Azime grunted in pain. Getting stabbed hurt. A lot. The blade had been left behind, and its cold steel grated against her flesh. Warm blood trickled down her leg.
“Bastard,” she muttered. She was wearing her favourite pants.
Azime was Angry, but she didn’t use it. Anger could be… unpredictable. She rolled onto her back to get a better look at her attacker. The beefy man loomed over her, reaching forwards with monstrous hands.
At least she’d disarmed him. Sort of.
She drew her knee to her chest and kicked out hard with the leg that hadn’t been knifed. Her heavy boot connected to her pursuer’s face with a meaty crunch. She knew she wore those ugly things for a reason.
He stumbled and slipped, roof tiles cracking under his weight as he fell. His body hit the ground and Azime grinned. She didn’t wait to see if he got up.
Light-headed from her wound, Azime did not trust herself to stand. Instead, she managed to crawl until she reached a dip where two roofs met behind a crumbling chimney. Here she would be concealed from the unfortunates who braved the streets of Afet at night.
Sucking air between clenched teeth, Azime eased the knife from her calf. It was quality steel, so she cleaned it with her pants. They were definitely ruined.
Azime took several slow breaths and screwed up her face. Draining was always unpleasant. Hesitantly, she drained the last of her Hope. Azime shuddered as her hopes and expectations were replaced with doubts and uncertainties. Her insides shrieked, pierced with thousands of needles of pain. It was just enough to heal her leg. Not even a scar remained. Hope healed. That had to be ironic or something.
Azime wanted to sob with despair. She struggled to remember why she had bothered to heal herself. If she didn’t manage to get herself killed out here on one of Afet’s decrepit rooftops, the others would finish the job for her. Tonight would be no different from the countless others she had stolen and killed for them. They would never give her what she wanted, what she worked for. This was all a wasted effort.
It was a few minutes before Azime calmed down enough to think. Failure might be inevitable, but she wasn’t going to sit on a cold, dirty roof waiting for it to happen. There were a few more people she wouldn’t mind kicking in the face before she died.
She opened the leather satchel slung over her shoulder. Nothing was broken. She lifted out one of several small, wax-sealed glass jars. It contained an innocuous-looking amber liquid. Gingerly, she placed the jar in her coat pocket, using a tattered handkerchief as cushioning, and buttoned it shut. That should last long enough.
They would kill her when they found out she had been keeping some of the drugs. Addiction and theft were strictly prohibited. Not that these were for her.
Keeping to the roofs, Azime hurried on to the meeting place. Slick grime made the footing treacherous, but she’d be a fool to risk the streets in this part of Afet.
She arrived hopelessly certain they would discover her theft. Azime climbed down to the street, an ancient brick wall providing fragile handholds. She sank ankle-deep into the slimy filth that adorned the streets. She squelched her way to a nearby door. Its grey paint was cracked and peeling, indistinguishable from hundreds of other doors in the city.
She thumped the door twice, causing flakes of paint to fall from the door, before she stomped in.
“Took long enough,” grunted Tosun and seized the bag from Azime. He grimaced at the grime her boots flecked across the dingy, windowless room.
“Didn’t know you cared.”
Tosun grunted again. “There’s something for you on the table.”
It was an official-looking envelope. After a few excruciating moments she deciphered the word on the front.
Her mother’s name. Azime’s Hope flared back into existence. They had given it to her. This would fix everything. Her mother would be free and Umut would be safe.
She turned to Tosun and gave him a wide grin. He returned it.
“Tosun! I didn’t know you had teeth!”
He shrugged. “You’re one of us now. Don’t have to hate you anymore. Come, we’re all going out to celebrate.”
“Sure,” said Azime, beaming. They stepped outside and she could have been sure that the muck wasn’t as deep as usual.
The others were waiting around the corner. Five of them were huddled around a dim gas lamp – one of the few in this area.
She smiled and lifted an arm to wave.
“Do I get to see Azime soon?” A sweet, innocent voice reached her. It was full of Hope. It was the most painful thing she had ever heard.
Azime’s arm fell to her side.
“No,” she mouthed, but no sound came out.
“We found your little secret,” an icy voice taunted from behind her. Demir.
Azime tried to say something, but she couldn’t.
“Azime!” the sweet voice chirped. A little girl ran up to her and threw her arms around her legs.
“You didn’t think you could keep this from us?”
