This is one of the two short stories I submitted for a zodiac-themed anthology. The anthology was, sadly, cancelled. I am posting it here that it might see the light of day and might be enjoyed. This was the story centering around the Leo zodiac sign.
I am not crazy.
Nobody believed that I can see a tiny lion that has stars for eyes.
I’m not sure I would have believed me.
When I was born the sun was busy burning things. It was the middle of August, a Sunday. My parents made a fuss about how their little daughter was the “perfect Leo.” It was a big deal to them, certain I had some grand destiny to fulfill. All according to the miraculous star sign. The excitement didn’t last very long. I made the mistake of telling them about the little lion. Early on it was cute that I had an imaginary friend. But it went on for years. When I turned eighteen and still maintained that Konstantin was real they were already looking sideways at me like most other people in our village.
My village was invaded and taken over by a group of skeletal, alien creatures calling themselves akathis. I tried to hide, but I was not very good at it.
Then I ended up in the asylum.
I was trying to plan a daring and cunning escape. The first had failed, miserably, but that didn’t dampen my spirits. My cell was comfortable and I was fed well enough, but I didn’t belong in the asylum. I wanted a proper bed and proper food. I wanted Freedom. It was something the akathis didn’t really seem to understand.
Aliens are weird.
The seven-foot-tall being sat across from me. He looked vaguely like a human skeleton, but made of thorns and twigs. His head, like all akathi, was a thin skull, similar to a man’s. His eyes were of watery, glowing amber, deep set and intelligent. They were known to be a conscientious people, smart, dignified. I knew them to be insufferably pedantic.
“It says here that you tried to escape, Irina.” The akathi, named Argktk, inflected his dry, rustling voice with feigned surprise. It wasn’t a natural inflection. It was something a few of them had picked up from their human subjects. He set the sheet of paper back down on the small stack of identically tedious reports and straightened them with far too much care and attention. Leaning forward and steepling his fingers together, he asked, as if genuinely concerned, “why?”
Sitting across from his desk in the tiny room wasn’t comfortable. I was balanced on a small folding chair, bound in a shirt that was essentially a giant, sleeveless belt. My red hair barely reached below my ears from when they shaved it. The air was a touch too cold. I shivered.
There weren’t any windows in the small, sparsely furnished room. It was just me, the skeleton creature, his desk, and the small, creaking chair. The environment was meant to put me ill at ease, off balance. At first it had worked. I learned the rules of their game quickly and was getting better and better at playing.
“I would rather be somewhere else,” I said sweetly. Not a lie.
“I… see…” He tapped his reedy fingers together. They made a dry clacking sound. “And how did you even get to the wall? Your door was locked. We have orderlies that should have spotted you. All in all, your effort was impressive.”
“Thank you,” I said with a smile.
Argktk didn’t look pleased with my gracious response. He wanted me to mention Konstantin again. But that never went well. It always ended with me getting hauled away and left in my room. The akathi really didn’t like invisible talking lions. Or humans.
“How did you get to the wall?” Argktk repeated the question, more sternly this time.
I had to give him something. Refusing to answer questions also frequently ended with me being unceremoniously dumped into my room. Sometimes they would hit me or ‘forget’ to give me a full meal.
“I… It is important that I get out of here. The planet’s future depends on me. Something is coming. Something… er… big and scary! Really big. Big enough to scramble you brains and make you go completely insane!” Not exactly a lie.
My eyes were wide and excited. I probably looked like I belonged in the big weird coat they had me wrapped up in. Argktk leaned back in his tall leather chair and folded his hands in front of him on his desk. A wheezing sound escaped his throat. Annoyance? Anger? Amusement? With the akathi it was difficult to tell. I may have poured it on a little thick.
“Interesting,” the alien said evenly. He rose with a low, creaking sound, and strode around the desk, bony hands clasped behind his back. Intimidating behind the desk, the alien would have been terrifying towering over me if I hadn’t grown used to it. I kept my eyes focused on him.
“It is… hungry,” I said with hushed intensity.
