Chapter 18:

Constricting Pressure

Tetraprisma: Chromatic

I stepped back, boots hitting against the metal floor. What was the Queen doing here? Was I about to die?

“Ms. Beta, come with me,” she said, her tone unchanging. Her silver hair scattered the light from the chandeliers, brightening the room just a little. It shimmered as she turned around, stepping further into the hall.

I followed her warily. “What is it…?”

“I’ve got all manner of things to tell you. I promise I’m not here to kill you,” she responded. “I’m your ancestor. I would never try to kill one of my own.” Her accent was unfamiliar yet soft— I’d never heard another like it.

After what felt like forever, we reached the end of the hall. It was a balcony overviewing the entirety of the war school, as well as the city of Atlas itself. A shield generator was crackling in the center of the balcony, propelling its cyan light around the school.

She rested her arms on the railing and gazed out at the city. Its dark skyscrapers and structures rose high above the school, far into the sky. It was the first time I’d ever seen a skyscraper scrape the sky, if that makes sense. “I always thought the bloodline would end with Nathan. Your being here is a testament to my underestimation.”

I looked up at her and raised a brow. “Why’d you think that?”

“Many reasons,” she said. “None known to you.”

Talk about cryptic. “Can you… tell me?”

“Later. I have more important questions for you,” she answered, turning around. She gracefully swiped a silver bang out of her eyes and adjusted her tiara. “From whom do you draw your power?”


“I was told of what you accomplished on the battlefield. That power is not inherent to my bloodline.” Her amber eyes pierced me. How do I respond?

Tell her you inherited it from your mother.

Why the hell should I listen to you?

Teresa will kill you if you associate with me.

She said she’d never kill one of her own!

She’s killed dozens of her own.

And you tried to kill dozens of us!

Would you shut up about that? I’ve told you it was a mistake.

“I, uh…” I stammered, trying to buy more time to think. If I tell her I got it overnight, what’ll happen?

She’ll think you’re possessed and either try to force the spirit out of your body with painful magic or kill you outright.

So I can’t tell her what I’ve told everyone else, and I can’t tell her it’s you.

Which is why I gave you a third option. Use it, Shiera.

“Sorry, yeah. I got it from my mom. Or I think I do, at least. Her magic was red, and so is mine, so…” I said.

Teresa frowned. “Myla had those powers? She would have been a wonderful heir.”


“Yes. Someday, I’ll be killed or kick the bucket. It helps to have someone in reserve.”

I tilted my head. “You know, I always wondered if she just ran away. We never found her corpse or anything. Do you know if she’s still alive?”

“You never found her corpse because she was buried here in Dianoct.” The Queen looked out back to the Hall in reminiscence. “Did you ever see the memorial to the right, before entering the Hall?”


“She’s on there, she is. A splendid woman. I met her on occasion. You remind me of her, Ms. Beta.”

I sighed. I hadn’t known my mother well. She died just months after I was born. “Nathan never told me how she died.”

“Of course he didn’t,” she replied, completely unsurprised.

“Do you know?”

“I do.” I noticed she clenched one of her fists. “She was mauled and killed by a ravaging werewolf.”

“O-oh.” Sakira, is this some sort of twisted fucking joke?

No, I–

You decided to transform my brother into the beast that killed my mom! And you said it was all for a project you’d been working on! What project? Emotional torture?!

Shiera, calm down. I know it’s hard for you to see clearly now, but listen. I didn’t do it to trigger your trauma. I’ve been working on the project for hundreds of years. And besides, I’ve–

Ding! The Queen hit her hand on the railing forcefully. “Those goddamn mangy mutts need to learn their place.”

I didn’t know whether to agree or not. “Yeah,” I said, trying not to oppose her. “I’m glad I’m still alive.”

The Queen appeared to notice something. “You’re not carrying the heirloom. Did Nathan never give it to you?”

“What heirloom?”

Dammit, Teresa.

What now, Sakira?

Don’t listen to whatever she says next. That heirloom is dangerous.

You know about it? And you didn’t tell me?

The Queen puffed her robes. “The Spiritkiller Sickle, the weapon I used to cut short Sakira’s reign over Atlas. It left him comatose for a millennia, enough to strengthen our defenses.”

