Ishtar and Cay are siblings searching for their brother in a post-apocalyptic Earth. After receiving a tip about a person with similar looks and abilities of their brother, they head to the capital of the city-dwellers, Kapala. There the two get separated. Cay must navigate the hidden underworld of Kapala while Ishtar is thrust into the midst of the children of the rulers of Kapala. In the midst of it all, both siblings wonder what their youngest brother was involved in.
May 13, The New Era, Year 12,
I remember my first sight of Kapala, the New Capital. The city was not like the other domed cities that scattered the world after the third world war, but had a near impenetrable barrier to guard it from wayward demons, witches, shifters, and other Supernaturals. Also, illegal Outlanders, especially those.
I found it silly how they would say that when the whole city was run by Supernaturals, after all this was the city said to house all of the young and talented, regardless of your species. According to Raiju, it is a safe haven where the best and brightest may reside peacefully. Gael, on the other hand, thought that this was ''the nesting ground for all that is evil and wicked.''
I never really could tell who was right, but I remember thinking that the city was beautiful. I had not yet entered it. It would, after all, be a two day hike to get there, but looking down on the spiraling towers and old buildings of the city with the sea just behind it, that was my thought. It was beautiful.
I am writing before me and Cay rest for the night. It was not my intention to write until we were sure that Gabriel, our younger brother was really here or not, but as I looked down at it, I remember the feeling of certainty, that the two years that my brother and I had spent searching would finally be over, so I write to remember the first sight of the city that holds my brother.
When we got to the gate, we gave the guards the usual talk on how Cay, my older brother was a hired guard to protect me, a traveling dancer. I would have preferred to call him my brother, as he was, but when we first tried that a couple of years back, they wouldn't believe us and even accused our paperwork of being forged so we had to sneak in like a couple of bandits. Apparently city-dwellers think that the only siblings are the ones bound by genetics. Who knew?
After we had been let through, we headed to a hotel in an area that was ruled by the warlocks. According to Raiju, each area was ruled by a different race, but all the areas had humans residing in them and the unwritten rule among the humans was that they owed their allegiance to whichever race was in charge of the area they were residing in. Even so, from experience, Cay and I have found that as the night gets longer and the drinks start flowing, even the most loyal human will start talking and where better to learn of warlocks than in Magi, the warlock sector of Kapala?
After unpacking, we look at those timekeepers that city-dwellers call "clocks." I always wondered why they were so obsessed with knowing the exact minute and second of everything when the sun and stars are perfectly capable of helping us figure out the time, but to each his own, as the saying goes.
It was about six pm. That meant we had about an ''hour'' (God it felt weird using city-dweller time) before all the clubs and bars opened up and about four hours until anyone would be drunk or high enough to give us any real info. Cay said, "Let's go down to get a meal." This was Cay-speak for "Let's eat and figure out how many places we'll be hitting tonight."
At the break of dawn in our room, Cay said, "Not one word" in Nahuatl. It was the language that Tlapixqui, Cay's father's servant, had forced us to learn growing up. I hated the lessons as a kid, but now saw the use in speaking a language that few understand.
Now, I might have agreed after the wild goose chase we had gone through and I was just as exhausted as he was, but he really should have known me better after all these years. So I said, "That was a bust." He glared and sparks started flashing around his hands so I said, "Save it, bro. That won't work on me." In the standard language, he said, "Just go to sleep." And now we were being watched by some paranoid warlocks, how lovely. What made it worse was that Cay picked up on it before me so I was never going to hear the end of it when we got rid of these spies.
I actually decided to listen to him, but only because of the wild goose chase we had been on where no one had apparently heard of any young fire warlocks in the area. So I headed to my room. Before I fell asleep I told myself that it was only the first day and we were sure to have some clue tomorrow or at the very least throw off the warlocks spying on us by doing what our papers say we were here to do.
