Karim was hiding in a sandy ditch with his grandfather. The monsters had come to his village only hours before, killing everyone in sight. At least, they were dead as far as he was concerned. He saw his grandmother ripped apart by his father after his father was touched by the monster. A metal spike came straight out of his father’s head now, glowing lines etched down its sides. Yet his father kept walking, kept killing, giving no sign that he recognized anyone in his family.
Karim wasn’t stupid. It was clear his father was possessed by a demon, or maybe the monster had just taken his soul. He didn’t know for sure, but he wasn’t willing to stick around and find out. He’d grabbed his grandfather and dragged him out of the hut they all shared. His father’s body jerked after them, but too slowly to catch even the old man once Karim’s grandfather recovered enough from the shock to start moving.
They’d been hiding in the ditch for several hours, his hatred of the monsters growing, when two things happened. First, Karim’s grandfather jerked and keeled over. No matter how much Karim shook him, his grandfather lay still. He realized the man wasn’t breathing and cursed the gods. Had one of those monsters killed him? How had they done it?
A few minutes later Karim noticed something strange. The sand was moving around his hands. He threw himself backwards in terror, thinking the monsters had found him. But no one came. And the sand started forming around his hands again. It flowed in a lazy circular motion around his arms then stood up in the air in front of him. He stared at it, puzzled, and tried to wave it away. It moved with the motion of his hands, and a sick feeling settled into his stomach. He didn’t think he could feel worse after what happened to his family, but he was proving himself wrong.
With a dawning horror Karim, realized he was one of the monsters now. How could this be possible? Karim couldn’t wrap his mind around it. But the sand took no issue with his existential crisis and wrapped itself around him like a cloak. Then sand glowed in front of him and merged together. Karim had seen glass before, albeit of poor quality and rarely, but these clean gleaming shards looked like the kind his older brother talked about in his rare letters home from the city.
“What have we here? A new little spark?” boomed a deep voice from above him. Karim’s momentary fascination with the glittering glass floating in front of him was hastily shunted aside for the feelings of terror and despair that he’d been steeped in only moments before. Looking up at the large man above him, skin as dark as all of Karim’s people, but black eyes somehow much darker than anyone Karim had seen before. Their oily depths drank in the light, an odd counterpoint to the blue flames the man spit down upon Karim.
Karim scrambled out of the way and the man laughed heartily. “A scared little spark at that. Don’t worry little spark, we will teach you not to be afraid. Now come up here!” Karim could barely process the words he was hearing. A manic thought about a member of the Kikosi cha Moto Nyekundu having blue flames instead of red struck him and he couldn’t stop a laugh bursting out of his small chest.
The man’s face twisted in anger. “Are you laughing at me, little spark? I can crush you down to ash like the rest if you prefer.” Blue flames continued to spill out of the man’s mouth and Karim fell over in hysterics. *This monster. This monster is going to kill me. * Karim’s uncontrollable response did nothing to allay the man’s unwarranted concern that Karim was making fun of him, and he jumped down from the edge of the ditch, landing almost on top of Karim. He moved to try and grab Karim.
The sand rushed forth in front of the monster’s hand, creating a glass shield from which the hand bounced off, smearing oil. There was a grunt of frustration and then the glass shield shuddered under a proper blow. Another came, and another, and cracks began forming on the only thing between Karim and this dark and burning horror.
Then it was like the air set fire and the top half of his attacker disintegrated in an instant. His shield shattered apart back into the sand it was made from, mingling with the oily blood in the air as it settled. Karim looked around wildly and saw someone standing a ways off down the ditch, flipping a coin. Karim couldn’t tell if it was a man or woman, even as the person came closer.
S/he had long black hair, copper colored skin, and a very feminine face except for the handsome cheekbones. S/he was taller than any woman Karim had seen and was flat chested, but there was a gracefulness to the walk he’d never seen in any of the men of his village, a flamboyance to the clothes that his grandfather would have told him was a woman’s prerogative, and the nails were long, painted, and more immaculate than Karim had seen on anyone in his life. Karim couldn’t tell the age, but he guessed the person wasn’t that old.
“Are you okay?” the figure asked, voice neither as deep as most men’s or as high as most women’s. Karim just stared at the figure blankly, not understanding the language spoken. He recognized the language as Imperial, having heard it from traders passing through his village. But he didn’t speak a word of it. “You don’t speak a word of my language, do you?” Karim just remained silent. The figured pointed at itself. “I am Gravitas. Gravitas.” He pointed at Karim. “And you?”
“Karim,” Karim said, understanding what the gesture meant.
“Well Karim, maybe it’s just as well you don’t understand me,” Gravitas said. There was a calming effect to the unusual tone, and Karim was starting to feel more in control. This feeling of peace continued even as Gravitas gestured and they began floating slowly out of the ditch. It was shattered when he saw how many bodies there were, only a short distance away from his hiding spot. He looked away, not wanting to see all those he had known laying slain on the ground. But before he did, he saw that many of the monsters lay among the dead.
“This is my fault,” Gravitas said. “I’ve helped a desperate man do terrible things because he convinced me it was necessary. But I honestly have no idea whether it was or not. Part of me wants to take my ill gained earnings and hide for the rest of my life. Unfortunately, I’m a bit too young to stay retired. And if there’s even a chance that I was misled, however small, I think I owe a debt to help clean up the messes that we made.”
Karim could tell that Gravitas was speaking more for their own benefit than Karim’s. His father did that sometimes. Had done, he corrected, pain of the loss breaking through the eerie calm Gravitas was able to instill. They had set back down on the ground and he went down to his knees.
“It is not fair to ask a victim of the monsters we made to help stop them, but I cannot do this alone. I am thinking of creating a school on the island I bought. I could help teach people like you to control your gifts, to defend this world from more harm. Would you join me?” asked Gravitas, reaching out his hand to the kneeling Karim. Karim looked up into Gravitas’ eyes. They were deep, nearly as dark as the last monster’s, but there was warmth to them beneath the evident tiredness, a twinkle hiding in the sadness written there.
Karim looked at the hand. He still didn’t understand a word Gravitas was saying, but he felt drawn to Gravitas. There was a weight to the words, an invitation in the outstretched hand. He instinctively knew that if he took it, there was no turning back. But at the edges of his vision he could see there was nothing to turn back to. He nodded, and then grasped the strange person’s hand.