The first piece of my soul broke off and died the day I heard my sister scream.
It was unearthly, that strange new sound. I heard many others like it as bullets whizzed overhead, but her cry stuck out to me above the rest. When she fell to the ground, there was no slow motion. No, it all moved too quickly, and there was nothing I could do. She strained, trying to push herself up, but only moved enough for me to get a good view of the blood stain expanding outward on her coat.
I wanted to tear my eyes away. I wanted to move, to run, to cry, to scream. The only thing that broke me from my shocked and terrified daze was Mum yanking on my arm and pulling me to the ground. Caught off guard, I fell and landed awkwardly, hitting the deck hard. My shoulder absorbed most of the blow, but it set my head spinning and throbbing all the same.
When I could turn to look at Mum, her normally warm brown eyes were wide and wild, the panic and regret in her expression more evident than I'd ever seen them before. I could nearly see her thoughts playing out across her face. She wondered why we had decided on this week for vacation. Why we hadn't saved up just a year longer to pay for a flight. Why it had to be this freighter out of the rest of the Taeran Empire that had to suffer an attack. I knew such questions were meaningless, but I couldn't keep from wondering them as well.
I was, at least, able to make use of these musings. If I wasn't thinking of the "why", I'd start thinking of the "what", and then I would quickly slide into the lunacy of panic.
The bullets had stopped. I had been so absorbed in distracting myself that I hadn't noticed until minutes after the fact. Trying to keep my supper from making a rather inappropriate public reappearance, I rolled onto my stomach and slowly pushed myself up with my hands. I managed to peek over the railing, but immediately regretted it.
What we had just an hour ago dismissed as nothing of importance -- just a small splotch highlighted against the sunset -- was now a ship nearly as massive as our own. It wasn't painted black or anything as blatant as that, but by the appearance of the men on board, it might as well have been.
'Pirates,' I thought, simply giving a name to what I'd known it was all along. What else could they be? They were close enough for me to see men with sniper rifles standing and packing up their gear, just as others unpacked a variety of much more dangerous looking weapons.
I quickly dropped below the railing, not sure I could take any more of the horrifying sight. My heart was pounding so hard that each beat set my head spinning and my ears ringing.
'Calm... Calm down, Krys. You'll be okay. Aria'll be okay. Mum'll be okay. We'll all be okay.' I placed my hand over my heart as I chanted this in my head, trying to slow down my ragged breathing. The deck beneath me groaned and the water gurgled as the freighter came to a halt. I mentally screamed for it to keep going, to keep running, but with no results.
In order to keep myself from keeling over, I turned my back to the railing and gripped it, trying to stand. I could hear Mum frantically whisper-shouting at me to get back down, but I had zoned out. I was focused entirely on the scene unfolding before me.
The crew was attempting to move the mass of passengers down below deck, but there was too much panic and not enough crew. I heard distant screams, possibly from the other side of the ship. There was so much shouting, so many people, so much panic and adrenaline and noise...
There was blood on the ground. Crew members pulled a fellow sailor with a gaping hole in his forehead away from the edge of the freighter. Toddlers screamed, and a girl around my age, twelve, was sobbing over the body of a young boy.
Wide eyed and dazed, I turned slowly to take everything in, becoming acutely aware of all the colors around me. The dull greys of the freighter below me, the vibrant all-encompassing oranges of the setting sun, the bright golden sheen the dusk cast on my hair, the rich scarlet of the blood on the ground. My eyes burned from it all. Something quick and bright flashed across my vision, and there was a sharp pain in my left hand. I slid back to the ground, hugging my hand to my chest. It was all so overwhelming, I wasn't surprised my epilepsy had flared up.
When the episode passed I turned to look at at Mum. She had Aria propped up against the railing, and was finishing wrapping up Aria's shoulder wound with a strip of cloth torn from the bottom of her coat. I thanked the gods Mum was a doctor.
The second she was done, she was pulling us both to our feet and trying to drag us by the arms to the other side of the freighter. I looked over my shoulder as we moved, and saw several crew members coming up from below deck with their own weapons.
The pirate ship had finally gotten close enough for us to see exactly what we were dealing with. Everything about the ship was terrifying, from the way the sun drew long and dark shadows from every object on board, to its sleek length and shape. If it weren't a real and present threat to our lives, I may have been tempted to say it was beautiful.
They brought their boat right up next to ours, and the crew members began firing their weapons at them. Bursts of pulsating, multicolored energy flew from our ship to theirs, but the direction of the sun made a glare too bright to see whether the projectiles were effective. Small explosions could be heard on the other ship, and there was a dragging pause as the crew recharged their guns.
