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THE LAND OF THE SONS OF ENKY

CIRCLE 4500, QUARTER 1

AKYTA DRYAD

 

I never dreamed I’d become an insurgent, much less one untethered by time. Who would choose to spend their lives fighting? Before the war broke out, all I cared for was continuing my research: my fingers raking through the warm earth, not closed in a white-knuckled grip around a plane’s yoke. Yet in times of crisis, one’s priorities can shift quicker than the ground beneath their feet.

Even now, waiting at the beginning of time, I fight to preserve the legacy of my people. The Empire could still discern our whereabouts at any moment, no matter how well I cover my tracks. And the headhunters are made dull by their greed. They would never think to consider the implications of killing me. Then again… could it be that the Empire has? In half a circle, I give birth to my son, delivering my own nation. Enky, spinning in my womb, is the cornerstone of their civilization. The blood of my ancestors-- his descendants-- bonds it together like mortar. They have every reason to keep me alive. At least until their future is secured. Maybe someday I’ll have to use that knowledge as insurance.

But I’ll drive myself insane dwelling over it. For now, the most that I can do is to keep myself healthy, and to wait. Half a circle is a long time. I was prepared to become a soldier, but I scarcely imagined so much would hinge upon my becoming a mother. 

A friend once told me that living well was the greatest revenge. Knowing what I know now, I’d go even further. Perhaps it’s living itself that is the most radical action.

 

---

 

THE LAND OF THE SONS OF ENKY

CIRCLE 4494, QUARTER 3

ARGUS PYTEL

 

Argus jumps to her on impulse. He’s never been sentimental for his Enkie roots-- not when they’d get an Imperial agent like him imprisoned, or worse-- and yet something he can’t place still tugs him there. Simple curiosity; some fatalistic instinct still lingering in his blood; he doesn’t know and suspects he never will. With nothing left behind him and only his final fate ahead, he allows the urge to carry him backward. And so the time hurtles away. 

In an instant his feet touch the ground. The moment he’s aware again, the damp, fragrant smell of fresh earth fills his lungs: strong enough that he can almost taste it on the back of his tongue. It never struck Argus that he might forget the scent of the land, but after so many years off the surface and on the Empire’s territory, is it really that much of a surprise? The hills and valleys of the motherland stretch all around him in every direction, green and brown and red and gold with the harvest season in its fullness, smelling of turned leaves, rich and dark dirt. It’s overwhelming. He can hardly bear it, wavering on his feet like some cub on their first jump. Enough: he closes his eyes and inhales deeply. The breeze ripples, cool, refreshing, through his fur. Gathered up at last, he takes a first step forward. 

For ages he walks through that sea of color, leaves crunching softly underfoot. Fortunately for him, the Enkie settlement-- distance aside-- isn’t difficult to find. And as dumb luck would have it, Akyta Dryad is already waiting outside one of the roughly-hewn cabins. With a rifle in her lap, of course. Her ear twitches, and she cants her head to the side as he approaches. 

“You certainly kept me waiting, Pytel.”

He raises a hand in surrender. “I’m not here to hunt you, Dryad.”

“I know. Hardly any reason for that left, now, is there?” She smiles grimly. “Still, I feel better with the insurance.” 

Argus raises a brow. “So I’m not your first visitor.”

“No,” she replies quickly. Dryad stands, shouldering the gun, and for a long moment her gaze is locked on his own. She answers, unblinking. “But I don’t intend to take any chances.” 

The defiant light of a fugitive still gleams in her eye. He never related to that, so he hasn’t got an answer that’s polite enough. Instead, Argus grunts in vague assent and scratches his muzzle. “I trust I jumped far enough ahead. Where’s the boy?”

Her guard, and the stare, drops in a second flat. For the first time-- as a small figure stomps behind them, rustling clumsily through the autumn leaves-- he sees Akyta Dryad’s face soften. It never occurred to him that she might still smile. 

“Turn around.” 

 

---

 

IMPERIAL BASE

ABOVE MIRAGE MOUNTAIN

CIRCLE 1317, QUARTER 2

ARGUS PYTEL

 

I remained at the house of ENKY for three days. But don’t misunderstand my intentions as religious devotion, or an attempt to reconnect with my heritage, or some misguided act of penance. Dryad was a survivor, and so was Enky: they didn’t need a lick of help from some Collaborationist traitor to make it through that winter, or the next, or however many more the two of them have left on this earth. 

In truth, it was selfishness.

When I turned around then, I didn’t see a prophet. I saw Dryad’s son Enky, bright and carefree. He greeted me with a smile that pulled me backward-- before this dirty political business, before I could even comprehend the differences between myself and the true children of the Empire. It was innocence. And perhaps, knowing I am to die here, giving meaning to my father’s own death, I wanted to remember once more what that innocence felt like. 

As I prepare to board the Cobalt King, I know we can't change a damn thing. I always knew my father to be rational-- cold, even-- and so have I inherited his sense of brutal, merciless reality. In Circle 0, the Enkies will still be exterminated; in a few short weeks, my father will seek blood for blood, and I’ll still be the one to shoot him out of the air. But for the Layil Empire, this is still the beginning of the end. I take peace in that, knowing that their destruction is sure to follow my own. And so, with Enky’s blood in my veins, I endure this. I can walk to my death with my head held high. 

Until that bullet pierces my skull, I defy them... for a little while longer, I live.