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

I try not to picture the face Ro?n used them on as I search for the right words to make him give us what we need. I don’t want to be alone with him for too long. Despite Ro?n’s advances, I trust myself less than I trust him.

“We appreciate all you’ve done,” I say. “The patience you’ve had with us—”

“Please tell me Amari fed you better lines than that.” Ro?n starts to sit in his chair, but winces, reaching behind his neck. He pulls his shirt over his head and my face warms at the sight of his sculpted muscles, crisscrossed with new and old scars. But then I spot the gash below his shoulder.

I grab a stained rag from the floor, taking my chance to get close. Ro?n’s eyes narrow when I wring it out in a bucket of rainwater before wiping off his wound.

“You’re sweet, Z?tsōl. But I’m not in the business of favors.”

“This isn’t a favor,” I say. “Help us with the rally, and you’ll make double what you already have.”

“Enlighten me.” Ro?n tilts his head. “What is double of nothing?”

“If the ritual had gone as planned, Amari would be sitting on the throne. You’d already have your gold.”

Baba would be alive.

I chase away the thought before it can haunt me again. Thinking of what could’ve been won’t help me convince Ro?n to say yes.

“Z?tsōl, charming as I may be, you don’t want men like me or Harun by your side. You definitely don’t want to be in our debt.”

“If Amari doesn’t make her claim to the throne, someone else will seize control.”

“That sounds like her problem.” Ro?n shrugs. “Why do you care?”

“Because…” The right words slip to the tip of my tongue. Because she’s what’s best for this kingdom. She’s the only one who can call off the military’s maji hunt.

But staring at Ro?n, I don’t want to lie.

Somehow, it feels like lying to myself.

“I thought things would be better.” I shake my head. “Magic was supposed to make things better.”

Speaking the truth aloud makes me feel like I might break. The truth makes my heart ache.

“Baba’s death, the t?táns, the hunted maji,” I sigh. “All these people fleeing their homes. It hasn’t even been a moon since the ritual and it feels like magic’s destroyed the entire kingdom. Everything’s worse than it was before.” I wring out the rag, wishing I could turn back time. “Now that it’s here, I don’t want it. I wish I’d never wanted it at all.”

I exhale a shuddering breath and move to wipe away more blood, but Ro?n grabs my wrist, forcing me to look at him. His touch makes my skin hum. This is the first time since that night on the warship that we’ve truly been alone. Back then, we stood beneath the yellow moon, sharing nightmares and scars.

The way Ro?n looks at me now makes my skin crawl, but it also makes me want to draw close. It’s like his stormy eyes pierce through my shell, seeing me for the mess I truly am.

“If you don’t want magic anymore, what do you want?”

His question makes me pause. All I want is the people I’ve lost. But the more I think, the more I remember Mama’s embrace. The warmth of death’s escape.

“I want to be free,” I whisper. “I want to be done.”

“Then be done.” He pulls me in close, studying me as if I’m a knot to be unraveled. “Why ask for my help when you can cut your losses and call this the end?”

“Because if Amari’s not sitting on that throne, it was all for nothing. My father will have died for nothing. And if that happens…” My stomach clenches at the thought. “If that happens, I’ll never be free. Not with that kind of guilt.”

Ro?n stares at me and I can see the objections rising to his tongue. But he seems to hold them between his teeth as I cup his chin, wiping away more blood.

He looks down and I see the tally marks that run up his arm, the worst of all his scars. He once told me that his torturers carved a new line every time they killed a member of his crew before his eyes; twenty-three tally marks for twenty-three lives. Deep down, I think those scars are the reason Ro?n left his homeland. The reason he understands me better than anyone else.

“I don’t give second chances, Z?tsōl. This would be your third.”

“You can trust me.” I stick out my hand. “I promise on Baba’s life. Help us finish this and you’ll collect in gold.”

Ro?n shakes his head, but relief rushes through me when he puts his hand in mine.

“Alright,” he says. “We’ll leave tonight.”





CHAPTER FOUR


AMARI


THE NEXT MORNING, my voice echoes in the cramped captain’s quarters. As the warship nears Zaria’s shores, I struggle to write the speech that will convince the people of Or?sha to back my claim to the throne.

