Chapter 39 (Economic destruction)
Kkaj zipped through the air, moving towards the city. Am I too late?
Crackle-crackle-crackle. Below him, fire covered two of the five distilleries located on the Trade Road that lead to the northern gate. The thick stink of burning sugar and charcoal polluted the air and turned his stomach. The rotting smoke climbed into his mouth. Why did it taste like dirt-covered milk left to spoil in the sun?
Nausea washed over him, and he vomited. His hold on the power waned, and his progress slowed to a crawl. The light around his body flickered. Would he fall?
Ahead, the next two — one of which belonged to his father — appeared to be nothing but rubble. Black and gray ash covered the land surrounding the two ruined distilleries, and a simmering heat hung in the air. Sweat prickled across his skin and soaked into his shirt.
He shivered then took a deep breath despite the smell. He forced himself to relax, regaining his focus and increasing his speed. Why would she destroy the distilleries? He spat the acidic taste from his mouth and wiped his lips. Doesn’t she know that hurts the common people? He gritted his teeth.
The trees and scorched earth blurred into a rolling mass of green, black and gray.
The white energy around him fluttered. Unbidden, he slowed then plummeted towards the ground. A squeal burst from his mouth. He gathered the last of the white energy into a ball and pushed it downwards, slowing his fall.
Wind whipped at his face, and the jerking motion popped his shoulders.
Thud! He crashed into the ground right shoulder first and rolled to a stop just outside his father’s primary distillery. The last of the five, closest to the city and unharmed. Did I make it in time? He scrambled to his feet and rubbed at his shoulders. Not dislocated. Lucky.
The new, towering wall around the Jakka distillery spoke of how angry his father had been when the cheap wiring had malfunctioned despite Kkaj’s ingenious new design. But with no guards in sight and the gate ajar, his father couldn’t possibly get angry with Kkaj for entering without a chaperone. Right?
After glancing left then right, Kkaj edged forward and slipped inside.
Silence. The stench of blood punched him in the face, and each breath tasted like chewing coins. Two bodies sprawled across the entryway with gaping holes through their chests. Both of their faces were mauled beyond recognition, but by the colors of their uniforms and the silver-plated pistols in their hands, the corpses belonged to Markij and Orkoj.
Kkaj gagged, but he held the little remaining food in his stomach down. I have to stop her. He clenched his fists until his knuckles turned white. I … hope I can do it without killing her, but … . He stepped into the distillery. I’m sorry Jekor.
Extinguished liquor lanterns lined the walls and sent icy octospider legs racing down his spine.
The door clicked shut behind him, throwing the room into darkness. Creak! The eerie noise echoed down the hallway.
“Ikiffar?” Kkaj swallowed the lump forming in his throat and moved deeper into the uninhabited black pit that was once his father’s distillery. “Is that you?”
“It’s me. Kkaj. We need to talk.”
A light weeping sound scratched at his ears. Was it a woman?
“Ikiffar?” He crushed his nerves and strode into the heart of the distillery. I’m glad I didn’t trip over —
Something caught his foot.
Kkaj stumbled forward and landed flat on his face. Crack! His nose shattered, and pain lanced through his face. His eyes watered. He yelped the writhed about on the floor.
The cold stone pricked his flesh. Light distilled the expansive room around him. Had he made it to the assembly line?
His heart froze.
Nearby, someone huffed.
Not alone. He flopped onto his back.
Ikiffar glared down at him with tear-filled eyes. Her quivering lips released light sobs, and a dull white glow encased her body. Her once childish face bore several wrinkles and the cast of a woman twice her age. How much Lucidity had she drank?
Even with blood flowing from his nose and into his mouth, Kkaj smiled. He had no other choice.
“K-K-K-Kkaj?” Her voice cracked. “I-i-i-is that really you?”
“It’s good to see you, too.” His nasal voice itched his nerves. Did he actually sound like that?
“I-I-I-I lost control.”
He forced himself to sit up, and despite the vat of dizziness mixing his thoughts, he stood and pulled her into a hug. “What happened?”
“I was trying to force the workers to evacuate.”
“And you accidentally killed Markij and Orkoj.”
“You —” Her entire body trembled in his arms. “— knew them? I’m so-so-so-sorry.”
He patted her on the back. “Don’t worry about it. They were jerks anyway.”
“Shhhhh.” He kissed her on the side of the head. “Everyone makes mistakes. I mean it could be worse.”
“You could kill the one you love.”
“You mean Saffer? But I was the idiot who —”
Ikiffar pulled away from him and stared into his eyes.
Tears mixed with the blood on his lips and left a slimy residue. He scrubbed his tongue across his teeth and stopped himself from frowning. “Remember when I offered myself to you in the library?”
“I thought you were related to my cousin.”
Ikiffar blinked. “Wait. You loved your cousin?”
“Don’t judge me.”
She looked up and to the right then her jaw dropped. A long moment of silence later, she pulled him into a hug. “You’ve been putting up with so much, but nothing you do seems to fill the hole in your life, does it?”
“No matter how many people I save … .”
“Thank you for your support.”
“So, you’re going to give up your revenge?”
She pulled away from him and turned around, facing the stores of bottles. “I can’t.”
“I’ve come too far at this point.”
“No, you haven’t. You can always turn around.”
Ikiffar took a step towards the towering crates of rum bottles and extended both hands. “I’m sorry, but I will finish this.”
“No.” She released a beam of white energy, ripping through the side of the distillery.
“Destroying the distilleries only hurts the common people, not those responsible!”
She started. “I don’t have any other choice. I have to lure most of the guards from the city.”
Good idea. Kkaj shook his head. “I have to stop you. Killing the monarchs will destroy the world as we know it.”
“That wouldn’t be a bad thing.”
“If the change wouldn’t ride on the backs of the common people, then this might be a good idea. But so many will die. So many will suffer. So many will —”
“It must be done.” She floated into the air. “I’ll give you to the count of fifteen to get out of here.”
If I fight her here … .
She opened a hole in the ceiling and rose into the sky. “Fifteen. Fourteen.”
I need to get her into a confined space. He sprinted from his father’s distillery and down the road towards Jimkar city.
Boom! A massive explosion ripped through his father’s distillery and sent large chunks of rock flying into the air.
He shoved past the guards at the gate. Though, it may be better to take the monarchs into hiding. He glanced over his shoulder then flagged down a cart. “Tequila to the palace!” He hopped inside just as the cart driver whipped the horses into a run.
Next: Chapter 40