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

“And if she doesn’t?” Tzain asks.

When she doesn’t?

I dig my nails into my scalp; I don’t want to speak the words. Mere hours ago, I had the cheers of kosidán, maji, and t?táns ready to become one. In seconds, Mother turned that unity into chaos.

If she stays in the picture, every maji will be killed. Countless Or?shans will suffer. With her on the throne, all this kingdom will ever know is war. I have to stop her.

Even if she is my mother.

I rise to my feet and extend my sword, hands shaking as I stab it into the dirt.

“If my mother refuses to back down, I’ll take her out,” I declare. “I’ll end her war and ascend the throne.”

An uneasy silence follows in the wake of my vow.

“What about the nobility?” Tzain asks. “All those soldiers and t?táns on her side?”

My stomach churns at the thought of ending all those lives. I don’t want to fight my own people, let alone t?táns like me. There have to be hundreds aligned with her war on the maji. Maybe even thousands. If I attempt to take them all out, I’ll be no better than my father. I’ll just be another monster.

“Before my mother showed up at the rally, I had the kingdom on my side. Once I take her down, they’ll fall in line.”

“No, they won’t.” Zélie’s voice brings a new chill to the windy night. “We’ve already lost this fight. The monarchy has magic now and they still hate us. It was never about magic at all!”

“Zél—”

“The answer isn’t to kill your mother,” Zélie cuts her brother off. “Kill her and another maji-hating monarch will just rise in her place. It’s time to let this go. Be free. Leave Or?sha while we can still breathe!”

The yearning in her voice takes me off guard. I don’t understand. It’s not like Zélie to cut and run.

“I know the odds are against us,” I push back. “But we can’t abandon these people to Mother’s reign. We have to save the kingdom. We don’t have a choice—”

“Yes, we do.” Zélie rises to her feet. “We do. We tried to save the kingdom. Twice. Now it’s time for us to save ourselves!”

“I am Or?sha’s queen,” I say. “Their queen even if they don’t want me. No matter how hard it gets, I don’t get to run. It’s my duty to serve and protect every person in this kingdom!”

Zélie looks at Tzain for help, but he crosses his arms.

“Zél, she’s right. Baba died so we could fight—”

“Baba died for a lie!” Zélie slams her fist into a tree. “He gave his life for magic, and look who has it? Nehanda was stronger than any maji I’ve ever seen!”

Her voice rings through the trees as she forces herself to take a deep breath. Her anger breaks for a moment, allowing me to see the pain that swells under its surface.

“I’m tired of choosing the kingdom, the magic, the maji—everyone and everything but me. This is our chance to be free! It might be the only chance we’ll ever have.”

She looks at me and it’s as if I have her heart in my hands. All I want to do is heal it. To take away her pain. But it’s not just her pain I must erase.

I close my eyes, preparing for the wrath that I’ll ignite. Or?sha waits for no one.

Not even the girl I love.

“Zélie—”

“For gods’ sakes!” She throws her hands into the air, stumbling as she stomps off.

“Just take a beat.” Tzain tries to calm her down. “We’re too tired and hurt to figure this out now.”

“No, we’re not.” The ice in Zélie’s voice extinguishes the warmth in her brother’s gaze. “That gas didn’t hurt you. It doesn’t hurt them.” She nods at me, and I clench my fist.

Them.

That word stings worse than any of Mother’s did.

“What happened to the gods’ plan?” I ask. “What happened to always being on my side?”

“How can I be on your side when Baba died so your wretched mother and her t?táns could rise?”

“That’s not fair.” My cheek burns from the slap of her words. She glares at me like I’m the monster. Like I shot the arrow that killed her father. “I’ve lost people in this fight, too.”

“Am I supposed to cry for your bastard of a father?” Zélie asks. “Pity the weakling you called a brother? I can’t look at my own back because of what your father did! Because of you and your family, both my parents are dead!”

Zélie limps to Nailah’s side and pulls herself up even as her muscles shake with exhaustion.

“Don’t compare your scars to mine, Princess. You’ll lose every time.”

