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Main Courtyard, The Academy for Psychic Sciences, Hu’saan Province, Ward 4
Nasai, White Moon 3303 –December
The Neutral Zone
The front courtyard of the Academy for Psychic Science trembled as a missile struck the ground behind the Administrative Building eliciting shrieks from the panicked students who milled about the snow covered pavement. Most of the girls had been evacuated from the dorms already but now had to wait in the cold and chaos to be gathered onto the rescue copters. Sister Rebecca’s eyes began to water from the smoke wafting through the air as the Records Building, which had been first to be hit, burned behind them. Girls without cloaks and boots huddled together in groups to keep warm and Rebecca’s heart broke all over again. She could not believe that this was happening and that she was watching her beloved school burn in the middle of the day.
“This way!” a stern faced Waliyun officer in full battle uniform commanded a group of shivering students, directing them towards an awaiting cargo copter.
Waliyun officers, MFDT captains, faculty, staff and students filled the square as unidentified attack planes whizzed back and forth across the overcast sky above the campus. Rebecca spotted another missile dropping from an aircraft above the gymnasium and bit the inside of her cheek to keep from crying out with horror. Some of the MFDT captains from neighboring Ward 5 and a contingent of Waliyun officers from Wi’shaw Temple had arrived about an hour ago with warnings of a suspected attack and had advised evacuation. Rebecca had hesitated initially, but something about the way that Mikal had been looking at her convinced her to listen to him. She had reluctantly agreed and had allowed Mikal begin an evacuation and minutes later, the first missile had struck the campus.
“Excuse me, sister, but you are to come with me at the Commander’s orders,” a tall, slim Waliyun officer stated as he appeared beside her. “I have been given direct orders to evacuate you in the next copter.”
Rebecca stiffened. She had to get the cipher key. She could not leave it for any reason. Zakai and Ali had taken Um Rabia to safety a few minutes ago and Rebecca had given the old woman her word that she would make sure to get the cipher key out.
“There is something very important in the vault that I must get – I will just be a minute,” she responded and took a step away in the direction of the lower courtyard but the officer restrained her with a gentle hand and a frown.
“I don’t know, sister,” he objected. “The aircraft are circling and will likely release another missile at any moment. If something were to happen to you-”
“Nothing will happen to me,” she replied, prepared to argue with him, when a first year student came around the corner of the building limping and weeping pitifully with blood dripping from her shoulder.
Rebecca rushed to the girl’s side a few steps ahead of the Waliyun officer and wrapped her arms around the girl. Her name was Leeta, Rebecca recognized her from the orientation seminars. She removed her cloak and secured it around Leeta’s shoulders and wiped the tears from the girl’s cheeks, looking up beseechingly at the officer: she had to hurry.
“Please take her first. Get her to the copter. I’ll be back before you return for me. Please!” Rebecca pleaded.
The frowning officer lifted the wounded girl into his arms with a stiff nod and strode towards the opposite end of the crowded square to where the copters were assembled. Rebecca hurried down the snow-covered path towards the library, her black hair speckled with snow and flying about her shoulders in the wind as she ran; she’d lost her headscarf earlier in the ensuing panic. Alarm sirens continued to blare over the campus speakers, rushing her forward, and she reached the locked doors of the library within minutes. She groped through her cloak pocket for the keys and clumsily unlocked the heavy wooden doors while chastising herself for not having had the palm-locks installed on this building.
Once inside she hurried down the hallway and towards the cellar vault. Tears filled her eyes as she sensed clearly for the first time that evening how much would be lost as she ran past the shelves of books and data files; but she could not let the cipher key be destroyed. She was willing to risk her life for it.
The hall was dark as she jogged through the neat rows of bookshelves, wishing that she could gather all of the volumes into her arms to preserve them, but there was nothing more that could be done at this point. At least they had begun the process of creating digital copies of many of the manuscripts and scrolls which was a small comfort. Having reached the winding staircase at the back of the library, she descended to the hardstone vault below where the most precious of the Academy’s documents were kept. She inserted the largest key on the ring into the lock upon the wide heavy door at the foot of the stairs and had to use both of her hands to pull it open, but the chest that she was looking for sat exactly where she had left it. She pulled it from the recesses of its small cubicle in the wall and closed the heavy door. After locking it again, she hurried back up the staircase and kicked the floor door closed over the stairwell with a prayer that the vault would survive untouched.
She raced through the library towards the exit and the floor trembled beneath her feet as she belatedly realized that the building had been hit. A bookshelf shook and fell over a few feet away from her and another blast hit the building at the front entrance before she reached the doors. She protectively grasped the cipher key to her chest as the second floor balcony above the doors crashed to the floor in a heap of splintered wood, blocking the exit and bringing Rebecca to a full halt. She frantically scanned the gallery for an alternate exit, willing herself to be calm, and decided on a pair of tall windows along the eastern wall.
