The explosion would have thrown Aisha if she hadn’t been on the ground already.
All she could do was hide her head and wish for the best. When she finally looked up, bodies were strewn across the floor of the Temple. Her first thought should have been to get out. Instead, she had searched the faces of the people around her, hoping that she wouldn’t find someone she knew. Which was ridiculous because, of course, she knew who they were—a part of her hope that even with such a blast, no one would get hurt.
Even when she found one of the injured, there was nothing she could do for them. She didn’t have any healing knowledge. Her magic could only destroy. So all she could do was tell them that everything would be all right even though she had no idea if it would be. It was one of the longest nights of her life.
With the morning came all of the refugees looking for a place to stay. Many homes in the surrounding area were destroyed. It was a shock that so many people have survived the blast. With the damages that the Temple had already sustained, it was challenging to find rooms. Eventually, they gave the rooms to families who showed up, and the rest had to find somewhere to sleep on the floor. It wasn’t ideal for anyone, but it was the best they could do. It got to the point where they have to start turning people away, which broke her heart a little bit every time she had to do it.
It came as a shock when Seti walked up to her.
Aisha didn’t recognize him at first. There were so many people looking for shelter at the Temple with bandages and burns that she had stopped looking at them. She hadn’t known him well before the blast anyway, but with all the burns on his face, it was as if he were a stranger. A part of her had wondered what had happened to him.
When she finally recognized him, all she could do was stare–praying he was not here for her—another ridiculous thought.
When he spoke, there was a rasp to his once smooth voice. “I never did get your name.”
She was waiting for Seti to accuse her of using magic; maybe even blame her for the blast. She was waiting for him to start screaming to the guards that she was here. Her name? What did that matter?
Aisha took him by the arm and led him out of the main foyer–down the hall towards her room. It wasn’t ideal, but at least they could talk without being seen. She ignored the worried look that Dema gave her. She would have to come up with some story for it later. Right now, she had to know what he wanted from her–and maybe convince him to stop bothering her. A peaceful, everyday life–that was all she wanted.
She pushed him into the room before her and locked the door behind her.
“You first. What’s your name?” she said, keeping herself between him and the door. From the way he had managed to outrun those guards, she doubted she would be able to stop him if he decided to leave, but at least it sent a message. Gods, he was probably dangerous. Her heart began to pound in her chest, and she could feel her palms starting to sweat.
He tried to smile, but the skin around his face was too tight. Aisha tried to hide the way that she flinched. He must be in so much pain, yet she couldn’t find it in her heart to trust him the way she wanted to.
“I haven’t decided on a new one yet,” he said.
“What name were you born with?”
Yes, he was dangerous. He seemed too relaxed, too used to this kind of chaos to be anything else. And yes, there was something haunted about his eyes. It was then that Aisha remembered the woman and the boy that he asked her to help save. She wondered if they had managed to make it out of the city. Or even out of the blast zone before the explosion happened.
“I haven’t been allowed to use that one in years. My parents disapprove of me. What about Sutekh?”
There was such a lightness in his voice that she almost believed he didn’t care, that he wasn’t here to see the woman that he had left behind. She wished she had something more to tell him about where they went.
“First Seti now Sutekh. Do you usually have this many identity crises?”
He smiled a smile that didn’t seem to fit this new face that he had, and yet he seemed to need that smile, needed it to be genuine. It made Aisha sad.
His eyes crinkled at the name. She was used to that kind of reaction; she knew her name was because of her eyes’ colour. As if her parents were worried her eyes weren’t enough, they had to point it out in some way. She hated her eyes. She hated them, and yet in many ways, they had saved her life. How long would she have lasted out there on the streets had she not been brought into the temples?
“Your friends aren’t here anymore.”
She wasn’t sure what made her say it, but she felt as if he deserved to know. If he was here hoping that she knew something, she wanted him to see that it was a waste of his time. He didn’t need to stand here and ask for her name or ask her any questions about who she was because there was nothing she could give him.
It was selfish of her to be taking up so much of his time already, but she’d never met someone who could see her magic and not flinch away. She had only ever shown one other person, and if it hadn’t been for her parents throwing her into the Temple, she probably would have been hanged for it.
Maybe that was why something in her broke when his face fell.
He swallowed before he spoke. “Where were they when the explosion happened?”
“I’m not sure. I helped them escape the Temple, but I couldn’t go with them.”
Couldn’t or wouldn’t? It would have been easy to run out those doors with them, but she had stayed on the ground–fighting down the nauseous feeling that came with her magic. The sickness was an excuse, a reason for why she was still in this Temple.
“I thank you for helping them. You didn’t have to.” Some of the strength was returning to Seti’s voice, the rasp lessened. “By any means, do you know a Dema?”
The question jarred her for a moment.
It was one thing to have Seti asking favours, if forcefully, of her, but she didn’t want to get anyone else involved. If something had to be done, Aisha preferred that the burden be placed on her. And maybe a small part of her liked having Seti to herself. Best to keep that part to herself.
“Kahina, the woman I asked you to help, said she knew a servant here by that name. They have been in contact with each other.”
If that were true, why had he asked for her help? Why not bring Dema into this instead? And where had Dema been when the guards had been pursuing this Kahina? More importantly, would it be safe to bring Dema into this at all? She still wasn’t sure exactly how dangerous this man was, even if he did happen to be charming–just a little fascinating.
There must have been something in her eyes because he gave her a sad smile. “Or I can keep searching the streets for her,” he said.
She wanted to help; it seems like he cared about this woman. But with everything that had been going on, with the explosion and the strange man coming into her life, it didn’t seem right to put someone else she cared about in the line of fire unnecessary. She didn’t owe Seti anything, and certainly not this woman. She already saved two lives; let that be enough.
“I have an idea where to start,” she found herself saying. “We’ll cover more ground if we split up.”