Nowhere to Run.
Kiaan woke to the smell of smoke and a sharp pain shooting up his right arm. Panicking, he shot out of the bed and looked around. His arm throbbed suddenly. Kiaan winced and looked down, eyes widening as he saw the tattoo glowing blood red.
No… he thought. Kiaan felt the heat and saw the orange-red light glowing from downstairs. Embers floated in the sky like butterflies. The mind protection spell still flickered on his hand, indicating that it was still active. He hadn’t slept longer than the timeframe. So the mark detected I was in danger because of the smoke and fire, Kiaan thought. It hadn’t removed the protective seal though. He made a mental note of that and grabbed his clothes then the bag he had traveled with. While he was planning which way he’d go, he heard yelling outside and sucked his teeth. It sounded like a group of men and Silvia.
Exhaling sharply, Kiaan reached out his hand, using umoya to draw the fire and heat at his door into his body. He fused the external source of energy with his Iké then opened the door. Outside of the room, the fire still violently raged and Kiaan covered his mouth as he dove over the bannister and ran outside. When he reached the door to the inn, he found that it was barred.
Seemed whoever was outside was willing to kill guests in the building. Kiaan sent up a silent prayer to the gods for Silvia then unlocked his ara, increasing his strength tenfold at the base level. With a kick, the inn door flew off its hinges and crashed into the dirt path that led into Sogros’ heart.
Kiaan stepped outside to the shocked faces of a few armed men and Silvia. His eyes went over them all, five big men in armor and wielding longswords. They didn’t seem to be new swords with chipped edges and their armor was rusted and smudged. There were no emblems on it that Kiaan could see so he settled on the conclusion that they were outlaws of some kind, however burning the inn didn’t seem to have a purpose.
The men turned their bodies to face him, swords drawn. Kiaan decided to try to deescalate the situation or at least see what they intended to do. The outlaws began to spread out and encircle him, gritting their teeth. They were trying their best to look tough, Kiaan had to admit.
“Nice little fire you started,” Kiaan said. “You woke me up from my nap.”
“Was only meant to smoke you out, you little rat,” came the gruff response. Kiaan nodded. A stocky man in steel armor stepped forward, resting an axe on his shoulder. Markus had returned.
Noted, Kiaan thought. He looked around and didn’t see any of the townspeople around. In the distance, he could hear the pounding of drums and chants. Perhaps they were still in the circle dancing and drinking. None of them seemed to notice the only inn was burning. So at least for now, Kiaan would have no support. Silvia looked panicked in their grasp and Kiaan sighed softly. He had to get her away in case things took a turn for the worse. “So, since you went through all this trouble to get to me, how about you let her go?” Kiaan asked. He didn’t expect them to do it and prepared himself.
He predicted it correctly and Markus shook his head. “The problem started with her and she deserves—”
Kiaan let the fire build into his left hand before he let it fizzle out then shot it forward in a spray of sparks. It wouldn’t hurt Markus and his men too much, but it was enough of a screen that they backed away. Silvia slipped free and Kiaan rushed forward and put himself between the men and her. He turned his head and nodded quickly.
“You need to go into town and alert the villagers. I’ll hold them off,” Kiaan said. Silvia gulped, lifted up the tails of her skirt and ran away.
“Bastard!” Markus shouted as he rushed forward, his men following closely behind him. Their weapons glinted in the moonlight and Kiaan dropped back into a lowered stance, opening his palm and keeping his balled right fist at his hip.
He needed to stay calm.
Markus raised his axe over his head and Kiaan jabbed forward at his exposed throat. The man staggered back, gagging while his men surrounded Kiaan. On one side, a spearman thrusted and while a swordsman swung at Kiaan’s head.
In a smooth ara enhanced motion, Kiaan kicked the spear away and ducked underneath the sword then twisted in the air. His free leg kicked the spearman and punched the swordsman in his temple. One man aimed his crossbow at Kiaan and his eyes widened. There were two crossbowmen. His eyes flashed to where Silvia was running and he saw the last man preparing to fire.
Still in the air, Kiaan shot two fire blasts in separate directions, one directly into the sight of the crossbow aimed at him and the other at the crossbow the other man held. Both crossbows burst into flames and the men reacted by blocking them. Before Kiaan had a chance to celebrate the small victory, he felt a sharp pain in his calf.
He turned and saw the spearman had stabbed through him. The adrenaline rush hit him full force and he struggled to still himself and his emotions and continue fighting and planning his next move. The spear through his leg kept him in place and it’s wielder made sure it did by driving the point into the dirt. Kiaan tried to grab the swordsman’s arm before he could slash his ribs and was only able to keep the blade from slicing deep into him. However, the cut still caused blood to spill through his clothes. He dropped to one knee and struggled to breathe. He could feel his heart rate quickening and the strength of it pounding in his chest.
His vision grew hazy as Markus walked toward him, a giant grin on his face. Markus’ axe rested at Kiaan’s neck now and he lifted Kiaan’s chin.
“I told you. I would be the one to kill you,” he said. Kiaan narrowed his eyes as the pain in his calf was replaced by the massive pain in his right arm that spread over and under his skin. The slight headache he felt told him what his arm already did.
The Basima curse had been activated.
Kiaan opened his eyes and could see the Iké particles flowing in the air from everything in the vicinity. His own Iké was visible to him, wild as an uncontrollable flame. The men backed away from him and the spearhead left his leg.
The blood flow slowed near instantly and the wound closed just as fast. Kiaan looked up and grit his teeth as the pain in his arm began to become unbearable.
The Iké had built up to the point of explosion and it was going to be Markus’ men or Kiaan’s arm. The young man chose the former and released the building Iké out of his palm into a roaring fire that engulfed two of Markus’ men closest to Kiaan. Their screams were deafened by the sound of the combustion.
With wide, quivering mouths, the remaining survivors pointed. “He’s a Maalum!” one of the survivors cried.
