The City of Attilan
Then (4 years ago)
“He loved you girl, don't you forget that.”
An old woman offered comfort, a bony wrist on her shoulder squeezing. A body lay still on the pyre, a man with a full beard and a small smile even in death. At the front of the crowd, a giant machine, one that hummed with energy. An incinerator.
A young woman was at the front of the large gathering, standing alone in the special place reserved for family. Her Uncle, all she had left in the world had now left her too. Tears fell unashamedly down her cheeks. She was far too young to see such sadness, was the sentiment in the crowd. Barely sixteen and already an adult.
Behind her, the words of the crowd fell on deaf ears.
“A Good man. Possibly the best of us.”
“A leader and light in these dark times.”
“-impossible to go on without him.”
The crowd assembled for the death ceremony of her Uncle was by no means small. Greer Tam was a well loved man in the lower caste. Honest and hardworking and with a great booming laugh that was as infectious as it was humorous, there were many who loved him. But no one he loved more than his niece. When his sister had fallen pregnant by an unnamed man and their parents had rejected her, Greer had taken it upon himself to care for them both.
Childbirth had taken his sister, the babe- a girl- born healthy with a dark swathe of hair and bright blue eyes, had besotted him immediately. He raised her like his own daughter and watched with pride as she grew into a young woman both kind and beautiful with the fiery spirit of his sister in her eyes.
But now she was alone. A mining accident had taken Greer Tam from his community and from his family. An accident that could have been easily avoided with proper preventative measure and even the smallest bit of medical care.
But that was impossible, the lowest caste had no access to these things and the Royal family couldn't be bothered to implement the changes necessary to keep them safe.
It only added to the unrest in the community, whispers of dissent were already beginning to surface. ‘If only there was someone to get inside the palace’ they said,’ All we would need is one night…’
“Greer Tam was a great man! Who here among us is to send him to the stars?” Elder Panaleer, with his dark eyes and slivered temples- called out from where he stood near the body. It was time.
Somehow Rhea found her voice, she stepped forward. “I am Rhea Tam!” she called, turning to face the crowd. Dressed in her nicest dress, soft blue and worn with time, she spoke strongly and met their approving stares, “Daughter of Hanna Tam the Seamstress the the and Niece of Greer Tam the Miner!”
“He was my Uncle by birth but he raised me as his own when my Mother departed from us! I love him dearly,” her eyes were misty when she finally brought herself to look down at at body of her Uncle- her father. “I loved him dearly, and he will be missed!”
The Crowd made their approval known, their love and support voiced in the form of applause and cries of solidarity.
Rhea approached the great incinerator as her Uncle’s body was hoisted up by four bearers-young men who had answered the call. Three of them she had asked personally, but the fourth had volunteered.
He was one of her Uncle's biggest critics and their debates in the square of the Lower City never failed to draw large crowds. Part of this was of course due to his lineage. Maximus Boltagon- brother of the King and member of the inner circle- was a man like no other. Intelligent and cunning, he was somewhat of a black sheep within the upper castes. They every since his terrigenesis rendered him human, he had been rejected. But in the Lower Caste where everyone lived as quasi- human, hoping for a favorable terregenesis, Maximus was welcomed. It also didn't hurt that he never acted as if he were better than them, in fact he treated everyone as equal to himself. Rhea respected that and she respected him. So when he came to her Dwelling, the day after the news of Greer’s death had been broken and asked to be chosen as one of the body bearers, she had said yes.
As he passed her, he met her eyes and nodded with respect. There was no pity in there, only the same regret as her, the same sadness. She returned his gesture with a single jerky motion, blinking back more tears. It wasn't fair, it simply wasn't fair.
When the body of her Uncle was loaded into the incinerator, laden with flowers and offerings, tokens of respect, Rhea breathed deeply.
“I send you to the Stars, Greer Tam. And I pray that someday we shall meet again.” She said loudly, speaking the last lines in the Final Utterance.
She plucked the deep blue bloom from her hair and laid it on his chest, “Good by Uncle Greer, I’ll keep my promise...I swear.” she whispered her parting words, as was her right as his closest relative.
The Door to the incinerator was shut with finality and Elder Panaleer turned to the crowd, hands clasped, “Greer Tam!” he spoke loudly, his voice carrying over the assembled masses.