“Hmmm…” the alien said. It was a poor imitation of human musing. It came out of the akathi as a grinding croak. Argktk glared down at me with those glowing eyes. “And this active imagination you are so bent on continuing to nurture and expanding… this is its newest concoction? It is much more radical than your earlier inventions. Humans…”
“I didn’t make this one up. I… promise?” There was a low, quiet thud on the other side of the desk. Argktk turned for a moment.
“You promise,” the thorny alien echoed, looming back over me. “This gets old.” He waved a hand dismissively.
He ignored my question.
“Do you know how many times you have been in here, now?”
I thought for a moment.
“Six. You have been brought to me six times, Irina. Six. Once a week for processing and now… trying to escape. What should we do with you?”
“Let me go?”
Argktk wasn’t amused. I don’t think any of them had much of a sense of humor. Creatures that invade a town and seize control put laughter low on their list of priorities.
“We have twenty three humans like you in this facility. Yet you are the only one to attempt escape within the last two months.”
“The stars are angry. If I don’t get out of here-”
“Enough!” the creature snapped. “I had hoped to see a change in your demeanor and mental state. You will remain another week until your next assessment. If things do not improve we may have to resort to… treating you.”
That was his way of threatening me. As far as I could gather, the akathi’s treatments were torture and not anything remotely resembling medicinal aid. I gulped.
I nodded my understanding.
“Good. You know the way to your cell. Your meal will be brought to you in a half ration as punishment for your transgression.” He opened the door and went back to his desk, steepling his fingers and watching me as if I were a lab experiment. Actually, I was fairly certain I was.
Light streamed in through the rectangular window slits high in the walls of the corridor. Midday. I cursed myself for not grabbing a sword during my escape attempt. If I had one, then maybe I could have fought my way out. Or maybe a torch. The akathi looked like they’d hate fire. Good, purifying fire. Then I could have torched the guard and…
“You’re sulking, Irina,” Konstantin said, appearing by my feet.
“Am not,” I retorted. Yes, I was sulking. It had been a good plan. It almost worked, too.
“It is okay to sulk, but now we must rejoice!” he said. The little lion looked up at me, eyes glittering as if they held eternity. He had helped me plan the escape attempt. We just missed the one guard. The one guard who happened to be quick enough on his feet to grab me.
“You got the key, then?” I said quietly. If any orderlies were around I didn’t want them hearing me talking to “myself”. I’m not crazy. It’s not my fault if nobody else can see Konstantin.
“I got more than that,” he said in a low, happy rumble. “I got a good look at several notes and reports. If they actually believed you about me they’d probably take better care with such sensitive information.”
“They’d probably also have killed me.”
“True. Very probably true. But they haven’t yet so we still have time.”
We passed an orderly. It looked an awful lot like Arkgkt. He was darker and slightly less thorny. Krigt was his name and he was every bit as warm and friendly as Argktk. Less talkative, though. Krigt barely gave me a glance as I loped by. I wobbled and skipped a little, giving him a good show. Acting a touch crazy helped for a while. The really defiant ones that were sent to the facility were… expedited to receive “treatment”.
Gtakn, the guard for my cell block, let me in to my small room, shut the steel barred door, then left me alone. Perfect. I sighed and let myself relax a bit, finally.
“Can you get this stupid thing off me?” I asked Konstantin.
“Certainly,” he said as he began working at the straps with his teeth and paws.
“Thanks,” I said, stretching and flexing my cramped arms. Under the jacket I wore thin slacks and a top, both thin and white. They covered me, but didn’t provide much warmth.
“You were right, you know.”
“hmmm… about what?” I said rubbing my arms.
“The stars are angry. As an avatar of Leo I share their rage. It’s why I was sent to you. Your parents were not far off, though they read you strangely, thinking the stars determined your personality. You match the heart and soul of what it means to be born under the sign. That you actually were is a coincidence. Passionate, kind, stubborn, and you don’t like it when you are not given the attention you deserve. You could practically be an avatar of Leo… If you were a star lion and not a human, of course.”
“Star lion. I called you that when I was four.”
“I thought it had a nice ring to it.”
“’Konstantin, Destroyer of Planets, Avatar of Doom’ has a good ring to it, too.”
The little lion huffed.
