As they broke through the cloud layer, her father set the Zephyr on an even keel, slowly circling above the city. Arsha stared down at the view in amazement. London was a sea of lights, as if the earth been set on fire. The thick black line of a river snaked through the ethereal glow, sharply dividing the two sides of the city. She saw smaller pinpricks moving through the streets like brightly coloured ants, and hazy points of light drifted on the surface of the water. Spotlights picked out gleaming towers of glass and steel, clustered around the riverbanks. She saw the shape of a giant wheel standing over the water, it’s purpose unclear.
“Abasi just sent a wave from the Triskelion,” Micah announced. “Says the Jyoti launched two skiffs. They’re following us down. Looks like armed men aboard.”
He paused for a moment, then added “What do we do, Professor?”
Her father turned to look up at the dark clouds above them.
“We find the girl,” he said, as if it was the simplest thing in the world.
“And if the decide to start shooting at us?” Ilona said.
“They’re trying to intimidate us, not start a fight,” her father replied.
“And you’re sure of that?” Ilona said. Rishi scowled, and said nothing.
Micah turned to look at her, forcing a smile.
“I guess the next part’s on you, kid,” he said to Arsha. Ilona reached into a pocket in her skirt and produced a small object on a fine silver chain. The seeker looked like a series of silver rings, nested one inside the last, each one able to spin freely. At its centre was a deep blue crystal that glowed with a faint light. Arsha sat herself down in the centre of the deck as Ilona knelt across from her. Arsha closed her eyes and tried to shut out the roaring of the wind and the thundering of the propellers. She told herself that she was back in the hold of the Triskelion, where she had been practising with Ilona for the last few days.
She opened her eyes. Ilona held up the seeker on its chain, hanging between them like a gleaming silver eye.
“OK Arsha, focus. Look into the eye of the seeker and focus on Rachael’s face,” Ilona said, her voice a soft but insistent monotone. “Let everything else fall away. You are alone, floating in an ocean of darkness. There is only her face.”
Taking slow and even breaths, Arsha let herself fall into the darkness. This part came easily, almost naturally. She began to conjure up the image of the girl’s face, but even in the stillness behind her closed eyes, she could not seem to hold the shape of it. No matter how she tried, the details kept slipping from her grasp. It was like fumbling for something underwater, your fingers trying to make out the shape of it even as it kept sliding from your grasp. She screwed her face up in concentration as she tried to reach for the image that kept eluding her.
“Professor, cloudbreak, 2 o’ clock.”
She opened her eyes to see Micah gesturing towards the overcast sky. Against the dark clouds she saw two slim white shapes moving across the sky. The skiffs were narrow and slender, smaller even than the Zephyr. Open topped boats with maybe half a dozen men aboard each of them, sitting on low benches right up against the hull. If she squinted she could just make out the shape of the rifles the men carried on their shoulders.
“Hey ‘Lona, whatever you guys are doing there, you might want to make it happen just a little bit faster,” Micah said, looking nervous. Arsha saw him glancing down at the spark chamber of his lightning ballista. Then Ilona placed a gentle hand on her shoulder.
“Keep your eyes on me, Arsha. Focus on my voice, focus on the seeker. Try to picture her face.”
Arsha nodded, took another deep breath. She could feel her heart thundering in her chest, no matter how hard she tried to calm her breathing. Pushing it aside, she let herself sink into the darkness once more, and remembered the feeling of a mask settling onto her face. The way her features had become stone. She thought of Rachael, and remembered the girl’s eyes. Hard, sharp eyes, fierce and unyielding.
Then, around those eyes, she began to see details fill in. Dark clouds above. The city spread out below. She was somewhere high up. Very high. She caught glimpses of glass and steel. Then another figure. A boy, dark haired, eyes keen and watchful. She looked again at the girl’s surroundings, and the city far below. Then she looked up at the clouds above, and saw something glowing softly against the dark sky.
Arsha opened her eyes, and ran to the edge of the deck. Leaning out over the railing, she scanned the endless sprawl, until her gaze settled on a single gleaming spire. For a brief moment she felt the thread stretching tight, pulling at her insides.
“There,” she cried out, pointing. “That’s where she is.”
Following her to the railing, Micah produced a slim brass telescope and raised it to his eye.
“Fates, you’re right,” he said. “I can see a girl and a boy, right up there on top of that tower. What are they even doing, trying to get themselves killed?”