“I’ll lose?” I charge forward. “I’ll lose? You had two parents who loved you till their dying breath. A brother who stands by your side. Both my parents tried to kill me with their own hands! I took the life of my own father to protect you and the maji!” My voice shakes with the tears that want to break free, but I don’t let them fall. I won’t let her win. I will not allow her to bring that out of me.

“I am sorry for everything my family’s done,” I continue, “but don’t you dare act like my pain isn’t real. You’re not the only one with scars, Zélie! My family’s hurt me just as much as it’s hurt you!”

Zélie’s face goes cold, and I stop in my tracks. I want to fix the chasm between us, yet every word we speak drags us further apart. She stares at me for a long moment, that horrible, empty look in her silver eyes. Then she turns and guides her ryder down, low enough so that she can mount.

“Zél, stop.” Tzain walks after her. “This has gone far enough. We’re all upset. We’re all hurting. The last thing we need is to turn on each other!”

Zélie pushes her tongue into her lower lip as she settles on Nailah’s back. “How quickly ‘you and me’ became ‘you and Amari.’”

“Gods, Zél—”

“Did you hear me?” she cuts him off. “When my skin was burning and I couldn’t breathe? Did you hear me scream your name, or were you too busy looking after Amari?”

Tzain’s lips part. His forehead creases with shame. “That’s not fair,” he says. “You know that’s not fair!”

“You two deserve each other.” Zélie squeezes her thighs, commanding Nailah to rise. “Say hello to her mother for me. I’m sure she loves poor fishermen’s sons just as much as she loves maji.”

“I swear to the gods—”

“Yah!” Nailah shoots forward at Zélie’s command, sprinting through the trees.

“Zélie!” Tzain runs after her, but within moments she’s too far away to be seen. He digs his hands into his scalp before pounding his fists against the nearest tree.

“She’ll be back,” he mutters into the bark. “Just let her breathe.”

I nod, but as I sink to the ground, I don’t know who he’s trying to convince.





CHAPTER TWELVE


ZéLIE


TEARS BLUR MY VISION as we race through the trees of the Adichie Forest. My hands slip from Nailah’s horns. Without a saddle, I can barely hold on.

I grip with my thighs as the world passes by, a whirlwind of mountain cliffs and blowing leaves. I try to pretend Nailah’s speed is the only reason I can’t breathe.

Gods, help me.

I clench my teeth, fighting it all back. It’s like everything I’ve done wrong surfaces at once, a sea drowning me in its current.

No, I think to myself. Not them. Believing in the gods is what’s brought on this mess.

They’re the reason Baba’s dead.

Despair swells inside me as the terrain starts to dip. The earth beneath our feet slopes downhill. The forest trees start to thin. I clutch Nailah’s fur, struggling to stay upright when her paws slip. But the thought of how the gods used me makes me want to let go and tumble into the dirt.

All this time I believed in the gods’ greater plan. Their path when I couldn’t see. But all they led me to were the scars on my back. The open wounds on my heart. The gods used me like a pawn and cast me aside when magic returned. I can’t trust them to bring me anything but pain.

Mama, take me.

The new prayer forms, my heart breaking for the only thing I can still believe in. I think of standing in alafia with her and Baba. The peace of death and being back in her arms.

She told me Or?sha needed me, that my work wasn’t done. But bringing magic back only made things worse. The maji are worse off than before.

I close my eyes, muscles clenching at the memory of Queen Nehanda ripping the ashê from her t?táns’ veins. Magic was all we had to defend ourselves, and now our magic isn’t even as strong as hers.

It doesn’t matter what I do. It doesn’t matter how hard I fight. The maji will never be free.

All that awaits us in this world is heartache.

“Mama, take me!” I scream the words, throwing my head to the sky. The whipping winds cut at the burns on my face. Blood mixes with my tears.

“Take me back,” I whisper, burying myself in Nailah’s coat. No more fighting against the monarchy. No more fighting just to exist. No more tears. No more strife. No more pain.

No more Tzain.

The thought creates a canyon out of the hole in my heart. It’s almost enough to make me turn Nailah around and run back into his arms.

And Amari …

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