Kiaan grit his teeth and didn’t try to control his Iké, despite its heat and intensity causing the grass near him to shrivel and become dehydrated. Doing so would be too much effort and wouldn’t change the inevitable.
The hairs on his neck stood up and the pain in his right arm felt like he was being repeatedly stabbed by lightning bolts from the sky. His headache nearly made his curl over but his mind protection spell staved off the worst of the pain. With his Basima enhanced eyes, he could see a tear appear in the middle of the path.
And it climbed through.
A skeletal hand reached through the void, followed by another hand that expanded the hole. A skull peeked through, saliva dripping from its jaws as the beast continued forward. The horse-sized creature was covered in raven-black fur and it’s body ended in a long prehensile tail. Wheezing softly, the creature titled its head ninety degrees and watched everyone. The Huzuni was bigger than the last time Kiaan had encountered it, when it had only been about the size of a wolf.
The creature stood in front of the men, It’s teeth chattering as small sparks of lightning shot between its jagged teeth. Kiaan and the monster locked eyes.
Out of fear, one of Markus’ men tried to run and his movement attracted the Huzuni’s attention. Before the man could take two steps, the Huzuni’s jaws ripped the man in two. In the shower of blood, Kiaan ran away.
He started towards the inn, but turned quickly on his heels as a bolt of lightning struck just over his head, adding to the fire. Kiaan didn’t turn, only adding ara to his legs as he raced forward. He heard the Huzuni wheezing and chattering its teeth behind him. No matter how far away he thought he was from it, the chattering of its teeth ran in his ears.
Kiaan continued down the main road then cut towards the lake. It was his only option if he wanted to combat the Huzuni’s lightning cloak. He turned quickly and saw the Huzuni skidding to a halt. For a moment, they stared at each other, then the creature lifted its head and stared down the road. Kiaan heard the music and the beating of the drums.
Damn it. Without a second look at him, the Huzuni darted down the road. Kiaan sprinted after it and stood in the middle of the street, watching it go. At this range, he could stop it and potentially save the people from a horror they had no idea existed.
Or, he could turn back and get Tamas Vadas’ dissertation…
Within the burning inn, his book and notes were at risk of catching aflame, no matter what magical seals and binds naturally encircled them. The key to finding a way to rid himself of the Huzuni for good lay inside the details of that dissertation. Was a small fishing town in the middle of nowhere worth losing everything he had fought to gain to this point?
He needed the distraction and took it. Feasting on the bodies of humans would give the Huzuni a boost in its Iké potency and power. Even so, it wouldn’t be enough to be something Kiaan would have to worry about. At least he hoped so.
The fire had spread to the entrance and belched out like a dragon was in the lobby of the inn. Kiaan exhaled sharply and form an Iké barrier around his body and rushed into the inn. The building had begun to crumble from the heat of the fire and Kiaan could barely see through the black screen of smoke surrounding him.
At least not physical things.
There was a trail of Iké in the air, shaped like a small trail of blue mist. His Iké swirled up the stairway and back behind the wall. Kiaan followed it up to the top floor of the inn and to the back hallway where his room was. Once he grabbed the book, he’d secure it and seal with an extra protection spell. Kiaan turned the doorknob and entered the room.
A lightning bolt passed by Kiaan’s face and exploded to his left, sending him flying through the wall. He tumbled through the branches of tree and landed with a thud at the base.
Kiaan groaned and looked up to where his room had been and saw nothing but flames dancing and smoke billowing. He felt the hairs on his neck raise and heard the near inaudible hiss of the Huzuni as it approached. When he turned, he saw the demon bathed in shadow with sparks of lightning coming from its body. To Kiaan’s chagrin, the Huzuni did look slightly larger.
It crept towards him, head low and mouth open. Kiaan forced himself to his feet and exhaled softly as the Basima healed his injuries. When he stood, the Huzuni stopped suddenly and stared at him. Kiaan narrowed his eyes and decided to go on the offensive. He just had to lead the demon back to the water.
He launched a fire ball at the Huzuni and it pounced towards him. Kiaan rolled underneath it’s leap and made a break towards the lakefront. Instinctively, it seemed, the demon chased him, galloping like a horse behind him and just as fast. The Basima boosted Kiaan’s speed just enough to keep him ahead.
The moonlit lake was ahead and out of the corner of Kiaan’s eye, he could see Sogros’ square was on fire. When he was at the lakefront, he whirled on his heels to face the Huzuni. It had stopped further away, chattering it’s teeth and hissing as it stalked towards him. Lightning crackled against the shadowy cloak that was its fur and its skeletal fingers gripped the ground as it prepared to pounce.
Kiaan narrowed his eyes and grit his teeth. Come on. His right arm had gone numb with pain and he knew the demon could sense it. A plan sparked in his mind. He quickly dropped to one knee and placed his palm into the ground. Before he could raise his head, the Huzuni burst forward. It moved like a blur, zigzagging so fiercely, it left a cloud of dirt in its wake. It was moving much too fast to quickly stop and that’s what Kiaan had hoped for.
Internally, he chanted the incantation for a fire spell he had learned before he started his journey. He closed his eyes and listened for the Huzuni. In the words of the ancient Maaluum, he said, “Great ghost flame, unleash your power and explode!”
When he opened his eyes, the Huzuni was nearly upon him. Kiaan grit his teeth and snapped his fingers. The fire seal at Kiaan’s feet exploded, igniting the barrels of fish oil on the docks. The fire lifted the Huzuni from its feet, carrying it far above his head and over him. Kiaan did his best to guide it with his umoya Iké but the best he could manage was ensuring the Huzuni hit the lake.
The lake illuminated and Kiaan saw the water crackle with electricity. There was a shrieking howl and he saw the Huzuni’s skeletal hand lift from the water before it suddenly dissipated into the air.
