Daughter of Stone

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  • Published: 16 Mar 2016
  • Updated: 16 Mar 2016
  • Status: Complete
Dealing drugs isn't the career Sola imagined for herself, but it's the only way she can think to keep her family off the streets.
A run in with a Son of the Gods, however, sees her framed for his murder.
Now she must find a way to ensure her family stay safe and avoid being locked away for a crime she didn't commit.
Which all hinges on her finding out who did kill the Son...

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1. 1.

 

Sola glanced at her cellphone, the brightness turned down low, forcing her to squint. 

22:34.

Racks was late.

She stood alone on an abandoned railway bridge overlooking the city. Up here, the wind was malicious, trying to throw off the cap that hid her hair and, most importantly, her face. Her collars were flicked up for extra anonymity, not so high she couldn't see over them, on the look out for her supplier. Sons policed the city but even they didn't think anyone would be foolish enough to climb the rickety stairs, cross the half-crumbled tracks and stay for any significant amount of time.

They were wrong. Being surrounded by bird droppings wasn't the scene for romantic rendezvous, but it was the perfect place for other meetings that weren't to be interrupted. She'd been coming to this bridge for the past year now without encountering anyone other than who she was supposed to be meeting.

Sola wasn’t a drug dealer.

Sure, she dealt drugs, but the truth was much more complicated. She didn't need anyone's pity but it wasn't that she wanted this life, there were just other people to think about besides her own hopes and dreams; buried so deep she'd forgotten what they were to begin with. She was human after all, and in this world, human wasn't much of a step up from animal. 

The Orchestrator said he'd made everyone equal but everyone had a different definition of equality. Likewise, her definition of dealer was different to everyone else's. The only person she didn’t want to have to explain this to was Grams; Grams would have a heart attack if she knew where she was right now, and the deed she would be doing. Thankfully, Grams hadn't called on account of Sola telling her her shift at the Pie shop didn't finish until midnight.

Distant footsteps put her on edge, her spine straightening, and her hand instinctively wrapping around the wrench in her back pocket. The night was thick, the fog rolling in from the mountains beyond the city helping her stay hidden. However, it also hid potential threats from her. As soon as she caught a glimpse of red hair, she relaxed, though not entirely. Her hand still hovered over the wrench.

"You're late," she snapped, when the red haired boy was before her.

Sola had to lean back to see Rack's face, although it didn't take much height to make her feel like a weed. Her little sister, Neela, was already up to her shoulders even though there were seven turns between them. The ridiculous shades he wore for their nighttime meetings hid his eye colour, but she imagined they were a muddy brown to match his keen interest in the dirtier occupations Torth offered. His chiselled features - not the attractive kind of chiselled, more the chunks missing kind, creating pockmarks all over his ashen skin - were quick to smile though. Sola had never asked him how old he was or any other personal questions, for this was strictly business, but she guesstimated he was around two turns older than her.

"Miss me?" he said, siding up to her, the rustle of their coats reminding her it wasn't skin he was touching, thankfully.

"Like I'd miss a bout of the Pox. Where's the stuff?"

He let out a puff of air. "Always in a rush."

She looked either side of them and over the bridge. "And you aren't?"

"I look forward to our little meetings, Sola."

"Can we just get this over with. Please?" she added. Racks was pretty harmless but she wasn't naive enough to think he didn't have a temper when pushed. And with the backing of his bosses - the sorts of people Sola hoped she'd never meet - he'd have no problem leaving her body here for the crows to pick at.

"Alright." He dug his hands into the inside pocket of his coat and pulled out a tiny glass phial, the size of her pinky finger, wrapped in parchment and tied together with a dry piece of string. The urge to fling the phial over the bridge and see it smashed, scattering the contents to the winds where it wouldn't hurt anyone, was strong but she subdued it. Thinking of Grams and Neela curled up on their moth-eaten sofa and crying from hunger was a punch to her gut. Instead, she untied the string and rolled out the parchment, looking over the messy scrawl. A name; an address - one she recognised, having delivered there before - and a price.

"This is more expensive than last week!" Even last weeks’ price had astounded her. Addicts already paid amounts that would have kept her family fed, in light and heat, for an entire week for just a gram of the stuff. She supposed she should be grateful - these prices made her cut bigger too. But there was something wrong about exploiting people who were already past breaking. She didn't dwell on that thought for long, being part of the corruptive system herself. It was different for her - she did it to prevent harm coming to the people she loved. At least that’s what she told herself.

