To strike one of the Blood when you were not one was an act punishable by a public whipping and humiliation. She knew that, but as her hand struck him, she could not have pulled the blow to save her life. If she died here, her dignity would remain.
She stepped back and pushed passed him, suddenly unable to breath. The whole viewing platform was silent, all eyes turning to follow her. Mouths were left agape and women moved from her path. Men reached for her but she ducked beneath their grasps. Running now, she found the airlock and went through it, out into the open air of Zennir.
At first she did not realize what she’d done, but gulped great lungfuls of air and was grateful for the breeze that cooled her cheeks and neck. Stumbling away from the viewing platform, she started towards the ship and stopped immediately. I can’t go back.
Looking over her shoulder, she saw her mother’s face in the crowd clamoring to put on breath masks. Her body was wreathed in white ether, with great wings of power extending from her in an almost uncontrolled fury. The Queen was there as well, a halo of shimmering blue-white surrounding her. If I go back, I’ll die. She knew that, and she also realized that she was breathing air. Zennir air. It tasted sweet and fresh and smelled of grass and hot ozone from the ships.
And in the distance, men began to shout.
She looked towards the battlefield in time to see lines of groundlings charging one another, crude weapons in their hands. The knights on their metal steeds hung back, their lances still raised at the ready. They would not ride in until the first clash occurred, singling out enemies they could more easily run down. She saw Redrick then, though he looked like the rest of them, she knew him. He turned his head and looked at her. They were nearly a league apart but she looked for his eyes.
“I’m sorry,” she said to him, though her words were carried away on the wind.
Then another group of groundlings entered the fray. They appeared to have come from the forest beyond. The knights on both sides seemed confused. And then there was a flash of light and an explosion of earth erupted beneath Redrick’s steed.
Aderyn was breathless, her hands coming to her mouth as she saw her brother’s body fly from its seat. For a moment, he looked like he’d just been thrown but as she watched, his body came apart spilling blood and Ether and viscera. She screamed and screamed and screamed.
There was suddenly no more air, it was driven from her in horror and disbelief. When she tried to breathe, she found her airways thick and constricted. She coughed and fell to her knees. In the clarity of the moment, as the shock of the death and destruction came over her, she thought the grass was cool and wet and felt so unlike sand and hair. Wonderous. It was wonderous.
Knights and Steeds exploded, drawing her eyes back to the carnage on the field. Men were running about, firing weapons that emitted Ether like bolts of lightning. Where those bolts fell, her family died. Groundlings broke and ran, some joining the newcomers, others fleeing into the wooded areas beyond the field.
She felt her chest catch fire. Air, she needed air! Aderyn fought to breathe, to live, not wanting to die like this, not here amidst this horror. She caught side of Redrick’s helm rolling across the grass, shining and pulsing with dying, white light. A memory flashed: Redrick shoving that helm on her head, making her laugh wildly. “My little sister, so brave little sister!”
The thought jarred her back, drew her eyes to the blood that spilled across the ground behind the helm to the eviscerated body beyond. Knights rode their Steeds across her vision, their Lances spearing the men who shot at them even as they were struck down.
And then the battle was turning, wheeling around toward her! The Knights abandoned steeds and Lances, drawing their Etherblades and powering on shields as they moved to protect the viewing platform. The others, Groundlings she inferred as they wore no masks, pushed them back in a wave with their terrible weapons lighting up the space between.
Her vision was becoming fuzzy and dark at the edges. She heard the shouts through muffled ears, saw it all through blurring eyes. She didn’t feel herself strike the ground, but suddenly the wet grass was against her neck and cheek, caressing her like gentle fingers.
And then they were on her.