“Undignified. But… yes. I especially like the ‘doom’ part.”
“But ‘star lion’ is completely filled with all sorts of dignity.”
“So is being locked up in an asylum after a violent race of sapient skeleton tree monsters invades your kingdom and conquers your little town.”
“A point.” I winced. Only a year ago had anyone from my kingdom even heard of the akathi. They came like a moving forest. Disciplined. Relentless. Incredibly pedantic and powerfully condescending. Konstantin had naturally told me about them long ago, but nobody listened. I warned, I yelled, screamed, pleaded. When they finally showed up the crazy ranting nightmares of a girl suddenly didn’t seem so absurd. But by then it was far too late.
According to Konstantin, the akathi had made an unholy pact with Serpens. The constellation had sent its avatar to aid and direct them. This angered Leo, Libra, Aquarius, and others. Leo was the first to act. Unfortunately, something went wrong in sending the avatar and Konstantin got stuck with me. He was probably supposed to end up giving advice to the king or some chancellor in fancy robes. My little lion companion never complained, though. Ever the optimist.
“So what’d you find out?” I asked, pacing the length of my small, windowless room.
“You are right about the akathi not liking fire.”
“They also don’t like the sun very much. It dries them out. Hence most of their military endeavors being at night, focusing on areas near to easily-accessed water.”
“And that’s it?”
“I was able to memorize a good portion of their army’s disposition. And, on the more immediate, fun side of things: I found where their armory is.”
I gave a grin almost as toothy as the one on Konstantin’s muzzle. He also held up a brass loop with a handful of oddly-shaped keys dangling off it. My grin widened until it hurt just a little.
We had staged the escape with the fallback plan of finding a key to unlock the asylum’s gate. Konstantin’s invisible spying had figured out the lay of the asylum and pretty much the entirety of my old town, how the akathi set watches and patrols, and he had even managed to send a few anonymous messages. Unfortunately, with some experimentation, we had discovered that he couldn’t get very far from me. When he got too far it was like walking into a wall. Our bond was stronger than either of us had suspected.
Konstantin’s spying had uncovered that at least one key to the asylum gate was in Argktk’s possession. The extra keys were a very exciting, joyful bonus. Chances were high one of them gave us access to the armory. That meant I could get my restless hands on a sword.
After my meager meal we escaped. My arm fit through the bars of my cell door, so getting the key into the simple lock was easy. I got the correct key on the second try and we slipped out virtually silent. The corridors were long and tall. It was the first building the akathi erected during their occupation of Wjestra. Halls that weren’t straight, windows set too high. Floors had a rolling quality to them. Completely inhuman architecture.
The Avatar of Leo knew exactly where the armory was. Not easy to get to. It was located in the central nexus of the alien complex. Guards and orderlies abounded, but none of them detected my invisible star lion. He scouted ahead and granted me what amounted to invisibility by proxy.
Combining what had been dubbed a mad house and policing facility made no sense to me. But maybe the minds of the akathi conflated insanity with criminality and being human.
I unlocked the door to the armory and slipped inside. Unlike other rooms, this one was filled with what I can only describe as trophies. I gagged and the burning sensation of threatening tears stung my eyes. Walls decorated with human limbs. Captured weapons. Tattered, bloody clothing. For all their outward appearance of decorum, the akathi were monsters. Blocking out the horrors on the walls, I searched for something sharp and capable of efficient, deadly stabbing. There were rows of shelves, meticulously catalogued and arranged by type and size.
I hadn’t realized swords came in so many shapes, sizes and weights. The first one I grabbed was too long and too heavy. With an angry sigh I grabbed a shorter sword that didn’t feel like it’d exhaust me too fast. Konstantin had secretly trained me to use swords for years, and it was the closest thing I could see to what I was accustomed to. I’d have loved to do proper shopping and find the perfect blade, but we needed to act quickly or increase risk of discovery.
It was a nice sword, though.
Simple grip and pommel, but the blade was sleek and curved in ways that Konstantin assured me would give me better leverage given my generally weak limbs. We turned by the next row and nearly bumped into an akathi. He was exceptionally tall. Eight feet at least, and hunched over a board of wood with papers clipped to it, yellowy eyes taking in the inventory as he made notes. A wicked-looking akathi blade hung at his side. Startled, he jerked to stand upright.
