Welcome back Saturday readers! I appreciate you hanging through this whole, grand experiment. If you’re new here, catching up on the story would be a fun way to spend your holiday break – here’s the Table of Contents. Enjoy!
Dawn was the name of the Resistance in the Cloud Realm, and the three starving youth who’d whisked them out of danger were one square in a larger quilt.
“So, no one does magic here but the Fathers?” asked Sharna.
“Not since the Mothers left.” They were sitting on the filthy floor, the chairs not even sturdy enough to use. Dell talked with her hands as much as her whispering voice. “The Fathers banished them, but the Mothers stole the seeds when they left. Or, at least that’s what the Fathers told us. No one knows.”
Jay cut in, “Everyone thought they’d come back. Then, when years passed without a word, everyone figured they’d died.” His shoulders slumped as he fingered a whole in his shoe. “If a Mother could die, then that meant a Father could, right?” He looked up at the group. “None of us have been able to get close enough.”
Jackie’s stomach clenched. She knew where this conversation was headed. It was too obvious. She looked at Sharna and shook her head in long, slow arcs. “Absolutely not.”
“But Jackie…” The Mage drew out the letters in her name like it was string. “It’s perfect.”
The three Dawn members watched Jackie and Sharna argue, their heads turning left to right as they followed along.
“We came here to make our fortunes.” Jackie gestured at the room and raised her eyebrows. “Clearly, that was a miscalculation. Throwing good marks after bad will not fix this.”
“No, but why else would a thief and a Mage land here? At this moment?” She leaned forward over her knees. “We can help, make a difference, save lives!”
Dell had explained how the Fathers had handed out pitiful remnants of seeds to the people, but the crops grew stunted and pale. Each family had to carefully collect any seeds that managed to fill a warped or twisted fruit for the following year’s planting. Over time, every wild creature that could be hunted, was. The rest had been driven into the safety of the realm’s uninhabitable edges where humans wouldn’t venture, even to feed a belly distended by starvation. The Fathers’ magic was fearsome, but could not create – could not grow, only destroy. They were left with power for power’s sake, and it corrupted without the balance of the Mothers’ force.
The moment Sharna referenced was the Culling. It began tomorrow. The Fathers’ soldiers would take one female from every household. The Fathers would test each woman for any latent magical ability. It seemed they held out hope that Mothers’ blood would show true over time. As yet, they’d been disappointed. No woman returned.
Jackie sighed and held up a hand. She stuck out her thumb. “One, you have no idea how strong these Fathers are. What if you get in there and discover you’re no match?” She lifted a finger. “Two, I came here to steal, not murder.” She looked at the starving Dawn members. “Not steal from you. I meant to steal from some rich sod.”
She raised another finger. “Three, even if you did defeat the Fathers, then what? You don’t have any Doe Mother seeds. They’d still be starving. Four, this isn’t our fight or our fault.” She looked at her remaining pinkie finger tucked against her palm. “I don’t have a fifth reason, but I think four is plenty.”
Jackie stood, brushed off her bottom, and made a small bow before offering a hand to her friend. “It’s time to go home, Sharna.”
The Mage crossed her arms and leaned back. “I’m not going with you, and that means you aren’t going anywhere either, remember?” She pursed her lips and turned her head away to avoid Jackie’s face.
“Aww, come on! You can’t be serious.”
Sharna didn’t speak. Jay opened his mouth, but Jackie pointed at him, and he snapped it shut.
The Dawn members shifted uncomfortably. No one dared breathe hard.
Jackie let out a long exhale, turned on her heel, and pushed open the door. Two slams later, she was gone.
(Thanks for reading!)