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Masie Hollingsworth short story

Three New Names

by Masie Hollingsworth

An umbrella. I’m about to lose eight years of stealing, saving, and lying through my teeth to my own mother because of one stolen umbrella, may the moons curse me.

The officer jerks me forward, and I clench my jaw tighter to swallow down more than just the pain of my shoulder being practically ripped out of its socket. I feel his cold gaze on me again, and I risk a glance in his direction. It’s the same teasing glint in his eyes, the corners of his mouth curling upward in a cruelly pleased sneer—one I want with every fiber of spite left in me to match, but even I wouldn’t dare it in this place, every square inch alive with legions of bored and armed officers. It’s the same expression he wore when he first snagged me from behind by the hood of my jacket; I hope whatever muscles hidden by the fat of his face are as aching as I’d imagine they’d be to hold such an expression for so long.

But then again, maybe I deserve what’s coming to me. I’m disappointed at my own self that I made the bright decision to try and escape. Resisting arrest; I hear it’s a pretty major offense, enough to drag out the minor offense of stealing an umbrella. But if they find out the reason why I stole it, why I resorted to petty theft to hide from the rain, why I was wandering the streets of the capital this time of night alone and without a job as far as they could tell, at least…

A large man at the front desk waves away a woman in front of us, her report of a crime apparently not worth their time. I’m not-so-secretly rooting for her to lose it and make a scene to distract everyone, but I’m not so lucky.

Which means it’s our turn to step forward. Me, the dreaded umbrella thief.

Another jerk from my officer, and I’m for once thankful for the handcuffs serving as the impulse control I certainly lack. The officer and the round red bull’s eye of his nose better be glad too, whatever his name is. My eyes flick to the pale formation of sylwei marks curling over his forehead: “Urilhispaisolian,” in common letters. Giving him the sole ability to communicate with swamp-joie birds. My eyes almost water as I disguise a snort; letting on my fluency in the patterns of sylwei would be about as incriminating as strolling in with five case-fulls of stolen alpit spilling from my pockets.

Or wearing nothing but a thin layer of non-waterproof makeup to hide a whole scribble of stolen names crowding my face outside, in the rain, in broad evening daylight.

Dakotyzen will kill me if Sol doesn’t.

I try to cast the thought from my mind. But one tear in my sleeve, a flash of my unpainted collarbone, even if they make me pull up my hair to reveal the back of my neck—a day’s mission’s worth stolen names, powerful or not, killed for or pledged with albeit forced compliance—they’d finally lock up their sylwei thief before I could even get the name “Lord Sol” out of my mouth. Not that he hadn’t made it clear he wouldn’t spare a coin to claim me if the event of my capture ever did arise.

If. I savor the hope of the word, chewing my lip in feigned boredom. I still have a chance, a good one at that, to get away without much more than a fine or even a night in prison. Right now, I can’t afford to let my fear or pessimism shake me. Or the damp pressure on my wrist of one old, brutish officer and his apparent lack of a responsible anger management outlet.

The whole front desk sags at the weight of its occupier, as well as the fierce boredom reeking from the clerk man’s tight-lipped expression and watery eyes. “What’s this one done?”

It’s as if the whole area emanates the weight of his apathy; I try to let it soak into my bones to calm them if I can’t hope to cry my way out of this one. He asks the question more like he thinks he works in a cheap second-rate market vendor than a police station. “Tysedelphawen,” the name on his forehead would appear to the untrained eye. But those swirled symmetrical sylwei letters all combined would mean… the ability to know a person’s heart rate by simply looking at them. Despite the subordination his name’s length might suggest, it could be useful—to detect extreme nervousness. Or lies. Whatever parent named him must’ve been clever to find such a useful name that hadn’t been taken yet.

Officer “Urilhispaisolian” clears his throat, shoulders already set with alert but confident ease, interrupting my internal debate of whether his friends would call him “Uril,” or “Soli,” or whatever else. “Caught her sneakin’ around, trying to pickpocket folks on the streets. Gave me a good chase when I went after ‘er.”

I change my mind. He probably doesn’t have any friends. Awen, as I’ve elected to call the clerk officer, huffs a bored sigh as if to confirm my conclusion. “She take anything?”

“Mm hm. She had this,” Uril’ continues, hoisting the umbrella into the air with enough triumph to spatter a mist of raindrops and startle me (but not to make a dent in my concealer thank the moons), “And who knows what else!”

