This is a ficlet based on my novel, Resistance, out now from Inkstained Succubus Press! You can purchase Resistance here directly from Inkstained Succubus (support small presses!) or here from Amazon.
The day Moshel Atoosa’Avvah arrived in the City of Mages as an exile was the strangest day of his life. The years he’d spent in that Rabathan prison cell were marked by silence, by solitude. The ra’zehm who found him guilty of treason promised him he’d be forgotten in that cell, and for endless days the promise kept. It was a strange day when he was shuffled from his cell into the cabin of a train bound for Tarquintia. It was a strange day when they tied him to the saddle of a camel bound for the City. But his arrival to the City took his breath away.
Somehow, news of his arrival had leaked. Moshel came to the Eastern Gate of the City surrounded by a phalanx of tahrqin guards. He came with his hands bound and his voice rusty with disuse. He came through the gate curled in on himself, wincing and shrinking because in those years in prison he’d fallen out of habit with his gift and now he was overwhelmed with the sheer force of other peoples’ minds.
Someone spotted him. A cry went out. Moshel felt hundreds of eyes fix upon him, felt them see in him a spark, a hope, a promise he had never made. The Eastern Gate was a crush of bodies: a crush of silver skin, of Semadran faces, of his people, and all of them singing. The phalanx of guards ushered him quickly through the clerks at the entrance; one of them shoved amnesty papers in his pocket. Moshel pulled them out again and dropped them on the dusty street. They tightened in formation around him and pushed him into the City. The Semadrans followed. They picked up stragglers on their way; the crowd turned into a spontaneous parade. Moshel wanted to yell to the parade to stop, to disperse, to go anywhere else. He wanted to scream at them that he’d never wanted to be a symbol of anything, much less rebellion, that he was a broken man. He’d assumed he would slip into obscurity. He’d thought it a gift of the exile. But he felt them; he felt the joy and the resolution in the crowd when they looked at him. He held his tongue.
The clerks at the Eastern Gate had asked where he would be residing, and Moshel had answered the Semadran schoolhouse. It would be like schoolhouses in elvish ghettos all over the Qin Empire: a sanctuary, a respite, a place for those with no place anywhere else. And so the guards escorted him to the schoolhouse. And so the makeshift parade followed them there.
They stepped into a cramped square. In the center stood a stately building, made of wood which contrasted with the stone of the surrounding buildings. It could be nothing but a schoolhouse: the spire, the stained glass that told stories of his people’s history, the unmistakable ticking of clockwork mechanisms. “You’re here, traitor,” said the lead guard.
“Please escort me to the door,” said Moshel. “I fear a riot.”
The guards conferred. With obvious bad temper, the phalanx pushed through the crowd and up to the great, wide doors of the schoolhouse. The crowd around them sang in Semadran a song Moshel had never heard. A song about him. Moshel stepped up to the door and pressed the doorbell. The doors swung open; the caretaker, a small and curiously young woman stared up at Moshel. “Who comes to the schoolhouse?” she asked in Semadran.
“My name is Moshel Atoosa’Avvah. I have no papers.”
“We vouch! We vouch!” cried the crowd behind him.
“What do you seek at the schoolhouse?” asked the caretaker.
“Shelter,” said Moshel. “I seek shelter.”
“And you shall have it.” The phalanx of tahrqin guards withdrew. The caretaker ushered Moshel inside and pulled the doors shut behind him. The song of him grew stronger outside, but the wooden walls of the schoolhouse shielded him from it. Children’s faces appeared on the landings above, on the stairwells. The caretaker waved for them to return to their studies, and they obeyed.
Moshel took in the light, the beautiful light filtered through the stained glass. He ran his hand along the polished wooden walls. He smelled black tea and familiar herbs. For the first time since his arrest, Moshel felt alive again. He felt like a person again. For the first time since his arrest, Moshel wept.