One by one everyone spoke her Uncle’s name, some whispered it, some shouted it so loud it seemed to echo around them. This was the final goodbye, everyone said the name of the departed in whatever tone they felt that they had been impacted by them.
All around her, people spoke her Uncle’s name, with respect, love, sorrow. There were many that shouted it, feeling as if the man who had been larger than life left an impact that shook the very city itself. Others whispered it quietly, sadly, remembering the times of quiet council that he had provided.
Amongst the Din, Rhea pressed the smooth, cool button that would ignite the incinerator. The Machine roared to life all at once, the fire within a bright blue. The body inside was quickly consumed, smoke and bright ash from the exhaust pipe at the top of the machine floating upwards to the night sky. By the time it reached the borders of the sky field, it would've dissipated harmlessly.
Turning from it, she faced the crowd.
Rhea accepted the well wishes and condolences from the gathered people. Their sympathy was with her then, she was well loved and well respected by them.
They parted like water to make way for her. As she passed there were people who touched her shoulder, her hair. All murmuring sympathies and apologies. Rhea nodded through them all, their words falling on deaf ears.
They meant well, she knew, but all she wanted at that moment was the comfort of her own home. The house that was once a family home- one that she shared with her Uncle- was now just hers. No one walked with her this time, the community would prepare the feast, the celebration. Rhea’s attendance was up to her. No one would force her to go, respecting her right to grieve but they would also hope she would attend, choosing to celebrate her Uncle’s life instead of mourning his death.
Approaching her small house, Rhea stopped fully at the sight of three royal guards waiting around the entrance. They turned and stared at her as she approached.
“What is the meaning of this?” she asked carefully, wiping the tears from her eyes. wiping the tears from her cheeks. .
“Rhea Tam,” their leader, his status noted by the white stripes on his right sleeve, addressed her in a bored manner, “We are here to escort you to the genesis ceremony. Do not resist, please come with us.”
Rhea blanched, “Today was my Uncle’s death day Sir surely you would let me miss this one, allow me to be tested with the next group of potentials.” Her voice trembled as she explained. Yes she had turned sixteen today but there should have been some sort of exception. A member of the family was always present during one’s terregenesis, she should have been allowed time to find someone willing to stand in for her Uncle.
The Guard gave no indication he heard her. “Please!” she pleaded again, “At least let me change my clothes, don't make me attend my own terregenesis in a mourning dress.”
“Take her,” he motioned to the other two-each one taking one of her arms and forcing her along, away from the sanctuary of her home and away from the remembrance feast that would take place in a few short moments. “The rules change for no one Ms. Tam, especially not for mining dogs and their ilk.”
Rhea struggled in their grasp, the two men snickering at her weak attempts. The one on her left grinned down at her, “Shouldn't struggle like that sweetheart, especially not in that dress. You're giving us quite a view.” He leered as his eyes wandered down her chest and into the neckline of her dress, fallen forward due to their grasp on her arms.
Rhea gasped and flushed, embarrassment and shame flooding her veins. “Let me go! I can walk on my own!” she demanded, pulling against their grasp.
Their laughter was her only reward, both men chuckling as she pulled against them.
“Knock it off Adan, Bors. Let her go if she’s cooperative.” Their leader, the one who walked paces ahead of them turned to reprimand them.
Clearly not pleased, the guard and his friend let her go. Rhea rubbed her arms, already imagining the dark splotches that would bruise with time. Finially free from the rough grips of the men, she kept pace with them quietly.
The streets were still filled with lingering crowds from her Uncle’s remembrance and people helping to prepare for the feast.
When they saw her and realized what she was being taken for, whispers of dissent and anger followed.
“On Greer’s Death Day no less-”
“They couldn't have waited-”
“Ignorant of our plight-”
“That poor girl.”
Rhea closed her eyes against their stares, already she felt the need to cry well up inside her again. But she wouldn't, her Uncle would want her to show strength.
So, spine straightened and expression blank, Rhea walked with a proud gait. She would finish mourning her Uncle when she returned from the ceremony but while she was there, in the presence of the Royal Family, she would make him proud.
“What's your name?” The girl ahead of her turned to ask. They were all standing in the antechamber adjacent to the Throne room, nearly eight young prospects in total. The Ceremony would take place family by family and most had two children and several family members with them as witness. It was the way things had been done for centuries. Terrigenesis was the pride of Attilan, everyone who was not inhuman, not powered, hoped and prayed for a favourable transformation.