I let loose a little eye-roll, not enough to seem undermining of his authority but just the right trick to sell myself as a bored, moody preteen. Despite my height, I can easily pass for one.

The front desk man, Tysa-delph-whatever, narrows his eyes at me, then to my forehead. I stifle a shiver.

“Sat-i-al… kala.” He purses his lips, suspicious of the relatively short name that usually earns me extra respect, orjealous stares. I can only pray he can’t read what my power really grants me. “Explain yourself.”

It’s common knowledge anywhere that the recipe for a man’s sympathy is runny mascara and a pair of extra-pouty lips, but there’s no way I’ll be able summon tears with the mood I’m in at the moment. So I settle on a different approach.

“It was just the umbrella.” I turn out my pockets, shrugging off my satchel and dumping all the contents on the front desk for effect. He visibly winces as my Official rations receipt plants face-up on the desk, and I bite down a smile at my luck. And the status working for Sol all these years has brought me. “And I’m not a pickpocket, I just ended up at the wrong place at the wrong time.”

This had better be worth having to pick up all those dropped alpit coins once this is all over.

Awen reclines back in his chair as he clasps his hands together, and I’m not the only one to wince at the strain it squeaks under his weight. “Just the umbrella. Hmph.”

 I’ve changed my mind—the risk of them discovering my various pistols and back-up pistols disguised as a squarescreen and two compass-tracker sorts of equipment was definitely worth it. But Uril officer doesn’t seem as convinced. “So I suppose the umbrella just happened to fall into your hands?”

I struggle to keep my breathing easy. It’s a question I can easily explain, one I actually expected, but it’s his narrowed gaze on one of the spilled items that offsets me; there’s suspicion there for sure, stuck on the compass-tracker-gun like a splinter in my chances of escape, the one weapon slightly less artfully hidden. The pressure of my eyelids as I close them in an attempt to collect myself doesn’t do much to calm me, in a situation where calmness is key.

But I tell myself it’ll be okay anyway. Let him search the blasted gadget; it takes a whole pattern of buttons to lock into place as a weapon, a clever design by whoever Sol pays to plan his dirty-work. And besides, the bright red button in its center still works as a tracking beacon—unless it stopped working in the time between now and about five minutes ago when I sent a little SOS to Dakotyzen. I only wish my partner could spare the effort to arrive just a little bit faster.

I set my jaw, reminding myself of the current predicament. “I didn’t say I took it by accident.” The officer copies my stance, crossing his arms in suspicion. “What I meant was I shouldn’t have hung around with… a certain group. Forced me into stealing the umbrella on a dare, and I’m sorry, but I really didn’t feel like ending up a stain on the sidewalk, so,” I scoop up most of my coins, piling enough to be a worthy fine in front of Awen’s lamentful expression, and pick up my satchel to leave.

The old man sighs, accepting the alpit and reaching for a records file most likely to log my name in. I try to remind myself that this was the better alternative to every other disaster that could’ve happened. It takes Awen a painful amount of time to find my name, and I curse Kota for being so slow to come get me. I’d rather be out of here before the swell of rain from outside succeeds in its plan to ruin my life, by sweeping in to reveal each of my hidden names or whatever other reason it seems so intent on pounding the roof in right from above.

Awen’s chair groans as he finally sets the file on the table after finding my name. Good. maybe they won’t think twice about me when it shows that my power is nothing more than rapid-healing: powerful, but nothing too threatening. After all, I didn’t lie when I said it was my gift. It was one of them and at some point, at least. I just left out the part about killing that drug lord to get it, and selling it months ago to the corrupt estate lord of my hire. Awen’s almost hefted the enormous file onto the desk, but the grumpy officer, Uril, hasn’t had enough.

“Sir, I hardly believe—”

“We’ll still have to log this on your record,” his co-worker, who apparently must out-rank him in this field, says. Completely ignoring him. I’m beginning to grow deeper and deeper indebted to Awen, though he wouldn’t miss the chance to lock me up if he knew it.

Sure enough, he gives a slight nod of his head when his eyes fall upon my name and its meaning. “How’d you get it? Your name? It’s pretty short, I mean.” and therefore powerful.