The arms on the wall. People I had known. People I had grown up with. Slaughtered by these monsters and used like we would have used flowers and art. My blade hacked at the akathi before it could reach for its own sword. Green ichor decorated the shelves and weapons. It started to scream in pain, a sound I was not familiar with. My stolen blade went up swiftly and stopped the noise. I killed an akathi.
I had never killed before.
My hands shook with the sudden thrill of adrenaline.
“Konstantin!” I rasped.
The little lion appeared. He looked perturbed.
“I am sorry! I was keeping watch to the halls and did not see or hear him. Are you okay?”
“Did anything hear it scream?”
“I did not hear anything coming from the halls. I think we’re clear but we should move on. You evidently have found a good weapon.” He moved to proceed.
“Shouldn’t you… er…”
“Get a… ummm… oh…”
He lifted a paw and deadly, glistening daggers popped out. They were small, but somehow made my new sword look pathetic in comparison. Of course he wouldn’t need a weapon.
“On all four paws.”
We left the armory, locking the door quietly behind us.
As quiet as we managed to be, I was expecting the patrols to hear my heart thudding in my chest. We had one chance at this. If I was caught again, I was dead. It would be hard to explain away the lifeless, headless monster clerk in the armory. Argktk wouldn’t believe me if I told him that akathi had offered me the sword shortly after cutting his own head off with it. He didn’t believe me when I told him things that were true. Those claims only bought me threats and promises of torture.
Several akathi passed by in a patrol, rasping to each other in their dry manner. Each carried a blade that was as jagged and as dangerous-looking as their own thorny flesh. Konstantin and I waited until they passed, then made for what the lion assured me was a side door.
The door wasn’t locked so we slipped out into the night air.
Empty. The courtyard seemed completely void of life except for the plants. Overgrown and seemingly unattended, weeds and grasses grew up and into everything. Great arches had been set up so that vines and foreign, massive leafs could grown on and over them, blocking the drying sun. Humidity was high and the whole yard simply smelled green. Not in the pleasant way I had been accustomed to growing up. This was cloying and felt like it was seeping into my pores.
Konstantin led onward toward the gate. Patrols were few, thankfully, and the heavy foliage made hiding easy for a small girl. My red hair threatened to give me away. I snatched off a large leaf and managed to tie its long stem in such a way that it shrouded the shock of color.
Mounds of leafy plants. Rows of towering vines. It was a maze of subtle shades of greens and ever-lengthening stretches of bleak shadows. Konstantin led on through the increasing gloom. The sun was slowly gliding downward. In theory that meant hiding would be easier, but given the akathi aversion to the distant star it likely meant more of them out. With those glowing eyes it wouldn’t surprise me if they could actually see better in the dark.
“We’re almost there,” the little lion whispered. We were pressed into a large shroud of leafs growing over a massive stone trestle. At the gate a trio of akathi were marching by, each holding a long halberd. The stone tips were roughly carved as if in a hurry, but that wouldn’t make them any less deadly.
“Good, the sun is setting,” I whispered back. “Somehow that seems like a bad thing.”
“Quite. You do know what the sun is, right?”
“Well, yes. But do you know what a star is.”
“A thing that makes up a constellation?”
“It’s a massive ball of fire, very far away. That’s the simple way of putting it.”
“Ah. So that’s why the akathi don’t like it. They really don’t like fire at all, do they?”
“No they do not.”
“If only we had a torch, then. Running into an akathi at the gate… we could burn them real well. Maybe set the whole gate on fire.”
“Your sword,” Konstantin mumbled.
“The sword is a sharp thing. It cuts and stabs. It doesn’t burn. Pretty sure it can’t even scald.”
“There is a reason we’ve bonded. Such a strong bond, too. Other avatars don’t have nearly so strong a bond, I’m sure. But we… you really are what your parents said you were.”
“A Leo. Right. I still think it’s silly. And… other avatars?”
“Do either of your parents have red hair?”
