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I crashed heavily on the ground. Fismuth. The air was cleaner; the sounds were pure and quiet. The color I could still see was unlike anything else I'd witnessed on Earth. Saera fell with me, about an arm's length away.

Her wings flapped tiredly, she was restless and too exhausted to do anything about it. Her wings fanned me unintentionally. I lifted my hand in an effort to touch something. My hand swiped air and fell again to the ground.

The grass was short and well kept here, nothing like in the field I'd left on Earth. It was a bittersweet juxtaposition. With my heart halfway between my home and Charlie.

My throat was dry and my hands were shaking. My body waned, and my brain felt like it had been shoved into a hole half its size. Saera's hair was matted to her face with sweat, and her expression was that of weary accomplishment.

I tried to speak to thank Saera for her kindness. For her sacrifice. My lungs constricted, and I tried to just breathe sweet air for a few moments. I was not given that chance.

Saera was jerked to her feet by her wings, a treatment saved only for misbehaved workers. I sat up immediately, reaching out to help her. My hand was crushed to my chest by a Flare, and I watched two other Flares take her away, dragging her by the bones of her wings. I gaped and could do nothing but stare.

The Flare that was harshly handling me got very close to my ear and growled, "You have served Palleman's cause superbly. And you will pay dearly for it." His voice was a growl that came upon my cheek with distinct heat. I turned my face away.

Confused, I walked with the man to a cart which was saddled with two tamed third generation Feeders who'd had their tongues clipped. The Feeders took off at the Flare's demand and the cart rocked back and forth as it lurched towards the Towers of Prestige. I looked up and saw two workers flanking us on our short journey.

One of the workers was young, perhaps Charlie’s age. My heart ached in my chest, and I swallowed back nothing.

We must have gone the same way that they had taken Saera because evidence of tattered wings scattered the ground before us. Blood accompanied it. I closed my eyes, fearing what I'd done.

The towers were tall above me and they only grew in size as we approached them. They glittered peacefully, silently in the moonlight. The Flare yanked my sash to get me to comply. I remained silent but was disgusted at the level of disrespect a lower Prestigious was showing me and with such disregard for rank.

He claimed I had done Palleman a great service. I did not understand. There was a gnawing feeling in the pit of my stomach.

I followed him, stumbling. My mind was yet disorganized from the journey to Fismuth, and my legs refused to cooperate. I made an effort to touch the walls, craving just that piece of home, but the Flare corrected my path, directing me to the main hall.

Everyone was gathered there. Every body blended into the next, and their faces were not what I remembered. They were contemptuous. Angry. Palleman stood in the middle of the hall, surrounded by Prestigious Ones. He was not alone.

Kelsie was at his feet. Tears streaked her face as well as blood. Alarmed, I checked for the source of her injury. I found none. The blood was not hers. The Flare sent me sprawling to the ground in front of Palleman. My knee stung with the force of the impact, and I turned my head to tend to it.

Gaius' dead eyes stared back.

I trembled and raked my eyes over him, feeling every emotion I had thought suppressed. I reached out to him, finding his cheek. There would be no saving him.

 He was soaked in blood, his face spattered in it from a controlled attack. I pulled myself closer to him on the smooth marble-like floor and brought his head to my chest. I held him there and closed my eyes, silently weeping. I felt like I was screaming, like I was exhausting all of my efforts to make a sound, but no noise crept from my lips.

The wound was not clear to me; in fact, there was no defining injury. My head was spinning, and my heart was in such great pain I thought I would soon follow Gaius' soul. I ran my hand down to his and stroked 'wake up' over and over again into his palm. His hand was still under mine. I felt a bump in his waistband. Charlie's knife. Palleman's voice rose out over the hall.

"I have done this because it is just. Because he has betrayed us. He left Tane to be murdered by the humans! To be slaughtered for her higher knowledge! Yes, he managed to attain the Septar." The hall was silent; the tears were hot against my skin. "But I would not have any of us left there in that corrupted place. We are a united people. United against the Feeders. United against all who pose threat to us. This Listener has dishonorably ignored lutschau."

Palleman seemed to feed off of the uncertainty of the surrounding Prestigious Ones. The workers circled the Great Hall. I could see them speed past the windows, their silhouettes too much to look at. I had a feeling that Saera would never fly again.

“And so must Tane be reprimanded,” he continued, sending the Prestigious up in murmurs.

The Watchers immediately began whispering to each other in code, but I could catch on to what they were saying. They disagreed with my punishment. Obviously, they could see what Palleman was planning. My fellow Listeners were screaming sorrow into each other's palms. The Feelers and Flares, however, stayed strangely stoic, their eyes dead.

“She has been tainted. She is now impure.” I was required to remain silent, so I could not defend myself. Speaking out of Stage would only prove me impure. Palleman knew it. I slowly took the knife from Gaius' waistband and covered it with my fingers.

“The Septars themselves have told me of her treachery. She has developed a relationship with a human of no Prestigious prospect. She has had thoughts of staying earthbound for the boy, again blatantly disregarding lutschau. She has even healed him from his death.” Palleman took my wrist and pulled me to my feet. My eyes stayed fixed on Gaius' motionless body. Every cell in my being cried for revenge. The Flares could smell it and they tensed a large perimeter around me.

“I will allow you the chance to deny it, Listener,” Palleman cooed. One of his hands came up to cup my cheek. His thumb stroked the skin there and I could feel it. I looked up into his eyes. They were a tawny brown, an impossibly light honey color. They were cold, though, and I shivered from the ice in them. “Know, child, that if what I have said is false then you will be returned to training with a new half-sense.” His mind was blank as he spoke again. “Also know that if what I have spoken is the truth, and I believe it to be, then you will be exiled to Abannon until proven worthy. Or until the Feeders make a meal of you.”

I thought about Charlie. Charlie, breathing and vulnerable, was worlds away from me. I thought about Kelsie. Kelsie, sobbing on the marble floor of the Great Hall, was surrounded by what we swore she would never witness. Murder, mutiny, and corruption. I had to save her.

I saw the menace in Palleman's eyes, and I smiled grimly at him. “I cannot lie.”

I dropped to my knees, gripped Gaius' knife, and shoved it deep into Kelsie's stomach.

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