The Basima retreated up his arm and the pain receded. Kiaan let out a hard breath and fell to his knees. Tears streamed down his cheek and he tried best he could to control his breathing. When he regained his strength, he leaned up.
In front of him, the shaman stood in front of him naked and scorched by fire with some batches bleeding with bone exposed. Kiaan and the woman locked eyes then the shaman fell to her knees. She lifted her index finger, bent and broken, to point at him.
“You cannot hide,” she said. Then her head fell and her body went limp.
Kiaan looked to his right and saw that Sogros burned and his chances at finding a way to defeat the Huzuni with it.
Things You’ve Seen...
When Kiaan woke, he heard hammers pounding downstairs.
“I hope you’re not down here to complain about the noise,” Silvia said jokingly when Kiaan had made his way to the bottom of the steps.
Kiaan rubbed the back of his head and looked away. “No, no, I wouldn’t dare,” he said. “Just didn’t think you’d have workers here at the asscrack of dawn.”
“Can’t have a missing door at Sogros’ only inn,” Silvia replied matter-of-factly. “And thank you for last night.” Kiaan nodded quickly.
“Like you said, can’t have your inn missing a door,” he replied. Silvia looked at the carpenters working then brought her eyes back to Kiaan.
“How did you do that? Kick a man that size through a door?”
Kiaan blinked and shrugged. “Just caught him off-balance,” he said nonchalantly before walking past the working men and heading outside.
The town was alive this morning. Kiaan heard a man shouting orders on a large fishing boat on the lake. His crew members raised the nets and hundreds of fish squirmed and throttled their tails as they gasped for breath. The fish was separated with some of the larger fish being thrown into a pile and carried onto land while the remaining stayed on the boat as the captain shouted more orders. Kiaan took note and kept walking.
Shop owners hustled down the main road, carrying their goods back to their shops as they restocked their shelves. The smell of fresh bread drifted through the air and Kiaan could hear the sounds of drums and flutes playing further in town.
His curiosity piqued, Kiaan ventured into town, following his nose and snarling stomach to the source of the fresh bread. He made it to the bakery just in time to see the baker pull the tray of fresh loaves from the oven. Kiaan saw the fire and smoke billow from the pit and the baker carefully pull the bread out and set it on the table in front of him. Mere centimeters from his right, there was a large knife.
The little man looked up at Kiaan and to his surprise, the baker smiled. “Ah, you must be the hero that shooed those bandits away,” he said. Kiaan blinked. Had word spread through the entire town?
“I wouldn’t go so far as to call myself a hero…”
The baker waved his hand. “Oh, nonsense,” he muttered. “Save the false humility for the women. Silvia said you sent them running and paid for the damages. A man that takes responsibility and charge like that is a damn hero in my eyes.”
Kiaan shook away the regret and sadness that tried to resurface in his mind and instead nodded his head and smiled. “Thank you, sir.” He looked over the newly set loaves and decided that he wanted some. His coin purse jingled in his hand as he pulled it out. “How much for two loaves?”
“Ten kālā,” the baker said, grinning. “But, for you, I’ll give you two for six.” Kiaan chuckled softly and pulled out two silver pieces.
“I appreciate your kindness and I’d like to donate some money to your business. It’s not much but hopefully, you can use it better than I could think to,” he said, placing the pieces in the man’s hand. He scooped a loaf of bread into a bag and took the other into his mouth.
It was as soft and flavorful as he had imagined it would be. In his fervor, he almost felt tearful. He continued chomping on the bread, passing fish and fruits markets where the owners raised their hands in solicitation. Kiaan was determined not to waste his money on visiting every food stand, especially if he had to travel any time soon. He had no idea when his research would require him to leave town.
Kiaan continued down the dirt path, eating his bread and observing the strangeness of this small town. The further he drew into Sogros, the louder the music got. A crowd had gathered in the square, encircled with enough space for a few people in the middle to dance. Kiaan peered over the top of the crowd best he could and saw a few people in what looked to be tribal wear. They were covered in glimmering silver and white paint and performed their moves in jumps. A young woman led them and wore the brightest colors with orange, yellow, and blue flowers that wrapped around her body.
Her dance covered the length of the space in the circle, gyrating to every beat of the drum with such expert motion that Kiaan was entranced. The flutes flowed like a breeze through the air before descending with the dancer as the song ended and she crumbled to the ground and a net dropped over the men around her.
Applause erupted amongst the crowd and Kiaan looked around. It suddenly connected to him that he had witnessed a celebration dance. Perhaps they were praising a god, or goddess from the young woman leading the dance, for their successful fishing.
After the applause had died down, the young woman in the center of the circle moved her hair behind her shoulders and sighed softly. Her sweaty skin glistened under the sun and Kiaan swallowed slowly as he took in how beautiful she was.
“By the grace of our goddess Elia, our fishermen have brought forth a great feast on the eve of Elia’s High Moon. Let us feast today into the next morrow in celebration!” she shouted before barking a cry that the crowd copied.
Kiaan smirked. The woman was certainly charismatic and to be so young, she seemed to hold a high level of power in this town. The dynamics here were interesting and Kiaan hadn’t done the best research before he decided to stop here. He watched as the young woman shook hands with those in the circle as they formed into a single file line and sought to speak to her and seemingly receive a blessing by touching her.
Sogros’ fishermen brought not only the funds into town by outsourcing their fish and product to the other towns away from water but they also fed the citizens. All of these transactions seemed to be governed by the young woman leading the dance and the various fish captain-merchants.
Religion and capitalism seemed to fit like a glove, Kiaan thought. He stepped in line with the crowd and continued moving forward to speak to the young shaman. He wanted to speak to her and discuss the dynamics of her town from politics to religion. He then wanted to see if she would be interested in seeing him more, but then he felt his heart sink and he stepped out of the line and walked back to the inn.