Celebrations of powers were common in the mining caste when one of their own was blessed. Her Uncle would have been here with her, overjoyed that her 16th nameday had finally come. He would have dressed in his finest trousers and shoes, wore the shirt she had bought him for his birthday, and danced the entire way to the palace.
A fond expression worked its way onto her face before it quickly turned mournful. He would have been so happy...but he was not here. She would never hear his booming laugh or see the warmth in his eyes when he spoke to her again. He was gone. He was gone. Rhea took a deep shuddering breath as her eyes prickled with tears. Looking down, the blue of her dress seemed to blur from the water in her eyes.
“Hey,” Lost in her thoughts, Rhea hadnt yet answered the girl in line ahead of her. She looked quickly to the voice as the question was repeated “ What’s your name?” It was strange, that the girl dared to speak to her. They were from very different castes, mining and textiles respectively. From the look of the girl’s clothes-a Deep green tunic embossed with gold thread- she and her family were upper caste manufacturers. Her uncle would have been both proud and worried.
Thinking about him, it was hard not to cry. Shaking herself out of the pain, the memories, Rhea quickly swiped at her eyes. Introducing herself with only the barest hint of a crack in her voice she feigned a small smile, “Sorry about that, I was...thinking.” She tried a smile on for the girl, who was quickly growing concerned. “What’s your name?” The girl smiled, small and hesitant in the face of Rhea’s unshed tears, “I’m Linn, are- are you okay? You look like you’re having a rough day.” Rhea tried again for a more convincing smile, attempting to put the girl at ease.
“Oh me? Yeah..Im fine. Just..Im just nervous about my terrigenesis.”
Linn brightened, her eyes curving closed when she smiled. “No need to be nervous! My mother says that no matter your caste, everyone always gets at least one transformation- even if they don't realize it.” She seemed younger than Rhea by at least a year even though they were all the same age. Rhea assumed that this was simply due to the life she had lived. Nearby a similar looking woman and man stood with a young boy and older woman.
The older man and woman as well as the elder scowled at her. Linn waved back, her smile sheepish, “That’s my family,” she explained, “My parents, brother and my grandmother. Don't mind them, they're old fashioned. I don't care about caste.” Rhea felt a pang of shame, and the heady flush of anger. , “they look excited for you, is nice they all came.” Linn giggled, “I wouldn't have been able to keep them away. My mother’s more excited to be here than she was to be at my eighth matriculation.” Her own matriculation, when she was nearly fourteen, was attended by Uncle too. Unlike Linn’s mother it seemed, he was nearly uncontained in his pride. Despite it being a very common and compulsory part of growing up on ttilan- a child’s graduation ceremony- Greer had treated it like it was the most singular and special event in his niece's life. Looking around the room, the wide circle that held them all, Linn furrowed her brow. “Is there someone here with you?”
Taking a steadying breath, Rhea tried to keep the deep ache at bay. “My,” she cleared her throat against the welling pain, “My Uncle would have been here...but his...he...he died.” Linn’s eyes widened, her hand flying up to her mouth, “Oh God, Im so sorry! I wouldn't have asked if I had known.” Rhea nodded, she understood. “Its okay, his remembrance ceremony was today..” she whispered, almost unable to utter the words. “Oh that’s awful….and they still made you come here?” Linn asked softly, gasping when she nodded, “This is why the lower castes are so resentful. The people here don't even respect our culture.” As she spoke, she leaned in, making sure to drop her voice so they wouldn't be overheard. “The rules change for no one,” Rhea shrugged, “I can't expect them to.” Her uncle would have understood too, he loved the royal family, the system. He wouldn't have wanted her to wait either. He would have wanted her to go even if the timing was less than acceptable. She wished he was here.
“You’re very gracious about it all,” Linn stated with some finality, “I don't know what I would do if it were me…” Silence reigned over the conversation as both girls fall quiet. Trying to fill the silence, Rhea spoke.
“Do have an idea of what Terrigenesis you want?” “Definitely flying! My grandfather was a flier so I think I have a pretty good chance!” Her voice was high as she spoke, hands gesturing excitedly. “Im hoping for wings, but levitation is good too. What about you? What kind of Terrigenesis are you hoping for Rhea?” This wasn't a new question for her, from the moment a child could understand the word terrigenesis they were inundated with it. Questions of what and how important were tossed around as one might throw a ball. Horror stories of disappointment and regrets and the terrible fate of a bad mutation were quite normal bedtime stories. Unfortunately, Rhea had never really known what she wanted from her terrigenesis. She had turned it over and over in her head and even after nearly sixteen years of thinking, she had no idea.
