Pardon My Justice

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“Madrena!” I threw open the door of her office, marched up to her desk, and threw my hands on the table in an incredibly disrespectful way. It didn’t matter. The headmistress had made me a promise, and I was going to hold her to it.
“Ossa. Calm yourself.” She tucked the paper she had been reviewing into a folder and folded her hands on her desk. Madrena was a middle-aged woman with graying hair and pale skin that promised she had spent most of her life indoors. “What can I do for you?”
“You know exactly what you can do for me.”
She blinked her steel blue eyes expectantly.
“The note!”

“Oh, of course. I take it you’ve graduated?”
“Three and half minutes ago.”
She raised her eyebrows.
“And counting,” I added. “So hurry it up.”
But she didn’t. “Ossa, when you first arrived at our school, I wasn’t given many details. A woman came to the academy late into the night, paid your tuition in full, and disappeared. She left me with you, who was hardly two. And, before she left, she handed me the note and asked that I hold it until your graduation.” That was Madrena’s way. Unceremonious. Straight to the point. “Now, here is your letter. I hope you will be satisfied with the contents, especially after all these years of asking.” She handed me the note.
It was a plain white piece of paper, only as big as my hand, a little bit crumpled. A female’s curly penmanship danced across the page.
My dearest Ossa,
I am terribly sorry that you will not have the opportunity to grow up in a normal family. But, you see, it cannot be helped. Your father was murdered by Dellik. Unfortunately, Dellik fled, and his only child, a young boy by the name of Ekaf, was hidden. Now that you have graduated, I know that you may have to leave the academy. If you wish to avenge your father’s death, search for the boy. I have heard that he may be on the planet Veen. But, I beseech you, stay out of harm’s way. Perhaps you could find a position at the school. I wish you the best in all that you attempt.
Love, your mother
“What?” I stared at the page, and then glared at Madrena. “Why did she bring me here? To a school for assassins? Wouldn’t an ordinary all-girls boarding school be enough?”
Madrena’s thin fingers twitched a bit, itching to fly through papers or pull a dagger. “Perhaps she wanted to prepare you to face off against the son of Dellik. Perhaps she feared that the son or the man himself would come back to slaughter you, and this was a safe haven. After all, we are on an island.” She turned back to her paperwork. “But this whole thing is really none of my business.”
“Why was my father killed?” I swallowed the knot in my throat. Why should I be upset? First of all, I was an assassin, and, secondly, I didn’t even know the man. So why should it hurt?
“I don’t know any more than what was written on that paper. Trying to pry information out of me is pointless.”
All those years of asking Madrena about my background had been foolish. The note hardly gave me any information.
But it does give me a direction, I realized.
I stuffed the letter into my pocket and began to march out of the room, but Madrena’s voice stopped me. “Ossa, if you are so inclined, we do have a position open. You could teach the technique class. You did graduate at the top of your class, after all.”
I didn’t even turn around. “I’m not going hide in a little island school the rest of my life. Someone needs to pay for the wrong that has been done.” My father was killed. I was abandoned.
A pause. Finally, “Just remember, Ossa, it’s often better to forgive than try anything else. Revenge can be a dark thing.”
“It’s not revenge. It’s justice.”
“Justice is as dark as the person practicing it.”
Normally, this kind of a comment would send me into a fit of rage. Did she just call me dark?
But, today, I didn’t care. I had a direction.
I left without looking back.
#
“Traveler of the winding roads of destiny, lost daughter of the scorpion,” said the old woman with green hair. “Come, I will tell your fortune, child.”
Planet Veen was an ugly place, no doubt about that. The dabbling in witchcraft, the hundreds of beggars, the shady characters that roamed about even in broad daylight; they all led me to believe that this was not a good place for an eighteen year old girl to journey alone. Still, it was the only clue I had to where that sniveling Ekaf might be cowering. Besides, I was an official assassin now, right? I could take care of myself.
For the past two weeks I had been rejecting (sometimes violently) offers of fortune-telling, but the phrase “lost daughter of the scorpion” made me really curious. That’s another of my faults, I suppose.
I sat in the small, curtained off corner of a hut. Everything seemed to be in shades of green and purple.
The lady smiled a toothless grin at me, then closed her eyes and incanted under her breath. I didn’t even want to know what she was saying.
“Hold out your hand,” she hissed at me, slitting an eye open. I thrust my hand forward, and she snatched it in an iron grasp. After more incantations, her grip slackened, and she began.
“You are the daughter of a murderous father and a lying mother. Your future will not be easy. You will lose the one closest to you, and it is your own fault.”
“What was I lied to about?” I practically begged, which was surefire sign that something wasn’t right. Was it just me, or was the air funny in here?
“Nearly everything.” Had she always looked this much like a snake? I hadn’t noticed before. “You are not who you think you are. You are a girl of the planet Razzem.”
I was breathing heavily now. There was something in this room. Something bad. I needed to get out. Still, I couldn’t help one more question. “What do I do?”
“Go to land of your birth. There, your destiny will unfold of its own accord.”