“Oh,” I have to snap myself out of my reverie. I can’t afford to be complacent at the moment. “My grandmother was a nurse, back in the war. A higher-ranking general pledged it to her before he died, and she passed it on to me before she passed away some years ago.” I look up, with a smile almost as small and tender as the melancholy I’ve poured into my voice.

And only then do I realize my mistake in telling the truth rather than just lying to be over with this. “Well, of course, he was so deeply wounded his gift of healing couldn’t fix him. It was a tragic war, really was, really was.” I curse myself for babbling on like an old gossip, but I can only hope it’ll work. And that neither of them recall about two minutes ago when I mentioned not wanting to… what were my words? ‘End up a stain on the sidewalk.’ My luck’s just getting worse.

Awen’s eyes narrow from across the desk counter, and I look down pretending to be bashful. But now I’m met with another gaze; the countertop’s shiny enough that it’s my own reflection like a wide-eyed shrum caught in a trap staring back at me. I quickly snap my ridiculous gaping mouth shut, and look back up.

And then my eyes catch something I wish for the sake of my heart rate they didn’t. It’s a mighty feat if not an impossible one not to wince as Awen’s sylwei mark glows slightly red; he’s using his gift, reading my pulse at the very moment.

Deep breaths. Deep breaths.

“Oh, Kala, mom’s going to kill you.”

The words catch me off guard as much as they do the guards. My mom would kill me if she knew what I’ve done to send them money all these years.

My tight-lipped smile when I whip around isn’t anything short than threatening, but it’s real and relieved. “Only if she finds out.” I say, walking with stiff joints away from the front desk, but at least I’m not shaking.

Dakotyzen even ruffles my hair in the way an older brother would, smile wide and unfaltering. “I’m deeply sorry for any damage this little mell-monger did. We’re both sorry. I’ll be taking her home to let our mother deal with her.”

“Will not,” I punch his arm. It’s something I’d do if my real brother had said as much, and the nearest officers buy it with low chuckles.

Kota mouths something like, “Don’t worry, I will,” to Awen, and he nods to let us go. Once again, the age-old sibling act has proven successful, and I’m battling down a smug grin on our way back through the line from the front entrance. At least this time, it’s my own colleague jerking me by the arm, and he’s even brought his own umbrella.

“That was too close for comfort.” Any trace of humor in Kota’s voice is gone, abandoned for a light but dry inquisitive tone. Though I wouldn’t have it any other way; either this, or his wrath. Which I probably deserve, having risked both of us and Sol’s whole band of sylwei thieves at that, all because of a stupid mistake. Or two.

I tighten my jaw, voice low as we join the horde of side-walkers, though it’s not like anyone could hear us through the conundrum of the storm. I knew this was coming, but I still would rather avoid more criticism. “Yeah, they barely bought it. Next time you ought to be my little brother.” Thanks to our conveniently similar dark eyes and hair, it isn’t true that the officers barely believed that we’re siblings, but I needed something to bring the conversation away from my mess-up.

Kota makes a sound like an unimpressed snort, clearly having caught on to my attempt at diverting the blame. But I risk a glance next to me, and sure enough his pride has taken a hit; I almost regret that it worked. Almost. Though he knows I was just teasing, he takes about as kindly to remarks about his height as he does mentions of his… less-than proud origins. Just as I predicted, he doesn’t say anything for at least another minute.

When he does eventually ask the dreaded question, I explain the umbrella situation with as much dignity as I can. I’m just glad I at least had time to relax my tense muscles and feel myself fade into the crowd, a network of busy street folk snaking around every corner under a roof of all shades of umbrellas that almost look like multicolored scales in the distance. It’s times like these when the streets are really dangerous; so much pushing and shoving it’s not uncommon that some passersby meet disaster under the wheels of speeder-traffic, and it wouldn’t be a safe gamble at all to assume anybody with as powerful a gift as some sort of healing would be wandering these streets.

• • •

“Where are you going?” I quirk an eyebrow, though I follow Kota around a curve too soon to be the turn that leads to Sol’s hidden domain.

Kota offers the slightest of grins. “While you were busy getting arrested, I found a short-cut.”

“Alright then.” I highly doubt he actually did, but whatever he’s got up his sleeve, I’ll play along.

Another turn, and we’re in an even less-populated alley-way. No road, nothing but a sidewalk only three-persons wide. I haven’t heard this much quiet, or had this much personal space on the street since a particularly successful mission during last year’s Moons’ Festival.