Just as she was about to answer, to make something up to placate the girl, she heard her name.
“Number 23, Mining Caste, Rhea Tam.” An attendant at the exit of the room and the entrance to the Grand Hall called out. Rhea smiled apologetically, “That's me,” Rhea said and was startled when the girl suddenly hugged her. “I’ll see you later?” she asked after she was released. Linn grinned, “Yeah! We’ll meet up and talk about our terrigenesis! It was nice to meet you Rhea!”
She would have responded but she was already being ushered forward. The doors of the antechamber shut behind her with a soft hiss. “Step Forward.” The call was from the front of the room, councilman Kitang stood to the left of the raised dais that held the King and his inner circle. The King and Queen regarded her with kind expressions but they could have simply been hiding their boredom behind their false smiles. Too, it was clear that the royal advisor Carnak as well as Gorgon had immediately dismissed her, conversing among themselves once they had sized her up. She was short, wore threadbare garments, and her long hair hung limp. People of the mining caste didn't receive much in the way of personal grooming items if they weren't the bare bones necessities.
The Throne room was not empty either. No, in the presence of the Royal family was also the genetic council and a few royal guards. Behind the King stood Maximus, he was half hidden from her by the terrigenesis chamber on the left, but she saw him nonetheless. He offered her a small encouraging smile, nothing but a subtle quirk of the lips. But she saw it, the glass sections of the Chamber offering some sight of him. Even if they were not friends-not really- his encouragement helped to strengthen her resolve.
Rhea walked at a steady pace, trying to keep her head among so many. For the first time in her life, she was aware of herself, her lower quality clothes, her long hair tied back in a simple pony tail. But she refused to let those things make her feel lesser. Squaring her shoulders, she walked with purpose straight and tall until she stood at the traditional place next to the terrigenesis chamber. If her uncle had been here, he would have stood with her on the left while the genetic council stood on the right.
The King noticed this.
“Where is her family, her witnesses, Kitang??” The Queen spoke for The King, his hand signs curious and concerned. Even Gorgon and Karnak paused in their quiet exchange to listen.
Councilman Kitang glanced at the datapad in his hands, “Well Your Grace-”
“I have no family Your Grace, My King” Rhea felt the heat of the Council Head's glare on her when she interrupted addressing both the King and Queen, “My mother died in her birthing bed, and my father was a mystery. The man who raised me, my Uncle, passed away two nights ago.” The King met her eyes, sincerity in his expression as he signed, “I am sorry for your losses then. You are very strong to have answered the call so soon after his passing.” The Queen’s voice sounded as sincere as the King looked and looking into her eyes, Rhea could tell that she too meant it. Refusing to cry in their presence, Rhea nodded simply, “Thank you your Majesties.”
It would do her no good to speak the truth, how she was forced here and given on quarter in her participation in her own terrigenesis. It would only complicate matters.
A hand touched her arm, “Step into the chamber child,” the source was an older woman, a member of the genetic council. “When you emerge you will be with your true family.” Rhea supposed her words were intended to be taken as comfort but as she felt was anger. Her true family had been taken from her! He died in a mining accident that they had been unwilling to prevent!
The furious intensity must had shown in her eyes because the council woman took a hasty step back. Rhea heard the words ‘mining savage’ muttered under her breath. The Nerve of these people! If only they knew life in the lower caste, then they would not be so quick to hold them in contempt. And at that moment, she knew what she wished her terrigenesis to be.
Giving those around her a brief, small smile, Rhea stepped into the chamber.
She closed her eyes when the door shut, the machine humming to life. She stood calmly as the air began to hiss, the crystal activating and its heavy fog pooling at her feet. It was only when the opaque smoke began to rise that Rhea knew something was wrong. She tried to take a deep breath and in doing so found the problem
The Smoke within the chamber was choking her. White and humid and tasting of ash, Rhea pressed a hand over her mouth and nose to stop herself from breathing it in too deeply. ‘That’s something they never tell you’ she thought, ‘what the chamber was like’. It felt like a tomb.