“You stole from us. Only to waste it on this child. I need to trust you if you’re going to join us. Dispose of her, or you both die.”
He leaned casually against a building, his usually emotionless face wearing a hint of a smile.
Azime panicked. There was no way out of this. She had to get Umut out of here.
She crouched and lifted the girl into her trembling arms.
“When I tell you to run, you have to go and hide. Just like we practised,” she whispered.
Umut nodded. Her smile was gone and her wide eyes were serious. “Don’t worry Azime. They can’t win. Nothing bad will happen.”
So much Hope.
“Wrap your arms around my neck.”
Azime turned and ran. The sludge sucked at her feet, and her arms screamed from Umut’s weight. She drained her Fear. It made her fast, wild. She streaked blindly through the streets, everything a blur. Too soon, her Fear was running out.
She halted and placed Umut gently into the muck. She didn’t look worried.
Azime used the last of her Fear to ensure that she was far way from Umut. She panted and stamped her boots as she walked, exhausted. The noise echoed through the cramped streets. They would find her, not Umut. She wasn’t afraid anymore.
Voices reached her ears.
“I heard her go that way.”
Not long now.
Azime stopped moving and leaned against a wall. She might as well be comfortable while she waited.
She pulled her new knife from her belt and examined it. It was excellent quality. Unfortunately, it wasn’t magic. She doubted her chances of killing seven thugs with it were high.
She entertained the idea of climbing onto the rooftops and trying to slip away, but dismissed it. If they didn’t find her tonight, it would be tomorrow, or next week.
“Ah, there you are. Tosun here thought we lost you.” Demir’s cruel lips twisted. “I see our little guest is gone. What a shame. What was her name? Umut?”
Hearing his voice taint her name enraged Azime.
“Touched a nerve, have we?”
“I thought so. You clearly love her. So tell me, Azime,” he pronounced her name with excruciating slowness – it was unbearably personal, a violation, “why did you do it?”
“Why? Why would you do that to someone you so clearly love?”
The words burned her ears. She couldn’t let this man think she was a monster.
“She wouldn’t stop crying.”
“Annoying, I’m sure. But your solution seems extreme, no?”
“I—I was young. I didn’t know what to do when mother was taken. We had no money for food, and Umut – she wouldn’t stop crying and screaming for mother. She was miserable. I figured out what I was stealing for you. Hope-Essence. I’d seen addicts. Always smiling. So I took some. It worked. Umut was happy again. I know it’s wrong. I tried to stop giving it to her, but she was addicted.”
Azime’s rage surged. Demir reached with long fingers to cup her chin. She pulled away.
“Nowhere to run now, Azime. You should have killed the child. How long do you think a seven-year-old Hope addict will last in this city? Death would have been kinder.”
His words injured her more than she liked.
“I don’t need to run.” The words rang false.
Azime slashed at Demir ineffectually with her blade. He smirked.
“Why don’t you just hand that over before you hurt yourself?”
She stabbed at his outstretched hand. The flesh of his palm parted under the knife’s point. He hissed and withdrew his hand.
“That was unwise.”
At a motion of his bloody hand, Tosun and Iksen moved to restrain her. She thrashed, but they were stone. Tosun twisted her wrist until she dropped her knife. Demir bent to collect it.
“Now I have the knife.”
He trailed its point along her jaw, and down across her throat.
“Where to begin?”
Azime ignored him as he traced the knife over her body and whispered taunts. She focused on her Anger. It blocked out the pain of the slices he made to her skin. Blood dripped but there was no Hope to heal her now. Only Anger. She was infuriated by how helpless she was. Frustrated that they always hurt her, and she could never hurt them. They should never have touched Umut.
She spat. “I don’t need a knife to kill you.”
Briefly, his fury mirrored her own. Then Azime used her Anger. Heat exploded from her and there was screaming. Demir cowered before her, his arms wrapped around his head. She kicked him in the gut and something cracked. It wasn’t the face, but it would do.
The stench of burning hair and flesh assaulted her. Gagging, she continued to drain. Agony reached her. She felt her skin blistering and her screams joined the others. Death did not frighten her. They had given her the pardon – mother would look after Umut now. Everything would be okay. The other shrieking stopped, and Azime’s yells pierced the night alone.
In the moment before she died, at peace with the knowledge that she had finally done something right, Azime remembered that she had never given Umut the pardon.