There were stories about her kind, stories old as islands and only slightly younger than the names of the stars. When she was small, Cerena heard them all: stories of men and women who could raise walls of white fire that hissed and spat and roared like waterfalls, but could hold back oceans; of people who could fly because of the force of the heat coming off their hands and others who could build shields in the air thick enough to walk on; folk who could turn night into day and day into a place without shadows; men and women who could melt stone beneath their bare hands and let the molten streams run between their fingers like water.
Cerena begged for new stories. When every friend and stranger she had ran out of myths to tell, she begged for them to repeat every one they had told before. Every evening, she listened, and every night she wished they were real until she fell asleep.
She hadn’t thought about those wishes for a long time. They had seemed like small things when she was ten. They seemed even smaller now. But she was making them again.
Ines touched her elbow. “Keep moving,” she told Cerena.
She hadn’t intended to stop, but she hadn’t realized how many streets in the city had a clear view of the stone wall around the palace. She knew the palace was huge, a tangle of buildings taller than anything else on the island, but the city ran for miles. When it stopped running, it sprawled out, stretched just a little farther – it even waded out into the water in a few places – but she kept running into that wall.
She took her next step without looking where she was going, then forced herself to take her eyes off the gray stone.
“When I told you to walk slowly, I didn’t mean for you to walk like you were losing your memory every ten steps,” Ines murmured.
“That might be more enjoyable,” Cerena murmured.
Beside her, Ines paused. Then she returned her attention to the crowd milling around them on the wide street. “Let’s just get you to your ship.”
The palace wall disappeared when they took their next turn. The crowd pressed a little closer as the street narrowed and began to wind back and forth between the carts that elbowed their way out in front of square-faced shops and restaurants. Ines followed the crowd, and ignored the shouted offers around her, while Cerena stayed close behind. They kept a leisurely stride and looked around as if they could be convinced to be interested, but never stopped.
“We don’t have a lot of time,” Ines murmured after a moment. She was breathing a little harder than she should have been. Absently, she flicked her fingers at her side, unable to keep them still. “We calculated it pretty close. We need to get you there before the tide, but we didn’t want you standing around the docks for too long. The dock guard has gotten strange.”
Cerena understood her need to fill the silence. It made them fit in better, and it they could both use the distraction. She wondered if Ines realized what she was saying though. Crowds seemed not to have ears, but so often she came across a person hiding inside them. She glanced around, wondering if she would catch someone’s eye, but the crowd held its careless solidarity and they kept moving.
They took their next turn and Cerena forgot to look down again before the palace wall rolled back into view. She looked at it a little too long.
“Having a hard time saying good-bye to home?” Ines murmured.
Cerena glanced at the wall one more time to make sure she wasn’t about to tell a lie, but the words came out even easier than she had expected: “That’s not home.”
“Don’t do that,” Ines said, just as quickly, though she kept her tone conversationally dull. Cerena looked at her, unsure what to expect in her expression. Her mouth was a carefully managed line. Her eyes stayed focused ahead of her. “Don’t you dare give him that.”
“Excuse me?” Cerena whispered.
“We were raised there,” Ines said. “Maybe he can take a crown and a throne – I’m still arguing that one – but don’t let him take a single thing more.”
Cerena turned quickly, before she had even finished, looking for any corner they could tuck themselves into for a moment. There was a small space between two of the shops on the left side of the street, half hidden in the unevenness between their faces. Cerena grabbed Ines’ hand and yanked her into it. She had to split the crowd to get there, but she pushed her way through and didn’t care how many might have just marked her.
“What are you doing?” Ines demanded when Cerena dropped her hand at a dead stop. “We need to go.” She stopped as soon as Cerena faced her. She pulled back, and Cerena was sorry for that, but she could feel the sharpness of her gaze from the inside, and she was happy for it.
“That is not home,” she told Ines.
Ines took a breath, looked away, and tried to find her argument again. “It is. And–“
“I have spent the last month and a half in a locked room behind those walls,” Cerena said. “You had to come get me with a sword and crowbar, not a key and a smile. I’m running – you’re helping me run – because if I stay here, Damion’s going to kill me.”
Ines shook her head, but she couldn’t summon a word to contradict her.
Cerena swallowed hard before she continued. There was no need to say anything more, but Cerena wanted to push the thought off her tongue and be done with it. “If that was still home, you would have gotten everyone when you came for me. We wouldn’t have left anyone behind.”
Ines shut her eyes.
Leaning back, Cerena let the sharpness fall out of her stance, let her eyes drop to the ground for a moment and come back up more gently. “I’m not saying good-bye to anything,” she whispered. She shook her head a little. “I just want to put my hands on that wall and tear it down. I want to melt the dremmed stones. And I can’t.”
My friends are thieves! They stole the first line of this piece and ran off with it to make short fictions of their own. Be sure to check them all out here.