Then the air exploded.
Passengers shrieked -- myself among them -- as larger energy projectiles hit the ship, some hitting the side and shaking the deck, some narrowly missing the passengers, and a few hitting their mark and leaving some people with a missing limb or two.
The horror of it all made my stomach churn, and I crawled closer to Mum. Everyone having dropped to the floor, all I could do was bury my face in her shoulder, trying not to scream or cry or throw up.
'Help,' I begged to no one in particular, 'please.'
But no one came. The neighboring ship scraped up against ours, and the men with weapons jumped on. Their clothes were black and heavy looking, as if they were wrapped in many different layers or had thick body armor underneath them. Their eyes were dark, and their expressions were more so, only seeming to amplify the sense of panic among the passengers.
Their energy weapons glowed in a way that told me they all were a bit trigger-happy. I swallowed for the fifth time in the past two minutes.
The pirates made a beeline directly for the stairwell leading below deck, leaving the passengers and crew in terrified silence. Muted screams could be heard drifting up the stairs. Energy weapons could be heard going off, and I whimpered involuntarily at each firing. The screams stopped.
After a moment more of suffering through this living nightmare, one man staggered to his feet and scrambled to stand next to the door to the stairwell, out of view of anyone coming through it. He closed his eyes and seemed to be concentrating. When a ball of fire flared to life and sputtered between his outstretched hands, I immediately knew his plan. I wanted to call out to him, tell him to sit down, shut up, and pray like the rest of us, but I had latched on to the ball of fire with my eyes, completely mesmerized by the shifting colors.
Red. 'Blood.' Orange. 'Sunset.' Blue. 'Ocean.' White. 'Hope.' It was magical.
I had attached all of my fears onto that one focal point, directing everything in me at it. Could this man's nahir powers possibly save us? Maybe, just maybe...
People came storming back up the stairs. Right before the first one emerged, the man spun around and threw the fire ball at their face. It hit its mark, but the mark was not a pirate.
It was another passenger.
The woman it hit shrieked in agony, falling face first to the ground. The pirates came up right behind her, and stared at the writhing figure on the deck. The one in front turned his deadpan glare to the shocked and horrified man. When their eyes met, the man struggled to form another fire attack, but the pirate raised his weapon and fired it straight into the man's stomach.
The man let out a blood-curdling scream, and then he dissolved from the impact point outward until he was nothing but dust on the ground.
I was frozen. I couldn't breathe, but there was a thunderstorm in my stomach, and I was sure I was going to throw up now. The wave of disgust and horror that washed over me left a bad taste in my mouth and a strange buzzing in my ears. I felt like that beautiful sense of hope was suddenly rotting in my chest, and my heart was going with it. I sank back from standing on my knees to resting on the balls of my feet, and from there, back onto Mum's shoulder. As if the few extra inches would make me invisible.
Mum's arm wrapped so tightly around me that I could feel her own fearful shaking. Glancing at Aria, I for a moment envied that she was barely even conscious. I would have gladly missed the past five minutes altogether.
A gun fired, and I nearly jumped straight up in the air out of surprise. Whirling to face the source, I saw that one of the Pirates had fired his weapon straight up into the air. Now that he had everybody's attention, he finally spoke.
"I am only going to say this once. If you resist..." he gestured with his gun toward the direction the Pyron man had died, "you will end up like your makeshift vigilante over here. And we would not want that, now would we?"
The combination of his tone and expression told me he very much would want that.
And with that, he signaled to the rest of his men, and they began to move on the passengers. They pulled mothers away from their children, not seeming to care in the least for the screams of the children and the yells of the adults. They started carrying the kids, kicking and screaming, over to their ship.
I barely had the clarity of mind to even think, yet I still managed to be furious at the fact I was unable to change anything about this horrific situation. I could feel my palms heating up, like they tended to when I was angry.
I would have loved to take his gun and shove it right up his--
"Krystal," Mum hissed under her breath, and I turned to face her. I was surprised by the repressed terror in her expression. There was a deep and sorrowful pain reflecting off the back of her eyes, and I immediately knew something was wrong. More wrong than it should be.
She put one hand on either side of my face, stroking it with one thumb, and the tearful finality in her expression scared me.
"Don't change, okay? Stay safe."
"Mum?" My voice shook, the hollow, rotten feeling in my chest expanding to my stomach. "What... what are you talking about?"