“My name is Amari Olúborí,” I declare. “Daughter of King Saran. Sister to the late crown prince.”

I stand in front of the cracked mirror, attempting to feel the power embedded in those words. No matter how many times I speak them, they don’t feel right.

Nothing does.

I pull the black dashiki over my head and toss it onto the growing pile of clothes on my bed. After weeks of living with what I could carry on my back, the excess gathered by Ro?n’s men feels foreign.

It brings me back to mornings in the palace; to biting my tongue while servants forced me into gown after gown under Mother’s orders. She was never satisfied with anything I wore. In her amber eyes, I always looked too dark. Too large.

I reach for a gold-tinted gele on the floor. Mother was always fond of the color. I nestle the gele along my temples and Mother’s voice rings through my ears.

That’s not fit to wipe a leopanaire’s ass.

My throat dries and I set the headdress down. For so long I wanted to shut her out. Now I don’t have a choice.

Focus, Amari.

I pick up a navy tunic, squeezing the silk to keep the tears in. What right do I have to grieve when the sins of my family have caused this kingdom so much pain?

I slide the tunic over my skin and return to the mirror. There’s no time to cry.

I have to atone for those sins today.

“I stand before you to declare that the divisions of the past are over,” I shout. “The time to unify is now. Together, we will be…”

My voice trails as I shift my stance, inspecting my fragmented reflection. A new scar spills onto my shoulder, crackling like lightning against my oak-brown skin. Over the years, I’ve grown used to hiding the scar my brother left across my back. This is the first time I’ve had to hide Father’s.

Something about the mark feels alive. It’s as if his hatred still courses through my skin. I wish I could erase it. I almost wish I could erase him—

“Skies!” My fingers flash with the blue light of my ashê and I wince at the burn. I attempt to suppress the navy glow that shimmers around my hand, but the room spins as my new magic swells.

Midnight-blue tendrils shoot from my fingertips like sparks from a flint. My palms sting as my skin splits. My scars rip open at the seams. I gasp at the pain.

“Somebody help!” I shout as I stumble into the mirror. Crimson smears across my reflection. The agony is so great I can’t breathe. Blood trickles down my chest as I fall to my knees. I wheeze though I want to scream—

“Amari!”

Tzain’s voice is like shattered glass. His presence frees me from my mental cage. The pain fades ache by grueling ache.

I blink to find myself on the tarnished floor, half-dressed with my silk tunic clenched in my hand. The blood that smeared across the mirror is nowhere to be found.

My scars remain closed.

Tzain covers me with a shawl before taking me into his arms. I brace myself against his chest as my muscles turn heavy, winded from the burst of magic.

“That’s the second time this week,” he says.

Actually, it’s the fourth. But I bite back the truth when I see the concern in his gaze. Tzain doesn’t need to know it’s getting worse. No one does.

I still don’t know how to feel about these new gifts. What it means to be a Connector; to be a t?tán. The maji had their powers restored after the ritual, but t?táns like me have never had magic until now.

From what I can tell, the t?táns come from the nobility: royals unaware of their maji ancestry. What would Father say if he knew his own children carried the blood of those he hated most? The very people he regarded as maggots?

“Gods,” Tzain curses as he inspects my palm. The skin is red and tender to the touch, dotted with yellow blisters. “Magic’s not supposed to hurt. If you’d just talk to Zél—”

“Zélie’s not even using her own magic. The last thing she needs to see is mine.”

I tuck away my white streak, wishing I could just chop the lock from my hair. Tzain may not notice the way Zélie looks at it, but I always catch the snarl it brings to her face. For so long, she had to suffer because of her gift. Now those that hurt her the most wield that magic themselves.

I can understand why she despises it, but at times it feels like she despises me. And she’s supposed to be my closest friend. How will the rest of the maji feel when they learn that I’ve become a t?tán?

“I’ll figure it all out,” I sigh. “After I’m on the throne.”

I burrow back into Tzain’s neck, running my fingers against the new stubble along his chin.

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