These Rebel Waves – Sara Raasch

BENAT GALLEGO WAS thirteen when he watched his uncle and cousin burn to death. He had told himself it would be no different from the other burnings. Anxious onlookers would pack the cathedral’s lawn, trampling the grass as they fought to see the spectacle at the end of the yard. Monxes, Church servants clad in heavy black robes, would scurry around the pyres, adding wood, supervising the soldiers who secured posts and readied chains. And Ben would watch in quiet horror from the shadow of Grace Neus Cathedral, the stained-glass windows in its towers feeling far too much like the Pious God’s judgmental eyes. But as Ben stood in the yard, soldiers blocking him from the raucous crowd, he knew this was different. It had been different from the moment his father had passed the sentence—not just as Asentzio Elazar Vega Gallego, King of Argrid, Eminence of the eternal Church, but as a man condemning his brother for heresy. Ben’s mind refused to reconcile the sentence with the happy memories he had of his uncle Rodrigu. The man who had chased him and his cousin Paxben around the palace when they were younger, long limbs like sticky spiderwebs catching Paxben in a delirium of giggles; the man who had pinned the silver Inquisitors seal to Ben’s tunic in front of the reverent royal court a month ago. That Inquisitor ceremony had been the proudest day of Ben’s life. He had stood in the cathedral, ready to join the society that judged crimes by the Pious God’s doctrine. Paxben would have been inducted when he was thirteen, and one day would take his father’s place as the High Inquisitor, while Ben would be king and leader of the Church like his own father. That was an impossible dream now, destroyed by Rodrigu’s sins. Ben’s chest bucked, a sob threatening to send him to his knees. “Your uncle and cousin are traitors,” Elazar had told him.

“Traitors to Argrid, for giving money to the rebels on Grace Loray. Traitors to the Pious God, for dealing in the Devil’s magic that comes from that island. For that, we must expunge their souls.” “But he was my teacher,” Ben whispered now, as if reliving the conversation could change the present. “He taught me about Grace Loray’s magic. He taught me which plants were good and which were evil. He knew evil. He can’t be a tool of the Devil. He can’t be.” Around him, the crowd’s noise united in one chanted hymn: “Purity, to live a life divine.

Honesty, that our souls may shine. Chastity, a pureness sure. Penance, humble and demure. Charity, to share his heart. The five pillars of the Pious God, ours to embrace, ours to start.” Ben’s lungs filled with lead. He’d sung this hymn beside his cousin during services. Paxben had always been pitchy, but once he realized how hard Ben had to fight to keep from laughing, he started making his voice squeak on purpose. They’d stand side by side, Ben trying to sing around his chuckling, and Paxben squawking so off-key that Ben imagined the statues of the sainted Graces covering their marble ears. The hymn ended, shattering Ben’s concentration.

He forced his eyes open. His uncle was being led out to the first pyre. His cousin would soon follow. They had been caught buying and selling harmful magic from Argrid’s colony of Grace Loray. Rodrigu had connections to the rebels there. He’d encouraged the spread of the Devil’s magic in Argrid. And he’d roped Paxben into it. Ben looked over his shoulder, running his tongue across salty lips. On the steps of the cathedral, his father stood in vibrant orange robes that symbolized Grace Aracely, the saint who embodied the Pious God’s pillar of penance. Elazar stared at the unlit pyres with utter conviction in his eyes.

No remorse. No sorrow. A gust of wind brought the heady stench of soot, ash, and embers that permanently lingered in this yard, a tribute from decades of purging evil. Ben faced the pyres, because he was Benat Elazar Asentzio Gallego, and he would take his father’s place one day. The Pious God had chosen him to lead. But I loved Rodrigu. I loved Paxben. I loved them both so much that it must make me evil, too. At eleven years old, Adeluna Andreu had been a soldier for a year. The dim New Deza tavern was filled to the rafters with patrons—which in this area of Grace Loray’s capital meant stream raiders.

Their body odor mixed with the humidity, and as Lu ran an oily rag over an empty table close to the rear exit, she held her breath. “We need to know if the raiders are willing to join the revolution,” her mother had instructed as she readied Lu to leave the safe house. “We’ve heard rumors they are gathering, but . ” “I don’t bring back rumors. I bring back information,” Lu had said, parroting the words her parents had taught her. The other children of the revolutionaries had watched her with wide eyes between the stairwell railings, and their fear straightened Lu’s spine even now. She would bring back the right information. She would do whatever her parents needed her to do to send the Argridians back across the ocean, where they belonged. Raiders bellowed drunkenly at a nearby table and Lu jumped, fingers clenching around the rag. She could feel the ghost of her father’s hand on her back, encouraging her to pick up any information she could grab like scraps dropped from the patrons’ plates.