The next day, I changed out of my travelling dress, pants, and shoes into a white dancer's skirt with a blue belt that had a trail of fabric down the center. And a blue top with my left shoulder and belly exposed. On my left shoulder I put on two arm bands. On my ankles I put on circlets that jingled when I moved. I pinned a light blue shawl on my head letting my golden hair fall over my shoulders, but covering it from the back. Finally, I put on my earnings (four in each year), belly-button piercing, and dancing sandals.
Not a minute after I had put on my last earing, Cay was knocking on my door so I grabbed my sword and bag and put on my cloak over my clothes. When I opened the door, Cay said in Nahuatl, "From what I heard, most of the street performers head to 'The Square' which is the center of the city. Its neutral territory so no one should bother us with our papers." I said, "Cool it. First food, then work.'' Cay said, "Of course."
After we ate a quick breakfast from the hotel, I put on my makeup in the hotel bathroom and we headed to "The Square." When we got there I spotted some musicians playing some old Arabian tunes to the side so I went up to them and said, "Hey, I'm a travelling dancer and this here is my guard, would you play and I'll dance and after we’ll split the money 50-50?" They discussed it among themselves for a couple minutes then the one playing the oud said, "We'll play one song and if you're good then we'll continue.'' I replied, "fair enough."
Cay took my cloak and bag before he stood off to the side and then the music started. I recognized it as one of the songs that Isabella had first taught me to dance to. She said it was an old song that would be ancient to the people who lived before the war. It was sad so I thought a sword dance would be good for it. After that, I lost myself to the music and the dance. A twist and a turn there. When I danced, it felt as if the whole world had ceased being except for my movements and the music.
After the first song, they did not stop me and we had begun to gather a crowd. We continued like that until midday and then all of us decided to have a break for lunch. The musicians invited us for a meal on their mat. One of them disappeared to make sure that there would be enough food and the man playing the oud said, "Sorry about earlier, but you understand that if you were bad, it would have been bad for business and there is not much work and I have my own reasons for being cautious. Nevertheless, today you have helped us. My name is Moustapha, on the tabla is my uncle Nour and the one going for the rest of the food is my brother Mikhail.'' After he passed us a card that read:
Music of Egypt's Past
For booking info please call
I handed the card to Cay, in case it proved to be useful later. Moustafa said, "Now my friends, who might you call yourselves?'' Something in his eyes told me that we could trust him so I decided to tell him the truth. I said, "My name is Ishtar, but my friends call me Ish.'' Cay then responded, "If I told you my given name, you would not he able to pronounce it, but to my friends I am known as Cay.'' Soon after, Mikhail returned with our food and after we ate, the music started again.
It was during the second song after our meal that I saw a girl running through a crowd while some warlocks were chasing her. At that time, the words of Sister Maria, one of the spirits who helped raise me, began to ring in my head. I could almost hear her saying, "Righteousness is not easy, but as the children of God, it is our pleasure to be able to be able to seek it out in all that we do.''
So I did the sensible thing and tossed my sword so that it cut in between them and punched the one in the front before yelling, "Bro!" Immediately Cay took the girl and ran off. Before they could try following, I flipped the other and grabbed my sword just as one cast a fireball spell. After hitting the fireball with my sword so that it would bounce back to them, the one who I had punched said, "Interesting sword." I replied, "I haven't the faintest clue as to what you're implying. It's just an old family heirloom." The same warlock said, "Interesting. Men, we've lost the girl so let's bring this one in instead."
It was at this point that I saw a group of twenty warlocks and witches catching up to the three who were here. I was strong, but these were warlocks and Cay said that I should at least try to not cause trouble. I decided to run in the opposite direction that Cay headed.
For a while I thought that I would lose them, but when I turned into an alley, I realized five seconds too late that I had walked into a trap. Meeting me at the alley was a witch and warlock that looked like copies of each other. I managed to dodge the first time they tried to put a seal on me by backflipping. Not that it would have mattered if it hit, but that would have been a whole different set of problems. Then they both smiled and the girl said, "Brother I do believe that this is the first time that someone has successfully dodged our spells." The boy said, "Yes, how fun, sister."
