Content Warning: This entire work will have mentions and occurrences of death. Some chapters (including this one) will have mentions of self-harm or suicide. Reader discretion is advised.
Athena stared out the carriage’s window at the growing and multiplying trees they passed, listening to the rhythmic clops of the Rapidash. She was glad her father paid for a private coach; she didn’t think she could handle her parents seeing her like this. The trees heralded her approach to the Salvation Institute, where she’d spend the next three years of her life, at the request of the King himself. She wished her parents would turn him down, but not even they had enough power. Her parents tried to convince her this was for the best, but she knew their fake faces. So she was stuck on a carriage inching towards her doom. The enormity of the trees swallowing the carriage mocked her plight.
She rested her chin on the carriage windowsill. The Salvation Institute. Pallas. She thought she left everything about the wretched school behind her, but King Scylla had other ideas. Her eyes went to the handgun strapped to her belt: custom made, breech-loaded, one of two of its kind. The other one belonged to her sister until four years ago, when she lost her here, at this fortress. The Salvation Institute was where people died. They said Mahakali was sneaking around in the forest, ready to drag unsuspecting victims to their doom. The legends said that they targeted bad guys: people wrote off Pallas’ death because she killed people. But she knew that Pallas was a decent person, like any other. She just had skills and needed to apply them to her job to keep in the family. If that was what made Mahakali deem someone bad, she wasn’t safe.
She missed Pallas. Pallas would have something comforting to say to her, like “I’ll protect you, that’s what sisters do,” or “We’re a family, we all have each other’s backs.” A wave of nausea came over her; she couldn’t protect her sister when it mattered, and now she was gone forever.
Something cold dripped from her cheek onto her hand. Tears, probably. She was grateful again that her parents weren’t here to see this. She let the trees speeding around her catch her interest for a while, tears wetting the spare button-down she put under her chin to catch them.
The handgun in her lap caught her interest again. She fiddled with the trigger and levers, studying the mechanisms for the thousandth time. She always kept it unloaded; she played with the levering when she was nervous, and she once accidentally burned her hand by holding the barrel while discharging a blank. She pulled a bullet off of her shoulder strap and loaded it absentmindedly into the barrel, closed the window and cocked the gun. She stared at the black object, able to take a life in a heartbeat. She was scared of it, and yet, it provided a solution to her problems. At the institute, other people would wish her dead for her relations with her sister. Even the school itself might, according to what she heard. Her dad always told her that it was more honorable to fall on your sword than to go down on others’ terms. She closed her eyes and took a sharp breath in.
She couldn’t do it. Trembling, she unloaded the bullet from the gun and threw it across the carriage. She was too scared of the pain. What kind of mafiosa was she if she couldn’t stand pain? She was a misfit to both her family and the outside world. Dropping the gun at her feet, she curled up into a ball on her seat and cried into the cushion, listening to the bumping of the carriage over the packed dirt road. She was such a disaster, a disaster that shouldn’t even be alive, but didn’t have the courage to die. She just wanted to fall asleep and not wake up. She wished Pallas was here to protect her, at least for a little.
Why couldn’t she have been the one to die? Pallas was fiery and passionate about her beliefs, and got along with both her parents and the nobility in a way that she never did. Her sister gave so much more to the world. Why did she have to go? So much potential, snuffed out in an instant…
“So why’re you trying to snuff yours too, Theens?”
Pallas’ voice played in her head, comforting as silk. That was right, she promised Pallas’ soul that she’d carry on her legacy. She didn’t know what Pallas was trying to do, but she always felt so passionate. Her sister had a favor that she asked of her, but she never told her what it was. Pallas was so important to her, she was the one thing keeping her tied to this world still.
The sound of the coachman pulling the Rapidash to a stop snapped her out of her introspection as the carriage stopped moving. She looked out the window to see the thick stone masonry walls as far as she could see, the martial outer defenses of the Salvation Institute, anxiety welling in her stomach.
Despite the danger and hostility of this place, there was something that Pallas wanted there. Something so large that her seraph of an older sister couldn’t do by herself, and something that she couldn’t confide in her parents.
She was going to find out what. She was going to carry out Pallas’ legacy.