He had sworn to himself, never again, once he had left the Academy. Things hadn’t gone well before and they certainly wouldn’t now. Having saddened himself, Kiaan broke a piece of his remaining loaf off and ate as he walked.
He was already getting full and his brain was starting to work through the rest of the research that he needed to do. He’d start as soon as he—
“You there!” a voice called. Kiaan turned in mid-chew and saw that the shaman was looking directly at him. Kiaan finished his bite and gulped it down. The young woman tilted her head slightly. “You look familiar but I don’t think I’ve seen you before.”
Kiaan blinked. “Uh, I just arrived here last night,” he replied.
The young shaman nodded. “Ah, you’re the so-called ‘hero’ that stood up to the bandits at the inn?”
“I suppose so,” Kiaan said nonchalantly. An implication like that made Kiaan’s skin crawl. The young woman nodded her head and began to walk towards him. When she was closer, she stopped and looked him up and down.
“You have the appearance of a hero but your Iké is disturbed and corrupted,” the shaman said, her voice matter-of-fact and even. Kiaan backed away but the shaman’s hand touch his cheek and she stared into his eyes. “There are times that are coming in your life where you will no longer be able to hide from, hero. I have seen it.”
Kiaan frowned. “You’ve seen it?”
“The gods have shown me.”
“The gods show many things to their ‘prophets’ who make them seem of great importance but they always end up being nothing more than ordinary occurrences. I don’t put faith in prophecies, only things that I’ve seen,” Kiaan said, his tone as equally as matter-of-fact as the shaman’s had been. Her hand fell from his cheek but she didn’t look angry. Instead, she stared more intently in his eyes then cocked her head to the side.
“With the things you’ve seen, the words of gods from a shaman’s mouth shouldn’t be too far-fetched,” she said. To that, Kiaan had no retort and the shaman turned on her heels and walked away.
Kiaan watched her go then took a bite of bread. He suddenly realized why he disliked religion. He walked back down the path and headed back to the inn. By the time he had returned, the front door had been reattached to the hinges. Silvia perked up as he entered and flashed a smile.
“It looks better than it did before,” she said excitedly.
“I’m glad it does,” Kiaan replied. “Hopefully it lasts this inn awhile.” After those words had passed his lips, he slipped upstairs to his room. For the next few hours, he combed the pages of the dissertation, backtracking and returning to the section on dimensional tears.
The things you’ve seen…
He replayed the shaman’s words in his head. Did she actually know what he had seen? How could she possibly know what he had been through?
She didn’t, Kiaan decided. Sleepily, he stared out of the window and saw that the Sun was starting to descend behind the trees and the sky had shifted to a tricolor mix of orange, blue, and purple.
Kiaan reached into his bag and pulled out the remaining bread. After downing the loaf, he sat cross-legged on his bed and meditated. After preparing the mind protection seal, he laid back in bed and closed his eyes.
The One Who Will Kill Me...
Kiaan Ikhoza had timed his arrival just right. The sun had descended past the horizon and the sky reverted from its orange-red and purple glow to midnight blue. The moon was full and bright, reflecting off the lake in the valley below. The fishing barges had pulled into the docks and all Kiaan could hear was the faint sound of music in the distance. The small lakeside town seemed like it had a low population as well. This would be a good spot to rest.
He shifted his bag on his back and continued into town. With every step closer, he felt an air of calm fall over him. The town smelled of baking bread, smoky fish and freshwater. It reminded Kiaan of his hometown and the garden back at school. When his mind thought back to school, though, he felt a chill go down his spine and shook those thoughts from his head. He had to stay in the present. Stay in the present and start over.
A bell jingled as Kiaan entered the inn and a plump clerk looked up. “Welcome to the Emerald Lake Inn of Sogros. My name is Silvia, how may I assist you?” she said. Kiaan smiled politely and dipped his head.
“Hey, thanks for welcoming me. I’m looking for a room,” he said.
“You’re in luck, then.” Silvia pulled out a small booklet and flipped through some pages. “We have a number of rooms available. What kind of lodging do you need?”
Kiaan rubbed his chin and shrugged. “Preferably somewhere a little secluded with a desk?”
Silvia nodded and wrote a few things down. “Okay, we have just the thing. Our master suite is on the top floor of the inn. Includes a desk and a nice view of the Emerald Lake. Would that be to your liking?” Kiaan thought on it for a moment. The further away he was from other people, the better he’d feel about being in a town he didn’t know surrounded by people of the same origin. He’d also need the desk if he was going to continue his research.
“I’d like that,” Kiaan replied. “How much will that be?”
“250 kālā.” The answer was so matter-of-fact that Kiaan didn’t even register how low it was. Then it clicked. The two hundred and fifty wasn’t for his extended stay. It was per night.
“Per night, right?” he asked, just to confirm and partially hoping he hadn’t misinterpreted what she said.
The woman nodded pleasantly and Kiaan sighed. Spending kālā was not an issue. Kiaan had won a twenty-five thousand kālā purse two weeks before his good luck had ended. He could stay one hundred nights if he desired although he didn’t suspect he’d need that long to figure out what he needed to.
Kiaan reached into his pocket and placed seventeen hundred and fifty pieces on the counter, two hundred and fifty in seven bags. The innkeeper gawked at the amount and then looked up at him.
Embarrassed under her confused gaze, Kiaan chuckled and said, “That should cover me for about a week. If I need more time, I’ll let you know.” Silvia nodded slowly and pulled the bags of money closer to her and began to open one, her eyes glimmering. She suddenly gathered herself and sucked in a quick breath.
“We also offer a luxury bath and one of our lovely girls could assist you if you’re having trouble. All you have to do is ring the bell in your bathroom,” she said. Kiaan blinked and felt a fire rise in him. It had been quite a while since he’d felt any kind of female touch, even before he’d started his journey. He’d love to experience some kind of affection or touch, whether it was genuine or manufactured by the amount of money he’d paid for his room. But instead, he steeled himself and put his emotions and needs down. He had a job to do and didn’t need any distractions.