The windows were sealed permanently shut and not designed to open as a means of protecting the books from moisture so she would need to somehow break the glass. She could smell smoke from somewhere in the back of the building and knew that she didn’t have much time. She decided to try running through the glass and using her momentum to shatter it. She began running again at a full sprint along the aisle towards the tinted glass and gripped the wooden box holding the key under her arm as she tucked her chin into her chest and braced herself for the impact. Before she could reach the windows, she clearly felt her brother’s vibrations through eseeri but to stop now would likely mean a broken bone or two so she didn’t slow down but then she felt her brother’s energy again and looked up to see a figure standing in the yard outside of the window with a feri pistol pointed in her direction.
She instinctively dropped to her knees and slid along the floor as the laser struck the glass, shattering it into thousands of tiny pieces that streamed towards her in a rush. The glass cut her knees as she skidded over them towards the shattered window pane where she banged to a stop into the windowsill. Her shoulder ached painfully from the impact but the chest and the cipher key inside of it was intact.
“Becca?” she heard Mikal shout through dulled hearing as the ground shook again.
She looked up from her spot on the floor and peered tearfully up at her brother with relief. Her knees burned with pain and she coughed loudly as smoke engulfed her, but she had never been happier to see Mikal in her life. He was angry at her, but that the anger stemmed more from worry than displeasure as he reached over the sill to help her up and out of the library.
“Come quickly, habibti. There’s a fighter plane above us,” he said as he pulled her to her feet and protectively into the curve of his arm.
He hauled her around the side of the building and she could not help but look back over her shoulder as they ran. The sight crushed her as she watched bright red flames consume the entire rear of the library and the front portico had completely collapsed. A missile struck the large whana tree in the center of the courtyard as they reached it and sent large blocks of stone flying through the air; something hard struck Rebecca upon her temple and everything went black.
The Women’s Ito, Wi’shaw Temple
Petru Village, Am’maah, Nasai, White Moon 3303 – December
Alarm sirens suddenly blared through the intercom speakers mounted to the corners of the ceiling in the women’s Ito at Wi’shaw Temple and Layla knew intuitively that people were dying. She had not been sleeping, had been lying awake upon her bunk with her arms folded behind her head and staring up at the ceiling too wired to sleep. Her stomach churned and she was the first to jump out of bed.
Anti Lu had said that these feelings would become manageable and easier to control as she learned to embrace her gift, but eseeri was not something that Layla wanted to embrace. It was a hindrance, especially at times like this when she needed her wits about her if she were going to be successful at a mission. She sensed panic and chaos and knew that it was coming from her village.
She hurried to the large, walk-in closet that she shared with the other trainees and yanked one of her uniforms from her section, hastily shoving her limbs into the slacks and jacket. She had been experiencing waves of nervousness and receiving glimpses of strange images all night long so she wasn’t surprised that they were being awakened by and alert.
Pia stumbled sleepily into the closet just as Layla exited.
“What’s going on?” the lithe older girl asked groggily and rubbed sleep from her eyes.
“I don’t know,” Layla replied, glad for the darkness so that Pia would not see the tears in her eyes.
She wiped them away roughly with the heel of her hand and stalked back to her bunk where she removed her boots from under her bed and thrust her stocking-ed feet into them. The front doors opened in the common area beyond the aisle of beds and the long narrow light panels mounted onto the ceiling flickered on.
Umara Hujaran, administrative officer to the Rabbi and lead female instructor for the Waliyun, walked into the sleeping area in full battle armor.
“Everyone up and report to the prayer hall. Ten minutes, please,” she announced and turned on her heel to walk out the way she came and back into the night.
Hadia and Ahni had jumped from their bunks and rushed to the closet where they struggled into their uniforms; Pia returned to her bed fully dressed and pulled on her boots as Layla strapped her chest shield over her shoulders and waist, grabbed her helmet from her mattress and pulled on her cloak.
“I’ll meet you at the hall,” she called to the others from over her shoulder as she strode through the commons to the front doors.
She slid the doors open from the center, stepped through, and closed them tightly behind her. Once outside, she leaned against them and used her eseeri to find Anti Lu and Pua. Her heart began to race as different emotions flashed across her mind and senses: fear, relief, sadness, pain; one of them was in pain. Was it Anti Lu or Pua? She reached farther . . . it was Pua. Her eyes pricked with fresh tears that she fiercely blinked away and she offered a silent prayer.
“Please Lord, I do not ask you for much . . . just please . . . I beg you . . . please keep them alive,” she prayed.
The wind blew against her cheeks as she finished, spurring her forward. She straightened and pushed away from the doors, walking resolutely down the stairs and into the cold night air. The flashing red lights of the alarm sirens whirling on the tops of the Doja made the falling snowflakes look pink as they fell to the ground and her mind thought of blood. She was ready. She had to be.
From Eseere: The Language Of Wind, Book One of The Sahyun Chronicles. Read previous chapters here on the blog.