“Ummm…” I had to think about that. It had been a while since I’d even seen them. Their images were blurry to my memory. They had sent me to Wjestra hoping the change of scenery would cure my supposed insanity. That was four years ago. “No.”
“Relatives on either side?”
“Not that I remember.”
“It’s a sign. Your hair isn’t even a very typical shade of red.”
“That’s true.” It was closer to a true red, a fire red, than the orange hues that were present on people said to have red hair.
“Just trust me. If we need it, I might have a… trick.” Konstantin’s eyes didn’t just glitter. For a moment, they burned with starlight. Intense. Destructive. Glorious.
“Doom,” I whispered, held in awe by the lion’s gaze.
He blinked and it was gone, eyes back to glittering, swirling fields of light.
I’m not sure how the lion shushed me. It came out as a vaguely growl-like sound, but very clearly a rebuke to be quiet.
More akathi were passing by. This was it. When they were gone we’d make a dash to the gate and with any luck be free of this improvised alien jungle.
A few swift, hunched steps brought me within arms reach of the gate. It was a massive structure. Mostly stone, but reinforced with iron cannibalized from local constructs and smithy workshops. Twenty feet tall, maybe a little taller. Connected to it was a thick, squat gatehouse. The akathi kept the gate free of their beloved alien foliage, presumably so that it wouldn’t entangle and keep the gate from opening and closing properly. That meant I was in the open while I fumbled the key into the big lock.
It clicked and thunked. We were almost free.
But it was never going to be that easy.
The gatehouse opened
An akathi stalked out and stopped short.
I looked at him. He looked at me. The seven-foot-tall creature actually seemed surprised. As surprised as one of them could look, I suppose. They were basically walking skeletons so facial expressions were nonexistent. But seeing a human, sword in one hand, gate key in another was well outside what it would have considered normal.
With a cry of alarm, the akathi raised its long, jagged blade. Instinctively, I raised my own stolen weapon. One parried strike would likely have thrown me bodily to the ground. Or broken an arm. Probably both. I knew that. Better to die trying to get free than allow myself to be subjected to torture.
“K-Konstantin! You said you had a trick? A good one?”
“Ummm… I hope it works?” It was the least reassuring thing I had ever heard. It was better than nothing.
He bounded onto my shoulder. The warm weight should have been a hindrance, but I felt myself grow more confident, steadier, stronger. It was as if he had somehow become an extension of my being rather than a completely separate creature.
“What… what are you doing?” I stammered. The akathi was coming right for me. Another was coming out of the gatehouse, drawing another big, deadly sword. I didn’t stand a chance.
“I said our bond was really strong. You’re a Leo and I’m the avatar of Leo Itself. It’s also our month. So I should be able to do… this.”
The remaining sunlight seemed drawn to us. Or maybe we just grew so much brighter that it drowned the light of the distant star. It seeped into my upheld sword like liquid fire. With an awkward cry the akathi charging at me faltered. I struck.
My movement was swift, inhuman. Like light itself I shot forward. The sword in my hand was no longer a simple blade. It was an embodiment of death. Like wood popping and cracking in a fire the akathi fell smoldering, cut into pieces. Like dry paper, the skeletal body shriveled and burned, cinders floating unceremoniously into the air. Mouth wide open in a shout of surprise, the akathi crumbled, edges of its wounds glowing as the flames progressed, annihilating the body.
Light began escaping from me like subtle fog.
The other akathi saw its companion fall horrifically. It bellowed and charged right at me.
“Konstantin? What’s going on?”
“You are under attack.”
“Ha. Good one super smart magic lion of obviousness,” I muttered.
“Our bond! It works! It works!”
“This was your trick?”
“Neat huh? Exhausting, though. You have become… a vessel of sorts for the power of Leo itself. Step left.”
I listened and stepped left. My arm nearly wrenched from its socket as I parried the blow from the akathi’s attack. It hurt badly, my arm going slightly numb. The akathi backed away, whirling the blade, preparing for another strike. He paused, noting the massive glowing gauge my blade had left in his weapon. Molten metal dripped where my sword had cut messily into it.