Racks shrugged. "Demand has gone up because supply is low."

Her throat went dry. "How low?"

Racks dropped his shoulders, leaning into her, his lips curled. As suppliers went, he was an alright contact to have and she could take his flirting if it meant she earned enough Dena to put food on the table. But if she couldn't put food on the table...

"You'll still have a job for the foreseeable future," he said.

She let out a sigh she hoped he couldn't hear. If he thought her anymore desperate than she already was, he'd make her life a whole lot more difficult, which she didn't need. "Right, I'll see you back here, a week from now."

Racks nodded. "You know Sola; you don't smile enough."

"What's there to smile about?" She was shoving the phial into the inside pocket of her own coat, clattering against her cell and her apartment keys. Warmth immediately spread throughout her chest.

"Say yes to that date I always offer and you'll find out," he winked at her.

"I don't have time to date." And even if I wanted to I wouldn't date you, she wanted to say. It was one thing to do business with him, another to put herself beside him in the cold light of day, or introduce him to Grams. Grams would be wary of anyone she bought home but she'd probably slam the door in Rack's face, a thought that almost did make her smile.

He snorted. "What takes up all your time?"

"Surviving," she said and walked off.

 

*

 

Harry's was a dump. The fact it was a dump - made obvious by the half-hanging letter H of the sign, the boarded up windows and the rotted paint of the outside walls - was also one of the reasons why it was so popular. Those that wished to drink, deal and gamble away from the Son's and the more righteous members of society, had a place where no-one would bother them. Sola could empathise; a life unbothered would be a life well spent.

Unfortunately, she had to deal with people, and in particular, the seedy individuals who frequented one of Torth's most notorious bars. Sola took a deep breath, the wrench within reaching distance, and stepped into the bar through a doorway of hanging beads. The beads slithered over her body, making snake-tail sounds that swallowed the noise of the night, and the no doubt raucous voices she was headed towards. When she emerged inside the bar, the noise was even louder than she'd been expecting, her eardrums groaning in protest. 

In the far right was a stage, a band on one side and next to them, three poles from ceiling to floor. Nude women wrapped their arms and legs around the poles, swinging and swaying to the music, movements that had the audience - both male and female - enthralled. Looking that way brought heat to her cheeks so she kept her focus straight ahead at the bar, but a bout of screaming erupted from her immediate left and her head turned.

Through another wall of beads, men were gathered around a hexagonal table, some cheering, others looking forlorn, defeat etched into their faces, which Sola didn't pity. In their hands they each held a wad of Dena, in the other three cards, and when the dealer motioned them, they threw down both excitedly. A second later, there were no cheers at all, just panicked groans, probably from having lost all their wages. Fools.

Once, after her, Grams and Neela hadn't eaten more than crumbs in a month, she'd considered betting her wrench. Steel was almost priceless, such was its rarity, and even doubling its worth would have allowed them to move up-street to a better neighbourhood. The promise of electrics that didn't shut off every second and a steady stream of heat when Torth's merciless winters arrived had tempted her to this very bar. But despite her desperation and searching for a 'hot' table she hadn't been able to part with her father's wrench, and had settled for scraping a living the only way she knew how.

Sola made a beeline for the bar, wanting to make her trade and get home as quickly as possible. There was something about this place that made her feel dirty down to her bones and only the Orchestrator knew what was in the air. Tenz fumes and other such drugs, coupled with the toxic tang of alcohol, meant her lungs were getting tetchier the longer she stayed. 

The bar, as usual, was packed. However, her small stature allowed her to slip to the front of the queue unseen. She fixed her cap - it wasn't unusual for the people in here to come in covered head to toe - and leaned across the bar. Olec, the youngest bartender, approached her.

"What can I get for you?" He knew her name but she'd asked him never to say it out loud. She didn't need any of these idiots looking her up and appearing outside her apartment.

She placed the piece of parchment on the bar and a gold coin next to it, sliding them over. The bartender picked up the parchment, as inconspicuously as if he were cleaning pistachio shells from the bar, pocketed the gold coin with nimble fingers, and read the note.

"Over there," he said, pointing to what was, without a doubt, the darkest table in the bar. The only explanation for why it was so dark, were that the shadows had huddled together for their own party. 

