21. Fallout

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The Beginning

At first, I thought that the Ashbahis had accomplished their goal in bombing the Tombs after all. If my mother had indeed shown them the way, then she'd have forsaken me.

Then again, I'd already forsaken her.

The difference between the heat of the green fire and my father's fire - so hot my skin felt cold - was difficult to distinguish. They both bubbled and blistered, ripped away dignity and love and pain and remorse from my mind in cycles. They both fed off of life, of oxygen, eating it away. The only difference was my father's fire could not be seen.

I could not see.

One by one, the people of the Southern Imperial City crumbled in the fallout of his fire. The ostriches did not run, their energies did not jerk around - they collapsed. They were still under my father. We lived, but we lived on fire. My mother crumbled and Izzet crumbled, and my grandmother, Jamshid, and Abu and Taavi. Wherever they were - and for most of them, I never found out - they all fell under my father's heavy, hot, suffocating projected energy. They quivered in their places, waiting to die or be relieved from their pain. In most cases, they were one and the same.

As long as there was a rumor, my father could write whatever story he wished. There was always a rumor. Xerxes and the people of the Southern Imperial City would remember it differently - toxic gas got released by the Ashbahis that made everybody in the city experience intense pain and then lose consciousness. But I knew the truth - or as much of it as I could infer. I knew because my father let me know. Because he wanted me to know.

My father had figured out what I had failed to do. He stopped time.

He stopped time, and then he walked through the palace, through the northern and western areas of the city the initial green firebombs had ignited, and he found every person lacking energy, rounded them up and locked them away in the cells. He spread his energy all the way across the empire, to every single Pasargadaen palace - not a single bomb after the initial two went off. The world stopped.

The fire breathed life for ten whole hours in the Southern Imperial City and up to several days elsewhere until word could be reached for my older brothers, Malik and Alikhan, to do the same. The Ashbahi's executions were held in their respective cities; I wasn't there for most of them.

But I was there for those held in the Southern Imperial City.

It was two days after their capture, long enough for the anger of our people to build and be ruminated in like the fires of the execution, but short enough so it was at the front of our peoples' minds. The Ashbahis were murderers. I was the son of a murderer.

The anger of the crowd hit me like a stone wall as soon as stepped onto the court. The Southern Imperial masses was not like that of the Ashbahi - they did not shout, nor push, nor throw stones. Instead, their inner fires smoldered in a silent scream, suppressed but every bit the bite. They glared up at where thirty tall, carved, black iron stakes rose like bones from the ground, willing to Ihirtoii to enact his justice.

I did not care for justice myself. Only prevention.

I was in line with my brothers - from Hakan to Sargon, who was just an infant carried by his mother - two guards per each of us, walking to our place at the crowd's front. We were all dressed in our most formal garments - the finest silk robes woven with threads of gold, headscarves, and then our coronets over them. I had become so thin over the last few months, skeletal like Izzet, that it felt heavy on my head. I no longer looked like a shah. My skin was too dark and burnt and freckled, and the areas under my eyes were too deep a purple. Somehow, all that color just made me look paler. I looked like a phantom. No amount of scrubbing at my skin in soapy water so hot it steamed even in the Pasargadaen air could hide that.

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