I clutched my chest, which was aching under the weight of some unseen force. I dropped a bag of coins onto her table, then staggered out of the tent. I decided to never deal with dark powers again.
But I did get some valuable information: my life was a lie, my father was a murderer, and my destiny was a trip to planet Razzem away.
#
I wandered through the dimly lit streets of Razzem, helplessly lost. In contrast to the dark deprivation that had overrun Veen, this world was a maze of privilege and luxury.
But I was starting to miss Veen. At least there a dirty girl in ratty clothing could blend in. Here, everyone scowled at me like I was going to pick their pockets.
But, like I was saying before, this world was a maze. Every house looked exactly the same.
So here I was, confused and hungry and homeless, wondering if there was anyone who could help me. Finallly, I curled up on a bench and slept until the first light of dawn.
When I awoke, officials of some sort were standing over me and glaring.
“What?” I demanded, sitting up slowly. “This is a public bench.”
A gruff-looking older man stepped forward. “We received a complaint about a homeless person sleeping near residential property. A bit too close.”
“You think I’m gonna break into someone’s house?” I flew to my feet in outrage. “You think I’m some kind of lowlife thief?”
“I have to ask you to—”
“Wait!” A gaunt woman who had to be in her seventies pushed through the line of officers. “It’s her!”
The official who had been talking to me wore a pained expression. “Varily, what are you talking about?”
“She’s the one! Can’t you see it in her face? Her eyes? The way she carries herself? It’s the lost daughter of Kildel!”
The officials eyes widened. “Are you certain?”
“Of course I’m certain.” She grabbed his sleeve, pulled him down, and whispered something in his ear.
He nodded grimly, then turned to me. “What is your name?”
“Ossa.”
“Your father’s name?”
“He was murdered. I never knew his name.”
The official narrowed his eyes. “Your mother’s name?”
“I don’t know. I never knew her, either.”
“Who have you been living with all this time?”
“I’ve lived at an all-girls boarding school for as long as I could remember.” It wasn’t technically a lie. Not that I had any problem with lying.
“Where?”
“Planet Rayll.” That was where the assassin school was located. But, also, it was an incredibly popular planet for schooling.
“What brings you to planet Razzem?”
He had me cornered; there really weren’t many good reasons to come to Razzem. Work and board here was only for people who had been born here, and my cover story was that I was from Rayll. “I… well…”
“Little liar,” Varily hissed.
The official scowled, then motioned to the men behind him. They grabbed me, slapped handcuffs on, and towed me into the back of their car.
I struggled against them, but one injected something into me, and suddenly the world became hazy and unfocused. I lost consciousness.#
When I came to, I was in a prison cell. It’s not the kind of prison you’re thinking of; no, not dingy or dirty or even dark. It just looked like a small bedroom. But when I tried the door, it was locked fast.
I pounded on the walls and doors, but it was no use. It might as well have been made of metal. Just because I was an assassin didn’t mean I had super strength.
It must have been a week before anyone came to get me. There wasn’t much in my room; a cot, a mirror, a wardrobe with clean clothes. I didn’t bother changing. I just slept on the ground in my shredded little ensemble, shivering and more scared than I’d liked to have admitted. My food appeared through a slit in the door, which, try as I might, I was unable to fit through. Escape was not possible.
But what was I trying to run from?
Eventually the door opened and in strode a tall woman trailed by a muscular man. “Ossa, it is time for your trial,” she informed me.
I lunged forward--perhaps to punch her or knock her over or even bite her--but the man grabbed me and held me hostage in his strong clutch.
He literally carried me down the hall, seemingly immune to my bites and scratches. We trailed the woman to a room with a heavy door. Unintentionally, I shivered.
They lead me into a great gray room, where a panel of judges sat before me.
“Ossa,” began the woman I recognized as Varily. “Daughter of Kildel. Kildel, as we are well aware, was the murderer of the Dellik. Unfortunately, soon after the death of Dellik, Kildel disappeared. After three months of extensive searching, as required by law, we were unable to locate him. Thus, the punishment for the crime of murder was transferred onto his only child, Ossa. But both the girl and her mother, Madrena, had gone missing just a week before Kildel was convicted.”
I struggled to process this new information. Madrena was my mother? Headmistress Madrena?
But, even more importantly, the punishment of my father had been transferred to me, his only heir. So that meant…
“Ossa will be subject to termination at daybreak.”
I dug my fingernails into my palm to keep me from crying out. What? I was going to die because of something I hadn’t even done? Who says I was anything like my father? Why did I have to pay for his wrongdoings?
Then it hit me. I was about prepared to do the same thing to “Ekaf”, who probably wasn’t even real, anyway. But the point was that I was willing to kill someone who hadn’t done anything wrong. What had I called it earlier? Justice? I deserved to die.
Yet I refused to accept death so easily.
“Wait,” I shook my head in an attempt to clear it. “So my dad killed someone, and my mother and I hid from his punishment?”
“Perhaps I can explain.” A woman I hadn’t noticed was in the room stood in the far corner.