One table seemed to be the focus of the room’s attention. The other raiders cut their eyes to it every so often, keeping their weapons handy and their postures alert. Lu eased closer to that table, wiping her rag on the bar along the back wall. “Which way you leanin’?” asked a pale man with sharp blue eyes, crocodile-skin bracers, and wooden toggles in his blond beard. “The rebels been pesterin’ you too, huh?” “Can’t get rid of them,” said a round man with golden-brown skin and wide, dark eyes. Lu saw a tattoo on his cheek—two vertical dots over two horizontal ones. That was a symbol of the four gods worshipped by the Mainland country of Tuncay. And Lu had seen people like the blond man all over New Deza, the center of the territory that the Mecht stream raider syndicate had claimed on Grace Loray. When settlers first arrived, this empty jungle island, so far from the Mainland, had sat unclaimed by any king or emperor for more than a century. It was a place of possibility and freedom—until Argrid made the island its colony.

Four raider syndicates arose in response, made up of the immigrants from the other countries who called Grace Loray home: the Mechtlands, Tuncay, Emerdon, and Grozda. The separate syndicates protected their own from Argrid with blood and pistols, Lu’s parents said—but the revolution was about all the groups on Grace Loray starting their own country together. And until now, the raiders hadn’t wanted to unify. But Lu was looking at people from two of the four syndicates, talking with each other. Her pulse galloped. “The Church has burnin’s up at their missions. Burn the plants; burn the people,” the Tuncian was saying. He took a swig from a stein. “I knew Argrid’d go and turn on us, but what’s stopping the revolutionaries from overthrowing Argrid and ruling Grace Loray just as bad?” “I don’t trust ’em.” The Mecht raider stood and slammed his fist on the table, sending his own stein of ale toppling in a waterfall of amber liquid.

“I’d rule Grace Loray better than any revolutionaries. Us Mecht raiders should take control!” The Tuncian flew to his feet. His raiders surged around him, but the Mecht had a crew to match— swords sang out of scabbards, pistols cocked and aimed. Lu dropped her rag and shot out the back door as insults flew—“Like hell will we let Mecht barbarians take over!” “Tuncian whore, where are your four gods now?” The noxious tavern birthed Lu into the midnight streets of New Deza. Every building around her glistened in the humidity, the dozens of rivers that crisscrossed the island polluting the warm air with the staleness of water. But that wasn’t what made it hard to breathe—it was terror that choked Lu as she scurried across the cobblestones. Her father stepped out of the shadows between faint streetlamps. Tom’s tricorne hat shielded his eyes, but his smile was sad as his head pivoted from her to the shouting in the tavern. Lu needed to recount what she’d heard. But all she could say, as a pistol fired within the tavern, was “Why won’t they help us stop Argrid, Papa? Don’t they want peace?” With the raider syndicates’ numbers, the revolutionaries could finally push Argrid out of Grace Loray.

The war would end, and Lu wouldn’t have to go on missions, and the children of the other rebels wouldn’t have to cower in fear of Argrid deciding they should be cleansed— Her father chucked her under the chin. “Getting the raiders’ support was a weak hope, sweetheart. There are other things we must do to end the war.” Lu’s heart sank. “You have another mission for me, don’t you?” Tom’s face flashed with remorse. But when he smiled at her, it was proud. Lu clung to that pride like she clung to hope. Even as her throat closed. Even as she could already smell the iron tang of blood. The raiders weren’t willing to do what needed to be done to end the war.

But she was. Lu’s hands fisted, her fingers gone cold despite the island’s heat. “There’s my Lulu-bean.” Tom kissed her forehead. “I can always count on you.” Devereux Bell was thirteen, and that was the only thing about him they didn’t say was evil. They’d had to tie him to a chair to stop him from trying to escape. He could see the scratched hinges on the door from his latest attempt—courtesy of a nail he’d pried from his cot. Vex hadn’t expected it to work. It’d just felt good to let them know he was still trying.

The bell that hung over this mission—prison—announced the hour in six sharp tolls. A choir started singing on one of the floors above, voices carrying into the lonely cells. Hymns about honesty and chastity, purity and penance, and other things Vex willed himself to ignore. The scratched hinges groaned as the door opened. The hall’s flickering torchlight filled Vex’s cell and he dropped his head, hands balling so the rope over his wrists squealed. When a jailer stopped in front of him, Vex whipped his head up and spat in the man’s face. The jailer wiped the spittle from his cheek with the sleeve of his black robe. “Another night has done nothing to sway your heart, herexe.” Herexe. Heretic, in proper Argridian.

It reminded Vex of where he was, in a hell created by Argrid on Grace Lorayan soil. Vex bowed his head, greasy hair swinging as he gulped down sour air so humid it was more like drinking than breathing. He knew what would come next. More jailers would gather and pray over him or recite scripture. It’d been that way, every day, for . He couldn’t remember. And that was downright funny. Vex chuckled. “This is humorous to you, herexe?” the jailer pressed. “I’m young,” Vex said, stretching back in the chair.

