
I start laughing.
It comes out splintered and gasping, and I can’t stop it. Even when she punches me again, even when I hit the platform and the shock snaps my teeth, even as she leans over to shake me, curls floating off her chin. Because of course it would be her of all people, one of the unlucky few strong enough to survive corruption. Thoughts ripped out and dropped back in with new roots.
We just need to start running, I think, dazed, as Sona lifts me onto my knees and forces my head back again. We just need to get home.
Someone else leans over me—a tall boy with dark hair pulled into a small knot, and sharp black eyes, a sullenness to his mouth that in a flash of hurt reminds me of Xander. Low freaking blow.
And then it goes lower, because there’s an insignia on his jacket that really shouldn’t be there, really shouldn’t be anywhere now. Because it means we missed one. We failed.
“I’m sorry,” I rasp, and keep saying it. Apologies bubble up my throat, my rambling soon smudged by laughter again when I realize she thinks I’m begging for my life, and that these words aren’t for her. Because I’ve doomed her here. I thought I was leaving her to a Zenithless world, to Godolia in a state of chaos. I was going to die, and maybe she was going to hate me for it, but it didn’t matter because she would be alive. She would fight and get out, and it was going to be okay because she had people to go home to.
Copyright © 2022 by Zoe Hana Mikuta