“I don’t know,” her father said, “but it won’t be long before one of those skiffs spots them up there. Everyone hold on.”
Arsha clung tight to the railing as her father spun the wheel and pitched the Zephyr’s nose down hard.
Standing at the very top of the Shard, buffeted by the wind, Rachael watched the ships descend towards them. The largest vessel was already getting close to the tower, close enough that she could make out the figures standing on the deck.
She turned to look at Justin. His mouth was set in a thin line, eyes cold, as he watched the approaching vessel. He said nothing, but she could see the way his fingers flexed, as if aching to reach for his knife. What good it would do them now, she had no idea. They were completely exposed. Even if they tried to run, it was a long way down.
The ship slowed as it approached the tower. The sound of the propellers descended to a dull roar. She could see a man in a long coat standing at the railing, and a woman in a black dress with a cloak around her shoulders. Between them was a smaller figure mostly concealed by a heavy coat and a pair of goggles. As she watched, the figure pushed the goggles back, revealing a familiar face. The girl from the rooftop. Arsha.
The girl smiled and waved. Rachael felt her stomach turn.
“Rachael. Rachael,” Arsha called out to them. “We’re going to get you out of here. It’s going to be OK.”
Rachael stared at the girl in disbelief. Justin leaned in close.
“Does she know you?”
“It’s the girl that saw. On the rooftop. Only… She wasn’t real. I mean, she wasn’t really there. God, how can this be real?”
“What did she say?”
“That they were coming to find me. Her and her dad, or something.”
“Cute trick,” Justin said. “They couldn’t catch you, so they tried to get you to come to them instead.”
“What are we going to do?”
“Stop them. They can try to take you, if they want. It won’t go well for them.”
She saw the steel in his eyes, as he watched the vessel approaching.
“Justin you can’t do this. You can’t fight all of them.”
She saw a cruel smile twist at the corner of his mouth.
“A promise is a promise, Rachael. Just focus on the Seed. That’s what matters now. That’s our way out.”
“God, as if. I just want this to be over, Justin. I just want to stop running.”
“Soon. We’re nearly there.”
His hand settled on her shoulder, his grip firm, strong. Still, she shivered as she looked past the approaching vessel and saw the other two ships coming closer. They were smaller, sleek and vicious looking things, red and white paintwork gleaming in the light from the Shard. One of the small ships began to circle the tower, as the other swooped down into the streets below.
“Just find the Seed. That’s all you have to do now,” Justin said.
Nodding, she closed her eyes and tried to focus, but all she could hear was the pounding of her heart.
Arsha watched as one of the skiffs touched down in the street below, disgorging men into the plaza beneath the tower. The other was orbiting the tower, closing in on them. She saw the look of grim determination on Micah’s face, as his eyes followed the approaching vessel.
Turning towards the tower again, she waved at Rachael and the boy who stood with her.
“Rachael, come on. Please. We have to go, now. We have to get you out of here.”
She yelled as loud as she could, her voice growing hoarse, but the girl wasn’t listening. Rachael’s eyes were closed. Only the boy was watching them, with a look of cold hatred. As his eyes met hers, Arsha felt a chill run through her body.
Then Micah’s hand was on her shoulder, pulling her back from the railing. In his other hand Micah held his lightning ballista, freed from it’s wrappings. She looked up and saw the skiff pulling up alongside them, the crewmen levelling rifles in their direction. Micah went to raise the ballista, but Ilona slapped his hands down before he could even bring the weapon up.
“Fates, do you want to get killed?” the woman hissed.
“You there,” a man called to them from the deck of the skiff, “pull away from the tower. This airspace is restricted, and you are in violation of Guild Accords.”
“By whose authority?” Micah called back, still keeping his weapon pointed down, for now.
“By our authority,” the man replied, face twisting into a cruel sneer. Stand down and remove your vessel from this area.
Though her father hadn’t said a word, Arsha could see the grim look on his face, his hands gripping a little too tight on the wheel as he watched what was happening.
“What do we do, Professor?” Micah said, giving her father a helpless look.
Still not saying a word, her father raised the throttle and span the wheel. The roar of the propellers grew as they pulled away from the building. As the distance grew, Arsha watched Rachael and the boy growing smaller, barely visible against the vastness of the glass and steel tower.
