Chapter 34 (Targets acquired)
Ikiffar slowed their horses and pulled the map from Roffor’s Drunkzard vest. We are close.
The roars from behind said the crocobear — or crocobears — had caught up to Jekor and Kkaj, cutting off their pursuit. A tangy sweet scent hung in their air. It smelled a bit like the honey-vinegar apples her Ikiffar’s mom used to make.
Tears welled up in Ikiffar’s eyes then rolled down her cheeks. The map blurred.
Roffor tugged against her bonds. “Why are you doing this?”
“Because Kkaj must pay.” Even at the cost of the man I’ve fallen in love with. Ikiffar sniffled then wiped her eyes.
Roffor gasped. “Y-y-you.”
“You killed my sister!”
Roffor growled and thrashed against the metal chains. “Accident? How —”
“For some reason, Kkaj fell as I fired, and when she reached down to catch him, the bullet hit her instead of him.”
“Why do you hate Kkaj so much? You know he loved the cousin you two share, right? He still has terrible —”
“I’m not related to Kkaj.” Ikiffar pushed their horses to a light trot, giving them a bit of rest.
“Kkaj killed every member of my family.” Ikiffar swallowed, and more tears dripped from her chin.
“Maybe a month or so ago.”
Roffor’s jaw dropped. “Y-y-y-you’re f-f-f-from Orakab.”
Ikiffar nodded. “I was there when the desolation began. I saw my grandparents ripped limb from limb by metal Drunkzards.” Her voice cracked. “I didn’t have any liquor with me, and my mother shoved me into the river as one of Kkaj’s bastards beheaded her.”
“I’m sorry.” Roffor’s voice took on a solemn tone. “I wish I wouldn’t have stopped Kkaj from searching the river.”
“Why?” Spite filled Ikiffar’s chest, and she gritted her teeth. “So there could be no witnesses to his crimes?”
Roffor shook her head, no longer fighting against her bonds. “Because he wanted to help the victims out. To make amends. In his sleep, he talked about letting the survivors torture him to death for failing to keep their friends and family safe.”
Icy tendrils licked the back of Ikiffar’s neck then brushed down her spine. She started. a shiver dancing across her shoulders. “You can’t be serious.”
“He searched through the rubble for days. Me and —” Roffor sniffled. “— Saffer forced him to return to the city.”
“If he’s so remorseful, why did he let it happen?”
“Considering the limited resources the king provided him, I’m surprised more damage wasn’t caused.”
“Yes, the king — well, every monarch — uses a branch of the Empty Bottle Club to find more members for their royal guards and servants. It’s a cheap and easy way for them to recruit the strongest Drunkzards in their kingdoms.”
“Kkaj thought so, as well. That’s why he took up the post as vice-chairman. To make sure bad things didn’t happen, but even his power wasn’t enough this time.” Roffor clenched her fists, her knuckles turning white around the reins. “If only thing king would have accepted his request for more Drunkzards or more guards.”
“So, Kkaj was sent alone to watch over the initiation of new Drunkzards?”
“Yes. His father hired us to make sure he didn’t have to go alone. He stopped so many disasters by himself. But even with us helping, he begged the king for more help.”
“And the king never delivered?”
“The king said that it was already too expensive to have Kkaj watching over them.”
Now I know who my true targets are. I’ll kill each and every monarch. “And the Lucidity?”
“Kkaj wanted the Lucidity so, despite how much each shot aged a person, he could store a large amount —”
Lucidity makes you age? Ikiffar blinked, but she kept the question to herself.
“— of power to snuff out any problems before they start.”
“I. I.” Ikiffar’s lips quivered. “I. I.”
“I hate you for killing my sister, and you will pay for that. But I hate that bastard of a king so more.”
“Why?” Ikiffar squeezed her horse tight with her legs. “I’m a murderer.”
“He … in front of Kkaj. His guards held Kkaj there and made him watch. Saffer was lucky our father had called her home for our family’s business.”
“He what?” Ikiffar’s voice echoed through the wastes.
“Raped me. Because … .” Her voice trembled.
“There is no excuse for such behavior!”
“It was the last time Kkaj asked the king for help with the Empty Bottle Club meetings.” Roffor sagged in her bonds.
“And why didn’t Kkaj kill that bastard?”
“Too many guards, probably.” The words mumbled together.
Ikiffar growled then pulled Roffor close. Ikiffar released the bonds and wrapped her arms around Roffor. “As part of my apology for misjudging you and Kkaj and … , I’ll rip that bastard of a king limb from limb. Slowly. Then I’ll make a monument from his corpse before I kill the other monarchs.”
After nodding, Roffor rested her head on Ikiffar’s shoulder. “Thank you.”
Not knowing what else to do, Ikiffar kissed the top of Roffor’s head, and together, they rode towards the Lucidity distillery in silence.
Next: Chapter 35