Worse than the shadows, somehow, was the occupant of the table. There was something glaringly masculine about him. His body distended across the entire booth, not an inch of space left to sit next to him - not that anyone with a thread of sense would. The heavy cloak obscuring his identity was stretched tight over huge mounds of muscles around his arm and neck. Everyone who frequented Harry's was notorious in some way, but not one of the other tables near him was taken.

"That guy?" Sola gulped, praying to the Orchestrator Olec had made a mistake. 

"That's him," Olec replied before walking off to serve a proper customer.

Sola watched the man for a few minutes, trying to work out if he might give her any trouble. Usually, her buyers were so desperate to get their hands on the Tenz and go snort it that they didn't stick around after the exchange. One time, a client had hit her round the head with a corrugated piece of iron and fled with the Tenz and the money she'd collected for Racks on other jobs. She'd told Racks who it was and within twenty-four hours the guy was lying down dead in a ditch, the Sons dragging his body away to be cindered. She'd been more afraid of Gram's reaction than what Racks would say to her when she admitted her failure. But she'd added more lies to the list, feeling sick with guilt as Grams stitched her back up and threatened to call her manager at the pie store for compensation. 

This guy didn't look to be in a hurry. He was still, unnaturally so, to the point where Sola forgot everything around her and was waiting for him to shift, even a millimetre, to prove he was alive. 

The Tenz was burning a hole in her pocket, hot against her heart, but her limbs were frozen. It was the idea of Neela staying awake, hungry tears trickling down her too skinny cheeks, that maintained her resolve. She said a silent prayer to the Orchestrator, doubtful that he'd listen to a lowly human girl like her, and made her way over to her client.

Sola practiced his name in her mind: Dor-reth-ion. It wasn't a name she was familiar with but Torth was a big place. Besides, he could have been born outside the city, on the sea kissing settlements or even from the Mountains. She shuddered at the thought of having to deal with a mountain man, recalling her classmate’s stories about how they ripped off their enemies’ heads and danced around them until their skin rotted off their bones.

"Dorethian?" She stood a good yard away from his table to give her a chance to run should she need to. Sola wasn't particularly athletic but working in this industry she'd become a nifty little sprinter.

The man didn't look up, nor did he move, unsurprisingly. Sola waited, counting from one to five in her head the way Grams had taught her to overcome her fears. When you reach five, the thing you were scared of won't be as scary anymore. Sola could have counted to one million and he would have remained just as terrifying.

"I've got the stone." With her nerves, the word sounded more like a plea than an offer.

This, however, caught the man's attention and he finally looked up. 

Sola sucked in a startled breath. Staring at her through his darkened hood were two silver eyes. They looked like coins, made from a swirling metal that glowed bright then dark, dark then bright. She wanted to look away from them, but couldn't. 

Run, her mind was telling her but her body wasn't playing by her rules anymore. The man was in control of her and that was the worst position for any dealer to be.

"Sit." It was a wonder the whole bar didn't turn at the booming sound of his voice, continuing their business as if she and the silver-eyed man didn't exist. Smart. Unfortunately age didn't have the luxury of ignoring him.

Sola slid into the seat opposite him, too close for her liking, and the temperature in the room plummeted. Her breath condensed in front of her and icicles began to form in her nostrils. If the man was breathing, she couldn't see it. 

"That'll be one-twenty Dena," she said through chattering teeth. 

He didn't bat an eyelash at the price, merely placed his hulking hand on the table - which rattled from the impact - and dropped the cash. Sola salivated at the wad, gutted she would only be given a slither to take home. With a shaking hand she reached into her pocket and pulled out the phial of Tenz, but for the first time, she didn't want to hand it over and give up its heat. Reluctantly, she set the pinkish powder down in the middle of the table next to the cash and within a second, they'd both darted to claim their rewards. 

Sola took her eyes off the Dena for one moment, during which the man's sleeve lifted and she gawked at the sight of his skin. Streaming out of his sleeve were multiple dark red lines, combining at the wrist and widening into a sun on the back of his hand. They were markings everyone in Torth recognised, but seeing them a few centimetres away from her was like being confronted by a fairytale monster made real. Again, she couldn't look away. 

"You're a Son.” Even saying the word made her blood pump faster and her feet itch to flee.

"Not anymore."

"What do you mean?" she blurted. Damn her curiosity. Grams always said she'd lose her head to the urge of wanting to know why all the time. Why humans were treated so badly. Why they had so few opportunities. Why no-one would aid them.

