“Wake up! Wake up!” An all-too-familiar voice screeched into Shizuka’s ear. “It’s your big day!”

“I hate you,” he mumbled into the blankets, trying to retreat under his pillow. “Go away, Mika.”

“No sleeping in today,” his sister sang as she mercilessly yanked off his covers. “You can’t be late for the ceremony.”

He groaned, knowing resistance was futile but not wanting to haul himself out of bed yet.

Mika stole his pillow and started beating him with it, cackling as he curled into a defensive ball. She’d never stopped being gleeful to have somebody younger to pick on, even after her six-year advantage shrank when he hit his growth spurt.

“All right, all right, I’ll get up,” Shizuka sighed, finally opening his eyes.



He gets to the top of the dune and falls down.

The sand is in his nose and hair and clothes and mouth and he wants to spit it out but his mouth is so dry so he swallows despite the way it claws down his throat. Everything is grit and heat and pain and a sky that pushes him down, oppressively blue.

Blue is not his color. Nor is the orange-yellow of the sand or the burning white of the sun. He’s known them too long, days and days bleeding together. Hateful colors.

He remembers green. He doesn’t remember what it was, but it must have been nice. Green is a nice color. Green is from before. Probably.

“Get up.”


touch my mouth and hold my tongue

He strides forward, propelled entirely by determination. It feels like his staff weighs triple its usual weight. The chaos of corpses and soldiers hinders his movements, the stink of the newly dead thick in the air, carrion birds already gathering. There is a thrum pulsing through the scattered groups of people, relief that it’s finally over even creeping into the wails of the dying and the groans of the injured.

There, a leather-clad figure, yellow-white hair a beacon among his dark-haired companions, armour brown-bathed-red-turning-brown. Shem hikes up his robes and starts running, staff forgotten on the ground.