I thought, Why is it that I always get the crazy ones? I tried to look for an exit, but heard the footsteps of the trio from earlier sounded like they were getting closer. I thought, What I wouldn't give to be wearing my armor instead of this getup. I cartwheeled to avoid a purple blast and said, "What's a couple of Callisto warlocks doing bullying some street dancer. I thought this type of behavior was supposed to be beneath you and isn't this neutral territory." The boy said, "So you know who we are." Ishtar said, "I've heard some stuff." Mainly from Gael's nagging, but you two don't need to know that. This was also the reason why I had not summoned him to help me out. He would have nagged and gloated all while trying to force me to leave this godforsaken city. Also, since he hadn't forced his way here, I figured that things weren't too bad.
While I was chatting , I didn't notice that the trio had caught up and didn't see the lightning blast that made everything turn black.
It was late. I had been telling myself for gods knows how long that this was Ish and any moment she would be popping up like usual with that annoying smirk that said she was able to outsmart and outfight the city-dwellers she had led away. Thinking of how she led them away reminded me of my current situation or babysitting as I liked to think of it.
Across from me was the girl we had saved. When we were running away, she was pretty vocal about which way we should go, but ever since we got to her apartment, she had been as quiet and meek as a mouse. About two hours ago (gods I'm even using the city-dweller measurement of time from listening to that infernal ticking) Moustafa had come in (of course the musicians that Ish had picked were related to the mouse we saved) and had somehow talked me into my current babysitting position while he went to get our stuff from our hotel rooms. How that happened was beyond me, but the man had the same way of convincing that Tlapixqui had. Speaking of which, I hadn't heard from him in a while which was odd considering that he liked to nag me as much as Gael likes to nag Ish.Whatever, if he was here it would only drive me to insanity which I was already close to from that damned ticking. I had to keep reminding myself that this was not my home and it would only give me trouble if I were to send a lightning bolt to the clock of people who were not my enemies.
It was just after moonrise that Moustafa entered and I said, "My sister is taking too long. She should have been able to follow my presence and been here ages ago. Something must have happened." At his expression I thought, Damn I cannot believe that I let that slip out. As expected Moustafa said, "Sister?...Presence? Boy, here I was thinking I would have to be doing some explaining, but it seems you have some secrets too."
Did he just call me "boy?" Maybe I wasn't 22 yet and a full adult like Tlapixqui keeps saying, but I'm much more of an adult than these city-dweller brats. I've fought and killed before. What right does he have to call me a boy?! Something in my expression must have given away my thoughts because Moustafa said, "Well boy, just what are you and why are you here?"
I wasn't like Ish, able to charm people into forgetting their questions nor was I like Gabriel, able to talk his way out of sticky situations. I was the planner. I was good at coming up with tactics and putting them into action, but I never did well with these types of one-on-one interrogation type situations. Normally I left that to one of them, but one has currently been missing for two years and the other wasn't present.
So I said, "I don't trust you...Neither do I believe that you completely trust me. For that, I will not answer your question." Instead of getting tossed out into the city as I had expected, he laughed. Alright now I'm lost.
I said, "And just what is so funny?" Moustapha stopped himself and said, "Nothing boy. I am laughing because I thought you might have been a spy sent by the warlocks, but there's no way a spy could be so tactless! The very idea that someone would hire you is downright ridiculous." At this I snapped and said, "First, I am not a boy. Second, a spy?! By the gods, I have never been accused of being something so treacherous in my life! And third, I. Am. Not. A. Boy!!!!" At that last one I sent a lightning bolt at that contraption sent to drive me to madness.
The mouse looked shocked at the display, but Moustapha said, "Now, that was hardly necessary and to reply, I doubt a man would display such a temper tantrum. As for your sister, I believe that she should be here soon so just sit down and relax." I said, "And just how do you know this?" Moustapha said, "Let's just say that I have my sources."