“So what really happened? Before your genius act of getting yourself caught in the rain, not the other even brilliant-er idea of petty theft, I mean?”

I jerk my chin up away from him, buying a little more time to organize my thoughts, and then allow myself another pause to wrinkle my nose as a particularly fat shrum darts away through the shadows, sending ripples in the puddles in its wake. This is a sketchy side street if I’ve ever seen one, and the darkness from storm clouds overhead doesn’t help.

“Found my targets soon enough, and then a couple of unexpected targets. The four original ones were members of a small little gang, but who knows who they killed to get such powerful names.” Not that anyone Sol would target would have a name any less than priceless, of course. Kota hisses an understanding laugh along with me. “They had two others who weren’t on the target-list with them, so I, ah,  convinced them to pledge their names to me easy enough, too. Sol never objects to extras.”

Extras. For a moment, I wonder if he’ll ask what they are. For a moment, the last decent part left in me wants him to.

But he doesn’t. Maybe he really is cursed.

I bite back a relieved smile, cursing my own wickedness. Though when I turn to him, something in the subtle smirk of Kota’s expression unsettles me; nonetheless, I keep going. “My turn now. What job did Sol have you on today that had you forging your sylwei again? Or should I start calling you… ha, Eglezdipalien?”

I’ve gotten Kota to laugh for a second, the fake name drawn onto his forehead creasing as he raises his eyebrows. The ability to gauge how long it’s been since someone has picked their nose, just by looking at them. An effective alias for Kota in diverting suspicion I’m sure, but I hope for the sake of whoever that it’s not a real name; I’d sooner be nameless.

But then, just like that, Kota’s lost all his humor again—I hope he can’t see that I’ve nearly frozen in place, biting my lip. “How’d you know I was on a mission? Thought you left HQ early?”

“Sorry. Sol tells me everything.” I’m cursing myself inside for the mistake, though I didn’t technically lie after all. Omission of details is a sort of guilty specialty of my own, it seems.

Kota huffs. “‘Course he does. I don’t see how you can stand him, let alone being his little pet.”

I purse my lips, holding back a laugh that could end this all if I let it tumble out. Sometimes I forget how little he—they all—know. How little I’ve told him. There it is again—that little knot of guilt in my stomach, a knot I myself am tightening with every word I’ve said these past few moments. I tell it to go to Harva—I don’t have time for this. Let him think I was just startled by his comment, that I’m still sucking up to Sol for better pay, or whatever the rest of what he’s got in his head that I’ve been doing for months.

“Don’t talk like that,” I hedge, and it’s true. Kota himself once stole the ability of super-hearing for the man, and who knows what else.

Kota’s expression falters, only for the moment that he adds, “I just thought Loma meant more to you than that.”

I have to suck in a breath not to recoil at the mention of our late friend. Of course that’s why he’s been of so little patience with me lately. I should’ve known. I should’ve expected it, seeing as how I’ve manipulated his view so much that I really do deserve such shame in his eyes; but the coward in me still won’t let the act go, even after this. And not to mention his worsening relationship with Sol; it’s really no wonder. The man didn’t even bother to hide his sudden gain of the power—Loma’s power—of emotion-reading, even a day after her mysterious disappearance. Salomachieth deserved more, if not from him then from me.

“It’s not like that,” I shrug away the accusation. “I just need you to trust me for now.” I let my stare linger, once again conflicted as that one last uncorrupted part in my mind begs him to ask just one right question. But soon, it, too, is drowned out by the rest.

And to my surprise, Kota takes it after one long, hard stare. “Alright then.” He even changes the subject, causing me to even cringe on the outside. “My turn to ask questions again: what’s got you so upset about your mission today? I can tell something happened, don’t bother lying.”

Back to that again. Of course he can sense my hesitance. I force myself to relax my shoulders, taking a second’s pause as we dodge around a speeder parking to purse my lips against the thirst in my suddenly dry mouth. “The last one I was assigned to, the most powerful, refused to pledge his gift to me—temperature manipulation. I was lucky I’d snuck up on ‘im without any problems, but in the end I was forced to kill the vain—” I shake my head, stopping myself. Mom always told me to respect the dead.