“I’ll be fine, thank you,” he replied. The innkeeper nodded and reached behind the desk and back up again, this time with the room key in hand.
“I hope you find your room to your liking, sir,” she said. Kiaan nodded and sighed softly when he was out of earshot. It was draining to feign sociability when all he wanted to do was sleep and even that desire had to be carefully prepared for. He had work to do.
Kiaan walked up the stairs, passing the ornaments on the wall ranging from the largest fish Kiaan had ever seen in person and the head of a silver-pelted bear. After wondering briefly where he’d be able to find the hunter who killed the bear, Kiaan continued to the last room down the hall, tucked into a corner. The key jingled in his hand has fiddled with the lock as he opened the door. It creaked softly on its hinges and Kiaan noted that there wasn’t a speck of dust that moved.
The smell of mint and pine floated in the air and saw four candles burning on a small table at the side of the bed. Everything seemed to have been recently prepared. Kiaan suspected that the old fishing town of Sogros was a common rest stop for rich travelers or merchants and this master suite was the most common place that men of such self-importance wanted to lodge. From the enormous desk and the large drum of ink with the quill sitting elegantly at the side, this was a worthy workstation for his endeavors.
He set his bag down and dug inside, pulling out a large tome and loose pieces of paper. The tome was the leading source of information about Iké and its functionality written by the then apprentice Tamas Vada as his dissertation. There were some additions to the text based on new discoveries that had been made over the years and Kiaan had made sure to secure the latest edition before he left the Akai Academy. Kiaan flipped to where he had left off before stopping in Sogros.
The Spiritual Connection to Iké
Kiaan opened up the loose pieces of paper, going through various scribbles he had made. Imperceptible notes to the untrained eye, though perfectly readable to Kiaan and any other trained Maalum that might stumble upon his research. Initially, Kiaan had been extremely protective of his work however, he was almost begging for someone else’s eyes and mind for assistance. But he couldn’t let anyone that close to him. It was extremely dangerous to be in town now, even if the population seemed to be small.
Sighing, Kiaan continued to read and take notes. When the writing began to veer into outright speculation on the spiritual dimension, Kiaan took a special interest. Magister Vada wrote on his theory that Iké existed because during the creation of the world, there were small dimensional tears where Iké either seeped from or there was so much Iké used to create the world, that the gods’ fingerprint included infusing everything in the world with it.
Dimensional tears, Kiaan thought. The concept in itself was a wild one to grasp. Magister Vada seemed to believe so as well as he quickly discredited the belief as pure fantasy while ironically stating that the gods’ fingerprint was left on all things. Kiaan wrote down the phrase dimensional tears in code on his notes and continued to read.
When there was no other information on the subject, Kiaan closed the tome and leaned back on his desk.
He suddenly felt his aching legs, throbbing back and the imminent implosion of his temples. He needed to eat and sleep. Before he attempted to go out and find food, Kiaan took off his clothes, folded them, and sat them on the floor next to his bag. He then sat on his bed, crossed his legs then closed his eyes.
Silence fell on the room all at once then louder again, but faint specific sounds. Kiaan could hear the crackling of the wispy fire on the candlestick, leaves rustling from the slight breeze outside and his heartbeat slowing.
He chanted an incantation, “Okan: Ngao Ati Linda.” Kiaan’s Iké began to swirl around him as a small seal appeared on his hand. A mind protection spell he had forced himself to learn for his own sake that would guard him for a maximum of eight hours, all the time he needed to sleep. The okan application of Iké had been a struggle for Kiaan to learn while he was still in the Academy, which was ironic as it had to do with controlling the perception of the mind. While Kiaan considered himself fairly skilled in utilizing the ara application for performing physical feats and umoya in combination with it to cast higher-level spells, he had found okan tedious to learn. That is until his life depended on it.
With his mind protected, Kiaan locked the door to his room, stripped his clothes off. He looked down at his right arm and traced his finger over the tattoo that stretched from his shoulder down to his fingers. Shuddering slightly, Kiaan laid his head on the pillow. The bed was soft as a cloud and Kiaan appreciated the comfort, wishing that he was enjoying it under better circumstances. He listened to the croaking frogs out near Emerald Lake as he drifted to sleep.
The next thing Kiaan heard was yelling coming from the lobby of the inn and when he peeked outside, he saw the moon still hung high in the sky. The perimeter of his mind seal had faded into a semi-circle so Kiaan surmised that about two hours had passed.
What the hell is going on down there? he thought as he rose to his feet and put on a pair of trousers. He opened the door to the suite to hear the commotion better and a few slurred voices echoed.
“What ya mean there’s no rooms available? You can’t see we got coin for you?” one voice spoke.
“As I’ve said, sirs,” Silvia’s voice came in response. “We’re booked for the night. You may be able to rent a pleasure barge for the night…”
“A pleasure barge? From this bunghole fishing town?” One of the men stepped toward the desk and slammed his hands on the wooden counter. “We’re veterans of the fucking Black Ember War, gods be damned! We deserve respect!”
The Black Ember War? Kiaan thought. The war had been over for fifteen years now, ending in the Battle of Ränder twenty-five miles from this town. Maybe these men were Caelestians abandoned by their kingdom as they sailed away to their country in defeat. Either way, they needed to leave before they caused any further issues.
Kiaan descended the flight of stairs, purposely stepping loudly to draw the drunk band of men away from Silvia. “You don’t think it’s a bit rude to scream in the middle of a lobby while people are trying to sleep?” he asked, his voice irritated. The tallest of the men was still a few inches shorter than him but much wider with broad shoulders and a short, mean bulldog-like face. He turned from Silvia and glared at Kiaan.
“Go back up to your room, pretty boy. This ain’t your business,” the man said.
