The sun rides high, but Juna’s hand sticks to mine as she speaks to the guard outside the wall. His eyes roam the cloth that covers her blindness and prickle over my shoulders and lank, long hair. We are dusty and footsore from the road, can count all our ribs. No food since yesterday morning, no water since nightfall. The guard only filled our waterskin because he couldn’t understand Juna’s raspy whispers.
“We’ve been on the road days,” Juna says, her accent smoothed and fitted with the man’s nuances. “My sister, Anelli, and I were separated from our caravan.” After a pause, she adds, “She cannot hear or speak.”
We’ve practiced the lie again and again. I can’t lose the city accent, so Juna talks for us both. If we told the truth, that I found her two years ago in the rubble of our city, they’d know our curse and run us out of town.
This man is wider than the two of us doubled, his meaty arms folded over a worn tunic. He frowns, but his blue eyes have not yet settled on distrust. I imagine him, briefly, as Juna has told me people appear to her Sight: a flaming column rippling with indecisive colors, orange and green. Her curse is sometimes beautiful.
“We’re stout,” Juna says, dropping my hand and giving her best attempt at standing with her feet apart, which only emphasizes her frailty, “and hard workers. Anelli is the best.”
She looks at me when she says this, and I nod, staring at the cracked clay between my feet and clasping my hands together. I know many people are watching us from the ramparts and the chinks in the wall. I’m only fourteen and can close my fingers round my biceps, but in crowds people give me a berth, and grown men have fled from my stare. Maybe they sense my curse like dogs sense danger.
“We only ask shelter for a few nights, ‘til we can rejoin our family.”
Here Juna lets her lip tremble and reaches for me. I put an arm around her and fit her head under my chin. Peering meekly from her hair, I skim the guard’s face, then dare a glance at the scouts on the wall above.
“Where did you say the caravan was headed?” the man asks, shifting his weight.
“Verdigris,” Juna says.
We’ve studied my worn map, and we know the road to Verdigris doesn’t pass directly before this settlement; he can’t confirm the lie.
He scratches his head, sizes us up. I’m thankful that Juna is two years younger, still a child. She rests a tense hand on my forearm. I’d like to know who’s behind the wall, whether this is a settlement of families or a warrior outpost.
“Boy!” calls the man over his shoulder, “bring out the Finder.”
At the word my body bristles. Juna, beside me, flares for only a second. Nausea rocks my stomach, but I hold myself still and dumb.
A door opens on the side of the wall, and a boy my age leads out a woman in chains. Her deep-hooded robe hides her face. The boy tugs back the hood so it falls around her shoulders. Dark bruises color her cheeks.
Juna takes my hand. A small spark discharges between us. I rub her fingers, the only assurance I can give.
“Stand apart,” the guard orders. Then, pointing to Juna, “Her first.”
The Finder reaches toward her, manacled hands pausing, palm up, half a foot from Juna’s face. The woman sways, her eyes unfocused. A crackle of energy leaves her hands. Juna must see a column of white light.
“Take off your blind,” says the Finder, revealing broken teeth.
Juna’s fingers shake as she reaches for it.
I start toward Juna, my cursed sister, and the guard’s hand comes down hard on my shoulder. The touch takes me off guard, and I jolt him, hard enough to piss him off but not to knock him down. My own curse.
“Demon!” he shouts.
I leap away. An arrow thuds into the spot where I stood.
“Juna!” I call.
She shrinks from the Finder. Her skin begins to glow. Too late.
Before her, the woman and boy fall to their knees. Then the guard goes down.
I’m washed in warmth, but to me it’s harmless. The scouts on the ramparts shout. They put their hands to their nostrils and find blood. Then they scream and roll. The Finder’s body convulses. At the center of the wave is Juna, brilliant white. Juna’s beautiful curse.
“Enough!” I scream, running to her side. As soon as I touch her, the light shoots out of her like a star, and she collapses against me.
“Aneh,” she whispers.
I sling her arm across my shoulders and urge her forward. It won’t take long for the people on the other side of the wall, the ones who aren’t dead, to chase us. They’ll follow us over the ridge and into the dry country, and then they’ll leave us to the sand.
Another black X on my map. We’re as good as dead if this continues. Before us is desert, behind us a trail of cities in ruins.
A/N: This came from a flash prompt for “Outsiders.” I might just bring these two back for my Monday prompt post. Stay tuned, and come back next week for Anne’s response to this month’s prompt on Monday and extra content from Audrey later in the week!