So I went back to standing by the wall, but this time I studied this "Moustapha" character. When Ish first went up to him, the first thing I noticed was that he didn't have the body of a musician. His hands still looked like a musicians so I had disregarded it at the time.
I remember how when we were kids, Raiju would tell us to always pay close attention to these details. He would say, "It doesn't matter what species is the one before you, but when you look at their hands, body, and speech patterns you can learn a lot about who they are. But remember that there are those whose body and speech can lie, but it is their hands that may betray them. Though this too is not a law so pay close attention to all three of these details when confronting someone."
He may have had the hands of a musician, but his body and build were that of a fighter and his speech was like a warrior. Ish had given her real name, which meant that she thought he wasn't a threat and normally I trust in her judge of character, but this guy wasn't normal. Not that I was one to talk about normalcy, but at least I didn't go around pretending to be some weak street musician. I carried around a seven and a half foottepoztopilli for the love of the gods.
And then there was the mouse. I couldn't figure out how someone so meek could be related to someone so obviously strong. Also, why was she being chased? The only women I had been around were Ish, those two sister spirits that followed her around until they passed on two years ago, and my mother when my father occasionally called me to the underworld. To say that any of these women were meek would be an insult to all of them. Just what the hell is going on here?
The more I thought about these two, the less it made sense and the more confused I got. Just when I was about to say that enough was enough and go out to look for Ish, the door slammed open and a young woman came in saying, "You will not believe the day I have had."
At that sentence and the sheathed sword gripped in her hand, I realized that this woman was Ish, but she didn't look like Ish. Her normally angelic features were covered in bruises. Her normally clean long golden hair was flying a million directions and dirtied to some brownish color from all the dirt in it. Finally, her normally carefully picked out clothes were replaced by a baggy white dress that fell to her ankles.
Still barely believing that this was my normally charming sister I said, "Ish? What the hell happened to you?" She said, "Speak in the standard language." I hadn't even realized that I had switched to Nahuatl, my mother tongue.
To them she smiled and said, "I know this may seem rude, but if I may borrow your shower and after I may explain what has happened." Only Ish could look like hell and still come off as charming. Moustapha said, "Your stuff is there and the shower is down the hall to the right" in his calm manner.
I followed her and in Nahuatl I said, "I don't think we can trust them." This time she replied in Nahuatl with, "I had a dream." I said, "What of?" She replied, "You." I said, "In the dream what happened?" She said, "It was hazy, but you looked like you were in a fight and in it that Moustapha guy was fighting alongside you and both of you were protecting each other like the fights we would get into in the Outlands. Most of it was blurry, but for some reason the image of you both was clear."
I couldn't imagine being civil with him, let alone fighting alongside him, but unfortunately for me, Ish's dreams always came true. They could be really iffy at times, but they were accurate. At this I went back to the living room and leaned against the wall as I contemplated my future friendship with a man I don't even like.
When Ish got out, dressed in a dark blue traveling dress and pants, she sat in front of Moustapha and said, "Now let's talk." Moustapha said, "Very well, but who starts." Ish said, "We are the ones intruding on you so I'll start. The reason we are here is because we are searching for someone. The reason we saved the young woman trying to mold into the chair was because we were there. Nothing more, nothing less. Now you."
He replied, "My occupation is not a lie, but there is another I hold alongside it. I, too, will withhold that information. The woman, as you put it, is my daughter Katherine, but we call her Katya. She was hunted because the people in our family hold certain gifts, as you say." Ish said, "Gifts?" He replied, "Yes, ones much similar to the ones held by you and your brother."
As I listened I was surprised that there existed a city-dweller who could keep up with Ish when she got like this. From the look of the mouse's expression, I could tell she was surprised that someone could keep up with her father.
I had zoned out for a little while, but I snapped to attention when Ish said, "...We do not know many people here so how about a deal." Moustapha said, "What sort of deal?" Ish said, "It was only for a moment and I was running for my life at the time, but I am sure I felt it. The presence of the one we are searching for. I am going to go back there. My bloodline has a history with this city, but my brother holds no such bonds." I did not like where this was going.