Kiaan sucked his teeth and sighed. “Regardless, you’re being loud and rude. Demanding a room doesn’t suddenly make one available.” He pointed to the outside of the inn. “I suggest that you all leave now before you can’t.”
The incredulous look on the man’s face suggested that Kiaan had said something either stupid or incredibly funny. Finally, the levy broke, and the group of old soldiers guffawed. “You’re threatening us?” he asked.
Kiaan sighed sharply as his anger flared and he felt a twinge in his right arm. His left hand instinctively went to his bicep and gripped tightly. Dammit, already? he thought before he took a deep breath. No, just an adrenaline rush. I’ve just got to stay calm. He let his left arm drop to his side.
“No, just foretelling the inevitable.” Kiaan crossed the floor quickly, enhancing his speed with a quick burst of ara Iké to his feet. He used the added strength to his legs to stop right in front of the bandit leader and front kick him through the door. When the wood splintered and the hinges tore off, Kiaan cringed. He heard Silvia gasp loudly and thought for a moment that he might’ve overdone it.
However, his sudden display of strength caused the rest of the bandits to quickly back away from the desk. All Kiaan had to do was glare at them and the bandits cleared out of the lobby and out the door. They stopped and picked their leader up. He grabbed his chest and coughed a trickle of blood up. In a fit of rage, he shook himself free from his men and stared at Kiaan, eyes burning like a phoenix.
“Mark my words, lad,” he said, just loud enough for Kiaan. “My name is Markus Zargat! That is the name of the man who will kill you, Maalum!” The soldiers carried the commander down the road, dragging his feet through the mud. They vanished when the moonlit pathway descended into darkness.
Pondering the man’s words, Kiaan sighed. Doubtful, he thought gravely. The name of the one who will kill me is Kiaan Ikhoza.
It is the beginning of a season of new life
I stare out at the budding flower, the bees busy
Pollinating petunias and moving amongst magnolias
I feel the Sun burning against my skin
Creating a glow that hides the dark void
Where your love once was
Where laughter was sonar
Where my cries are now silent
In this season
I miss you.
I crack as you step on me
However light you think you are
Every gurgle underneath is a warning
A telltale sign that enough is enough
You don’t listen, but this isn’t anything new
Because when have you ever
They told you that I was fragile
You even saw others sink below before
You thought that you were different
That you could walk out here
And be cool as snow
Sleek like the bottom of your boots as you slide
I split apart as you land flat on your face
The cold waters beneath me take you
Being cold never made me hard as you assumed
Just easier to break.
I’m drowning and she’s suffocating
She comes up for air, gasping
I stay under, I’m not afraid to die
She calls my name, my favorite sound
Here we go, the island Paradise
Is just over the horizon
Just keep swimming, I think
Even if I drown, she’ll be happy
She won’t let me go alone
Suffocating and drowning
We keep swimming
The shore gets closer
Waves crash against the sand
Sun kissing our skin
Then we come
Maybe: Iris - I apologize for how I treated you when we broke up and during our relationship.
Yoel let the message sit untouched as if Iris’ number would magically disappear from his phone. However, it didn’t happen. He wasn’t dreaming and he didn’t think that he was crazy enough to be hallucinating.
Maybe: Iris - I apologize for how I treated you when we broke up and during our relationship.
Those words had been all that he thought he wanted to hear for the last six months. A simple apology and acknowledgment that he had been sorely mistreated by someone he had only ever wanted to love and cherish until his dying breath. Instead, his kind heart and pure intentions had been taken for granted. His fingers twitched above his phone screen as he wondered whether to respond or to delete the message. He was just starting to get to know Caché and she was making him happy to be around her.
Seeing Iris’ name pop up made Yoel reflect on everything he had experienced with her. He had to know what he should do…
2002 - 2011
When Yoel was a boy, he saw Iris from time to time at every mass church gathering he and his mother attended. He usually pays no attention to her, noting her as the angry friend of a girl that he actually had a crush but never admits to. Over the years, he gets closer to Iris, befriending her. Before long, the two exchange numbers once Yoel finally gets a cellphone and they talk every so often.
Also during one of the church gatherings, Yoel was —
Yoel and Iris grow close during the summer months as Yoel prepares to leave for his freshman year of college. Iris reveals to Yoel that her mother was told by God that she and Yoel would get married. Out of youthful lust and vigor, Yoel decides that he wants to put a pause on his and Iris’s relationship while he is at college. Iris agrees.
Alone in his dorm room, Yoel gets nowhere in his pursuit of relationships or sex during his freshman year. His mind begins to dip into depressive suicide and the cold of the outside world makes him seek out Iris for warmth. She had moved on though, dating another man. Despite this, she stays on the phone with him the entire night, talking him through his emotions. After this, she and Yoel still talk and see each other at church events.
January - March 2013
Iris leaves with her college program out of the country. True to the adage. “absence makes the heart grow fonder”, the two bond while she’s away. However, Yoel is again distracted by another woman and in March, decides to date another girl in Baltimore, named Destiny.
June 2013 - September 2014
Yoel and Iris speak infrequently and see each other less often until she vents to him about the situation with her boyfriend, an older man that she’s stuck in relationship limbo. Yoel gives her objective advice and she decides to stay with him.
Annoyed at Iris’ constant crying about her boyfriend and remembering what her mother had told him, Yoel plots to be with Iris. He gets invited to her dorm room to hang out. The two do so. In the heat of the moment, the two of them begin to kiss and on the cusp of having sex, Iris tearfully stops Yoel. She takes him home afterward. Later on in the month, Iris breaks off her relationship with her boyfriend.
Yoel catches the bus from his home to Towson to visit Iris at her dorm where she decides to stay rather than go home. A blizzard occurs while he’s there, snowing them in together. Cuddling, passions flare but Iris stops them from going any further. Interested in pursuing her now (with whatever weird savior complex he developed in his formative years), they make their relationship official on Christmas Eve.