The Son remained closed-lipped. Clearly, she wasn't a bother to him, just a gnat buzzing around his head.

Sola's temper stirred. "Is that why you want the Tenz?"

Humans bought the powder because it gave them waking dreams, sweeter than if they'd been asleep. She didn’t think Sons of the Gods were affected by Tenz in the same way but it still intrigued her to know why he wanted it.

"You keep on worrying about your grandmother and I'll worry about why I want the Tenz," he answered, bringing the phial to his lips and licking it. A shot of panic exploded through her like a firework at the mention of Grams. She'd heard rumours of Sons that could choke a throat without having to touch a person; and those that could incinerate walls with their eyes, but never had there been tales of one reading minds. Either way, she was keen to exchange and dash and not just because Grams was expecting her soon, but because it had become a matter of safety.

Sola left without another word, the Son already popping the cork of the phial and sprinkling the powder onto the back of his hand. She hated seeing people take the Tenz – the mad expression they wore, the blood that dripped from the corner of their eyes and the way they coughed up the entire contents of their stomach. And that was before the delusions started. 

Watching a Son taking Tenz would be different though and the stupidly curious girl inside her turned to see what would happen - but he was already gone.

 

*

 

Sola shoved the beads out of her way and hopped on to the cobblestoned streets, the night hitting her like two slaps to the face. As much as it stung, her lungs appreciated the fresh air, sucking it in, deep, until she was so full she could float. Even though the alleyway stank of urine and Tenz - a sickly sweet taste like burnt honey - she was glad to be free of Harry's and its scummy customers. 

Finally, her work was done and she could go home. Despite Racks showing up late, her encounter with the Son had been brief enough that she had time to go past the Pie shop and pick one up for them to eat tomorrow. Grams would think she'd got it free from work and Neela would be too excited to tuck in to bother asking questions. Sola would pick at it, her guilt staunching her appetite, but so long as her family were fed that was all that mattered. However, the rush of adrenalin whenever she dealt for Racks had surged through her body like an electric current and, in its absence, had left her body temporarily unable to fuel itself. Perhaps I should buy a pie just for me and eat it on the way home, she thought.

Head down, shoulders hunched around her neck to barricade against the cold, she marched through the twisting streets of grubby high rise apartments and shut shops; some closed for the night, others closed down completely. Torth was a buzzing metropolis to those who lived in the north of the city, whilst those that lived in the other districts had a much tougher time of it. Sola had lived in the east district her entire life, famous for its rocketing crime rates and even higher death toll. Statistics could never quite agree but thirty-five percent of citizens in the east were said to die before they reached eighteen. All of them human of course. Sola was a year away from that milestone. So far so good, but it felt like trying to outrun time: impossible and therefore exhausting.

She'd only left the east district on two occasions. Once for her tenth birthday, when her parents took her to a fancy rooftop restaurant overlooking the river, telling her to order whatever she wanted from the menu. She'd asked for cheesecake as her main dish and the waiter - a human peeved about having to serve them instead of the upper class customers - had vehemently insisted against such a choice. However, her parents had knocked the smarty look off his face by telling him to bring over three extra large slices. Despite what had happened shortly after, Sola couldn't help but grin when she recalled that evening. Her second trip had been a summons to the Truth Chamber, which she wished she could forget.

The sky was darkening, overrun with black and purple clouds that made it seem as though day would never conquer the night. To make it worse, rain was fast approaching. She hurried on, past a particularly dark alleyway, with shadows not unlike those in the bar. Thinking about the Son sent a nasty shiver down her spine. If she never had to encounter another Son again, it would be a very good thing. 

But a scuffle, followed by splintering wood, made her stop. She didn't need to turn to know it’d come from within the alleyway next to her, and a whirlpool of dread took over her stomach. 

Leave, the sensible voice in her head said. But she heard a heaving grunt and before she could flee, a flash of light so bright she bent over, screaming, totally immobilised her. When the light faded, her throat hoarse, she managed to look up and, blinking, she saw a sight that churned the whirlpool of dread in her gut even faster.