As the smoke reached capacity in the tiny vertical coffin, Rhea felt a numbing sensation begin to overtake her. It began at her toes and fingertips, so severe it was hard for her to remember she even had those extremities.
Panic flooded her senses and Rhea lifted her hands to her face, trying to feel something, all she saw was the smoke. Its thick white glow enveloping her hands, seeming to emanate from her very skin.
All the while, the numbness continued to climb. The feeling left her arms and calves, her shoulders and thighs. The air was getting thicker,it felt like she was breathing water.
Rhea gasped loudly, sounding strangled. She pressed a hand to the glass of the chamber weakly, her knees beginning to waver. She could no longer feel anything. The numbness seized her mind and her heart.
Distantly, she heard Maximus, “Something is wrong...stop the process.” Kitang looked to the King hesitantly, “My King, should we intervene?” She floated away from her body, looking at the unfolding scene from above them all. The King met his brothers eyes, his free hand signing seriously. Medusa’s voice was calm, cutting, “Wait. We do not yet know if it is an effect of her terregenesis; The transformation cannot be interrupted.” Wanting to say more, but unwilling to give himself away, especially infront of the Genetic Council and Inhumans like Gorgon and Karnak Maximus held his silence. Yet, the concern on his face was clear as day.
The Queen raised a brow at his concern. It wasn't like Maximus to become so agitated for a simple girl from the mining caste. Too, it was unlike him to move against Black Bolt so openly, the vehement challenge to the King’s words evident in his disposition.
Maximus exhaled sharply through his nose,shrugging the King’s hand off him. “We may not have a chance to find out! Look at her!” He spoke softly, brows furrowed as he looked at the chamber, only Rhea’s small hand visible against the thick smoke. She was suffocating, that much was clear. Unable to remain still any longer, he took a dangerous step forward. The King shook his head once and motioned to Gorgon. The cloven guard was more than happy to place a warning hand on Maximus’ shoulder, his raw strength preventing the smaller man from moving. The need to close her eyes, even as she was floating away from it all, was unrelenting. The numbness that she had felt in her body was fading, but so was everything else.
As an afterthought, she realized that the all-consuming grief that was her Uncle’s death no longer haunted her. It was peaceful, quiet. She was no longer choking on her pain, drowning in loneliness. She wanted to slip away.
“What do you want?” A voice, whispered in her head. She would have looked around if she could.
“What do you want, Rhea Tam?” If she was conscious enough, she would have put more thought into her answer.
“I want them to understand..."
Almost in an instant, the smoke in the chamber seemed to be sucked into her body, leaving the air within clean and clear. Rhea was pulled, almost by a tether, back into her body. Strength returned to her in waves, the numbness that had paralyzed her receded and vanished. In her mind, she saw her gift. She saw her potential.
The door hissed open. No one in that room had ever seen such a transformation, and one that had no physical changes nonetheless! Well, no changes save one. It was cosmetic, a streak of pale, pale blonde in her otherwise dark brown hair. An effect of her transformation perhaps..?
Rhea met the eyes of everyone in the room, there was wisdom there, and power. No one knew what it was yet potential, but they recognized it. A New Inhuman had been born.
Councilman Kitang’s voice was hesitant, “You-you may Step out and Fully Reveal Yourself.”
Within Rhea’s mind, a battle was taking place between the girl she was a the one that had emerged. When she had been pulled back into her body, her grief threatened to suffocate her. Her Uncle was still gone, he would never know about her terrigenesis. He would never have a chance to express his joy at seeing her climb in caste. He would have been so proud.
Looking around the room, everyone within was surrounded by their own personal aura. Some were pretty, color and pulsating light. Others, the servants of lower caste were grey, dead. Most of the royal guard had bright fiery auras, The Genetic Council members all had aura of different colors, their gifts.
Around herself, she could see a thin translucent aura of the purest white, it whispered and breathed around her, nearly alive. She knew if she concentrated, she could extend it all around her, encompassing the colored aura’s of those around her.
Looking down at her hands, watching the white glow wax and wane like the tides of earth, she spoke softly. “Power Negation.” She looked up sharply, meeting the eyes of the King. Already, it was dawning on her the magnitude of her gift.
Unable to run, to go backwards or hide, she confronted the moment, faced it, took that first step forward.
“I can inhibit the powers of other Inhumans.”