Children of Virtue and Vengeance (Legacy of Orïsha #2)

I breathe deep, wishing I could take back every word I screamed. I don’t know how to tell her that it’s not her fault. That I scream at her because I can’t scream at Inan—

“Whoa!” I gasp as we break free of the forest. The silver moon hangs in the night sky, shining over the black silhouettes of the Olasimbo Mountain Range. The terrain changes without warning as the trees disappear, bringing us to a steep cliff that juts out over plummeting darkness.

Nailah roars and digs her nails into the ground to slow us down. Gravel and dirt fly as we careen across the mountainside.

“Hold on!” I yank back on her horns with all the force I have. With a yelp, my lionaire tumbles onto her side. I cry out as the collision throws me from her back.

I claw at the sky as I fly toward the forest. My body smashes through wiry branches before slamming into a tree. I wheeze as my chest collides with hard bark. My ribs fracture with a loud crack.

Blood flies from my lips as my vision blacks out and I tumble to the ground. I curl into myself, lying there until my sight returns.

After a few moments, my cheek grows slick with licks from Nailah’s tongue. Her wet nose nudges my face as the world fades away. For once, I don’t try to hold on.

Take me back. I lift up the prayer once more. Mama was wrong to keep me on earth.

I’m far too broken to help anyone.

Mama, please …

I release it all, allowing the blackness in. But when I open my eyes, I see white.

I see dirt.

I see reeds.





CHAPTER THIRTEEN


ZéLIE


I DON’T KNOW if I’m trapped in a dream or a nightmare.

No chains bind me, but I can’t move.

Crisp air fills my lungs, yet I can’t breathe.

Gray, wilting reeds surround me, a haze of white peeking through like a blanket of clouds. Brittle dirt presses against my bare skin, falling away as I force myself up.

How?

The question pulses through my mind when I look around the dreamscape. The last time I was brought to this ethereal space, Saran’s knife had just carved through my back. I kissed Inan through my tears.

Now there’s no lush forest. No trickles of flowing water.

There’s only me.

And him.

Inan lies in the dying reeds, far closer than I ever want him to be. I don’t know if he’s just in my head.

If he’s still alive or dead.

But seeing him now is a hand squeezing around my throat. Another wrapping tight around my heart. It’s mountains crashing down inside me as he stirs and lifts himself from the dirt.

I step back when he groans, muttering to himself in a stupor. His chest is bare, his skin dull, his brown body now thin. The white streak shines bright in his unruly hair, a curl falling between his amber eyes. He blinks slowly as he steadies himself, coming alive when he spots me.

“Zélie?”

My hands shake at the sound of my name on his lips. It’s a different kind of knife. One that digs into the deepest corners of my heart and begins to twist.

This isn’t happening. I shake my head. This isn’t real.

But Inan stands here. He holds the scarred flesh of his abdomen as if it still leaks blood. His eyes widen, and I can almost see the memories coming back to him. The pain of his father’s sword driving into his gut.

I reach for my back and my fingers graze the MAGGOT etched into my skin. We’ve fallen so far. The dreamscape used to be the one place in the world where we were free of our scars.

“They weren’t supposed to shoot,” Inan exclaims, his words rushing together. “You have to believe me. I ordered them not to!”

My hand snaps to my mouth. A sob I can’t fight breaks out.

Each word he speaks makes the magic I suppress breathe through my skin. Though I push it back, I can’t keep it down. I can’t keep the memories in— “No!”

The shout echoes in my head. Echoes against the sacred temple walls. This time I see its source. Not my brother, but Inan.

My body slams against the stone floor. Baba follows with a heavy thud.

The arrow pierces straight through his chest.

His warm blood pools at my fingertips— “Please,” Inan begs. “I thought I was doing the right thing.”

It’s difficult to hear him over the pounding in my head. My magic howls, crying out to strike him.

“I trusted you.” My words are so quiet I don’t know if he can hear them. I feel the pieces of my heart like broken glass. Pieces that broke because of him.

“I’m sorry.” He shakes his head. “I’m so sorry…”

He reaches out his hand, and it all comes back: the scared little prince. Lips that promised me the world. Hands that caressed my skin.

