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

WHEN WE ENTER the dome, the sight is so brilliant it steals my words. There are so many people, more than I’ve ever addressed at once.

A sculpted mural fills the dome’s sand walls, carved bodies intertwined in dance and song. A large opening in the dome’s side allows a view of the sea. The tides kiss the sand at our feet.

“Wow,” Tzain mutters under his breath, walking by my side. I lift my head to the sunlight spilling in from the large oculus in the ceiling. It bathes the crowd below in its warm rays, illuminating a wooden stage erected by Ro?n’s men.

The sea of people parts as I march toward the platform in the center of the dome. They part for me the way they parted for Father.

Strike, Amari.

I hear his voice as I ascend the steps of the stage. In Father’s eyes, this was never my destiny, yet it’s almost like he trained me for this day. He was the one who taught me I must cut through every opponent in my way, even if that opponent was someone I loved.

Fight, Amari.

I take a deep breath, squaring my shoulders and lifting my chest. I made Father a vow when I drove that sword through his chest. Now it’s time for me to secure my throne or lose it.

“My name is Amari Olúborí.” The declaration booms against the curved walls. “Daughter of your fallen king. Sister to the late crown prince.”

Someone moves toward me in the crowd and my pulse spikes; I brace myself for their attack. But when the young kosidán kneels, my lips part.

I’m not prepared for him to bow.

“Your Majesty.” He dips so low, his head touches the sand. His bow starts a wave throughout the dome as more people fall to their knees. A warm wave radiates through my skin as others bow along Zaria’s coast.

There’s something sacred in the way they arc. Something I want so desperately to deserve. I left the palace a scared princess on the run.

Now I’m one speech away from taking the throne.

“Two moons ago I sat at a palace luncheon as my father murdered my best friend. Her name was Binta, and she was a div?ner whose only crime was the magic that coursed through her skin.” I clear my throat, forcing myself on though the pain of that day returns with each word. “My father forced Binta to awaken her gift against her will. Then, when her powers revealed themselves, he killed her where she stood.”

Murmurs of dissent pass through the crowd. A few tears, some shakes of the head. In the back of the dome, a group of maji push their way in. Across the room, two burly soldiers exchange glares.

Our peace feels as fragile as glass, but I cannot shy away from the truth anymore. The maji have been silenced for far too long. If I don’t speak for them, who will?

“You may not have known Binta’s name before this moment, but I know you know her story. It is the tale countless Or?shans have faced, an unjust persecution that has plagued our div?ners and maji for decades. For generations the story of Or?sha has been the story of divide. A story of violence and persecution that must end today.”

The timbre in my voice surprises me; I can almost see it ripple through the dome. Someone shouts in agreement, and others join in. I blink as more cheers erupt.

The small show of faith emboldens me as I walk the length of the platform. The Or?sha I dream of is within my grasp.

Then I see a member of the Iyika.

The rebel stands in the middle of the room, a thick scar running down her left eye. Unlike the other maji in the dome, her forest of white coils is on full display, spilling onto her soft brown shoulders. Red paint stains her hands, the same color as the paint smeared outside the dome’s walls. Though she stands still, the snarl on her face tells me everything I need to know.

She doesn’t want me to take this throne.

Sweat gathers beneath my helmet as I scan the crowd, looking for more rebels like her. I reach to make sure the metal still hides my streak, but looking back at the maji forces me to pause.

She doesn’t hide from my sight. She doesn’t conceal who she is. Why should I?

Strike, Amari.

My fingers tense as I grab my helmet, preparing for what I might cause. Revealing my transformation is far from the smart move. But if I cower and hide the truth, I’m no better than Inan.

Be brave, Amari.

I take one last breath. My white streak tumbles free when my helmet hits the ground.

“She’s one of them!”

“The queen is a t?tán!”

Gasps ripple through the crowd. A handful of maji push toward the front. Unrest builds in the dome as soldiers dive in after them.