Rachael watched the ship peel away, as the men on the smaller vessel kept their weapons trained. She could feel panic seizing her now, the world seeming to blur as her heart thundered in her chest. She turned to Justin, catching him by the lapel.
“Just get out of here. You can… You can turn into a bird or something, fly down, you’ll be safe. Just get out of here.”
He put a hand to her shoulder.
“I’m not doing that. I’m not leaving you.”
“But we’re trapped here. This is all… It’s all gone wrong. Justin, I can’t get out of this, but you can.”
He pulled her close, his eyes locked on hers.
“Rachael, don’t you get it? I’m never leaving you. Never.”
“Because of your stupid promise,” she said.
“Because of you,” he said. “Come on, we can do this. Your mother had a plan. We can still… We just have to figure this thing out.”
“It’s not working, Justin. None of this is happening the way you planned.”
The small ship continued to circle the rooftop. She could hear the men aboard shouting at them, but the words didn’t seem to matter any more.
“God, what are they even waiting for? Why don’t they just do it already?”
Her voice shuddered as she spoke the words into the freezing air. She could feel his strong arms around her, but it wasn’t enough. They were alone, and powerless.
“They’re waiting because they know how dangerous I am,” Justin said, his voice strangely calm. “They know what I can do.”
He let her go, and turned towards the small ship. Even in the face of the rifles levelled at them, he stood firm, stalking calmly towards the edge of the rooftop. She could see the defiance radiating from every part of him, but she knew it was an act. There was nothing they could do.
She turned away, the lights of the city filling her eyes. It was strange how beautiful everything could be, seen from up high, burning bright in the darkness. She gazed out over the rooftops below them, and for a moment she glimpsed a movement atop one of the nearest towers. A figure, captured for an instant in the glare of a floodlight. A shaved scalp, a brown leather jacket, and a familiar silhouette. Korban’s hands cradled something long and slender, raised in her direction. She heard herself shout a warning just as a flash of light illuminated the man on the rooftop and the rifle he was aiming.
When the shot hit him, Justin’s body didn’t even seem to move. There was hardly any sound. Part of his coat simply burst open, a small hole glistening dark red inside. Then a thunderous crack shook the sky, and his body went limp.
Someone shouted his name. She supposed it must have been her. Her clutched at his, and she no longer saw the sky above or the streets below. There was only his face, skin pale, eyes distant and unfocused. She shook him by the shoulders, screaming his name over and over, screaming at him to wake up, get up, do anything at all. A dark stain was spreading across his shirt. She fumbled at the wound, but she couldn’t remember what she was supposed to do. There was something about bandages, or pressure, but the thoughts seemed to crowd into one another, and she couldn’t make sense of them all.
“Get up. Please get up,” she begged, her throat hoarse from screaming. Justin gave no answer. His eyes were fixed on something in the far distance.
Her head was spinning. She seemed to be the only person left who remembered a world where nothing worked like this; as if all the rules of a game had changed, and everyone was just carrying on as if it was normal. And yet, in some way it seemed as though everything finally made sense. As if the rules were at last becoming clear. All the chaos around them seemed to fall away, and beneath the sound of the wind and the rain there was something else. Like the feeling you got when you heard a familiar song. His knife had fallen from his pocket. She picked it up and unfolded the shining steel blade.
She lifted the knife over her head, clasping the handle tightly in both hands, and with every ounce of her strength she slammed the point down into the rooftop. The knife sank deep into surface, deeper than she would have thought possible. She released the handle and sat back.
At first, nothing happened. She could hear the sound of engines, slower now, as one of the slim white ships pulled up alongside the tower. The men on board were getting ready to leap down onto the rooftop. It didn’t seem to matter any more. Around Justin’s body, the dark crimson pool was slowly spreading.
The change began with a grinding sound. Where the knife had pierced the rooftop a crack began to form, spreading, widening. She felt the building shake beneath her, and saw the looks on the faces of the men with the guns. Somewhere below her, she heard the sound of iron girders groaning, and something shattering.
She was tired. So tired. Her body shivered in the cold air as she crawled to Justin’s side. Gently, she pulled his head into her lap and leaned forward, trying to shield his face from the wind. She saw his lips moving, as he tried to whisper something. She lowered her face towards his, until she could just about hear him over the thunder of the propellers.
“You did it. I can feel it, Rachael.” He coughed, violently. She saw blood on his lips. “Everything’s going to change.”
The Stolen Child by Peter Brunton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.