Chapter information




Written by




Last chapter


Next chapter


The stone roof is cool beneath his thighs, the rising sun marking first light, the gold glinting from the metal and polished rock, spreading like ink over a sheet of paper. He can no longer smell or feel the memory of paper, but he vaguely knows that he adored the scent and powdery smoothness of new books. The recollection is a shard of glass reflecting something behind him, something he cannot see without turning around. But he doesn't dare turn around. Because there lie the monsters. The world starts over. The hurt and pain and death have been swept up under the rug, tossed over the side of the balcony, banished from mind and thought. Yet he doesn't know how he's going to protect his brother yet or what the triad will force him to do, and he cannot stop remembering Hai.

The beast. Standing over her. Fire in the hand, the flames curling around her. Her falling, arms pressing into her stomach, the stench of blood rampant, crimson pooling around her feet, her forehead against the ground, the screams of agony overwhelming.

But he didn't do anything to save her. He stood there naked, shivering, cold behind and heat in front, and his first thought was to save himself.

Save himself.

He can't protect anyone. He couldn't protect Hai. He couldn't protect Bolin when his brother truly needed him, couldn't be there. He should have stayed in the pond with his brother or taken his hand and led him up the bank. No. Instead he had to dive for his scarf and treasure a piece of fabric like it's more important than his brother, the only family he has left.

"I'm such an idiot." He grasps the scarf, and it tightens about his throat, choking him. For a year, it's been the thing that has kept him going. But now? Now it's something he can't get rid of, something that tears him up but refuses to leave him. Every time he pulls, it constricts, more and more tightly, threatening to suffocate him until he forgets what is air.

He couldn't protect his parents.

He ran.

When he saw the heat and the brightness and the flash of blue light and the cold and the smoke—

He ran.

His legs eating up the distance, his sternum fracturing with every beat of his heart, knives slicing into the soles of his feet, tripping, the earth rushing into his face, the dust coating him, turning him black as the night-time sky. And the confusion, the piles of char and ash, warm and soft appearing in his hands, Daddy's scarf, telling him that he's got to get back, back to the past, back to house, back to his parents being alive, back to Bolin still waiting for his cake.

The sun rises higher, the bursts of fire painting the clouds a vivid saffron. But though they are bright on top, their underbellies are dark, dark as the dust covering his body, dark as what he feels, now, in his heart. Like the city. From the view of a bird—of the lizard with its missing foot—it glitters. But from the view of someone in the street, not all that glitters is gold: The glass is clouded and dark.

The trap door on the roof opening, metal scraping against metal. "Hey, kid. What are ya doin'? You want that street-rat safe or not?"

He lifts his head, tearing his gaze away from the morning light, and glances at the leather-bound girl standing by the trap door, a dagger twirled in her hand. "He's not a street-rat." There's no use in arguing, but he can't let her speak about Bolin like that. "He's my brother."

"I got to give it t' ya." The girl's muscles flex as she spins the blade more quickly, pulling her arm back. "You're a tough 'un, ain't ya? Get ya tough ass over 'ere, then. I ain't going t' ask twice."

Slowly, he raises himself from the floor, spine curving with hesitation, gaze trained on the dagger. The clothes given to him by the triad shift loosely on his body and limbs, his jutting ribs at least hidden somewhat beneath the folds. "What am I going to do today?"

The girl sneers, her teeth more metal than bone, and as the sunlight cradles her face, he notices the pinkish-brown scars across her face and extended down her neck. But the true horror is at her midriff, the exposed slice of skin more akin to minced meat, laced with broken stitches, as if a horde of worms has crawled into her innards and burrowed there, leaving ridges and valleys ascending above the hem of the leather shirt.

"What ya starin' at, huh?" Her red-painted lips curling into a smirk, the girl looks down. "That's what 'appens when ya don't listen t' me, kid." The glint of silver alerts him; his instinct drops him to the floor, lower jaw howling in pain, palms pressed flat against stone, while the rest of him, disorientated, mentally registers that the girl threw the blade. "What ya going be doin' today? I get th' pleas-ah of teachin' ya how t' run numbahs."

The roof, cold on his cheek, tilts under him as he transitions to a crouch, but he doesn't dare open his eyes, aware of the flying colours and dizzying shapes he'll no doubt see. "Numbers?"

"Ya 'n ya brother. Now get up." The shrrk of iron on leather bids him leap up, his head throbbing from the fall. "Spirits take ya. Ya got nothing in ya head but custard, don't ya?" Snickering, the girl turns about. "Bet ya brother's at brekkie's already. Going t' join 'im?"

His breath catches. Again, he's abandoned Bolin without even comprehending his actions. His brother could have died, and he would simply have been here watching the sunrise. "I'm such an idiot!"

"Ain't we all?" The girl chuckles again.

His fingers involuntarily pull at the scarf once more.

See more

For the collective works of the author, go here.

Ad blocker interference detected!

Wikia is a free-to-use site that makes money from advertising. We have a modified experience for viewers using ad blockers

Wikia is not accessible if you’ve made further modifications. Remove the custom ad blocker rule(s) and the page will load as expected.