He took another step toward me, trying to get me to back away from the gate. My chances were better if I could get through to the city proper. It would be easier to get lost. Hide. Escape. As long as I was on the grounds of the asylum I was still their prisoner.
More light escaped from my flesh. It looked like smoke fleeing from licking tongues of fire.
I shifted my stance and shuffled closer to the gate. Then I made a lunge at the akathi. It wasn’t expecting the sudden aggression from a diminutive prisoner, even though it had just witnessed the death of its comrade. Steel flying faster than it should have been able to removed the akathi’s leg just above the knee. A flurry of cinders took to the air and the tall creature collapsed. With a flick of its wrist it tried to sever my arm. I jumped back, slammed my blade into his. It broke, falling apart into a smoldering mass.
Other voices began to take up the cry of alarm. The akathi yelled, a horrible grating sound. I brought my sword down. It went silent.
A moment later and I was on the other side of the gate, glowing. If I was going to remain unseen, that needed to change.
“Konstantin?” I breathed.
“Yes?” the avatar asked. He sounded tired, as if he were the one who had just battled two very tall, very deadly monsters.
“The glow. We need to hide and move quickly and…” and I didn’t know what else. The plan was to get out of the asylum, get somewhere safe that wasn’t occupied by the invading monsters that made an evil deal with an even more evil star.
The glow disappeared and Konstantin hopped down from my shoulder. His eyes sparkled like normal. A low, pleased, purring sound rattled at the back of his throat. Evidently, he was happy to see the stars again. They were flickering in the sky like a sea of diamonds, the sun having set during the brief fight. I couldn’t believe how quick that had happened. Three akathi killed in the span of what? Fifteen minutes? Twenty?
It was thrilling. They had attacked and destroyed much of what I loved. Retaliation. Justice. Konstantin had told me that lions were fierce protectors and could be utterly ruthless. Part of me wanted to go back, to end them all for what they had done. Was that the lingering of the magic bond I had just experienced? Was it from Konstantin’s animal nature, somehow passed to me? Or did the bond perhaps bring out more of that aspect of myself, traits that were defining for my guardian sign? Konstantin and I had always had a strange, symbiotic relationship. The avatar needed me to stay grounded to the planet. I needed him for similar reasons. Whatever the reason for the thrill of battle, I needed to calm myself and move on. Quickly.
“What was that?” I asked.
“I didn’t hear anything,” Konstantin said as angry voices hurried in the direction of the gate.
“No, that’s not what I-” my voice was cut off by the sound of an explosion. It came from the asylum.
“Ah! There it is!” Konstantin sounded overjoyed.
“What did you do?”
“Argktk just opened his desk.”
“Exploded. I planted a surprise when I stole the keys.”
“How did you…?”
“I had a month to work on it. I’m the avatar of an entire constellation. Knowledge of things that burn is ingrained. You’d be surprised how many things the akathi keep around are highly volatile.”
“Fun.” Smoke billowed high over the tall gate to the asylum. Konstantin’s explosive must’ve taken out the entire office and then some. The tone of the shouting changed. The lion had sewn confusion amid the anger. I smiled broadly as we ducked off the roadway and into a small copse of trees.
Wjestra. The village wasn’t exactly a metropolis, but it had once been a place of growing industry. Husks of razed buildings dotted the landscape. Plenty of intact homes and shops still stood, but the fighting during the invasion had been fierce and the akathi had no reservations when it came to destruction. I hadn’t seen much of it. I had been… hiding.
A shopkeep had betrayed my location. And my supposed delusions. The akathi had found me and then executed the shopkeeper. His was one of the shops that had been broken into little more than kindling. The broken buildings remained broken. A constant reminder to the humans. Obey or suffer.
Screams continued to rise from the asylum. People began to poke wary heads out of their homes. Explosions and confusion from their overlords was unheard of. This was something new, worthy of their attention.
Sentries began striding swiftly down the streets, yelling for the humans to get back in their homes. Flames illuminated the town, the asylum quickly becoming a blazing inferno. A small sun in its own right. The prison blocks were largely stone and wouldn’t catch fire. Konstantin knew what he was doing. He wouldn’t have knowingly endangered the other prisoners.
