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Home > Before She Ignites (Fallen Isles Trilogy #1)

Before She Ignites (Fallen Isles Trilogy #1)
Author: Jodi Meadows


BEFORE

 

 

Sarai 15, 2204 FG


THE LAST DAY OF MY REAL LIFE BEGAN WITH DISASTER.

The ground gave a brief jerk, and everything shifted: a glass of water, the large family portrait, and my soul when I thought about all the lives affected by the abrupt movement of the world.

Less than an hour after the incident, I was placed before a crowd assembled outside the white-columned council house, a sheet of paper clutched in my hands. Councilors Elbena and Bilyana stood at my sides, two pillars of strength and authority, but every eye was trained on me.

“There she is.” A woman lifted a small girl to see. “Hopebearer.”

“Mira Minkoba. The Mira.”

“She looks beautiful.”

I tried not to smile, though the compliment pleased me. Immediately after the tremor, Mother had sent me upstairs to don a coral-colored dress, with thin straps that left my shoulders bare to the summer sun; already, my skin prickled and warmed into a deeper shade of brown. My maid had unpinned my hair so that it fell in long, loose waves, then crowned me with a wreath of lala flowers that Mother said reminded everyone of my youth and innocence. The effort to straighten my hair was wasted, though; humidity was already bringing the curls back to life.

Then another girl said, “I want to be her.”

My expression of detached pleasantness faltered and I dropped my eyes to the paper I’d been given. The words were there. All I had to do was use them.

I drew a steadying breath and counted. Twenty people in the front row. Twice that in the second. Twelve columns on this face of the council house. At last, my thoughts calmed.

“People of Crescent Prominence.” I cleared my expression of everything but what was appropriate for the occasion of delivering distantly upsetting news. “The tremor you felt earlier is reported to have come from Idris. We felt it here; it must have been incredibly disrupting there.”

Most people glanced westward, probably thinking of the immense space between our islands. Idris was on the far side of the Fallen Isles, shaped like a man bent over in prayer or anguish. The Silent Brothers ruled there, keeping the people almost completely isolated. They traded little. They traveled less. I couldn’t imagine how they’d recover from an earthquake that big.

“Is there a landslide threat?” A woman held her palms against her chest as if to ease the pounding of her heart.

I glanced at the paper, even though I’d read it already. “It’s the rainy season there, so a landslide is likely. There’s a wave threat as well. All the western islands are under watch.” That excluded us. Damina was the easternmost Fallen Isle.

“Is there anything we can do for them?” a man asked.

The Mira Treaty meant all islands were required to provide aid in times of crisis, but it was the way of our gods to offer help without being asked.

“That’s uncertain.” I consulted the paper again. The words written there fit easily into my mouth. “The Silent Brothers may decline assistance, as they have in the past.”

I’d met a Silent Brother only once, and the interaction had been brief. He hadn’t been unfriendly, but I’d gotten the impression that Brother Ilyas disapproved. Of me. Of the treaty my father had written. Of Damina and all the other islands. Of everything.

“What if their government doesn’t accept our help?” someone asked. “We can’t just let their people suffer.”

“I’m afraid we won’t have a choice.” Because The Book of Love said that loving our neighbors meant staying out of their business when they didn’t want us, we had to accept it. “The Mira Treaty does not permit unwanted assistance. That would be invasion, not aid.”

The people shifted uncomfortably. No one liked to hear that their attempts to do good could actually be harmful.

A breeze lifted across the square, carrying the scents of fresh rice bread and spiced cloudfish. Palm trees rustled and swayed, and in the distance, waves crashed on the rocky cliffs. Goats bleated from farms and the nearby marketplace, and Water Street bustled with carriages and foot traffic. It was hard to reconcile the peace of Crescent Prominence with the devastation happening in another part of the world.

I closed my eyes and imagined children covered in dust and debris, tears making muddy tracks down their cheeks. I imagined men and women struggling to lift rubble off their neighbors. I imagined others searching for loved ones, only to find bodies whose spirits had already evacuated.

“We will offer assistance.” I glanced at Councilor Elbena, who disguised a nod by tucking a tightly curled strand of hair behind her ear. The golden sunburst pendant on her throat shimmered in the midmorning light, bright against the umber of her skin. “As for whether the Silent Brothers accept—we can only pray they do.”

My paper held the answers to a few more of their questions, and finally, I stepped aside while High Priest Valko said a prayer to Damyan and Darina, the god and goddess of love.

“Give us peace. Give us grace. Give us enough love in our hearts.”

An incredible quiet surrounded his voice; only the sounds of breathing, seagulls calling, and clothes rustling in the wind touched the square. Distantly, human activity hummed along, and life proceeded as though this was the only moment that mattered.

That was an uncharitable thought. Life couldn’t halt everywhere because of a tragedy in one place. But oh, my heart hurt for people I’d never know, in places I’d never see.

High Priest Valko finished with a blessing, echoed by everyone in attendance: “By the Upper Gods who stayed in the stars, and the Fallen Gods who came to Noore, we offer our thanks. Cela, cela.”

With those words, my part in this disaster was finished. I returned to Elbena and Bilyana.

“Wonderful,” Elbena said, hugging me. “The Luminary Council is so fortunate to have you ready to speak for us, Mira. Thank you for continuing to put the Mira Treaty first in your life.”

I’d never been given a choice about it, but Elbena’s approval was always welcome. She was such an admirable person, always willing to help and inspire. Only ten years older than me, she already held one of the highest positions in Damina. I liked her ambition.

When they finished complimenting my execution of duties, I approached my parents, who were waiting near the council house door. Anticipation simmered within me.

“Well done,” Father said. “You’ll make a fine politician one day.”

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