“But you’re not. And I’ll make it my life’s goal to watch this job kill you.” Other cells up and down the hall stirred with rebels and anyone else Argrid had caught with Grace Loray’s magic. “You are weak,” the jailers’ voices carried as they chanted in other cells. “You are evil. You have proven susceptible to the Devil’s temptations. May the Pious God cleanse you. May the Pious God save what is left of your soul. You are weak. You are evil.

” Vex’s jailer let out a soft sigh of disappointment and started pacing. Vex shook the hair away from his uninjured eye. His wound hadn’t bothered him since his imprisonment—what need did he have for two working eyes when the prison’s routine was so predictable? But now he felt at a disadvantage, able to follow the jailer only from the left. The jailer stopped, considering. “The Pious God has a plan for souls that do not yield.” Panic swept from Vex’s head to his toes. The look on his face must’ve said enough. “Not a pyre.” The jailer smiled. From the folds of his robe, he withdrew a leaf in a vial.

A Church jailer, responsible for punishing people caught with the Devil’s magic, had magic? But the jailer didn’t explain. He opened the vial and tugged Vex’s head against the chair. Vex cried out, but his open mouth was a mistake—the jailer shoved the leaf in. Vex swallowed. He couldn’t help it. The bitter leaf broke apart as it slid down his throat. Every muscle in his body begged for release. Vex screamed, his blood gone to rapids in his veins, tendons in each limb threatening to come apart under his restraints. “You are weak,” the jailer prayed. “You are evil.

May the Pious God cleanse you.” Words, empty words, and pain. “May the Pious God save what is left of your soul.” 1 Six Years Later AS NEW DEZA’S mission bell sliced ten consecutive chimes into the steamy morning air, Lu bounced on the toes of her worn buckle shoes. The treaty negotiations between the Democratic Council of Grace Loray and the Argridian delegation would be starting again at the castle, yet here she was, stuck in the market that hugged the western edge of the lake. But one more purchase, and she would have all she needed to stop at the infirmary before heading to the castle to resume listening to the draining debates that had filled the past month. That thought quelled her anxiety. Perhaps she shouldn’t be in such a hurry. “It is not worth more than six galles,” Lu told the vendor with a table of wares on the deck of his steamboat. The boat on his right offered coconuts, green bananas, and large, spiky jackfruits from farms throughout the island; the boat on his left sold handmade leather goods from tanneries in the north.

But this vendor sold botanical magic. The man dropped a crate on the deck, making the vials of plants clink as the boat listed. “There’s been a rush on Drooping Fern. Twenty galles.” “A rush,” Lu echoed dully. The back of her throat tickled—oh, the irony of haggling over a plant that caused unconsciousness when she could easily fall asleep right here. She’d spent too many nights in a row sitting with Annalisa in the infirmary. The vendor squinted at her. “You know what Drooping Fern is, don’tcha? One whiff of its smoke could lay a grown man out for hours. If yer looking for help wif sleeping, apothecaries in the nicer parts of town grind up tonics for fancy things like you.

” That was precisely why Lu had come to what she suspected was a raider stall. The law-abiding sellers of magic offered either individual plants with mild uses like skin protectants and appetite suppressants, or more dangerous plants diluted and blended into tonics like relaxing potions or strength-enhancing brews. Combining plants into elixirs was delicate, often time-consuming work that only a select few undertook, and it would have been too much hassle for Lu to convince a respectable seller that she knew what she was doing with a raw ingredient as potent as Drooping Fern. Had Lu any other choice, she would not have been so eager to buy botanical magic from someone who had stolen it out of the island’s riverbeds. Riverbeds that belonged, now, to the Grace Lorayan Council. The threat of a storm made the air harsh, tasting of rank river water with the added bitterness of electricity, of a spark about to light. A cluster of half-dressed girls and boys sauntered past the end of the dock, whistling at sailors and vendors. Lu tucked stray pieces of black hair into the knot at the back of her head, fighting to regain her composure. “If I wanted to spend fifty galles on a single dose of what the apothecaries mislabel a sleeping tonic but is actually weak chamomile tea barely infused with Narcotium Creeper, then yes, I’d be in the more respectable parts of Grace Loray. But I can’t imagine you’d survive long in this profession if you made such inquiries of all your customers, raider.

” Lu might have regretted speaking so rashly, but the vendor clearly had made up his mind about her, too. With the wooden toggles in his long blond beard, his pale skin, and the decorative pieces of fur on his clothing, the vendor was clearly part of the Mecht syndicate that had claimed the area from New Deza down to the southern coast as their “territory” on Grace Loray. “I wanna make sure you ain’t getting in over your head,” the vendor said. “I can’t go selling to anyone for so little, least of all to someone who might hurt herself wif magic.” “Hurt myself?” Lu whipped out her copy of Botanical Wonders of the Grace Loray Colony, the reference book penned by the island’s first settlers. “Your bloodshot eyes say you are aware of Narcotium Creeper’s hallucinogenic properties—but did you know it can be combined with your overpriced Drooping Fern to create a tonic that—”

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