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The Pink Ravyn

The Hearts They Steal

Chapter One

by R. N. Headlam

Ocia tapped her fingers against the table. Three Shujaas surrounded her, their beady eyes pinned on her as they waited for a response. She shifted her gaze to the ceiling, then uttered a silent prayer. Ocia took a deep breath in, then returned her gaze to Kerria. The female’s face twisted into a frown, heat beaming from her skin. 


“And you said He saw Luce?” Ocia’s skin tightened. 


“Yes, He did.” The creases around Kerria’s eyes deepened. He did nothing. He only told me because He suspected Luce was somewhere in Kekere-Daun.”


Ocia arched her eyebrow. “Did He tell you exactly where in Kekere-Daun?” An Asaylin coming to visit Kerria in broad daylight was strange. Yes, she was a Worshipper, but it didn’t mean anything. Not since They stopped visiting after the Zamŷni Wars. Her chest tensed. It could be true—if who Kerria saw was an Asaylin. 


“No, He didn’t,” she replied. “He left before He could tell me.”


The last time Ocia had even seen an Asaylin was during the Rebellion, and since then, They’d placed Kotak under a heavy glamour and closed all borders between Ịtoba and Ariwa-Ịte. That was some thirty years ago. But now…


“Why?” Ya’Dasah asked. 


“You don’t have to believe me,” Kerria snapped. “I know who I saw.”


“We all know Them.” Ya’Dasah slid down her seat. “I was married to one of Them.”


“Me too,” Miriam piped. Her smile faded. “He divorced me.” 


“Which one told you this?” Ocia pressed Kerria. 


“The EzeKasala.”


A sigh slipped from Ocia’s mouth; that was more believable. The EzeDanzya had been missing since the Zamŷni Wars. For eons, both Ịtoba and Ariwa-Ịte were ruled by two Asayli, not the three that made up the Triune. 


Ya’Dasah rolled her eyes, getting up from the table. “The EzeKasala,” she mocked before going outside to sit on the veranda. 


“Are you sure?” Ocia asked. 


“I am.” 


“Alright. If you claim that He was the one who told you, then the least we could do is investigate. Did He give you any leads?”


“Other than Luce?” 


Ocia nodded. 


“He said something about Luce getting in via a portal and that someone in Kekere-Daun might have helped him get in.”


“Did He tell you who?”


“You’re asking so many questions right now.” Kerria’s face reddened. “He left before He told me anything of value.”


“Why would He just suddenly leave?” 


Kerria shrugged. “I don’t know.”


“Ocia, no one said anything to you,” Ya’Dasah argued from outside. “You lead the Shujaa. If something was up, then it is only courtesy to tell the commander of the military. Not some Worshipper who doesn’t know her left from her right.” She marched inside, standing over Kerria. 


“I know who I saw!” Kerria’s face reddened. 


“I get instructions from Michael,” Ocia reminded Ya’Dasah, ignoring Kerria’s outburst. “None of us have seen the Asayli in decades.”


“Well, I’ve seen Them,” Miriam said. 


“The EzeDanzya is your ex-husband with whom you have bloody grandchildren,” Ya’Dasah snarled.


Miriam quailed. 


“Has any of Them said anything to anyone else about Luce?” Ya’Dasah stared at Kerria. 


No one bothered to answer. 


“I say we investigate,” Ocia said. She twisted her finger into the table. She had no reason to think Kerria would be dishonest. And it wasn’t any harm to check. “No questions asked.”


“Well then, let’s take it to Michael.” Ya’Dasah pulled a chair. 


“How does the EzeKasala look?” Miriam twirled her hair around her fingers. 


“You should know that,” Ya’Dasah said. “Weren’t you married to the EzeDanzya?”


Miriam arched her brows. “Haven’t you seen the way They dress? How could anyone be sure if it’s Them?” She’d made a point.


Ya’Dasah leaned back into her chair. “Could be someone posing as the EzeKasala,” she said. 