We continue on a few steps, Kota saying nothing. He just swallows a deep breath. It’s no secret our job has its difficulty; and he knows I don’t like being forced to kill. I just have to remind myself the now cooling corpse mustn’t have felt the same about whatever noble-blood he must’ve murdered for the name’s gift in the first place.

Kota finally regains his voice, though it’s as dark as the alleyway we’re in and much more dry. “Some of them just… would rather have their throat slit than their name taken. Sometimes I wonder if that is better than living nameless…” I risk a glance at Kota, admittedly shocked by his mention of the nameless. Sol himself plucked him out of the Syltana district of the city’s overflowing nameless population, where Kota’s own parents had been graced with the extraordinary luck of few: finally finding a name that wasn’t already claimed, and a powerful one at that. A true Syltana to Sylwei miracle. They kept his gift of shadow-bending a secret on behalf of their son over the course of several years, but in the end no one can keep the secret of a powerful name from Lord Sol.

Since his ability’s pretty powerful for even Sol’s standards, I’ll admit that I was initially smug that he was impressed, ever-so-slightly jealous, even, when Sol brought me for hire into his band of name-thieves. Dakotyzen’s a full letter shorter than my name, but my namesake grandmother’s namesake had resourceful parents; Satialkala, the gift of being able to share a name with someone else, is similar in a way to Sol’s gift. Until me, only Sol could possess more than one gift at once. But here I am, sharing hisgift, after countless years of training and building trust, his greed having finally out-weighed his pride. Or maybe my offering of the first name I ever stole for him—the power to read sylwei and the only other power he allows me to share with him—was just icing on the cake of my cycle of endless dependence on him to feed my family. Even the ability to shape darkness to one’s own will isn’t as effective as the ability to steal multiple names at once, and thus I owe Kota my loyalty at least for the fact that he doesn’t hold too much envy in his heart to even associate with me. Unlike all the rest of Sol’s personal band of sylwei-smugglers. For that I owe him my true honesty—and only that. If only for his sake he knew the right questions to ask.

I’m about to ask where we’re going once more when Kota speaks again. “It wouldn’t have to be like this, if Sol allowed you to use your power to share with your victims. You wouldn’t have to kill them, or even threaten their lives.”

A long pause, more splashing shrum up ahead. The dirty rodents must be nearly the size of men creeping through the darkness—downright obese off of city-scraps and who knows what else.

Snapping out of my distraction, I tilt my head, reminding myself to act puzzled by the suddenness of such a profound notion. And a dangerous one, too. “Yeah, and? He can’t let me, because then someone might actually trace it back to me, and then to him.” And he likes the power of it, to have thousands of names all to himself anyway. Though I wish I could, I can’t say that last part, of course; Kota’s mocking me for “sucking up” to Sol was one thing, but undermining Sol’s own methods? The both of us are rather fond of our heads. One can never be too safe when it comes to Sol’s various surveillance abilities. And I can’t have Kota realizing just how shallow my true loyalties really are in the interest of our employer.

“We both know that isn’t why.”

I feel my brow twist in confusion. “What’s—” I meant to finish with “gotten into you,” or “crossed you with a death wish,” or something, but my words die in my mouth when I see his teeth bared in a grin—and then a flash of silver almost as bright as the glint in his eyes, and then—nothing.

The first thing I register is my eyes are closed. So I open them.

I’m on the ground, staring up at Kota and… Ennerilsha? And Kaltsyll? That explains the ringing in my ears, and why I can even see through the fog of my blurred vision that I’m on the ground. Drenched with rainwater, and—so that’s what hit me. I flinch at the sight of a small bloodstain on the brick in Kaltsyll’s hand—my own blood washing away in the rain.

My breathing speeds up even more when it dawns on me. He’s brought Sol’s other top smugglers to help him threaten me. Two people he’d claimed to hate with me. Two people who are working with him now, who have been for who knows how long. “You—” the words choke in my throat as it constricts on my panting breaths.

Neither Kota nor Ennerilsha nor Kaltsyll even flinch when I wake up, don’t do a thing to stop me from standing. Maybe they know I’m in no shape to, after what must at least be a minor concussion. Or maybe they know that just the three of them is enough. Shadow-bending, lie-detection, and illusion-manipulation, respectively.

I do best to juggle between the three stares, each their own shade of cruel smugness. But each twisted smile is calm. They’ve been planning this for a long time, I think. “Whatever you want, I won’t give it to you.”

