Deep down, I know the truth. I knew it the moment I saw the maji of Ibadan in chains. The gods died with our magic.
He wants to believe that playing by the monarchy’s rules will keep us safe, but nothing can protect us when those rules are rooted in hate
You must protect those who can’t defend themselves. Mama Agba’s words from this morning seep into my head.
Yemi meets my eyes with a hatred that impales me like a sword. Though her mouth never opens, her voice rings in my skull. “Safe ended a long time ago.”
I arch my eyebrow at Amari and think back to her mention of a training accident. I assumed the scar came from her brother’s sword, but was she holding a sword, too? Despite her escape from Lagos, I can’t imagine the princess locked in battle.
Though the royal seal is etched into the clay wall, it waves in my mind like the velvet banners in Father’s throne room. After the Raid, he abolished the old seal, a gallant bull-horned lionare that always used to make me feel safe. Instead, he proclaimed that our power would be represented by the snow leopanaires: ryders who were ruthless. Pure.
Growing up, Father led me to believe that those who clung to the myth of the gods were weak. They relied on beings they could never see, dedicating their lives to faceless entities.
After I perform the ritual and bring magic back, after Baba is safe and sound. I’ll rally a group of Grounders to sink this monstrosity into the sand. That announcer will pay for every wasted divîner life. Every noble will answer for their crimes.
I don’t know what disturbs me more: that I killed him, or that I could do it again. Strike, Amari. A thin whisper of father’s voice plays in my ears.
“Those are Father’s words, Inan. His decisions. Not yours. We are our own people. We make our own choices.”
“But he’s right. Inan’s voice cracks. “If we don’t stop magic, Orïsha will fall.”
Zélie’s memories don’t hold the villains Father always warned of. Only families he tore apart. Duty before self. His creed rings through my ears. My father. Her king. The harbinger of all this suffering.
This pawn was the only piece I managed to salvage. Shame ripples through me as I stare at the tarnished metal. The only gift he’s ever given me, and at its core is hate.
Zu’s tears make my own eyes prickle. Kwame’s face pinches with pain. I want to hate him for what he did to Tzain, but I can’t. I’m no better. If anything, I’m worse. If Inan hadn’t stopped me, I would’ve stabbed that masked divîner to death just to get answers.
A pit of guilt opens in my chest, tainted with the smell of burning flesh. The fires I watched from the royal palace resurface, the innocent lives burned before my young eyes. A memory I’ve pushed down like my magic, a day I longed to forget. But staring at Zélie now brings it all back: the pain. The tears. The death.
The children of Orïsha dance like there’s no tomorrow, each step praising the gods. Their mouths glorify the rapture of liberation, their hearts sing the Yoruba songs of freedom. My ears dance at the words of my language, words I once thought I’d never hear outside my head. They seem to light up the air with their delight. It’s like the whole world can breathe again.
“I thought things could be different. I wanted them to be different. But after what we just saw, we have no choice. We can’t give people that kind of power.”
In that instant it hits me: Zulaikha’s death. Zélie’s screams. They don’t mean a thing to him. Because they’re maji, they’re nothing. He preaches duty before self, but his Orïsha doesn’t include them. It never has.
Binta’s voice rings loud. The sight of her blood fills my head. I can avenge her now. I can cut Father down. While the maji take out the guards, my sword can free Father of his head. Retribution for all his massacres, every poor soul he ever killed […].
The ache that cuts through me is sharper than the blade that cut through my back. It’s like losing Mama all over again.
I stare at the blade; the inscription gleams in the moonlight. Its words simplify my mission, creating space for my pain. A soldier. A great king. That’s all I’ve ever wanted to be. Duty over self. Orïsha over Zélie.
I don’t want to be alone. Not when tonight could be my last night. Blind faith in the gods may have taken me this far, but if I’m going to get on that island tomorrow, I need more.
Minutes stretch into hours, an eternity that drags like death. Each second that passes is another second my mind tumbles in guilt What if they’re captured? What if they die? I can’t have more people perish for this. I can’t have more blood stain my hands.
As I approach Inan, Baba’s shaking grows frantic. I can’t let him break my resolve. I don’t want them to win, Baba. But I can’t let you die.
As long as we don’t have magic, they will never treat us with respect, Baba’s spirit booms. They need to know we can hit them back. If they burn our homes—I burn theirs, too.
I cannot end it like this. If I do that, I’m no better than him. Orïsha will not survive by employing his tactics. Father must be taken down, but it is too much to drive my sword through his heart—Father pulls back his blade. Momentum carries me forward. Before I can pivot, Father swings his sword around and the blade rips across my back.