It was Madrena. My mother.
Her own wrists were shackled, but, other than that and a few new wrinkles, she looked precisely the same. “Your father and I were still married at the time he killed Dellik. I remember Kildel coming home, trembling, and throwing clothes into a luggage. When I asked him what he was doing, he couldn’t meet my eyes. ‘I’ve done wrong. I must… go…’
“That’s when I got a horrible feeling in the pit of my stomach. Of course, I checked the Dellik’s house to see, and my suspicions were confirmed. And I knew that we had to run, lest the punishment be shifted to you. So I took you to a secret island on planet Rayll, into the very same school I once attended. Though, when I attended it, it had been a spy school.
“I had meant to leave you there and take your place in the punishment, but the headmistress knew it was me as soon as she heard my voice. She had been my teacher at one point.
“She offered me a position at the school, which I gladly accepted. Eventually I rose to the position of headmistress. I relaxed. I thought… just maybe… I had kept both of us out of harm’s way.” Her wrists strained against their bonds. “I was a fool.”
So she hadn’t really ever abandoned me. Still… “Why didn’t you just tell me you were my mother? Why make it some big secret?” I demanded, quaking a bit for no apparent reason.
She sighed. “That would just raise questions about your father, and your past, and my past, and anything else you could think of. And you’re so obstinate that, whether I answered you or not, you’d rush off to other planets to figure out what, in your mind, had become a great mystery. I was trying to protect you.” Her voice broke a little bit at the end.
A short silence. Before Varily could throw us out of the room and each other’s company, I hurried to ask, “But why did Kildel kill Dellik in the first place?”
Madrena hesitated. “Your father wasn’t… completely stable.”
“He was mentally ill,” Varily broke in harshly. “His mind was divided within himself. What is it those ridiculous earthlings say? ‘A house divided cannot stand’? Well, he finally caved in, and lashed out at Dellik. They were neighbors, you see, and—”
“Your father was always in competition with him,” Madrena interrupted. “Always trying to see who could add the most floors to their house, or could afford the most expensive car, or had the most perfect lawn. I suppose Kildel went over that day, maybe to do something as simple as ask for eggs. Perhaps Dellik said something a bit too snide, and Kildel lost control. They found Dellik’s body a few days later. Of course, by then, Kildel had realized what he’d done and made a run for it. I grabbed you, and we escaped, parting ways with your father. I couldn’t even look him in the eyes.”
“And here you are.” Varily smiled almost sadistically. “All that running about, and you couldn’t change the outcome. And someone’s blood must be spilt in reciprocation.”
Justice can be as dark as the person practicing it, I remembered. “Why did you make me go to Veen?” I asked Madrena, more curious than angry.
“I knew that once you graduated you would look for answers. So I decided to lead you away from Razzem. My hope was that you would scour all of Veen, then, out of options, would retire to become a teacher at the assassin school. I should have known you were too stubborn. But why did you come to Razzem?”
“I ran into a fortune teller in Veen,” I admitted. “But how did you know about me being here?”
“You have a tracking device implanted in your brain.”
“What?”
“Oh, did I forget to mention that? I had it implanted when you were a baby so that I would always know that you were safe.” She smiled now, a real, warm, motherly smile. And I realized how much my heart was aching for a family.
Still, the tracking-chip-in-your-brain was disturbing.
“Well, this has been lovely.” Varily was jotting something down on a form. “But it looks like it’s time for you each to go back to your rooms. Ossa’s life is ending at daybreak, and Madrena is going to serve a nice twenty-four month stay in prison. Good?”
“Wait. No!” Madrena scrambled forward. “I’ll take her place. Let me die for Ossa!”
“What? You cannot die for her. It is not our way.” Varily was obviously disgusted.
I didn’t want her to die. If she died, it would be my fault for being so impetuous and irascible and downright foolish.
I could feel my throat closing up, and I was horrified at myself for even thinking about crying. I couldn’t speak. The words wouldn’t come out. I couldn’t even apologize for having a horribly warped sense of justice. Why must an innocent person’s blood be spilt? Why were Varily and I so twisted?
I stared, dumb-struck, as my mother begged for death.
“Please. Please. You must let me. I was married to the man, thus, in a sense, we were joined in a way that went farther than blood. Ossa never knew him. She never made the choice to be on his side. But I did—at least at one point. I… loved him. And I have forgiven him for what he has done.” Madrena looked more vulnerable than I had ever seen her. Had she always been so small? “Let me die in Ossa’s place.”
Varily stared at her for a very long moment. Was it my imagination, or did Varily’s harsh features just soften the slightest bit? I wondered if Varily had ever had children of her own. Grandchildren, perhaps. Maybe even great-grandchildren.
“I suppose,” she grumbled. “Perhaps… I suppose… this is a special case.” She looked at me. “Ossa, daughter of Kildel, will spend a twenty-four month prison term.” She stared at my mother. “Madrena, daughter of Dellik, will be terminated at daybreak.”





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