More movement, more pressure and disorientation as Kaltsyll lands another blow with a kick to my chest, meant to force my head back into the alley sidewall. I expected the strike, but was in no position to block it or even dodge it—all I can do is bring up my hands behind my head to cushion it from the surface of that grimy wall. They’re careful to leave me conscious, though; they want me awake, they want to see me cowering below them in an upright fetal position. I feel not much more than dizziness and stinging—and cold. I can’t even hear the rain any more with the sharp pulse of my ears. The pain hasn’t quite penetrated my damaged brain yet, but the adrenaline has.

In a blink of movement, Kota jerks me up by the collar, a shiny dagger to my throat. So that was the flash of metal I saw. Not a gun. No, a gun’s too quick, too clean, too merciful for his practice. His eyes reflect the cold metal like a pair of mirrors; he’d always had the slightest tendency toward a deeper-held cruelty—one I should’ve feared. He punches me again, but I just smile through the blood raining from my nose. I hope my face cut his knuckles good too.

“Did you trust me?” His voice is a taunt.

I refuse to take the bait, to look down at the knife he holds right under my jaw. I can feel as its liquid coldness reaches into my skin, but it hasn’t drawn blood, not quite yet. “I—”

I almost say no. Almost.

But that would be too harsh a truth, too soon. So I tell him… not a lie, but a different sort of the truth. “I trusted that you weren’t as shrum-brained as you look. That you weren’t actually stupid enough to do something like this. That you… were better than…” I stop myself. I can’t afford to pity him, not any longer. He’s torn my trust to more pieces than there are stars in the moontime sky, and it was my own foolishness after all that led me to hope that… I’d be able to fit him into my plans. Another cough wracks my body as I struggle to stay sitting up.

I look to the ground, regaining my composure in a disappointed laugh. “I was wrong.” He goes for another punch, but this time I turn my head to miss it, baring my nearly knocked-out teeth like a crazed animal. I hope they’re as bloody as they feel, my smile as wide and gruesome as I can make it to startle them.

I brace for another hit, but Kota just smiles. And something glints in his eyes again, too—I don’t like it. “Pledge me all your names. Maybe we’ll let you come with us, be the nameless little tagalong.”

He doesn’t smile as widely when I spit in his face, deep scarlet with blood. But to my surprise, he doesn’t bend the shadows to his face to hide his shame.

They want me to cower, to beg for mercy. Or put up a brave and valiant-hearted fight, only to fail. I’ll give them the satisfaction of neither. “Do you care about me? Do you want me to live?” I let loose a hacking laugh this time, shifting acute eye-contact between all three traitors. Kaltsyll glares back with menace, but I relish in my success in making Ennerilsha flinch. She knows this isn’t just an act.

“Maybe I should be honorable—come with you and get torn to pieces by Sol. Or I could just stay here—It’s a shame to die at the hands of a bunch of soft-hearted traitors, but it would sure hurt less—” I’ve got to buy myself time, and fast. Lucky I know just the words. “Poor, sad Syltana over here can’t even land a punch—” the pain of the next blow, which Kota does land, brings tears to my eyes. I can only keep my split-lipped smile with the knowledge that they won’t see my tears through all this blood. I pray the rain doesn’t wash it all away—and it’s almost as if it listens, still showering down from outside the covering but not too loud that they can’t hear my taunts.

“Last chance.” Kota jerks my collar even higher, choking my already-shallow breaths. I would’ve laughed in his face if he glared, if his eyes darkened with hate. But they’re bright—not just with cruelty of bloodlust, but with something else. Arrogance. Confidence. Like he knows what he’s doing.

And then my malicious grin fades, every sore and stinging muscle in my face pulsing with the effort. “You found it.” I don’t have to pretend to be surprised. Or intimidated. Maybe I really am becoming a coward, having second thoughts about my own plan.

He seems to thrive on the fear in my eyes, the shock released with the drop of my jaw.

“You shouldn’t have called me that name.” His dark eyes tear into mine, still the same brown flecked with bronze, ringed with black. But now I see another dark shape, my own silhouette close enough to reflect against the menace of his eyes. I breathe in and out, the smell of my own blood so strong it’s as if I’m breathing it in, that it’s what’s choking me by filling my lungs. Rather than the grip of someone I’d thought was a friend.