My voice withers as Ro?n’s mercenaries form a ring around the stage, but the dried blood across my breastplate reminds me of my strength. I am the only one who can bring Or?sha together. I am the queen who can keep all of these people safe.

“I wanted to hide my truth,” I shout. “My apprehension about what I’ve become. But the return of magic and the birth of t?táns are living proof that we are finally returning to the Or?sha the gods have always wanted for us! We’re so full of hatred and fear, we’ve forgotten what blessings these abilities are. For centuries these powers have been the source of our strife, but the gods ordained us with magic so the people of Or?sha could thrive!”

The commotion in the dome stills as people become ensnared by my words. Our peace may be fragile, but as long as they’re listening, I have a chance.

“Think of how Grounders could farm our land. How teams of Tiders could cut the work of fishermen in half,” I say. “Welders could erect new cities in days. Healers could ensure those we love don’t perish from wounds or sickness!”

I speak to the rebel maji with a scar over her eye. The young soldier with a scowl on his lips. I paint each dissenter a picture with my words, seeing my dreams almost as clearly as the mural carved into the ceiling above.

“Under my rule, this will be a land where even the poorest villagers are fed, housed, and clothed. A kingdom where everyone is protected, where everyone is accepted! The divisions of the past are over!” I extend my hands and lift my voice. “A new Or?sha is on the horizon!”

This time when the cheers erupt, they’re deafening. I beam as the sound echoes around the dome, the cries to unify powerful and loud.

“Kí èmí olá ó gùn Ayaba!” Someone shouts, a chant that travels throughout the crowd.

“Kí èmí olá ó gùn Ayaba,” Zélie translates. “Long live the Queen.”

My body feels so light I’m sure I could float above the stage. The crowd’s chant reverberates inside me, awakening pieces of me I didn’t know I had. It brings me back to that magical moment in Chandomblé, the wonder of the art Lekan brought to life. Now I see that same peace and prosperity. That same magic is within our grasp—

“Lies!”

The voice booms above the masses, its ice quieting the crowd in an instant. Heads turn toward the dome’s archway. I grab my hilt as metal boots crunch through the sand.

I lock eyes with Zélie, and she nods, ready for the fight. But when the sea of people parts and the challenger comes into view, my blade falls from my hand.

Even with her hood raised, I recognize the slink in her step. The iron in her veins.

“Mother?”

My hands fly to my chest. A laugh escapes my lips.

I move toward her, unable to believe my eyes. But when she lifts her head, the hatred that burns in her amber gaze freezes me in place.





CHAPTER SEVEN


ZéLIE


I DON’T NEED to read Amari’s face to recognize the source of her amber eyes. Queen Nehanda shares her daughter’s beauty, but where Amari is soft curves, this woman is sharp angles and severe lines. Like her daughter, Nehanda wears a suit of armor, but hers shines in gold. The polished plates curve over her chest, accented with serrated shoulder pads and sculpted gauntlets.

“What do we do?” Tzain whispers, grip tightening on the handle of his axe. Despite what Ro?n’s intelligence said, Queen Nehanda still lives. The monarch glides across the sand, a deep purple cape flowing behind her with the ocean breeze. Her precision is deathly familiar.

It makes the scars prickle on my back.

“You survived!” Amari smiles, but Nehanda doesn’t even spare her daughter a glance. As she takes in the room, she seems acutely aware of how the entire dome hangs on her very breath.

Aware of how a single word was all she needed to take a cheering rally into her own hands like the crack of a whip.

“Bold promises,” Queen Nehanda finally speaks. “Elegant lies. But these aren’t the words of a devoted leader. Only the vitriol of a power-hungry tyrant.”

Her accusation lands like a slap to the face. Amari actually stumbles back. A wave of rumbles starts among the crowd, dissent trickling through like water from a broken dam.

“Mother, what is this?” Amari steps forward. “I thought you were dead—”

“You wished it upon me!” The queen cuts her off. “You sent maji and mercenaries for my head!”

“I didn’t—”

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