Whether thinking the conflagration was a friendly army finally come or simply an opportunity arising, one of the townsfolk decided to act. A young man with a chair rushed an akathi, dashing from his home with a desperate purpose. The wood exploded against the akathi’s back and sent the beast sprawling. Others saw it and rushed the downed monster. Before it could rise and draw its blade, half a dozen men were on it, stomping and bludgeoning it with whatever implement they could find. Table legs, branches, rocks. The akathi’s amber eyes dimmed forever.
Other sentries noticed. There was a rush of bodies. Those that had hesitated at first joined the fray enthusiastically.
“We did this?” I whispered to Konstantin. “I… uh…”
“Yes. My thoughts exactly.”
“The plan was to escape, find help.”
“Indeed,” the little lion rumbled.
“We should do something,” I said. It came out as a question.
“Let us proceed. My claws are itching.”
Two akathi were hammering at a nearby house, their weapons brutally cutting chunks from the walls and door. The ground already had several human bodies accompanying the fallen aliens. Skirmishes, desperate and frenzied were carrying on all over the streets. Human and inhuman shouts and screams blended together.
We charged the two. Konstantin didn’t cling to my shoulder, activating our glowing, superhuman bond again. It might have exhausted him fully. Or he was simply restless and wanted to use his deadly claws as he had said. He leaped at the one on the left as it raised the dark weapon in its fist. The lion alighted and began to tear. The akathi’s weapon arm was the first to go. The green ichor that looked so bright indoors seemed like tar in the light of the stars and fire.
I ran my blade through the second akathi as it turned, distracted. Both fell to the ground, mine considerably less messy than Konstantin’s. The eyes had flared right before they went out. Did it see the lion?
People emerged from the house. I recognized them all. A tailor and his wife. A cobbler. A young boy that had been known to periodically pull pranks on one of the local smithies. They recognized me, too. My red hair was hard to mistake, even if it was short. The leaf had fallen off, I noticed. Possibly at the gate.
“Grab their weapons,” I directed. The tailor and the cobbler obeyed with relish.
“Irina?” The tailor asked in disbelief, then froze for the briefest of moments, eyes darting to Konstantin then back to me.
I nodded. He shook his head and joined the cobbler in rushing to another fight.
“They can see you now?” I asked the lion.
“Umm… perhaps an unforeseen consequence of being aggressive. And I was really quite aggressive there.”
The tailor’s wife brought the boy back indoors, but not before thanking me profusely. She actually called me a hero. For years I had been thought of as a bit crazy. The switch to hero would take getting used to.
The tailor lived. The cobbler wasn’t so fortunate. When dawn broke, far too many humans had been killed. The akathi that hadn’t fled were quickly massacred. The air was thick with the stench of fire and death.
I was exhausted. The plan had never been to trigger a revolution. Getting away was the goal. Freedom. Maybe finding help. The result of breaking out of the asylum was much grander than I would have ever dreamed. Men were sent out to bring word and hope.
Konstantin and I sat huddled in front of a house. Somebody had thought to get me proper food. I was starting to feel human again.
“What happens now that others can see you?” I asked.
“Maybe nothing. I’m not sure I was ever supposed to be invisible, honestly. Maybe our bond had something to do with it.”
“The glowing and such?”
“Yes.” I wondered why we hadn’t tried it years ago. Then realized there hadn’t been monsters to kill, people to help.
“Did you expect… this at all?” I made a vague gesture to everything around us.
“Well, as the avatar of Leo I am destined to unite people and lead them. Since you are what you are… Yes. I just didn’t expect it to happen here, this quickly. I imagine in a week or so word will have spread. The akathi will learn they are mortal. They’ll know that they can be stopped, even backed by Serpens and its avatar. And we will teach others what we already know.”
“Hmm. And you mentioned other good avatars.”
“Of course there are others.”
“People will listen to me now.” It was a strange thought.
“Yes. They will. That’s how it is meant to be. What would you have them hear?”
“That we won’t be ruled by the akathi.”
“And what would you have them ruled by?”
I looked at Konstantin. He knew exactly what I was thinking.