Chapter 24

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Wenyanga tried not to be offended when Salleh hauled them onto the roof of the watchtower. They landed lightly on the rickety roof and swallowed the vertigo that threatened to tip them over. From this vantage, they overlooked the town: the chaos in the square, the isolated raiding in the side street as people fled towards the outskirts and the desert beyond, the... the ruin along the entrance of the manse.

Wenyanga had seen death before, not just the neat kind where a warrior died on a bed from a mortal wound while his beloved, annoying as she was, held his hand. They'd seen the type of destruction that made it hard to breathe through the hot cloy of blood and offal in the air, where you were as likely to throw up as slip on an intestine hanging out of someone still coughing. 

It just... it was harder to look at when that type of violence came from hands that had held your own, that you had kissed and let massage the knots in your back, that you had watched weave shawls of bright feathers and write extensive notes on things as asinine as the shortening wingspan of dock sparrows.

No, that was the easy bit. People could kill and be gentle, if you let them express that range. The part that twisted Wenyanga's guts is that they had made the monster that had crushed all gentleness out of Tello, leaving only an iron mass of death that ate through a crowd like acid.

Wenyanga didn't let themselves look away, not until Salleh dragged herself onto the roof with Thula over her shoulder.

"I don't think we have time to be wasting on staring off into the distance," Salleh said.

Wenyanga turned. "There's always time to contemplate a bad decision."

Thula's face looked drained of all blood, like she was ready to throw up over the edge of the roof at any moment. "Not at two hundred paces in the air, beloved."

"Why not? Nothing like a panoramic view of a fuck up." 

"A fuck up?"

Wenyanga pressed their lips into a flat line, then sighed. "Beloved, I need your help with this stage of a plan. My core's a little... sore. I need to peel, hmm." They eyed the spinning soul over the town square, only a couple of streets away. "Seventy-five layers."

"We can't compress and store Sanele's soul," Thula said, flipping open her kit. "It's grown too unstable."

"We don't need to store it," Wenyanga said. "Just make it small enough to fit in my mouth."

"I want to ask."

"Don't."

Thula slipped a long, cruel-looking needle out her kit and rose unsteadily to her feet. "Right, take your robe off and get on your back."

Wenyanga winced at the sunlight running off the needle's sickly-green tip. "Is it our anniversary already?"

**

Anele stepped through the shattered wall and nearly slipped on a corpse. There were more bodies laid across the lawn than she could look at at once, so she didn't. There was a Pettygod waking up behind her. Jogging heavily, she set her eyes on a couple of buildings twenty paces away with smoke billowing out the windows. 

Two men stumbled out of one of the buildings, one of them lugging a smoulderingShe  basket of food, the other clutching a baby bundled in wet cloth to their chest. A heavily-armoured warrior knocked the first man down and took off with the basket. An armed woman ran into another building, the bronze head of her spear glowing with the light of the fire inside. There was screaming, then she sprinted out with a sack of rice, the grains spilling out of a gash in the blood-spattered bag.

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