Iris is relentlessly bullied by her church peers, who state that she “hopped from musician dick to musician dick” after she stopped dating her ex. Upset at these accusations, Iris distances herself from Yoel in public church spaces. Yoel sees Iris’ ex, Michael at her church, compares himself favorably but still feels inadequate.
February - March 2015
Yoel buys Iris flowers for Valentine’s Day. Two weeks later, goes with her to a busted-ass arcade for her birthday. During the event, one of Iris’ friends mentions her ex contacting them for the location of the party while Yoel stands there. After an awkward look, Iris dismisses the mention of him and carries on as if nothing was said. On the night of Yoel’s mother’s birthday dinner after church, Iris comes along with Yoel. During one of Yoel’s uncle’s stories, he looks down and sees Iris texting her ex. Later that night, Yoel confronts her, asking if she’d ever stop talking to Michael for him. Iris replies flatly, “I don’t know. Probably not.”
Yoel obsessively listens to the Coldplay song, “Warning Sign”.
Iris graduates with her Bachelor’s. Yoel, his mother, and Iris’ mother ride together to the event. Yoel is ecstatic and buys Iris flowers, a card, and an elephant stuffed animal (her favorite animal). After she walks and he loudly celebrates her, the two take pictures and talk with her friends and fellow graduates. Iris and her friends run to the bathroom. Iris leaves her phone with Yoel and he sits, waiting for them to return. Iris’ phone vibrates in his hand and he looks down.
Michael: When you’re done for the day, call me, love.
Yoel unlocks Iris’ password-less phone and enters the thread. Messages span for months, from before their first kiss in November until mere minutes ago.
Iris: My mom is here now.
Michael: Ok. Hey, I’m sorry I couldn’t make it to your graduation but I want you to know that I love you so much, baby. And I’m proud of you.
Iris: Thank you, Mike. I love you too ❤️
Yoel’s first instinct is to throw Iris’ phone as far as he can then stomp it into the concrete. However, he decides not to. He locks Iris’s phone, leaving it on the message thread. When Iris returns from the bathroom and takes her phone, she immediately unlocks it. Her face of surprise flashes for a millisecond before shifting into mounting fear. Yoel silently watches as Iris distances herself from her friends so that she can talk to Yoel alone. Yoel, seething in tranquil fury, begins to speak.
“What’s crazy is, I knew you were doing this shit with him still. No matter how many times you said you would do better or try, I couldn’t believe you. But I tried so hard. I let my guard down,” he said. He lifted his fist to her stomach as if he had a knife. “It’s like I kept stabbing you in your stomach and asked you to forgive me when I pulled it out and said, ‘I’ll never do it again. I love you’ as I slid it back in.” He simulated the motion of stabbing, increasing the level of force until he stopped just short of punching her in the stomach.
Yoel’s regret and shame pile onto him as soon as the act is over but the deed is done. Iris is silent as they walk to the car then drive to her graduation party at her aunt’s. During the party, Iris holds Iris’ little cousin and Yoel takes a selfie with the both of them. He apologizes to Iris, promising to never lay hands on her again while she says nothing about her ex. Yoel later imagines that their son would look exactly Iris’ baby cousin.
June - July 2015
Iris shades Yoel on Twitter over an argument the two had, stating he’s childish. Yoel rushes to her house in his mother’s car and demands Iris come outside to talk to him.
When she’s in the car, Yoel makes another speech.
“Are you fucking dumb? Do you know how much shit I’ve forgiven you for and overlooked to stay with your ass for you to get on Twitter and try to embarrass me? How about I embarrass your goofy ass? You fucking a married nigga from your church in his mother’s basement but you want to air me out? Bitch, fuck outta here, yo.”
“You need to go to therapy. Don’t talk to me like that,” Iris replies quietly, her anger simmering as well. Yoel’s heard stories about Iris and her street connections. Her mother’s kindness to the children that grew up with Iris in the community has made some of the block boys very loyal to them. Iris brazenly told a story about one of her exes cheating on her and how she told some men in the community about it and the boy was beaten and robbed later. But, Yoel doesn’t care.
“I’ll talk to you any fucking way I feel. Go crawl back to that nigga you love so much, yo.”
Iris gets out of the car and Yoel speeds off.
Iris texts him but he ignores it.
He absorbs and understands that he broke up with Iris. His mind searches for ways to get vengeance and ways to relinquish the pain in his heart over his rejection. He’s sad but not depressed. Not yet.
Fate reunites him with his ex, Destiny who now has an apartment extremely close to his mother’s house. The two catch up briefly and Destiny invites Yoel over. After giving him a tour, Destiny and Yoel lay on the bed. Old lusts flare and the two have sex. Relieved from his sadness and anxiety, briefly, Yoel recounts to Destiny what Iris did. Unbothered by Yoel’s reveal, Destiny tells Yoel to do whatever he needs to do for himself.
Yoel leaves with the youth group of his church for a national youth event in Tampa. While there, he flirts with multiple young women his age, entertaining several situations but never acting on them. Iris texts him an apology. When Yoel lands back in Baltimore, Iris is there. She takes him home where he drops off his luggage and the two go to watch the fireworks in Columbia. While waiting for the festival to start, they park in the garage, and the two get testy resulting in Yoel fingering Iris in the front seat. He considers the beginning of a turn in their relationship.
Iris also begins teaching Yoel how to drive, letting her drive her car when they’re together.
August - September 2015
Iris officially ceases all contact with Michael, a major victory for Yoel. Yoel also finally gets his own car, making it his duty to pick-up Iris for anything they’re doing. The months go by without a hitch, save for a discussion on sexual reciprocity. Yoel continues to finger and give oral sex to Iris whenever she wants but when he begins to unbuckle his pants for his turn, Iris suddenly comes under conviction and says, “This feels like sin.” This sexual frustration, coupled with the nagging concerns about Iris’ unfaithful and lying past, puts Yoel on edge constantly. Although he takes Iris back, he’s bitter, hurt, and unable to let go. The lack of reciprocity ends on Yoel’s 21st birthday when Yoel and Iris exchange oral sex. However, Iris is immediately regretful and distant afterward. They also see Straight Outta Compton five times in three different theaters because they were in love with the movie.