He found it. He found the name, the power I’ve been searching for ever since I discovered it’s already been used. Immunity to outside powers—yes, I’ve been waiting for this one.

I’m careful not to let the look of terror in my eyes waver. I’ve always been a good actress. But in the end, my smugness wins out in a silent grin.

Kota flinches with the rest.

So that’s why the shadows now betray him—he abandoned his shadow-bending for the new name.

But I’ve still got a few tricks of my own. And he still thinks he found that name all by himself.

I breathe in a last deep inhale, reviving on the feeling of lightness, finally rid of a weight I’ve carried for the past years of waiting for this. Kota’s confidence flickers as I let my smile expand, breathing out a small, disappointed sigh, even shaking my head just the slightest bit. If only he and the rest of them had learned patience. I wish they had, I really do.

“You shouldn’t have threatened me.” My voice sounds unhinged, drunk—and maybe I am, high off of my imminent victory.

I see the focus dissolve from Kota’s eyes, pupils dilating in panic as I toy with his balance, but not before they flash his surprise that his new little name hasn’t worked—even immunity isn’t perfect. Just like Loma had first guessed, the name apparently can only be cancelled out by one other name. One name of the two I found unexpectedly just hours ago.

But I’m not finished. “You should’ve asked what the two extras were,” I say to his slumped form on the ground, writhing out of control with wave by wave of vertigo. Who knew intense dizziness would be almost as useful a tool as name-stealing?  I hear the groans of Kaltsyll and Ennerilsha on the ground, but don’t bother to look their way. Thanks to Kota, theirs or any other powers in existence won’t be a problem any more. Three unexpected targets, now, three new names—one for vertigo, one for name-swiping, and now, one for immunity. Three test runs at once. I think it’s safe to say they all work.

I would have told him if he’d asked. I would have joined him if he asked with his words instead of his knife. I sigh again, allowing myself to pity them all one last time.

I can’t say the idea doesn’t cross my mind, but I decide not to kill Kota that easily. No, that wouldn’t be a proper enough revenge—just as how just killing Sol won’t suffice enough on behalf of Loma, once I get the pleasure of cornering him. But I’ve stolen Kota’s name, without having to kill him or force him to pledge it to me—a useful gift indeed. Same for the others, I think, as I bend down to touch Ennerilsha on the forehead, gentle as I take her precious lie-detection, Kaltsyll and his prized illusions next.

“Thank you.” I say, finally drained of any sarcasm, my voice now brittle with condolence. Even if I remind myself they wouldn’t have spared the same courtesy to me.

I really hope they don’t drown in the pools of liquid gathering on the alleyway ground, its clear rust color just diluted enough to reflect the coming moons; gold even through the conflicting blend of rainwater, my blood, and the grime of the city. The Sylwei side of the city, that is, that they’ll never see again if they don’t drown. I hope their fellow Syltana treat them well.

At the glow of the first night’s star, I remember the final remark I’ve had planned, the one I’d been dreaming of saying, practicing in silence for longer than anyone knew. “And lastly, you should’ve known that Sol would never send the likes of you after the power-immunity.”

Poor Sol might not have even known such a power existed. What he does know, by now, though, is that I’ve broken his topmost rule, I’m sure.

You are mine. The names you steal are mine, too—don’t even think about using them.’

‘Of course, master.’

I laugh after my last parting grace, smearing the blood from my chin onto my sleeve. But then I drop my smile, one more string of words on the tip of my tongue. And I’ve decided I think I will say them, whether or not Kota can even hear me any more. “Loma wouldn’t have been proud. I was right not to let her tell you.”

I glance at my twisted reflection in the pale red puddle at my feet. Vibrant even through my thick but smudged layer of concealer, the mark of Satialkala glows bright red. But this may be the last time it will.

Why share a name when one can take without asking? The three marks around my wrist glow even brighter. No, Sol won’t like that at all.

My giddiness is back. I laugh in time with the swift splashes of my footfalls through the rain. Salomachieth may indeed get her revenge. And after that?

Mother will never lack money for the family ever again.


Masie Hollingsworth is currently a High School student at Hillcrest High School, as well as the Creative Writing program at Greenville Fine Arts Center. Masie is an avid writer and reader in her free time and enjoys making and sharing all kinds of art as one of her many hobbies. She currently contributes as a reader for the Crashtest magazine and hopes to continue to pursue her passion for writing in the future.