She continued, "I wish for you to provide a place for my brother while I seek out the one we are searching for." I interjected, "Ish, what are you getting on about? If...that one is there then I'm coming too." She smiled and said, "excuse us for a moment" and dragged me to the next room over before continuing in Nahuatl, "Bro, if something goes wrong I need one of us out here to make sure we can escape properly." I said, "But-" "Do you not have faith in my abilities" she interjected. I sighed and said, "How long?" She said, "I don't know." When she said that I felt an unfamiliar feeling.
I replied, "If you don't know isn't it better to wait. If you give me some time I'm sure that I could come up with a less drastic plan." She said, "Cay, it's been two years. Two God-awful years! Ever since he disappeared we've been looking everywhere and this is the first real lead that we have." "You think I don't know that?! Every single damn city that held some rumour of a young fire warlock has been nothing but dead end after dead end," I yelled back. She said, "Then you know why I can't let this chance slip by. Your plans are always full proof, but we don't know if he'll still be there by the time you've finished putting everything in order." I said, "I hate these cities." She said, "I hate them too."
I won't ever forget my sister's expression on that day. She had always been strong and noble, but by the end of that argument, she looked so tired. I had never seen that look on her face before and it was this expression that moved me to say, "Just promise me one thing." She said, "What?" I replied, "If it gets too dangerous and you feel as if your life is in danger, you will get out of there. I already have one missing sibling. I'd prefer not to lose both my siblings." She smiled and said, "I promise and besides, if I were to get into anything that dangerous Gael would force me out." At this I looked at the wolf tattoo that wrapped up her neck. Right I have nothing to worry about. Even if Ish isn't the most responsible one, I can count on Gael to make sure everything turns out okay.
When we entered the living room Ish sat down in front of Moustapha and I went back to leaning on the wall. She said, "Sorry about that, but let's get straight to the point this time." Moustapha said, "Of course. You were speaking of a bargain you wished to make?" She said, "In return for giving my brother food and lodging while I am away, my brother shall provide protection for your daughter."
At this, I saw something flash in the mouse's face, but it was gone so fast, I was sure I imagined it. He said, "Interesting proposal, but before I give my opinion, I want to see the boy's abilities. This is my daughter we are talking about, after all." He then turned to me and said, "Boy, follow me." "I am called Cay, not boy," I retorted as I followed him. He laughed and said, "Even if you do prove to have some fighting ability, you're still a boy."
The room he led us to was bare with a wooden floorboard, but large enough where we could move around while the girls could stand to the side without getting hit. Not that I had to worry with Ish there.
I unstrapped my tepoztopilli and took off the sheath on the top. This was my most prized position. An Aztec spear with an obsidian blade a foot long that was gifted to me by my father when I was three. At the time I couldn't even hold it up, but now it was an extension of my arm. It was also the only weapon that could serve as a conduit for my lightning power without breaking due to the spells engraved into it. It has served me well and I doubt that it will fail me now.
Moustafa took out two curved knives from his boots and said, "Let's start" before dashing at me with his knives. He was faster than I expected and I was barely able to block his attack with my tepoztopilli. He said, "Not bad, for a boy." I thought, As if I would let my emotions control me in a fight. Just who the hell do you think you're dealing with? I pushed him back and aimed my weapon at his neck, but he only backflipped out of the way.
He said, "Well I suppose I should up the playing field." At that, I felt a breeze and quickly created a thunder cloud that took me near the ceiling.