“I’ll make this right,” he says. “I promise. Even if it costs me my life.”

But he’s made me promises before.

Then he marched Baba to his death.

“Zélie—”

I roar like a lionaire as my magic breaks free.

A fire I haven’t felt since the sacred ritual ignites inside of me.

Mammoth trees shoot up from the earth, blocking out the light though there is no sun. My magic bleeds through the dirt. The dreamscape shifts, a mirror of all my hurt.

“Zélie, please!”

Black tree roots explode from the ground, wrapping around Inan’s calf. They coil around his body like snakes, dragging him backward. I don’t know how I control Inan’s dreamscape, but I don’t care. I glide forward as the roots bind him against a tree, circling his waist, his chest, his neck.

“Wait!” he calls out as I clench my hand. Black vines tighten around his throat, cutting off his words as he chokes. Blood drips down his back, oozing as the jagged bark scrapes into his skin. My own shoulders burn with an echo of his pain, but I don’t care if it hurts me.

As long as it hurts him.

“Zélie.” Inan’s eyes burn red as I tighten my fist. I squeeze the roots so hard he can’t even gasp. I squeeze so hard his collarbones snap.

“Run,” I whisper through my teeth. “Pray.” I bring my face right up to his, clenching my fingers so hard my nails draw blood from my skin. “When I’m done with you, you’re going to wish you died that day.”

With a final squeeze, his eyes roll back.

The dreamscape shatters as he falls limp.





CHAPTER FOURTEEN


INAN


ZéLIE, NO!

My eyes fly open. My hands shoot to my throat. My body convulses with grating coughs, fighting me as I choke.

I grip the nearest surface, trying to steady myself through the pain. There’s nothing beyond the darkness.

Only the war in my brain.

Run. Zélie’s voice rings through my skull. Pray. Her hatred anchors me in this moment. The vengeance she swore to claim. Though my lungs still gasp for air, I begin to see through the pain.

It didn’t work …

Magic lives again.

The realization is like a sedative spreading through my skull. Though my head pounds, it numbs all pain. For an instant, every other thought dissolves.

I gave up everything to stop magic’s return. I betrayed my sister and the girl I love. Father’s sword plunged through my stomach.

Yet the poison still runs through my blood.

Count to ten. I curl my fingers, exhaling a slow breath. I sink back into the sweat-soaked pillow as the pain in my stomach returns. My hands shake when I reach down and find the thick scar left from Father’s sword. The gruesome mark is still tender to the touch.

As I run my fingers over the raised skin, I see the snarl on Father’s lips. Hear the growl in his throat. Rage burned through his brown eyes as he stabbed his majacite blade through my gut.

How did this happen? I search the fog in my mind for answers. When I fell into a pool of my own blood, I didn’t think I would rise again. The last thing I can remember is Amari running to my defense, choosing to face Father herself.

I don’t know how I ended up in the dying dreamscape. How much time has passed since that fateful day. What happened to my father and my sister. Where I lie now—

Ha-woooooooo!

My head snaps up at the deep and thunderous howl. The alarm begins as a steady rumble, but in seconds it blares with the force of a thousand horns. The bed around me shakes with its vibrations. The siren makes my blood run cold. It sounds like terror and bloodshed and death.

It sounds like war.

What in the skies? I scramble out of the silk sheets, my limbs moving like water. I try to stand, but my legs give out. With a lurch, I slam into the ground.

I lift my throbbing head from a velvet rug as the horn blares. My body goes stiff when I come face-to-face with the piercing green glare of an embroidered snow leopanaire.

“What’s going on?” I whisper, questions mounting by the second. My eyes start to adjust to the dim candlelight and I take in the crimson walls; the marbled archways and lush upholstery of Father’s royal quarters.

I turn to the gold-paned windows as the alarm grows louder. Sharp screams echo through the thick drapes. Hairs lift on the nape of my neck as the sliver of night that peeks through the velvet folds begins to turn red—

“Your Majesty, please!”

The door slams open. Candlelight floods in. I stumble into the wall, blinded as a general and armored troops storm into Father’s room.

“Quick!” The general runs to the bed. “We need to get him to the cellars!” But as the woman scrambles across the silk sheets, I realize that she’s not a general at all.

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