“And why would I have it?”

“Nathan was poised to give it to you. I wonder if he’s still running around with it.”

He’s not.

Wha– how would you know?

Kori had it. She doesn’t know you had a brother.

had a brother?

I misspoke. He’s still alive and well.

And probably a werewolf!

I put the project on hiatus. He’s not a werewolf, and he won’t be for a long time.

“Ms. Beta, I’d appreciate you looking at me while I talk to you,” the Queen snapped.

“Sorry, ma’am,” I replied.

“You mean ‘your Highness’.”

“Sorry, your Highness.”

She smiled. “Better.” Looking at the digital clock displayed on the shield generator, she said, “Remember— retrieve the heirloom with haste. The day Sakira has his claws on it is the day this country dies.”

“Tell me about Sakira, actually.”

“What is there to say?”

“I don’t know who he is. You probably know him better than anyone, since you did that whole revolution thing,” I said. I imagined flattery had a way of working on royalty.

“I do indeed,” she said. Her thin-gloved hands wrapped around each other gracefully. “He is a creature of wit and deception— the only highly intelligent spirit we know of. It seems that as a spirit ages, he gains intelligence.”

I wasn’t satisfied with just that. “Tell me about him personally.”

“If you insist.” She lowered her amber gaze. “He is about as misanthropic as one can become. He’s told me he views humans as but a pestilence to be exterminated. If he were wiped of his memory and placed inside a human vessel, he would make an excellent commander here at Atlas.

“He doesn’t seem to experience emotion in the same way that you and I as humans do. Spirits have no neurological hormones, thus they cannot feel drive, neglect, guilt, or fear. Even with his intelligence, Sakira can never understand the minds of humans, which are so much more complex. That is why he studies them endlessly, bringing on subjects and experimenting on them. He strives to understand what he never can.

“You might say he is empathetic, very conscious of human emotions. But he is not sympathetic. He lacks heart, lacks connection. He can never form a bond with a human, nor a spirit for that matter. He is, by definition, a vessel filled only with intelligence. Like an AI driven mad by its own lack of feeling.”

I nodded my head, listening but not fully comprehending. “So, if I were ever in conversation with him, what should I do?”

“Get out before he manipulates you into trusting him.”

A hole ripped open in my stomach. “Got it, m– your Highness.”

“Oh, and I had something else to say about your lineage, but look how you’ve sidetracked me. We’ve just about run out of time.” The moment she said ‘time’, the bell rang, loudly echoing through the Mirror Hall. “I’ll of course schedule to talk to you again next week. By then surely you’ll have the sickle, correct?”

I gulped. “Yes, your Highness.”

“You really are like your mother. Scurry along, now. You wouldn’t want to miss your next class.” She shooed me with her hand, a royal smile plastered on her face. Elegance and charisma dripped onto the balcony’s mirrored floor, twisting her reflection. Who was she, really? And who was Sakira? What I’d taken as truth was now nothing more than shattered shards of cyan.

Teresa is a menace. You can’t trust her, Shiera. I know it’s hard to believe after what she said, but I need you to trust me. I can feel just as well as any of you can. All of us can. Spirits aren’t beasts— we’re conscious, just like you. You must believe me.

I’m not listening!

Shiera, please. All my deceptions are for naught if I cannot tell one truth. That one truth is this: I trust in you. Trust me back, Shiera. You are the bridge between humans and spirits. You have the potential to end this conflict in peace.

Shut up! My pace quickened through the Hall. The mirrors felt like they were inching closer, constricting me. My muscles tensed— the stairs were in sight. If I could just return to the school, to the chattering of the students, I could escape this.

I trust you to make the right decision when the time comes. You need to trust your own judgement, too. Your logic is second-to-none— you have all the tools to choose who to believe. Change the fate of Atlas for the better.

I touched down at the bottom of the stairs, and the echoes of other students’ voices drowned out Sakira’s. I breathed in, then out. In, then out.

The weight on my shoulders still tugging, I cleared my mind and checked my schedule. I walked hazily to class, unthinking and blind. Pressure. Pressure in my lungs. Pressure in my mind.

This pressure is going to crush me.
Slashed Ink.
Steward McOy