“I’m a Worshipper—”


“Of course, you are.” Ya’Dasah chuckled, cutting Kerria mid-sentence. “Why should I even doubt you?” She rolled her eyes.


Ocia knocked on the table to get the females’ attention. “I still say we investigate.” Ocia didn’t have much reason to think Luce would’ve escaped Earth, but if it put Kerria’s heart at ease, she’d do it. “How do you propose we start?”


“Ask Michael.” Ya’Dasah folded her arms. 


It made sense, but what if Michael didn’t know anything? And if he did, why would he refuse to tell Ocia? Something didn’t add up.

 
“I’d rather we do it ourselves,” Ocia said. She sighed. “But I’ll still speak to Michael.”


“You don’t believe Michael knows anything.” Ya’Dasah sat up. 


“I think maybe Kerria is the only person who knows.” Ocia walked around the table. She didn’t have a plan. There was more to it than Luce slipping into Ịtoba unseen. Perhaps Luce was receiving help. And if he was, who could be helping him? Titans? Almases? Dangerous creatures who once walked these realms?


Her heart palpitated. Sweat dripped from her forehead. It was funny how after decades of Luce being trapped on Earth, he suddenly appeared in the realm. And nothing was done about it. 


“I still think we ought to inform Michael, just to be on the safe side,” Ya’Dasah insisted. 


Ocia exhaled. “What about a meeting with the Asayli?” That could be an option if the Ọbakun were open to making an appointment. She wasn’t sure how well this would work, though. 


“That wouldn’t be necessary.” Ya’Dasah stood up. “I’m sure They’re busy with other things. Besides, we don’t know if Kerria is telling the truth.”


The female frowned. 


“Fine.” Ocia had to do something. “Then we’ll move on with talking to Michael.” 



Bry flipped through the pages of the report in his hand. Yugi stood over him, patiently waiting for Bry to say something. 


There was nothing left to say. In front of him, scattered on his glass table, were some reports Yugi had found while cleaning up Luce’s house. It was the middle of the night; Bry didn’t want to spend it reading books and reports. 


He closed the book, tossed it on the table. “What do you want me to do about this?” he asked. 


Yugi’s cheeks were flushed with a smile as though he’d seen this as a joke. “It’s a portion of the reports Luce kept before the Rebellion. Kai was clearing out Luce’s things and came across them.”


Several reports were bound together by dark green string and gold clips: handwritten notes Luce had jotted down while he was still the Ọba of Lower Kalér. 


Frustrated and tired, Bry had barely skimmed through the material, but nothing in it was noteworthy. At least, not significant enough to permit Yugi to come to his manor in the middle of the night. 


“Did you show these to anyone else?” Bry asked. 


“Kireh?” 


That didn’t sound promising at all. 


Bry straightened up. “I’ll need a meeting with every single ehol currently present. About this.” He pointed to the books on his table. “And the awakeners too.”


Yugi arched an eyebrow. “Now?”


“When else?”


He pushed his wings out. “And Kai?”


“Bring him.”


Yugi bowed and left the manor. Bry had a few minutes to himself. He slouched on his sofa, his feet kicked up on top of the reports scattered across the glass table. Thirty years ago should’ve been his last year—his last year as an Ambassador before the disease suddenly popped up. 


He was finally able to write his retirement letter and call an end to a time well served. He’d perhaps written it three times since the Rebellion but was never able to hand it in. At least, his heart wouldn’t allow it. The Asayli had suddenly stopped making connections with Ịtoba, putting the Orin-Jua Festival on pause for three decades. Then, the Taji-Nishati began just last year, causing another delay. 


If the Asayli were planning to open the borders between Ariwa-Ịte and Ịtoba, it meant Bry could retire in peace. He could officially hand over all his duties to Michael and live with Zeph in Daun, but if what Yugi was bringing to him was true—that Luce had been planning treason all along—that was another delay. Another delay he couldn’t afford. 