Two cloaked figures were facing off. In their hands they held what looked like swords, although Sola wasn't an expert on weapons. Racks had offered to supply her with a gun, but she hadn't wanted the thing near her, let alone in her pocket, or in the house with Grams and Neela. The hilts of these swords were made of silver, glittering as they caught the pale moonlight the storm clouds hadn't consumed yet. Just below the hilt, where the blade protruded, was a giant Tenz Gem, pink and pulsating with its own form of light. What made her knees quake most was the blade - as if milk were pouring from the hilt and partially solidifying on the way out, the edges sizzled, and evaporated the cold night air that rushed over it. She didn't want to imagine what the blade would do to flesh. 

Both figures were holding the blades still, pointed at one another. 

"It was foolish to run, Dorethian," the stranger said. It seemed as though they hadn't spotted her - now being a good time to leg it - but Sola remained there, jaw slightly ajar in awe. She'd never witnessed Sons fighting each other. Sure, they struck humans as many times as there were stars in the sky, but that was like a lion taking on a mouse. These Warriors were the epitome of throbbing muscle and controlled rage, and Sola was entranced by what she might learn from seeing them go at each other. She might even learn a weakness or two.

"I'd rather live my life on the run than be the Devourer's slave," Dorethian hissed.

The stranger chuckled. "Let's not get ahead of ourselves. You aren't going to live much longer."

Dorethian coughed in response and a thick pinkish liquid dribbled out of his mouth. Son's blood, she realised. Sola hadn't known they could bleed, let alone what colour it was.

"You should thank me for ending your life swiftly," the stranger said, unmoved by the pool of blood now forming at Dorethian's feet. Sola had been terrified of the Son in the bar - still was whenever she caught sight of those swirling silver eyes - but seeing his body consumed by violent shakes she felt a pang of pity, though she had no idea what was happening to him. 

Before Dorethian could recover, the stranger lifted their white sword above their head and Sola knew the Son from the bar was in grave trouble.

Without thinking, she yanked the wrench out of her pocket and, racing straight at the stranger, slammed it into the back of his head. The wrench connected with such force - was his head made of rock? - that she went tumbling down, smacking her lower back on the cobbled floor. Pain rattled through her spine and her vision became hazy but she still heard shouts of anguish, which she prayed were the stranger's. When her eyes finally re-focused, she saw the mistake she'd made.

Humans had never managed an uprising against the Sons because they'd known it would be slaughter. Staring into the silver eyes of the stranger, throbbing with inhuman rage, she realised she'd walked herself into her own death. 

As the stranger advanced, she felt his smug smile even though his hood was drawn. He would end her without remorse. Her scattered thoughts fought for a way to escape. Rising to her feet would take time, which she didn't have. Plus, the fall had knocked the strength from her knees. Crawling would see him drag her back like a rag doll. 

Sola had been in trouble before, but this was a deep kind of shit.

Her fingers scraped the ground, searching for the wrench, the only - slim - chance she had of defending herself.

"Looking for this, human?" He said the word as if it were rot in his mouth.

Any hope Sola had of wrenching her way out of this was gone, the Stranger holding her wrench in his marked hands, similar to Dorethian's. Except that, where the markings were supposed to hold Tenz Gemz in the centre of each pattern, they were missing on this Son.

She had no idea how he'd got to the wrench so quick. What a fool, a stupid, naive, fool, to think she could jump into a fight between what she now realised were two Sons. Dorethian was surely laughing at her. Heck, the Gods that had birthed the Sons were probably watching with glee.

Her thoughts should have been on the advancing stranger but they went instead to Grams and Neela. What would they do without her income? How long before they starved? Worse, would they hate her for deserting them?

The stranger's sword hummed, a sound that made her heart halt, becoming so quiet she wasn't sure she still owned one. He slashed the air several times before he pointed his sword at her gut.

Sola closed her eyes, bracing for a painful death, praying she might see her parents again at least - but none came. 

There was the zing of metal on metal and when her eyes shot open, there was a sword across her stomach, preventing the strangers blade from piercing her skin.

"Run," Dorethian yelled at her, his voice wavering with the strength it must have been taking for him to hold the other blade at bay.

She didn't need to be told twice. Sola bolted like a horse who'd been in captivity all its life, feet pounding on the cobblestones, not even registering the rain that was falling until her clothes were stuck to her skin. 

This time, she didn't dare look back, and didn't stop running until she was several streets away from the alley and the monstrous Sons - one who had tried to kill her, the other who had tried to save her life, it seemed. Confusion flew around her head like a flock of startled birds but she waved it away to understand another day, when she was safe. 

Except that, after tonight's events, she doubted whether she would ever be safe again.

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