The world erupted in pain.
Bones cracked as they shifted into place. Muscle burned as it regrew—shocks of nerves coming back to life.
It lasted years, decades before he got his hearing back. Pain shifted through his body too quickly. The sound ripped through his brain. His screams blended into the wave, and ash coated his tongue.
Nausea forced him to roll to his side. His body convulsed as it tried to throw-up everything in his empty stomach.
His vision was the slowest to return—blurred images formed as he listened to his rasping breaths. Muscles contracted and relaxed at intervals as his body tried to stitch itself together again.
Seti stayed curled in a ball until his screams turned to sobs, then whimpers. Slowly, feeling as if his muscles tore as he moved them, he uncurled his body and tried to stretch. He forced his hands underneath his body, placing them firmly on the uneven ground, and lifted himself. Every muscle ached as he sat up. His joints cracked, his bones still snapping into place. He tentatively ran his tongue along his teeth, marvelling at the gaps where there were still only tattered gums.
There was too much pressure in his head.
The high-pitched buzz in his ears made it difficult to concentrate, and he was confident he would tip over if he tried to stand. His magic had been able to heal the worst of his injuries, but his skin would not entirely heal for a few days. His skin prickled as the feeling started to return to some of the nerves, then the burns’ intense heat.
Seti blinked back the watering in his eyes.
His magic hadn’t reacted so violently since he was a child–unable to control what was inside of him. Everything had come out at once, ripping his body apart as his energy forced its way into the open. Most of the time, he was able to concentrate some of it into a single spot, letting the pressure out slowly until it was something he could suppress–until he could get far enough from the city, out into the desert, and set it free. He had been living with burns over his body for years, the price of his magic. He didn’t want to think about what it had cost him this time. He had been so close to getting to the water. For a city that wanted to get rid of magic users so severely, it was doing a remarkable job at keeping him trapped inside.
Seti hesitated before taking in the city around him.
The building he had been standing on when he exploded was gone.
He had hoped that the higher altitude would prevent some of the damage. Maybe it had, but it was still devastating. Rubble covered the area, the explosion marked by the remaining foundations of the buildings that had been there. Dust hung in the air in a thick cloud that clogged his lungs–he coughed and choked, trying to fill the still-damaged organs. The smell of burning wood and flesh was stale in the air. Stone still steamed around him. He could hear the screams and yells that echoed in the air, but his ears were still too damaged. A hand, mangled beyond recognition, was visible in a pile of stone.
Seti dry-heaved again.
He didn’t try to suppress the tears that stung the burnt skin of his cheeks. He put his head in his hands, trying to stop the spinning, and started turning off all his feelings.
It was too much all at once.
It has never been this bad before; he’d never felt how destructive his magic was until this moment. He hated how much he feared himself and how much he understood why others would fear him if they knew.
He was vaguely aware of the sun rising and people starting to file back into the area. He could feel an emptiness in his stomach. Most of the nausea he was feeling was because he hadn’t eaten.
But none of it mattered. Seti couldn’t let any of it get to him because he wasn’t sure if he could keep on living if it did.
He stayed there, wishing for death until a squadron of city guards found him. Seti stayed where he was on the ground, not bothering to try and escape what was coming to him, and didn’t bother to fight as he was lifted onto a stretcher and carried away.
For once, Seti was glad the burns on his face took a few days to heal. The guards assumed he was simply a survivor of the explosion and rushed him to the nearest physician’s tent without asking any questions. He got something to wear. He was told that he would have to find shoes if he wanted them. He allowed the overworked physician to spread some herbal paste over the burns and apply bandages, taking the time to look at the exits and suppressed his sobs as he looked at his victims. But he made himself look at all of their faces, searching. Suppose Kahina had been anywhere near the blast.
He had to find her.
With the number of injured, no one was watching him. Once out of the tent, he undid the bandages from his arms and wrapped them around his feet. It would have to do until he found something better. He moved from one physician’s tent to the next, working his way from the centre of the blast outwards. He focused on finding her, ignoring the destruction around him, hoping it would keep his magic from acting up.
It was unnervingly quiet as he entered the chaotic streets. People were moving towards the Outer Rings but were being blocked by the guards. No one could travel between the Rings until they found the Timer who had used their magic within the city. He would have to find a place to lay low while his face was still healing because if he were caught walking the streets with his familiar face…
Seti’s chest tightened, and he put out an arm to steady himself on a wall, trying to remember how to breathe correctly. The rise and fall of his chest; the weight of his body on the soles of his feet.
He needed to keep moving, needed to find someone alive. So he kept searching.
It was mid-afternoon the day after the explosion that he found the woman from the Temple.