"Don't let them do anything to you, okay? Don't let them hurt you, don't let them change you, and don't lose--"
We were cut off by another screech, and I whirled around. The pirates were not ten feet away, now, and there weren't many people between us. I turned back to face Mum, only then the reality of what she meant hit me. Wide-eyed, there was only a short pause before I latched onto the nearest part of her -- which happened to be her knee -- and buried my face in it, weeping. The moments-old bout of anger had turned to the most overwhelming and desperate sense of misery. I was sure it would consume me.
Whether it would have or not was never to be seen, as it was then that the men reached us. One of them grabbed Mum by the arm and pulled her out from underneath me, leaving me on the ground. I cried out, feeling as if the loss of her touch was a stab in the stomach. I struggled to my knees, reaching out a hand to hers. Our hands brushed for short a moment before the man yanked on her to move her faster. I felt a small electric shock pass between us, like the kind you get if you touch metal on a particularly stormy day. Despite it being late autumn, the heat felt nearly unbearable, pressing down on me from all sides as I watched Mum being dragged away.
I didn't have long to process the shock before another one of the pirates dug his hands into my shoulders and dragged me to my feet. The instant he touched me, I was broken from my stupor and started yelling. My panicked state made my heart feel as if it were going to burst from my chest, even as I uselessly banged my fist against the man's arms. He only chuckled and tightened his grip, pulling me along faster so that I lost my footing several times. He might have said something about my probability for "catching a good price", but I was too terrified to tell for sure.
I kept my eyes glued on Mum as she was being pulled away. However, a bright flash of light pulled my gaze from her to its source. A captured passenger had light pouring out of her hands, and was using it to blind her captor.
Immediately after was absolute chaos.
People all over took this as their cue, and began using their nahir powers to fight back. My view was shaky, as I had been thrown over the man's shoulder like a sack of chicken feed, but I managed to keep a good eye on what was happening back on the freighter. Most of the people were failing miserably, a few even having been shot dead, but my eyes fell on Mum.
She was fighting back as well. And she was losing.
"Mum!" I screamed, wanting to beg her to stop, to just let them take her. But she was too far, and the noise was too great.
When she managed to land a blow on the man, he retaliated violently, throwing her to the ground. Then he proceeded to kick her, seeming angry at her resistance.
The heat was unbearable. I felt as if I might have died from it.
He kicked her again.
The man's hand brushed up against my arm, and I felt another electric shock pass between us. I flinched. Sweat ran down the side of my face.
The pirate pulled out his gun and aimed it at Mum.
I screamed, tears blurring my vision until I could see nothing. Nothing but shapes and shadows.
There was a gunshot.
And then, the heat burned me into nothing.
Or at least it felt like it.
I couldn't see. All I could think about was the pain: it was the most intense pain I'd ever felt. Like my skin was being peeled back and my insides ripped out. I couldn't even scream, as the agony clawed its way to my throat and strangled the screech before it could even be formed. It was as if the heat had consumed me.
It felt like forever before I could open my eyes again. I didn't even notice that I was laying face first on the ground for several seconds. When I opened my eyes, all I could see was the deck. I couldn't feel anything at first, but it wasn't long before excruciating spikes of pain moved along my spine and down my arms. I tried to push myself up, but the strain was too great.
Falling back to the ground, my skin felt as if it were on fire, but I managed to turn my head. Everything was bright and blurred, but I could make out quickly moving shapes around me. Clarity suddenly assaulted my vision, and the sharpness of it stung.
'Oh my gods...'
The pirate who had been carrying me was laying on the ground next to me, covered in bright red patches, interspersed with long black ones. At first I had trouble telling what they were, but after a few seconds, I realized they were burns. The pirate was covered with burns.
Startled, I managed to scramble a few feet away from him, watching as people around me rushed about. I wondered distantly what had happened, but then something bright flashed across my vision. This time, it was not a seizure.
What looked almost like a stream of pure electricity was coursing around me, almost in waves. I wanted to scream. This had to be some trap, some new weapon the pirates had, and I was sure I would die.
But I knew I was wrong. I could feel my insides burning, adrenaline rushing through me. I was manifesting. But the pain of losing Mum hit me again so hard that I forgot all my training, all my preparation. I couldn't make the nahir stop flowing freely out of me: no, all I could do was panic.
'I killed the pirate. Where's Aria? Is Mum--'
My panic attack was interrupted by a violent smack to the head, and I fell to the ground. From the ground, I could see the freighter. It was blurry, but I could tell it was on fire. A bonfire in the middle of the ocean, ready to kill everyone on board...
A gun fired, I saw red, and then everything was black.
v. 2.0 (4/30/16)
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