by A.R Kelly
Mikah traced a finger along her new marking, inhaling sharply as a nail brushed over the raw skin. In her haste, she had dug in too deeply, but given the circumstances, it was the best she could manage.
She lay back, taking in her new surrounds in the faint pre-dawn light. Today she would become a Cassian agent, and a new life would begin. Her first act would be to give up the memories of her old life, although she didn’t have much of a life to remember in the first place. Only this. The wound throbbed against her skin.
This was the only thing left of a life that was no more than the snatches of memory, tormenting her sleepless nights. The dusty place of light and shadow that was once home. All this would fade today, even the reason why she had carved the symbol would be gone when she was wiped clean, to start her life afresh. But one day she would find a way to remember, and use the scar to find her way home.
Washing carefully to protect the wound, she dressed in the thin brown suit that was the closest thing a Cassian agent had to a uniform. Slipping her knives and vials into the folds of the suit, she pushed Riva, her favourite blade, deep into her left boot until it hit the familiar groove against her calf.
The sun was just starting to rise over the horizon as she made her way to the temple to complete her training.
The old man slowly picked his way along the damp pier, keeping a sharp eye on Arlo as he ran ahead. He pulled his heavy fleece scarf tightly over his shoulders against the morning chill. The River was at its most beautiful this time of day when its filth was still hidden beneath hues of silken gold. He stopped at the baker’s stall to buy a sweet roll for his grandson. “Arlo!” He waved the treat over his head. The boy turned and lunged at the roll before continuing his journey to the shrimp seller’s stall.
The markets of River’s End were a paradise, full of exotic sights and tastes from all over Arkala. This was where everything came to be bought or sold.
Out of the corner of his eye, the old man watched his watcher. A young woman, he guessed by the ease of her movements. Not long past twenty. The flash of silver against her ankles gave her away as a temple server, newly freed. Most temple servers remained in the trade to which they were once bound as it was the only work they knew, and the pay was much better than being a servant.
He walked over to the fish seller Bal, who had been trading here for over forty years. “What do you have for me this morning?” he inspected the baskets full of fresh glittering beauties staring up at the sky with their huge vacant eyes. “A rainbow Jewel this morning Master Jaro.” He pulled out a basket covered with reeds. “A female, fat with eggs.” The old man grunted his approval and dropped a few coins into the fish seller’s hand as he turned and called out to Arlo. The boy was busy poking the small river shrimp, making them jump in their prison of woven reeds. He ran over to his grandfather as they made their way back home.
The old man lost sight of the girl as they turned into a laneway leading back to the house. He pulled Arlo close and took his hand. “Almost home, child.” He quickened their pace as they entered the small boulevard leading up to the house.
“Hello, Jaro.” The girl was leaning against a tree. He grabbed Arlo’s arm and stepped in front of him “What do you want? Who are you?”
She stood and walked over to him. “Don’t you remember me?” she pulled the hood off her face and gave him a small smile. “I still remember you.” She spoke softly, looking directly at him. “It has been many years since we met, and the years have changed your face and stooped your shoulders, but I will always remember you, Jaro.”
“Please,” he dropped his purse onto the ground, as small copper coins spilled out onto the dirt. “Take what you want, this is all I have on me.”
“I don’t want your money.” She shook her head at him. “But you do have something of mine that you took from me when you took me. A blue stone. Do you remember?”
He started at her blankly. “I..you must be mistaken. I’ve never seen you before.” He cast a glance at Arlo. “My grandchild, he’s afraid.”
“Then send him home. I’m not here for him.”
The man whispered to Arlo and the boy ran towards the house. “Now tell me what you want, whore.” His eyes narrowed, and lit up with a familiar glint. “You’ll get nothing from me.”
“I was afraid of that.’ She pulled a small knife out from the folds of her robe.
He took a step back. “What sort of filth pulls a knife on an old man?” he snarled, looking behind her towards the house. The boy was almost at the door.
She kicked at his shin, sending him sprawling into the dirt. A fat silver fish rolled out of its parcel and thudded to the ground. He wheezed as she jumped onto him, feet flat against his chest. “What sort of filth snatches a five-year old girl from her mother’s arms and turns her into a whore?” she drew her face close, whispering softly into his ear before drawing back and hitting until his mouth was a red mess.
Loud voices were coming toward them from the house. She turned to look at the men running towards them. “I wouldn’t get too hopeful just yet.” She pulled him up by the hair. “There isn’t much point in continuing this if you don’t even remember me. I know it’s here so I’ll just have to find it myself”. The men had nearly caught up to them. “Goodbye, Jaro” she whispered, pulling the knife across his throat.
The house of Jaro Larz lay quiet, its inhabitants lost to eternal sleep, as Mikah Doran prepared the sacred ash with which to make her marking. The house itself was almost completely destroyed in the search for what she had come for. She cradled the tiny blue stone in her hand. It felt cool against her palm, a small piece of calm amongst the chaos around her. The black rope around which it had hung on her neck had broken worn away, and it had served, until recently, in the collection of stones owned by Arlo Larz. On it was carved the symbol of her people, the only connection to a home she never got to know.
Biting into a small twig from an Arch tree to dull the pain, Mikah took her knife and cut the symbol into her inner thigh, a place she no longer had to reveal without her permission. She took the ground ash from what remained of Jaro Larz and packed it into the cut. Even if her memory faded, she would forever carry the symbol on her now, scarred onto her skin. And one day, she would use it to find home.