15. The Then What

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The Beginning

The dry Ashbahi air grew heavier in my lungs with each day that passed. With every second I spent laying around, drawing symbols in the sand, my muscles grew tighter, with every secret, adults-exclusive meeting, I grew more and more restless. After one meeting, it seemed like they all stared at me as they exited the small room to make their ways back to their hovels, like they were just talking about me. But, then again, maybe it was just my imagination. Ghosts had that effect.

"Do you think that Oriane brought the Yannis man here, not to save him, but to punish him?" I asked Abu as I laid on his tiny study floor over some of his papers, drawing imaginary symbols the ceiling, my arms lazily folded behind my head.

"Hmm?" Abu asked, in his usual tone that indicated he hadn't listened to my question and wouldn't really listen to my answer either. He studied diligently beside me, books over his lap like a blanket.

"Because if the Emperor at the time just killed him, he would have just been dead, yes? But because Oriane brought him here, his people have had to suffer for centuries."

"Oh. Heh." Abu fake-laughed.

I frowned and rolled over, smothering my face with a book I'd already read three times. It hadn't been intended as a joke.

There was one thing I could still do, one thing I'd been avoiding since I got there. I was getting older, and despite the lack of adequate food, water, stimuli, and exercise, stronger. I needed to learn how to disguise my energy, especially if what Abu said was true and we were really returning home, to the Southern Imperial City.

But.

Every time I thinned it, every time I expanded it, every time I silenced it, my energy snapped right back like rubber, and it stung, hard. The failure stung worse still, and Izzet never let me forget it.

I hadn't actually practiced it much, as of late. It seemed hopeless. I was no god, and it seemed unlikely that anything I did could inhibit my father from anything he wanted to do.

Abu was getting older, too. He'd recently turned fifteen, although I didn't know until two days after the day. Jamshid began to treat him more and more like an adult. He told him adult things. The other adults didn't know. But I did.

So it wasn't my imagination, after all. They were talking about me. And pretty soon, they would have to talk to me, if they truly were serious about getting what they wanted.

"You do realize what they want, right?" Abu asked one day.

I was propped up by my elbows, reading a traditional book flipped upside down, just for the challenge of it. I kept my eyes on it. "To leave Ashbah? Freedom and equality for all?" I turned the page and snorted. "They're completely delusional though."

Abu took a rare look up from his own studies. "Why do you say that?"

"Taadaes of Yunnis the IV. He wrote scrolls and scrolls about manumission until he actually tried it for himself. Some of his slaves left happily, some stayed, but they had no handicraft, land, no connections to gain their living. The slaves actually attacked him - they said his manumit was disgraceful. Begged him to take them back." I closed my book. "That's the way it is."

Abu frowned. "It isn't that simple. It will just take time. Generations."

"Right," I said. "Until we get attacked and have to take new prisoners of war. They stay, their children get set free. And Ashbah has had thousands of years to sort itself, and it's still like this."

"That's different," Abu said curtly. "We aren't slaves."

I raised my eyebrows. Could have fooled me. "It's not just about slaves. Say you all actually do manage to cross the desert, find the Southern Imperial City. Then what? What's the point?"

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