October - November 2015
Yoel attends the choir musical at Iris’ church, cheering her on. When it’s over, he greets her but again, she’s dismissive towards him in public. Afterward, Yoel and Iris go to his aunt’s house for dinner. Iris receives a message on Facebook Messenger from someone named Patrick. She lets Yoel know that she received a message, shows it to Yoel, then brings the phone back to her face. Yoel waits for the message to get deleted in the reflection of her glasses, but that time never comes.
Tensions again flare between them for weeks heading to the month of November. One day before class, Iris texts Yoel.
Iris: Yoel, would you hate me if I went on a date with Patrick?
Yoel, completely bewildered by the question, calls Iris. After a twenty-minute screaming match, Yoel marches into his classroom and slams his bag down.
They continue debating with each other with Yoel asking if Iris would allow him to go on a date with somebody that hit his DMs. Iris says, “You already fucked somebody else!” and reveals she knew about Yoel leaving her house after one of her friends saw him in that area. Yoel never admits or denies the truth. Regardless, Iris doesn’t press the issue.
Iris helps Yoel complete multiple film projects for his class including a GoPro movie, Sunday Candy, and a short film, Red Velvet, a neo-noir about a woman in red tracking down a man who stole her cake. They venture to the computer lab on campus where Iris straddles Yoel’s lap while he works.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens lands in theaters on December 18, 2015. Yoel doesn’t see it on opening night, instead opting to go with Iris for their one-year anniversary the next week. She says that she enjoyed it, but her level of distance indicates the opposite. Yoel gives Iris a necklace for Christmas and Iris gives Yoel Batman cufflinks. A snowstorm keeps them from seeing each other on New Years’.
The relationship begins to rot, worms and maggots planted in the last year festering now. The distance and absence make neither of the hearts fonder. Yoel sees Iris and walks over to her to hug her. The hug is brief and almost awkward. The two sit in Yoel’s car.
“I didn’t like the way you looked when you saw me,” Iris says.
“What are you talking about?” Yoel replies. “I drove all the way down here on these iced-out streets to see your ass but because I didn’t run over and swing you around, you’re mad?”
“Not mad,” Iris said. Yoel eases in and Iris comes forward to kiss him. There is nothing between them any longer. Not a spark or flicker of life. Iris leans away, tears welling in her eyes. “Just disappointed.”
A week and a half later, Iris attends a work party, wearing a black dress with fishnet sleeves and a skirt to match. Yoel asks her to text him when she’s home safely from the party as she had been drinking. The entire night goes by without a notification. Yoel loses sleep worrying and leaving messages. His calls go straight to voicemail and Yoel assumes the worst.
The next morning, a Sunday at 11:07AM, Iris finally replies to Yoel’s messages.
Iris: Hey, I’m fine. I’m not dead. I decided to stay the night over at Patrick’s house.
Iris: Nothing happened, Yoel. We just ordered food and played Madden.
Yoel: You know what, yo…I hope you got what you wanted.
This is the last time Yoel speaks to Iris.
February - March 2016
Yoel obsesses over Iris and Patrick. After a quick Google search, cross-referenced by Facebook, Yoel had Patrick’s address. This level of obsession fills Yoel with shame. He pens a letter to Iris begging for her to accept him back into her life. He seals it in an envelope with a card and drives to her home to drop it off. He watches her Instagram and Twitter accounts for updates, cringing at every mention of love, loyalty, or. Patrick. He delves into NyQuil chugging for the first time since his freshman year in college. His mother finds him the next morning. Yoel posts sad, depressing statuses on Facebook, tweets Drake lyrics, and posts celebrity relationship pictures with sad captions like, “If only". All of this is an honest cry for help that is unheard by everyone that says they love him. The only solace Yoel truly finds is in writing.
June 25, 2016
Yoel remembered every moment so vividly in the two seconds he took to re-read the message and decide if he was going to respond. He reflected on the good times. The laughter and the crying. He reflected on the bad times. All the screaming and the lying. He wasn’t pure or absent of guilt either, his reflection showed. He’d repressed the memory of even thinking of putting his hands on her. His heart was heavy with the weight of the grief, guilt, anger, and confusion he felt. Why would she text him now? What happened? Yoel’s curiosity was piqued at that question. He had to know more.
He tempered his response…
Yoel: Can’t say I forgive you, but I appreciate the message fr.
Iris: Oh, you just all of a sudden started talking like a Baltimore nigga lol.
Yoel: …what did you text me for?
Iris: To apologize. I was wrong for how I treated you and I think it came back on me in a way I could feel it. Patrick got a girl pregnant before we got together so he just found out that she’s pregnant. He chose to be with her. My mother told me that we should’ve broken it off earlier but I didn’t listen.
Yoel: So it took a nigga leaving you for his actual family for you to realize you were shitty to me?
Iris: Unfortunately, yes.
Yoel: Glad you learned something at least.
Yoel was content to end the conversation there, all but locking his phone with a furious click of his thumb. He wanted to see her face now and look into her eyes to see how sincere this apology that she made was, but how he could determine whether or not she was telling the truth now when she never had before? He hadn’t wanted an apology now.
He could exist not acknowledging her existence, whether past or present and move on in whatever broken mind state he was in. There was some peace in not knowing whether she felt any remorse but there was none in trying to determine whether she was being truthful in her repentance or not. He mulled this, still sitting in his car a mere three blocks away from Iris’.
The engine to his 2001 Avalon ignited and Yoel pulled off, heading to Pratt and then MLK. Then, he went home.