Yugi soon returned with a host of ehols and awakeners who were less than pleased to be disrupted from their sleep to see Bry. Their tired and angry faces made Bry pity them, but if Kai had uncovered more reports, and if what Yugi brought him was true, then the Rebellion wasn’t officially over. 


Bry picked up a report and tossed it to Kireh, who caught it. His face was twisted with a pout on his lips. Kireh was among the few ehols who’d taken the vow, then hid from society. Bry had hardly seen the male. His cheeks were sunken, his hair tattered, and dark bags cradled his eyes. 


“It’s this book,” Bry said. “Luce had written a report to commit treason and breach Kotak’s borders long before Levi was even suspected of insanity.”


“This was more than three decades ago,” Kireh hissed. “Why are we still dealing with it?”


“It matters now because Kai recently found these.” He glanced at the awakener. 


“Six of them, actually,” Kai corrected. “Yugi only brought you the one that Luce wrote. There are more.”


“Do you have them with you?” Bry asked.


Kai stepped forward and rested five more books on the glass table. “These, oloye.” 


Eros wrinkled his nose. “You knew about this?” he asked his brother.


Kai shook his head. “I only found these when Saraqael and I were clearing out Luce’s things.”


“Six people were attempting to break into Kotak?” Bry sat up. “Among the ehols?”


They all shook their heads. 


“It’s not that simple,” Kai said. “These seem to be reports Luce commissioned people to research and write for him. They were all written around the same time.”


Bry nodded. “What about awakeners?” he asked. Bry scanned the room. “Who else could’ve been studying this?”


They snickered among themselves, but no one answered. Bry’s eyes landed on Jonai. He was tall, with red hair and a chiseled jawline, much like the Azharan people of the north. An awakener, too, who was awfully close to Luce. 


He was old enough to work for several Titans before they fell, and though he was far from being the oldest awakener who stood in Bry’s presence, he was the only one with access to the information Luce needed to breach Kotak’s glamour. Jonai was a Ward Aingeal.

 
“Do you know anything? About these reports?” Bry asked the awakener. 


Jonai quickly shook his head, but Bry sensed the anguish. Jonai’s blue eyes wobbled. Precious awakener. He seemed nervous. 


“Are you sure?” Bry pressed. 


His shoulders slouched. “I knew Luce was writing reports, and he did ask me to research a few things for him, but that’s all I did. I swear.” His voice quaked. 


A smile cracked on Bry’s lips. “What sort of things did he ask you to research? Did you write one of these reports?”


Eyes were pinned on the awakener. Sweat collected on his forehead. “I did write one. But only one. He only asked me to research some Titans, who he suspected were still living in Spring Court. In hiding.”


The room was silent. Titans were in Spring Court—still? Bry thought all of them had retreated to the Abyss, but they were hiding, and Jonai had known about it. Perhaps, among them, was his old master, Ver. 


“Who?” Bry pressed. 


“Ver.” His voice weakened. “And Stane.”


“I know about Stane. He was born after the Zamŷni Wars and was taken in to live with the EzeKasala. Who else?”


“That’s it.” 


He’d lied. Bry felt it deep in his bones; Jonai lied. “Is that all?” Bry glanced at Kai. “Do you know of Ver?” he asked. 


Kai nodded. “I didn’t know he was a Titan then, but he would come to the library and request books.”


“Do you believe that one of the reports was written by him?”


Kai shook his head. “The handwriting doesn’t match his.”


“Does he still visit the library?” 


“In the middle of the night, yes.”


“Then keep an eye on him, will you?”


Kai bowed. 


Bry turned his attention to Jonai. “You, on the other hand, will need to meet with the EzeNyera and me. Just to ensure that what you tell me is true.”


“You doubt me?” Jonai asked. 


“You did write one of the reports.”


Jonai took in a deep breath. “When will this meeting be?”


“Tomorrow. Meet me at the temple at midday.”
 

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