This reminded me of something Raiju had taught us. He said, "There exists two types of magic to humans. The first is the magic seen in those that call themselves warlocks and witches. These are the descendants of the fey or fair folk, as they prefer to be called. This is the sort of magic that Gabriel here has. It is wild and strong, but very limited to only one element, to which their fey relative belonged to. For example, Gabriel here is a fire warlock so it stands to reason that his relative was a fire faery and a powerful one too judging from his talent. In contrast, there is human magic. This is something that is inherited through the bloodlines of certain humans, such as Ishtar here. It is much more freer than the fey magic and it is near impossible to tell who has it unless they use it in front of you. This is the magic that the humans would tell stories of. The ability to fly, see spirits, and manipulate the world around them as they wished. For example, Gabriel may draw fire out of the air because there is a substance in the air that is flammable, but if he were in a damp area, it would be impossible. In contrast, a talented person with human magic could draw wind from a closed room with little wind. Even so, this too is limited to what is inherited within that specific bloodline. For example, Ishtar is of the Saoghal clan so she may manipulate the forest ,earth, and wind along with the standard magic of being able to change small things such as the length of her hair or removing stains from her clothes, but she will never move flames the way Gabriel can because it was not inherited by her bloodline."
Moustapha looked up and said, "I've seen a lot of different types of magic, but I've never seen magic quite like that." I said, "I wouldn't have expected you to, My magic is special and a hell of a lot different than anything you've ever seen." Moustapha had a contemplative look and then said, "I see...you pass." After which he put his knives back in his boots and walked right out without a backward glance. I took away my thunder cloud and dropped to the floor in a crouch and said, "What just happened?" Ish said, "Not sure, but I think you just gained his approval."
At that, I could of sworn I felt a glare from the mouse, but it was gone so fast I was sure I imagined it and when I turned to look at her she avoided my gaze and looked at her feet. I thought, This shouldn't prove to be too difficult. I can figure out what the deal with this city is, let off some steam by beating up some warlocks, and come up with a good escape route for when Ish gets out with Gabriel.
When we got back out, we asked Moustapha for directions to a nearby bar and he asked, "How old are you two?" Ish said, "16" and I replied, "19." He asked, "And where are you two from again?" We both said, "The Outlands." He sighed a long-suffering sigh and said, "Listen kids, I know that Outlanders do things a little differently, but here there are rules and laws that have to be obeyed. And one of them is no minors in bars and a minor is any person, regardless of species under the age of 21. Understand?" Ish said, "But we're not from here." He said, "No, you both aren't, but that one-" He pointed at me then continued, "will be living under my roof and you will be headed to the inner-city where the rules are even harsher than here." Ish said, "Inner-city?" He sighed and said, "Katya, would you please explain to these two the way this city works. Talking to these two is giving me a headache."
The mouse said, "Yes baba. This city is like a multilayered circle. The area we are in now is the outer-city and the outer-city is divided into five sections. The section where you had your hotel is called Magi. It is the home to the warlocks and witches. To the right of that there is the vampire sector, better known as Crimson Moon. To the left of Magi, and the sector we currently reside in is Fang, the territory of the shifters. To the left of Fang, we have New Moon, this is the only sector of the outer-city that is directly ruled by a noble family. That family is the Shadow clan. It is also the only sector that provides a safe haven for demons and true fey. The fifth sector is called "The Square." It is called that because it is the area closest to the wall that divides the inner-city from the outer-city. It is in the inner-city that the most talented live and among those talented, there are those who we call Nobles. Despite how chaotic things can get in the outer-city, the Nobles are the ones who hold the real power, but unless you directly break one of their laws or do something to catch their attention, they tend to stay out of outer-city business. The place they had taken you to was the inner city. While there, I suggest that you do your utmost to avoid any nobles and if you do cross their path, play the fool."
I gave Ish a look that said, "You sure you want to do this?" And she gave me a smirk that said, "And here I was thinking I was going to be bored. This sounds like fun." Ish then said, "Very well, but this will be the first time that us siblings will be apart for so long and we'd like to celebrate before we part." Moustapha said, "A couple blocks down to the right, there's a dinner open 24 hours. Will that work?" Ish said, "Perfectly."
That night was the first one in a long time that I felt as if we were acting our age. We ate a giant meal and laughed and talked like the days before Gabriel disappeared. Despite it all, the feeling I felt earlier kept persisting and it was only as I was going to sleep in my new room that I recognized the feeling. It was fear